A majority of SaaS companies that I have built products for have brought their products to market with a sales-led, go-to-market motion. The sales reps would source new customers through outbound efforts and engaging their professional network. This method was great when we were trying to find product-market fit, as the sales reps were close to the customers and we had easy access to interview the customers we engaged with.;
However, as our business grew we ran into challenges efficiently scaling our go-to-market efforts. We did all the right things. We invested more in marketing and reduced the size of the sales team. As a result, we gained some customer-acquisition-cost efficiencies. Marketing’s goal was to get more customers speaking with sales reps. Once the deal was done, the customer got access to our product.
We thought we had it all figured out, but a new problem emerged: a growing gap between what customers thought our product could do for them and what it actually did. As a result, we now struggled with keeping our top-line annual recurring revenue as our customer churn rates were too high. We were stuck in the SaaS grind of acquiring customers knowing that we couldn’t serve them well. We beefed up our customer success organization, trying to patch the revenue leak, and ended up increasing our operational costs to deliver our product.
Many SaaS companies find themselves in this same situation, and I want to share that there is hope.
To get out of the SaaS grind, you must address the customer expectation gap by getting customers into your product earlier in the buying cycle. This is achieved by offering either a free trial version of your product or providing access to your product during a proof-of-concept period.
To make this transition effective and efficient from a cost perspective, you need to update your marketing and sales operations to account for leads who are in a trial period by doing these three things:
1. Map the buyer journey to the sales process.
With your current process, track a lead’s life cycle in your marketing automation and CRM systems. Using this setup, set the following lead statuses along the way: lead, marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, opportunity, customer. You need to incorporate a new state where the lead is in a trial state within your product, either because they started a free trial or were provided access to a proof of concept.
The first step is to decide collectively with your marketing, product, and sales teams how to categorize a user who has signed up for a trial. Should they be considered a lead? When should sales engage? When do they qualify as an opportunity?
Since you are aligning the activities across multiple departments, start by documenting your buyer’s journey and how it aligns with your sales process. For each stage in the process, ask who is responsible for which activities. With this shared understanding you can determine how to incorporate trial users into this process.
Below is a simplified example that maps each stage in the buyer journey and how to incorporate the trial users. The goal is to know where to optimize the process by aligning teams and providing visibility into conversion rates at each stage.
2. Measure product qualified leads™.
Not all trial users are ideal candidates to become customers and as a result, you don’t want your sales teams to engage deeply with every user who signs up for a trial account. Just as you had implemented the concept of marketing qualified leads based on the person’s demographics, firmographics, and marketing content consumption, you now can create the equivalent based on the features they use in your product.
Your product’s role just got much more important to the sales process.
You now want to define the set of features your customers can use to realize value, also known as the “first mile of product.” When your trial user adopts specific features, you can then categorize them as a product-qualified lead. Then when that trial user reaches the defined threshold of product feature activity, you can notify your sales team to engage.
3 . Create the product and sales handoff.
This step is where planning meets execution. Now that your teams are aligned on the process and you can use your product to identify qualified leads, you need to make it easy for your sales team to know when a trial user is ready to buy.
In your CRM, you need to have the information your sales team needs to properly engage with the lead. In addition to sharing the demographic and firmographic information on the trial users, you want to provide your sales team with the features they used in your product. You can send triggered alerts to lead owners when trial users become product qualified and create specific views to help prioritize their engagements.
Armed with this information, your sales team will have a more complete picture of the challenges the prospect wants to address with your product and can offer the best package to fit their needs. You have also allowed your customer to realize the value of your product first-hand and set value expectations to make them happy life-long customers.
For a complete guide to using your product to accelerate growth, download a free copy of our book Mastering Product Experience.
Travis Kaufman is vice president of product growth at Aptrinsic. Prior to Aptrinsic, Travis held product leadership roles at Leadspace and Marketo where he shaped the direction of B2B marketing technology. Travis brings over 15 years of experience delivering innovative products to market across the marketing and sales tech landscapes including AI, social media marketing, display advertising, and CRM sales forecasting.