Category: sales

Posts

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28 February / sales / marketing / product
A founder posed me a question earlier this week: Do you have any data/perspective on whether it’s worth keeping the unassisted free trial flow vs. providing only one path which leads to a demo and an assisted free trial? This is a complex question. Let’s break it down. The unassisted free trial has benefits. There’s a deeper discussion in this post: Confessions of a Perpetual Freeloader. You capture the buyer at the point of maximum intent and reduces the activation energy of the sale.
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06 February / data analysis / sales / marketing / saas
Top 10 Learning about Free Trials from Tomasz Tunguz At Saastr yesterday, I presented thetop 10 learnings from the Redpoint Free Trial Survey that we distributed in October. The data confirmed many rules of thumb but also raised some interesting new questions about the best way to use trials. When we distributed the survey, we never would have expected the response. About 600 companies submitted data. They span single digit ARR businesses to publicly traded SaaS companies.
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11 December / sales / strategy / saas
If you have one marketing dollar to spend on your startup’s growth, should you spend it on acquiring a new customer or on expanding an existing customer? Mining the existing customer base for customer expansion seems very logical. Customers know your product and your sales team, so increasing the account value should be easier. Plus, the strategy is successful in practice. The PacCrest survey suggests upsell drives somewhere between 8-26% of new bookings for SaaS companies, depending on the scale of the business.
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25 November / sales / saas
Your startup is just getting off the ground. You might have a few account executives and a sales leader in place; maybe some revenue and a handful of customers. The sales team costs real money, and the question before the company is: how do you know what quota plan to assign to the account executives? I’ve seen four stages in early stage software companies. Some businesses employ all four, others just use one or two.
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04 November / sales
You have a good pipeline of prospective customers. You pitch them but things aren’t working out. You can see it in your low close rates. They are below 15-20% conversion from sales accepted lead to closed customer. You need to answer an important question: are you losing these opportunities because of sales execution or product insufficiency? Those are the two possibilities. Either the company’s sales techniques are failing to persuade customers to buy the product.
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01 October / strategy / saas / sales
In early markets, customers prefer entire solutions, not best in class point products. These solutions often include significant professional services and education. At the beginning of a new wave, most customers don’t understand the technology well. So, they seek experts to guide them. Companies that provide services and education often win the early market. They develop customer relationships, reinforce their expertise with a strong brand, define the purchasing criteria in their favor and ultimately grow faster.
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Your sales team is starting to close some terrific accounts. As your startup grows, your sales team will experiment with different sales techniques. For example, qualification, pricing, positioning, incentives and contract structure. This is a wonderful phase for a startup. However, there’s a common mistake to avoid. Your VP of Finance should model the impact and approve each experiment. Many startups don’t do this at the early stages of go to market.
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The Ideal Customer Profile. The perfect customer. Can you describe it for your startup? The more precisely you can describe it, the better. That will simplify disqualification. But articulating the ICP well isn’t enough. Vague ICPs are problematic. The company will focus on too broad a customer base, waste time and effort with unqualified prospects, and blunt their sales pitch with irrelevant value propositions. Clear ICPs can also be problematic.
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04 March / sales / startups / best practices
It’s one of the most important questions a CEO can ask. Why does our sales team lose potential sales? One of the companies I work with, Chorus, listens and analyzes sales calls to provide insights to heads of sales and account executives. Chorus explored the reasons account executives lose sales opportunities. Set aside losses from competition. Of the remaining lost opportunities, 48% of prospects lacked budget. A further 38% demonstrated no urgency to buy.
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31 January / management / sales / saas
Recently, I wrote about customer/revenue operations, an idea that seems to be taking hold at many different SaaS companies. Instead of optimizing the performance of each individual step of the customer lifecycle, customer operations optimizes it over the entire journey. This is a fundamental change in the way a business manages its customers, and it’s now starting to be reflected in the organizational structure of SaaS startups Two advances in thinking have led to the idea of customer operations.
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01 November / sales / marketing / financials / saas
One of the major trends facing SaaS companies today is the rising cost of customer acquisition. Data on this trend has been difficult to find. Fortunately, Patrick at ProfitWell sent me his survey results across about 800 companies. The chart above shows the increasing cost of customer acquisition on a per company basis. Those surveyed have observed a ~65% increase in cost of customer acquisition over the last five years.
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09 October / sales
Recently, a VP of sales told me about the way he views the dynamic between inside and outside sales. Inside sales is the drumbeat, a highly predictable sales organization whose consistency enables outside sales to swing for the fences. I never heard it expressed quite this way, but I do think there’s some truth to it. To prove it to myself, I ran a Monte Carlo simulation for hypothetical startup.
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17 September / sales / financials / saas
How much should a SaaS startup invest in sales and marketing at different stages of the business? This is a very nuanced question, but benchmarks do provide some guidance for what is reasonable. Sales and marketing investment depends on many different factors including establishing product market fit, the business’s sales model (inside, field, freemium), and not least, cash balance and fundraising capacity. The chart above shows the sales and marketing investment of publicly traded software companies at different revenue levels.
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06 September / sales / strategy / saas
One of the most difficult go-to-market strategies for startups is platform. Platform go to markets mean selling software that can do many things, depending on the customer need. Selling a platform is challenging for five reasons. First, most customers buy software to solve a particular and immediate problem. When pitching a platform, the potential buyer has to imagine what the platform can do for them. On the other hand, point solutions present a more concrete alternative of what is, rather than what could be.
