Software is changing the old-fashioned sales process at warp speed – and nowhere is this more noticeable than in our field, enterprise software and SaaS.
Easy Internet research means prospects now pre-qualify themselves as sales leads. The rise of new try-before-you-buy models has fundamentally changed both sales pitches and the sequence of steps making up the sales funnel. New sales technologies help automate the rote aspects of sales, like cold calling – but also enable new, personalizing touches that are crucial to closing deals.
Zillions of new communications channels, from Twitter to Instagram to text messages, as well as a much more demographically diverse mix of prospects, add to the challenge of getting inside your prospect’s head today. Gone are the days when enterprise-software sales routinely get closed on country-club golf courses in all-male foursomes. Whether it fills you with nostalgia for three-martini lunches, or revulsion at the way things used to be, we’re waving goodbye for good to the old Glengarry Glen Ross sales model.
In this new world, it’s tempting to think big-data technology is the only silver bullet you need, for sales and everything else. But we disagree. The element of human interaction is still incredibly important. It’s just now playing out against a backdrop of some very helpful new technologies.
In light of this new reality, here is our list of seven ways the sales process has changed forever. We’ve written this with enterprise software / SaaS sales in mind, but these tips apply to B2B companies, technology startups – any business with a sales funnel prime for optimizing.
1. Your prospect knows all about you before the “sales process” starts.
These days, enterprise-software customers identify a need within their own company, conduct research to create a short list of startups that address it, and get internal buy-in — all before engaging in any sales conversation.
Before you can say “Biff said you pledged together…” and extend your hand, your prospect has Googled you and your company. They have already compiled an impressive amount of knowledge about you and your firm. They’ve scanned your online whitepapers. They know where you previously worked and what your product does, and, if they are interested, have reached out to your customers for their impressions. In other words, they’ve gotten all the first-date questions out of the way and are ready to make their first decision about you.
2. Expect your prospect not to resemble you.
Our company Yesware got its first big sales break when Groupon approached us. My contact there was a whip-smart 29-year-old woman who’d grown up in Dubai. Demographically, she couldn’t have been more different from the old-fashioned, software-sales prospect. But she knew her stuff, ran a tight process, and could make or break our fledging startup. Landing this sale was crucial– but it required a modern sales process given that her background and work style were different than mine.
Nowadays, it pays to expect difference in your sales prospects. Even prospects who resemble you demographically are more diverse than ever in their technology habits and communications styles. Some people still want a phone call, while others may respond better to a text at some points in the process. You want to enter every sale with an open mindset and readiness to watch for sales cues, whatever they may be.
3. Try to deliver joy within 15 seconds of installation.
Your prospect has done lots of homework before engaging you. They want a high degree of confidence that your product can solve their problems before moving forward. While there are many ways to clear this hurdle, we believe in giving them a freemium version of the product to experience.
What’s the biggest determinant of a great freemium product? It delivers joy in 15 seconds. That is to say, right after installation the prospect sees an instant reward, which brings satisfaction. Plus the prospect engages with the product enough to wonder what else it can solve for her.
That tingly shot of dopamine can certainly help you get your foot in the door. But that’s not enough.
4. Reply to incoming customer inquiries immediately.
Since they’ve already tested your product and want to take things to the next level, there’s not much you need to do, right? Wrong. You’ve got to invest time — a lot, in fact (and we don’t mean over multiple steak dinners) — in developing the relationship from a non-committed one to a match made in heaven.
When a manager of operations reaches out, for example, thoughtfully respond to her immediately. As the chart below shows, both contact and qualification rates plummet if you wait longer than five minutes to reply.
5. Prepare to convince a wide range of stakeholders.
Don’t be deceived into thinking she’s the only person you need to win over. At each company, there are many stakeholders, and you may need to meet with a bunch of people from various departments — each of whom brings a different background, difficulties, and sets of expectations to the table.
Everyone will be looking for a salesperson who’s interested in understanding the unique ins and outs of their business, and a product demo alone can’t accomplish that. Be prepared to ask smart questions in an effort to quickly discover their problem (after all, no one wants to waste time) and determine whether or not you can address it. And since you know the product landscape and all its variables, a clear summary of how the marketplace is set up can radically shorten the sales cycle.
6. Develop an internal champion for your product.
Amid this crowd of thousands, cultivate one internal champion. It’s likely the person who first contacted you. She may or may not be the sole, final decision-maker, but she’s the one marshaling the process internally. She’s holding the short list – and you need to stay on it.
Just like after a great date, following up is a must. But how? Get a feel for which communication channels your prospect prefers, and mix it up. Don’t always talk shop; offer a useful follow-up, like a great restaurant recommendation around the corner from the prospect’s office. Be helpful, unobtrusive, yet top-of-mind.
7. Stay open to a custom software build.
If a potential client is hesitating, remain engaged and listen to any feedback they provide. If they feel like your offerings aren’t quite what they want or that you have major gaps in functionality, suggest a pilot and collaborate on it. Doing so can accomplish several things:
- By creating unique software, you demonstrate not only that you can listen to and respond to their needs, but also that you can deliver an actual product that addresses them.
- You’re giving your prospect the full experience of what your software can do for them right now, not just what you’re saying it will eventually do.
- If you play your cards right, you’ll complete your product with features customers really need – and other prospects besides this one will want.
Yes, building a unique product without an official contract sounds risky. And it is. But if it helps you perfect your product for market while landing your first big-fish client, it can be well worth the effort. It’s precisely those personal aspects that solidify a strong bond between people. And once you’ve cultivated that bond, you have someone internally that can advocate on your behalf – and a great partner for the long haul.
Clearly, the era of ABC (always be closing) isn’t over. This is just the 2.0 version of it.
About the authors: Matthew Bellows is a co-founder and CEO of Yesware, an all-in-one sales acceleration platform. Neeraj Agarwal is a general partner at Battery Ventures and an early investor in Yesware. This post originally ran in Forbes. For a full list of all Battery investments and exits, please click here.