How to accelerate the sales process in B2B SaaS?

Imagine shortening your SaaS sales cycle by 50% while keeping your price level at 100%

Traction in B2B SaaS is what it’s all about. Remarkable traction changes everything. If you’ve read my book, The Remarkable Effect, you’ll recognize my 3-lever framework to achieve this:

  1. Traction Foundation
  2. Traction Momentum
  3. Traction Resilience

In this blog, I dig into lever #2 – and more precisely, the question: How to accelerate SaaS sales?

As James Isilay, CEO of Cognism, said in my podcast interview with him:

The biggest thing that causes failure in a lot of companies is just poor sales process and bad sales process.

Sales is actually your first problem as a CEO that you need to address and get right.

And then, when you got that right, then you’ve got time to get your other bits right. But if you get sales wrong, you don’t really have much of a chance.

Throughout my career in B2B software sales, I’ve been intrigued that some sales processes took 12-18 months to close while other deals closed in weeks.

The key takeaways:

  • It had nothing to do with the vertical we were in
  • It had nothing to do with the product we sold
  • It had everything to do with how we approached it.

Lots of pipelines look healthy from the outset. Still, in reality, they are cluttered with deals that are stuck in the sales process because the prospective customers are not qualified carefully enough by your sales reps or don’t have the right arguments to pull the trigger and drive decision-making.

Answering this dilemma by giving an additional discount is not sustainable. It’s the race to the bottom that nobody wants to be involved in.

What complicates things is that customers often aren’t fully equipped to drive such a process.

Be honest, how often do you buy an ERP system or a Core Banking system?

It’s possibly the first (and only) time they do this in their entire career for many decision-makers.

So how do you go about it? How do you shorten your sales cycle by +50% without lowering your price?

That’s what this blog is all about. And to tune it even further – I am going beyond the low-hanging fruit. I am assuming here you got your Traction Foundation in order, i.e., an optimally defined ICP, laser-sharp positioning, and a compelling value proposition.

But before we start…

 


Here’s a question for you to reflect upon:

If you look at your SaaS sales process, what are the moments it decelerates?


 

Step 1: Sell the idea, not the product

The first aspect that stands out in its ability to accelerate the sales process is: Selling the idea, not the product.

From what I have seen and experienced myself, doing so unlocks several advantages:

You’ll own the audience.

Big ideas change perspectives. It reveals opportunities people are often unaware of and, done well, triggers something valuable and desirable. Just think of Evernote. I’ve been using that for years and still can spell out the big idea behind the company: ‘Remember everything.’ That’s so powerful and yet so simple.

You’ll unlock the money.

If people believe in the unique value behind your big idea, they are prepared to pay a premium. That’s why it’s one of the core concepts early-stage SaaS founders use to get funding to establish their businesses. In the same way, it works to win the heart of our ideal customers to invest in your solution to grow their business.

You’ll create a scale advantage.

Big ideas catch you. They are remarkable, i.e., worth making a remark about. It will get repeated by your employees because it makes them proud. That’s real alignment value. But, more importantly, it will get repeated by your customers. That’s where scale advantage and reach kick in in a way that hardly any company can afford to pay for themselves through their marketing effort.

You’ll create a magnetical effect.

The last benefit aligns with the third one but still stands out. Big ideas have the power to unite like-minded people. It builds a bond, helps grow a community, builds trust, and gives people a reason to return. The community will start collaborating and adding value to each other, increasing the value and taking the pressure off your shoulders. It’s a win-win for everybody.

How to go about it?

Here’s a list of ingredients fundamental to big ideas that stand out.

  1. It’s not about you
  2. It’s about change
  3. It addresses a friction
  4. It changes perception
  5. You’re the guide, not the hero
  6. Nothing gets lost in translation
  7. There’s a clear structure: Why, then How, then What
  8. It allows you to make your case without an argument
  9. It’s memorable and sharable

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What’s the big idea behind your SaaS business? How many ingredients does it tick?


 

Step 2: Build sales confidence into the process

One critical word to accelerate the B2B SaaS sales process is confidence.

Confidence on the seller’s side builds confidence on the buyer’s side.

Think about it; a buyer can smell when confidence is absent.

Their critical questions are replied to with vague arguments, or worse, waived away as unimportant.

The problem is that not everyone in your sales team is a top performer or has the evangelic skills of the founder.

So how do you go about it?

