“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”
One of the challenges with selling SaaS to the enterprise is intrinsic in the nature of big companies. We talk about an enterprise customer as a single, unified entity. Even use the ultimate abstraction by describing wins as new logos.
This is not the real world.
Companies don’t buy stuff. People do.
Enterprises are just large collections of people. You don’t have to convince all those people to buy. But it might feel like it!
The conventional sales manual recognises this challenge. You will be advised to map the people in your target customer. Classify them as influencers, buyers, decision makers, blockers, coaches and so on.
Sophisticated techniques such a Miller Heiman will be even more precise. Making distinctions such as economic buyers versus technical buyers to refine the model.
The trouble is this just doesn’t work. Each large company is like a miniature country (or even a mid sized one in some cases). It has its own culture, practices and ways of doing things. There is no standard model.
Time to go to the fairground
I think of this like the old fairground favourite, the hall of mirrors. You walk past a series of mirrors which distort your reflection in various ways. Tall or short. Fat or thin. Squashed or twisted. On and on, laughing or crying.
As you pass through you will see images which flatter you, a couple of absolute horrors and a bunch of caricatures to keep you smiling. But everything you see is you. A merry melange of ways to see the exact same thing.
Turn the kaleidoscope onto your SaaS
Your customers are the same. They experience the world differently from you. The clear, simple problem your SaaS solves is fractured and contorted through different lenses.
Yet each individual in your enterprise customer is looking at the same thing. Your product, your company and your team. Selling into this environment is about understanding these perspectives and dealing with the response.
Put yourself in your customer's shoes
Every reflection is skewed by the change that your SaaS will make for the individual looking at your product. You may be dealing with managers, C Suite, users, procurement officials or just nosey finance people. Everyone is influenced by change.
So the best way to understand how your SaaS is reflected is to stand where you customer stands. Look at the product from their point of view.
A good example of this is procurement. Sellers tend to think of procurement as a department that buys things. Yet more often than not this is wrong. Procurement’s job is to do deals. This enables others in the business to do the actual buying.
So the way to make procurement feel good is to show them a great deal. Not to make it easy for them to buy.
Meet the cast
Of course not every procurement function works like this. Like I say, there are no standards. But in every enterprise there are a few familiar characters you may recognise.
They are best identified through their own words:
Your problem is my day job. Or in other words the cost reduction will be the salaries of some people influencing the decision.
Your problem is invisible. This is a variant of the old Henry Ford comment about people looking for a faster horse. Sometimes people are so familiar with their environment they can’t imagine a different world.
My IT guy tells me your solution is a high security risk. This person probably hasn’t talked to IT. Most people don’t understand technology risk but it makes them nervous.
I love your company and your solution but there’s a fire over here and I need to put it out. Your SaaS is the most important thing in your world. It may be very small potatoes for some customers.
Its not my job but I have the best interests of this company at heart and I’m not sure about you. You may be told straight up that you are too small. Or you may have found someone completely outside the loop sniffing out a risk.
How do I know you will deliver what you promise. Anyone who buys IT will have a long legacy of disappointment and broken promises. It will take more than a couple of customer case studies to convince them.
Can you guarantee this team will be available throughout. Often people feel they are buying S for service not for software. Services are delivered by people and customers buy people they know.
We don’t like to be on the bleeding edge. There are many variations on this theme. Some people simply don’t like change. Even if they know it will be for the better.
I don’t have the time and resources to implement this. The total cost of ownership is not only money. Change needs space and its not always there.
The Chairman's View
You could adopt the Bruce Lee approach and take the fight in every direction. As in the famous closing scene from Enter the Dragon. Or you can learn from the sales gurus and treat all of these statements as objections rather than real concerns.
I prefer a less adversarial approach. Where possible work with these people. Change their view of your SaaS and you will help them realise the benefits faster. That is the basis for a sustainable customer relationship.
You should also be sensitive and listen for problems that will not go away. If the fire is in the factory, turning up at head office with a hose will not work. When your customer is not ready to buy, don’t try and sell.
The original hall of mirrors is in the palace of Versailles. It was designed to reflect the glory of the Sun King. And it closed out the real world. We all know how that ended. Don’t let the enterprise version blind you to reality.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.