Sales

8 Key Steps in a SaaS Sales Process to Win More Deals

The SaaS sales process is tricky, but not impossible to master. With these 8 proven tactics, you can close quality leads in no time.

Masooma Memon Masooma Memon on October 19, 2021 (last modified on November 5, 2021) • 20 minute read

So you’ve heard: the SaaS sales process is a hairy beast to deal with.

It takes up lots of time with its long sales cycle. And, the competition keeps you on your toes. Plus, you’ve to teach leads how to use your app. Sheesh, that’s a lot of work!

Don’t worry though. It’s nothing impossible, particularly, if you take the time to understand the nuts and bolts of the process, the demons you’ve to deal with, and leverage proven tactics to win leads.

So without further ado, let’s give you the details and the expert tips. There’s lots of ground to cover so here’s a peep at what you’ll learn:

Let’s get started!

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What are SaaS Sales?

The SaaS sales process is a stepwise plan for selling cloud-based software to its target customers. The ultimate goal is naturally to convert a lead or free trial user into a paying user.

Unlike typical sales cycles though, the SaaS sales process is a tricky one as it involves selling a non-tangible service that users have to learn to use.

It’s why the best way to succeed at selling your SaaS product is by properly educating your target audience on using your application. Of course, the means to this end is a highly knowledgeable sales team that:

  • Knows your product inside out.
  • Keeps up to date with all the new features, integrations, and add-ons rolling out.
  • Can frame your product features as specific benefits meeting a lead’s specific needs.

Our respondents agree. In fact, the majority, about 35%, say that having a knowledgeable sales team is the most important in the SaaS sales process.

32% also agree that keeping an eye on the metrics, offering personalization, and optimizing demos are important factors.

Some 26% also opine email automation helps win at SaaS sales with the rest saying the following pointers are important: contacting trial users (24%), picking the right CRM (22%), using multiple pipelines (21%), additional value offer (21%), and the proper trial duration (20%).

Most important steps in SaaS sales process

Basic Stages in a SaaS Sales Process

With the definition out of the way, let’s look at how the SaaS sales process is divided:

1. Prospecting

After having defined your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or who your target buyers are, you’ll need to take steps to attract leads.

You can adopt either of the two approaches:

  • Active prospecting. This involves cold outreach to your ICP. It’s best suited for software services targeting small companies or solopreneurs/freelancers as few decision-makers are involved and you can close those leads with a shorter sales cycle.
  • Passive prospecting. Inbound marketing methods that help add leads to your sales funnel. It’s best suited for SaaS products targeting multiple ICPs and enterprise organizations. Some methods to try include creating webinars, whitepapers, research reports, blog posts, video series and more.

2. Qualifying leads

As in every other sales process, not every lead is a lead interested in buying from you. This calls for having a lead scoring system to identify which leads are interested ones so you can pursue the right leads for the next stage in the SaaS sales cycle.

3. Presenting

It’s here that you get leads to jump on a consultation or demo call with you. This one-on-one meeting is your opportunity to gather information on the lead’s business needs and goals while explaining how you can help.

4. Objection handling

Next up, convincing leads to convert by skillfully addressing the objections. Often, these objections fall into two broad categories:

  • Your SaaS is too expensive and/or
  • Your SaaS doesn’t help my business

A sales rep well-versed in your product’s ins and outs can skillfully tackle these objections. How? By showing the value of your service to justify its price and explaining the benefits of your features as they’d help the particular lead.

5. Closing

Now comes the part where you pat yourself (or your rep) on the back as you’ve converted the lead into a paying customer. 💰

6. Nurturing

Thought you were done? Not so fast. One last (and forever extending) stage: nurturing or taking the steps to retain users. To this end, you’ll want to keep maintaining your relationship with them by:

  • Offering top class customer/technical service.
  • Providing educational resources so customers can make the most of your app.
  • Gathering feedback, reviews, and referrals and making in-app tweaks and improvements based on what you learn from customers.

In short, aim to make your users feel valued and heard to retain them.

Related: The 15 Most Important Customer Success Metrics for SaaS Companies

The Unique Challenges of SaaS Sales

By now, you’ve probably already got a rough idea of the challenges you’ll face in your SaaS sales process. Chances are you’re already facing them:

1. Competition

A competitive marketplace means there’s a new product posing a new threat every now and then.

To add to that, regular feature releases and tons of integrations that your competitors offer might pull interested leads – even paying customers – away from you.

2. Long sales cycle

The length of your SaaS sales cycle boils down to who you’re targeting and your product feature customizations.

If you’re selling to enterprises and medium to large businesses, in particular, you’ll find yourself dealing with and convincing lots of decision-makers before a lead is ready to splash money on your software.

