All SaaS is not created equal. The once SaaS pioneers, who were industry disruptors, today are more like the industry old guard (i.e., Salesforce.com, NetSuite). Selling mature SaaS solutions now looks very much like the enterprise and big government software sales that the SaaS platforms once disrupted. On the other hand, successfully selling sophisticated new SaaS solutions, that utilize emerging technologies like intelligent automation and digital labor, requires a unique set of skills and attributes that are not always encountered in traditional sales candidates, or even outlined in most job recruiting specifications. Too many hiring managers mistakenly recruit for a first-generation SaaS sales rep when what they really need is someone whose skills align more with a second-generation SaaS sales professional.
Beyond the basic qualities common to all sales professionals across disciplines and business models, the uniqueness of the B2B “Gen 2” SaaS sector requires specific capabilities of its top performers. When hiring potential sales champions for SaaS providers, the hiring manager would do well to seek these qualities:
- Educator — The SaaS sales performer must be an educator. These sales pros know more than just how to sell; they need to be able to convey what the SaaS platform is and how it works to both the business decision maker as well as the IT influencer. In the case of Gen 2 SaaS its quite likely that your buyer has never bought the type of tech that you are selling. In the Gen 2 SaaS arena the education process precedes the selling process.
- Consultant —It’s not enough for SaaS sales pros to understand their own solution. Equally important, they must understand their prospect’s and customers’ problems. Consultants are very knowledgeable professionals brought in to solve client problems. This is exactly what the Gen 2 SaaS professional must do to achieve long term success. By taking a consultative approach to prospect challenges and issues, the best SaaS sales professionals add value above and beyond their software platform. Typical salespeople show up with the good answers – consultative sellers also show up with good questions, uncovering their customer’s need and guiding toward solution.
- Project Manager — Being a project manager doesn’t mean that the SaaS sales pro has a Project Management certification or the like, rather that he or she possesses the organizational skills, leadership acumen, and persuasive ability to ensure that what he or she sells gets delivered. Even though most organizations, especially the larger ones divide responsibilities between sales and implementation, the best SaaS sales professionals take ownership or oversight of sales deliverables.
- Political Savvy — Most Gen 2 deals die on 3rd base due to politics, after all disruptive technology is simply disruptive. The best sales professionals are “politically astute,” especially when it comes to selling high tech solutions like SaaS software in a B2B context. Often, the decision makers within a customer or prospect’s enterprise are not whom they seem to be, or not aligned with the title on their door—or perhaps on their LinkedIn profile. The successful SaaS sales pro is able to traverse the enterprise org chart and strategically qualify counterparts during discovery to learn not only who the influencers and decision makers are, but also who might be the potential deal “blockers”. There is always some resistance to change, thus, its vital the Sales Pro is adept at navigating these tricky waters.
- Cultural Awareness — Similar to political savviness is cultural awareness. This is especially relevant when selling Internationally. In what anthropologist’s call “horizontal” business cultures, decision making can be distributed and decentralized, and there are potentially quite a few people with purchasing authority. Certain countries tend to have hierarchical cultures that align with the predominant business cultures. Others are less hierarchical and more “flat” or horizontal and even lower-level managers or non-management employees are empowered with budgetary and decision-making authority. Because of this, sales professionals selling into another culture often make serious mistakes by thinking the marketing manager for example, in a different country has the same level of authority and responsibility as in the sales pro’s home country. In the US for example, a company president might report to a separate CEO, who in turn reports to an executive chairman. Closely held companies may have controlling shareholders with no official title but ultimate decision making and budgetary authority. As the author Robert Greene said in his book 48 Laws of Power, “know who you are dealing with!”
- Continuous Learner — The emerging tech market is evolving virtually every 6 months. One of the key advantages of the SaaS delivery modality is the ability to constantly upgrade and improve software, adding features and removing bugs on the fly—no pun intended. Constant updates and improvement not only in features but in use cases and even pricing models means that the top SaaS sales professionals representing the platform must be constantly learning to stay abreast of the changes in their solution. Gone are the days, at least as far as SaaS platforms are concerned, where software releases are several years apart and sales forces can go to refresher training courses every few years to learn about the updates and upgrades. Also, it is even more important than ever for Gen 2 SaaS sales pros to stay plugged in to their industry associations and keep connected with the top tech influencers in their spaces.
- Tech Savvy, but not a Tech — Understanding the product features, benefits, functionality and specifications are a good, the more the better! But not at the expense of self-awareness or understanding context. Unless a sales pro is selling to an engineer, scientist, developer or other techie, he or she probably does not want to “do a core dump” when advocating for their SaaS platform to prospects. There are many brilliant people who are poor communicators, especially to people outside of their professional milieu. These people don’t make the best sales professionals, even though they may be valuable contributors to the organizations in other ways. The best B2B sales professionals demonstrate empathy, self-awareness, and while they are technically proficient, their primary skill is knowing and conveying how the tech serves the human/business need.
- Great Qualifiers — While there tends to be much excitement and interest in cool new tech, most managers are just simply seeking to get educated; they may have little to no plans in buying at the time. Therefore, qualifying skills are one of the most important attributes to seek out when hiring a Gen 2 SaaS sales pro. All sales involves levels of qualifying. Even a baker will ask a customer buying a cake: “How many people will you be serving ? Are there any dietary restrictions? Etc.… In B2B sales, especially in the Gen 2 SaaS world, proper qualifying is important to mine for potential new business and/or engage that proverbial “tire kicker”.
- Client Advocate — The best SaaS sales pros are great client advocates. Auto dealers, at least in the US have a bad reputation for fleecing their customers, for using their knowledge against the buyer. Because of this, they have earned an adversarial relationship with the customers, and exposed themselves to potentially disruptive business models such as online sales platforms, and in the case of Tesla, cutting out the new car dealer entirely. When the SaaS sales pro is truly a client advocate, they are working for the client’s best interest, earning a true level of trust and rapport with their clients. This does not mean that the sales pro is advocating for the client against his or her own employer, but that the interests between the SaaS platform provider and the customer are truly aligned. The client advocate won’t sell the wrong product to the customer, and will effectively relay customer concerns to the appropriate contacts in his or her organization. This may be regarding bugs or flaws, feature requests, or making sure the SaaS platform sold lives up to the customer expectations and “marketing hype.”
- Trust Builder — New technology is exciting for many buyers; however, it also can create a high degree of anxiety. Buying a relational database is one thing. Buying an AI powered natural language processor is quite another. “FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) kills many deals, especially those that involve emergent and disruptive technology. Because of this, the successful SaaS sales pro absolutely must be an effective trust builder. Those sales pros that can genuinely convey the highest levels of credibility along with empathy and interest in the prospect’s challenges will close the most deals.
In conclusion avoid the common and costly mistake of hiring a first generation SaaS rep to do your Gen 2 selling. It will fail. A first generation SaaS sales rep will struggle to sell Gen 2 SaaS. And if you decide to hire a recruiter- look for one that has knowledge, experience and access to the Gen 2 deal-meisters. You want a more advanced breed of sales rep as well as a next-generation recruiter.
Kat Casale is a black belt recruiter specializing in finding sales and customer facing professionals for emerging tech SaaS and Service Provider companies. She can be reached at Kathryn.Casale@irpanetwork.com