The average win rate in B2B software sales is around 20%. Yours might be higher or lower, but then again, these numbers don’t get reported on in a consistent way anyway. Some sales teams define win rates as won opportunities divided by total opportunities created in that period, others only count the qualified opportunities, or even opportunities that reached a certain stage.
What does seem to be consistent across most teams is a recurring reason why deals are lost: poor qualification. You came in way too late, competitor X had already influenced things, previous attempts had lead to nothing, or the prospect never was going to be able to afford your solution. For whatever reason, you agree it just wasn’t the right opportunity. After it was lost.
But here’s the thing. The next time around, the exact same scenario plays out again. Once more, you spend precious time and energy on something that you will label as a waste of time later on. It’d be easy to simply blame the rep for being too pushy or enthusiastic to chase the deal, but the reality is that for many of us, rational reasoning seems to get suppressed in the heat of the moment. Our judgement gets clouded into Positive Delusion – the ungrounded hope that it might all work out.
So what to do?
Yes, we do need hope and optimism, but not if it leads to poor decisions. Three simple practices can help avoid the downside of Positive Delusion in sales.
1. Insert a fresh set of eyes in the early stages
All too often, qualification is just a subjective set of poorly defined criteria which the rep assesses in a pretty solitary way. Improve the process by creating a qualification review that involves the Solution Consultant, or the Front Line Manager. While there might be some apprehension for yet another review, the reality is that inserting some objective reasoning early on in the cycle will free up time later down the track.
2. Start with the end
This saved time should be spent on pipeline activities. Work out a Sales Productivity Model that shows how many opportunities will have to be generated to get to target. This will often serve as a wake up call; you simply can’t afford to waste time on bad opportunities. Pipeline generation requires focus and discipline; clear activity targets on lead generation are at the very heart of that.
3. Do Win/Loss analysis
The rather lose practices sales teams tend to have on reviewing successes and mistakes not only limit their ability to learn and improve, it also hinders accountability. At the very least, collectively agree on the “Lost Reason” before you log the lost opportunity into your CRM. Data is delusion’s ultimate nemesis, but only if it that data is valid.
Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see my website.
Coaching sales people often is about changing behaviours. It takes a bit of time and effort to change one’s ways and that sometimes leads to resistance. ‘I am too busy already and just don’t have the time to <create a plan/fill in a template/do another review/do that training/do a dry-run/etc.>. Yet when I observe them in the office or in meetings, it seems that they do have the time to check out Facebook and Instagram, or are the first to respond to a post on Linkedin. When challenged, their defence involves a shrugging of the shoulders and mumbles like ‘it’s only a couple of minutes’.
It’s not. In 2019, the average person spent two and a half hours a day on social media1. Some reports put the number lower, some higher. All say the time spent on these channels keeps going up year after year.
For me, it’s zero. I have never been on Facebook. It simply doesn’t align with my overall life goal to spend less time on screens and more time in the real world. I also never liked the idea of paying for a service with my data, unless such service is really useful. I regularly ask friends whether Facebook meets that criteria for them, and always get the same response: don’t bother. So I don’t. I was enticed to go on Instagram because those same friends kept saying they liked the pictures I take, but was shocked to see how quickly my brain yearned for updates and reactions on stuff I post. I deleted the app after a couple of days.
My brain might be extra sensitive to these things after my accident, but I can tell from the zombies around me that their brains are just as susceptible to the Power of the Glowing Screen. And it’s not just distracting us from getting stuff done. A steady stream of research is being published on the negative impact of social media on our mental health. Expect these warnings to become louder, especially as we see younger generations coming into the workforce and having to deal with setbacks in the real world. We are conditioning our brains to seek affirmation in ‘likes’, and develop a fear of missing out if we’re not part of the noise happening on these channels, 24×7.
So what to do?
If you want to protect yourself from the downside of social media, use iPhone’s or Android’s Screen Time functionality. They both provide reports on your actual usage and offer a way to set limits for specific apps. Better yet, delete the apps. Don’t make too much of a fuzz about digital detoxing – it’s not that big a deal once you realise how much time you free up to do other, better, things. If you are an average social media user who spends two and a half hours a day on social media, you miss out on 900 hours that you could spend on other things every year. I can spend nearly 40 days a year more on the very things I coach sales people on. I have time to create a sales plan, to call another prospect, to do a dry-run before a big presentation, and to read a business book a week. Time to sport and stay healthy, mentally and physically. Time to meditate. Time to learn to play the piano. Time to go kitesurfing and recharge.
