Perfecting the SaaS Customer Journey: Your Guide to a Sales Led Growth Approach

Handoyo Sutanto
7 minutes
July 31st, 2023
Handoyo Sutanto
7 minutes
July 31st, 2023

Behind every great SaaS Customer Journey is the Obsessive Sales Company

Picture this:

You’re unwinding at home after a long day at work, enjoying your time with a movie quietly playing in the background- socializing is the last thing on your mind. A knock on the door makes you move from the couch and you open the door to an insurance salesman that proceeds to talk to you for 1 hour, just for them to leave with no avail. 

You should’ve just not answered the door and hid…

The idea of the sleazy salesman has been heavily ingrained in society: from a car dealer looking to make a quick buck, to scam artists, the salespeople's name has left a sour taste in households around the world. This idea is a terrible interpretation of what it means to be a sales led company.

What is Sales Led Growth (SLG)? (Wrong answers only)

The name of sales led growth and sales companies have been dragged through the mud for ages now, with misconceptions clouding the perception of what sales companies are.

The old form of business growth, sales led growth has been around for as long as we can remember. Many people believe that this form of growth is just about pushing products and sales and making money. This relentless pursuit for a higher dollar sign resulted in the idea of the “sleazy salesman”, a pushy individual who doesn't believe in what they are selling and just wants to increase their own commission, regardless of whether their product will truly benefit their buyer. 

Sales led growth is not driving the top dollar by any means necessary (though sales are certainly important). What sales led growth ACTUALLY is acquiring new customers through sales while developing important two-way, transparent relationships with those customers. The sleazy salesman doesn’t represent sales companies, but rather, salespeople that understand and believe in the product, individuals who know whether someone is a potential customer or just to let them go. Sales is an important part of the Business Foundation Triangle, with sales led companies letting sales dictate their product and marketing.

The Benefits of Sales Led Growth

With the sales team leading the charge on customer acquisition and retention, sales led companies enjoy benefits such as:

Increased Revenue

This is a no-brainer, but sales-oriented companies are able to enjoy increased revenue. With sales being the main focus of these companies in terms of gaining traction and growth, revenue will come, though it just depends on how their prospects are treated and how long their sales cycles are.

The sales cycles within these companies are often optimized as well, perfecting the sales pitch and optimizing the sales technique with each client call. The more experience the sales teams have, the shorter sales cycles become, and the faster the revenue intake becomes.

An Overall Better Customer Experience

The practice of sales itself requires building your customer relationship before even meeting the customer. Audience targeting, unique sales pitches, planning out each stage of the buyer’s journey beforehand- all part of the usual sales process for these companies. The result of this obsession towards creating the perfect customer relationship is less sales friction, smoother customer feedback processes, and of course, faster and stronger sales.

This customer experience also translates towards marketing, traction, and customer acquisition. If a sales company is known for great customer experiences, their reputation and name itself will act as marketing amongst similar groups, with word of mouth eventually making that company a household name.

Stronger Organization-Wide Focus

Sales-oriented companies have one north star in mind: to make sales. Behind every major decision, every minute action, and every meeting is the goal of driving sales and converting, while making the customer experience as seamless as possible. Alignment in these companies requires no debate, with many of the resources and personnel being allocated appropriately and optimally to push for stronger sales. Marketing and product trajectory will likely revolve around the development of sales too, providing better timelines and messaging across the board.

These are just some of the benefits of sales led growth.

The Disadvantages of Sales Led Growth

While sales led companies can be introduced to a world of benefits, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have roadblocks. Here are some of the cons that sales led companies face:

Initial Sales Friction

Does meeting a new person and striking up a conversation make you nervous?

Meeting someone new can be hard, and that goes for sales too. Building relationships with a potential customer is almost like building a tower with cards - it’s a delicate process that takes time and might tumble at first, but will all be worth it at the end. Sales processes themselves usually start off with friction; the customer is trying to find the best deal possible while sales reps are trying their best to guide the customer through their cycle as smoothly as possible. It’s the job of the sales team to make sure that their customers know of all the value they will be deriving from the company, while making sure that there is a margin of profit to be made. This delicate balance can be made better with experience and intuition, though there will always be challenging sales processes to overcome.

Scalability Difficulties

One of the main goals for sales companies is to scale, whether it applies to their revenue or to their sales team, SLG companies are always looking to level up. That being said, a pain point for many SLG companies is the inability to scale due to the size of their sales teams. For many smaller companies, a small sales team might be the only viable option, however, if sales are the driving force behind a company’s trajectory and survival then the company might start sloping downward. Expanding the sales team can certainly help with scaling problems, though the sales leaders will have to spend extra time teaching new reps their sales processes, selling techniques, the ins and outs of their products, and so on.

Pricing Balance Troubles

Being blindsided isn’t fun for anyone. In most cases, the difference between expectations and reality are often disappointing, especially when it comes to pricing. 

One of the biggest challenges for sales led companies, specifically startups, is appropriately pricing their products and services. This challenge further extends when discussion of regional and country-based pricing enters into the mix- no currency is alike. Pricing is so difficult for startups because they’re trying to turn a profit and extend their runway while providing cost-efficient value for their customers, something that customers might not recognize when looking at pricing. This challenge is further exemplified when considering a business and pricing model that can be supported and scaled in the long run.

My advice for startups tackling this challenge is to come up with compelling pricing that can onboard users as quickly as possible, then review pricing with them during a later sales conversation. Like most things, finding the right balance for pricing will take time- keep adjusting pricing until you find what works best for you and your clients!