Similarly, offering various customizations – for example, offering X features to a lead but Y features to another lead – adds to the sales cycle length.

A long sales cycle is also due to the fact that buying SaaS services is never a one-and-done job. Instead, you’re based on a subscription pricing model, which means a lead has to commit to paying on a monthly or annual (depending on the pricing deal you offer) basis.

While this is good news for you, it generally means decision-makers will take their sweet time in evaluating how your subscription helps them and whether it’s worth it. The result? A long sales cycle.

Finally, as we’ve previously mentioned, investing in a SaaS requires learning to use it. This education phase also adds to the time in your sales cycle.

3. Close collaboration with the marketing team

Lastly, while it’s often recommended sales and marketing teams align for better sales, it’s nearly impossible for you to do SaaS sales without this team alignment.

For example, you’d have noted how passive prospecting involves using content marketing assets like blog posts, email newsletters, and more to capture leads. Lead engagement with these assets is important info for sales teams that the marketing team owns.

Similarly, leads’ website behavior such as time on site, pages visited, and so on is more raw data that the marketing team needs to provide the sales team.

Keep in mind that the sales team needs to use content to educate, convince, and nurture customers. Again, both teams need to coordinate here so the marketing team can create audience-relevant content that the sales team makes use of.

Related: 14 Types of Sales Enablement Content Your Sales Team Needs

Naturally, all this adds to the challenges. 

The Most Important Metrics for SaaS Sales

Another essential aspect of a well-oiled SaaS sales process is tracking the right metrics. So let’s walk you through the eight most important KPIs you need to keep an eye on:

1. Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR). This is the amount you expect to make every month from your current customer base. One way to stay on top of this metric is by using great tools like these free SaaS MRR dashboards.

2. Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR). This is the amount you’re projected to make from your subscribed customers.

3. Churn Rate: This is the percentage of customers leaving your service each month or year. And, before you panic, make sure you check yours against industry benchmarks using this SaaS churn dashboard – churned customers are normal.  

Related: 14 Proven Ways to Reduce Customer Churn in SaaS

4. Deal Velocity. This is the average time a deal takes in your sales pipeline. Put simply, it’s the time it takes to convert a lead once it’s in your sales pipeline.

5. Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV). The estimated revenue that a customer is expected to bring in during their business with you.

6. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). This is the total cost including the sales and marketing cost that goes into acquiring each lead.

Related: How to Understand Your Business Better by Analyzing CAC and CLV Metrics

7. Win Rate. Or the percentage of total leads your team closes over a specified time.

8. Closed won/lost. This is how your deal with a lead ends up. It’s considered closed-won when a deal is successfully signed and close-lost when a lead doesn’t seal the deal.

Related: 16 Essential SaaS Sales Metrics You Should be Tracking

Essential Tools for SaaS Sales

With that, let’s look at the tools that help facilitate a SaaS sales process.

Of these Google Sheets/Excel is the only makeshift CRM that 23.5% of our respondents use to collect, qualify, and nurture leads.

The rest, however, use a dedicated CRM to assist their SaaS sales process. The prominent ones are:

  • HubSpot that the majority, 26.5% uses
  • Salesforce that 17.6% use
  • Active Campaign and Zoho CRM that 11.8% use
  • Pipedrive that only 2.9% of our respondents use
Sales tracking tools

8 SaaS Sales Techniques and Best Practices

Now for how you can improve your SaaS sales process, here are eight expert tips:

  1. Clearly define your ICP
  2. Identify your customer’s core problem
  3. Segment your ICP
  4. Gather essential data in discovery calls
  5. Take a value-first approach by educating leads each step of the way
  6. Effectively communicate your value proposition
  7. Always provide a free trial
  8. Have a lead scoring system in place

Let’s dig in:

1. Clearly define your ICP

Take the time to define your Ideal Customer Profile and polish the persona as needed.

This will help you in more ways than one. For instance:

  • You can better qualify your leads
  • Develop a deeper understanding of their pain points
  • Have a strong grip on how your service can help them

Not to forget, knowing your audience’s challenges assists you in framing your marketing and sales messages to solve those struggles. Meaning: it’s the key to resonate with your audience.

Sam Dolbel from SINC Workforce agrees. “Knowing who your prospects are is the most critical step in the SaaS sales process. For a SaaS company to have a successful sales strategy, they should not miss out on this crucial step.”

“Since target customers of SaaS businesses are very specific (and basically not everyone), selling without knowing and understanding prospects makes the rest of the sales process pointless,” highlights Dolbel.

“You could even be wasting time and resources in selling your product to irrelevant people,” Dolbel continues.

Monsido’s Jillian Als goes on to stress, “If you do not have a deep understanding of your customer and the challenges you help them overcome with your product, you’re more likely to experience churn and detractors for your business.”

