Designing Plays for Your Account Based Sales Development Playbook

We’ve already written previous posts about the who (accounts) and the what (content) of Account Based Sales Development and Account Based Everything. These are the insights and messages that will guide your SDRs as they personalize their engagements with prospects.

What we haven’t explored is the where – these are the channels and touchpoints that your SDRs will use to deliver those messages.

By now, your SDRs should be primed with relevant insights to share with their target accounts. Now it’s time to reach out.

You’re likely familiar with “dialing for dollars,” “power hours,” “smiling and dialing,” and on and on. That soon evolved into spamming via email where technology enabled reps to blast their prospects with generic messages en masse.

However, this is a limited view of traditional prospecting.

If you want to succeed in Account Based Sales Development, you must broaden your view of how to effectively get in front of your target accounts.

Here are the essential elements of well designed outbound sales Plays to help your SDRs penetrate target accounts.

  • The right number of touches
  • Diversifying your channels
  • Optimal timing
  • The most relevant and valuable content
  • Getting the right Players from your team involved

For a quick refresher, here’s our definition of a Play: A Play is a series of steps that orchestrates interactions across departments and channels to achieve a business purpose for one or more buying centers at target accounts.

Before we dive into each element, I want to let you in on a little secret. Everyone wants the secret sauce that will have responses flooding their inboxes. The secret is… there is no secret, no magic formula. That’s why you need multiple follow ups. That’s why it’s important to leverage different channels. That’s why you need the best technology to support your efforts.

Furthermore, what works for one person in one industry at one point in time may not (and probably will not) work for you. That’s why you must continue to test and refine your outbound efforts. Only then can you begin to dial in the right combination of the elements and find what works for you.

Ok, now let’s take a closer look at each to help you begin to build your playbook.

The Right Number of Touches

There are “sales experts” that proclaim you must have 5 follow ups, while others say 12. I’ve even heard one self-proclaimed guru preach 17 is the right number. What’s the right number?

From my years of being an SDR and my years running growth at sales companies, there are a few things that I’ve learned and want to share with you.

The first lesson is persistence wins. That said, here’s a right way to be persistent and provide value at every touch, which we will dive into later. This is the difference between being an annoying pest and a respected, welcomed guest.

Steli Efti, CEO of articulates his philosophy: “I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one.” He even tells a story of following up with an investor 48 times before getting a meeting. I’m not saying you should follow up with 48 touches, and in fact, you probably shouldn’t. But this drives the point of persistence home.

When you’re using the right ABSD platform, building in multiple touches and remembering to do those touches at the right time becomes easy. Often times, I hear SDRs say they simply forgot to send more than 2 or 3 touches. It’s not a matter of whether it’s good for their prospecting efforts or not – it’s about making it easy and convenient.

Diversifying Your Channels

Phone and email are the most common types of touches, but in today’s complex B2B sales environment, they are table-stakes. Prospecting must always be multi-channel. Each channel has its own strengths and weaknesses.

If you take nothing else away from this section, let it be this: a mix of channels will always out-perform any single channel.

Here are our big three channels that the foundation of an ABSD discipline is built on:

  1. Human email – as opposed to automated templates or marketing automation campaigns
  2. The phone – including voice mail and live calls
  3. Social media – and industry community sites

More ambitious SDRs will go beyond those channels and become fairly active on Twitter and LinkedIn. The most ambitious reps have a knack for finding the most creative channels for prospecting. Here is a list of other possible channels you can use to diversify your outbound efforts.

  • Text messages
  • Personal video
  • Google Hangout
  • Personal podcast
  • Slideshare
  • Personal website
  • Direct mail
  • Fax
  • Door to door
  • AngelList profile
  • profile
  • Etc.

Choose your channels wisely– Respect the prospect and the channel. I love the advice of Gary Vaynerchuck: “If content is king, then context is God.” Neglecting to first take context into consideration can have the opposite effect, relegating you to the blacklist. Sometimes for some prospects, personal channels, like Facebook or Snapchat aren’t appropriate.

“Multi-channel cadences simulate the richness of face -to-face relationships while keeping the costs down.”

–Ken Krogue

Optimal Timing

An old sales mentor of mine us to say, “The difference between lettuce and garbage is timing.” How does this apply to sales? The right message to the right person but delivered at the wrong time is as good as garbage.

I know there have been studies and posts about the best day of the week or best time of the day to send emails. Personally, I think those are BS. They always conflict with each other. And once the report comes out say that 10am on a Tuesday is the best time to send email, guess when everyone and their mothers start sending emails? Guess what time of which day becomes the worst time to send an email?

Just like the other elements, there is no secret sauce.

