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Sales Segmentation & Qualification for B2B SaaS Companies
Qualification for B2B
Most founders believe their product has the potential to change the
world - or at least the lives of their users - for the better. This belief is
often reflected in the fact that when asked about their target customer,
their answer is going to be “everyone”. This is a terrible mistake.
The goal of this presentation is to provide insight into the why and how
of the sales segmentation and qualification process for B2B SaaS
companies. This initial decision will determine a lot of the choices you
have to make down the road.
Note: I strongly encourage you to go and read the original articles I’m
referring to in full, they’re definitely worth it!
Your first reaction about my claim that you need to select a target
segment might well be: “I’ve looked at Dropbox, Microsoft and
Salesforce and they sell to all types of business, so why shouldn’t I do
the same?”. The answer is very simple: you most likely can’t afford it.
Those companies got there after investing years of work (and billions of
dollars) in building their products and their sales & marketing teams.
Unless you have access to the same type of resources, trying to go
after every type of client at once will be a fool’s errand. To help you
avoid this fate, the following slides will run you through the process of
selecting the right type of target for your company.
Does segmentation matter so much?
There’s one thing I can tell you in SaaS, at least: everything (except the product
itself) is sort of the same at a given ACV (Annual Contract Value) level.
I mean, yes, pricing is important. But the thing is, unless you only sell one seat
at a time, and always only ever will — then pricing is just one variable in deal
size. Deal size = Price per seat x Number of seats.
It’s not that this is rocket science. It isn’t. But if you haven’t lived it, understand
that Deal Size is the single most important factor in your SaaS business model.
Because it will completely define how you do sales and marketing, and to a just
somewhat lesser extent, prioritize feature development and engineering.
Your ACV is who you are
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.
Accounting for number of firms and total employment, I have divided the market
into 4 segments, each demarcated by a different color, below. While the 20 to
500 person company and the 5000+ employee company segments represent
the two largest segments by revenue opportunity, each of the four segments is
roughly equal in size, about one quarter of the 121M US workers.
Which segment should you go after?
I know that this advice won’t apply to every possible startup – but I think it
applies to many. When you start your company the very first question you need
to ask yourself is which kind of customers do you want to serve. Many start-ups
(and even growth firms) lack this discipline and they therefore serve customers
off all sizes. This leads to suboptimal results for all.
Make sure you know what the size of customer you want to serve is, what the
people in a company of that size do, the problems they have, the features that
will resonate and the channels you’ll need to sell into and service that
customer. Because it will vary dramatically by different segments I believe you
need to pick an animal size and go for it.
Advice about selecting a segment
For some time, I’ve been wondering whether companies selling enteprise
software contracts with long sales cycles are less attractive to investors than
newer SaaS companies with high-velocity, low friction sales models.
After all, this newer, high-velocity model provides much more predictability in
But the data indicates this isn’t the case. There is no optimal ACV to maximize
for market cap or revenues, according to this data. Multi-billion dollar SaaS
companies can be built serving customers large or small.
One segment to rule them all?
If you can build a $100m self-service SaaS business without the need for a
sales team, a client success team, webinars, getting on planes, and all that —
go for it. [...] Why invest in sales, demand gen, and all that if you don’t have to?
Why not just build a wonderful product and let them all sign up on their own?
Let me just share one semi-obvious piece of math and learning. No matter how
hard I tried at EchoSign to drive up self-service as a % of our revenue, the laws
of this math and gravity held it back to a minority of our revenue.
Here’s the thing. If your product is 100% individual-focused, and you add just
enough features to sell to a Team, to tilt just slightly upmarket — you can grow
your revenue, at least a segment of your revenue, by 20-30x.
If you can aim a bit higher, do it!
How can I find leads that
match my target segment?
Once you’ve decided what kind of company you wanted to be and the
matching customer segment you’d like to serve, the next step is to find
a way to generate leads that match your expectations. This is by no
means an easy task.
Traditionally, there has been 2 ways to achieve this. The first one is
simply to go about trying to find people who might be interested in what
you have to offer and talking to them. This is usually called “outbound
marketing”. The other way is to make sure that people who could be a
good fit will find out about you if and when they experience the pain that
your solution solves. That’s inbound marketing. You’re probably going
to need a mix of both to get things going.
Generating the right set of leads
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.
First customers become aware of the product, then they use the free version of
the product, then they convert to paid either by themselves or with the aid of an
inside sales team, and finally they are retained as customers.
The rectangle on the right contains the marketing disciplines used to grow and
optimize customer acquisition metrics on the left. The list isn’t meant to be
comprehensive but does get the gist across.
Aligning marketing & sales
In traditional Outbound Sales, leads are first screened for whether they are a
good potential fit for a product, a task typically completed by the marketing
team. The account executives must then determine whether the customer
experiences enough pain in the status quo to buy a product.
In Inbound Sales, the model Hubspot perfected, the lead qualification steps are
reversed. Through content marketing and education, the marketing team
creates a funnel of people who suffer from pain, and it’s the AEs who must test
for product fit.
This seemingly small difference is an important one, a wave whose ripples
cascade through the organization.
The benefits of inbound marketing
There’s a meme, a CommonThink, among certain segments that Outbound
Sales is bad, or at least, a little unseemly. And maybe a lot bit old school. That
we’re in a new world of sales, a new consultative world, where leads come in,
prospects can try and learn before they even talk to a human, and then, a sales
rep thoughtfully answers questions, models business process change, and
helps them decide how and why, and if, to buy. And that’s true. We are in that
world. Inside sales is terrific. Warm leads are great. Live trials of easy-to-use-
and-deploy web services really have changed the game.
