Over the last few months I’ve been responsible for researching and the eventual purchase of a number of new software services for our company as part of a migration from our old CRM (Customer Relationship Manager – in its most basic form it’s an online rolodex) to a new one – Salesforce.
I’ve spoken to some truly excellent account managers working at companies that make some truly excellent products and as I’ve gone through the process, I began to wonder what I might be able to take from these positive sales experiences back to our SaaS sales team. Here are a couple of takeaways:
1) A sales reps was only speaking to me after I was ready to buy
In every just about every case, I had pretty much already decided that I was going to buy the product they offered, or a product that offered a similar service, thanks to the preparation and research I was putting into our Salesforce migration. I knew we wanted a marketing automation system and an electronic signature collection software, even if I didn’t know exactly which ones.
By waiting for me to fill out a form on their website requesting more information, or looking for triggers such as multiple site visits in one day or downloads of their installation materials, these companies could call me at a point where I was ready to discuss their product in detail, already knowing the basics of what they do. On the calls, the great reps took notes on what would form the basis of my buying lifecycle – such as when we would first start using our new CRM (a dependency for using their service) and who would be setting it up so they could reach the right people at the right time to move the sale forward.
Although this might sound obvious – wait until the customer is ready to buy before calling them and they will be more likely to buy – there were two key points to this take away.
Firstly, finding that stage of readiness is tough. In some cases early in my preliminary research, I would get a string of emails and calls from the services whose websites I was visiting when I was definitely not ready to speak to a rep. Not only did this feel a bit spammy, but the emails and calls had stopped by the point I was ready to think about buying. Getting the timeline of the customer’s buying lifecycle is not easy.
Secondly, this was the rep’s deal to lose. As opposed to sweet talking me into buying an expensive product or service, the rep had to ensure the call matched the expectations I had already set for the product myself (i.e. professional, useful feature set, support and training provided). While a great rep helped me through the buying process and a decent rep could have maintained my interest, a poor rep could have lost a deal the company had already effectively won by losing my interest or giving me a bad experience on the phone.
2) I felt like I was going to gain something from the time spent on the phone with the sales rep even if I didn’t buy the product
One of the greatest experiences during this process was the feeling that my time on the phone with a sales rep was not busy work or wasted time between Point A of me needing a solution and Point B of me buying their product but was productive in its own right.
From my point of view, I received information that was relevant to my job (such as the best practices for lead scoring while talking to the marketing automation company or how important it is to measure the amount of time it takes to get a contract signed with the esignature company) which gave me a positive feeling associated with the company and product and made me think this training and support would continue after the sale. From their point of view, I kept all my scheduled call times – as I associated value with the call I didn’t cancel or forget it thus wasting their time – and moved more quickly through the sales process.
The companies I was speaking to considered themselves experts in their fields –whether that field was marketing automation, customer relationship management or online contracts. They were excited to share that expertise even before I became a customer, and had highlighted relevant and bite-sized chunks of information that they could impart during a call to educate and inspire me even while selling me.
3) Seamless transitions from one contact at the company to another when relevant
In most cases, there was a point during my buying lifecycle in each company where I needed to speak to a new contact at that company. In some cases, after an initial qualifying phone call (to determine if I was in fact interested in their product) I was passed to the person who would be my eventual account manager. In another case, even after I spoke to that account manager, I needed to meet someone new for technical or installation support. In one or two cases this actually wasn’t handled very well at all, leaving me feeling a bit lost as a customer, which is why I noticed when it was done particularly well.
With the electronic signature software, I needed to be passed to a technical guy, after having been speaking to an account manager for a few weeks. Rather than just tell me I’d get a call from someone new, I had a call scheduled with my account manager, who told me I’d be speaking to the technical contact as well. They both joined the call, I was introduced and my account manager even listened in to the entire technical conversation so that he could hear my questions and concerns. Although in the future I’ll go to the technical contact with the majority of my questions, if I ever wanted to upgrade our account or change the service in some way, I still feel like my account manager has a vested interest in my account and knows where I am with their product.
This is worth a blog post all on its own but it’s worth mentioning here. The great sales cycles incorporated onboarding into the sales process, so that by the time I was actually signing a contract, I felt that I had a pretty clear idea of what the next steps were – and in some cases had already completed a couple of those steps.
This worked particularly well for the companies that had a freemium model or a 30 day free trial of their product however even for the company with no free or trial service, they sent me material such as worksheets or videos that formed part of their new customer training process and even invited me to an event.
By the time I was actually at the point of asking my directors for budget sign off, I could already show them more clearly where we were going to be with the product in a few months.
Finally, in the great sales experiences, I always felt like after the contract was signed, I was told (or at least reminded) about a little something extra, whether that was a feature, training or added value, that I hadn’t expected (or remembered). In one case this was a feature of our support package, in another it was the access to an “enablement manager” who would schedule hours of one on one training with me, and in one more it was just a side comment about a feature we hadn’t spoken about yet.
Reiterating the value I received and even adding a little extra after the contract closed the sale with great feelings all around.
I’ve taken these experiences from three services I’ve dealt with over the course of three months, and indirectly from the services that I didn’t end up using, often because they didn’t do particularly well at one of the points above. It’s not surprise that for the ones I went with, I’ve been putting a huge amount of time and effort into getting them set up and using them properly, and that I’m still speaking with the great teams at each company.