Here’s another lesson I learned that you can apply for immediate results. Be a little more persistent early on, then begin tapering off if the prospect hasn’t responded. We’ve seen great results sending the 2nd touch one day or even 12 hours after sending the first. Studies have shown that emails that receive replies do so within 24 hours of the email being opened.

Another factor to consider when designing the timing of your Plays is the target persona – Who are you trying to reach? Emails sent to associates on nights and weekends get terrible response rates because they don’t check their email during non-working house. On the other hand, C-Suite executives check their emails day or night, holidays and weekends.

The Most Relevant and Valuable Content

The content of your outbound efforts is a critical determining factor whether you come across as an annoying pest or a persistent, respected guest. Follow up messages that say “just checking in” or “just following up” will get your forever condemned to the spam folder.

John Barrows, a well-known sales trainer and author states, “‘Touching base’ and ‘checking in’ are two of the most meaningless phrases in sales. They mean there’s no reason for your call, so therefore there’s no reason for me to talk to you.”

How do you fix this grievous error? Offer value at every touch. Barrows suggests leading with, “The reason for my call is…” Can’t finish that sentence? Then don’t reach out!

Here are 4 reasonable and justifiable reasons for following up with a target prospect:

  • Reemphasize business value – What can you do for the prospect? You must find a way to provide value. Talk to their fears and frustration or wants and aspirations.
  • Provide commercial insights – Studies by the ITSMA prove that “75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials that contain ideas that might be relevant to their business.” Share a different way to approach their problems or a novel idea for how they can reach their business goals.
  • Teach/Educate – Offer a piece of valuable content, that your marketing team has provided you. It could be anything from a whitepaper or ebook to webinar or case study.
  • Offer relevant news – Savvy business people love to stay up-to-date with the latest on what’s happening in their industry or market. They’ll thank you for it, and you’ll be positioned as a trusted expert and in-the-know.

One of the most frequent questions we get about content is, “how much personalization is necessary?” The more personalization the better. However, that’s not always scalable.

Here’s our rule of thumb for personalization: the more important the account or the contact, the more you want to personalize and the less you want to use a template. The degree of personalization will depend on the tier you’re targeting.

  • Tier 1: Highly personalized, with little or no templating
  • Tier 2: Personalized, perhaps using the 10/80/10 approach: Customize the first 10%; Use the template for the next 80% (with possible personal tweaks); Customize the last 10%.
  • Tier 3: Customized rather than personalized (e.g. targeted to their industry and persona, uses their name and company name)

Your goal is to make sure the prospect feels like the email really is written to him or her, as an individual. That’s not a trick, it’s the truth (if not, you’re doing it wrong). To do that you must show that you’ve been thinking about them.

We use some of the same rules as we do for the personalization of content:

content personalization
Using the right technology can get you halfway there by providing intelligence and automation, which gives you the ability to create templates and send more outbound emails. But that’s only part of the puzzle. The other part is incorporating personalization, which gives it the human touch.

Here’s the test I like to use: Can you replace the basic merge-tags/ fields, such as [FIRST NAME!] or [COMPANY!] with another name and company, and still send the email? If the answer is yes, then I’d contend that this is still a bad cold email. It’s customized, but it’s not truly personalized.

Getting the Right Players From Your Team Involved

Now, we’re getting into some of the fun stuff. Sales Development teams aren’t even thinking about this, but it’s crucial in selling to larger accounts in more complex deals.

This asks the questions, “who should be doing what?” We’ve seen great success spreading out some of the action to different Players on our team.

You don’t need every email and every call to come from just one SDR. Assign tasks to team members, including sales, SDRs, marketing, senior execs, etc. Heck, even have your CEO involved. Do you think an executive from your target company is more likely to read and reply to an email from an SDR or another executive?

This idea becomes even more important when you’re selling to people who are not used to taking calls. When was the last time your designer or engineer was excited to take a call from a sales rep? Those are the hardest people to get in touch with. They will react markedly different to another designer or engineer reaching out, especially if they’re of the same level of seniority or one step higher.

Putting the Pieces Together

Pre-designed Plays are a great way to ensure that all reps follow best practices throughout their account development work – from the first touch to the last – and that these touches are coordinated with Marketing and Account Execs.

“Companies are still struggling with their touch patterns. A few years ago, it was just ‘Do more touches!’ Now it’s more sophisticated: more about the mix and frequency.’”

–Kristina McMillan Sales Development Practice Leader, TOPO

Here are some sample ABSD Plays you can start implementing today. Use this as a baseline, and start to test different combinations of the elements to see what works best for you.

designing ABSD Plays 1

designing ABSD Plays 2

designing ABSD Plays 3

Use these to get you started, then come back to the blog in the future, as we’ll have more proven templates.

But remember, plays are like diets – they work if you stick to them.