Als also notes knowing your ICP full well helps you upsell and cross-sell them as you can offer solutions to upgrade based on their needs.

In short, “a successful SaaS sales process is rooted in understanding the target market. That is, knowing their frustrations and providing them the best solution (or software) to resolve those difficulties” in Dolbel’s words.

Related: 12 Tried and Tested Tips for Increasing your SaaS Average Deal Size

2. Identify your customer’s core problem

As you dig into understanding your ICP, it’s important you take the time to determine your ideal buyer’s core problem or pain point.

Sharing their experience, Jeff Solomon of Markup Hero writes, “Having built several SaaS companies in my career I know that software often solves many problems and customers frequently seek out solutions to solve just one, maybe two significant pain points.”

Therefore, “identifying the core problem/pain for a customer is by far the most important step in the sales process,” Solomon opines.

The question is: how does knowing your audience’s pain point help? “Knowing this informs every subsequent step as salespeople know how to focus their pitch,” explains Solomon.

“[It also] drives successful training and onboarding because ultimately the primary driver of retention is usually when clients ‘click’ with just one or two things that your SaaS application does.”

According to Solomon, the problem is that SaaS sales processes often make the mistake of focusing on all the great things that their application can do.

“But this approach causes information overload for potential customers. It has them miss the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ — the needle being the one thing that directly solves the core problem they are seeking to solve.”

For example, at Markup Hero, Solomon writes they target a few different customers. “But we know from tracking how users use each feature of the software that it’s almost always 1 or 2 features that they can’t live without. We could remove every other feature from the product and users would likely stick if we left the few that solved their core problem.”

Here are more examples of main features that other SaaS companies use to attract their ICPs:

  • “For Dropbox, it’s Smart Sync. 
  • For Notion, it’s Views.
  • For Markup Hero it’s annotating PDF’s.
  • For Loom it’s the Avatar Bubble.”

In short, you need to identify the core problem so you can share the main features (or rather the benefit of using that feature in your sales call.

3. Segment your ICP

Depending on who you’re targeting, you’ll need to pay attention to “granular prospect segmentation” as Replyify’s Ryan ODonnell calls it.

“This enables you to target specific niches within your Ideal Customer Profile,” ODonnell explains. “Most sales reps create a playbook based on this broad category and miss the opportunity to tailor their messaging to the specific problems faces by each of the sub-categories.”

“For example, the Sales Manager may tell you that your ‘product/service’ is purchased by VP/Directors of Marketing at mid-size companies,” ODonnell highlights. “I suggest breaking this generic group into very specific groups that:

  • Perform related tasks
  • At smaller/larger companies
  • Within different industries”

All this so that you can trailer your message to your specific audience’s needs, which helps you address their objections better, convince them better, and close more deals.

4. Gather essential data in discovery calls

Another useful tactic is to ask the right questions in the initial discovery call to gather the information you need to assess how well your application can help meet a lead’s needs.

“While less important when assessing budget or qualification, the most important thing is learning not only if but also how you can help the unique needs of a business,” observes Evan Horibe from Brandfolder.

This helps you “understand the negative consequences to solve and positive outcomes to achieve while weighing their priority keeps you and the prospect on the same page with what makes the most business sense right from the start,” Horibe says.

CocoFax’s Olivia Tan shares the same tip saying: “For me, the most important step in the SaaS sales process is the Fact Find. The Fact Find is where you gather all the relevant information you need to prepare your offer to the customer.”

“More importantly, this is where the prospect tells you the critical information you need to make the sale:

  • What he wants to buy
  • When he’s going to buy it
  • How he is going to buy it
  • Why he is going to buy it”

“All of this information is vital is fitting the right solution to the customer’s real problem,” Tan notes.

So how do you get the correct information from your prospect? Two things help:

  • Preparing a questionnaire to guide the conversation in the direction you want it to. This keeps things conversational – helping you build rapport while giving you the information you need.
  • Active listening. Not only will this give you the needed data but it’ll help position you gain your audience’s trust.

5. Take a value-first approach by educating leads each step of the way

“What is more important than selling is to build your reputation, authority, and relationship with your prospects,” quips Ian Sells from RebateKey.

“Connect by providing value and answering their problems. Doing so establishes you as the resource or the authority in your niche. This helps build trust and sets you apart from your competition.”

Doing so, not only helps “you sell a product, it ensures that you convert them into your loyal customers,” Sells points out.

The best way to offer value and establish yourself as an authority in your field? Educating your audience – even before they show up as interested leads.

“This comes after you’ve built awareness and won the attention of your user, but before the user has selected a solution,” notes Rephrase Media’s Matthew Ramirez.

