We've all seen it. The maturation of the B2B SaaS sector over the past five years has led to a sea change in how organizations approach sales. We've left the Wild West era of growth at all costs, when businesses would pursue expansion as fast as possible and not worry about any negative consequences down the line. That strategy worked when the initial competition was fierce, and organizations needed to be first to get customer attention. In today's more mature sector, being first isn't as important as being best, and the sales framework process has changed as a result.
The big strategic move away from selling at all costs has led to a shift toward a mindset of efficient growth. SaaS businesses are not looking to expand as quickly as possible, but instead to sustain growth while optimizing their resource use relative to the results they are getting. This has fueled an uptick in sales analytics as sales vice presidents and CROs seek visibility into the sales process.
These industry developments have led to a new and constantly shifting SaaS sales framework process. We explore the issue in depth in our webinar, KPI Framework and Pipeline Management Processes of a Top Performing Sales Org. Read on for a look at what we cover in the webinar and some other tips for building an effective sales methodology in the SaaS sector.
SaaS businesses face rampant inconsistency
The natural ebbs and flows of the subscription models in the SaaS industry are combining with sales framework process issues to create an epidemic of inconsistency in the industry. Working with companies across our portfolio, we've identified four key reasons for this problem:
1. Disparate processes to track progress
How are you expecting your sales representatives to document their work and track the progress they make toward closing a sale? In many cases, sales representatives and managers have their own ways of dealing with this day-to-day operational challenge. As a result, organizations end up lacking a common, centralized method to assess progress and are therefore unable to either establish best practices or evaluate the sales process and make changes accordingly.
2. KPI issues
We're big believers in using data to fuel sales success. Businesses have access to a wider range of information types and can gather data more readily throughout the sales process than they could in the past. However, while more companies are getting better at recognizing the importance of data, many have not found the right mix of key performance indicators to evaluate their business. In some cases, we run into organizations leveraging so many KPIs that they lose focus on the essential elements of their sales framework process and end up chasing after too many goals. In other instances, businesses become so focused on just a few KPIs that they lack the context they need to adequately contextualize and understand their sales processes. In many cases, companies get caught up in chasing after trendy KPIs and not taking a more strategic approach to assessing what they should focus on when evaluating their sales framework.
3. Poor forecasting
This one is simple. When your methods for forecasting are off, your ability to anticipate and predict sales falls to the wayside. We often run into businesses that need to ramp up their forecasting capabilities as it's proven an industry-wide struggle that severely dampens an organization's ability to create sales consistency.
4. Organizational misalignment
The sales process doesn't happen in a vacuum. Sales operations are influenced by just about every part of the business, but they're particularly tied to marketing. Sales and marketing misalignment leads to confusion over which team is doing what and a lack of activity that mutually supports each team.
These core issues represent the central problem facing SaaS sales teams. Building a framework to overcome these challenges requires major changes to an organization's culture and its process. The shift begins by establishing accountability.
Accountability: The first step toward SaaS sales consistency
We've found that businesses working to drive sales consistency achieve the best results when they focus on accountability. When individuals across your teams know what is expected of them, have a clear sense of their responsibilities and are held accountable for operating in those roles, the results positively change. With employees following their roles more effectively, you typically end up with better sales and marketing alignment and stronger, more predictable forecasts.
Ultimately, you want to get everybody on the same page, and that begins with accountability. Of course, the procedure isn't always simple, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. We've identified four key tiers that represent the progression from a SaaS sales process that leads from inconsistency to a mature framework that drives predictability and efficiency:
The first steps toward accountability and maturity involve defining how you want to operate so you can enforce best practices. As such, organizations that reach what we've defined as Level 1 maturity typically have mapped out their lead-to-close process and manage progress on deals by stages. This initial level of maturity can drive consistency and create clear expectations in the SaaS sales framework.
As businesses move beyond initial expectation-setting, they establish a closed-loop sales framework that functions in conjunction with marketing and incorporates defined service level agreements for the teams. Therefore, these more mature organizations will establish clear exit criteria for each stage of the sales process and ensure those standards are backed by verifiable outcomes.
