Account Penetration: Going in Cold

Doug Barth Account Penetration Guru

Account penetration is often the first step in the long, long process of making a B2B sale. Where would you prefer to start? Your own network, of course, your eponymous “Rolodex.” Better still, your friends, your relatives, your buds. Remember those things you had to sell for school (magazine subscriptions, wrapping paper) or Scouts (popcorn, cookies)? Where did you start? Your parents gave you a list of those close enough that you could ask them to do it, “… for the sake of the relationship.”


What if you had no relationship? What if the house next door was home to the reputed “richest person in the neighborhood” who, if you knew them, could probably buy enough cookies to get your Girl Scout troop on national TV? If only you could get in to talk to them. Sounds easy. Whether you’re ten or forty it’s always hard. Knocking on that door is often the hardest part of a sale. There’s no relationship. Your parents can’t help – they don’t know the family either.


So move the clock ahead, and you’re sitting in the meeting and your team has been handed a list of target accounts. What’s likely about this list? That its been drawn up because the accounts are hard! They’re big, household names. They’re known by everyone to be fatted cows so you can be sure every one of your competitors has hit on them, too. Or worse, they made the list because they’re known to be a big user of your competitor’s solutions. Intimidating! Account penetration begins with looking for someone you know on the inside. You scour Linked In. You search Facebook. You send out a company email asking if anyone knows…. And then you flash back to your childhood, the rich person next door, the potential for greatness offset by the fear of not knowing where to start. The pulse quickens. Uh oh. Time to look up that nice therapist again. Well, what are some of your options for penetrating an account ice cold?


  1. You could call names and hope to find an interested soul to let you in. Oh there’s no doubt this works. But the odds are low and, more importantly, its really hard.
  2. You could saturate the account with emails, thoughtful, compelling, heartfelt pleas for just 15 minutes. Low chance of success.
  3. You could use a variation of the VITO method. Very Important Top Officer involves doing a lot of research on the company, and sending letters that refer to what you know is going on there, and how you can help. Really time-consuming.


Let’s talk about the survey approach to account penetration. In essence it begins with a list of contacts, individuals known – by their job title or role – to have an interest in your solution. You may not know them, but now you know what they do.


Then, you gather intelligence. Deploying a survey to this list can yield a lot of “insider” information quickly. You don’t need to be brave, just clever. Offer a gift if someone takes the survey. You may not know them, but now you know what their issues are.


Then, follow up the survey with intelligent, thoughtful communication, both to the person who took the survey, and others in the organization. “I understand you’re not too satisfied with the latest version of the PowerSharp system.” Instead of VITOs, deploy this information to MAPOs, Managers and Pain Owners.


If all else fails, just call up those who took your survey – and gifts – and thank them for taking your survey. Not a sales call, a thank you. Professional. Courteous. You may not know them, but now you have a reason to call.


It might not happen on your schedule, but it could be the first step in establishing a relationship.