Category Archive : SaaS sales

When Not to Waste Your Time on a SaaS Sales Prospect

Target the right prospects

Anthony Iannarino’s sales blog on “All Opportunities Aren’t Created Equal” got me thinking about prioritizing your time, given limited sales and marketing resources.

This is especially important for lean startups and high velocity sales businesses, where there are a relatively high number of prospects as compared to the number of sales and marketing resources.

However, prioritizing your time in a self service sales model is changing as compared to the traditional enterprise model where every prospect requires sales touch. Consider these reasons
why a prospect may not be ‘Mr. Right’ or ‘Mrs. Right’ in the traditional sales model (as mentioned in Anthony’s blog):

#1 – When a Prospect Has No Money. The art world’s ‘starving artist’ is the ‘struggling start-up’ of business. Both may produce beauty, but without a stable income neither is worth bringing
home to your parents.

#2 – When a Prospect Has Too Much Money. They have big ideas and big budgets to make them happen—they just need your software, customized almost beyond recognition; causing too much work and distraction.

#3 – When a Prospect Is Dissimilar. Trust, communication, shared values, and a united vision for achieving goals are all factors of a great relationship.

Interestingly, if you are offering an online, self service trial for your service and have a low touch or zero touch sales model, you may not need to be too concerned about these factors
upfront. You can let customers self qualify through your sales funnel. It is ok to have any of these three customers sign up for a trial. Then actions speak louder than words. When a prospect
is active during the trial and engages with your product as-is, he is probably worth your time.
If, on the other hand your prospect never logs into the free trial or is aggressively calling your support team, it may be worthwhile finding yourself another ‘date’.

Top 5 Trends in Sales 2.0

Sales2.0

It was a jam packed day at Sales 2.0 in Santa Monica today. It was a great opportunity to meet with and learn from some of the brightest in the Sales 2.0 community.  I have summarized my key takeaways for Sales 2.0 leaders below:

#1 – Attract many, then focus on filtering

If your prospects do research online, will they find your company, or your competitor? Mark Roberge, VP Sales from HubSpot argued that you should keep the top of your sales funnel as broad as possible. Attract as many people as possible to your website through good content. HubSpot itself is attracting 50,000 leads a month, of which 40% get passed to the inside sales team and about 400 (or less than 1%) convert into new customers.  The leads that don’t convert still help to reinforce the HubSpot brand and trust. With so many leads, strong filtering and lead scoring algorithms are keys to sales success.

#2 – Give all sales people a social media address

Scott Holden, Senior Director at Salesforce.com argued that not just companies need to be discoverable, but also individual sales representatives. Social pages are often the first ones to come up in search results.  Darren Suomi, VP Sales from HootSuite called it “giving all sales reps a social media address”. He said it is no different from issuing a rep a cell phone and e-mail. IBM indeed has done just that, said Douglas Hannan, BU Executive at IBM: all 1,000 IBM sales reps have a web page with built in 2-way video and chat. They are also asked to get on Twitter and LinkedIn. IBM marketing maintains a social messaging calendar to make it easy for reps to find content to post.

#3 – Deliver value first, sell later

Jim Cathcart, the well-known author of “Relationship Selling”, defined what customer relationships are all about: in a relationship people know each other and have an exchange of value. Ask yourself: who is truly glad to know me? In a sales relationship, provide value first, sell later. Don’t talk about up selling customers, but rather up serving them. If you do a good job others will vouch for you and recommend your services. Scott Holden summarized this as moving from self-promotion to social referrals: “trust me, he is a great lover” and not “I am a great lover”.  I expressed a similar sentiment in my blog earlier this week on Genuine Customer Engagement.

#4 – Use online demos to drive sales

Salesforce.com recently did a survey of 1 million influencers in the buying process and found that 50%-70% of sales processes start long before a sales person ever gets involved. The most important deciding factor in the sales process was “online demos”, not sales person interaction.   HubSpot data points in the same direction: the most reliable indicator that a lead will convert into a customer is a request for a demo (46%) as compared to download a white paper for example (22%). As we discussed in many blogs including Trial Conversion is Top Priority in SaaS, I would add that interaction with a free trial version of your product has an even higher correlation with conversion to customer.

