How to Structure Your Team for Account-Based Sales Development Success

If you’ve been keeping a pulse on the sales and sales development space, then there’s no doubt you’ve heard of “account-based sales development” (ABSD). You may have even begun implementing your own version of ABSD with your team.

The account-based sales development model has caused a fundamental shift in the way prospecting and outbound sales is performed for companies selling in the mid-market and enterprise space. Comparing lead-based sales to ABSD is like trying to move a pile of sand with a spoon – why not use a bulldozer?

If you’re new to ABSD, there are the Cliff’s Notes. In this model, sales reps are focused on creating new qualified pipeline by prospecting at the account level rather than at the lead level. Both are ultimately focused on generating pipeline, but the difference lies in the way this is accomplished. Previously under the lead-based model, reps had to meet their goals with high volume efforts: engaging in more sales activities, sending more emails, making more dials, and moving on to the next prospect as quickly as possible. Since the average contract size of a targeted account in the ABSD model is much larger and more valuable, the focus is on high quality efforts; targeting high value accounts by following up multiple times, using numerous channels, and moving across decision makers within the account. This approach not only allows for more time researching and creating highly personalized messaging, but demands it.

However, with all the hype around ABSD, I’ve seen sales leaders jump into trying to implement this strategy without all the proper information and preparation required to set themselves up for success. The single most detrimental factor that I see sales teams overlook or completely miss before implementing ABSD is organizational alignment. Do you have the right people involved, is the organization prepared, and does everyone know how to work together?

The Account-Based Marketing and Account-Based Sales Development Misconception

Account-based marketing has been around for a while and has gained more popularity in the last few years. It’s thought of as the process of targeting specific individuals within accounts and using marketing techniques (such as targeted ad buying, content marketing, retargeting, etc.) to bring them through the marketing funnel. It was a process that marketing and only marketing owned.

Now, separately, sales teams have decided to take on prospecting and selling at the account level, thus the rise of ABSD.

The misconception is that one function is responsible for the activity of targeting and breaking into accounts. It shouldn’t be thought of as a marketing campaign or sales campaign, but rather a strategic business initiative that involves your entire organization.

Once your entire team is aligned with your growth initiatives, having marketing, sales, customer success and everyone else on the same page will be the best thing for your growth.

Company Alignment via a Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Traditionally (and unfortunately), marketing and sales teams have not always seen eye to eye. Mark Roberge puts it well in his book, The Sales Acceleration Formula, “Marketing sits in one corner of the office, harboring the perception that the sales team is a group of overpaid, self-centered brats who fail to see the big picture strategy. Sales is in the other corner of the office thinking the marketing team sits around doing arts and crafts all day, and has no idea what qualified leads look like.” Obviously, this is not good for the bottom line.

Roberge advises for a Service Level Agreement (SLA), which is meant to establish similarly quantified agreements between the two teams and aims to put them on similar revenue quota. Establish an SLA that defines what a qualified lead is, when that lead should be passed to the sales team, and how the sales team should then go about contacting and converting the lead. This way sales is accountable to marketing just like marketing is accountable to sales. Roberge further recommends sending out daily reports to keep each team motivated and on track.

This SLA should include:

  • Agreed upon definitions and criteria for
    • A contact
    • A qualified opportunity
    • A qualified account
    • A customer
    • A customer at risk, etc.
  • Account management process
    • An agreed upon definition of what success looks like, which includes
    • KPIs
    • Benchmarks
    • Monthly, quarterly and annual goals for Sales, Marketing and Customer Service
  • Reporting – dashboards and in-depth reports for each team and how stakeholders can access the information

Only once sales and marketing are fully aligned, can you begin to implement an effective ABSD strategy.

Tactical Team Structure for ABSD

In lead-based selling, every rep was for him or herself. However, that doesn’t work within ABSD. Selling at the account level takes a team consisting of Sales Development Representatives, Account Executives and Account Managers /Customer Success Managers. For enterprise sales on the inside sales team, the SDR to AE or to AM/CSM ratio should be around 1:1:1.

As a general rule of thumb for enterprise level prospecting, a team should only be prospecting about 50 accounts at any given time. Only after an account is closed won or dead lost does a sales development rep add another account. The sales development team become true experts about their assigned accounts and the unique problems facing each account.

Once you have cooperation at an organizational level, you still need to make sure you have cooperation at an operational level. Here’s what we mean. Up until now, we’ve talked at a high level of getting your teams on the same page. In theory, that’s all good. However, when you begin to execute at the tactical level, your teams may not know how to coordinate day-to-day activities and communicate progress. Our solution is the Daily Team Stand-up.

It sounds simple because…well, it is. At PersistIQ, we’ve implemented a daily team stand-up between our marketing, sales and customer success teams. We start every meeting at the top of the funnel and work our way down. Each member reports on their one metric that matters most and the activity related to that metric. This way, each member of the sales team knows what I’m doing on the marketing side, and I know the objections everyone is encountering in the field when they’re out talking to prospects and customers. Don’t confuse this with a time to give an update, but rather a time to report on major changes, challenges and progress on target accounts (if any). This should take only between 5-7 minutes.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, account-based sales development requires a more strategic, thoughtful and collaborative approach. Only when you get buy-in from your sales, marketing and customer success team can you begin to develop a winning strategy. Once everyone is on the same page, you can start to coordinate the efforts of the individual team members.

Of course, this is only the beginning of account-based sales development. We’ve only scratched the surface. Each topic discussed here can even be broken down further, not to mention we haven’t yet touched on other important structural changes your team has to make, such as:

  • When taking an ABSD approach can be harmful rather than helpful
  • How ABSD KPIs and benchmarks are different
  • How to re-structure, organize and manage your database for ABSD success
  • Methodologies and best practice for executing ABSD
  • What the best tools and technologies are to help you accelerate ABSD

To cover that, we’ve teamed up with QuotaFactory to give you The Account-Based Sales Development for Revenue-Driven Team. This free eBook covers all this and more. Download it here.

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Brandon Redlinger
Brandon Redlinger
Director of Growth

Brandon Redlinger is the Director of Growth at Engagio, which builds software that helps Account Based Marketing, Sales, and Sales Development teams orchestrate human connections. Previously he was the head of Growth at PersistIQ. He has been in sales and marketing his entire career, leading teams across the country from NYC to Denver to the San Francisco Bay. When he's not growing companies, you'll find him playing any form of hockey, buried in a book or on an adventure exploring the world.
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