Filter by/
Region/  All
Type/  All
Sorted By/  Most Recent

How data drives 5 key steps to maximising account-based growth

By / / In Insight /
How do sales and marketing teams – which often follow different paths – successfully pull together in a data-driven approach to revenue growth? Robert Howells says they need to think differently – looking at ‘account-based growth’ rather than ‘account-based marketing’ or ‘key account sales’. Follow his five strategies for success.
account-based marketing , brand partnership

No-one would argue that a strong strategic focus on accounts will help grow business. But there is a danger that while both sales and marketing teams may hit their individual targets, revenue growth is not maximised.

Why? Because sales and marketing follow different paths that sometimes cross but all too often run in parallel. Organisations have to develop an integrated data-driven process that will drive overall business objectives. And these objectives are constant across all companies: growing revenue as much as possible as fast as possible. (Of course, you should usually add the adjective ‘profitable’ as well, unless market share is an overriding goal.)

And data has to run through this new process from start to finish, driving the strategic approach as well as tactical execution.

New thinking is required and a good way to start is to talk about ‘account-based growth’ rather than ‘account-based marketing (ABM)’ or ‘key account sales’. We will look at how to develop the process for this in a moment, but marketing and sales have to be careful not to fall into two traps:

  • Trap 1. Account-based marketing can be just another term for marketing that uses firmographic segmentation as the cornerstone of the demand generation process. It’s very alluring because it’s not the old-style demand generation of, say, 2005. Practitioners can use predictive analytics, omni-channel engagement driven by marketing automation tools, enhanced web analytics to find out who is visiting the site and from what account, social listening by account, and any number of new-age data sets to maximise Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI). But even a great ROMI score does not necessarily mean that revenue is optimised, at least in the short-term.
  • Trap 2. If ABM can be too wide, then purely focusing on key account sales can be too narrow. If the marketing trap is the use of tactical data without context, then the sales trap is context and ‘gut feel’ without data to support it. It is all too often a function of a) legacy sales coverage, b) ‘low-hanging fruit’ largely determined by what a sales person has entered into the CRM or sales tool, or c) current ‘large’ customers – again, often a subjective view. So key account sales often becomes either a sales management exercise – or possibly even a customer satisfaction process.

Now, there is obviously nothing wrong with either well-executed marketing or dynamic key account sales. Far from it; doing both well is crucial. But, to hit the goal of growing revenue as much as possible as fast as possible, more needs to be done.

Here are 5 steps to achieving account-based growth success:

  1. Find out where your greatest growth potential lies

The first step is the hardest, but it is foundational to future success. The answers to the question of where you will have most opportunity (which you can define in a number of different ways) will determine the rest of your strategy. Here is a guide to this first step:

  • Drill a little deeper into your business goals – what is your timeframe? Is speed more important than total revenue? What impact will speed and growth have on margins?
  • Once you have the big picture in mind, analyse your current revenue stream. What is the ratio between new, existing and cross-selling/up-selling? What is the sales cycle for each? What resources do they require?
  • Quantify, quantify, quantify – this should include:
  • white space analysis on existing accounts and current share of wallet
  • total addressable market and your market share
  • competitive analysis – strength and penetration
  • firmographic analysis of customer and prospect base
  • pipeline and funnel analysis
  • customer satisfaction and net promoter scores
  • overall economic data – which vertical and geographic markets in your customer and prospect pool are growing and which are not

This is not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. You are now in a position to . . .

  1. Segment and then cluster accounts

This step is the most interesting. You have to take the data you have collected above and then segment so that you can prioritise and develop plans. This is best done through a scoring process in which data sets are weighted. It will be really helpful if you can enlist the support of analysts who can both advise and also create a visualisation with a tool like Tableau.

The essence of this stage is to create clusters from which are actionable. It’s up to you how many you have – too many and you will not be able to manage, too few and the action plans will not be distinct. You have to balance clarity and usability with getting total precision. But typical clusters could be:

  • Major current accounts with significant upside based on white space analysis, current pipeline and industry sector.
  • Major prospects (‘new logos’) with strong potential but requiring significant sales and marketing effort
  • ‘Long tail’ current accounts – limited but perceptible growth with some but not major resources needed
  • Lower potential new accounts – marketing effort needed to push through the funnel.
account-based growth


Pictured right, is a very simple visualisation of that. In practice, Tableau or another visualisation tool will be able to make this more granular, and indicate growth potential for much smaller clusters or even individual accounts.

  1. Convert clusters into integrated sales and marketing plans

Once you have decided on which clusters you want to work with, then each need to have a plan that will be a blueprint for engagement. Very large accounts may need their own plan – and in some cases this may be defensive as well as offensive if the account is at risk or under competitive threat.

What does an action plan contain? That will depend on the cluster.

  • Cluster 1 in the graph – large existing accounts, will typically focus on sales efforts to penetrate the account with emphasis on sales enablement and tracking down specific opportunities
  • A Cluster 2 plan will probably include combined sales and marketing efforts to build relationships, track conversations through social listening, persona and content creation, and a robust nurture process
  • Cluster 3 will aim to be as automated as possible – you know these accounts, they know you, concentrate on picking up buying signals and closing efficiently
  • Cluster 4 may have two objectives – scale marketing efforts efficiently – and make sure that you can recognise ‘sub-clusters’ with more potential.

But these are just examples – the overriding objective is to match resources and focus with quantified potential.

  1. Set targets, milestones and other metrics – always including revenue

Building on the first three stages, you should be able to establish financial and performance targets and milestones for each cluster. Develop a dashboard to help you monitor progress and, as time goes on, carefully review the revenue trend first. If that is not going in the right direction, drill down to find out why.

  1. Execute, measure and adjust

Obviously if you do not execute well, nothing else will make any difference. But the plans should not be set in stone – adjust as you need to in light of internal and external factors.

This 5-step process will ensure that sales and marketing teams are not only aligned around common goals but are following the same roadmap to success albeit with different roles. But above all, it will mean that the organisation is able to coalesce around a data-driven process that will maximise revenue growth.

Read also:

Intelligent ABM: Why data is your passport to success

Put innovation at the top of your business agenda

Robert Howells
Author: Robert Howells
Global Leader of Omnichannel and Data Driven Marketing at Howells Marketing Consultants LLC |

Formerly head of key accounts and group managing director, international, at Harte Hanks, Robert Howells served as chairman of the Global Advisory Board at the US DMA. He now helps companies drive revenue and make the right strategic and planning decisions, founded on his decades of experience – supporting marketing services companies, data providers, B2B marketers and other organisations in planning, executing and achieving revenue growth – around the globe. Howells Marketing Consultants: contact Robert Howells here –

Leave your thoughts

Related reading

  • Keep up to date with global best practice in data driven marketing

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.