#5 – Consider a territory model based on social proximity

A somewhat radical idea was presented by Michael Lodato from Network Hardware Resale. He argued that in a commodity business (he sells network hardware) buyers are deciding based on personal relationships and customer service. Therefore he moved to an open territory model, where leads are assigned based on the personal relationship of a rep to the lead, rather than geography. On paper this social proximity model sounds great, but in reality it is still difficult to implement. Michael admitted to have a team of marketers manually assigning leads based on social parameters.

#6 – Move towards a lower touch model

Gerhard Gschwandtner pushed speakers to learn from B2C selling models:  Amazon has $30 billion in sales with ZERO sales reps. B2B companies need to learn from this and move to lower touch selling models, wherever possible. One of the speakers, Rini Das from PAKRA, has achieved just that. She is closing 95% of her business based on social media leads. She has hardly met any of her clients in person, but is still doing $30,000 to $150,000 in revenues per customer each year.  

Gerhard and gang; thank you so much for a great conference!

Tomorrow: Enterprise 2.0!

3 Outright Strategies to Improve SaaS Customer Success

Outright Image

Totango is now (also) located in Mountain View, CA! Having a new Totango home in California is great and allows me to meet many cutting edge businesses with free trial or freemium business models while here. Today I caught up with Laura Messerschmitt, VP Marketing at Outright. Outright helps small businesses to organize their finances. Over 100,000 users worldwide are tracking the health of their businesses with Outright. Outright is a free service, with a premium product available for a monthly fee. The sales model for Outright is entirely customer driven: the sales process is self-service (zero-touch selling).

What struck me most about Outright is it’s commitment to customer success. Making existing customers successful is the highest priority for the company. In my blog on “customer engagement is key for SaaS” I have written about the importance of increasing customer lifetime value and preventing churn in SaaS business models.

Here are a couple of things Outright is doing to align it’s entire company with it’s customer success (and thus customer lifetime value):

1. Define a customer engagement funnel

Key to customer success is realizing that not all customers are created equal. When a visitor to your website first signs up to your service, you have not yet won a new customer. In fact, a large percentage of sign-ups may never activate the service. I discussed this phenomena in my blog on “3 ways to do cohort analysis on SaaS churn“. In the case of Outright, they have explicitly modeled the different stages in what you might call the “customer engagement funnel”:

Stage 1: Sign-up, user has registered
Stage 2: Activation, in the case of Outright has started using the product
Stage 3: Use, in the case of Outright has continued to use the product over time

While you can get a lot more fancy with this and define further actions and life cycle stages (including those that include up selling and expansion opportunities), just recognizing the difference between a sign-up, an activated user and a truly active user is a huge step in the right direction.

2. Make customer success metrics central to the business

You cannot manage what you cannot measure so the next step for Outright was to develop a dashboard that shows sign-ups, activated users and active users and the conversion ratio between each of these stages. Outright is looking at this on a daily, weekly and monthly basis via cohort analysis to see how the service value which is delivering customers is improving over time. If you want your company to be customer driven, you have to give everybody in the company access to these metrics . Only if you make the customer success metrics central to all your management meetings, will the entire team be laser focused on improving customer success.

3. A customer driven organization chart

The most innovative thing Outright has done is to align their entire organization chart with the different stages in the customer engagement funnel. There is a dedicated team, including product managers, developers and designers, focused on improving the product for those users who have just started using the product. The focus is on making it easier and easier for these customers to help themselves and get more value out of the product. Automated e-mails are sent with helpful tips to help customers along the way. Then there is a separate team, also with its own product managers, developers and designers to improve the value in the service for those customers who are already active.

Thanks so much to Laura for sharing. I am looking forward to check in with Outright again in a couple of months to see how their customer driven organization chart has impacted the key conversion metrics of their customer engagement funnel.

6 Tips for Cloud Sales using Channels

The Cloud Channel Summit Logo

I attended Jeff Kaplan’s Cloud Channel Summit today. It was a very interesting conference. Clearly cloud channel sales is in its infancy, but there were some companies here with successful channel strategies including Salesforce.com (1400 partners and counting), Scribe and others.  What follows are six tips that stuck with me:

Lesson 1: Think how you will compensate cloud channels
By: Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director THINKStrategies @thinkstrategies
Jeff opened the conference by highlighting the 4 Common Fears of the use of the Channel in Cloud: Cannibalization, Confusion, Disruption of the corporate environment and operations, and Channel conflict. After listening to most of the conference, I would have added to his list: How to compensate the channel to create a win-win relationship (as we discussed in our blog post on 3 Recommendations for Sales Compensation for SaaS from earlier today).

