Sales · Saas

Optimal sales strategy?

Dmitry Kan Head of Search Technology at AlphaSense Inc, Founder & CEO at SemanticAnalyzer

February 9th, 2016

I've been bootstrapping my start-up for a while, doing sales among other countless things. To this moment, admitting I'm not a sales, I can't claim there is any optimal strategy for the sale closure. Here is what I observed:

1. If a random prospect asks about the price over the e-mail neither telling it over the e-mail nor pushing them to a call makes any difference. In most cases -- no sale. So it is apparently rooted in certain companies asking for prices of their competitors pretending to be prospects. In extreme cases I saw fake web sites showing some "real product development".

2. Giving a discounted price for a short period of time with a price increase past "deadline" does not make the deal more sticky -- clients walk away as easy as in 1.

3. Discussing prices over the phone / skype can put you in a position when customer asks more for the same amount of money you tag the product with. And in fear of not having time to think this through, you tend to accept. Ok, there are tough sales that wouldn't let this happen, I know!

4. In most cases where sale does happen, clients either really wanted to try the product out or they really understand why they need the product.

5. Marketing, like blogging on product sites / engineer boards (for us, api company) helps to get paying customers no matter how big noise is produced (like, why freemium and not free trial?).

Beyond these points, could you give an advice to immature sales person, like me, on points 1-5 or beyond?
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Bob Fucci Sales and Revenue Growth, Strategy, Advisor, Speaker

February 9th, 2016

Dmitry,

1) I agree with your assessment - responding to "blind" pricing requests over email are unproductive.  Before I provide that information, I always ask for a 10 minute introductory call, determine real buying intent, establish an initial relationship and connecting on LinkedIn is a more productive step.

2) Correct, I think what you are trying to do is create some urgency for the buyer.   That strategy can work if there is a compelling event on their side, otherwise it is arbitrary and diminishes your position.

3) Agree, I always develop my pricing proposal (with input from the client/prospect) and I present it - I never email it 1st.  Other people may have different approaches but to me, if you've put time and effort into a pricing proposal it needs to be properly presented.

4) Buyers are more educated and risk averse.  You certainly can incorporate  a "proof step" into the licensing phase.

5) Marketing - I would need to understand more about the point your making.  In my opinion Marketing drives you brand, Sales drives your pipeline.

Please reach out to me if I can help.

Jessica Magoch Sales doesn't have to be a dirty word. Get more clients without being icky, sleazy, or just plain annoying.

February 9th, 2016

Hi Dmitry,
It's Jess, Your Virtual Sales Trainer here to save the day!
You are not alone, many entrepreneurs have extreme talent in one area, but professional sales takes just as much talent and skill in a different area and they don't teach it in school! As a CEO, you will be the company's first and best salesperson, and it's a skill worth mastering (no sales = no business). You can take a sneak peek at our course here: sneakpeek.jpmpartners.comand even if you don't enroll, the free training provides tremendous value.

Here are my answers to your questions:
1. If you are responding to requests for price through email, the best practice I recommend is to give a range instead of specific quote because 1) they are really wondering they can afford it and 2) you don't know what they need until you qualify them, so how can you give a price? 3)Your email communications should move people to the next point in the sales process. If someone asked what the price was, I'd say, "It can range from $x to $y depending on what you need. If you'd like to learn more, I'd love to set up a time to chat so we can see if we're the right company for you. Does ___ or ___ work for you? Looking forward to getting to know you! " Also, how many of these are we talking about? If it's just a few, then okay, maybe they're just competitors. But avoid drawing conclusions in your sales and marketing funnels on small data sets.

2. Customers do not buy price. They buy value and they buy you. And they buy how you, the company and the product makes them FEEL. They are not aware of it, but it has been scientifically proven that people make decisions emotionally first and then back it up with logic. Are you making them FEEL something? This may sound crazy if you convinced people are just buying the features and benefits of your product. And customers are not aware enough of their own buying decisions to communicate it, but that's how our brains work, whether we like it or not!

3. Again, customer don't buy price (See answer 2). They are free to negotiate all they want. Your price should reflect the value you provide. When you come down on your price you're telling the customer the value isn't what you originally stated (Same goes for offering discounts). It your job to communicate the value through your pitch. And that is based on their needs. There will always be price chasers; these are not people you want to do business with. They will drop you as soon as a lower price comes along!

4. Bingo ! A sale is ONLY made when a customer really understands the value of the product and how it can benefit it them. And it is your job as CEO/Founder/1stAndOnlySalesperson to show them that. A certain percentage of people will come to that conclusion without you, but all the rest of your prospects who are looking for the right solution, need you to show them the vision.

