Account-Based Sales Development and the Power of Account Intelligence

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October 18, 2023

7 mins read

account-based sales development blog feature

Account-Based Sales Development and the Power of Account Intelligence

Sales development reps (SDRs) are an essential component to a truly high-performance revenue engine. They bridge the gap between sales and marketing and act like the initial handshake in the B2B world — a crucial first step in a long-term relationship between businesses. 

There are multiple advantages to using SDRs, including:

  • More consistent, faster, and better quality follow-up on prospect interest
  • More cost effective for less expensive people to take on some of the work
  • Better tracking and analytics
  • Talent development for sales

Like all functions, sales development is evolving. Just as marketers embraced account-based marketing (ABM), we’re also seeing great SDR teams adopt account-based thinking and thus the rise of account-based sales development (ABSD). So, let’s explore what ABSD is and how account intelligence is the fuel that makes it happen.

What is ABSD?

In account-based sales development, the SDRs work in conjunction with marketing and AEs to create new opportunities for new and existing customers. It’s a strategy that emphasizes connecting with multiple high-value contacts instead of individual leads. It’s not about casting a wide net; it’s about fishing with spears. You aim for the big fish, the accounts that are most likely to bring in significant revenue. 

There are many reasons to adopt an account-based approach over the traditional lead-focused one:

  • Sales reps focus on accounts, not leads, so SDRs should also.
  • While the traditional approach does encourage SDRs to ignore disqualified accounts, it rarely creates incentives to focus on the biggest and best accounts — despite them being worth 2 to 10 times more. 
  • Focusing only on inbound leads causes SDRs to talk to casual browsers but not genuine decision-makers.
  • Looking at individual leads misses out on valuable indicators of buying intent at the account and buying group level.

When done well, ABSD is:

  • Targeted – aimed at selected, named accounts, not huge, undifferentiated lists. 
  • Personalized – based on relevant, crafted conversations instead of standard, one-size-fits-all scripts.
  • Researched – driven by systematic insight generation (not two minutes on LinkedIn).
  • Multi-channel – maximizing reach by using all channels, not massive spamming campaigns.
  • Integrated – a coordinated effort supported by marketing and AEs, not another silo.
  • Patient – with less emphasis on short-term calls-to-action such as demos and more on high-value engagements such as meetings to share insights or trends.

TOPO Research, one of the pioneers of account based thinking (and now part of Gartner), puts it this way:

“Account Based Sales Development is today’s most effective account based tactic… Rather than rely on the high-volume process of outbound prospecting, organizations now strategically define a smaller, more targeted set of accounts and run personalized, buyer-centric campaigns against those accounts.” 

The Fuel: Account Intelligence

As we’ve seen, great account-based sales development isn’t about just following up on inbound leads or even the typical outbound prospecting process of slightly personalized sequences (“Question for Jon: I hope you’re having a great day so far! I love the look and feel of Demandbase.”  Ugh.)

Also, ABSD isn’t just about working harder.  It’s about working smarter. It’s about picking the right accounts and people to focus on (“who”), knowing the right time to reach out (“when”), and what to say to stand out from the noise (“what”). 

Account intelligence isn’t just data; it’s data with context. We’re not merely collecting names, emails, and titles. We’re gathering insights into the behavior, needs, and pain points of target accounts and their buying groups. This is where the magic happens.

Knowing WHO to target

Knowing who to go after is the first step in ABSD. Account intelligence gives you a comprehensive view of an organization, including key decision-makers and influencers and the “buying groups” within these accounts. The decision of who to target is not left up to the individual SDRs; instead it’s a disciplined process where AEs pick accounts guided by marketing, using AI to focus on the highest-value accounts with the best propensity to purchase. 

It looks primarily at these things:

  • Firmographics – company revenue, growth rate, number of employees, industry, location, structure.
  • Technology profile – knowing if they use complementary or competitive technologies is often the #1 predictor of account fit.