I know I miss out on social updates and possibly even business opportunities, but the downside that comes along with the upside is simply not worth it for me. I am not missing out at all: I gain way more than I lose.
Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book,IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGE, Perseverance in Sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma and what the two-year recovery thought me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical ideas for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. See here for links to retailers of the paperback or ebook.
Last weekend, I found myself in the garage unpacking and dusting off our old DVD player. I never threw it away, because, well, you just don’t throw away a working appliance. The joy to see the lights come on after plugging it in, was short-lived. Our new TV had different video input connectors, so I had to drive to the shops to find a new ‘old’ cable. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, I got it all hooked up, grabbed a bottle of wine, and, together with my wife, plucked the fruits of my hard labour. We watched Finding Nemo. Again.
Yep, for the umpteenth time, we watched that Pixar classic that raked in nearly a billion dollars. We saw it in the cinema when it first came out back in 2003, bought the DVD, and watched it a couple of times on Netflix. But to my horror, this weekend, I found out that it no longer runs on Netflix Australia! (Googling reveals that Netflix doesn’t carry titles forever; they sign licensing deals that only last a couple of years, apparently). That’s why I had to take control of my own destiny, and find that old DVD player. And here’s the thing; my wife and I don’t have kids – I went through all that hassle just because we love watching that movie. Nemo does that…
Even though we know the story back-to-front by now, we still want to see it – over and over again. It’s not just the spectacular animations; there’s much more that keeps drawing us in. And after asking some friends, I realised it’s not just us. Most of us can watch it multiple times and never find it boring. Which is not the case with the typical sales pitch I come across. In fact, with many of them, I tune out within minutes. Why is that? Why is it that I go through all that hassle to watch a children’s movie which doesn’t give me anything new, but I can’t get myself to listen to an average sales pitch? This warrants a deeper analysis.
A typical sales pitch roughly follows this structure:
This is who we are, and here’s a map of all our offices across the globe
We got funding/IPO’d/have a valuation (or revenue) of $x
We have these solutions, and we think they’re amazing
And Forrester/Gartner/Fortune/ … think we’re amazing, too
Look at all these logos we have; basically, everybody thinks we’re amazing
Here’s a quick demo of our amazing platform
Wanna do business?
You give me a pitch like that, and I give you and audience that collectively grabs their phones to check their emails five minutes in. Maybe when you get to the demo bit do people sit up again, but by then, energy levels have dropped to that same point your iPhone seems to reach before lunch nowadays. The meeting ends with some vague agreement on next steps, with a level of commitment that can only be summarised as “meh”.
One thing we can do to spice things up is to start with a personal story or anecdote. The idea is that the audience better connects when there is some unique or personal angle, and as a result would be more engaged throughout the rest of the presentation. While it could raise energy levels and participation in the first few minutes, an anecdote – however original – hardly ever is enough to carry the audience through the dreadful stages that follow. You need much more to get your audience to sit at the edge of their seats, absorbing every single thing you have to say. Finding Nemo accomplishes exactly that, so let’s see what we can learn from its story telling.
I can’t possibly imagine you haven’t seen this movie, but still, let’s start with a brief refresher on the story line. Nemo lost his mum and as a result, Marlin, his dad, is very protective. He doesn’t want Nemo to stray too far – the ocean is a dangerous place – and raises him in the security of an anemone. As you’d expect from a kid, one day, Nemo does swim into the open water towards the edge of the reef. He sees a boat, and in an act of defiance, tries to touch it with his fin. He gets captured by a diver and ends up in a dentist’s fish tank in Sydney. Marlin goes on this big search to find Nemo, and when they eventually re-unite, the characters have learned some important life lessons. Never give up, trust the people who love you, appreciate what you have before it’s gone, and don’t be afraid of leaving your comfort zone, to name just a few.