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04 September / sales / financials / saas
Every startup’s sales commission plan is different. But it’s key to understand the theory and the benchmark data that governs the creation of sales commission plans to create a good one for your business. Before we begin, let’s define a few terms. Sales compensation is communicated in OTE, On Target Earnings. OTE has two parts: salary/draw and commission. Salary is the annual amount paid to the employee irrespective of how much business he/she closes.
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15 August / financials / sales / saas / startups
The cash conversion cycle is a key metric for startups, but one that often isn’t talked about until a business hires a CFO. Once a business established product market fit, the cash conversion cycle is a key metric of a company’s cash efficiency - how quickly a company can convert a dollar of investment into a dollar of cash flow. To calculate the cash conversion cycle for a software company, the formula is
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08 August / sales / marketing / saas / strategy
At some point in the life of most SaaS companies, the business will be faced with the question, when should we move up market? The strategic question might be catalyzed by increasing cost of customer acquisition in the core SMB segment. Alternatively, a surge of large customers paying for the product might trigger the question. Or account executives might raise it. Whatever the reason, this is a key strategic question.
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09 July / sales / books
I’ve asked many VPs of Sales the same question. Which is the best book on the fundamentals of selling? Almost unequivocally, they respond, “Miller-Heiman.” The New Strategic Selling is an updated version of the original Strategic Selling, which was published in 1988, and describes the key activities of successful sales people. I resonated with two concepts in the book: the 4 Seller Response Modes and the authors’ recommendations on how to prioritize a salesperson’s time.
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01 June / sales
What could be more natural than a marketer selling a product to other marketers? Or an engineer pushing a new devops tool to other developers? Or a customer success person pitching CS tools? After all, they both speak the same language, come from the same domain, will develop trust quickly. Consequently, they will sell faster and more efficiently. This might seem like a very logical argument for differentiating on sales processes, but it’s a fallacy.
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16 May / sales
How much revenue do you want to book for your SaaS startup next quarter? And in 12 months? It is one thing to put a number down on the financial plan. It’s another thing altogether to have the sales team staffed to close that amount of business. The bookings capacity of the business is the amount of business a sales team should book in a certain period. Bookings capacity is calculated as:
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26 April / sales / trends
My algorithm is better than yours. My algorithm performs better on the precision/recall tradeoffs. It surfaces fewer false positives. It converges to an answer faster. Perhaps it requires a bit less data. Those statements might all be true. But none of these advantages confer a competitive sales advantage in the market. They aren’t technology innovations leading to a go-to-market advantage. I first observed the use of large scale machine learning at Google.
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24 April / saas / exits / marketing / sales
There are approximately 22 million trucks in the US. Many of these trucks run software to track the location of the vehicle, manage inventory, and comply with regulation. There are two SaaS companies operating at greater than $100M in ARR in the space and they illustrate one of the mantras on this blog: there are many different ways to build a SaaS company. After last week’s post, Is There a No Man’s Land in SaaS ACVs, a founder asked me to highlight some of the go to market strategies in different segments.
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21 April / saas / sales / pricing
A founder asked me recently if a dead zone in ACVs (average contract value) exist around the $10k price point. Yesterday, I listened to a podcast in which an executive asserted that infrastructure software priced lower than $250k in ACV threatens the viability of the company. What does the data show? I’ve plotted the distribution of ACV at IPO for all public software companies. There are no yawning gaps but a smooth progression from $87 to $780,000.
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17 April / saas / marketing / sales
After a startup establishes product market fit, scaling demand generation becomes the the next major challenge. Doubling or tripling ARR each year for several consecutive years is not easy. The best marketers create a demand generation portfolio. There are four axes to measure this portfolio: scale of investment, sophistication, breadth and potential. At the outset, a startup may rely on a single channel of customer acquisition. But over time, in order to achieve larger and larger bookings, the company must diversify.
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13 April / strategy / sales / marketing / saas
A friend recently asked, “Which path is better for SaaS startups? SMB to mid-market to enterprise or straight to enterprise?” It’s a key strategic question for many founders building software companies. Startups that initially target small to medium businesses benefit from several key advantages. First, these businesses are faster to revenue. Simpler products satisfy SMBs, so startups can begin to charge smaller customers much sooner than enterprise customers in a product development lifecycle.
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Over the last year in particular, Revenue Ops is a term that’s gaining some mindshare in the SaaS world. Revenue operations teams combine marketing operations and sales operations into one team. Yesterday, I heard time a further refinement of this idea: Customer Operations. As one SaaS executive described to me, marketing operations teams are the engines of the marketing team. The creative marketing functions produce the fuel – the campaigns, the positioning, the art.
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17 March / sales / strategy
There are three kinds of software value propositions. Software that increases revenue, software that reduces cost, and software that promises improved productivity. To maximize the effectiveness of your customer success efforts, you need to understand which type of software company you are building. Software that increases revenue is the easiest to sell. For most companies, growth is the most important priority. Growth trumps cost-reduction because growth increases the value of the business more.
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07 March / product / saas / sales
After a SaaS startup has gained traction with SMBs and mid-market customers, they often feel a pressure to move up-market. Sometimes, demand for a product is so great, larger customers the pull the company up-market before they are ready. The startup finds itself in a critical position - both the product and the sales motion must evolve quickly. Zack Kass is a friend who advises SaaS startups on their enterprise selling motions and playbooks, refining the account executive profile, and developing a deal strategy.
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23 February / sales
There are three ways to create negative churn that I have observed in the market. First, usage expansion. Second, feature expansion. Third, product expansion. Usage expansion is the most common way to create negative churn. Utility based pricing models like buying SMS credits on Twilio, or compute on Amazon or data processing on Mulesoft lend themselves to gradually increasing account sizes, as customers use more and more of the product.
