For any business listening to customers and learning how to deliver value is vital. In a startup with a limited legacy of market knowledge this is doubly important. Every face to face contact with customers can be a source of understanding. Even when a customer objects there is something to learn.
In B2B SaaS sales and customer success talk to your customers daily. These teams need to generate revenues. But each conversation should also work two ways. Its a bit like making sure your golf grip is right. Your hands are the only part of your body in direct contact with the golf club. So the grip is the best opportunity to get it right from the start. Any discussion with a customer is an opportunity to listen and learn.
So when a sales person meets customer that does not want to buy there are two options. Overcome those objections and drive the sale. Or listen, probe deeper and learn valuable lessons. This is your prime direct connection with your customers. I prefer to see it as a two way conversation.
Steli Efti published 10 Objection Handling Techniques last week. In the post he articulates great strategies to surmount B2B sales obstacles - the overcome approach. I thought it would be fun to take the other tack. What can you learn from listening to those same 10 customer barriers:
1. Your product/ service is too expensive
Steli is quite right that you need to find out more. The simple explanation is that your customer does not see the value in your product. He may also be telling you that your competition are cheaper or better value. Or they may not have enough in the budget to pay your price. Bear in mind that customer budgets don’t just need to cover your SaaS subscription. Implementation and change costs need to come out of the same pot.
2. We'll buy if you add these features
This is both the most informative and the most dangerous feedback you can receive. The buyer is telling you what needs to change to convince them of the value on offer. This could be the exact thing you need to hit the product/ market fit sweet spot. Or it might be an expensive customisation that is only relevant to one customer. It is also possible that the features may not add anything. Some bells and whistles could just be what your contact needs to win the argument inside his own organisation.
The key is to find out why those features are important. What value will they add for this customer? Does this sound as if it applies to a wider market?
3. Your solution isn't a priority right now
First and foremost you have to show respect for this objection. You are talking to someone who has other problems. Maybe they don’t see all the benefits your solution offers. More likely those other challenges really matter more. Try to find out what is the top priority. Could be you product will help. Or at least you will have a clear idea whether this customer is worth pursuing further down the line.
4. You've got a great product but we're going to go with the [industry] standard
Go away, you have lost out on this deal. Frustrating for a startup because you need to find people who will take a risk on your business. But the customer has communicated a clear decision here. It won’t change unless you find something new.
It is almost certain you will meet this challenge again so how can you tackle it? Find out where the customer sees the risk. Often the established competitor will cover a wider spectrum. So your SaaS may be a brilliant but partial fix. The alternative is that your company doesn’t meet the resilience test for this customer. In either of these situations, finding partners may be the solution. Systems implementers and consulting firms can provide both the strength and breadth you require.
5. Just e-mail me more information and I'll get back to you
I have to disagree with Steli on this one. When you hear this, you are being told there is no interest. Don’t hang up yet? If you are talking to me, every second you stay on the phone is making me angry. You are wasting my time and worse you are not listening to me. No matter what happens in future, I am not going to want to buy. And I am also not willing to help you by sharing the reasons for my lack of interest.
Thank the customer politely. And send that follow up e-mail. It costs nothing and shows you are professional. You can even mention in it that you would like some feedback. But write this one off. There is no sale to be made and nothing to learn.
6. I don't have time to talk right now
Check if you can schedule a better time and get out of there. It does not matter how little time you take up. Your contact does not want to talk and you need to respect that. If they offer a convenient time, chances are you will be able to have a constructive follow up conversation. Push too hard and the door will be slammed shut. Remember you are building a relationship in B2B sales.
Be professional and you will also have a learning opportunity. When you do have that sales discussion, find out why the previous time was not convenient. You could uncover other business issues or problems that fit with your solution.
7. I can't make a commitment until I meet with [other decision-makers]
Bite back your disappointment. this could be gold dust. Your contact is about to reveal some invaluable information about the organisation. With a little sensible dialogue you can answer all sorts of questions. How decisions are made? Who they consult with and respect? Who are the blockers or the people most affected by change? Even where to go for the next sale if land and expand is your strategy. Pin your ears back and listen.
I am with Steli that getting an invite to these conversation is great. Again, even a refusal tells you something about how the organisation operates. So well worth asking.
The big downside here is time. Every big corporate customer takes their own time. If your cash reserves are not going to hold out that long then you have a problem. The ideal option is to survive through. And remember you have to stick it out until they pay. Not just until they place an order. But if you have no option, now can be a good time to approach a larger partner. At least you have something of value to offer in negotiation.
8. We'll buy soon
Hard to interpret. Could be a variant of 3. That is, they have more important things to worry about. Or a version of 7 where there are other interested parties. Might just be a pure admin hold up - process takes time.
It can also be a polite and absolute no. Finding out more is important but be gentle. The customer is not holding the door open. They are hoping the commitment will get you off their back. So you can’t assume they want to talk. Try to tease out the reasons but beware of the pushy sales impression here.
9. The gatekeeper
Gatekeepers are one of the great myths of the corporate world. I have met only one person in 30 years who was a genuine gatekeeper. In every other case you are dealing with someone who is resistant to the change. Your customer has to change to realise the benefits of your product. This means there are losers as well as winners. Most often the gatekeeper is one of the losers. Or they have a solution which deals with the same problem but suits their agenda better.
The point is so-called gatekeepers are blocking you. Only you. They are not just professional naysayers sent to beat up sales people. Here is where great interviewing skills come into play. Because this conversation can also be a mine of valuable insight. Why do they object? Who are the losers and why? How does your SaaS impact the wider customer? All this can be helpful. But not easy to dig out the answers. Get back to The Mom Test and think through your approach.
10. No, No and No
At any stage of the cycle this means No until proven otherwise. Assuming it is just a temporary setback is wrong. You may be able to change the customer’s mind if this is an early stage discussion. But you will not succeed if you don’t hear the negative.
Feedback that backs up a no can be useful in all sorts of directions. The more blunt the refusal, the greater the chance to open up an immediate channel. A route to finding out the reasons. If you have a way of combatting the objections this can be an opening. if not, again you will have learned some lessons. Don’t take no for an answer will not help your reputation or your brand.
B2B SaaS - Learning or selling?
You can learn a lot from the ideas in Steli’s article. Judging when to step back and listen versus the right time to push through objections is a skill in itself. One the best sales people have mastered.
Just remember that B2B SaaS is about a long term relationship. Where you add value to customers over time - that’s why they call it lifetime value. Every contact is an element of that relationship. From the first marketing message, though sales to service and customer success. And quality, sustainable trusted relationships take time to build. Look to make sure your sales conversations contribute to that process every time.
You may not sell as much the short term. But the quality and sustainability of customers will be better. And the value of your product will keep growing in the long term.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.