Clearly, a sales pitch is not in the business of evoking emotions around such morale. But that doesn’t mean we should disregard powerful story telling. Finding Nemo teaches us three things around how to draw in an audience.
First, the story has a fair bit of tension, especially for a kids movie. It’s not all positive. As with most stories of fiction, the first act is rather happy and good, but then – after Nemo gets captured – scene after scene of challenging events follow. There are sharks, exploding mines, stinging jelly fish, hungry seagulls, and of course, Darla, the dentist’s niece. Thanks to Marlin’s persistence and the teamwork of the other sea creatures he meets along the way, there’s a happy ending. The story goes up and down from positive to negative which leads to tension – and it’s this tension that captivates the audience. It wants to find out how the characters overcome the challenges they face.
Sales pitches tend to miss that. They paint a picture of pure positivity, and that’s not only boring, it makes the audience instinctively question its credibility. Because in real life, it is not all rainbows and butterflies.
Secondly, we recognise ourselves in these characters. Their struggles resonate with us. At the start of the movie, Marlin is overprotective, scared and insecure, but he comes out stronger and with more confidence. Nemo is curious, loyal, and despite his handicapped fin, pretty brave. Other than being absent minded, Dory is also very honest, and optimistic. We can find ourselves in these traits, and as a result, we become emotionally tied to the characters, and, hence, the story. We want the characters to win, to come out as the heroes, because we are just like them.
The problem with most sales pitches is that they try to make the vendor the hero. Worse, it’s all about the vendor. The reality is that your potential client doesn’t care about you winning. They care about themselves. The vendor should never be the hero in a presentation. The client should be.
Thirdly, the movie’s key conclusion is around those moral lessons. Nemo, Marlin, and Dory had to go through this ordeal, so that they could gain these insights. Watching a Pixar movie as a grownup, we know we’re going to be treated to these underlying life messages that are crafted for us, not just kids. We’re going to learn something. From the very first minute, the movie is set up like that. It sets the scene that overprotection isn’t good, and even though we don’t know how the story is going to unfold, we unconsciously have buckled up for the journey to get to the moral lessons, e.g. the purpose of the story. We’re not just watching because of the amazing animations and funny characters, we also want to be taken on a journey towards this ‘why’ behind the story.
Sure, conveying messages of morality is not the typical goal of a sales pitch, but we still need to be clear on the purpose. As Simon Sinek says, we need to start with why. Too often, sales presentations skip this part and go straight into the what, missing out on the opportunity to connect with the audience on a deeper level.
So, what to do?
Start your pitch not with what you do, but why. Confirm that you understand the client’s world by showing them how it’s been changing (for example, “consumers are getting more demanding”). Then, articulate how that change is creating tension or challenges for the client (“because the business systems and processes in place are based on consumer expectations from the past”). Then, show how this tension leads to business problems (“consumers might leave you for more agile competitors who can meet their needs”) and urgency (“as a result you could see your revenue drop”).
Build this tension and build on the why as long as you can, because once you get in the weeds of the what, it’s really difficult to elevate back to pains and solutions at a business level. And if a potential client isn’t convinced on the why, they’re never going to be convinced that they need your what. (Note that this emphasis on the why reduces during the progression in the sales cycle; when you get towards your final presentation, your client should have bought into the why. A mere summary would suffice, before you go into great detail demonstrating the what).
Then, switch the tension and take them on the journey towards what could be. Explain how your solution addresses the business problems you described before, without going into too much detail on specific features and functions (“you can’t fix this fundamentally flawed architecture with old school systems and processes; you need a new, data-driven way that’s fully automated. We’ve come up with a solution to help you just that”).
Finally, show how you’ve helped other clients overcome similar challenges, and show the positive results they achieved. Don’t just show logos, but put in statements from three or four clients which articulate the journey from business pain to great results. These are the independent proof points that show how great you are, but with a much more credible “don’t take it from me” angle. Ensure these proof points are articulated in the language of the client, so that they can recognise themselves in the hero of that sub-plot, a client just like them.
