What Sales 2.0 is and What it is Not

I had coffee recently with the CEO of a rapidly growing SaaS company that is focused on the SMB/SME market in verticals that are not terribly sophisticated (i.e. they are late adopters).  His company’s timing is good, there is a strong need for its offering and “Software in the Cloud” is becoming mainstream in verticals likes those he targets, not just something cool for folks in the Silicon Valley Echo Chamber to yammer on about endlessly.  This CEO has had solid success in previous ventures running enterprise and hybrid sales teams and knows what it takes to identify, nurture, manage, negotiate and close a complex sale.

[As an aside, this change really is amazing – I spent years toiling in the wilderness, pursuing missionary sales of ASP offerings (the old word for SaaS), early in the last decade.  All the things we talked about then are now coming true – ubiquitous access to applications, freeing the operations folks from the tyranny of the IT department, freedom from worries about backup or security – it just has taken a lot longer than we thought it would.]

Five Tools

The CEO and I got talking about the notion that some folks have of  “Sales 2.0”, particularly investors, some board members and finance types.  This view, which fits nicely into the empirical/engineering  mindset that often dominates these groups, sees all the new tools, which really are cool and powerful, available to a marketing and sales team such as:

  1. Social media listening tools
  2. Many-to-many communications
  3. Content-based marketing
  4. Marketing Automation Systems (MASs)
  5. Salesforce Automation tools (SFAs)

– and thinks: “We now have a marketing and sales process that generates metrics that we can measure that is predictable.  Sales is no longer a mysterious process full of black magic and completely unpredictable.  We have turned it into… a …. machine.”  This suits the investor/board member/finance guy/engineer perfectly as he can now say: “Increase spending on marketing by $X and increase sales by $Y.”  Or, as I have heard more than one investor say: “Let’s turn the dial and increase sales.”  The CEO dubbed this as the “Vending Machine” approach to sales.

Now Sales 2.0 is a huge step forward and I am a big believer in its promise.  It binds marketing and sales much more closely together and enables even small companies to develop a broad reach in the market and track their processes much more accurately.  We have only just begun to leverage its power.

But selling a complex solution – and most B2B Saas offerings involve a complex solution sale – still involves serendipity, unknowns, delays, obstacles and, well, luck.  This is because the purchase decision is a human endeavor and humans are notoriously un-machine-like.  Buying a SaaS offering involves process change, the investment of personal political capital by the buyer’s representatives and raises both business risk for the buying entity and personal risk for the buying champion.  These pressures all add a measure of unpredictability to the sales process.

This is particularly true when an early stage company is selling a new product into an organization: perceived changes and risk are heightened because the buyer is taking on both a new offering and a new vendor.  Sales 2.0 can dampen but cannot eliminate these variables.

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