In my almost six years of selling SaaS solutions, I’ve arrived at some pretty big conclusions about how to effectively and consistently sell it. Before we jump in, let me be honest, I’ve had a range of experiences, some good and some not so good. A good experience happened recently, the stars aligned and the market caught up with our CEO’s vision. It was epic, I would compare it to building a mining equipment store on a deserted mountain, then waiting patiently until someone discovered gold next to the store: incredible.
Most of the not so great experiences are the result of being stuck in the customer development phase. Customer development is a nice way of saying that you have not yet identified your target customer. You know, the classic “build it and they will come” routine that we find less and less prevalent in the startup community.
Software is tough, change happens fast, prospective clients demand increasingly more specialized solutions, and the sales windows to capture market share are smaller than ever. In fact, the companies that are successful in SaaS are more like ultramarathon runners than sprinters: constantly and methodically moving while using customer feedback to evolve the product. Being the leader of a software company is less about vision and more about responding quickly to customer needs. More ego = slower response time.
Selling successfully in this environment is challenging and very fun! As your product evolves, your selling points get better and your differentiators more distinct.
Here are my big conclusions:
- Clearly Defined Target Customer: their profile, problems, pains and desired results. The biggest mistakes I’ve made when selling SaaS was working without clarity. When you lack clarity, you create too many selling verticals in too many industries. You can’t establish a healthy pipeline without dogged focus, and for focus you need to be clear about your target customer.
- Adaptability: times change, markets change and your customers’ needs change. Sales professionals are on the front lines, ascertaining customer needs, wants and desires. It’s your responsibility to communicate those needs and requests to your product team. Their ability to respond will determine your company’s longevity.
- Teaching is the New Selling: your software does something different, better or faster than your competitors, even better, you don’t have any competitors. When speaking to a prospect, don’t assume you’re speaking to someone who has the same level of understanding that you have. Start at the beginning and educate your prospect. The more you empower your prospect with insight and understanding, the better prepared they will be to sell your solution internally. They’ll look like a genius and you’ll earn a new customer.
- Flexible Sales Process: just like your product, your sales process requires flexibility. In the software game nothing is static, everything is moving and changing all the time; as should your sales process. Prospecting methods need to be updated, qualification criteria should reflect what happened last week, not last month. Your presentation also needs to adapt to changing technologies and circumstances, terms and prices should also be monitored and updated to reflect the competitive landscape. Best practices need to be logged, then taught weekly to maintain maximum advantage.