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17 January / saas / history / financials / sales
Most SaaS companies dream of attaining the $100M ARR mark. The very fastest attain the goal in 6-7 years. Last week, Workday halted trading to announce it had signed Walmart as a customer. Brian White, research analyst at Drexel Hamilton investment bank, estimated this one customer could generate $100M-$200M per year for Workday in recurring revenue - a single customer. I couldn’t validate that this is the largest contract ever signed by a SaaS company, but if it is not the largest, it is most certainly the top 5.
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12 December / sales
Sales leaders consistently underinvest in sales team training and development. As SaaS startups scale, sales execution becomes the most tangible metric of a business’ success, and the one by which the business’ health is benchmarked. Not to mention how the head of sales is evaluated. When is the right time to invest in sales training? And how much should a business invest? Let’s take a hypothetical SaaS company with five sales reps, each with a $750k quota.
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28 November / sales
As a SaaS startup begins to reach critical mass, the business generates more of its revenue from upsells and expansions, reaching about 30% at between $40-75M in revenue, which is in line with some of the models we’ve created. Many times startup teams ask how to compensate a sales team for renewals and upsells. The 2016 PacCrest Survey contains a wealth of information about these types of go to market questions.
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20 October / sales / saas
What is the optimal contract length with for your SaaS startup? Monthly, annual, multiyear? It’s common to see SaaS startups initially price their products on a monthly basis, then add an enterprise “Call Me” plan which hides behind it an annual contract. As the business increases its price point, it may eventually book contracts spanning two, three or even five years. This pricing pattern has a certain rationale to it.
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19 September / sales / startups / saas
How fast could a SaaS business grow on paid acquisition? If the business decided today to sprint and acquire as many customers as possible? We can model it with some assumptions, some of which are quite aggressive. Let’s take a startup with $1.2M on the balance dedicated to customer acquisition. Assume a $10,000 CAC, an 80% gross margin and a payback period of 12 months. We’ll assume customers begin to pay the month after they sign up, and all this math implies customers pay a monthly fee of $1042 ($12,500 ACV over 12 months).
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02 September / sales / startups / saas
Creating and optimizing a sales plan for an early stage SaaS company is a challenging task. There are lots of different variables to manage and the truth is it’s always a work in progress even for massively successful businesses. But at the very earliest days, where do you start? Quota is a function of number of deals closed, sales cycle, price point and conversion rate. When a SaaS company is just releasing its products, none of these are known figures.
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15 August / sales
Sales teams are the tip of the spear for SaaS companies. They close accounts and book the revenue. Many sales teams often find themselves confronting the same issues. Mike Anello and Kane Hochster, two HBS students, researched this topic by surveying more than 30 VPs of Sales. The survey included both rising and seasoned leaders across a range of revenue ranges but with a concentration in earlier stage startups.
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04 August / sales / customer success
When you’re selling a SaaS product to a potential customer, you have to convince them switching is worth the effort. And once you’ve sold the product, you have to do the opposite: convince the customer that switching to anything else isn’t worth it. In chemistry, there’s a notion of an activation energy. A Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius coined the term to describe the minimum amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction.
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24 July / sales / saas
Where is the budget to pay for your SaaS startup’s software coming from? There are three possible pockets. First, they are dollars the competitor you displaced used to collect. Second, the company enlarges the current budget to finance the purchase. Third, the company creates a new budget. Which budget is an important question. The answer informs product, marketing and sales strategy. It’s also a frequent question investors and employee candidates will ask during their respective processes.
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21 July / sales
What is the smallest price point at which a SaaS startup can justify building an inside sales team? This is a natural question that many SaaS startups raise as they begin to complement bottoms-up, product-led adoption with assisting customers through the sales process. There are publicly traded SaaS companies at nearly every price point - even very small ones. At IPO, Wix went public with an average annual revenue per customers of $87.
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28 June / sales
On the prospects list of every SaaS startup, you will find a list of company names and next to them a projected dollar amount projecting the potential revenue from closing the deal. Each line item might represent a sale to team, department or the entire company. Regardless, there is a single champion advocating internally for the company to invest in this software product. If the project succeeds, that person will be promoted.
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07 June / sales
When is the right time to increase sales headcount for a SaaS startup? It is one of the most strategic decisions for early-stage business to make given the amount of effort and expense involved in building, managing and scaling a sales team. While there is no single absolute sign, neither qualitative nor quantitative, these are some of the signals I have found indicate it might be a good time to scale sales.
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02 June / sales
There are two main ways of building a SaaS sales team: top down or bottoms up. Top down SaaS sales organizations start with a VP of Sales who often hires senior account executives. Bottoms up sales teams hire the first account manager and promote from within. Which is better? Let’s create a framework to compare the bookings capacity, the ramp period and the cost for three levels of sales hires.
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24 May / saas / sales
One question founders often ask is which is the right customer size to target? What is the optimal ACV for a SaaS startup? One way of answering this question is to reflect upon the success of previous SaaS companies and analyze how they did it. The chart above plots the total revenue of publicly traded SaaS companies by ACV bucket. Enterprise companies average contract value is greater than $100,000. Mid-market companies span $10,000-$100,000, and SMB companies generate less than $10,000 per year per customer.