Crafting good pitches isn’t easy, and will take a lot of practice. ‘Dancing’ with the tension can be particularly tricky for reps who don’t like uncomfortable conversations. However, you will need to build the confidence to go there. It will help you elevate your pitch, and be seen as a trusted advisor. To learn more about this captivating skill, watch how Nancy Duarte finds these structures in speeches of great narrators like Steve Jobs. Sure, you will make mistakes along the journey, but don’t give up. It’s like Dory says: “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming”.
Not all B2B prospects are the same. An online retailer has different technology needs than a bank. They simply care about different things. While the latter has share of wallet and compliance top of mind, the retailer lies awake about conversion and logistics. As a result, these different goals and business models lead to different characteristics for a B2B prospect, with different pains, and different budgets to fix those pains. Most SaaS sales teams recognise this need for tailored sales strategies and tactics in their territory plans. That is, to some extend; a key aspect typically doesn’t get the attention it deserves, setting the sales team up for failure.
Let’s start with what your territory plan most likely already covers – positioning. If you sell a SaaS solution that roughly does the same for all customers, it doesn’t mean your sales pitch should be positioned in the same way to all your prospects. Your pitch should be tailored, so that potential buyers can recognise their own pains and objectives – and easily see how your solution can help with that. Your sales training would have focused on customising talk tracks and sales pitches to client-specific themes. Maybe you even have a sales enablement team that created vertical-specific playbooks, to help position the value of your solution through tailored sales messaging. Awesome – the more your pitch is positioned in line with the prospect’s view of the world, the better.
There is another aspect of the notion that not all prospects are the same, and it typically doesn’t get the attention it deserves in sales plans. Segmentation. In fact, the concept of segmentation sometimes gets mixed up with positioning. They are two different things. Positioning determines what you will pitch, while segmentation determines who you will pitch that message to, or in B2B sales: what kind of companies you will go after. The aim of segmentation is to identify high yield segments – that is, a group of accounts that are likely to have the highest chances of buying from you, or that have the highest growth potential for land-and-expand deals. The whole idea is that you should target those accounts before you go after other segments that are less likely to buy from you. Yet, many B2B SaaS sales teams don’t put a lot of thought into what such companies tend to look like.
What is often in place in terms of segmentation is pretty rudimentary. Most B2B Sales teams merely look at “vertical” or “size” as key characteristics for segmentation, and blindly take guidance on that from headquarters. For example, they’ve prioritised “Retail” or “Financial Services” over “Manufacturing” or “Government”. Or they decide to only go after “enterprise accounts”, or organisations between 10 and 1,000 employees. But these segments are often way too broad: thousands of accounts end up in a territory with the presumed notion they’ll all have the same propensity to buy. This absence of a smart segmentation strategy in sales nearly always leads to a lack of focus – with frustrating results.
There’s nothing worse than filling up the top of the sales funnel with the wrong kind of opportunities. It creates a false sense of hope, which will take a while to get exposed, because reps often find it difficult to let go of an opportunity once it’s past qualification. They end up wasting time and resources as they repeatedly push the opportunity into the next quarter. To see how big a problem that is for you, run some pipeline reports on “Pushed out more than 3 times”, “Lost to No Decision”, or “Lost to a competitor that we don’t really think is a competitor”. If that raises some alarm bells, you need a more thoughtful segmentation approach that goes deeper on this notion of propensity to buy.
So, what to do? Segment your territories on propensity to buy by implementing the ABC Model. “A” accounts are those who are most likely to buy, “B” are less likely and “C” are the ones you want to avoid (even if they joined five of your webinars). Develop a parlance where Marketing, SDRs, Sales Reps and Sales Management show an understanding that the companies they go after should fit in either the A bucket, maybe the B bucket, but definitely not the C bucket.
This ABC distinction should be done on three areas of characteristics: Firmographics, Technographics and Demographics. Your current segmentation most likely already covers some of the Firmographics. These are the things you can easily determine from the outside: the number of employees at the prospect, its vertical, revenue, business model, and geographical reach. But as said, you need to go deeper.
