In sales, as with any other field or practice, sometimes you need to think outside the box to come out on top. Knowing the rules for a sales call is vital; so is knowing when to break those rules. That’s all the more important during this tumultuous post-pandemic period. Our research has shown how much sales calls have changed in the last year. There are more touchpoints per closed-won deal. Longer sales cycles. More C-level participation on calls.
The old rulebook has been thrown out the window, so it’s time to make some of your own rules. Our research has also shown how employing a number of unexpected, even counterintuitive selling techniques can actually increase your chances of closing a deal successfully. Breaking from tradition will help your team stay adaptable, nimble, and engaged in a shifting marketplace.
- Mention Pricing on Cold Calls
- Talk About the Competition
- Prepare for the Discount Talk
- Master the Sales Call Monologue
- Bring in Your Customer Success Specialists Early
- Forecast Using Data, Not Instincts
Find the right way to break a few sales call rules, and you can fast-track your company to a hefty market advantage.
1. Mention Pricing on Cold Calls
We can already see your carefully-honed management sensibilities bristling. Sales managers tend to train sales reps to avoid mentioning pricing on an initial approach call! And yet, our research has shown that far from making any and all prospects hang up the phone, mentioning pricing one to two times when cold calling leads to closed-won deals.
The reason this conventional sales wisdom doesn't apply as much to SaaS selling is due to the relative expertise of your customers. Because SaaS purchases represent significant investments, not just one-off purchases, diligent buyers have likely done their research. In fact, a more purchase-ready prospect is likely to know more about the variety of products on the market. They may even ask about pricing themselves during the initial call. Differentiating your product early through your pricing points is, therefore, an approach with a high likelihood of payoff.
If you're cutting bigger deals, your prospects are even more likely to bring up pricing on a call. Our research shows that enterprise buyers (>$100K deal size) with bigger budgets are also the most cost-sensitive. They tend to bring up pricing two or three times in a cold call. Those enterprise buyers may not have heard of you or your product before, which is why they bring up pricing more on a cold call.
So, particularly well-educated prospects are more likely to mention pricing of their own accord. If they don't, and if your prospect has registered keen interest, you may want to gently broach pricing toward the end of your initial sales call by offering to go over some initial pricing options. This can be an important step if your traditional market segments have undergone a change in price sensitivity in the recent past. If you're finding that your prospects are too price-sensitive for a deal to be actionable, you may have to amend your sales organization's approach to prospecting. Be aware, as well, that, while many companies have suffered in the post-pandemic period, some have flourished. Hard times haven't translated to bad times for everyone.
Mentioning pricing early in the sales process can make things go faster. Still, tread carefully — don't force the issue if your prospects are still assessing their options.
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2. Talk About the Competition
You know that your product is a cut or two above competing services elsewhere in the market. And yet, another traditional nugget of sales wisdom is that you should keep mentions of direct competitors to a minimum. However, we've found that providing, and taking charge of, the context around your product can lead to selling success.
For instance, we've seen that when competitors are mentioned more in discovery meetings, it leads to closed-won deals (five to six times) versus lost deals (three times). We've also seen that educated, purchase-ready prospects are more likely to bring up competitors of their own accord, just as they're more likely to inquire about pricing.
Nevertheless, talking about your competition is a delicate science. Your reps must be careful not to badmouth competitors while still making it clear that your product has the edge.
Incorporate an extensive study of competing products into your sales management strategy. Learn their price points; if you have the bandwidth to do so, get your reps to use their products and familiarize themselves with the pros and cons. This is particularly important now when clients are demanding extreme ROI from new products before they sanction purchases. Naturally, your salesperson is advised to use plenty of social proof and quantitative metrics to talk up your own product. You can take a look at the slide below, from a Snapchat sales deck, to see examples of well-integrated social proof and use of metrics.
Source: Cirrus Insight
They shouldn’t be afraid to augment that approach by being specific about what your product does better than your competitors'. For instance, does your product drive adoption better than Competitor A? Does it lead to a greater reduction in churn rate than Competitor B's product?