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05 May / sales / channel
The notion of channel sales in SaaS companies is becoming more common than in has been in the last few years, and for some businesses like Intacct, channel partnerships drive more than 50% of sales. Channels used to be about software customization, delivery and support. Most SaaS has little customization, manages all the delivery and are better suited to handling the support. Plus, value-added resellers charged buyers on a per-project basis which doesn’t align neatly with the recurring subscription intrinsic to SaaS.
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09 March / saas / customer success / sales
As a SaaS startup grows, recurring revenue begins to fuel the company. Not too far into the future, the existing customer base begins to contribute more of the startup’s revenue than new customers and bookings. Each startup will observe this revenue composition transition at a different point in its evolution because it’s a function of growth rate and churn rate. This evolution demands a focus on retention, upsell and cross-sell.
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12 February / sales / financials
When we discuss payback periods in SaaS, we implicitly mean customer payback periods. How much time does it take for us to recoup the capital outlay we invest in acquiring a new customer? But, there’s a second and equally important payback period – the payback period on hiring a new account executive. Let’s take a hypothetical SaaS startup that sells a $20k product at a 75% gross margin. Clients pay monthly and commissions are paid monthly.
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03 February / sales
When buying machine learning enabled software, it’s easier to sell like Ironman than Robocop; a product that complements and augments the user’s skills rather than a true replacement. As machine learning continues to become a key differentiator among SaaS products, a secular and positive trend, startups are learning how to sell the promise of the software better and better. These are some of the objections customers raise during those sales pitches.
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17 November / sales
Mark Roberge, the Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot, has spent 20 years in startups. As he told me a few days ago, he has observed the lack of sales management and sales execution skills as one of the most consistent deficiencies limiting the potential of early stage SaaS companies. Sales execution deficiency manifests itself at roughly the same time as product market fit. There might be 20-30 people at the startup which is generating about $1-2M in ARR with 2-5 salespeople.
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03 November / saas / sales / financials
What is the optimal quick ratio for your SaaS startup? Is it 4? Quick Ratio = (New MRR + Expansion MRR) / (Churned MRR + Contraction MRR) The quick ratio measures a SaaS company’s growth efficiency. The formula for quick ratio is above. It’s the new monthly recurring revenue (MRR) in a month plus the expansion MRR divided by the sum of the churned MRR and the contraction MRR. Churned MRR are customers who have not renewed contracts and contractions are those customers who have decreased their payments.
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28 October / sales / saas
Quota attainment is an incredibly powerful diagnostic tool when understanding your SaaS startup’s go-to-market health. Quota attainment measures both the success of individual account executives and the performance of the team. To achieve best-in-class quota attainment, a startup must execute the go-to-market strategy well across five dimensions. First, the startup must supply the sales team with a growing volume of high quality leads. SaaS companies generate leads in many ways including through sales development reps, search engine marketing, paid social, lead capture on the home page, events, customer referrals, evangelists and channel partners.
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25 October / best practices / sales
Last week, I interviewed Tien Tzuo, the former CMO & CSO at Salesforce, and founder/CEO of Zuora. During our conversation, he spoke about one of the major challenges facing fast growing startups. He called it recognizing the breaking points of management. At the founding a startup, the structure of the company is flat. Everyone is effectively a peer. At about 8 people, a leader must emerge to shepherd the growing team, and so the first management layer is created.
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11 October / best practices / sales
In sales processes, showing a product is always better than talking about a product. Better still is co-customizing the product with the customer during the sales pitch. This customization could be as simple as integrations or changing colors. There’s no better way for customers to understand a product, imagine how it would fit their needs, and become committed to the purchase than customizing their instance during the sales process. I’ve watched this brilliant sales tactic fuel tremendous growth at Looker, a fast growing analytics company.
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05 October / sales / saas
How big is your SaaS startup’s sales pipeline? How big does it need to be to achieve next month’s bookings target? What is the ratio of the sales pipeline to bookings? What should it be? When asked these questions during a fundraising pitch, one CEO responded with the number of demos per account executive per day to attain next month’s bookings, impressively conveying his command of his business. A startup’s leadership should know the number of customers, sales and marketing qualified leads to meet or exceed plan at all times.
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21 September / saas / financials / sales / marketing
One of the most powerful levers for SaaS companies to master is payback period. Payback period is the number of months a company requires to payback its cost of customer acquisition. The median SaaS startup has a payback period of 15 months on a gross margin basis. A short payback period confers two massive advantage to a startups: smaller working capital requirements and a consequent ability to grow much faster.
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17 September / saas / sales
When writing the post Vertical SaaS Startups Require Different Go To Market Than Horizontal SaaS Companies, I realized that there is a perception on my part and perhaps more broadly that vertical SaaS companies enjoy greater sales efficiencies than horizontal SaaS companies. After all, vertical SaaS companies target a smaller number of potential buyers. The marketing team concentrates their media buys to target this audience, the sales team focuses on a smaller lead list.
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26 August / saas / sales
The SaaS ecosystem has been evolving incredibly quickly. Most of the time, the changes in the ecosystem are embodied in one particular company which grows exceptionally quickly. Focusing on these fast-growers, the macro shifts can be hard to discern. Last week, Okta released a report Business at Work sweeps across SaaS to reveal these recent evolutions. These are the points that I found most interesting. First, most companies, irrespective of size from 1-4k+ employees, use 14 SaaS applications.
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18 August / saas / sales
The most potent weapon in sales is understanding a buyer’s perception of time. As Mark Roberge wrote, “At HubSpot, this lacking sense of urgency is the number one objection we face in the sales funnel.” To succeed, SaaS startups’ sales teams must consistently create urgency in the sales process. Time is scarce. Either the seller’s time is scarce or the buyer’s time is scarce. Understanding that scarcity and focusing the buyer on it is the key to repeatable sales.
