Sales

How to set up a SaaS product sales process that is primed for success

All businesses start with zero.

Zero code, zero content, zero revenue, zero employees.

There is no avoiding that. But as you work harder and get ready for launch, the one needle you are looking to move in your favor is that of revenue. You want your product - even if it is just a MVP - to start bringing in the results as soon as possible.

It is a boat we all find ourselves in. It is the rite of passage for all entrepreneurs - whether you are running a SaaS business, or an ecommerce business. No matter how high you think your business can scale up to, the first ten sales are going to be a challenge. For SaaS entrepreneurs, the challenge is twofold; they need to not just find a paying customer, they need to find someone who is willing to pay every month for their product.

Now. As we have mentioned multiple times in the past, we are in the business of helping our customers achieve growth. Our awesome web analytics product - Benne Analytics - is a tool we have to help our customers do just that, but our sole focus at any time is on your overall growth. That growth, it starts with your first sales, and then your first ten sales, and so on and so forth.

So today, let us put our heads together and figure out how to go about achieving those first sales for your business.

First things first. What is the biggest challenge you face when you start selling?

No precedent!

You don’t have access to any data, because there is no data to speak of. You don’t have spreadsheets full of customer data, you do not know what your different customer segments look like, and you don’t even know for sure who specifically would be most interested in buying your product.

In short, you are operating in the void, and in some ways, even flying blind.

Sure, you have some preconceived notion about who your customers could be, but without data, it’s a hypothesis, and a broad one at that.

You have to remember, growth is both art and science, and acquiring your first customers will test you on how well you can mix those two up.

Acquiring your first customers is a mix of both marketing and data analysis. While you are acquiring your customers, you are also trying to figure out answers to why they are buying from you, what pain point of theirs are they hoping to solve via your product, what is it about your product that is making them lean in your favor as compared to someone else’s. If you aren’t focusing on these questions, then you should. These answers are vital to formulating your future strategies.

What should your approach be when you start the actual sales process

Bite the bullet, and just start selling. There are a couple of things you should remember when you embark on this challenging journey:

A. You can start selling at any time.

While it is always great to have a product ready that customers can look and feel, it is not necessarily a pre-requisite to start your sales process. After all, the best sales processes out there have rarely focused on selling the product, rather on selling a solution to the most pressing pain points of the customer. And the solution can be as simple as an idea.

sales mindset 1

I loved the movie, and the concept applies in your case as well. A product can fail, it can be imperfect, it may need to go through a complete overhaul, it can even be changed in this shape, form and name. But ideas, ideas are bulletproof. (Or, in this case solution).

There are countless examples of businesses and entrepreneurs where the whole process started with just a landing page and a promise of the product. Even Zapier started this way.

sales mindset 2

So, don’t wait around on the crutches of an underdeveloped product. Just get out there, and start selling.

B. Don’t get into paid marketing. Not yet.

It is a knee jerk reaction for many entrepreneurs. After all, it provides you with a much wider audience, far bigger exposure than anything you could hope for, and most importantly - how else are you going to get your customers in this day and age, is the thought process most of us have.

I would still advise you to resist the urge to set up your Facebook and Google ads.

I hate running ads without any data. So, before I set up my first paid ad, I want to be sure I have at least some understanding of who my audiences are, what communication resonates with them the best, and what pain points are they actively looking to get solved. On day zero, I have answers to absolutely none of those questions.

By the time I have a thousand customers though, I do have some understanding of my audience. That understanding would still be in its infancy, and it will massively improve with time, but I would have some understanding at least. It is at this stage that I feel slightly comfortable with running paid ads.

So, don’t run any online ads till you have made a thousand sales.

C. You are focused on making a few sales, not hundreds of sales every day

Your approach changes based on your strategy, and your strategy would be dependent on your business objectives. At this stage, your objective isn’t to bring around thousands of customers every day. So the approach can and should be different.

It is perfectly fine to do non-scalable things at this stage. As a matter of fact, it is advisable. Doing things that do not scale means you would not be spreading yourself thin and you would have a better grip on all that is happening. This means that each action you take, you will have time and bandwidth to analyse them and figure out what’s working and why.

You would also be able to identify gaps in your approach and make corrective measures.

D. Do not focus on over-optimising

You can make a few changes to your landing pages and improve the conversion by a bit. A lot of A/B testing products would be telling you that you should get started with A/B testing right away. The fact is, it is going to do you more harm than good, and worse - your results would be far from accurate.

Optimisation requires data, but what we often forget, it also requires velocity. If you make a thousand sales in a year, and try optimising on that dataset, your results would be highly inaccurate. For optimisation exercises, you need to have data flowing through your processes at a decent pace.

So, till the time you start processing at least a hundred customers each week, do not even think about starting optimisation exercises. You would end up just wasting your time, bandwidth, and money.

