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Direct sales for SaaS startups – our experience and tips (palabra.io)
161 points by pau_alcala 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

Questions that I've had good experience with:

* What's your problem? w/ Tell me more (as follow up)

* What are you doing right now for that problem?

* What other solutions have you tried?

* Are those other solutions working? Why / why not?

* Why do you feel our product might work for you?

The last question is a BS filter. If they're just using you for their own research purposes / get their existing vendor to bid lower, their response here will sound thin. Prospects who are early in their decision making won't have much to say here (or they are already late in their decision making and have made a decision to go with another vendor and are just going on a call with you to say that they've done their DD). The more they have to say, the closer they are to the finish line (ie. sale).

we have similar questions except for the last one, really interesting addition! It takes the conversation from hypotheticals to the product. I'll add something else that worked for us, when they tell us a solution they've tried, we'll dig deep in how they came up with it. That usually gets people talking about the issues they've been having without asking directly

That's a good one (asking about how they came up with their decision). It helps elucidate their purchasing logic and process.

To elaborate on our last question, it's also a tactic used to help potential customers convince themselves to buy something. Hey (the email app) did this in their prelaunch by asking people who wanted to get on their early launch to email them with reasons why they wanted to be on the list. There's a bit of reverse psychology at play here. Cognitive dissonance must be resolved.

Sales is about listening, not talking. Great that you came to this conclusion!

Anyone with tech background who doesn't where to start with SaaS sales, here's a step by step masterpiece for you by Entrepid - https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57daf6098419c27febcd4...

"The biggest challenges to direct sales is finding the right prospects and knowing how to show them value as quickly as possible."

Industry segmentation then targeting sales resources to segments. Those resources are your salespeople, ad materials, trade-shows, etc. The industry segmentation is prioritized for segments that benefit the most from the product and have money to spend. You don't focus on the markets or company sizes you want. You focus on who really needs your product because it really makes a difference in their bottom line.

There have never been more brick and mortar, grey haired experts available for hire to SAAS providers. These folks have the domain expertise to look at your product and provide the message, network and outreach to grow your user base.

I cringe mightily reading SAAS job postings looking for someone with business development (or marketing) experience but without industry expertise. Is it agism? Not sure, but I had this experience interviewing for a Marketing Director role with a major Valley SAAS firm who opted for a generalist and who I understand hasn't seen more than 10% growth since. Sometimes the hard way is the right way.

This was a bit ranty, but it's been on my mind for some time.

> I cringe mightily reading SAAS job postings looking for someone with business development (or marketing) experience but without industry expertise.

It’s ego, scrappiness, and company building.

The number of times I recommended an expert we should hire as consultants to teach us how to do things[1] and the founders just don’t wanna ... it’s silly. Always the same excuses: we want to build experise in house, invent from first principles, we need employees not experts, we can’t pay that much, we’re disruptors and old advice doesn’t apply ... bleh.

So you get marketing departments run by folk who have never made a buck online on their own. All the book knowledge, none of the visceral experience. It’s ridiculous

[1] I hvae a network of those because of my sidehustling

Agree. The arrogance is self-destructive b/c I see a lot of SAAS that would survive and thrive with less self-obsession and an open-mind.

I agree on segmentation, but at an early stage it's really hard to figure who your ideal prospects are. We're working towards that after our 1-1 conversations helped us identify who are the people we can provide value for.

Not sure I follow you on job postings, but also agree on domain expertise as an important trait, and think ageism is a big problem in the tech industry

Most of my sales learning has come from books:

* Competing against luck

* When Coffee & Kale Compete

* Crossing the Chasm

First two books talk about Jobs to be Done. And most importantly who is your customer, someone:

* Pain

* Desire to progress

* Willingness to pay

The other book talks about finding early adopters or pitching to right customer as in the journey of product development.

In the end, early day of sales is more about you/team/likeblity. People will ask about security, money in bank, team size and what not. It will hurt, affect but after those 10 interaction, there will be one guy/team believing in you as you are and want to see you and them succeed.

This is good advice but it's more tightly expressed in The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick (my all purpose response to most SaaS sales blogs).

lol totally agree. I quoted The Mom Test in the post because it was incredibly helpful to me

Great engineers are also really great salespeople.

The problem is that engineers often feel like they have to put on their salesperson hat on and it all goes out the door.

Sales is a "state," the sales system you use varies greatly based on what phase you are as a company. The same tactics don't apply when you are looking for product market fit vs when you have reached it.

This article, like so many others, seems to think enterprise B2B selling will somehow translate to startup SaaS businesses.

Ask yourself, what is your favourite paid service that you use nearly every day and then talk to your friends about? Maybe it's an awesome game, or a cool weather app, or an accounting package, or whatever... build a product/service that is so compelling that your users will sell it for you.

I'm in no way affiliated with Sabri Suby, but I recommend checking out his concepts... #1 start by giving your customers something for free and begin to build trust. Google this: "Sabri Suby Magic Lantern Technique".

This is really good. If you can embed these simple/time-tested rules and the Palabra-specific nuance in the sales onboarding/training process you'll eventually need to build, I think you'll set your sales teams up for success long-term.

Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it!

My problem is always, how do you get the conversations in the first place?

And how do you frame it so that people really open up and tell you about their problems (not just related to your product)?

One thing that works for me (palabra.io co-founder here) for them to 'open up' is to upfront let them know that everything they can share is useful and then something like 'I really have no idea about this space, it would be great if you could share your experience and your thoughts'. I think that people usually share more when they feel they are being useful. I wouldn't say something like that on a sales call but it's great when doing customer interviews.

In terms of getting the leads in the first place, I would say connections/people you know. But would love to hear what others are doing.

Thanks for your reply and advice, will try that!

> This conversation usually starts by reaching the prospect you think your product would work for, and sharing why you think your solution would be good for them.

Yeah, this reminds me of "The Mom Test" almost instantaneously.

Yes! I was heavily inspired by The Mom Test while writing this, and it's mentioned a bit later on :)

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