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05 August / saas / sales
The prevailing wisdom for hiring the first VP of Sales is roughly $1M in ARR, or whenever the company has figured out some repeatable sales process. The rationale behind this advice is, at this point, the company needs someone to build recruit, incentivize, coach and manage the team that will grow to acquire more and more business. While that all makes sense, I was curious to see if startups do this in practice, and whether the timing of the VPS differs by ACV.
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“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This line from Simon Sinek’s TED talk captures the power of a values based marketing campaign. Simon contrasts feature-based marketing - start with what the company is selling continue to how they do it and finishes with why - to value based campaigns which reverse the story-telling order. Values campaigns start with the why. Starting with why is a simple but powerful framework for startups to develop a unique marketing message, particularly in a competitive marketplace.
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23 June / saas / sales
One smart SaaS entrepreneur told me last week he prefers bottoms up businesses to top-down companies because bottoms up sales and marketing efforts enable startups to pursue hundreds of paths into a company. Unlike top down sales processes which offer a startup one shot at closing an account (a meeting with a CEO or VP), for bottoms up products, each employee is a credit-card-carrying-decision-maker. As the number of total potential buyers expands, so does the universe of sales processes.
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Financial discipline is a hallmark of great companies. It’s what enables businesses to build exceptional go to market models, weather difficult times, and ultimately succeed. Sometimes, financial discipline in startups is imposed by financial markets, like in 2008 when the total amount of venture capital investment plummeted after Lehman imploded. Other times, financial discipline is imposed by founders and management teams. The tweet above is from Lew Cirne, founder and CEO of New Relic, a $1.
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26 May / sales / financials / startups / saas
Creating a sense of urgency is one of the most powerful sales tools available to SaaS companies. There are many different ways of accomplishing this, but one of the most common ways is to offer discounts that expire. Discounts are powerful incentives to increase sales. But, they have to be crafted correctly, or they can have dramatic impact on a startup’s cash position. This is why sales incentives should be designed hand-in-hand with the company’s finance team.
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19 April / saas / marketing / sales
In the Innovator’s Dilemma for SaaS Startups, I outlined the path of many software companies, which disrupt incumbents by first serving the small-to-medium business and then move up-market by transitioning to serve larger enterprises with outbound sales teams. I argued this transition is largely due to the more attractive characteristics of larger customers, namely higher sales efficiency and reduced churn rates. This is the “traditional” way of disrupting. But, as Kenny van Zant of Asana and Mike Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian told me, there’s another way, a novel way of building companies that still isn’t very well understood: the Flywheel SaaS Company.
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16 April / sales
Sales cycles, the time from acquiring a lead to closing an account, vary quite a bit by industry, product type, and price point. But universally speaking for startups, shorter sales cycles are better. Maintaining a short sales cycle is a competitive advantage for several important reasons. First, faster sales cycles accelerate the discovery of a repeatable sales process. Different sales approaches must be tested: which role to sell to? which pitch (cost or value)?
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26 March / saas / sales / startups
Whether implicitly or explicitly, it’s critical for a startup to map out accounts to understand the purchasing dynamics of a buyer. When sales teams start selling, their goal should be to create the sales playbook. The playbook all begins with understanding the key dynamics among the five players in the sales process. These are the five people: The Proponent of the Sale champions the sales. The Salesperson must equip this champion with all the tools to convince the other stakeholders to pursue the transaction.
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24 March / saas / startups / sales / books
If you want to understand how to build a great SaaS sales organization, you should read Mark Roberge’s The Sales Acceleration Formula. It’s the single best book on the topic. Mark is the Chief Revenue Office at Hubspot, a company which has created tremendous success by perfecting the inbound marketing plus sales model. The book is invaluable for every founder, CEO and member of the management team because it not only explains how the Hubspot sales team is structured, but why the structure came to be.
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10 March / saas / startups / sales
There’s a magical property to the classic sales funnel SaaS startups use to evaluate the effectiveness of their go-to-market organizations: an increase in effectiveness at any stage of a sales funnel cascades through to the end funnel. But improvements to the early parts of the funnel are more important than those later in the funnel, because they meaningfully improve key SaaS metrics like cost-of-customer acquisition and pay-back period. Most startups employ a four stage funnel: prospect, lead, opportunity, customer.
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13 February / sales / startups / saas
In 2009, the Corporate Executive Board, a consultancy providing expertise to some of the world’s largest companies, studied the distinguishing characteristics of great sales people and well-run sales processes. They surveyed more than 6,000 sales reps across 90+ businesses. The analysis revealed three interesting things. First, most customers don’t perceive a difference between competitive products. Over and over we found that customers, generally speaking, see significantly less difference between us and the competition than we do ourselves.
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09 February / sales / saas / startups
After a SaaS startup has achieved some degree of product market fit, the business will likely ramp the go-to-market teams, and in particular the sales team. Measuring and tracking the performance of a growing sales team is critical to the growth and financial health of a business. The report above is the most effective view of the performance of a sales team I’ve found for SaaS startups. A VP of Sales at a Redpoint portfolio company introduced this report to me, and now I can’t live without it.
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05 February / data analysis / startups / saas / sales
SaaS companies are marvelous businesses. They are more predictable than most other kinds of companies and in addition they demonstrate leverage from technology. The best SaaS companies are able to build strong brands, develop scalable products and hire teams to bring those products to market effectively. To show the power of the convergence of these forces, I’ve analyzed the employee productivity patterns of the 50+ publicly traded SaaS companies.