Lesson 2: Your job starts when you sign-up a new customer
By: Ron Huddleston, SVP ISV Alliances, Salesforce.com @Rhuddles1
Your job just begins when you sign-up a new customer: you need to focus on customer success (as a vendor and also working with your partners).  With cloud and subscription based businesses, you have to build deeper relationships that last much longer. This is true not only for partners, but also for your relationships with your customers. Also in this context: don’t overestimate ramp & return, don’t underestimate initial investment.

Lesson 3: In the cloud, you have to earn your business on a daily basis
By: Gil Zimmerman, Founder & CEO of CloudLock @giljzim
This one speaks for itself and is re-iterating Ron’s lesson in different words. Customers can vote with their wallets and cancel their subscription, often on a month-to-month basis.  I have written on this topic on this blog as well such as in my blog on Customer Engagement is Key for SaaS.

Lesson 4: The primary role of the cloud channel today is integration
By: Carolyn April, Director of Industry Analysis, CompTIA @CarolynAApril
In a CompTIA study Carolyn found that the primary role for channels in cloud today is integration, not sales.  This makes sense considering many attendees and speakers felt that we haven’t figured out commission plans for channel sales yet. That being said, I believe there will be major opportunities for the channel in on boarding new customers as well as sales, both initial and up selling, that will increase Customer Lifetime Value and Customer Experience.

Lesson 5: Use the coloring book approach to onboard cloud channels (and customers)
By: Brian Anderson, Global Business Development, Dell
The best way to onboard new partners (but this could also be new customers): take the coloring book approach – give them direction, success stories and examples. I really like this analogy and plan to maybe write about it in the context of on boarding new SaaS customers.

Lesson 6: Let customer success own the relationship with the customer
Michael Blaisdell, The Customer Success Management Initiative
Who owns the customer: sales or support (customer success)?  If customer success owns the customer it really changes the tone with the customer and creates much more trust with the vendor.  In reality, customer success probably doesn’t own all of the relationship, but it should at the very least be responsible for the ‘farmer type sales’: renewals and incremental sales. Totango is sponsoring some of Michael’s research and we recommend you check it out. It’s fascinating stuff and an important area.

So there you have it.

Thanks Jeff, for organizing a very insightful conference! We hope to be back next year. Perhaps we could even present our experiences on how cloud vendors are sharing customer trial and usage data with their partners in order to increase cloud sales?

3 Recommendations for Sales Compensation for SaaS

Designing sales compensation for subscription businesses

I am at the Cloud Channel Summit today.

A topic that seems to be coming up over and over again today is the need to come up with innovative sales compensation (commission) models that align with the subscription business model of cloud.

While this is mentioned as an issue, not too many solutions were discussed so far (we are only at lunch time) so I went hunting online for some good blog posts on the topic. Here are three posts to get the discussion started:

October 2011 – David Cummings on Inside Sales Rep Comp Model for Startups

Here are some ideas when thinking about the inside sales representative compensation model in a startup:

  • Base salaries in the range of $25k – $50k
  • Commissions in the range of $25k – $60k (e.g. $40k base salary and $60k in commission for an on-target earnings of $100k)
  • Commissions would be 10% – 20% of first-year’s revenues (e.g. $1,000/month SaaS product is $12,000/year with a 15% commission would be an $1,800 commission)
  • Commissions should be paid out after the customer’s payment has been received by the startup

July 2011 – Larry Steele (VP of SaaS at Savvis) Tips for Transitioning Your Business to SaaS

It’s not just about compensation: you could technically have a comp-neutral model for perpetual licensing and SaaS bookings. However, you need to examine how Sales is compensated on revenue or bookings. If you set up term limits (i.e., 12 to 36 months) in your subscription billing, then you will want to review your renewal process and make sure your sales team has the right incentives in place to keep the customers you have. Remember, it’s harder to find new customers than it is to keep the precious ones you have.

