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What We Get Wrong About Account Based Selling

by David Brock on September 12th, 2017

Account based marketing and selling gets a lot of attention–it should.  There’s huge amounts of data about the cost of acquisition–the cost of growing revenue from existing customers versus the costs of acquiring new customers.

Before I go further, let me be clear, we have to drive both, if we are to grow over the long term, we need to be acquiring new customers and expanding our share within current customers.  But the focus of this article is on our current customers and how we grow the business.

But what do we get wrong about growing our accounts?

We abandon what caused us to be successful in acquiring the account in the first place!

Think about it, we probably won the account by disrupting their thinking-perhaps in just a small way.  Maybe it was helping them address a problem they recognized, perhaps it was giving them insight that enabled them to address a new opportunity, perhaps it was helping them simplify and gain clarity in improving their business and lives.

Presumably, the customer chose us because we were the best to help them achieve what they wanted to achieve and our solution enabled them to improve.

But somehow, when we land the account, our behaviors change—though we pretend they don’t.  While we say we want to grow the business, our highest priorities are to retain the business that we have.

We put “farmers” in place to support the customer–rather than the hunters that got us there in the first place.  Metrics and compensation are biased to protecting what we have, with some growth if possible.

We strive to keep the customer satisfied, adopting a service oriented mentality in what we do.  The thinking is, “If we can keep the customer happy, if we delight them, if we exceed their expectations–we will earn more business.

It turns out, there is very little correlation between exceeding customer expectations in providing great service and growing the account.  When you think about it, it males sense–what we are doing is helping maintain the the new status quo.

But the customer is always concerned about improvement—how do they grow, how do they get better, how do they address new opportunities.

Continuing to focus on retention and customer service doesn’t do anything but help maintain what they are currently doing.  Yes, we have to keep them satisfied, but over investing in customer delight doesn’t help them improve.  In fact our service orientation becomes wasted effort on our part.

To grow our accounts, we have to go back to the same thinking and approaches that allowed us to acquire the account in the first place.  We have to continue to help them discover opportunities to improve!

Our account managers have to have the same skills and capabilities our “hunters” have.  They have to aggressively search the account for opportunities to improve, they must constantly engage the customer, teaching and learning with them.

It turns out growing our accounts is very similar to finding and acquiring new accounts.  It turns out the type of sales skills and competencies are the same as with our “hunters.”

Are you investing in your accounts, are you investing the right resources to grow the accounts?


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  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Thanks again Dave for this timely reminder.

    I think many struggle with this seemingly paradoxical challenge:

    In order to get a new client, you have to give them reason to move. Once they’ve moved you have to give them reason to stay – these look like opposing missions!

    The reality, as you allude to, is that the reason a client moves to you is also the reason they stay – you give them greater value than they can get anywhere else, and this is almost never going to be about the products & services you offer…

    Recently a major player in the web-based video communications/coaching world tried to tempt us away from our current provider ‘Commercial Tribe’. The sales person was very proud of how successful they were flipping clients from Commercial Tribe to them. OK, great. But that doesn’t help me one little bit with my challenges.

    He wanted to do a pilot on a small scale. Seems reasonable, except my sales managers, some of them, would have to contend with working 2 systems together – confusing potentially, and not popular!

    He thought he was at ‘Trusted Advisor’ status because we had a bit of a rapport. I suspect.

    What I learned from this interaction over a few weeks is just what I DID value in my partnership with CommercialTribe. I realised that this other player could offer me their platform for free and save us hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and I still wouldn’t take it!

    Why? Because Commercial Tribe ARE Trusted Advisors. They are utterly focused on helping me tackle my challenges. They bring me perspectives, insight, and help us avoid pitfalls and select the best option at the time. Consequently we have, with them, evolved a fantastic and practical tool that will demonstrably have a huge impact on our ability to get invite to the rest of the conversation, with new clients as well as existing ones.

    They gave me reason to try out this new technology, to buy in to it, and regularly they give me reason to stay with them.

    There’s no paradox to face when you are totally focused on creating value with (not ‘for’!) the client…

    • Fascinating case study Martin. It seems he was more focused on a competitive displacement than creating real value that was meaningful to you. Because of his lack of focus on what you valued and how he could augment and grow value with you, he instead reinforced the value Commercial Tribe was creating. Huge sales error!

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