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12 January / marketing / saas / sales
After writing about B2C2B companies last week, I received a lot of great comments about the differences between the B2C2B models, particularly the sales models after a company has acquired the initial Consumers. These are three sales models I’ve observed B2C2B companies use to convert the initial momentum with consumers into dollars. The first sales model is the 2 Phase Sell. LinkedIn and Duolingo employ this. LinkedIn attracts large number of consumers with a place to find jobs and post resumes.
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07 January / saas / sales
This week, an entrepreneur told me his startup is a B2C2B business. It was the first time I’d heard this acronym, and I thought it was a genius moniker. B2C2B (business-to-consumer-to-business) succinctly captures the critical part of the new customer acquisition model powering many enterprise startups: winning hearts and minds of the intermediate consumer, the employees of a company. B2C2B models are behind much of the innovation in every part of the enterprise stack, from applications to platforms to infrastructure.
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05 January / saas / data analysis / sales / pricing
One of the most important forces in SaaS today is the Consumerization of IT. Instead of a centralized IT organization deciding which products to buy, product managers and marketers and engineers and data scientists determine which products they think would serve them best and buy them directly, often using a credit card. This movement is transformative and its impact is immediate. The chart above plots the median Average Revenue per Customer by Year of IPO for the 50 SaaS companies that have gone public in the past five years.
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24 November / customer success / sales / saas
It’s hard to overstate how powerful negative churn is for a SaaS company. Both New Relic and Zendesk have grown to billion-dollar-plus publicly traded businesses by achieving fantastic negative churn figures: 114% and 120% respectively. in other words, each year existing customers pay these businesses 14 and 20% more than last year. The recent 2014 SaaS benchmark survey aggregated by Pacific Crest and Matrix indicates that expansion revenue accounts for between 8-26% of total annual bookings, increasing as the company scales.
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12 November / saas / sales / best practices
The modern SaaS startup asks marketing to fill the top of the funnel, sales to qualify and close leads, and customer success to retain customers. Conceptually, this trinity works in unison to grow a business rapidly. But sometimes, SaaS companies struggle with this model, particularly when churn rates increase in a business. The knee-jerk response may be to ask how to change the customer success team’s structure or incentives to increase the revenue at risk save rate (the fraction of dollars that might have churned, if not for the efforts of the customer success team).
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A terrific SaaS VP of Marketing once told me, “If the sales team is focused on hitting this quarter’s revenue target, then the marketing team ought to be focused on next quarter and the following quarter.” In SaaS companies, one of the marketing department’s primary responsibilities is generating sufficient customer interest to enable the company to achieve their revenue targets. If that’s the case, determining how and when to scale a sales team in a SaaS company is contingent upon the marketing team’s metrics.
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28 May / saas / sales
What are the tradeoffs when considering different sales hiring plans and which is the right one for your startup? There are many different considerations in creating a sales hiring plan. Balancing them all can be tricky, but thinking through the trade-offs is important to scaling the business well. First, let’s compare the financial impact of three different sales hiring strategies: six sales people hired at once, two sales people hired for each of three quarters and one sales person hired each month.
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21 May / saas / sales
One of the single most effective tools SaaS companies can use in order to grow faster isn’t tweaking the product in a particular way or implementing an AB optimization framework or adopting new marketing tactic. Rather, it’s financial judo for structuring contracts and cash collection. Cash is the lifeblood of startups. Cash empowers management teams to invest in all kinds of growth mechanisms. So, it’s no surprise that maximizing a company’s cash to invest in growth is a good thing.
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28 April / startups / best practices / sales
The chart above compares the contribution of two hypothetical inside sales people with $400,000 quotas to an early-stage startup’s finances. In this case, contribution is the 18 month revenue of sold customers tallied cumulatively minus the salary costs of $100k annualized of the sales person. I’ve modeled a six month linear ramp for the sales person to reach 100% of quota. The red line shows the case for a successful sales hire.
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17 April / saas / sales
Tien Tzuo, the founder and CEO of Zuora* and former CSO/CMO at Salesforce, knows SaaS businesses better than most. So when he pens an opinion about the subscription economy, a term which I believe he coined, I read it with great interest. Yesterday, Tien wrote “These Numbers Show That Box CEO Aaron Levie Is A Genius”, explaining Box’s business and growth in great detail. In the post, Tien argues two important points.
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Last week, Sean Ellis made an interesting comment in response to this post on public SaaS companies’ growth rates: I’m guilty of giving the same advice to startup founders without providing a transparent rationale. This post is my explanation of why the 15-20% MRR growth number is a reasonably good target for post-Seed/pre-Series A SaaS startups to aim for. Let’s create a hypothetical SaaS startup called SaaSCo with a set of founders who aspire to a fund-raising trajectory like the one in table below.
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05 March / saas / sales
Most SaaS companies provide tools to help people accomplish a goal in a better way than they could before. A key part of a SaaS startup’s toolkit, then, is changing end user behavior. A startup that doesn’t change the behavior of a customer will see the customer churn in a few months or at the expiration of their contract. Customers don’t change their behavior for many reasons. Sometimes the friction to adopting a new workflow is too great.
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03 February / saas / sales / data analysis
What should the optimal revenue per customer be for a SaaS company? I could say million dollar contracts typical of enterprise sales provide more long-term stability and total revenue opportunity. On the other hand I might contend larger customer bases paying smaller license fees enable more predictable growth. Which is the correct argument? First, lets examine the relationship between average customer value and total revenues, to see if smaller customers create a glass ceiling for total revenue.