At this stage of the sales maturity framework, organizations will not only have a clear sales funnel and stages of their sales process, but also, they'll have mapped their sales methodology to those stages. From there, they'll be thinking about key issues like sales enablement by supporting each sales stage with dedicated resources, including standardized tools and plays that representatives can leverage from a central library.
All the work done during prior phases comes together when businesses reach the fourth level of maturity. When they hit this pinnacle, they will have integrated their sales process, methodology, tools and plays into their customer relationship management systems.
Going through this maturation process can be a time-consuming process, but by the time you've done it, you have a fully mapped sales process that is standardized and can be followed by all of your employees. It creates a foundation for consistency, easier processes, and a higher likelihood of adoption across your sales team because your key tools are in the same place.
Reaching level 4 maturity
Imagine you have a typical closed-loop sales and marketing process. The two teams are aligned from inquiry up to lead qualification, conversation, SLA development, and post-sale processes. This kind of mature SaaS sales framework requires deep planning to outline how customers will move through the marketing funnel and sales process. The sales framework will not only define the steps a prospect takes when going through these interactions, but also which parts of the organization are responsible for each. For example, your marketing response representatives may be responsible for executing discrete campaigns, quantifying leads, and nurturing those leads. Meanwhile, your sales team is quantifying those inbound marketing leads and transitioning them into sales, then identifying target accounts, verifying contacts, executive email campaigns and performing outreach.
When you have this kind of detailed SaaS sales framework process in place, each member of the team understands what they need to do, marketing and sales are aligned in how to pass prospects through various stages of the sales funnel, and your leaders can more readily measure success because the standardized process sets a baseline that you can measure from.
Beyond getting sales and marketing aligned in the sales process, you'll also need to get them on the same page on defining the stages of the sale, particularly in defining each part of the stage and the responsibilities for exit criteria. It's vital to look at both buyer and seller criteria to ensure reps don't push sales forward based on their own activities only to find the customer isn't on board.
Building these strong expectations between sales and marketing is vital in striving toward level 4 maturity. The close alignment gives your teams the consistency they need to build out the nuanced resources and deep understanding of responsibilities necessary to drive sales maturation.
The final step in achieving these gains is getting your processes, stage definitions, exit criteria, team responsibilities, and tools into your CRM system to ensure it's easier for your teams to follow best practices and align how they work with your expectations.
Key secrets to identifying effective sales metrics
A successful sales organization needs metrics to provide visibility into what is working and what isn't. Data from throughout your sales and marketing pipeline provides vital insight into how the market is responding to what you're doing. However, choosing the right metrics to focus on is often a particularly difficult matter. It's easy to get caught up in trendy KPIs or drown in the number of metrics you can track. We've seen a lot of businesses struggle to identify the most important metrics for their specific needs and evaluate themselves accordingly. Along the way, we've uncovered a few tendencies organizations develop that can lead to trouble down the line. These include:
Excessive focus on outcomes
You can't always control the outcome of a sale. Sometimes you do everything right and the deal doesn't come to fruition. When organizations measure sales success almost exclusively based on outcomes, they can end up failing to understand the full scope of their operations and constantly scrambling to correct processes that are effective.
Tracking non-mutually supportive KPIs
KPIs that are implemented without other KPIs in mind can lead to confusion as KPIs that are pieced together, but don't tell a story, fuel uncertainty and don't provide significant insight.
Neglecting out-quarter pipeline
Focusing too heavily on current quarter or current month metrics limits a sales organization's ability to identify early signals that uncontrollable situations are developing. Noticing potential problems in advance can help teams act before the issues escalate.
Struggling with course correction
We often notice organizations focusing so much on past performance that they lack the forward-focused visibility needed to adjust.
As you consider building your own metrics and KPIs, keep these common challenges in mind and be sure to consider how you can avoid running into them in your business.
Creating a unified SaaS sales framework
Building a strong SaaS sales framework is a blend of following industry best practice and solving your specific pain points. At Insight Partners, we provide direct support and resources for the companies in our portfolio, helping them refine their operations to optimize value. We've outlined some of our guidance in this blog, but go into more detail in our webinar, "KPI Framework & Pipeline Management Process of a Top Performing Sales Organization." Check it out to learn more.