5 Ways To Level Up Your Account-Based Prospecting Automation
As salespeople look for better ways to reach out to prospects and close more deals, account-based prospecting is becoming increasingly popular. While the concept has been around for decades, more companies have recognized that the account-based approach is one of the best ways to stand out from the competition and engage potential customers in crowded markets.
However, account-based strategies are often seen as resource-heavy, requiring teams of people working day and night to close one sale. As a result, many businesses think that an account-based approach is impossible in their circumstances.
The truth is that, while account-based selling does require more thought than the traditional approach, it’s still possible to use technology and automation to make things easier.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what is account-based selling (and account-based prospecting specifically), how it can be automated, and ways to make it more effective than ever.
What is account-based prospecting and why is it so effective?
Account-based prospecting (ABP) is a B2B sales strategy based on identifying, contacting and engaging prospects at your best-fit accounts.
As with other similarly named approaches – such as account-based marketing (ABM) and account-based selling (ABS) – the concept is based on highly targeted campaigns, treating each account as a prospect of one.
Sales has been traditionally seen as a numbers game. Not making enough sales? Just hit the phone, send more emails, and talk to more people.
While this can be a viable strategy, particularly for B2C, it doesn’t consider how larger B2B companies operate. For these businesses, simply trying to reach out to as many of them as possible can lead to weak sales messages that blends in with the rest of the noise in their inbox.
Account-based prospecting takes the completely opposite approach. Rather than thinking about the number of accounts you’re reaching out to, ABP encourages you to focus on reaching out to the right accounts.
As covered in our Beginner's Guide to Account-Based Fundamentals, concentrating on the quality of your outreach leads to better engagement, more qualified leads, and stronger customer relationships. This is especially important when selling expensive or complex products, or dealing with larger B2B companies. If you expect your prospect to take the time to read your message, then that message must be worth their time.
A prospecting strategy that looks at accounts as a whole is especially important in B2B sales today. Gartner reports that there are typically six to 10 decision-makers in each account for a complex B2B product. Rather than only thinking about an individual buyer, ABP encourages you to think of all of these decision-makers in your outreach.
Automating your account-based prospecting
High-quality, personalized messaging is a vital part of account-based prospecting. With that in mind, it may seem that automation is the last thing you should be thinking about. However, when done correctly, automation can help your account-based prospecting become even more effective.
First of all, it’s important to understand that there are different levels of account-based prospecting. ITSMA, the company that originally came up with the term account-based marketing, talk about three different types of ABM:
- Strategic ABM (one-to-one)
- ABM Lite (one-to-few)
- Programmatic ABM (one-to-many)
It is exactly the same in account-based prospecting.
The level you choose will depend on your customers, your resources, and your goals. At the highest level, where all your efforts are focused on one high-value dream account, you’ll likely spend more time creating 100% unique messaging and sales collateral for their buying committee. You might also use methods that make a big impact but don’t scale easily, such as dedicated events or mailing personalized items.
However, for a one-to-many campaign, it may be a better use of your time to create templates with a core message that speaks to your target accounts’ general pain points, then use automation to personalize the rest of the message to the individual recipients (more on how to do this later).
One of the first steps in any account-based sales development strategy is to identify which accounts you’ll be targeting. At this point, it’s a good idea to divide those accounts into different tiers, depending on how closely they match your ideal customer profile (ICP):
- Tier 1 represents your dream customers, those customers who completely match every last detail of your ICP.
- Tier 2 customers tick most (if not all) of the right boxes, but have a lower lifetime value than tier 1.
- Tier 3 customers meet some of your ICP criteria and, while worth pursuing, are unlikely to offer longtime value as a customer.
Depending on the number of accounts in each category and your available resources, you might decide to use a one-to-one approach for your tier one accounts, one-to-few for tier two, and one-to-many for tier three. Either way, automation allows you to reach out to your tier three prospects in a cost-effective and productive manner.