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27 January / saas / sales
Last week, I spent some time at HeavyBit, the community for developer focused companies in SoMa, chatting with a few companies reaching scale. Across a handful of meetings, a recurring theme surfaced for these B2D (business-to-developer companies). How should their sales and marketing apparatuses be built? Do the field sales models of infrastructure companies or the inside sales models of software companies apply when the initial user is a developer?
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13 January / startups / sales / saas
I’ll never forget the first time I was assigned a sales quota. I was six months into a sales role at Google in which I on-boarded and managed the accounts of social networks running AdSense ads. Our key metric was customer satisfaction and retention. After a few months, I was starting to get into a groove. And then, our team was assigned a new manager who put the team on a quota, sending me into a tailspin.
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09 January / saas / sales / data analysis
For Google, seasonality is an important factor in forecasting quarterly revenue growth. In the advertising business, Q4 is always the strongest, followed by Q1. Q2 is the weakest. In Google’s latest financial year, the difference between the weakest and strongest quarters was 22%: $14.4B in Q4 and $11.8B in Q2. I wondered if the same were true for SaaS companies. Should SaaS startup forecasts account for differences in underlying customer purchasing habits?
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A key component in a startup’s formula for success is educating customers about the product and driving sales. The sales and marketing teams of a startup are responsible for this. There are many ways to structure sales and marketing teams. The diagram above outlines a sales and marketing team structure that I’ve observed across many startups. It is consistent with the organizational design Salesforce used to drive revenue from $0 to $100M, described Aaron Ross’s book, Predictable Revenue.
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31 October / saas / customer success / sales
Every SaaS business suffers from churn. If churn isn’t managed properly, the lost revenue from churned customers offsets new revenue and the business flat-lines or suffers negative revenue growth. I’ve seen startups employ three patterns for offsetting churn: acquiring new customers faster, upselling existing customers to buy more software, or structuring pricing to grow with customers. Each strategy requires different levels of investment but achieves similar results. These strategies are often deployed in addition to a customer success team, which require their own investment.
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10 October / saas / benchmarks / sales
One number investors use to benchmark SaaS startups across sectors and industries is sales efficiency. There are a handful of variants of this metric, sometimes called the magic number, but ultimately they all aim to provide some sense of the incremental revenue returned by sales and marketing investment. To make it more concrete, if a startup invests $500k in marketing and sales this quarter and generates $1M in incremental revenue, net of the cost to provide the service, for the next 12 months, the sales efficiency would be 2.
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27 September / saas / customer success / sales
The three words roll off the tongue: monthly recurring revenue (MRR). What’s not to love about subscription models? Negative working capital, predictable revenue growth and an average of 13x market cap to annual revenue in the public markets, with some darlings reaching 50x multiples. The list goes on. But the words recurring revenue belies one small detail. These recurring customers must renew their subscriptions, at which point another three word phrase is uttered: revenue-at-risk, the amount of MRR that might be lost to customers who choose not to re-enlist.
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06 September / sales
It is easy to think the sales process ends once a customer has signed a contract or downloaded an app or created an account. But it’s a huge mistake. Great products have a point of view on the way things ought to work. GMail chose labels over folders for email categorization. Pandora chose recommendations over libraries for music libraries. Looker chose spreadsheets over an SQL prompts for data exploration. None of these ideas matter if they aren’t used.
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17 July / startups / sales
Earlier this week, I met an experienced head of sales. During our meeting, the candidate shared a simple way of thinking about a startup’s sales process that resonated with me. A startup’s sales evolution contains three phases: beta, reference customer, ROI calculator. Beta: A founder of the startup develops relationships with a handful of customers who will work in tandem with the company to design, tune and improve the product.
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28 June / sales
I started playing around with Google’s programming language called Go yesterday. There’s a tour of the language found here. Clearly, Go has been designed by a group of incredibly smart people and makes a series of terrific design decisions that enable a tremendous amount of flexibility and performance while reducing the amount of code an engineer has to write. But after spending about 90 minutes running through the tutorial, I decided to throw in the towel.
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11 June / pricing / startups / sales
Pricing is one of the most challenging decisions for any startup. One of the simplest ways of discovering customer willingness to pay is simply to ask them. At first blush, that might seem a reasonable and effective solution, it is prone to wild inaccuracy. Absolute pricing judgments are hard without reference points. For example: How much would you be willing to pay for a new iPhone? It’s a very challenging question to answer in the abstract.
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06 May / saas / sales / marketing
Kenny van Zant drew this diagram for me on white board and I think it’s the best visualization of how SMB SaaS freemium business grow. The diagram highlights a few important mechanics of the SMB SaaS business model. In any given freemium user base, small-office/home-office (1 to 20 employee shops) users tend to be a few times larger in size than true SMB customer (20 to 500 employees). Most of these SOHO customers remain unpaid evangelists.
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To many entrepreneurs, hiring the first salesperson is a mystery. When should I do it? How much should I pay this person? How do I structure the work? The great part about sales teams and sales departments is that they quantitative - sales teams thrive on numbers. At the most fundamental level, sales productivity has to exceed costs. So let’s answer the question of when to hire a salesperson by understanding the financial mechanics of a sales team.
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17 April / saas / sales / marketing / strategy
At first glance, SMB SaaS companies, those who sell Software-as-a-Service to small to medium businesses, may seem like any other software company. But they are quite a different breed. Successful SMB SaaS companies have reinvented their businesses eschewing the expensive enterprise sales model in favor of end-user centric marketing, support and product development. These businesses often look more like consumer startups than enterprise startups. It’s all because of the nature of the market.