In SaaS, the Technographics often say much more about likelihood to buy; it reflects the current technology footprint of an account. Buying SaaS needs a level of maturity, which often is revealed by other technology solutions the prospect uses. At its simplest, Prospect A who uses your cheaper competitor is more likely to be ready to “upgrade” to yours, than Prospect B who has never even bought SaaS and still uses manual processes and spreadsheets. Even if Prospect B is of the right size and in the right vertical! Determine what these Technographics look like for your A, B and C accounts. Then, use tools like Ghostery, Builtwith, or Datanyze to see what technologies are in place at accounts in your territory; get the enterprise edition so you can integrate it with your CRM.
As for Demographics, you look at the people side to determine the propensity to buy.Companies tend to develop (or hire for) specific skillsets first, before they buy the technology. Not the other way around. Look for key skills and role titles that are telltale signs for a readiness for your solution. At its simplest, who is more likely to buy from you? Person A who used your tool before and just started a new role in a different company that’s growing rapidly, or Person B who’s been in the role for ten years with a company that’s hardly investing in new technologies? Again, decide what these skills and roles look like for your A, B, and C accounts. Then, see what’s out there. Tools like Zoominfo and Discoverorg offer some value, but don’t always have good data for companies and contacts in APAC. Linkedin is your biggest friend here, particularly the jobs section, where you can create alerts that let you know when certain roles pop up. Go after companies that are hiring for those skills as they will likely be in the market for a technology solution soon.
I know that this sounds like a lot of work, but remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Some of the tools mentioned will make this effort easier, and predictive analytics solutions like Leadspace, Mintogo, Insideview, and 6sense can even automate much of it. However, they don’t always have quality data sets for APAC. And since propensity to buy characteristics in APAC are not necessarily the same as those in the US or EMEA, be careful on relying too much on such technologies. For now, spend some time doing it yourself for your territory.
The effort of thinking through this ABC segmentation will create more focus in sales. It is not meant to be an algorithm that’s 100% correct, but it still will provide a more granular appreciation around what makes a prospect more likely to buy from you. Have a workshop with marketing, the SDRs, the CSMs and the AEs to determine what makes an A account, and what makes a B or a C. That exercise in itself is going to create several aha! moments that will lead to more focus in your marketing and sales activities.
In August, I wrote how a kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma triggered a deep curiosity on the topic of resilience: the ability to brush yourself off after getting knocked down. I wanted to find out what we can learn from people who don’t just get back on their feet, but actually come out stronger – and how to apply their skills in the sales profession. Because the reality is that in sales, we’re exposed to a steady stream of setbacks, which could lead to disappointment, stress or demotivation. Yet, we don’t really get trained on how to best handle these upsetting events. Some of us cope well, others don’t. Why is that? This is the third article to share what I’ve learned about resilience for the sales professional.
Picture this. You worked super hard to hit your target, but this year, the sheer number of unexpected ups and downs made it practically near-impossible. Your key sponsor at that mega deal you’ve been working on resigned, pushing it into next year. For opportunities that you did manage to close, prospects threw you so many last-minute curve balls, that your whole legal team unfriended you on Facebook. They even ignore your outreaches on LinkedIn messenger. Your best solution consultant went to the competition, and although the new guy has potential, that wasn’t exactly what you needed in the last quarter. To top it off, management introduced new pricing and discount approval processes that make you wonder what they exactly mean when they tell you to be customer-centric.
Still, somehow, at the end of the rollercoaster ride that we call Q4, you made it. You hit target! Like Tom Hanks’ incomprehensible dodging of bullets, grenades, shrapnel and rockets amidst the complete chaos on Omaha Beach, you made it and you’re still in one piece. Phew!
Then, in the first week of the new financial year, it slowly sinks in. That shitty inner-voice you’ve been suppressing during your well-deserved, but all-too short break, gets louder and louder. When the invite for Sales Kick Off lands in your inbox, there’s no way around it – you have to face it. You. Are. Back. To. Zero. Yep – your YTD bookings are exactly $0! Your new target looks Pretty Big and Improbable and you’re not sure where to start. Welcome to the new Financial Year.
I spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit after my kitesurfing accident, followed by six long rollercoaster weeks in hospital. Too many operations to count, and too little energy to fully grasp all the ups and downs. But finally, after 54 days and nights in hospital, I got discharged. On 17 January 2014, under the watchful eye of my lovely wife, and on crutches, I wobbled back into our home. I was over the moon to have her with me around the clock, and to sleep in my own bed again. To not have the constant noise around me from doctors and other patients, and to have proper food (no offence, Chef de Cuisine of Royal North Shore Hospital).
