“Please skip the slides, we’ve already been to your website. Just show us your demo, and we’ll let you know”
“No, don’t send a sales guy, just send us the guy who can answer our technical questions”
“We’ve done our research already, just give us your price”
You probably have had a prospect tell you something like that. You’ve also seen these (for us B2B sales professionals) unsettling statistics saying 70% of a business buyer’s journey is completed before the sales rep comes into the picture. Or that 90% of a buyer’s research happens online. All of this proves what we all already know: B2B buyers are much more independent as they contemplate options during their evaluation process. However nice your smile, they won’t call you in until the Buying Cycle is well on track.
Inbound and content marketing, with a big focus on educating prospects during those early stages, is typically seen as the solution to this challenge. And often, it works well. But there are scenario’s where relying on inbound marketing is not only an ineffective approach, it can actually create noise and distractions that will seriously hamper your sales success. Scenarios where a prospect needs to look at their problem from a different angle. Scenarios where you need to Get in Early to have a chance to show them that. Scenarios where the prospect can’t explore options fully without involvement from an expert – you. In SaaS, two pipeline characteristics are typically evidence of these scenarios. First, there is a lot of activity at the top of the sales funnel, with very low conversions. Prospects are interested, but unconvinced. Secondly, annual renewal levels (for those that did convert) are well below 90%. Customers didn’t really understand what they bought, didn’t integrate it properly, bought it for the wrong reasons, didn’t manage internal expectations around ROI, misjudged the impact of self-service, or a combination of all that. Oh, and that same buyer who told you he wasn’t interested in meeting a sales guy, probably blames you for not making him aware of what they really were buying.
I often come across SaaS companies that struggle with these challenges. Particularly US-headquartered companies that assume our market is as mature as theirs, and implement the same sales strategy here. Frustrated with the lack of success, they ramp up marketing to get more leads. Or tell marketing to just get better leads. Or they end up questioning the skills of the sales reps. Or, the worst of all, they start discounting to get the deal or renewal. All in all, a slippery slope.
So, what to do?
Assess the level of change your solution will have on the people, processes and technology side at your customers. With change, I mean how much the buying organisation needs to adjust before they get value from your solution. Do they need to change processes? Do they need to restructure responsibilities or even departments? Are end-users skilled to perform all tasks that come with self-service, and do their job descriptions and KPIs support that? Have they ever bought something like this before, and do they know what questions to ask? Most of all, do they even know what success looks like? With all focus on your exciting SaaS offering, it’s so easy to forget (on both sides) that a successful implementation and renewal need more than your technology alone.
If the Change Impact is low, inbound is probably the best approach. The introduction of your solution represents an incremental improvement of how they currently work – not a Big Change. Just ensure your content and processes make it really easy to buy from you. The Change Impact will be high on the other hand, if your offering involves automation of manual activities, or new self-service tasks that traditionally sat with IT or other non-functional users. Or if you rely on buzzwords like Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence – anything that has represents a Big Change to people, process and technology. In that case, a pure inbound driven approach is likely to create too much noise with the wrong prospects kicking the wrong tires. Instead, develop an old-school outbound strategy with a focus on those prospects that are most likely to buy. Don’t drop inbound all together, as long as you focus – it’s about quality, not quantity. Fight like hell to Get in Early into the Buying Cycle. Embrace Challenger Sale or Insight Selling, slow down your prospects, and position yourself as a Trusted Advisor for Change.