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Are you spending too much money on marketing?
Are your sales prospects doing a disappearing act?
Have you been experiencing a low lead-to-customer conversion rate for no apparent reason?
If so, you may need to look again at your SaaS sales process.
This is not an article about how to close a sale. It is an article about the sales process, which starts long before a prospect agrees to sign a contract.
This process involves attracting the right people to your website and nurturing prospects along their buying journey — even if they don't become customers.
But first, let's start with the basics.
The SaaS sales process is a series of steps generally recognized as being part of the selling cycle. It starts with attracting visitors to your website and ends when a prospect becomes a customer – or not.
The sales process varies from business to business, there are several common stages:
Again, these are the stages in a typical sales process. You will likely need to adapt them to your own business and industry.
For example, if you make a product that is highly technical and difficult to use, you should expect to spend a lot of time educating prospects about your offering before they can make an informed buying decision.
You may also need to spend more time than usual on closing the sale and sticking with customers after they become clients — because your product may be especially complex to implement.
The point is that you need to know what your customers are thinking at each stage of the buying cycle and adapt your process accordingly.
Let's look at an example.
We'll use a fictitious company called Acme, which makes software for managing small businesses.
Here is what the sales cycle for this kind of product might look like:
Acme has a website where visitors can learn about its products.
The business is active on social media, so it is attracting leads through its Facebook page and Twitter stream.
Also, the company has a blog that it actively updates. Customers and prospects can subscribe to the blog, which notifies them of new posts via email.
This helps Acme stay top of mind and build credibility among prospects.
The company sends out monthly emails to prospects with links to its blog posts. The messages also promote special offers and trials of Acme's software.
The blog focuses on topics such as how to start a small business, franchising, and other issues relevant to the target audience: people who typically own small businesses with under 100 employees.
The copy in the emails is written for prospects, not customers.
For example, it does not mention the features of Acme's product. Instead, it mentions things like how much money a prospect could save if they used Acme to handle their bookkeeping.
The goal is to build relationships and trust, so prospects will trust Acme enough to take a further step.
After a prospect has been receiving Acme's promotional emails for several months, they will finally turn into a lead.
A salesperson will call or send an email asking if the person wants to schedule a demo.
The prospect has been receiving messages for many months, so they are likely to be more interested than the average cold lead.
The salesperson will try to learn more about what the prospect needs and how they currently manage their business. The goal is to see if Acme's product can solve their problem and whether they would be willing to pay for it.
The salesperson will ask questions like, “How do you currently handle your invoices?” or “What is the hardest part of what you do?”
At the end of the call, they will ask if the prospect wants to take a look at a demo.
If the prospect replies that they do, a follow-up appointment is scheduled.
The salesperson will come in or join the prospect's conference call for a demo.
If possible, they will ask questions to learn more about the prospect's business. For instance, they may ask if other people in the office use different systems to do their work, and what problems those systems create for them.
The demo focuses on features of Acme's product that solve those problems.
For instance, if the prospect says they have problems with invoices because they are complicated and take too long to create, the salesperson will focus on how Acme's products make it easy to create and send professional invoices.
The goal is to show the prospect that Acme can solve their particular problems and that using Acme's products will make them more efficient and get rid of the problems they currently experience.
At the end of the demo, Acme asks if the prospect would like to go ahead with the purchase.
Many prospects will be interested but not willing to buy at this point.
One reason may be that they do not have the budget. Another may be that they are unsure how much time and money they will save.
A good salesperson will ask more questions about whether the savings outweigh the costs and which costs the prospect is most concerned about.
They will also make sure to tell prospects exactly how much time and money they can expect to save using Acme's products.
Sometimes, prospects are not willing to buy because they are still considering other options.
A good salesperson will help the prospect make up their mind by answering questions about other options or concerns.
Objections are a bit like roadblocks on the path to closing a sale. If salespeople can show that they understand prospects' concerns and that they know how to address them, they will be more likely to overcome those objections.
Salespeople who easily win over prospects and close sales are often those who invest the most time in building relationships and trust, as well as asking questions to understand what the prospect needs.
At this stage, the prospect is ready to make a purchase. You should tell them what they need to do to make the order official.
They will likely need to provide information like their credit card number and address, as well as fill out a form with information about their business.
