The value of ABS (account-based selling)

Posted October 2, 2019

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By Sunny Bjerk

Product Marketing Manager at Outreach

Guest post by Todd Caponi, author, speaker, trainer, consultant, and Managing Director at VentureSCALE

Since the beginning of time, sales has existed to match potential buyers with the solutions for life’s wants and needs.

Prior to the 1990s, buyers largely relied on the vendor as the main source of information in order to make a confident and informed purchase. There was no internet. There were no smartphones or even personal computers, so predicting the product’s success and fit meant talking to the vendors themselves and most likely to their sales person.

Sellers, on the other hand, often had commission-only sales jobs where salary was practically non-existent. This meant that their ability to put food on the table was dependent on their ability to separate dollars from your wallet, taking home a percentage of the sale.

As the primary source of information, sellers were in control and could afford the risk of hiding a flaw— especially given that the risk of “oversharing” might mean not having a paycheck that week.

As a result, buyers often learned the hard way how much they could trust sellers.

Forty-plus years have passed since the beginning of the Information Age. With the advent of the Digital and Feedback ages, buyers have acquired the control, and sales has had to evolve to continue delivering value to the buyer during their decision making process.

This is where ABS (Account-Based Selling) comes in.

At its core, ABS is a highly personalized targeting and messaging strategy based on the individual buyer. So, instead of the traditional messaging spray approach, ABS treats individual targets as though they are your only target account.

Given what we now know about how humans make decisions, including purchasing decisions, ABS is one of the best ways to maximize results.

To start, let’s level set on how we, as human beings, really make decisions. While we might think that we’re very logical, neuroscientists have concluded the opposite. We make all of our decisions in the feeling and emotional center of our brains, and then use logic to justify those decisions.

And what are those feelings? Well, it’s not love or hate. Our decision-making is driven by a combination of five feelings that need to be satisfied: prestige, predictability, autonomy, association, and fairness.

  1. Prestige: we have an inherent desire to be recognized by others, validated, and achieve status. My 45-year-old neighbor didn’t replace his Toyota Corolla with a Chevy Corvette for the reasons he told me (acceleration and an incredible financing rate), he bought it for the prestige.
  2. Predictability: we want to be able to forecast what our experience will be in every decision we make. This is why 96% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase of medium-to-high consideration, and 82% immediately seek out the negative reviews first. People are wired to resist influence, and inherently don’t believe that anything is perfect.
  3. Autonomy: we want to be able to rely on ourselves. Decisions that allow us to maintain or gain more control are attractive. When a decision involves us losing control, such as bringing in a technology that replaces ourselves or something we love to do, we back away from it and justify our aversion with logic. This helps to explain why, for example, those of us who enjoy driving are averse to self-driving cars.
  4. Association: we are social beings, finding reptilian safety in being a part of a pack. The larger the pack, the safer we feel. Trendy restaurants, clubs, societies, sports teams, and other groups thrive based on this inherent need.
  5. Fairness: we want the rewards to match or exceed our effort or resources used, such as time and money. In other words, is the juice worth the squeeze?

Compared to traditional sales approaches, with an ABS approach the value of your product or solution aligns more positively to your buyer’s five feelings and decision-making process.

  1. Prestige: part of prestige is the recognition we receive for a job well done. ABS lowers the likelihood of a bad decision for the buying brain because ABS allows the seller to make the buyer smarter about their own business. In other words, instead of “this is how awesome we are,” ABS is framed in “this is how awesome you can be” and shows them how you can help them elevate their business status.
  2. Predictability: if someone is selling generically, it’s up to you to predict how it will work for you, so you call peers, read online reviews, check references, talk to analysts, etc. But when messaging is tailored to the specific company and buyer, it resonates more effectively because it allows them to envision the solution in their own world, and makes predictability becomes frictionless.
  3. Autonomy: focusing sales efforts on the individual provides them with the resources they need to maximize the impact of an investment. Relying on others is reduced dramatically through the process, and the picture becomes clear of what impact the solution will have on the individual buyer’s work environment.
  4. Association: ABS is team selling. Instead of sellers being “vendors,” they immediately are perceived to be part of the buyer’s team and working to achieve the best results for the buyer, rather than for themselves.
  5. Fairness: Maybe a little less directly, ABS drives a perception of value, which allows a buyer to more effectively gauge the rewards for their company and themselves as a result of the effort and investment.

Personalized and valuable always wins. Optimizing for the buying brain in an era where the buyers have control will always win. ABS also gives you the opportunity to differentiate in the way you sell, standing out from the noise of the other sellers who are still pounding prospects into submission.

Todd Caponi is author of the award-winning book, The Transparency Sale, Managing Director of Chicago’s VentureSCALE, and a speaker & workshop leader as Principal of Sales Melon LLC.


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