Encourage your reps to talk fluidly about the advantage your product has over their product to educate prospects further. Isolate the specific areas in which your product performs better. Does your product have a better feature range? Better data return? Easier onboarding? Better value for money? Whatever your edge is, emphasize those points during the sales call. More info concerning your product’s competitive edge is an ideal component of your post-call follow-up, as well.
3. Prepare for the “Discount Talk”
You might consider discounting as more of a late-stage concern, but it can often rear its head earlier in the sales process. We've found that prospects mention discounts in 50% of discovery meetings. While discounts might seem innocuous, handled incorrectly, they can lead to adverse outcomes. A hurried reply from your rep can result in making promises that are hard to keep. A too-firm response can, on the other hand, lead to a loss of momentum as you move toward a deal. You should, therefore, prepare your reps for the “discount talk” as part of your general sales call coaching.
Aim to deal with the discount question in a way that preserves both the profit of a closed-won deal and the likelihood of a successful deal altogether. In concert with your finance department and C-suite, develop a discount range that your reps can quickly resort to if needed.
If you’re holding on to a market segment that has become more price-sensitive in the last year, having a discount template is all the more useful. To avoid undercutting your own product, base these on the price points of your competitors (and, if available, their average discount). Sales management should be data-driven, and nowhere is that more important than with getting discounts right.
Train your reps to see discounts as an opportunity for negotiation with a prospect.
And because SaaS subscriptions are based on long-term relationships, you are within your rights to request one or more of the following in return for a discount:
- A higher advance payment from your prospect
- A longer contract
- A publicity push from your client's website — a glowing content piece about your new partnership or a customer success story that you can add to your site
- A referral to other companies in your prospect's network
Being clear on the terms of your discount is critical. Remember, you don’t just want your sales professionals to hawk a product to your prospect. You want to establish good terms for a long relationship. If a rep feels that your customer, while cash-strapped now, is likely to recover and turn into an upsell machine in a year or two, then a generous discount can make for a great loss leader. To that end, it’s a good idea to spread knowledge of the market sectors that are most likely to recover well after the pandemic through your sales team. This can be useful when devising a discount plan.
When handled well, your reps can turn discount talk into a real relationship sweetener, and it’s an excellent way to get you and your new customer off on the right foot. Remember, though, it’s better to negotiate than discount!
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4. Master the Sales Call Monologue
Sales calls are, of course, based on interaction — especially during the discovery phase. But your sales management should encourage your reps to give as good as they get and not be afraid of talking extensively.
Your reps should be able to deliver several monologues lasting one to two minutes during an hour-long sales call. Our research shows that the average sales rep will monologue for an average of 1.5 minutes at a time. However, monologues lasting over two minutes are more common in closed-won deals.
Why is monologuing so important? Shouldn’t sales calls be an interactive experience, full of two-way exchanges to build rapport? It's all a question of engagement.
We've found that discovery calls leading to closed-won deals have 50% more engaging moments (six) than the average (four).
Engaging moments help your client understand how your product can improve their business. Well-delivered monologues, given at the right time, are an excellent way to ensure that you create these moments. They're all the more important given the absence of face-to-face, in-the-room selling in the COVID economy. Your rep might be able to fill a room with their presence, but they'll have to fall back on metrics and great stories now things are Zoom-only.
Of course, it's not just a case of droning on and listing every product feature. The most effective way to seamlessly incorporate high-value monologues into a call is to coach your reps to share relevant customer stories.
Your reps can base these on the following:
- Customer success stories with your product — especially useful if your prospect is familiar with one of the companies in question
- Comparisons with competitors that leave a flattering impression of your product's performance and value
- A vision of your prospect's company after your product has improved it: How much more engagement can they look forward to? How much red tape and how many useless admin tasks will they no longer have to worry about?
Your reps should base their monologues on big, clear data points that give a robust, objective view of why your product is worth the investment. But be careful about how much data you include — unless you're giving a video presentation, your prospect will be able to keep track of only so many figures.
Avoid reprising qualifying questions, as well as monologues that are excessively technical. Unless you’re talking to a relevant specialist at your prospect company and your product's main appeal is its technological pedigree, a broader approach is more effective.
