How to Prioritize Prospects: Sales Secrets for Pipeline Hyper-Growth

In our ABM Master Class Sales Secrets for Pipeline Hyper-Growth, we shared some of our best-kept secrets on how to prioritize prospects to smash revenue growth.

The two of us have been using account-based Sales strategies for years, and we talk through what Sales teams—SDRs and Sales leaders alike—should focus on when it comes to reaching their best accounts. Hint: Replace the inefficient volume-dependent-spray-and-pray game with a strategy that’s grounded in targeted intelligence. Here are some of the webinar’s key takeaways.

Examining today’s Sales challenges

Success in Sales can only be achieved by first understanding the challenges we face in our industry. So what’s the new reality of Sales?

2020 was a particularly difficult year for our teams to push their accounts through a Sales cycle and hit the revenue goals they had in front of them. And we’re in good company. In their 2019 World Class Sales Practices Report, CSO Insights notes only 56.9 percent of Sales representatives are meeting or exceeding their quotas. And despite this 7 percent increase from their previous report in 2017, Sales organizations are struggling to close deals, where half of the deals slated to close don’t. How is that possible?

Even though we can think of a plethora of challenges, one stands out: Selling is just plain harder.

For starters, buyer journeys are more complex, and there are more people in the decision-making process at a B2B account. These two realities are making it so much harder and making it take longer (Sales cycles are 22 percent longer, in fact, according to SiriusDecisions) to hit our goals. Additionally, many Sales reps replace strategy for the volume game—they do a maximum amount of outreach in the least amount of time. So they aren’t spending the time to do their research, and our accounts are taking notice. According to a recent Biznology survey, 82 percent of B2B decision-makers think that Sales reps are underprepared when they speak to them.

So what can power our engines and get us out of the stagnant and muddy waters of insipid growth? Before sending that email or picking up the phone, we need to ask ourselves:

  • Why am I reaching out to this prospect?
  • How can I get personalized with them to show them that I can provide value towards the goals they have in front of them?
  • How can I be most efficient in my message to this prospect?

Reaching buyers in the unknown, not just the known

We said the buyer’s journey is more complex than ever. We have to tackle that reality first.

Here’s a visualization we drew up that depicts how convoluted the path to purchase can be. But not only that, it shows that most of the experience is anonymous, about 80 percent of it.

The modern B2B buyer's journey is complex

Anonymous activity is depicted on the left half of the image, under “Unknown.” This activity includes searches and research across websites and social media (yours and your competitors’). On the right is known activity, such as form fills and event engagement.

Many Sales reps don’t reach leads until they get to the “Known” stage, not earlier in the buying process. This is a mistake.

By this time, they may have missed their window of opportunity. Because by the time a buyer is performing activities that are in the right hemisphere of the buyer’s journey, they’ve already conducted much of their research and are well on their way to making a purchase. So it’s much harder to influence their opinions.

We want to reach buyers when they are in the unknown territory of the left hemisphere. That’s when they are conducting research on and off our website and are most likely to be influenced by your messaging. By reaching them in this exploratory stage, we beat competitors to the punch and are most able to influence the buyer’s opinion about the value of our brands.

Why prioritizing accounts helps meet revenue growth

Let’s leave the guesswork out of the equation. For SDRs to hit their numbers, they need to prioritize the right accounts and contacts that are most important. We conducted a study at Demandbase that showed that SDRs can save about 5+ hours a week of work with effective prioritization.

What does prioritization mean for a business’s bottom line?

Here’s an illustration of how efficiency through prioritization can amount to savings. If you have 12 SDRs whose OTEs are $100K, and they work 50 weeks a year and 40 hours a week, your business stands to save about $150K. Imagine how much you’d save if you have a team of 50 SDRs. With budgets being as restricted as they are these days, prioritization can help Sales teams meet their revenue goals by spending less.

By prioritizing the right prospects, SDRs can save 5 or more hours of work per week.

How to prioritize your best prospects

Every successful ABM strategy begins with prioritizing the right accounts. Here’s what you want to do to identify what accounts you want to go after:

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the account fit my ICP (ideal customer profile) or my TAM (total addressable market)?
  • What does predictive analytics say about my best accounts?
  • Which accounts are already engaged with my brand?

Then, set FIRE to your Sales strategy!

At Demandbase, we pair predictive analytics with FIRE, an easy-to-remember portmanteau that stands for the following elements that identify your best accounts:

Fit — Find the accounts that fit into your ICP.
Intent — Find the accounts that are showing interest in your product or your competitor’s.
Relationship — Identify the accounts with which you have context and history. (This information provides insight into who the best accounts are, the most effective way to reach them, and when.)
Engagement — Identify accounts engaging with your company, whether through your website or marketing content. (The more engaged they are, the more you want to prioritize them.)

