What’s tough to master; the art of sales. What’s even tougher is switching up how you sell based on what you sell, which is exactly where I found myself last year.
I’ve founded two companies. The first, Fresh Intelligence, sells a service; my customers are basically renting our brains for custom research design. Now, at my second company, ValidateIt, I’m selling a technology, a validation platform for marketers. I knew it would be different – but I had no idea just HOW different it would be, requiring a whole new skill set and understanding of the sales cycle. I assumed that selling a product would be easier. I assumed wrong.
First big difference is in the time frame: Selling the services of Fresh Intelligence usually meant dealing with one decision maker who was making a one-time purchase. The decision and the sale were made within a two- to three-week window; fast, clean, and predicable. With a service, you’re selling something less tangible; the customer is buying based on your professional reputation, credibility and strategic thinking. But selling SaaS for large to medium enterprises invariably involves input from multiple decision makers, and is a much longer process - and so my navigation of the tech sales pathway and learning began.
There’s no shortage of blogs, articles, and books on this topic (I particularly liked Peter Thiel’s ZERO TO ONE), but you can only research so much before it’s time to jump in, and it’s how you apply the knowledge you gain to create your own process that matters. When I Googled “selling SAAS to enterprise” I found upwards of 550,000 articles. I had a choice; start reading now and maybe by 2025 I could start selling, or immerse myself in the industry and learn on the fly.I went with that option, because that’s what makes the creation of companies so exciting for me.
What have I learned? That the approach we need to take in selling SaaS products is to sell it like a solution to identified pain points, rather than like a product. If we shift our view to see our product as the answer to a problem, we redefine the path to purchase journey. Once I figured this out, the whole process was more comfortable, more natural, and easier to deal with.
The sales process is about benefits, rather than features. It’s simple: cheaper/faster/ better. When we understand the critical challenges the customers are facing in the industry, and show them how our product is built to be nimble to help them better address those challenges, they get it – and we get the sale. Don’t overcomplicate it: The biggest mistake a SaaS company can fall into is making the process more complex than it needs to be.
During the sales process I was challenged on everything that makes SaaS, SaaS:
1. SaaS typically has a self-signup model- but enterprises want to be sold to by an account executive, like I’m used to.
2. SaaS typically come ready-made - but they want a customized version.
3. SaaS typically is in the cloud - but customers ask for an on-premises version.
More and more SaaS providers are building “Customer Success” teams, versus sales teams, that focus on just that; making the customer successful. I like that term – because after all, there is no greater satisfaction that seeing your client successful and knowing that what you provided was a key contributor to that success.
It’s really about a higher purpose, although until I founded ValidateIt, I hadn’t looked at it through that lens. You build technology, you create it out of nothing, you have no product, - then you write code and you have created something salable that satisfies pain points and has a higher purpose. It’s an amazing feeling.