“The education phase is your opportunity to:

  • Demonstrate your authority in the area and
  • Differentiate your solution as the one that best meets the user’s needs.”

“If you handle the education phase well, you will have gained a customer and indirectly may have increased your top of funnel by sending an advocate of your products back into the world,” Ramirez sums up.

Needless to say, content marketing is a great way to position yourself as an industry expert and take an educational approach.

Related: Content Marketing ROI: 13 Lead Generation Metrics to Measure & Report Every Month

6. Effectively communicate your value proposition

“The SaaS market is overwhelmed with similar businesses that are all targeting the same audience,” Airfocus’s Malte Scholz admits. “One of the most important factors that can help you stand out is the value you have to offer.”

It’s why Scholz suggests it’s “necessary to emphasize why potential clients could benefit from your service and what value it has.”

The key here: specificity. As Scholz explains it “the more specific you are, the easier it will be for clients to visualize the outcomes.”

“For instance, how does your service help clients’ grow their business or enhance productivity? Why do they need this specific service over everything else in the market? These are some questions to start with when you enter the sales process.”

MapRight’s Steve Roberson agrees. “For a SaaS company, the value proposition is by far the most important piece of the sales process.”

“People purchase software for one reason: they have a problem, and they need a solution.  However, they don’t tend to continue interacting with a company when they can’t see how it will benefit them – if you aren’t communicating the value proposition early on, you could be losing a significant portion of your potential customers.”

The solution? Making sure your ideal prospects see value in your application from their first touchpoint with you. This means it all “starts with communicating that value on the marketing site” according to Roberson.

So here’s a list of all the places to showcase your value:

On your website

“The website should detail the software’s features, explain how it works, and help people see how it will solve their problems.

That being said, showing them the value tends to be more effective than telling them about it, so the website should also let prospects get the look and feel of the software, whether it be through screenshots, videos, or in our case, embedded interactive maps,” Roberson highlights.

What’s more, here you’ll need a “short, powerful message to your customers that will make your product stand out from others while making that expense reasonable,” recommends PhotoAiD’s Natalia Brzezińska.

“Remember to use simple language because loads of your potential customers might feel lost in technical jargon. That defined mission will serve as the compass for all other sales decisions.”

During your free trial onboarding

“Then, you’ll have another opportunity to show your value proposition during onboarding of a free trial,” Roberson says.  

“When people can experience for themselves how a product benefits them, they’re much more likely to understand why they should spend their money on it.”

In your deal-closing demo

“Finally, to close the deal, you can once again highlight the value proposition in a demo, guaranteeing no feature or benefit is overlooked.”

Says Roberson “By making sure the value proposition is felt as early as possible (and throughout the sales cycle), people will better understand how your software solves their problems, turning potential customers into paying customers.”

7. Always provide a free trial

As you convince leads to buy from you, Dan Close from We Buy Houses in Kentucky notes “the potential buyer will almost certainly want a trial or a free version of the product to evaluate if it is suitable for their company/needs.”

“During the discovery call, the trial may have been demoed, and the prospect can then choose whatever product features they’d like to try out,” points out Close.

That said, free trials are essential for passive prospecting too.

Simply remember to contact leads 5 minutes after they sign up for their free trial. Research says doing so increases your chance of reaching the lead by 100 times and qualifying it by 21 times than by calling within 30 minutes after sign up.

Related: How 20+ Freemium SaaS Companies Increased Signup-to-Customer Conversion Rate

8. Have a lead scoring system in place

Lastly, it’s critical you have a solid lead scoring system to make sure you’re talking to the right leads that are also engaged.

“If you only have one or two salespeople, getting this handover right from marketing to sales is essential,” notes Cheap SSL Security’s Michael Robinson

“You don’t have a lot of resources to devote to speaking with prospects who aren’t a good fit or who aren’t ready for a sales call. Before you bring in your salespeople, figure out how engaged a lead has to be.”

Even if you’re a sizeable sales team, it’s essential you take the time to score leads so the team isn’t wasting time and resources on unengaged leads or leads that aren’t ready to buy yet. Luckily, your CRM can help with this.

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Improve your SaaS Sales Process Today

Remember that while SaaS sales come with its challenges, and that taking the time to learn about your application can go a long way in educating and convincing leads.

Make sure your team also keeps abreast of all the new features rolling out so they can make the most convincing cases in dealing with objections that leads have. And more importantly, measure the impact of your sales efforts by using these free SaaS dashboards to track your most important sales metrics.

Here’s to better sales. 🚀

About the author
Masooma Memon
Masooma Memon Masooma is a freelance writer for SaaS and a lover to-do lists. When she's not writing, she usually has her head buried in a business book or fantasy novel.
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