Customer Post: The Great Account-Based Sales Debate: Land & Expand or Storm the Gates?

Paul Dean, SDR Manager at zlien's Avatar

Paul Dean, SDR Manager at zlien


There are many perspectives on how to best approach prospects: should you land and expand? Should you storm the gates and go straight to the C-Suite? When targeting national companies with longer sales cycles, our sales team tends to use a combination of both methods. It’s important to work the entire account rather than an individual contact to get buy-in. Sometimes this may occur from the top-down, and other times, it may come by slowly gaining trust from regional users who have individual buying power.

Our outbound sales targets usually fall into the Mid-Market or Enterprise segments (we sell a SaaS product for the construction industry), and we have found that a healthy ROI is best achieved through an account-based approach. Attacking the entire account helps us to increase the average contract value of our deals, decrease the cost of acquisition, and gather valuable data about the industry. While account-based sales is a well-known buzzword, the process of succeeding in account-based sales – sales engagement – is slightly less known. As the name implies, sales engagement simply refers to how your prospects engage with a full account while still remaining strategic.

However, this process isn’t without its challenges. When approaching new, cold prospects, here are a few different approaches we consider before jumping in:

Should I go straight to the C-Suite level of the company first?

It’s never a bad thing to buy a ticket to the top early on and get a referral down to other prospects within the company later. Many prospects will feel more inclined to engage in an initial conversation if they believe that a decision-maker from their organization wants to institute a change. And this way, if there’s push-back in the later stages of the deal, your rep can always go back to the executive level, where they got permission to engage in the first place.

Or should I contact the end-users--those who are experiencing the everyday pain points--first?

In some cases this approach is more effective, because the “end-users”--the employees who will be using your solution on a daily basis if they purchase it--are usually the users experiencing the pain points. They are also the users who live in and experience the current processes, and can inform your reps of what works well and what needs improvement.  If you are able to make them believe your solution will solve their problems, they will be advocates for you, making your solution easier to sell up the hierarchy.

It is also important to note that the more a prospect believes your software is enhancing his/her job rather than replacing it, the more likely he/she will be able to influence other prospects and C-level executives to institute the change. Account based sales is a delicate line between persistence and spamminess. It's good to contact a mix of stakeholders, but make sure to limit the total amount of people contacted in one org. The best sales engagement platforms now have technology in place that makes it impossible to contact more than 10 people from a single domain each day.

Who really has the buying power and authority to make a change in the organization?

Our BDRs and AEs often think that the person on the discovery or qualification call has the authority to sign the contract or control the budget. However, most of the time the higher-level executives need to approve a contract or agreement. It’s better in the long run to ask the right kind of qualification questions to get insight into the decision making process. For example, ask how similar software systems have been implemented, or what steps need to be taken to move the contract forward.

Once you have nailed down an approach strategy, you can focus on the other elements of your process. Not all of your outbound team’s work has to be relegated to grinding out cold calls and cold emails all day (though these methods do have a large impact on our success). There are a number of activities that contribute to the process as well. Here are some of the strategies that directly help our Outbound team produce revenue:

1. Leverage Your Content with Marketing’s Help

We’ve utilized our internal marketing team to help create customer success stories, build competitor battle cards, and understand different objections we receive when calling prospects. Marketing can enable sales with more ammo by crafting different landing pages and messages for the prospects who might visit your site.

It’s also important to note that a partnership between sales and marketing will allow you to increase brand awareness and target your messaging, which will inevitably bring in more inbound leads.  This is helpful in the long run and will increase ROI and the size of your deals. Again, new technology makes it easier to ensure that the messages from marketing flow seamlessly into the sales process, creating a more powerful and cohesive message.

2. A Strong Sales Engagement Strategy Begins with Narrow, Well-Defined Targets

Since we sell into the construction industry, and specifically to subcontractors and suppliers, we divide our territories according to targeted industry segments. For example, we have an AE that focuses solely on Equipment Rental companies. Specializing allows our reps to have more targeted conversations and build a list of references to use on calls—quickly gaining a status as a trusted advisor with their prospects.

We’ve even built a list of our Dream 100--the top 100 customers whose business we want to secure through consistent, constant effort. Our sales team targets each and every one of them until they become our customers, allowing us to focus our efforts on an end goal. New sales engagement analytics make it very easy to quickly identify marquee accounts and narrow your focus accordingly.

3. Don’t Take One No as the Last No

Seeking buy-in from multiple prospective users and decision-makers is key. Our reps try to dive deeper into the account by qualifying the company rather than just a single contact. Just because the first contact we talk to isn’t interested in speaking about our solution doesn’t mean we give up, because another contact may be experiencing more of the pain points. Some end-users may not be as progressive in implementing new solutions, or have prior relationships with preferred vendors; so you may to dig deeper to find the end-users who want to work with you.

4. Invest in a Sales Engagement Platform and Other Sales Technology

A sales engagement platform platform has become a key part of today’s sales stack. It’s important to choose a platform that allows for better reporting, accelerates workflow for your reps, and allows managers to see the metrics that are driving success and the ones that need to be improved. The platform we chose to invest in was Outreach. Since implementing Outreach, zlien has seen steady increase in the number of SQOs (Sales Qualified Opportunities) and the number of demos completed. The graph below shows the increase in the number of opportunities created (yellow) and number of demos completed (gray) week over week since we first implemented Outreach.


In addition to sales automation, it’s definitely helpful to invest in call coaching and a recording software when onboarding any new rep. With these tools, we’ve taken on new reps with no sales experience and exponentially increased the number of opportunities produced as well as the quality of the conversations that they have on a weekly basis.

5. Sell the Solution, not the Software

We have a sign (The Only Things We Sell) on our sales floor that defines the value propositions behind the four solutions we sell. Defining these value props allows our reps to focus on providing merit and value rather than just trying to sell the technical specifications or features of our software.

Overall, the important thing to remember when building an outbound sales team is to develop a process, but make sure it’s adaptable to the changes and surprises that will certainly arise. It’s okay if it doesn’t work the first time--you’ll eventually find the ideal combination of methods to propel your team to success.

Is Outreach the missing piece in your tech stack?

Complete me