Using The Sales Process To Create a Competitive Advantage

Often times, sales teams will spin their wheels trying to win deals by relying too heavily on product features, benefits, pricing, and following a traditional sales process.  What they fail to realize is that in doing so, they are commoditizing both their product as well as their sales people.

The reality is that many SaaS product categories are crowded and solutions have become somewhat commoditized. Because of this, SaaS providers must be able to create differentiated value, and subsequently a competitive advantage, not just through their solutions, but through the approach and sales process they use to sell those solutions.

A Typical SaaS Sales Process

When selling enterprise SaaS solutions, a typical sales process usually goes something like this:

  1. A lead generated from one of numerous channels is passed to an account executive to further qualify.
  2. The prospect will usually request a demo as a next step, which most account executives will eagerly dive into after the initial discovery call.
  3. The account executive will run through a demo focused on features and benefits, all while having minimal knowledge of the prospect’s real business challenges.
  4. As a final step, the AE will generate a proposal for the prospect to review.  
  5. The sales opportunity then has a good chance of falling into the abyss without closing, and the AE will spend weeks, if not months, chasing the prospect in an attempt to push toward a decision.

The problem with this approach is that the sales process the account executive used is most likely almost identical to that of the other vendors that the prospect is evaluating.   In doing so, they are relying solely on their product’s features and price to win the deal.  

Nothing has really been done to establish any trust.  There is little if any working relationship at this point.  

The account executive is viewed merely as a sales person in the eyes of the prospect, not to mention the prospect has invested nothing and 95% of the work throughout the evaluation process was executed by the AE.

A New Model For Selling Enterprise SaaS

A sales process that will enable your to team to possess a competitive advantage is one that initiates a working relationship with the prospect before your competitors do.  

It is a process first – product last approach.  It is a rigorous focus on process before technology, business results, and building trust.  And perhaps most importantly, it positions your sales people as valuable resources, not run of the mill sales people in the eyes of your prospect.

At ClaraStream, we are constantly selling our solution against larger, more established players. I quickly learned we were never going to be successful by focusing on our product features and getting into “bake offs”.  The way to win was going to be our ability to get our prospects invested in the evaluation process, provide value almost immediately and build their trust.  This was going to be how we initially created a competitive advantage.  

[Tweet “The way to win is to get prospects invested in the evaluation, provide value & build trust.”]

So what does that process look like?

After a lead is generated, the account executive conducts an initial discovery call to further qualify the prospect.  This of course represents no change from the norm.

The second step is where things really start to change.  

Instead of conducting a demo of your solution, conduct a “process demo.”  Take 60-90 minutes with the prospect and have the prospect demonstrate their business processes and systems they are currently using.  Give them the ability to show your sales people how they are doing things now, where the gaps are, and most importantly what problems are being caused as a result.   

The more information you can get them to share the better.  We will often spend time building flow charts with prospects to map out business processes and discuss how they need to change.  We’ll even jump into their existing software systems with them to see exactly how they’re doing things now.

[Tweet “Jump into their existing software systems w/ them to see exactly how they’re doing things now.”]

After conducting the process demo, ask the prospect to send over data and pertinent information which can be used to create a demo environment.  

Only when the AE truly understands the prospect’s challenges and processes should they conduct a demo of your solution.  

The difference is that a demo is not merely a walk through of the features of the solution, but a highly contextual demonstration which specifically addresses the business challenges the prospect is looking to address — with the added touch of showing this with their data loaded into the system.

Standard software demos are a dime a dozen and are not much better than a 30 minute video demo of your product.  The real value comes from building prospect specific demos that focus on real business problems and directly answer the question of “How will this tool get me the results I need?”

Every step in the evaluation process up to this point is collaborative.  The prospect has committed time and energy and feels invested in the project.  A working relationship has been established, even before a contract is signed.  In doing so, the prospect has automatically qualified themselves as a serious buyer.  The process of generating a proposal should be no different.   

The account executive should work with the prospect to build a solution and business case that both parties feel is in the prospect’s best interest.  This final and critical step gives the sales person the best chance of getting to a decision.  

[Tweet “The account executive should work with the prospect to build a solution…”]

By enabling the prospect to play a critical role in building the proposal, they will have yet again created a level separation from their competitors.  

The Real Competitive Advantage

While this sales process certainly represents a change from the norm and goes a long way in creating a competitive advantage, it’s not entirely defensible.  Yes, most of your competitors won’t have the wherewithal to use this approach and will rely on standard sales processes.  But at the end of the day, this sales process can be implemented in fairly short order.  

The long-term competitive advantage comes from the ability to build a culture and team of sales people who are able to provide an immense amount of value and insight to your prospects throughout the sales process.  

They are sales people who, through continuous training and education, not only possess unconscious competence of your solution, but also possess strong industry knowledge and an ability to recognize and solve business problems.  They are viewed by your prospects as consultants, not sales people, who are able to use their insight and knowledge to establish trust and credibility before your competitors can, or ever will.

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Matt Tortora is the Vice President of Sales at Goby, provider of a cloud-based sustainability reporting platform for the commercial real estate industry. Prior to joining Goby he was the co-founder and Chief Sales Officer at ClaraStream where he helped grow the company to a successful exit. Matt has over 10 years of B2B technology sales and sales leadership experience.

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