And yet... The reality is, by revenue, this isn’t the way the majority of the world
buys enterprise software.
Inbound or outbound sales? Both!
A startup’s sales evolution contains three phases: beta, reference customer,
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.
Reference Customers: the goal of the beta is to cultivate a handful of reference
customers, product champions passionate enough about the startup’s product
to take calls from potential clients and sing praises about the product.
The ROI Calculator: reference customers' testimonials and case studies should
be leveraged to build a larger sales pipeline of potential customers.
Understand which phase you’re at
In short, innovators and early adopters have faith that there will be benefits to
using products that are unproven and even if they don’t they enjoy the process
of using new stuff. This applies to business users as much as to consumers.
Sometimes these markets never appeal to “normals” (Chris Dixon’s definition)
and other times it needs to be more effectively marketed to normals. So the
early part of a technology company is about finding your hard core group of
early adopters and making them passionate about your products.
This is where heroes come in. Heroes are those every day users of your
product who are not overly senior in ranks but are in charge of implementing
your solution within their company.
Find your heroes and talk to them
Now that you’re generating leads that (hopefully) match your target
segment, the next step is to make sure that you can successfully turn
them into opportunities. In order to achieve this, you need to make sure
that there is a fit between what you have to offer and the potential
clients you’re speaking with. This process is called lead qualification.
During this phase, your goal is very simple: you need to determine as
fast and efficiently as possible whether the person you’re speaking with
has a chance to convert into a paid customer and, if so, you need to get
them in touch with someone who can close the deal.
A primer on lead qualification
If you ask any experienced sales leader, they’ll tell you there are three things to
know about being effective at sales: qualify, qualify, qualify. This is simply
because sales people have limited time and can’t afford to waste time with
anybody who isn’t likely to buy from them in the near term. But how do you do it?
Do you have a problem I could solve? The starting point is to ask yourself
whether the person you’re dealing with has a problem that is solved by the
solution you offer. If they don’t – you simply won’t sell anything. That’s why many
great sales starts with generating inbound marketing leads. If you create content
marketing programs and drive traffic to websites where you can measure how
long somebody spends reading your materials or downloading your white papers
you’ve at least confirmed some level of interest.
How do you qualify?
Challengers pitch customers in five steps. First, instead of asking, “What
problems do you, the customer have?”, they warm up the prospect and build
credibility by providing some relevant data or insight. Next, and this is the most
important part, they reframe the conversation. They teach the customer that
their current world view is flawed in some way.
This judo move changes the power dynamic in the relationship. The
salesperson becomes an expert and the customer wants to continue the
conversation to learn more about why their current worldview isn’t optimal, and
how to fix it. The next three steps of the Challenger sales process are similar to
other models of selling.
Teach your customer their problem
What happened to me and what I think happens to others is that this tacit
knowledge of how to sell your company’s products is not as institutionalized as
you think. The people that are in the same office as the leadership team, many
of whom have been there since the “early days” intuitively know how to position
the company and how to sell its products.
This is where management has to step in and help with “aiming”. Ultimately as
you grow this task can be shared between a VP of Sales, VP Marketing and the
CEO. I define “A deals” as those that have a realistic shot of closing in the next
3 months, “B deals” as those that you forecast to close within 3-12 months and
“C deals” as those that are currently unlikely to close within the next 12 months.
Three buckets for your leads
One question I struggled with a lot in the early days was what price points
supported inside sales reps. It was clear to me that our freemium offering,
priced at from $0 to $19/month, couldn’t really support a traditional inside sales
team. And it became clear to me that five-figure or larger ACV deals could
clearly support an inside sales team, once I handed those off to sales.
But how low can you go? Can you really build a sales team around a $299/mo
product? A $2000 ACV? What about a $199 or a $99/mo price point?
Different companies will have different experiences. But here’s what I learned.
And if you do it right, you can go pretty low.
Can you afford inside sales?
Regardless of your organization or industry, marketers should always pay
attention to “batons” that cross functions. That’s because whenever two or
more departments share ownership and responsibility, conditions are ripest for
problems. This is especially true in the handoff between Marketing and Sales.
So why not add a guiding step in between?
Combined with the best practices we’ve written about (such as agreed-upon
lead definitions, sophisticated lead scoring, and handoff processes), we believe
the secret to a truly high-performance revenue engine is the effective use of a
Sales Development team. The team is composed of Sales Development
Representatives (SDRs) who have one exclusive focus: to review, contact and
qualify Marketing-generated leads and deliver them to Sales Account Execs.
Setting up a sales development team
Pick your segment and qualify!
Your company will live and die on the relevance of its segmentation
and qualification processes. There are but a few mistakes that will cost
you more time and money than going after the wrong type of leads for
your company. Conversely, nothing will allow you to grow faster than
selecting the right type of leads and pursuing them agressively.
If you haven’t done your homework yet, stop what you’re doing and
give it a deep thought: it will save you a lot of hassle down the road.
Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures)
Jason M. Lemkin (Storm Ventures)
Tom Tunguz (Redpoint Ventures)
Looking for help?
I am available for short consulting missions:
strategy advice, questions about the enterprise
sales cycle, positioning review…
Get in touch:
Director of Sales & Marketing