But it doesn’t stop at the account level.  ABSD goes deeper into the buying groups, identifying target personas and proactively targeting key members of the buying committee. That’s because deals that move forward on the basis of just one or two buyer contacts are the most likely to fail. Your contact can get sick, go on vacation, or leave the company — stalling or killing your deal. That’s far too high a risk for the deal sizes we’re talking about. You need to build connections with as many members of the buying/influencing team as possible. 

Knowing WHEN to engage

We all know that timing is everything when it comes to engaging high-value accounts. Reach out too early and they’re not interested; too late and you miss out on the opportunity.

Fortunately, looking at the account and contact behaviors can tell us exactly when and how we should engage. This includes looking at how the account engages with your marketing (website visits, content downloads, etc.) as well as what content the account is researching offsite (tracked using B2B intent data).  The key buying signal is usually when you observe an increase in the number of unique people from the account engaging with relevant content.

Account intelligence also provides insight into trigger events, which includes news and social alerts that may indicate openness to contact. This can include new funding, an acquisition, new office, new executive hire, a promotion, and so on. 

Knowing WHAT to say

Once you know who you’re targeting, you need to know what to say to them. That’s because the success or failure of your account-based sales development strategy depends on your ability to be relevant to your target contacts.

Relevance separates quality sales development from spam. 

Relevance earns email opens and more importantly, responses.

Relevance gets buyers to lean forward instead of drawing back.

Relevance can only come from account intelligence: a real understanding of the buyer’s challenges, opportunities, and pain points. Beyond getting the timing right (previously discussed), some of the key ways account intelligence can drive relevance include:

  • Journey Stage: An account’s journey stage is crucial for delivering a relevant experience. Early-stage accounts prefer educational content, while late-stage ones need help with vendor comparison and decision-making.
  • Intent: Intent data also provides insights on topics an account finds relevant and their problem descriptions. Deliver targeted messages based on these interests, e.g., “network infrastructure” versus “cybersecurity.”
  • Firmographics: An account’s industry and size reveals potential business challenges.
  • Technographics: Companies want to know that your solution works well with the rest of their technology stack. Talking about their existing technologies shows you understand their business.
  • Competitors: Identifying an account’s competitors, especially if you’re already working with them, can influence decision-making through social proof and FOMO. 

The Importance of Marketing and Sales Coordination

You can’t talk about ABSD without discussing the relationship between marketing and sales. It’s like discussing peanut butter without jelly; they’re better together. Marketing warms the audience up, creating awareness and interest. Sales engages directly with a tailored human touch.

Shared goals, shared data

Both teams should have access to the same account intelligence. When marketing and sales are looking at the same data and insights, their efforts become more coordinated. Marketing can create content that addresses the specific pain points identified, and sales can use this content in their outreach efforts.


Regular meetings and updates between marketing and sales are essential. These interactions, including account-based standups, ensure that everyone is on the same page, and they provide opportunities for real-time adjustments to strategies.

Coordinated plays

In traditional sales development, marketing and SDRs work like a relay team, linearly passing the lead like a baton. But in ABSD, they work like a football team, seamlessly coordinating their efforts by running coordinated plays. Plays are a way to ensure that everyone follows best practices throughout the account development process – from the first touch to the last. And just like the Xs and Os on a football coaches chalkboard, they coordinate how everyone on “your team” – the SDRs plus marketing and account execs — will line up with everyone on “their team”, e.g. all the members of the buying committee. 

Final Thoughts

ABSD is not a trend; it’s a strategic shift in how B2B companies approach sales development. The targeted nature of ABSD, combined with the rich insights provided by account intelligence, offers a more efficient and effective way to engage high-value accounts.

Account intelligence doesn’t just make ABSD possible; it makes it powerful. It informs you not just about which doors to knock on but also what to say when those doors open. And when marketing and sales work together like a well-oiled machine, fueled by the same rich account intelligence, the sky’s the limit.

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Jon Miller

Former CMO, Demandbase

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