Skip The Goat Rodeo: How NOT To Do Account-Based Sales

I recently visited a fast-growing technology company with a chaotic sales process. Here’s what happened when I observed their account-based selling model and my insights from that experience.

In this article:

  1. Case Study: Account-Based Selling Model Gone Wrong
  2. The Goat Rodeo Sales
  3. Unstructured Cadence
  4. Summary of this Account-Based Sales Experience
  5. Want to Know More?

Account-Based Selling: Bad Practices and How to Avoid Them

Case Study: Account-Based Selling Model Gone Wrong

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John (not his real name), who runs the sales team, has been there less than one year. He has a team of nearly 100 sales reps. When John first joined the company, he was dismayed by the lack of process and the unnecessary technology spend.

One of his first actions was to focus the team on an account-based sales model with a set of 200 targeted accounts per account executive. John had engaged a vendor to help identify these target accounts, but the project had not yet been completed and would not be completed for months.

In the meantime, John allowed his reps to choose their target accounts for each of their territories and then choose which contacts they pursued. Although well intentioned, things were starting to feel out of control, so John brought us in to see if we could help him build a holistic account-based strategy.

The Goat Rodeo Sales

I sat down with a number of reps and managers to figure out how this company’s sales process actually looked. John was right to be worried. It was a cowboy town and this rodeo sales environment should change.

This wasn’t my first goat rodeo. I had seen many of the same struggles at other companies. In fact, this particular example serves as an excellent case study in the challenges and pain points that often crop up in an account-based model.

Randomly Selecting Accounts

Reps told me about their process for picking their accounts. It consisted of having a weekly meeting that paired an account executive with a sales development rep. The two individuals would discuss their territory and randomly choose which accounts to focus on for the week or month. Sales development reps generally just let the account executives pick the target accounts, and account executives admitted most accounts were chosen based on random criteria, such as, “I drove past this business recently.”

Arbitrarily Choosing Target Contacts

When it came to finding contacts, reps looked in their CRM, went to,, LinkedIn, RainKing and ZoomInfo. Believe it or not, these reps had access to each one of these providers and most reps spent significant time digging through each one to find optimal contacts. Because buyer personas had only been loosely identified, some sales reps believed they should be focusing on IT while others had realized that IT may not be best so they had begun to focus on operations and appeared to be having a decent amount of success.

Wasting Time Finding Contact Information

Once reps identified the contacts they would like to pursue, they needed to find updated contact information so they could email or call them. Reps honestly didn’t know where to go to get this information. Through the school of hard knocks and tribal knowledge passed from reps who had come before them, most reps found themselves again chasing information around the Internet using free tools like Email Hunter and paid tools like (A handful of reps had purchased as the company had not offered to foot the bill.)

Organized Chaos

Assuming they now had up-to-date information, the reps then needed a place to store these contacts. The “go to” place was Google Docs. Yeah, the CRM was available, but reps had a hard time using it and they didn’t know the best way to find and visualize the information they needed.

Unnecessary Amount of Excel Docs

It didn’t end with Google Docs. The management team had not been sufficiently trained on the CRM either, but they saw the need for more organization so they created a planning document in Excel that reps were supposed to keep up-to-date. The document was well thought out and contained information on target accounts, focus campaigns, and follow-up strategies. Although well-intentioned, this tool sparked the use of random Excel sheets and people began passing around Excel docs like hot potatoes.

Now that …

  • The target accounts had been (subjectively) chosen
  • The (wrong) target contacts discovered
  • (Unnecessary) time had been spent finding contact information
  • Information had been stored (25% in the CRM, 45% in a shared Google Doc, and 30% in the Excel template)

…they were finally ready to begin their outreach strategy.

It’s worth noting that multiple reps told me 75% of their time was spent on these tasks.

Unstructured Cadence

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With everything in place, it was time to reach out to prospects. The reps had five contact methods available to them:

  • phone
  • voicemail
  • email
  • Social
  • gifts

There was no best practice and there was no coaching so each rep shot from the hip and did what he or she felt was best.

Not Enough Voicemail

Voicemail was never utilized. Voicemail, I was told, was dead. One rep said she never called. She only used LinkedIn InMails. Another rep said he made 50 calls a day and couldn’t understand why others didn’t make more phone calls.

Another rep said the company wasn’t very tight on its budget so the account executive did “donut drops” on all his accounts. He had his sales development rep follow up with email, and he felt this was the only method that actually worked.

Too Many Tools

The company had three different tools available to make an automated phone call and reps could send email from Outlook, Salesforce, or another email vendor.

Follow-up was difficult and inconsistent because reps were told they needed to log activities manually in the CRM so managers could see activity history. But, because nobody really used the CRM, most reps were duplicating this data entry by also trying to use a red, yellow and green color-coding system in their Google Docs “CRM.” The colors helped reps know who to focus on and follow up with.

We ran an audit of their cadence strategy and we found, on average, each contact received one phone call and one email over a three-week period.

Summary of this Account-Based Sales Experience

This is a real company and these are real problems. If you’re honest about your own account-based sales motion, I’d bet good money your team is facing some of the same challenges.

This is the issue with account-based sales and it leads to an inefficient target account selling methodology. I get it. The millennial generation is pushing for less accountability and more empowerment, but this is not empowerment. This is complete chaos.

As a sales leader, you must take control and align around best practices to help your teams achieve maximum results.

Want to Know More?

Want to learn more about account-based sales? Check out our podcast. We’ve had some killer episodes on this topic, like this:

Do you have questions about setting up an efficient strategy for account-based sales? Mention them in the comments section below!

Up Next: The How And When Of Sales Training For Sales Management

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 27, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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