Also bear in mind that account-based prospecting is a strategy with multiple steps. Broadly speaking, these can be broken down into three stages:
- Identification (deciding which accounts you’ll target)
- Activation (reaching out to different individuals at the accounts)
- Measurement (tracking the campaign performance)
Even if you’re running a one-to-one campaign with tier one prospects, sending handwritten letters to each individual on the buying committee, you can still use technology to automate the other parts of the process (i.e., identification and measurement).
The rest of the article will look at five specific ways you can make the most of automation in your account-based prospecting campaigns.
Successful account-based prospecting means engaging multiple people at multiple stages of the buying process. The chances of reaching the right person at the right time using just one channel are low, if not impossible. As a result, multi-channel communication is essential.
To decide which channels you should be using for your account-based prospecting, it’s important to understand who you’re contacting and their journey. Hopefully, you’ve already discovered what channels your prospects use as part of your ICP. If you haven’t, talk with your best existing customers and find out what channels work best for them. Remember, this is about using the channel that’s best for them, not necessarily what you prefer.
Consider the different stakeholders you’ll be reaching out to at the same account. For example, you might be able to pick up the phone and chat with the manager of the relevant department. However, the people who use your product on a daily basis — finance teams, legal departments, even members of the C-suite — may all be involved in the purchasing decision. How will you get hold of them?
Typical channels you’ll want to use include:
- SMS messaging
- Whatsapp messaging
- LinkedIn messaging
- Direct mail
While some of these are best done manually, you can also use automation to send relevant, personalized messages. Being able to send and manage multichannel communication from a dedicated sales automation platform, rather than having to jump between apps, makes this much easier.
Don’t forget marketing channels that may be used by people researching your product. In some cases, this will be the only way of realistically reaching senior-level decision makers. For example, your marketing team could put together display ads and website content (such as white papers and case studies) that are tailored to the account you’re targeting.
Know who you’re talking to
Choosing which accounts to target is fundamental to level up account-based prospecting. You may already have some dream companies in mind that you want to start with, but you shouldn’t limit your efforts to businesses you already know.
LinkedIn is an incredible resource for finding potential contacts, and you can do plenty with a free basic account. However, if you want to find accounts that are an exact match for your ICP, then I highly recommend using Sales Navigator. This will let you use over 40 different criteria to filter your results, from specific roles and seniority levels to company growth and leadership changes.
Not only will you get a list of contacts that match your ideal demographic and firmographic details, but you can also easily keep track of people and companies who may be a good fit in the future and receive alerts about any changes to their profile.
For many sales teams, especially in the software and technology sector, you should also consider technographics – the software and hardware that your ideal customers are using. For example, you might find that accounts that use a complementary piece of software are more likely to find a solution like yours useful. Likewise, you could also look for accounts that are using a competitor’s product, especially where you know your solution would be better for their particular use case.
While this information could be difficult and time-consuming to find manually, using tools to uncover technographics data speeds up the process, ensuring you’re able to target the right accounts and send relevant messages at scale.
Some wonder if it’s possible to automate the actual messaging in your account-based prospecting and for it to still be effective. While a one-to-one campaign would benefit the most from 100% original and unique messaging, a one-to-many campaign relies on automation to scale your efforts and make the most of limited resources.
But this requires proper segmentation for the messages to feel relevant. For example, if you’ve segmented your accounts by industry, then you could send them details of how you’ve helped other customers in the same niche overcome a common challenge.
For example, we’ve had a campaign targeted specifically at the companies growing their sales development teams. Using hiring intent as a reason for outreach helped us make our messaging more relevant at scale and generate 21.5% replies.
You can also personalize your messages at scale by using the default main core of your message and insert custom “snippets” into your emails in addition to the default variables. These highly personalized parts can refer to some highly relevant information – their interests or hobby, professional background, etc. – anything you can find online. Here are some examples of what these personalization snippets might be:
- Congrats on your 8th anniversary with Microsoft!