Getting back to Acme, they will send an invoice for their purchase, and the customer's payment will be processed.
After making the sale, Acme will keep in touch with the prospect to make sure their purchase goes well. They will also ask for feedback about why the customer chose Acme's product, what their concerns were before buying, and whether the product is meeting their expectations.
Many people overlook this process, but it is an opportunity to build loyalty and trust with a customer.
Acme can also use those insights to improve their product and marketing.
For instance, let's say that Acme finds that customers are unhappy with their mobile apps.
With this information, they can do more to communicate how their product works on mobile devices, or they may invest in making improvements to the apps.
The bottom line is, that sales teams should never stop working with a customer after a sale.
They can use their insights to turn those customers into loyal fans who keep buying from them, instead of from their competitors.
Now that you understand how the sales process works, the question becomes: How can you get the most out of it?
There are a few strategies that can help you optimize your SaaS sales process, and we'll cover those in this section.
You can't improve what you don't measure. While it's important to track the overall sales funnel, you should also pay close attention to how many prospects are moving through each stage and which ones are dropping off.
For example, if the number of new leads is stagnant or decreasing and prospects aren't converting into demos as well as they used to, you may have a common problem: Nobody is qualifying the leads.
If prospects aren't pre-qualified through lead generation or you don't have a lead generation campaign, you may need to re-evaluate your front end of the sales process.
Marketing plays a crucial role in the sales process.
A well-designed marketing campaign is a direct line to the prospects who need your product.
By focusing on your customer's pain points, you can design marketing campaigns that target the most ideal prospects with messaging that speaks directly to what they need.
For example, if you're struggling with winning demos, maybe your competition is advertising features that your prospects want and you don't offer. In this case, a new marketing campaign focused on those pain points can help you draw prospects into the sales process.
If your prospects are already on your marketing automation platform but aren't converting, you may need to re-evaluate your messaging.
If they're not moving through the sales process once they land on your website, look at the pages that are drawing in leads.
Are you providing good information about why prospects should buy?
Are these prospects segmented correctly?
To determine this, you'll need to use analytics data from the marketing automation platform to understand which landing pages are attracting qualified leads and how many of those leads made it through the funnel and bought your product.
Sometimes, you'll be presented with a prospect who seems to have all the right qualifications, but they don't buy.
They might even sign up for a free trial but never convert despite the product meeting their needs.
There's no one reason this happens, but you can explore a few possibilities:
a) It might just be too soon to try to close the deal
If you're closing deals too quickly, prospects may not have had enough time to fully research your product and make an informed decision.
They may need more education, or they might just need to be reminded of all the reasons why it's worth their time to go through the buying process.
They might have time to invest in a demo, but they need some help along the way.
Another reason for this could be that they don't fully understand the value of your product.
In these cases, you can create a resource that gives them a better understanding of the product and what it could do for them, or you may need to re-evaluate your value proposition and find a way to better communicate it, which leads to the next point.
b) You could be incorrectly positioning your benefits
Does the messaging on your landing page or lead capture pages talk about why someone should use your product or why it's valuable?
If so, you could be incorrectly positioning your value and not presenting what will truly benefit the customer.
For example, your product may be an incredible customer service tool but fails to mention that until further down the page.
If prospects are signing up for a free trial or demo but aren't converting, your benefits may not be resonating with the right leads.
c) You aren't providing enough proof
When prospects have their concerns, providing proof that your product is the right fit for them can be incredibly helpful.
Some of this proof may come in the form of case studies; others may come from endorsements or recommendations.
Whatever it is, you can use content marketing to share these testimonials and resources with your prospects to help them make a more informed decision.
In some cases, no amount of content can convince a prospect that your product is the most ideal fit for them.
In these cases, you can use your email nurture campaigns to follow up with prospects and learn more about their problems and how your product can help.
It may turn out that they've pursued a different solution, or they don't have the budget at the moment.
No matter what, it's important to find out where prospects stand after you've provided all the information that you can – this will help you learn what messaging resonates with the prospects that stick around and turn into customers, which is essential for creating future content.
Even if you care about every single potential customer, prospects won't always convert.
It's important to understand where your product can help your customers and why they might choose to use your product.
By understanding the sales process from the customer's perspective, you can improve your product and create content that speaks to your target audience.
At the end of the day, this will improve the likelihood of your prospects converting.
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