Product Led Growth vs Sales Led Growth 

While sales led growth is certainly the oldest, most established means of business growth, product growth approaches have been sweeping organizations. Our guide to product led growth has dived deep into the practices of that specific growth method, however, PLG and SLG practices are often confused. Here are the differences between a product approach and a sales approach:

Customer Acquisition and Retention

Product led companies like Slack and Mailchimp offer free trials or free, feature-bare versions of their products to acquire potential customers. These free trials act as the marketing vehicle for product companies, selling utility and commitment-free software to interested users. While the use cases for these two models are very different, the goal is the same: to introduce potential users to a PLG company, offering them a piece of viable tech while suggesting the idea of expanding their toolbox through premium upgrades.

In regards to customer retention, product led organizations are more hands off. PLG companies let their users enjoy and explore their product or service offerings by themselves, with customer success teams being on standby in case a user wants to expand their usage. These teams are more involved in the customer experience and push for product led sales through steps of demo calls, free trials upgrades, and so on.

For sales led companies, the sales reps and sales teams are their main form of customer acquisition. Equipped with a comparably bigger budget than product and marketing teams, sales teams are tasked with identifying potential customers, crafting the perfect outreach message, and creating the perfect customer experience to turn a prospect into a lifetime customer. 

Identifying and guiding isn’t the only job of sales teams. Typically, sales reps will reach out to potential customers and arrange demo calls to showcase the product and answer questions- if the prospect is interested they’ll go down the sales funnel. While this process may seem long and tedious, experienced sales reps can knock this down in a week, sometimes even hours.

With retention, sales led companies rely on certain touch points from their sales teams to keep the customer or prospect entertained. Demo calls, exclusive access to products, lunches- all of this is involved with retaining the customer and creating a lifetime customer relationship from a prospect.

Marketing

PLG companies rely on their products and trials for marketing. A product led organization like Mailchimp, for example, includes their product suite (email marketing, social media marketing, website building, etc) into the marketing pushes, adding full feature capabilities into copy, graphics, etc. For PLG companies, marketing lets the product speak for itself, with customers singing their praises about the optimized product through word of mouth and social media.

SLG companies market through normal means, introducing their products but not deep diving. Depending on the company, they’re able to sell expectations to users rather than a fully-fleshed out product. Building in public might not be the preferred method of development for many companies, but having that exposure early on could lead to better sales in the future and better feedback along the product development process.

The marketing and sales expertise comes in during demos, where sales reps will market their products to prospective customers to drive traction and growth. In most cases, sales companies are selling highly technical products to enterprises; sales reps market, and inadvertently sell, by understanding the ins and outs of their products and truly believing in their mission rather than just selling.

While these two approaches are glaringly different, both sales led and product led growth hyperfocus on their customer, tailoring every approach and step in the customer journey to ensure the best experience possible. 

Figuring Out Your B2B SaaS Sales Funnel

Sales funnels are unique for every company, depending on factors such as company size, products and services, whether they’re fundraising or not, and so on. The typically B2B SaaS sales funnel, according to Hubspot, is as follows:

  • Prospects - the most general and broad stage that sees the market as a whole. The goal of this stage is to raise brand awareness and is the top of the funnel
  • Lead Qualification - once you have prospects, you need to vet them and see which contacts are qualified 
  • Intent - qualified leads are pushed down towards the intent stage, the stage that sees sales teams connecting with leads and building a solid relationship with them
  • Close (Won or Lost) - the last stage of the sales funnel, closing is putting an end to the sales process. Closing is a matter of winning or losing, though if a loss is the result, the customer relationship isn’t lost forever.

Whether or not this funnel approach works for you depends on your individual circumstances. My advice is to focus on optimizing your sales funnel before expanding your team sizably.

Initially, a longer sales cycle makes sense. You’re just starting to get the hang of things and are closing deals here and there; look back at those deals and analyze the entire sales process to find what you did right and wrong. Optimize from there, but just know that it will take time to bring your sales cycle length down and, depending on the size of the deal, it may never go down. From our experiences, we’ve noticed that sales cycle closing time and deal size are correlated:

  • $100/month deal - give or take less than 1 month to close, with efficient sales leaders closing in hours
  • $1000-5000/month deal - roughly 6 months to close, efficient sales reps can close from within a week to 1 month
  • $10000+/month - more than 1 year to close for larger enterprise deals, multiple reps are needed, with efficient closers sealing the deal in 1 month’s time

Like a company’s sales funnel, these closing times depend on a variety of factors. How engaging sales conversations are, the sales methodology chosen for a specific client, and actual client value are just some of those factors. That being said, there is no single decision maker in this process, especially when it comes to something as complex as solution selling.

Your sales funnel will be further advanced once your salespeople are adjusted to ALL facets of your business operations, too. Having a salesperson that doesn’t know the ins and outs of the product or service is like having a headless chicken running around- nothing productive comes from it! 

Words from a Sales-Led Company

At first, Lyrid started off as a product-led company, and while we certainly love and evolve our products, we’ve shifted our focus to sales. This drastic shift has shown us who we should be selling to, given us great customer feedback, and has clarified our role in the tech ecosystem. 

Sales is, without a doubt, hard. What might work for someone will operate terribly for you, but you just have to persevere and figure out what your sales cycle looks like through trial and error. 

If you want to set up a chat sometime, book a call! I’m always interested in hearing what other people in the space have to say!

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