How do you picture the sales engine for your business? I facilitated a workshop on conversion for 9 SaaS companies this week. We had a great discussion and there was no shortage of great ideas from the entrepreneurs. Everyone recognises that revenue generation is an end to end process but there is a wide range of different ways of imagining how it works. Images are incredibly powerful and sharing the strengths and weaknesses of different visuals is a fascinating way of illuminating some important messages.
How do you imagine your sales process?
Is it a funnel or is it a sieve?
The sales funnel in various forms is probably the most common metaphor. I have always had an instinctive problem with this image and here’s why. In the real world everything that goes into a funnel comes out the other end. We all know that this is not how the sales pipeline works for any business. The usual funnel graphic also encourages a pretty blunt, law of large numbers approach. Pour enough website visitors or twitter followers in the top and you will make enough money it seems to say but this only works if your product and service are good enough. Sheer volume is not enough.
Finally, a funnel is often presented as a closed system. Potential customers are influenced as much by the events of their own lives and the actions of the competition as they are by your efforts to engage their attention. This gives rise to an image which is more like a leaky funnel or as someone described it a sieve.
I prefer to think of the process of attracting, engaging with and selling to new customers as a series of stepping stones. Each stone is different in shape and size and the pattern is scattered so that different customers adopt different paths through the process. Of course, if someone misses a stone or slips off they are swept away and we lose them from the process.
This conveys some of the complexity but it still implies a linear journey. Winning and keeping customers is more like a continuous cycle. The environment, the competition and user expectations change all the time. No matter how successful your business is you will always be learning and improving the conversion process. Every time you win a paying customer you will be trying to upset to grow revenues from that customer. All the while you are winning new customers, you also need to make sure your product and support are delivering the service that delights your existing customers and prevents churn.
Measuring = Listening
Just in case this was beginning to sound too easy, you also need to remember that customer take different paths. Ideally you would be able to curate a unique journey for every customer. In practice, this is still too challenging but the best companies are able to identify patterns and manage different groups of customers differently. Good use of analytics to identify behaviour trends and build customer profiles, for example by industry or by customer size, can give a well tailored experience.
Analytics is a whole other topic but one observation here. You can measure everything but it is very important not to use measures as goals or benchmarks. With analytics, measurement is listening. Allow the numbers to speak to you and you will be half way there.
Finding order in chaos
“Chaos: When the present determines the future but the approximate present does not determine the approximate future."
I was lucky enough to be with some great companies at the workshop and I make no apologies for listing them below. My learning was that it was possible to develop order in the chaotic system of SaaS sales and service. Success is a combination of precise targeted actions, listening to customers at every stage and some imagination to bring your image of the customer to life.
If you are interested in taking the conversation further or setting up a SaaS Conversion Workshop, please get in touch.
My thanks to the great companies that made this one possible: Appointedd, Float, MakeitSocial, GetSpoonfed, SpecifiedBy, My1Login, LogicalWare, Cojengo, Marketry.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.