February 2011 – Joel York Cloud Channel SaaS Channel Compensation

In my post on SaaS Sales compensation, I made the claims that SaaS vendors should a) pay in proportion to the lifetime value of the deal and b) pay entirely up-front, because the SaaS sales rep should not be asked to bear any of the SaaS investment risk, or the rep is likely to just quit and find better work. The same basic ideas holds for the SaaS channel partner with the caveat that it is reasonable to expect the channel to absorb at least some of the risk, if not all of it. So, when it comes to SaaS channel compensation, SaaS vendors should a) pay in proportion to the lifetime value of the deal and b) pay disproportionately, but not entirely up-front because the SaaS channel partner should not be asked to bear a disproportionate amount of the SaaS investment risk, or the channel partner is likely to just quit and find better work.

Somebody also mentioned to me over the break that there may also be models we could learn from in other industries: for example, in commercial real-estate sales people are paid as a percentage of the monthly lease over the lifetime of that lease.

Do you know of any other good recommendations or posts? Please let me know in the comments!

4 Tips to Increase B2B SaaS Sales

B2B SaaS companies increasingly rely on inside sales teams to drive growth. The model is often referred to as “Low Touch Sales” and follows this formula:

  • Use Inbound marketing to drive Internet traffic to the site and create new leads
  • Use an inside sales team to support leads through their evaluation process and convert them to paying customers.

Inside sales representatives (ISR) and sales management teams juggle with large volumes of leads of various qualities. Leads follow a self-paced evaluation model and the role of the inside sales team is to increase the number of those that eventually “convert” to paying customers once their trial concludes.

Here are 4 tips for inside sales teams to improve their effectiveness, increase conversion rates and deal sizes. Creating happier customers and a happier sales organization!

 

1. Prioritize correctly by eliminating noise

Within many SaaS companies the lead volume is very high and there are only so many phone calls one can make. The trick is to focus on the most promising prospects, the potential customers who came in with a real intention to evaluate the service and buy.
In order to focus on the right opportunities, sales teams should have ‘intention indication’ which is usually reflected by the amount of time and investment prospects put in the evaluation process. In short, make sure your CRM contains data that reflects the actual (as opposed to potential) engagement level of a lead, and prioritize your work accordingly.

 

2. Increase Contact Rate

Every sales person knows that being in contact with a prospect increases the chances of a bigger, better deal. However, in many cases, due to volume and geography it takes a while before you can actually contact a prospect.
To increase your chances of making contact, follow up while the prospect is within context, meaning, when the prospect is actually using the web application. By implementing a ‘who’s currently online’ monitor and contacting leads that are actively evaluating, your contact rates are sure to go up.

 

3. Make smart and personal sales call

When making contact, be sure to use all the information you have on the prospect in order to be personal and address the actual needs of a potential client. Prospects who interact with your business over the web expect a conversation with a sales rep to be effective and rather not repeat their entire history which was already reflected in forms that they have filled out and actions they performed on your application.

Make sure to prepare for each sales call by reviewing the following on the lead:

  • Demographics information: This includes the size and industry of the organization, the evaluator’s role within the organization and so forth.
  • Usage information: What has a prospect done so far during their Trial? Have they been able to get up and running? Are they using the software regularly during trial? Did they invite necessary stakeholders to join the evaluation (where appropriate)?

Make sure your sales-tools provide visibility into these two issues so you can form an intelligent view on their status and be more useful to the lead as you interact.

 

4. Timely follow up

Potential customers need time to absorb the information available on your web site and properly evaluate to understand the true value of your service. In many cases, they will evaluate multiple alternatives simultaneously. Make sure to follow up on time. On the one hand you don’t want to annoy the prospect (that adds zero value), but on the other hand you wouldn’t want to drop the ball and let them fall in the hands of your competition.

Sales teams should map various milestones of the evaluation process, and have clear benchmarks and definitions for prospects who are on track and those who are not.
For example, for an online help-desk service, we would expect to have more than one agent by the 5th day of the evaluation. If this is the case, a prospect is on track and only needs encouragement, if this is not the case, a prospect might need a different type of engagement in order to open the road blocker.

Managing these milestones for multiple ongoing accounts is not easy, but it’s essential to fulfill your role as a facilitator of the evaluation.

Summary

Successful SaaS sales teams that follow a proven methodology and take advantage of automated high-quality information will increase their chances to sell more and faster. They will improve the predictability and consistency of results – this is critical for scaling the organization.

SaaS Key Metrics Survey Results

 

Want to know which metrics other Sales Executives use?
Download SaaS Business Survey Results

 

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