Why Being "Salesy" Will Kill SaaS Sales

By Drift


Something’s happening in SaaS sales. No, I’m not a salesperson. But I was 10 years ago, and I’ve been working closely with sales ever since. One of my main roles as a career product marketer was to be sales best friend.

I’ve listened to their calls, I’ve attended their pitches, and I’ve catered to their needs for support.

Their needs are changing in very interesting ways; and I’ve just recently realized it’s because their entire role is changing.

Solution-based selling has been around forever, and discovery calls are still common… but sales is getting a lot more personal. Sales is becoming a lot less salesy.

What’s Happening In SaaS That’s Changing The Typical Sales Approach?

1. Freemium models put product first, salespeople second. As buyers become more savvy, they push for free access so they can try before they buy. If it works with their business model (large target market, widely applicable product), freemium becomes the logical thing to do. In this world, there’s far less sales involvement. The product does the majority of the selling. While someone may be needed to help a prospect discern which paid subscription tier is best for them, the hard selling is already done. And not by ABC hard selling tactics.

Jason Green, Founder and general partner at Emergence Capital Partners, writes:

Today, with the ability for end users to easily search, try and buy applications independently, the amount spent on the front of the sales process has been reduced dramatically. Sales now plays less of a role convincing end users and more of a role in satisfying IT on security, compliance and administrative control and in supporting early customer success and adoption.

In this new product-driven era, finding ways to simplify the value proposition and enable customers to get up and running quickly and easily and reducing any friction involved in the purchase is critical.

2. People want to self-service. Building on the above quote – researching and trying products is ideal if it can be done without help. The oddity of an increasingly social digital world, is that we’ve become less social physically. People don’t want to talk to people. They want to search, discover, and try. They want product experiences that are intuitive and don’t leave them needing support. We just launched free live chat, and people are happy to sign up and launch it on their site without ever having to talk to us. So happy their tweeting about how much they love us – and we’ve never spoken to them! Hotsauce.

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3. New sales capacities are emerging – like customer success managers. In many companies this is a support role, but it’s also directly tied to revenue. Customer success managers ensure each customer is onboarded and uses what they purchased, but they also can introduce new products and aid cross-sell, upsell. Most SaaS companies that have more than one product follow the land-and-expand strategy to start small, and grow the lifetime value (LTV) overtime through upsell. This role is critical to two of the organizations success metrics – retention & customer growth.

Mike Smalls, CEO and Cofounder of Hoopla captures the essence of this new role in a great way.

Companies have realized that in order to have consistent and reliable revenue they need to ensure their customers are using the product effectively and seeing their desired results. Customer Success Managers keep in touch with customers, they become familiar with each customer’s unique needs, they highlight important results and more importantly they ensure the customer will renew again.

With a land-and-expand approach, the salespersons contribution is to acquire a new logo – not close a large “platform” deal. The Customer Success Manager then soft sells to the customer throughout the relationship via driving usage, assessing satisfaction, and introducing relevant products.

When you pull these three forces together you have a buyer who’s been duped before and prefers to try before they by, wants to do it all without talking to someone, and is likely to make a small investment first.

How Are Sales People Adapting?

Meet KevinKK.jpg Karner (KK). Kevin is our head of customer growth. Kevin is our salesguy. No offense, KK, but you look like a salesguy. The gel in your hair, the tailored suit…I know this picture is from your wedding but I’m just telling it like it is.

But, he is not salesy. He does not hard sell. Here’s what Kevin does differently.

3 Things a Non-Salesy Sales Rep Does That Sell

1. You need to be a product expert. There was a time where the software rep was only in charge of qualification, but the showcasing of the product fell to a product marketer, product manager, or sales engineer. Showing the value and the features required someone else. KK doesn’t need Matt, our product manager. He is self-sufficient. This does wonders in the sales cycle. Our prospective customers don’t have to be handed off to new people repeatedly, and the fact that our sales person can easily use & showcase our products speaks volumes for it’s user friendlieness. He had to put the time in to become this self-sufficient, but it adds a huge dimension of trust in the buying cycle when it doesn’t need constant interruptions having to bring in experts to show the produt & answer questions.

2. You need to be customer-success minded. KK does what most good sales people do before he gets on the phone. He does his research on the person, their role, and the company. Whatever info he can get his hands on before they get on the phone, he has. But there’s a nuance to what he does with that information that makes a big difference. He’ll talk our prospective customers through scenarios for how they’ll use the product, and operationalize it. He’s playing customer success manager before they become customers. This helps the prospect to think about how they’d get started – tactically. He helps them think about who else on their team will benefit from using it, with specifics. It’s our goal to have negative churn, and if your salesperson doesn’t play out what actually using your product will look like on a day to day basis, you’ll end up with customers who don’t know what to do with it, and they’ll churn.

3. You need to learn how to successfully operate in the freemium model. It’s still the case in many software & SaaS companies that their business is built on marketing driving MQLs, handing off to sales, and they take it from there. But with a freemium model, there’s a new process and MQLs are a thing of the past. Marketing does everything to drive people into the free product to create Product Qualified Leads (PQLs). In this world, KK has two jobs: Amplify marketings effort by encouraging prospects into the free trial, and convert them to paid. On the amplifying side, he realizes that the product can and should do the tough selling – so talking someone through what we do, and encouraging them to start for free, only helps him and Drift. On the conversion side, he’s figured out how to efficiently handle our free customers. He doesn’t reach out to everyone. He has to exhibit patience and spend 80% of his time with those who the product has already done the hard work for: The ones that are using it regularly and approaching the free limits. It’s not efficient for KK to reach out to people who registered but didn’t activate – they’re too early, they’re not product-qualified. In the PQL world, you will work with smaller lead numbers, but your conversion will be high.

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