- Noticed you are a Bill Gates fan. Have you seen "Inside Bill's Brain"?
- Noticed you are a PS fan. Have you already played "God of War 2018"?
Similarly, your marketing team will come up with more content that addresses specific requirements. With a little work, this content can often be repurposed for different audiences who face similar challenges. So, if you have a landing page designed for a startup account, that could be the basis for a landing page aimed at a SaaS account.
However, keeping track of all your sales messages and marketing collateral gets harder as time goes by. To avoid this, start curating your own content library, with a list of all of your content along with who it’s designed for.
Get sales and marketing on the same page
A key component of successful account-based prospecting is that both the marketing and sales teams are fully involved. Rather than just one team taking ownership and calling all the shots, both teams should work together and share their input on every aspect of your strategy, from initial planning to execution. This includes:
- Which accounts to target
- Building buyer personas and ICPs
- Creating content
- Reviewing results
Marketing can create great bespoke content for sales teams to use, but only if sales is providing feedback on what kind of approach resonates most with the prospects they’re speaking to. This alignment allows you to create a unified and consistent message for every customer touchpoint.
Unfortunately, alignment continues to be a significant challenge with nearly 60% of sales and marketing professionals not feeling well-aligned. As with any change, it may take time for everyone to embrace account-based prospecting, especially if people are used to working in silos or systems that prioritize quantity over quality.
Regular meetings with both teams are essential. These should enable the free flow of information and allow teams to discuss any issues with accounts that could be hurting your results. In addition, these meetings can encourage closer connections and a deeper appreciation for the work done by the other team.
A big part of this collaboration is deciding what metrics and KPIs you’ll use to measure your campaign.
Manage your metrics and KPIs
The last step to automating your account-based prospecting strategy is to track and measure your efforts. With so many potential metrics to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at this stage. However, using the right KPIs will ensure you’re focused on what really matters, so that your automation is as effective as possible.
Bob Peterson, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, recommends breaking your metrics down into four categories:
- Readiness: How have you prepared?
- Activity: What have you done?
- Output: What happened as a result?
- Impact: What was the effect on your business goals?
Then, when we look at the sales impact of your account-based prospecting automation, this can be measured by looking at:
- Volume (how many sales opportunities you’re creating)
- Value (how much those accounts are worth)
- Velocity (how fast those accounts are moving through the pipeline)
When it comes to activity and output, being able to see key metrics in a single dashboard enables you to see what’s working and what needs improvement. For example, in Reply’s team performance dashboard, you can see an overview of the different touchpoints (both automated and manual) as well as how many meetings have been booked and converted, along with other key performance metrics.
Account-based prospecting isn’t about getting quick wins; you need to view it as a long-term strategy to see results. The more time you spend going through the process, the more you’ll learn about your best accounts. In turn, this allows you to refine your content and outreach, which you can then tailor to new campaigns.
Go beyond the metrics to get an overall view of what’s working (and what isn’t). Study your most successful campaigns, then compare them with the worst. What did you do differently? Can you replicate this positive difference in your future campaigns? Was it better across all of your KPIs or is there still room for improvement?
The best campaigns will often have areas that can be improved, while even a low-performing campaign may have positive results you can build on. By treating your account-based prospecting automation as an ongoing learning experience, you’ll continue to get better results for years to come.
Rather than trying to reach as many leads as possible with a “spray-and-pray” approach, account-based prospecting encourages you to focus your resources on high-quality outreach to your best-fit accounts.
While this typically involves more effort, automation can help you make the best use of your time and energy while still making a positive impact. For example, multichannel prospecting allows you to reach all the decision makers at your target account, while technology can help you find the dream accounts that match your ICP.
When both marketing and sales work together, collaborating on effective outreach and measuring campaign performance, you can successfully level up your account-based prospecting automation and drive meaningful results for your business.
Reply makes it easy to create, manage, and automate multichannel campaigns for your account-based prospecting. Try it out for yourself with a 14-day free trial.
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