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“….Must Have Previous SaaS Sales Experience”

by David Brock on February 19th, 2018

I was speaking to a colleague the other day, he was looking for a job.  He was a very successful salesperson, unhappy in his current role.  He commented, “What’s all of this stuff about ‘SaaS?’  All the jobs require SaaS sales experience.”

It is puzzling how “SaaS” or “XaaS” seems to have a disproportionate mindshare in the sales world these days.  When you look at the economy, it’s a small part of the economy, by extension, represents a small part of selling jobs.

But so much of what we read focuses on SaaS.  But SaaS means a lot of different things, even within SaaS selling is very different depending on the solution.

SaaS is a product/software implementation approach.  Rather than buying a software license, the hardware to support it, on premise, it’s implemented in the cloud.  There’s a lot of value customers can realize from this, for example not having to support the hardware environment, not having to support the software, and so forth.

But what’s really different about selling this as a solution?  Does it require different skills to present the value of this, perhaps differentiating it from an on premise implementation? Sure it may require a consultative/solution selling approach, it requires deep product knowledge, but there is nothing about the technology implementation that necessarily requires specialized selling skills.

The skills needed for any other complex product/solution (technology or non technology based) are similar.  Yes–different product knowledge skills; Yes, perhaps market/industry/problem specific skills are necessary.  But every complex solution requires these.

SaaS (XaaS) seems to be the catch all phrase for a payment methodology.  Rather than getting a single upfront payment, SaaS is a subscription model.  It’s payments stretched out over a period of time  But there’s nothing new an novel about this payment methodology.  Subscription/monthly payments have existed for ages (I suspect Eve talked Adam into buying Apples As A Service).

We think of newspaper/magazine subscriptions, any type of lease, any type of installment payment plan.  I pay our housekeeper and gardener on a weekly payment basis, I pay my gym membership on a monthly basis.  Even the very first mainframe computers were sold on a “subscription.”  Customers could not outright purchase the computer, it could only be rented or leased  (Wonder if Tom Watson Jr. ever thought of MFaaS–MainFrames as a Service?  IBM has always loved acronyms.)

There’s nothing unique about selling a subscription or term payment solution.  Whether it’s an outright upfront payment, we still have to do the business justification demonstrating the value and return of the solution over time.

And retention, LCV, ARR, is nothing unique to the SaaS business model.  Whether outright purchase or subscription, we always want to create customers for life, growing the revenue from each–whether they pay on a one time basis, and we seek to sell the next new version of the product, sell other products, etc.  Sales people have been concerned with this ever since the first sale was made.  We want to figure out ways for our current customers to keep buying more and more stuff from us, forever.

And SaaS seems to be a sales approach or methodology.  The roots of this are really found in transactional or high volume/velocity sales methodologies.  But transactional selling processes have also been around for ages.  Many retail and consumer product sales are transactional.  Many B2B sales of commoditized products are transactional.  Companies have had inbound queries going to order desks and clerks for decades (if not longer).  Yes, those people had to do minor education on the products, provide pricing, provide some differentiation, but there is nothing new here.

Likewise, we’ve had high volume/velocity approaches to sales long before the acronym SaaS was created.  These have been in a variety of industries, markets, solutions.  Think of the “old days,” when your customer may have had rows of catalogs lined up on a bookshelf behind her.  When she had a need, she looked at the catalog, found a product, called in “inbound sales person.”

Ironically, many SaaS implementations cannot be sold using the SaaS sales methodologies.  They are complex buying processes, requiring enterprise wide engagement.  I can’t begin to count the number of companies with SaaS implementations that have fairly traditional field direct sales approaches, metrics.

Equally ironic, many outright purchases only require a transactional sales process.  For example, we pay for our office supplies outright, yet it is a transactional selling/buying process.

Yet for some reason, SaaS selling has this great mystique, it’s viewed as something different than all other selling.  Perhaps it’s some sort of Silicon Valley seduction, since so many SaaS companies seem to be Silicon Valley or software technology companies.

We’ve invented a whole array of acronyms to describe “SaaS” things, when they are really no different than the things people outside the SaaS world have cared about.  We’ve invented  new names for sales people, SDR, BDR, AE, Account Manager, Customer Experience Managers.  ABM/ABS/ABE have become the hot issues, in “SaaS selling.  Yet the principles of ABM/ABS/ABE have existed for years, yet the SaaS world seem to be reveling in their discovery.

But those functions are no different than functions that have existed in other sectors for ages.

I come back to the core issue, what are “SaaS selling skills?” What is “SaaS selling?”

It’s really no different than excellent sales execution in any other space.  So why the mystique?


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