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15 April / sales / startups
As a founder, you’re always selling. You’re selling yourself, your team, your product, your company. But your pitch is likely missing one of two key components. A pitch needs to accomplish two goals to be effective. Most pitches solve the first, but omit the second. First, the pitch must convince the audience who might be investors, employees, recruits, or customers of some premise. Second, the pitch has to equip your champions, now convinced of your argument, to sell on your behalf.
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11 April / pricing / sales
Every SaaS business must decide how to charge for the service. Pricing plans are some of the most difficult decisions to make. Equally important to the price is determining the point at which the customer pays - the conversion point. There are four different models that I’ve experienced: up front payment, freemium, limited free trials, money back guarantee. Picking the right one depends on a number of different factors. Below is a table that summarizes these four approaches.
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22 February / marketing / sales
Marketing is one of those words without meaning. Or at least a consistent meaning for most people. Recently, I met a very bright marketer who broke down a few of the different marketing disciplines and matched them to a freemium sales funnel. His framework is a stroke of genius. I’ve drawn it below. The Four Disciplines of Funnel Marketing The triangle on the left is a standard freemium customer conversion process.
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07 February / saas / sales
Kenny Van Zant is a marketing wizard. Before his current role at Asana, Kenny managed products and marketing for Solarwinds, a publicly traded company that sells networking equipment to the mid-market. Solarwinds pioneered the low-friction, high-velocity sales model in their segment to great success. SolarWinds offered free products to their customers to gain usage data that informs their sales and marketing efforts. As one might expect, inside sales reps would call upon the most likely customers to up-sell them to paid.
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15 January / saas / sales / product
Many of the SaaS companies I work with are buzzing about a new concept: product qualified leads (PQL). It’s typical to see outbound sales teams create new leads by cold-calling - think Glengarry. And marketing also qualifies leads (MQL) using online advertising, branding, content, email and other channels. But the PQL concept is novel. PQLs are potential customers who have used a product and reached pre-defined triggers that signify a strong likelihood to become a paying customer.
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04 January / sales / best practices / books
Daniel Pink, former speechwriter for Al Gore, has written an unconventional book on sales called To Sell is Human. In this well researched book, Pink observes a few surprising evolutions in society and their impact on sales. The hard sell is dead. Enabled by the internet, prospective buyers know more about a product than a salesperson. This is true for cars as much as enterprise software. As a result, the salesperson no longer leverages an information asymmetry to sell a product.
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07 December / sales / startups
Over lunch last week, a good friend who is an entrepreneur and I were brainstorming about the features of his optimal initial target market. His product hasn’t yet launched so he still had some decisions to make about which users and use cases to target. We wondered if there were a rule of thumb about initial target customer segments. We took out a blank sheet of paper and came up with this:
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04 December / sales
When going to market, startups tend to pursue one of two sales strategies, either education sales or execution sales.These sales strategies are substantially different. They demand different sales cycles, pricing and market positioning - potentially even different team members. The Education Sale If your customers don’t know they need your product yet, then the sales process is an education sale. Education sales are common when creating a new market (TiVo inventing the DVR) or when bringing existing technologies to new market segments (CRM for restaurants).
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20 November / sales / strategy
When building a freemium SaaS company or an ecommerce company or any product that requires users to move through a funnel towards an objective, it’s important to track this funnel to understand where the funnel can be improved. But tracking one funnel may not be enough. The aggregated funnel may be masking conversion differences across customers segments. For example, at Expensify conversion rates to paid vary quite a bit across customer size.
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18 September / saas / marketing / sales
SMB SaaS companies cannot afford to pay for distribution. At 2 to 4% conversion to paid rates and $5 to $10 monthly subscription fees, the breakeven CPC for these products on search is $0.40. The average Google click costs three times this and the iOS average cost-per-install is more than twice as expensive. The most successful SMB SaaS companies (Zendesk, Expensify, Square) build communities to drive distribution. Those communities reinforce and build a brand.
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13 September / startups / sales
When serving B2B customers, your pricing will be dictated by your customers' margins. The more money they make, the more they can pay for new technology. Most businesses fund new initiatives including marketing and technology projects from profits. The more profits a company generates the greater their willingness to pay for services and ultimately the larger the market size for a startup. Let’s compare the margins of grocery stores to restaurants to software companies to prove the point.
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21 August / saas / sales / marketing
I love freemium businesses. I have met with many of them, work with one and if I were to start one, this would be my game plan, the characteristics of the product, market, distribution channels, conversion point and team. Product Characteristics The existing solutions are either email and spreadsheets or software architected before the turn of the century. In either case, the alternative is painful to use, so excruciating in fact, that individual employees are willing to circumnavigate IT’s policies in search of something better.
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Developing a sales strategy is critical for software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups. The first step in developing a sales strategy is to build a robust market segmentation. I’ve used data from the US Census to develop a segmentation that reveals some surprising facts about the SMB market and may help inform your startup’s sales strategy. Chart 1: 98% of businesses in the US employ fewer than 100 people. 98% of businesses in the US employ between 1 to 4 people.
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20 August / data analysis / saas / sales
Developing a sales strategy is critical for software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups. The first step in developing a sales strategy is to build a robust market segmentation. I’ve used data from the US Census to develop a segmentation that reveals some surprising facts about the SMB market and may help inform your startup’s sales strategy. Chart 1: 98% of businesses in the US employ fewer than 100 people. 98% of businesses in the US employ between 1 to 4 people.