In my consulting days at Microsoft, I was fortunate to get a peek behind the curtain at the tactics that have been used by both the US and Worldwide sales teams for two decades. Those days it was called “Account Planning” (what we now call account-based marketing), and it was vital to nurturing and closing enterprise software deals. The process and tools were custom-built and expensive. The time involved was enormous. However, the average deal size justified the investment many times over.
One anecdote I recall was a contract for a large US government entity. It was an account plan to upgrade the entire organization to the next version of Windows – literally millions of licenses. It also included upgrades to back office software like SQL Server and Exchange. In order to facilitate this deal worth ten figures to Microsoft (and high seven figures for the sales rep), a massive amount of data was gathered about the group of people involved in making it happen. For the business owners on the customer side, the account plan included details like their favorite food, political leanings, what they liked to drink, and details about their families – right down to how many kids they had, what their names/ages were, and what sports they were involved in.
Why is such detail necessary? It comes down to building a relationship and trust, and personalizing the message, whether the distribution channel for that message is a phone call, email, or any other form of communication. When the customer feels like you know them, listen attentively, and tailor messages that are clearly just for them, they are far more likely to see the relationship as a partnership. Forming a partnership that creates value for both sides made these deals possible and is the lifeblood of enterprise software companies like Microsoft.
This type of account planning and hands-on management is known today as “account-based sales.” It’s the sales team that is connecting with the account.