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By: Alice Heiman
Categories: lead generation, Referrals, Sales

Account based selling or marketing are both big buzz words in the sales industry right now. It’s not a new concept, but new technology, data, and tools are bringing this selling method to the forefront for many sales leaders and company owners.

My friend Joanne Black and I were talking about this resurgence the other day, and we both agree that getting a referral is the best way to start a sale. Let’s be honest, it’s a lot easier to get a referral than it is to cold call — even if it is account based. When sales leaders combine a proven referral program with account based selling, they can drive enormous growth. Joanne wrote a blog post that is a must-read for any sales leader who wants to amp up their account based selling with a proven referral program, and I wanted to share it with you.

Let me let you in on a secret: Account-based selling isn’t anything new.

This lead generation strategy is the source of much hype in our industry. There are even new acronyms and monikers, such as “land and expand” and “seed and grow.” People talk about it as if it’s some recently discovered prospecting strategy. But it’s just a new word for what those of us who sell to named accounts have always done.

Account-based selling is, however, an extremely effective way to sell, especially when it’s partnered with a robust referral program. Getting referrals is the No. 1 way for prospecting into named accounts and then expanding to other areas of a client’s company.

1. How to Land and Expand (or Whatever Buzzword You Want to Call It)

Savvy sales leaders understand that when selling to large enterprises, reps must get in quickly, close deals, deliver on their promises and expand to other divisions. But account-based selling requires more than just determination and lead generation tools. It requires a referral program—a disciplined, measurable, systematic system.

It’s much simpler to get to decision-makers with qualified referrals. Prospects will always take meetings with B2B sales reps referred by colleagues they know and trust. And your current clients would be happy to refer your team to decision-makers in other departments.

The problem is, they probably won’t think to do so unless they’re asked.

When your account-based sellers ask every single client for referrals, your team will generate qualified sales leads faster and more consistently than with any other prospecting method. Referrals are even more important now that the average buyer committee has at least 6.8 people, according to CEB. (I’m scared to think what 8/10 of a person looks like, but you get the picture.)

Last year, that number was 5.4. As committees grow and sellers need to impress more and more people just to get one deal, it will be more important than ever to build relationships and establish trust quickly. Referrals give sales reps a head start on both.

A referral program, systematically executed, enables your sales team to:

  • Build referral skills, so they know how to make all sales leads count
  • Convert more than 70 percent of prospects into clients
  • Ace out the competition (While others must rely on digital lead generation, your account-based sellers are getting personal introductions to decision-makers)

Best of all, your team can get these results without ever cold calling again. And that’s good news because today’s buyers don’t respond to cold calls, cold emails, or cold social media tactics. It takes 18 dials for a cold caller to connect with a buyer, according to research by TOPO, and only 23.9 percent of sales emails are opened.

Do you really want your top sellers wasting their time with such outdated and intrusive lead generation tactics?

2. Relationships Are Better Than Technology in Account-Based Selling

Many truly believe that technology is the key to lead generation. Really? I’m stymied.

Sure, for reps who sell commodities, enhanced technology is imperative. But account-based sellers are selling complex solutions that require an in-depth understanding of the prospect company—who all buyers are, how decisions get made, what their real business challenges are and what other solutions and vendors they’re considering.

Your sales team won’t get this intelligence with a cold outreach—even if their emails are enticing. But when they receive referral introductions, they get relevant insights right away.

Technology still plays an important role for account-based sellers. It can help them identify key drivers in their target companies, determine who to contact, find mutual connections, and even learn a bit about the challenges prospects are facing. But technology won’t tell account-based sellers how to minimize risk for prospects. It won’t tell them who the key influencers are within a company, who has the budget, how decisions get made, or any of the other “personal stuff” that matters.

Why? Because people buy from people, not from technology. More specifically, they buy from B2B sales reps who develop and foster relationships, ask probing questions, and uncover pressing needs that must be addressed.

3. The Early Bird Gets the Deal

The No. 1 goal of account-based sellers is to get in before prospects even know they have a need. Referred salespeople get in the door early, build relationships, and get the lay of the land. They don’t just offer solutions to prospects’ unique needs—they help identify those needs. Suddenly, the chances of a competitive challenge are slim. Sure, many companies are required to send out an RFP. But your account-based sellers are in a position to help draft the RFP.

Think about what’s happened in the past when you responded to an RFP. Your sales and marketing teams spent hours or even days crafting an excellent proposal. Perhaps you made the short list, so you spent more time developing a presentation, determining who should be on the team, and flying them somewhere to present. But you still lost, because your competitor had already established a relationship with the prospect before you ever entered the picture. And that’s how people make decisions.

That’s why referral selling is your biggest competitive differentiator and your team’s ticket into the C-suite.

Account-based sellers can’t depend on marketing for lead generation. They must take responsibility for qualified lead generation and scoring meetings with decision-makers. Help them get started by implementing a strategic referral program with skills, metrics, accountability for results, and an immediate integration into your sales process.

For personalized coaching to help you and your sales team combine new technology with proven techniques, call me at 775-852-5020 or schedule time to chat about it.

Alice Heiman
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Alice Heiman

Founder and CSO at Alice Heiman, LLC
Alice Heiman has been helping companies increase sales for more than 20 years. Her innovative sales leadership programs, coupled with her top-down approach to creating long-term change, set up sales leaders and sales-managing business owners to get consistent and sustainable growth.
Alice Heiman
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