By Lisa Calhoun
The average age for an entrepreneur today is 41. That person grew up in a very different technology environment than the cloud-based-systems permeated one we live in today.
Like enterprise software companies, startups are discovering that software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales are different than traditional “enterprise license” software sales. The technology has evolved—now the process is evolving.
Jeff Laue, CEO and co-founder of N3 Results, is building a cloud software sales force that is changing the technology sales process so it suits the new SaaS service model. It’s working—N3 has grown to a team of over 700 in a few short years and is relied on by clients like Microsoft, OpenText, Rackspace and SAP.
The new flight path for software sales
I met Jeff and his team when they became a client at my Atlanta public relations firm. Watching their work to “land and expand” cloud software engagement across the globe, I’ve noticed six things N3 does that make software sales fly:
1. The customer is your pilot.
Jeff says the biggest single idea that drives adoption of software in the cloud is letting the customer lead the journey. “You are designing a self-service sales process, where you respond to the market instead of trying to make the market react to you.” Iain Urquhart, Vice President Technical, Solution & Partner Sales at Rackspace and an N3 client, agrees. “The winning differentiator for SaaS and Cloud in general is shifting to the service side of the equation,” he says.
2. A nontechnical conversation drives adoption.
Forget the old software sales model of selling the only to the IT department and going for a three-year contract. Today, successful technical sales organizations know regular business-users are flying the plane—and they may have limited, or even zero, IT acumen.
“Technology-buying decisions have flipped,” says John Okunski, VP of Cloud Ecosystems and Channels at SAP. “Line-business leaders are more empowered than ever to make buying decisions and their concerns are focused on their daily challenges and a fast implementation.”
3. A flexible contract lifts sales.
The opportunities for multiyear, multimillion dollar deals are limited; success is now measured in monthly subscription renewals and user adoption rates. Since your customers can easily switch to a new solution almost any time, sales reps must be customer-service focused. Retention and expansion strategies give smart SaaS companies a lot of lift.
“In the cloud, it doesn’t make sense to stratify people based on whether they sell or manage clients,” says Jeff. “We’ve created a team-based approach involving domain and industry sales experts nurturing leads, and technical architects supporting the sale through IT. Then, the same team ensures utilization and enablement.”
4. Funnel acceleration research is rocket fuel.
Another big shift in the culture of high performance sales is a focus on upfront research. Part of N3’s recipe for SaaS success is identifying the image of your ideal customers first, then working to replicate and expand instances of that target.
“We leverage lead-scoring and marketing automation, so we can better understand where people are in the buying cycle. You need to create messaging in your marketing materials for all the various audiences,” Laue explains.
5. Your revenue reacts to the speed of service for your end-user.
The promise from technology sales leaders to clients used to be, “we’re here for IT, and we’ll help you manage your limited IT personnel bandwidth by supporting the IT department.” Today, N3 believes users are in charge. Usage-based fees are the preferred structure, so if users don’t want to use the system, it’s grounded—and so is your revenue.
“The sales cycle can now be lightning fast,” explains Okunski. “Full platforms can be implemented at minimal or no change to an organization’s IT infrastructure within weeks rather than months, and customers take to social media almost immediately to share their experiences. Mobilizing a team of brand evangelists is easier than ever—but so is the opposite.” Speeding service creates the kind of customer reactions that get your story shared.
6. Technologist on-point secures retention.
When a prospect has a technology question or issue, it is not efficient from their perspective to bounce them to tech support for an answer. Integrating technological expertise on the fly keeps today’s fickle targets expanding their profile on your system. Every sales team member needs to be able to talk tech, and every technical person needs to know how to enable the sale.
“We have to be a one-stop shop for all customers,” says Jeff. “Any engagement where a team member cannot answer a question or solve a problem in the moment introduces risk of customer churn.”
What N3 has learned is that successful SaaS providers don’t just provide software anymore. Instead, they deliver value and user-adoption encouragement. Stepping outside the traditional confines of the “vendor” role and becoming trusted partners has become an expectation. N3 embraces that to help SaaS sales performance soar for clients like SAP and Rackspace.
This article originally appeared in Inc.com.