Paired with predictive analytics, FIRE gives us the ability to locate qualified accounts showing behaviors that predict buying activity.

To do this efficiently, we’ve created an AI-driven feature called Pipeline Predict, which considers all types of activity, from MAS activity and CRM data to trending intent and advertising activity. We use this technology internally to identify the accounts that are likely to become customers within the upcoming 30-day period, enabling SDRs to focus more time on those accounts over the rest that are in their portfolio.

Qualify your accounts by scoring them.

Once you identify your formula for prioritizing your accounts, you’ll want to apply a scoring system. A numerical score makes it much easier for SDRs to readily identify an account’s likelihood of becoming a customer.

At Demandbase, we use machine learning to identify this information; we call it the Qualification Score. But you can also do this manually (albeit probably not at scale, since it is a time-consuming process). You’ll want to take into account things like:

  • Past opportunities from your CRM
  • Firmographic data (e.g., revenue, industry, and employee number)
  • Technographics (if you are a SaaS company, like us)
  • Historical intent (looking back to see what types of keywords top accounts are searching with)

Your scoring criteria will be specific to your business’s needs. Once you find the accounts that fit into the score sweet spot, that will be your Target Account List (TAL). These are the accounts SDRs will want to focus their attention on. Additionally, Sales leaders can use the scoring system to identify all of the top accounts (those with a high score) to evenly and fairly distribute them amongst their SDRs in an account-based fashion, rather than by territory.

Score people and account engagement.

But your scoring system doesn’t have to end with the account qualification. You can go even deeper by scoring the engagement levels for people and the account. This level of detail further supports your efforts for segmentation and prioritization.

Assign points to each type of engagement activity, from an email open and a demo request to a website visit and ad open. Higher value activities get assigned a higher point. Then, add up the engagement points for each contact and the account as a whole. The more engagement there is at the account, the more likely they are to be in-market to purchase, and the more likely they will convert to a customer.

We here at Demandbase, again, use AI and machine learning to do the leg work. We call this bit of technology Engagement Minutes.

Pull it all together through the buyer’s journey.

With the insights you’ve obtained from your prioritization efforts, it’s easier to see where a particular account is in the buyer’s journey.

Our Sales and Marketing teams rely on a set of stages within the opportunity and pre-opportunity milestones. We also have various customer stages. Following is how we break down our buyer’s journey. But yours could be set up differently, based on your business’s needs:

Qualified — Aware — Engaged —
Marketing Qualified Account — Sales Qualified Opportunity — Pipeline Opportunity —
Customer — Customer Engaged — Expansion Opportunity — Expansion Won

The customer stages should be the building blocks for list building and enabling your Sales team. You define the criteria for an account to enter each stage by your business objectives.

For example, our SDRs are most interested in the accounts that are in the MQA stage. Accounts in this stage (the way we define it) are highly engaged with 3+ people with 10+ engagement points. These are the accounts that are practically waiting for a Sales rep to reach out and convert them to a Sales-qualified opportunity.

Creating accountability through actionable reports

Aside from prioritizing accounts, there’s one supporting activity that helps teams crush their goals: Sales leaders should hold the team accountable by sending them actionable reports.

Sales reps and SDRs need leadership support to reach out to the right accounts. CRMs like Salesforce provide the ability to create reports that capture critical insights, such as accounts by their journey stages and closed/won business. And deeper insights—like trending intent and engagement— can be garnered from ABM platforms.

Whatever data you share with your Sales team, make sure the reports live in a place that they go to every day and make sure they can act on the data.

Final thoughts and a (badass) real-life example

To be successful in today’s B2B and beat the challenges of complex and long buying cycles, we need to find solutions through efficiency. Effective prioritization helps SDRs zero in on the accounts that matter most and helps Sales leaders align their teams around accounts according to their strengths.

But wait, there’s more! Check out the entire on-demand webinar (just 35 minutes) for more of our insider tips. And stick around for the end to see an example in action: How Stone Schiowitz, an SDR at Demandbase, was able to use Demandbase One prioritization tools and actionable reports to drive nine meetings in two days—and that’s just two months after joining the team.

Sales Development Manager, Demandbase

As an ABM and B2B marketing strategist, I love connecting with new people, problem-solving, and helping B2B marketers achieve ABM bliss. I am a firm believer that "life is for living" so when I'm not supporting B2B Marketing and Sales teams, you can find me enjoying lots of pasta, being an amateur wine connoisseur, and spending as much time as possible near the ocean.

Senior Director, Sales Development, Demandbase

With almost a decade of experience driving sales through an account-based lens, I have a deep understanding of the importance an effective strategy plays in achieving revenue growth goals. My role at Demandbase allows me to not only support my teams in achieving success but also to help B2B companies find hidden opportunities through an Account-Based Marketing strategy.