5. I'm not sure exactly what you're communicating here, but... It's great that your marketing efforts are paying off. I think you're saying that they buy even if you're not offering a free trial. That makes total sense... see, customers opt-in/get on a call/start a free trial, etc., because they have the problem you solve. No matter what you're offering (free download, free trial, email tips, consultation, etc.), these are all lead sources. Everyone is a potential customer. Always start a relationship with these people and recognize that they just entered your sale funnel. They did not buy. It's not guaranteed they will buy, but they are interested. And they REALLY hope you can solve their problem. So now you have to show them. The best way is to pick up the phone and have a conversation.
Take Hubspot, for example, they provide online marketing for companies. They promise to fill your pipeline with leads. Guess what happens when you download one of their reports? You get a phone call! Even they know that online marketing will only generate leads. It's sales that gets them to convert (especially if you're selling a high end product) and relationships that get them to stay.

I hope you take advantage of the sneak peek... I really think it can help you in this area.

Have a great day!
Jess

Scott Disrupting the Market Research Industry

February 9th, 2016

Hi Dmitry,

Your observations reflect a wealthy of experience for someone who is not a sales person. There are many sales people out there who don't understand those symptoms, let alone know how to make the necessary adjustments. I see some good interpretations and advice in these responses too. To add to the conversation:


1. If someone is visiting your site and asking about your service (and price), they either have a problem they think you can solve or they are a potential competitor. Email is terrible for dialog so if someone randomly emails you, ask for a call. Someone who is truly interested will take that call. I am assuming your service is customizable? If so, you need to assess the project and then you can give them a quote. Before you go into selling your service ask, "What are you looking for in terms of text intelligence and tell me how you resolve that today?". As they answer, resist selling your solution, keep wearing your therapist hat and keep asking open ended questions like why, how and who, etc. You should uncover what is important to them and then you can focus your sales pitch on how it benefits them. The benefits are always more compelling to the buyer than are your product features.


2. Qualify each prospect for time, need and money. If they don't have any one of those 3, they won't buy, not even with a discount. If you do discount, it needs to have an equal benefit to you (longer contract, bigger purchase, etc.) and only at the end of the negotiation... this assumes your product is not a commodity. If your product or service has unique attributes and it is the best fit for their problem, they will buy it at a fair value. Good buyers negotiate on price. Good sellers negotiate on value. To get to value, this assumes you have that good therapy / discovery session up front.


3. You have a few different paths you can take and this will set the foundation for your sales model. 1. A different price = a different solution. Are there levels to your solution that you can upgrade / downgrade based on the price? 2. Have your entry price and know your bottom line. When you've reached that bottom line, say, "that's my best offer, can you move forward at that price?". 3. Do not negotiate your price at all. It is what it is, you've taken all this into consideration when you came up with the price and if you believe you have good value for money, you can say, "Your success depends upon my success. I need customers who are vested in me, that can grow with me and I can grow with them. A cheaper price to all my customers will force me to cut corners. You nor I want to compromise on quality and this price helps me reinvest back into improving the service. Can you move forward at that price?" If price remains an issue, then maybe you are too high.


4. I think there is more to this observation - like how do I get repeat business or how do I get them to commit after the trial period. People typically want to do a trial to a) share it with others (get other influencers or buyers involved), b) see if it really works or c) see all the different ways it will benefit them. It's one of the reasons you need to have that therapy / discovery session up front. It gives you more feedback on how the service benefits different customer types. It also helps you prioritize future improvements to the service.


5. There are various marketing channels which help drive inbound interest and drum up sales leads. Blogging is one of them and Jessica makes a great point about Hubspot's model. Generating fresh and relevant content is challenging, let alone placing it in the right trade press, business press and other digital outlets. Having someone manage content development and placement could benefit the business.

As for other sales pointers, it sounds like you may be at an early stage where you need to drive awareness of either the problem that no one realizes they have or that a solution exists to this chronic problem affecting all your potential customers. Depending on whether you have broad applications or niche ones, you may be looking for a marketing person to help drive education & demand and/or a sales person to drive demand and convert it into signed contracts. That will free up your time to improve the product and get on important client calls.


Other advice... If you demo your product (instead of doing trials), keep it short and to the point. Don't overwhelm them with all the different features and benefits, hoping they will figure it out. Assess what you think are three most relevant points to the buyer. Show it and then be quiet, ask for their feedback. Then ask for next steps...


All the best,

Scott

John Currie ITERATE Ventures - Accelerating Science & Technology Ventures www.iterateventures.com

February 9th, 2016

Dmitry,

Your #4 is the "answer" (to me).  Understand - very deeply - that specific customer segment who bought and why. That's an interview and you can certainly pull that off! (with some serious thought about the questions). Glad to give you more tips offline.