(My ideal preference is a few hundred transactions each week, but even a hundred is good enough to get started with. But yes, the more the merrier.)

E. Your first sales are about data collection as much as it is about revenue

This is a rule you should follow irrespective of the stage your business is at.

For example, even if you are spending thousands of dollars every week on Facebook ads, I want you to look at this ad spend both from the perspective of the value it is adding to the company’s bottomline, and the value it is adding to your understanding of your customers, their needs, expectations and thought process.

I am aware of the fact that your first sales are all about bringing in those much needed dollars. After all, at this stage it is all about survival. But, it should also be about understanding your customers. With each customer you acquire, you should have a lightbulb moment on at least one of these topics:

  • who can you acquire next - a segment you hadn’t considered before
  • what should you be trying to acquire them with - a messaging/usecase you hadn’t thought of so far
  • where would you find them - a channel you weren’t planning on exploring earlier
  • how could you acquire them more easily - an approach that will help bring the lowest hanging fruits to the top, so to speak

F. Talk to your customers

This is the best stage for a business. The most learning one. Because of the fact that you will have very few customers, you can afford to take out the time to talk to them - even if it is just via emails or chats.

Talk to them and understand their workflow. What they do, how they do it, what challenges they face, what tools/processes they use to tackle those challenges, and what expectations do they have from a product such as yours.

Each of those topics from each of the customer conversations will help you refine your product roadmap, your approach to marketing, even your website and your content strategy.

G. Focus on immediate revenue, but plan for the longer game

Whether you are just starting your sales processes or been in the game for months, you need to always put your best foot forward. And that means having a mixture of both short term and long term strategy at any point in time.

Even in the beginning, you should be sticking true to this rule. For example, even though most of your sales at this stage would be based on one-to-one interaction with your customers, you must not discount the power of content marketing. Content marketing is like a steam-engine, it takes time to fire up, but once it has, it packs a solid punch. In your early days, you have the bandwidth to get started with content, so do it - even though it won’t start bringing in immediate revenue, which you would be otherwise focused on.

Same applies for landing pages. Even though having multiple landing pages seems counter-intuitive at this stage, it would help you arrive at a better understanding of your customers and the marketing communique that works better than others. All of which would be invaluable at later stages of your business.

H. Don’t count your friends, family or anyone they refer as your ‘actual’ customers

One of the first advices you will get on starting your sales processes is to reach out to your friends, your family, people they can refer you to, and your online network. I have nothing against that approach. It is a good way to get started, and get the ball rolling on getting some early revenue in. My only advice is - don’t count them as your first customers.

My ideal first customers are people who don’t know me. This way, I know when they are buying from me, they are buying because of what the product promises to do, and how well I am communicating that across via my website copy, my content, my landing pages etc.

When you club the strangers with your friends/family/network, you end up corrupting your analysis and understanding of why your customers buy from you.

At the end of the day, when you would be planning on reaching out to tens and hundreds of thousands of customers, almost all of them would be strangers to you. So, your analysis needs to be on the right frame of reference.

As I said, I don’t have anything against starting your sales process with your immediate network. Go for it, it is great to have early revenue any which way possible. Just do not count them as actual customers. You’ll thank me for it.

I. Making less money is fine, making no money isn’t

I have seen entrepreneurs focused on how they can retain most out of every dollar they are making in early stages. Some try to over-optimise different processes, others end up compromising on quality of their offering, some even end up investing in processes and systems they think would help them save more money.

Not the best use of your time, bandwidth or even mindspace, I would say. At this stage, when you are processing very few transactions every week and month, no amount of optimisation would save you a substantial dollar figure. But it would cost you a lot of time and energy to save those pennies and cents. I would rather have you focused on driving more of those inefficient transactions. Sure, you would make lesser money on each transaction and someone else would be making money off of you, but you would be making more money in absolute terms and you would have more customers using your product - and their usage will provide you invaluable insights into how your customers use your product, and which sections do they interact with the most.

As I said earlier, at this stage it is more about data analysis than anything else.

On the flip side, I have seen entrepreneurs offer their product for free in early stages. Their reasoning is quite simple and straightforward - they are more interested in having customers use their product to get a better sense of how customers engage with it.

While the premise, in this case, is right, the approach isn’t. Your free customers would be vastly different from your paid customers, and in this approach, you end up clubbing them both together. Which means what you think of as your analysis of customer behavior would be largely dominated by behavior of free customers (since even in a freemium product, number of free customers will always outweigh paid customers). So, make sure you have an entry barrier - even if that barrier is low. You want to identify and isolate customers who consider their pain-point important enough to actually spend money on a product that helps them solve it.

Wrappin’ up

With that, we are now in the right state of mind to get started with our sales processes. In our next story, we would get right onto that.

What is your approach to your sales processes? Do you have a go-to methodology that you think works best? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, you know where to find me at.

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.

Cheers

Abhishek

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