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5. Bring in Your Customer Success Specialists Early
Team selling is nothing new in SaaS sales. In fact, as of last year, it’s a best practice we would heartily encourage any sales organization to embrace. The team presence will help your frontline sales professionals deal with tough questions from buyer-side decision-makers, from a CFO’s demands for ROI (return on investment) to a grizzled tech lead’s skepticism of your product’s technical pedigree.
What’s rarer in team selling is bringing your customer success specialist in early on. While the importance of customer success specialists is becoming more recognized, they are most often introduced to a sales cycle late in the game. Bringing them into the cycle when a customer is still just a prospect can have pronounced benefits. CRM tools like Deal Hub have made transitioning responsibility from rep to the customer success department easier.
Having a customer success specialist involved in the sales process earlier gives them more opportunities to get familiar with the prospect’s needs. It ensures no pain point will go unrecognized — you can even offer a prospect the chance to design their own onboarding plan with your customer success specialist.
Your customer success specialist will be able to regale your prospect with stories of how quickly and smoothly your past clients have onboarded and how soon they’ve seen ROI from your product. Don’t underestimate the value this can bring to your sales push. Onboarding churn and delays in seeing ROI are prime factors in early-stage churn in SaaS.
Emphasizing your company’s effective onboarding can be a great sales technique for shaping your prospect’s decision-making about a deal.
6. Forecast Using Data, Not Instincts
Sales forecasting is an intrinsic part of the sales call playbook and has historically been a process ruled by a sales professional’s instinct based on their appraisal of how a sales call has gone. It’s an old sales call rule that has got to go. Our research shows that more than half of reps forecast inaccurately based on their impression of a call, and inaccurate forecasts can be disastrous for potential deals and your bottom line.
Often, the estimated revenue from forecast deals will be added to a revenue growth prediction. If your reps are forecasting too optimistically, this can lead to erroneous additions to that prediction. Your shareholders, already uneasy in a time of market uncertainty, are unlikely to appreciate the tease. For that reason, your reps should forecast based on robust data.
Provide your sales professionals with a set of benchmark data from your historical databases.
Encourage them to measure their gut-instinct forecasting against data points like:
- “Our prospects are more than twice as likely to choose us having seen a demo in call one.”
- “Our prospects are 62% more likely to choose us having been directed to us via a referral.”
- “Our prospects are 57% more likely to choose us having had a negative experience with a competitor.”
- “Our prospects are 48% more likely to choose us having used words x, y, and z during their first call or social media interaction with us.”
- “A prospect who finds us via LinkedIn is twice as likely to choose us than a prospect reached via an outbound approach.”
If your sales team is forecasting using benchmarks like these, they’ll be able to approach their next sales to call with a prospect in a sensible way. If they’ve charted up several successful sales calls and everything looks on the way to closed-won, they can schedule that last touchpoint to clinch the contract while momentum is still strong. If things look less positive, they can schedule a call with other members of their team to help convince buyer-side stakeholders about the things they remain unsure about.
Making Use of the Unexpected on a Sales Call
It’s a metaphor we’ve used before, but it bears repeating. The art of the sales call is like jazz. It involves a lot of improvisation. It’s not for everyone. It might look like everything’s happening at random — but the best practitioners of that art know the value of the rules. It’s so that, as one great jazz musician once said, “You can bend [those rules] to your own satisfaction and taste.”
It takes a sales manager with nerve, experience, and a lot of expertise to go up against best sales practices. Sales as a field often become tied to what's orthodox. The result of this is that all reps sound the same on the phone, the tactical repertoire becomes stale, and your closed-won prospects are reduced. Your prospects have heard it all before!
That's what makes a few unexpected facts go such a long way when you can incorporate them effectively into your sales strategy. Pricing, competition, discounts — all of these things can complicate calls and potentially send deals off the rails if you don't approach them right. But coach your reps to approach those things with confidence and equip them with the skills and knowledge to do so, and you'll find the rest of the pack's disadvantages will turn to your very real advantage.