Henry FRSA Managing Director, Positive Profile Limited

February 9th, 2016

It sounds to me as if you may not be making a sufficient case for your product; the price is irrelevant if you can prove its value is higher. Perhaps you need to focus less on price and concentrate on the benefits to the user, rather than just its functionality.

Kind regards,
Henry

Thomas Donhauser HELPING COMPANIES GROW REVENUE & PROFITS through improved sales & marketing processes!

February 9th, 2016

Dmitry, I think your 4th point says it all. In my experience, if someone is asking about the price so early on in the conversation, then they are not truly looking at the possible solution or do not recognize the potential problem that you will be helping them to solve. Price will always come up, but if the buyer is serious, it comes up much later in the conversation. You need to get them to focus on the value it will bring to them or the problem it will solve. The price will then take care of itself. Tom Donhauser

Rich Lancaster Entrepreneur | CEO | Sales & Marketing Executive

February 9th, 2016

Hey Dmitry.

You are selling a highly technical product from a blog site without a sales force and without sales training, or marketing to support your efforts. 

Perhaps the next thing you should do is create a website that is product and company focused, that helps sell the product and its benefits and deals with issues like pricing or how to get a price, so that when people come to you they've already had the benefit of fully understanding the company and product, etc.

The bottom line is, your point of entry in to the marketplace will drive the kinds of sales activity you end up involved in. So your marketing needs to support your sales effort better, it needs to help qualify people through their interaction with a company website.

Just my 2 cents.

Best of luck, Rich

Anonymous

February 9th, 2016

Interesting. Many of us feel your frustration. "Been there, done that" kind of thing. Until you know what your ducks like and will pay money for you are not ready to sell anything. In fact, there is even a precursor to marketing: The Art of Suspecting. http://consultski.com/marketing-101/ 

Daniel Canales Investor

February 9th, 2016

Dmitry, it sounds to me like you are an engineer. Your perspective tends to focus on the structure of the sale. Only the most conservative consumer will wait until they have an existing interest in the product. You should be attempting to capture maven consumers, the clients who promote your product ONLY because nobody has it yet. A skilled salesman can capture these clients through illogical, and emotional variables which come into play for a consumer. I suggest you partner with a sales force and watch the magic happen. Remember, unless your product is the same as others, you have to sell an IDEA before you sell your service. Feel free to contact me anytime with questions. How did you find me by the way?

Renee Lewis President, Pensare Group

February 10th, 2016

Dmitry,

I've been supporting a semantic internet company for a number of years and a new company that focuses on classifier technology/sentiment.  I have a couple observations from that work that may be helpful to you.  

You work in a toolset and knowledge domain that is not well understood outside your immediate circles.  It's hard for buyers to extrapolate how it helps them (the first step in establishing value). We started selling to the outcomes (in one case, the data output is the product) as opposed to them figuring out how they can use it.  

People really don't like to change how they do things on a promise of improvement.  We look for opportunities to create differentiation for clients or new products for upsell.  This has worked well focusing on revenue generating solutions.

We've also moved our efforts to much more of a consultative approach.  When consultative, you always have to "understand the problem" before you size or price it.  Solution selling says we'll solve this one problem for you, which begs the question, what's it worth to you to solve that problem?  They will always need on-going support so you can get back to recurring revenue streams with this approach.

We've come to accept both tools are more like middleware.  We realized we were making prospects think to hard in the sales process while they wrapped their brains around how it works, will it work, how will it impact their current operations, could they support it, what's the risk...  We take smaller problems (just more iterations with a client), bring the other tools along that we need (e.g., user interface development, back-end repositories, ontology stores) in an effort to bring the complete solution.  It's simply structured like project work with on-going support. 

And, at the end of the day the cost is the cost. We just hope the value (which we spend a great deal of time dissecting with them) is greater than the expense.  At that point we end up with a sale.  We also will take a royalty for future revenue if we tie to a new revenue stream.

Selling these innovative, technology-based, transforming solutions is difficult - the closer we get to solution selling, tying to revenue streams and delivering complete solutions, the better we're getting at placing illusive solutions into tangible problem domains.  

I agree with all that's been written, but until I did the above I wouldn't have been able to provide of the answers (like your value prop, target market, etc.).  I know your tool doesn't care about the problem rather the conditions, but that's how buyers buy.  We have simply decided to meet them where they are.  

We have learned our price can never be more than the value they place on it. So, we have learned questions that help us get their quickly so we can move on quickly if it's not going to work.  And, as someone says above, when someone asks for price up front, they are articulating that they don't understand your value.  A sale can never happen unless value is established in their minds.

Good luck, Dmitry.  I love the global nature of your product. I'm hoping there's a gem in here somewhere for you.