My first selling job was shifting roses for a charity ahead of Valentine’s Day. It was 100% cold calling. I knew nothing about the customer. But I soon found out that I sold a lot more roses when I did. Shifting from a straight “I’m selling roses for $24 a dozen” to “Is there anyone you might need roses for this year?” took me from mostly rejection to being the best seller in my area.
Some folks I spoke to had love stories, some had stories of loss. I remember quite a few of them even today, many years later. The crucial element was what savvy salespeople all know. To be successful, you must make the conversation about the buyer, not the seller.
If you have a short sales cycle of days, hours, or minutes, such as online sales, perhaps this can be addressed generically. There are some needs that might be universal to any customer who will buy from you. You need, in that case, to have some map of who the customer is. You can call it a persona if you must, but I think it works better to think of it as your actual customers. Unmet, but real. Out there waiting. Picture them as clearly as you can in your mind. Now, proceed in their direction.
Nothing works better for making sales than truthful messages directed to the customers you are picturing so clearly.
If you have a long cycle, such as when you are selling high-value technology, where perhaps as well as the cost of goods there is also potentially expensive project risk, then the consideration cycle will be long and the only way to capture the customer will be with a sales strategy that focuses on identifying and engaging intimately with your selected customer.
If you are someone who called the person in your mind a persona, you might now call that selection process ‘creating an ICP’ (ideal customer prospect). You must be ready to ask a lot of questions, to really get to know your customer. This maximizes conversion rates and fosters long-term partnerships. Crucially, it lets both sides recognise and receive value.
From my point of view, it doesn’t matter whether the activity is sales-led or marketing-led: both groups must work together to get the job done. Marketing organisations that forget the end goal is sales end up building palaces that no one ever visits. Sales organisations that regard marketing as interfering cut off a key source of leads and wonder why their prospects must be warmed up every time.
At the core of the Account Based Selling or Marketing (ABS/ABM) process I am describing, is the identification and definition of that ideal customer prospect (persona or ICP). Rather than casting a wide net and hoping for conversions, ABS emphasizes quality interactions over quantity. By carefully identifying target accounts that align with your business goals and values, you can tailor your sales approach to meet their specific needs. Try thinking of it not as your experience of selling, but of theirs of being your customer (you can call that ABX if you are getting into collecting acronyms).
Understanding your ideal customers on a deeper level allows you to create personalized experiences that resonate with their pain points, challenges, and objectives, ultimately driving meaningful conversions and sustainable growth.
Personal Contact, Not Automated.
Unlike marketing and sales methods that rely heavily on automation, ABS puts a premium on personal contact. This approach involves building genuine relationships and engaging in meaningful conversations with key decision-makers. Do that and you can offer tailored solutions and position yourself as a trusted advisor. This personalized approach demonstrates a commitment to their success and differentiates you from competitors relying on automated interactions.
By fostering genuine connections and going the extra mile to understand your customers on an individual level, you build a strong foundation for collaboration, foster loyalty, and ultimately drive sustainable business growth. The personal touch creates an opportunity for open dialogue and feedback, enabling continuous improvement and innovation in your products and services.
What to look for in a customer: Segment, Budget, Collaboration.
To effectively implement ABS, you must segment your target accounts using factors such as company size, industry, revenue, or geography. It's crucial to understand each account's budgetary considerations and align your solutions accordingly.
A collaborative mindset is essential, fostering open communication with key stakeholders to develop an offer that is mutually beneficial. Be consultative rather than proscriptive, providing valuable insights and guidance without imposing your solutions.
The art of listening should take centre stage. Truly understand the intricacies of your customers' businesses, their aspirations, and the industry dynamics that shape their environment. Leverage this knowledge to show your insight and go beyond the surface-level prescriptions they are seeing from other potential suppliers. This is how you elevate yourself from a mere vendor to a strategic partner.
Sales might sometimes be a dirty word but do it right and it is remarkably fulfilling.
Demand Generation vs. Lead Generation.
In the context of startups, Account-Based Selling offers a unique advantage by combining demand generation and lead generation. Traditional lead generation methods often rely on casting a wide net and generating as many leads as possible. However, in a startup environment, resources and time are limited, making it crucial to focus efforts on leads with the highest potential for conversion. With cash-burning there is no time to waste.
Account-Based Selling allows you to identify the 4% of customers in the market at any given time (and the 1% during a recession), enabling you to concentrate resources where they will yield the greatest return on investment.
In a startup, sales are often down to the senior team, very possibly the CEO. Marketing may not even exist as a function, though in some senses it’s the primary activity of a startup seeking to secure funding, attract talent, and find customer fit for an MVP (minimum viable product).
[Stop reading here if you want to skip my pitch].
A fractional CMO can support founders and their teams with everything from discovering buyer personas; creating GTM plans; developing pitch messaging; sales and negotiation training, to build confidence and embed processes; hiring (third parties or internally); customer research; media relations and thought leadership to create a warm sales environment; and, always, more.
From short-term strategy projects to kick-start your sales and marketing, to tactical delivery deeply embedded in your company, working with a fractional CMO (you know I mean me, right?) gives you access early on to experience and skills that will start you from a position of excellence, and save you heartache and reinvention later.
My email, by the way, is firstname.lastname@example.org.