SaaS series: Sales

SaaS is the darling of modern day IT. In the Australian market, revenue for SaaS companies is projected to reach $3.68 billion in 2022. There’s lots of money to be made, and lots of warm leads to chase. But the most skilled coder, developer, or app builder won’t get anywhere in this market without sales skills. And we don’t just mean a sharp suit and a nice smile.

We’re all familiar with such cliches as pain points and “falling in love with the problem”. And sure, sales is always built on an understanding of the customer and their pain. 

But most SaaS founders already have an astute understanding of this. Some will have first hand knowledge, having been industry users or customers themselves. That’s why they built the product in the first place. 

But being ready to go to market is not just about reflecting on your customer’s pain points – it’s about your own. And it has to be done brutally. 

Ask the unpleasant questions

  1. How well is your lead generation working? 
  2. How are your contracts structured, and how do they prevent churn or instil stickiness?
  3. What are the sizes of your contracts? Are those sizes working for you?
  4. How are you responding to your closest competitors? How often are you losing to them?

Hire people

Founders make the best salespeople. 

Due to their other pressing responsibilities, and the unsustainability of meeting personally with a growing customer base, they are also the worst-placed to do sales. 

This means hiring and training. But hiring is harder than ever, training isn’t much easier, and salaries are spiralling (upwards).

As the SaaS industry has boomed in recent years, so has the demand for software sales professionals. Depending on the sector you’re selling in and the technicality of the product, the training process for new sellers can be long and difficult. Finding a brilliant technical mind – or someone with rich industry experience – who is also a talented salesperson is a true needle in a tech stack situation. 

It can also be a painful sunk cost if they leave after six months. 

But there’s hope: 

  • Immersive and perpetual training instils confidence. As does a healthy level of patience – not pressure – as new hires learn. Make peace with the bell curve of efficiency – new hires will always cost time before they start saving it.
  • Start them off easy. Pair new sellers with hot leads and low-maintenance clients in the first instance to help them feel positively about their talent and your working environment. 
  • Consider referral bonuses. Encouraging your best sellers to actively recruit others can be a great way to quickly source new talent, with a chance that they may already be familiar with your product.

Raise the stakes

No point sugar coating it – enterprises are tightening budgets as global recession edges nearer.

Former GTM at Dropbox and Slack Mike Marg advises startups to “create more cross functional, multi-threaded buy-in within their deals, and build better illustrations of ROI in order to convince buyers to complete a purchase.

This means your sales efforts (and/or team) must become elite in understanding and communicating ROI. Forget the fluff – you’re not selling a car or a house in the country. A realistic and thoughtful calculation should lead the charge of every interaction. 

These figures don’t have to be financial – it can be the number of leads, conversions, or customer acquisitions you can feasibly help them make. 

Make it make no sense for them not to invest.   

Tighter budgets also mean a harder time convincing users to move away from freemium, free trials, and free forever models. These bottom-up strategies are great for foot-in-the-door lead gen and organic growth through network sharing. But they must be deployed strategically and with a built-in plan for upselling. 

Deciding between freemium and free trial models is a big deal, so we‘ve covered it more fully in our SaaS Series: Giving it away for free.

But the great thing about both is that they provide a basis for growing your outbound sales team, as your free users encompass a ready-made database of warm leads.

Help sellers learn

There’s marketing and there’s selling, and too often the twain don’t meet. But marketing insights paired with some clever marketing copy can help sellers close deals.

Patricia Fripp of Fripp VT called this the “situation, solution, success” story.

No one wants to be the test subject – customers like to do what other customers have done. Gather case studies and examples that sellers can present to show real impact your product has made for others.

Help customers learn

The excitement of subscribing is a short-burning flame. 

The slightest barrier to understanding or convenience will have new sign-ups (and therefore potential paying customers) abandoning your software for something else, or going back to their old pen and paper/Google Suite ways.  

It’s annoying to experimentally browse a new SaaS platform and get instantly bombarded with pop ups and prompts to upgrade. But the odd, gentle on-page notification or welcome email offering tips and tutorials can capture that fragile attention span before it snaps. 

The consumerization of enterprise means you can be friendly, informal, or even a little cheeky in the way you approach new users. The huge shift in the way people discover SaaS means you’re often talking to end-users rather than corporate heads.

Miro sends once-weekly emails containing a product guide or new feature update. Trello has a bot called Taco who does the same. The content is short-form, succinct, and non-invasive.  

In freemium models, you have to know when to strike. That means delivering value first, and in a slightly Machiavellian way, giving the user time to become reliant on it. 

Because of how user-led SaaS discover now is, lead gen is the easy part. More pressing is knowing the portion of your user base you should be actively selling to. 

Circling back to knowing your own pain points before you GTM, barking up the wrong decision making tree is probably one of the most common.

Many users will be perfectly happy on their free versions. Many won’t be final decision makers. A big percentage will never upgrade. 

It’s about identifying and targeting that 10, 15, or 20% of customers who will pay, and keeping costs down in supporting those who won’t.

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