Selling SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) is still relatively new. Especially when you compare it to selling in other sectors, such as industrial products, which has been pretty much the same for many decades.
Most advice around selling SaaS is confined to the idea that when you sell SaaS you shouldn’t sell a ‘product’; rather you should focus on selling a ‘solution’ or ‘value’ or the ‘promise’.
That’s good advice, but pretty basic.
Selling SaaS B2B
In fact for technology companies selling SaaS B2B (business-to-business) an often undervalued factor is the relationship between the SaaS provider and the client. Or more precisely, between the SaaS sales team and the client.
(Note on terminology: I like to think we have clients, not users. And I recommend you be a provider, not just a vendor.)
A challenge with B2B SaaS is the client will usually need to change their way of doing things in order to utilise the new software. After all, that’s the point of moving to SaaS or cloud services – to change existing processes.
SaaS creates change and potential risk
Sure, the client may be better off by making that change, but any change requires extra management attention and creates possible risks. Hence the need for SaaS providers to focus on sales relationships, not just be selling a solution.
In particular Sales Managers in SaaS companies need to recognise the traits within their team that will help them navigate the various client relationships to achieve their account growth, churn and MRR targets.
The challenges of selling SaaS appear at various stages:
- Attracting potential clients
- Activating clients on the software
- Getting clients to be comfortable using the software
- Achieving the integration of the software within the clients system to become the new norm for the client (which also creates switching costs)
Throughout those stages the role of marketing and sales will vary.
However, ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ are terms that are frequently misunderstood. Let me clarify by applying my maxim:
Marketing creates Leads… Sales creates Clients
In the world of selling SaaS
Marketing is responsible for –
- Creating awareness and interest in the market
- Acquisition and nurturing processes
- Lead qualification
Sales is responsible for –
- Everything that happens next… From initial contact
- To demo
- To set up, activation, onboarding, customisation
- To fully integrated with client systems
- To recognising the benefits
- To be coming an advocate (or even better, a raving fan)
- To continuing education, support and upgrading
But… it’s like pushing a car with a flat battery. It’s really hard to overcome initial inertia. It gets easier once the vehicle starts moving. And when the car is up to speed it’s just a matter of steering to get where you want to go.
Because of the scope of activities required to win over, get initial traction, and then fully develop the client account, it can be helpful for SaaS providers to operate a sales team that combines a mixture of roles (the ‘sales team’ may be called other names such as a Client Success Team).
The 4 sales roles
From insights gained from working with a variety of teams there are four likely roles for members of SaaS sales teams:
- The Hunter
- The Farmer
- The Shopkeeper
- The Hippie
However, from these four roles there are only two that you should want on your team.
The challenge of overcoming initial inertia, breaking through the status quo barrier, and creating activity where at first there was none, is something that will excite the Hunter style of seller. They will respond positively to the time pressures of getting results sooner rather than later.
Once the momentum is happening (i.e. the car is moving and functioning as expected) the Hunter will start to get bored. That’s to be expected! Time for a new challenge – let’s take another prospect and get them moving.
Good Hunters are quite independent and can easily separate from client relationships when needed. This is important as you need the Hunter to pass on the account once the initial momentum is achieved.
The Farmer style of seller takes on the newly active SaaS account and nurtures the relationship. They’re expert at taking the momentum established by the Hunter and getting the vehicle up to speed. They develop an advanced understanding of the client so they know what the goals are (and therefore where to steer the car, to follow our analogy). They know how the software can be best used for each and every client. They’re in control of the account in a professional, ‘trusted adviser’ manner.
For larger accounts Farmers may even need to develop a Major Account Plan to guide the future path of communications.
Farmers rely on an interdependent relationship with clients, where there is a mutual understanding of goals and requirements, and a large amount of cooperation over an extended period of time.
It’s possible you have a Shopkeeper or two on your team. Shopkeepers love to have all the latest features sitting on their shelf. They love the feeling of having something to offer everyone. They might even ask the development team for more features to add to their current stock holding, because they know “someone” will want it, some day.
However, as Shopkeepers they have a tendency to wait…
They put their stock of features on the shelf and wait for new clients to ask for it.
And, if someone does happen to wander in through the shopfront (such as your website or at your trade show booth) and ask about one of those beautiful features, the Shopkeeper can recall volumes of information about the feature, in most cases – unfortunately – without needing any interaction from the client.
Shopkeepers also work on developing an interdependent relationship with clients, however for a different reason and to a much lesser degree than the Farmer. They do little, if any, proactive work to foster that relationship.
How do you know if a team member has a Hippie mindset? They love to develop free-flowing relationships with others including colleagues and especially clients. They likely do a lot of talking with clients and strive to create a safe zone for communications where there is no pressure, and they and the client are fully at ease.
In the context of a sales team the Hippie can be defined as seeking:
- Spontaneity, preferring to react rather than to initiate
- Rejects established values, expectations and processes, preferring to find a new way
- Uninhibited personal relations, striving to be relaxed and ‘at one’ with clients
However they are rarely proactive or bold in their approach, and as a result new sales opportunities easily pass them by.
Hippies often have a (slightly dysfunctional) codependent relationship with clients. They want to be caring, friendly and supportive. And in return the client becomes stagnated, with their inaction reinforced – and possibly rewarded – by the Hippies reassuring and non-confrontational nature.
Conclusion: Who to have on your SaaS sales team
Of the four roles discussed in this article, only the Hunter and Farmer roles are productive for your SaaS sales team. Importantly, you need the new digital-age versions of the Hunter and Farmer (not the outdated industrial-age versions). These are individuals with the business acumen and emotional intelligence to see the potential of their role to impact clients as well as your company.
A word of caution about stereotypes:
The labels of Hunter and Farmer have been in the sales lexicon for many years. The Hunter has been stereotyped as being aggressive, urgent and “in for the kill”. Whilst the Farmer has been characterised as taking a longer term view and “planting seeds” for future harvest. However the new version of these roles is far more complex and nuanced. Hunters must be more sensitive to the longer-term impact from their actions. Farmers must get results sooner whilst still developing a strong relationship with the client. Additionally, clients are generally more educated with their buying decisions and expect a higher standard of performance from sellers than in previous generations.
There may be a place for the Shopkeeper within your company – possibly in sales enablement or support – but they shouldn’t be on your front line sales team.
Equally, Hippies don’t belong on your SaaS sales team either. If you already have a Hippie on the team you’ll need to assess their suitability, willingness, and capability to lower their codependence qualities to become interdependent, and thereby transition into a Farmer role. The other option is to consider removing them from the sales team, as it is highly unlikely that a Hippie will have the inherent personal traits to successfully transition into a Hunter role.
Finally, it is recognised that different SaaS companies will need a different mix of roles in their sales team to suit their operations and business goals. There isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing your SaaS sales team.
More resources for SaaS Sales Managers
The Assassin Analogy – sales improvement guide for technical professionals
The Sales Training Illusion – why your sales training wont stick, and what to do about it
Being a Great Sales Coach – includes self-assessment and action plan template
Image credit: Eugene Wineblat