Before I get into selling transformation – let me tell you a bit about me. For a hustling, hacking, fist-bumping SaaS CEO who you’ll often find crushing it, killing it, and dropping “truth-bombs” in between a whirlwind of ideating, social-selling, and/or customer-successing (sometimes all at once!)… I’d say I’m just a pretty typical guy.
Awesome wife. Two year-old twins. Friendly brown dog. Nice little 50’s remodel in a trendy part of town. Yep, you might even find me making the casual family outing to Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond some weekends. Even got a nice lil’ hipster forearm tattoo this year.
Just don’t ever, ever, ever call my smart, data-driven, user-friendly, multi-tenant SaaS “channel partner platform for accelerating recurring revenue” a mother effing “PORTAL.” Period.
You see, friends, in my world, a “partner portal” has been the status-quo “solution” for supporting channel partner and reseller programs for years and years and years. Partner portals — or “PRM” as some of our (un)friendly competitors have been calling it for the last few decades — are, without doubt, the #1 productivity killer in channel sales and marketing.
They’re passive. They’re hard to use. They’re isolated from the rest of your MarTech stack. They can’t integrate and have (gasp!) no API. They’re the epitome of yesteryear’s single-tenant, heavily-customized, password-protected websites that almost always end-up as dumping grounds for outdated content, training and a mess of other “resources” made available so that channel partners can market or sell your product.
Oh, and they’re “dumb” — so not only are they a mess, but they leave it entirely up to your partners (who just have plenty of time on their hands) to not only have to navigate their way to your portal, but then scavenge their way through it, hoping to find what they think they think they should be looking for. And they deliver no valuable data at all. Zip.
Is that the definition of partnership to you? No.
Then why has this been the norm? FOR DECADES, “portals” have been evangelized as an absolute necessity for companies building channel partner programs. And even as a new, digital, cloud-based world has taken over, you’ll find plenty of legacy vendors and consultants hell-bent on holding the market hostage with over-priced, over-customized “partner portals” that they can charge a hefty penny for.
So, last year, we decided that we weren’t going to stand for it anymore. And, if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re like me and decided there was something that you’re not standing for either. And rather than settling for the status-quo, you’re working your tail off to transform an old way of doing things. To turn a stagnant market on its head. To create a category. To eff some shiz up.
And if you’re really, truly anything like me, then even worse than losing a deal to a viable competitor — blood boiling, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde-inducing, little steam-clouds coming out of my ears worse — is losing a deal to fear and apathy. i.e, the old way. i.e, aversion to change. i.e, “we’ve always done it this way.”
So, how do you do it? How do you sell change, disruption and transformation to a market accustomed to legacy, monotony and stagnation?
Simple. You hire Ridley Scott to direct a Super Bowl commercial featuring a woman in a white tank top and bright red shorts on the run, carrying a mallet, bursting into an assembly and flinging said mallet at a screen, unleashing an explosion as a voice-over announces your product launch scheduled for two days hence.
Or if you’re not Apple, you can get to work on these three things that have helped us change the channel. Ha. Get it?
Selling Transformation through content… Content, Content, Content, CONTENT.
First and foremost, you have to teach. To challenge. To evangelize. To prove that your way is better than the old way. And not just a little better — at least 10x better, according to SaaStr’s Jason Lemkin. But even if you can achieve that mark, this isn’t Field of Dreams. Just because you built it, it doesn’t mean they’re coming. And that’s the premise of inbound sales and marketing, a tactic that we’ve embraced since day one. Sure you need to have a steady flow of outbound mixed-in, but without the right content, you’re going nowhere. And again, not just a little, but a wholehearted, top-down commitment to generate real, meaningful thought leadership and content on the problems you’re solving, how you’re solving them and why. But…even that’s not enough. Because even if you’re generating 20 blog posts, 20 podcasts, three webinars, and two webinars per month, they’re worth little-to-nothing if they’re not targeted at the right buyer personas.
Inbound isn’t easy. Nothing is, especially when you’re trying to build a rocketship for an industry accustomed to horses and buggies. But content is the fuel that’ll make your 10x rocketship soar.
Build into Your Story
Just yesterday, I read a great piece from Red Point Ventures’ Tomasz Tonguz that really hit home for me: “Creating Tension in Your Startup’s Marketing Position.” In it, Tonguz recounts the early days of Box (Box.net back then) and their efforts to create variance and tension in their market positioning. How CEO Aaron Levie would evangelize revolutionizing and transforming the way employees work. Yet their website told a very simple, crisp story: “Box replaces FTP.” So, as any great, ADD-stricken SaaS CEO would do, I got together with our VP of Sales and Marketing and we re-wrote the main value proposition on our homepage.
Then I got to thinking, not only was this about tension, it was about building into your story — not going from zero to 100 all at once, but finding a balance between evangelizing and executing on your ultimate vision (your “why”), while giving your product (and dev team) the time it needs to catch-up. Or as Tonguz stated much more eloquently, “…though the product may not be there yet, the audience understands you’re headed. So when the product matures, the buyer is receptive.” Brilliant. Disciplined. Difficult. But 100% necessary when disrupting a legacy industry.
My fellow Phoenician fist-bumping friend Dan Tyre wrote about this just a few months ago: “Always Be Closing Is Dead: How to Always Be Helping in 2017.” Listen, I’m the CEO of a VC-backed SaaS company. Chances are, so are you. So, we better be closing our tushes off. But, I’m a die-hard believer that we won’t be closing anything if we’re not helping first and foremost.
By now, it’s inarguable that your prospects own your sales cycle. Period. Meaning, as Dan says, you need to instantly abandon any strategies that involve “force-feeding prospects a product they don’t want and don’t need…Instead, as your prospect moves through the funnel, provide resources and guidance as they attempt to solve a complicated business problem. Always be helping.”
Here’s what I love. As a disruptor, you’re naturally trying to help. It’s in your heart, it’s party of your “why” (or at least it should be). But making that clear and visible to your prospects while balancing the need to close the deal is difficult, to say the least.
So don’t only make it a tactic, make it part of your mission. Part of your content plan. Part of your scripts, your message, your training, your customer success, your coffee cups and water bottles, your everything. Be a company, not just a product. Be a way, not just a utility. Be the transformation your prospects may or may not know they need – because the more you can help them, the more likely they are to see the light you’re trying to shine.
For those of us in SaaS and tech and the Sales Hacker community, disruption is a way of life. At work, at home, and in the little bit of spare time we have left to play. But we have to understand that our views of transformation, revolution, innovation, and change can appear more as rebellion, upheaval, destruction, or disorder to others — especially at its onset. But as long as you teach, lead, stay the course, maintain clarity and help the right audience understand your vision, purpose and methodology, not only will they soon realize that there a light at the end of the tunnel, they’ll realize that you’re the one they trust to guide them there. And isn’t that what you’re really dreaming of in the first place?