Still, that first week back home felt a bit like the first week of the new Financial Year. I had fought so hard through all the ups and downs, just to get to zero. Arriving home was just the start of the journey. Numerous operations still lay ahead, as well as several months of hospital check-ups, 13 teeth to repair, and at least a year of physiotherapy. What I really wanted, was to get to the end. I wanted My Old Life Back. I wanted what I had before the accident.That was my target.
However meaningful (see Part 2) the target of Having My Old Life Back was to me, it felt, well…, Pretty Big and Improbable. So, here’s what I did.
First, I defined success. “Having My Old Life Back” is not exactly a tangible goal that you can measure, so I broke it down into sub-goals. One of those sub-goals was kitesurfing. If I were able to kitesurf again, I would have that aspect of my life back. Other sub-goals were around going back to work, getting to my old body weight, being able to do the Govetts Leap hike in the Blue Mountains, being able to drive, and many more. All of them together represented my target of Having My Old Life Back.
However, these sub-goals, and particularly the kitesurfing one, still looked Pretty Big and Improbable. To make them more manageable, I broke them down further into S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals to work on over the year I gave myself to recover. For instance, I wanted to kitesurf again on or before 31 December 2014. Working back from that date, I targeted doing that hike by 1 December latest. Working back from that, I had to be able to walk 10km by 1 October, and 5km by 1 August. A first (wave)surf session by 1 June. Swim 10 laps by 1 May, and 4 laps by 1 April. From my very rough calculations and assumptions, that sub-goal of kitesurfing by 31 December meant that by 1 March, I should make it to the roundabout. That roundabout is located just 40 meters from where we live, the first waypoint on the road to the beach, and my first S.M.A.R.T. goal.
Then, I determined what activities I needed to do to reach those S.M.A.R.T. goals. In the first week, that was 5 squats times 2 a day. Lifting 2 kilo weights, times 5. The exercise with the elastic resistance bands – 10 times 2. In the second week, 10 squats times 2 a day, lifting 3 kilo weights, and so on. That Pretty Big and Improbable goal of kitesurfing had become very specific and therefore, a lot more realistic.
I printed the 3 pages of the spreadsheet with S.M.A.R.T. goals, activities and their timelines and stuck it to the wall in the bedroom. For many months, this spreadsheet was the first thing I looked at in the morning, and the last thing I updated in the evening. I made it to the roundabout on the 24th of February, and ended up kitesurfing on 28th September! Sure, I had setbacks – surfing took a year longer because the wrist didn’t heal and the joint unfortunately fused together. Fixing the teeth took over 2 years. I unexpectedly developed gallstones and had an emergency operation to remove the gall bladder. Pain befriended me. But those setbacks were easier to digest because my spreadsheet kept me stubbornly focused on the short term activities for the next goal. And this focus gave me the confidence that it would eventually lead me to my end goal. And it did; I not only have my life back, I have a much better life now, nearly 5 years after the accident.
Back to your sales challenge. You just received your Pretty Big and Improbable target and weren’t sure where to start. Here’s what I suggest you do. Follow this same approach by breaking it down in to S.M.A.R.T. goals and start with the end. From historical data, calculate your Average Deal Size. With that, determine how many deals you need to win to get to target. Using your previous win rates, calculate how many qualified opportunities you therefore need. Knowing your average deal cycle, calculate how they roughly should be distributed over the quarters. Determine how many stage 1 opportunities you’ll need by what date. How many qualified leads, how many first meetings, how many unqualified leads. Finally, you’ll give yourself a target of how many email and phone reach outs you need to do this week to get those new unqualified leads.
Even if numbers are not going to be 100% correct, this approach enforces a mindset to break down a Pretty Big and Improbable task into a set of very specific activities. Sales still is a numbers game and activity creates opportunity. Thoroughly plan it all first, then focus on execution, and trust the process along the way. Lock in a monthly review to see if you’re on track, fine-tune the sub-goals, dates, and activities, and just keep going at it. Before you know it, you’ll reach your roundabout.
“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.