Building Your Storytelling Journey: Jamie Shanks on the Fundamentals of Account-Based Sales

Collin Stewart, CEO
15 Feb 2018
Picture this: you’re a new sales rep and you’ve been assigned a list of accounts in particular vertical or territory. Your directions are simple – sell your company’s product or service to as many of the accounts on your list as possible. Oh, and the boss would like that accomplished sooner rather than later.

No problem at all, right?

Okay, maybe there’s few problems. Where do you start? How do you even begin to make sense of the names on your list? And, how do you turn this into revenue?

Well, you have two options to get started: pick up the phone and start dialing. Eventually, you’ll connect with someone and make a sale. Eventually.

Or, you can be more strategic about your project. For starters, you can analyze your new accounts for companies that closely resemble the ones your company has sold to in the past (your boss, unhelpful as they’ve been, will thank you for doing this research).

“For me it starts with the existing sales and customer base. As a seller, I could just start calling random numbers. Or, I could look at the last 10 companies we’ve closed, plot them on a map and discern who is related to that company – who works there, who used to work there, as well as other related vendors and partners,” says Jamie Shanks, CEO of Toronto-based consultancy Sales for Life, on a recent edition of the Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“What you end up with is an ecosystem of people that actually care about the successes or failures that you had in that organization. That is the first level of the sphere of influence. The velocity and the conversion of those going from lead to customer are so much greater than just calling random companies out of the phone book or arbitrarily starting from the top of your list.”

For other accounts on your list where you may not be able to draw any connections to related people, cross-reference them with your ICP to ensure they are aligned. Is it the same type of customer? If so, that company should move up your list of accounts to prospect to right away.

“For myself, I have had success in the technology space. But, I’m Toronto – that doesn’t mean that I just start calling Boston or New York City,” adds Shanks.

“I focused on Toronto-based tech companies, and intermixed that with technology companies in other cities.”

But, warns Shanks, don’t get caught up chasing accounts based on “wallet share.” For instance, if you’re a rep with a defined geography, it is tempting to chase the biggest fish in your territory. And, sure, if you close that whale of a lead, it will have a big effect on your yearly number. But, for your month to month quota, it will be a challenge.

So, when focusing on your ICP, and matching new prospects to it, don’t forget to examine company size. It is a critical piece of your ICP, and will make a huge dent on your pipeline.

“Yes, the big accounts are great accounts,” adds Shanks.

“But, you need to think about velocity. It may take you two years to get in the walls of 1-800-Got-Junk, for example. So, you need to interlace that with a selection of accounts that will increase velocity.”

Reasons to Reach Out

On the surface, why you’re prospecting to a lead may seem painfully obvious: to sell them your company’s good or service. Sure, your reach out should always be focused on the needs of your client, and always provide value to their day-to-day. Helping them is a good thing.

But, let’s face it, you’re reaching out to make a sale.

That’s a different concept, however, from the reasons you are using to start a conversation with a lead. According to Shanks, there are three types of “hooks” one can use to open up conversation with a prospect:

  1. Trigger-based reach-out (your prospect just raised money and they’re looking to expand with their new funds);
  2. Referral-based reach-out (you and your prospect share a connection and that connection can speak to how you helped them);
  3. Insights-based reach-out (just read an article that applies to your prospect, and you want to share it with them).

“For me, I like to start my new conversations with either a trigger or referral. You just raised money – that’s a trigger. Or, you know a connection of mine – that’s a referral,” says Shanks.

“I love these methods to start.”

Building Your Story 

So, you’ve zeroed in on which of your accounts fit your company’s ICP. And, you’ve decided on which hook you will be using to start the conversation. All that’s left is to design a nuanced cadence (complete with different messages, using different mediums) to catch their attention.

Shanks uses a five-touch cadence with his leads, that moves from video messages, to email to specifically designed microsites.

For example, Shanks says his first email is a video, done with a tool like Vidyard to record and send the message. For his next touch point, Shanks and his team will do some heavy industry research – comb through press releases, read statements from relevant CEOs etc. – to craft a message about what is going on in the respective industry. And for his third message, he and the team at Sales for Life will do some competitive benchmarking, to educate his prospect on how they stack up against the industry.

“We use these different mediums to get people’s attention. It’s a long journey,” says Shanks.

“And that’s how these touch points should be viewed: as a journey. It’s part of a story.”

Another way of looking at this evidence-rich, detailed prospecting method is to call it storyboarding, adds Shanks. And never is that term more applicable than in the detailed microsites he creates for his prospects.

In addition to the video, benchmarking, and industry trends messages he sends, Shanks will also build a LinkedIn Point Drive (think Clear Slide, for those familiar) that houses assets such as videos, PDFs, and Word Docs. LinkedIn Point Drive is a feature that comes with any Sales Navigator account.

Shanks then shares those assets with his potential customers. When they want, Shanks’ prospects can peer into the microsite and read the assets that interest them. And the best part? It comes with cookies so Shanks can see what everyone viewed in the microsite (and how long they spent clicking around).

“For us, this is one of the core resource tools to use at multiple stages,” says Shanks.

“We use it for proposals or general awareness at the top of the funnel.”

Building Your Schedule

Designing such a nuanced cadence for one prospect, let alone hundreds is a significant investment in time. And, as any sales professional or sales leader can attest, the more tailored and detailed your messaging, the less time you have for…anything else.

To make sure he can juggle his calls, demos, storyboarding prep and all other CEO-related tasks, Shanks stresses the need to time-block, or schedule similar tasks at consistent, defined times. That way, you ensure you’re focused on particular task, with no other responsibilities to break it up.

“Personally, I love back to back demos. So, maybe I schedule those on Thursday mornings. And, maybe all of my proposals and contracts are done on Fridays, for example,” says Shanks.

“Just don’t think you can do call research, then jump on a call, then jump in a demo, then jump into a meeting. Batch your time. Keep it clean.”

Sounds like a simple, obvious thing to do, right? But Shanks says this function often eludes younger sellers.

“As a sales professional, you have to build these blocks into your calendar,” says Shanks.

“Control your calendar. Great sellers control their calendar.”

For more on Jamie Shanks’ sales philosophies and tips, check out his edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.