How can I get sales off the ground for my enterprise SaaS company? #Q&A
I’ve read all of Aaron Ross’s (great) content (book + videos) as well as a lot from Jason M. Lemkin and am thinking of using LeadGenius as well as 2 AEs to run a 90-day pilot but would love any additional thoughts, approaches, insights, etc from those who have done this. We are selling into leaders (director level and up) at companies with 100 to 1,000 people primarily in the U.S.
Note: My answer assumes that you are truly at the start of building your sales process, you are starting from a zero customer base and are looking to construct a process that enables you to scale in the future.
Before you go about constructing what Jason suggests, you have some very hard work ahead of you.
You first need to lay the groundwork by truly learning three (3) things:
- Who you are selling to? Who are the companies and the individuals within these companies?
- Why they are buying? What problems are you solving for your customers? It has to be one of these four problems, otherwise you have work to do on developing your value proposition:
Increase revenue | Decrease cost | Increase efficiency | Decrease risk
- How will they buy, implement, and use your product? How do your target companies make purchasing decisions? What requirements are made to new solution providers by the companies’ legal, procurement, and information security teams? How will you roll out and support the users?
To get there, here are ten (10) ideas and steps you need to take before worrying about such things as LeadGenius and AEs.
- Start small. Really small. Painfully small.
The projects should feel more like technology-enabled consulting than the sale and purchase of a software product, because that’s what you need to do in early stage enterprise software development.
As an early stage company, you’ve identified a specific gap in the market and intend to fill it with your product. Only by sitting inside the walls of the customers – shadowing, training, spending voluminous amounts of time onsite with actual users – will you begin to learn the problem you are solving with your product.
Paul Graham discusses this in detail in his essay “Do Things that Don’t Scale.”
- Position yourself as an “AND” not an “OR.”
While you may be building towards replacing big incumbent systems already in place, no enterprise will absorb the risk of replacing an existing system regardless of how much they hate it with a solution from startup.
Look for opportunities to fill gaps existing systems don’t fill, or fill needs that have emerged that the customer cannot adapt their existing system to fill.
- Start with paid pilot projects
Focus on paid pilots that are 1-3 months with measurable outcomes, with those metrics established in a way that you know you can win.
The “paid” part is critical because it vets whether or not the person/team you’re selling to has the financial authority to approve a purchase and mobilize the internal resources required to implement your product. (more on this below…)
Check out these articles:
- 8 Guiding Principles for Pilot Programs: A Key for Enterprise 2.0
- Successful Selling For The Technically Gifted: Understanding The Pilot Project
- A Product Person’s Perspective on Enterprise Selling
- Be unobtrusive.
If you have to connect to customer systems, databases, or other third party software, you’ll be looking at a 6-12 month information security audit and due diligence cycle in the sales process. Look for ways that you can “integrate” with existing systems without actually touching and wiring to those systems.
This might mean that you’ll need to do a bunch of manual work like setting up an FTP site and exporting CSV files from your software so that they can be imported in batch files to the customer’s current system. This is all part of “doing things that don’t scale.”
- Identify all of the buyers at the companies you’re selling to.
You think you’re selling to “the director level and up at companies with 100-1000 people.” That’s a pretty wide range.
For example, in the banking industry, there are Directors, Vice Presidents, Senior Vice Presidents, and Executive Vice Presidents. In the investment world, there are Directors, Managing Directors, and Partners. The people at the lower end of the org chart have far less autonomy and purchasing authority, if any at all. Check out:
You need to figure out the exact level of seniority that can approve and shepherd support for your product. This is where Aaron Ross’s “Predictable Revenue”approach is useful. If you start from the top and work you’re way down, you’ll hit far fewer roadblocks and low level executives trying to be corporate heroes selling your product up the org chart for you.
Find out who is ultimately writing the check for your product, and then find out all of the people that person has to get the nod from in order to write that check, including IT, Risk, Security, Compliance, Operations, and Finance.
SaaS is great for constant release cycles and scaling product support. SaaS can be a nightmare to sell if your target companies have concerns about up time, reliability, and data security because your product is “in the cloud.”
- Build out an implementation plan and use it in your sales process.
The first part of the sale is showing how your product will solve the customer’s problem. The second part of the sale is showing how the customer will actually buy and implement your product.
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Think through the people, resources, and processes required to confidently implement your product, and include a discussion around this process as part of your sales conversation. You need to identify if your customer is able to mobilize the resources on their side, and what costs you might be incurring to successfully install and support your product.
- Identify key metrics and milestones for your sales process.
Find ways to identify if you are making progress in your sales conversations. A few examples might include:
- With each subsequent conversation with a prospect, are we getting introduced to more people within the company that will directly or indirectly affect the purchase and implementation of our product?
- Did we get an NDA in place?
- Did we get to an onsite meeting or host them at our office?
- Be your company’s best salesperson.
If you’re just starting up your sales process, you can’t hire a salesperson or AE to do the selling for you because they’ll need a sales blueprint or template and a proven successful model on which to base their process.
Quick story… When I started at Altos Research years ago, the Founder/CEO closed the first 50-75 customers, many of them working from Red Rock Cafe in Mountain View. On my first day, we did a call together with an inbound lead from the website. Mike called the lead, walked through the process he told me has been working, then got the credit card at the end of the call. First call. Boom. It was that easy. Now I could go forth and multiply.
While your sales is much larger than a $79/month subscription, this principle holds true. You need to give your sales people a blueprint of how to sell your product.
At Blend, we’re going through this transition now. The CEO and I are leading all of our sales efforts, and only now after 18 months of selling are we bringing in AEs lead sales from the beginning of the lead.
- Use relationships and referrals.
If you can’t figure out a way to find your first ten customers through your network and introductions, you need to find advisors who can help and build your network such that you are worrying about inbound leads, lead management, and qualification, etc.
Looks to me like you are a bit early to be thinking about an entire lead and sales funnel system like the one Aaron proposes.
At this stage, you don’t even know what qualifies as the right customer – company type, industry/slice of industry, buyer type you’re targeting, how to know if they are the right buyer, and establishing needs. etc.
Over and over, I see early stage CEOs telling themselves, “We have a great product, so now if I could just find a really good salesperson to sell it, we’ll be great!”
The truth is that your product should be very scaled back and only after you implement with your early customers will you really know what your product should be, how to build it, and how to get there.
- Look for “Partner Customers.”
These are paying customers that help you shape your product without requiring bespoke or custom development. This can be tricky early in the company’s and product’s development, because you really don’t know if the partner customer’s needs are that of the larger market, and that’s all the more reason you need a really strong relationship so that you can mutually agree on what makes sense to build and what makes sense to skip.
You’ll also have a few prospective customers catch wind of what you’re building and they’ll want you to build quickly or want to treat the relationship in a traditional buyer-vendor manner. These are the customers to avoid early on, or at least slow-roll until you have a more established product.
**This Q&A article was originally posted on Quora. Check out Scott’s Quora page here.