If you are selling SaaS in a nascent or developing market, your sales reps must meet their prospects at their point of interest, or awareness. And to do this, they must be experts at funnel-aware conversation skills. This is one of the most obvious, but also, overlooked sales skill to cultivate in a SaaS sales team.
What a waterfall has to do with SaaS sales
When selling a product category that is not yet widely accepted or established, it is important to have funnel-aware buyer conversations that are based on a fundamental understanding of where a buyer is in their awareness of your brand, your solutions, the market and even of their internal state.
When thinking about funnel-awareness, I like to use a waterfall metaphor—starting at the top and flowing down into the rapids.
- At the top of the waterfall—The potential buyer is someone who doesn’t know anything about you or what you do, and may not have an awareness that solutions like yours exist. They may not be aware that they have a problem to solve. Think cold outbound lead.
- The mid-point of the waterfall—This is a potential buyer who is aware of a problem to solve, a need to be filled or a goal to be reached. They may, or may not, have some awareness of you, and they may or may not be in some phase of consideration of you and/or the types of solutions/products/services you provide. Think warm marketing lead. The speed at which someone accelerates through this phase can vary. Examples:
- An inbound lead who was searching for a solution to a problem, stumbled upon you and decided to reach out.
- A marketing-generated lead you reach out to, and who coincidentally has determined they need a problem solved, but haven’t yet given much thought to how they will do it.
leadwho has a solution in place for what you do when you reach out, and is considering new methods to do it but isn’t sure yet.
- The end of the waterfall (the rapids!)—This is a buyer who is moving towards buying and is actively putting energy and effort into their final evaluation and decision making. Think hot lead.
Any prospect who becomes a qualified opportunity must move from the top of the waterfall into the rapids—from a state of not knowing into consideration into evaluation and decision making into the close! Some buyers do this on their own, through research and exploration. Others do it with your assistance when you are able to reach them at the top of the funnel, establish a connection and nurture them through the rapids to become a new customer.
The thing is, when we are reaching out to cold or warm leads, or responding to hot incoming leads, we have no idea where they actually are in the waterfall. And so, as sales professionals, we have to become experts at figuring that out quickly.
And I hope you know that the path to figuring it out isn’t spewing a bunch of qualification questions at the prospect.
If you speak to a buyer as though they are in the middle of the funnel, but they are at the top, you will miss the mark and potentially lose interest and lose the opportunity to sell to them. Likewise, if you speak to a buyer as though they are in the top of the funnel, but they are deep in the funnel, you will frustrate them, erode credibility and potentially lose the ability to win the business.
It’s our job as sales professionals to quickly assess where a prospect is in their journey, meet them at that point and then help them move into the next stage of consideration through effective conversation skills.
If you talk about “software”, the prospect can think “I don’t need software”. If you talk service they think “I don’t need service”. If you talk specific solutions they think “I don’t need that solution”. If you talk about “results” they can even think “Those results don’t apply to me”.
Using funnel-aware conversation skills
Using funnel-aware conversation skills is always helpful but is particularly important when speaking with a cold lead, an executive lead, or a new contact who has been introduced to you on the buyer’s team.
Conversations at the top of the waterfall
Consider how a cold lead who doesn’t know much about you is best suited for higher-level messaging. They aren’t ready to hear about your specific products & services until you have gotten them intrigued and started an actual conversation. If you talk about “software”, they may think “I don’t need software”. If you talk service they think “I don’t need service”. If you talk specific solutions they think “I don’t need that solution”. If you talk about “results” they can even think “Those results don’t apply to me”.
You need to make the prospect feel you are being specific (and not at all vague) without taking yourself down into a conversational rabbit hole that you can’t back out of when the prospect says, “I don’t need that”.
…your opening message must be the very highest business benefit you deliver—it must start at the highest part of the waterfall.
For example, if you start a conversation with a colder lead (or an executive) by saying you “provide solutions for content marketing”, unless that person happens to be in the market for solutions for content marketing at that exact moment, the likely response to your opening pitch will be, “No thanks, I don’t need any software” and/or “I don’t need any content marketing” or “Thanks, I am all set.” They will shut down because they heard something very specific and it wasn’t what they were in the market for at that moment.
A colder (or executive) lead doesn’t care what you do, or even how you do it. They care what you can do for them. For this type lead, your opening message must be the very highest business benefit you deliver—it must start at the highest part of the waterfall.
Conversations in the rapids
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a hot inbound lead who specifically asks for a demo and comes prepared with a set of questions is already in the rapids. Using
How questions can help
When opening a conversion with a prospect, you must always consider the appropriate level to start the conversation and you must quickly shift the conversation toward the prospect through effective questioning.
Your goal is to tell very little about your company/product/solution until you have learned about them. You do this by answering questions using funnel-aware skills, but following with a question to understand where they are at in their awareness/evaluation.
Buyer: “What do you do?”
Salesperson: “We solve problems like X and Y. How are these impacting you?”
and let’s be real…in cold calling, the buyer is like to say:
Buyer: They aren’t.
You keep on going…
Salesperson: That’s awesome. How have you solved those!?
When you do this, you gather clues & information that make everything you do say thereafter very relevant to the prospect. These clues help you move the prospect into the rapids.
The purpose of funnel-aware messaging is to help direct your conversations by building intrigue and revealing what we do in a natural, compelling manner.
Move your prospects into the rapids
When you meet the buyer where they are in their consideration, you can move a cold lead from the top of the waterfall all the way into the rapids, where they are ready to buy. This can happen within one conversation, or over a series of several conversations over the course of your initial relationship.