Here are three ingredients to take confidence to the right level in any deal

  1. Essence: Is the stated problem the real problem? My experience: Merely following the requirements in the project brief is never enough. The defined problem is vague at best, and that’s a significant risk to ensuring a rapid sales process. It’s your task to get it crisp so that when you read it aloud, your customers shiver – because it hits the right nerve. How? Keep asking ‘why’: why is this important? Why can’t this continue? Why this? Why now? …
  2. Extrinsic: What’s at stake beyond the project requirements. Just because you have the functionality they want doesn’t mean they’ll buy from you. There’s more to this. B2B SaaS investments often serve a bigger picture – the future direction of the business. So it is critical to have the bigger picture clear: The business aspirations, the changing targets, the external pressures that can derail their plans – and whether your solution can amplify this.
  3. Empathy: Understand the human aspects. Ensure you understand who they are and where they’re coming from. Take an interest in their role, values, goals, fears, frustrations, and aspirations. Then use that in how you communicate with them so it’s personalized to the person listening. It will help you get on the same wavelength as your prospect.

Spending time on these three ingredients builds confidence about all the forces at play.

  • It will make conversations relevant
  • It will ensure a better connection
  • It will boost trust with your prospect

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

Looking at your current SaaS pipeline – how many deals are slipping because your team is guessing on these ingredients?


 

Step 3: Lead the sales agenda to win their hearts

A crucial aspect to accelerate the sales process is (obviously) how we lead the sales conversation.

Especially in enterprise software deals, this can be complicated. Everyone who has a stake in buying your product needs to feel understood, valued, and understand how your product solves their unique challenges.

And while that is all true, it’s not enough.

To accelerate the Sales process, you want people to talk about you long after leaving the building.

So how do you go about that?

From all my experience in the B2B software space, here are four aspects that separate those that master this

Change perception

You want to open their eyes to a different way to attack their problem. People are wired to think a certain way and what they believe is the ‘right’ way to solve their problems. Well, they might be domain experts in their area, but when it comes to leveraging technology to solve their problem, their novices. Leverage that opportunity

Zoom into the essence – less is more.

Your prospect might have 20 problems you can solve. That doesn’t mean they’re all equally impactful. The art of accelerating the sales cycle is to zoom in on the few (max 3) problems that meet the following three criteria:

  1. most valuable for them to solve
  2. most critical for them to solve
  3. you can confidently exceed expectations

Everything else is noise that can decelerate the process.

Balance Facts & Emotion

While B2B Software sales are – as the word says – about business, we should remember we’re dealing with people. People are weird animals. We love facts, but most decisions are taken on emotion.

So do your homework on what your buyers aspire to and what they care about. What they stand for (and against). What they’re frustrated with, worry about, and what gives them energy. And then address that.

End on a high
Ending on a high is about flow. A vital part of your conversation is how you work towards a close – which doesn’t have to be the signature.

How? Structuring your conversation in such a way that it builds momentum where the only thing they can say is ‘Yes, of course.’

See it as a movie. Every act has a reason for being timed like that.

Why care about these ingredients? Cause they’ll help you claim pole position – even in the first meeting. With that, your chances are way higher to win.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

On a scale of 1-10, what’s your ability to claim pole position in the 1st sales meeting?


 

Step 4: Build trust in the process

As you know, this month, I am exploring the question: How to accelerate the sales process in B2B SaaS?

One thing that is essential on this list is: Building trust.

I recall a recent Sales Pitch Battle I led with one of my customers. And after seeing several pitches, one participant gave her colleague the following feedback: “You came across as trustworthy.”

She was right. The trust was heartfelt.

We never say this to people – but we feel it when it’s there (or not)

Trust is a critical component of sales success.

Without it, you better qualify out since the chances of winning are slim.

The big question is: What creates trust?

After brainstorming with the group, we arrived at this:

  • Being Human
  • Making it about them
  • Being “one of them.”
  • Knowing your stuff – coming across as confident
  • Being concrete
  • Show empathy – care – acknowledge the “other” person

We realized it has nothing to do with how good your product is or how famous your company is. These are all table stakes. You’ll always need to meet specific essential criteria – what happens beyond that matters.

Creating trust is about walking the fine line. You can quickly lose it.

We lose trust and credibility if we:

  • Go high-over – and are being too vague
  • Come across as insecure or (the other side) overconfident
  • Make things overly complicated – hard to follow
  • Brag about ourselves

A lot of this is about paying attention. It’s about showing up as a human.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What thoughts are your prospects left with after one of your sales execs has visited them? Is it a feeling of genuine trust? What if not?


 

Step 5: Leverage your fans.

The next ingredient to accelerate your B2B SaaS sales cycle is a very powerful one: Leverage your fans.

Here’s the thing:

Growing your B2B customer base is a process of one at a time. And since it’s a sales process, it’s all about building trust. Remember – for your customer; there’s a lot at stake; mistakes hurt.

And that’s where the power of peers comes in.

Your prospects view all your SaaS customers as their peers. And hence, talking for 10 minutes to them is invaluable and beats days of in-depth workshops with you.

And, therefore: Ensure you have enough peers to offer them. Because, one conversation with a peer often makes them say: I buy it – Endless talks with you, and they’ll say: I’ll think about it

There’s no better sales force than a fan force. For this reason, trait #6 in my book is called “Create fans, not just customers.”

I’ve experienced hands-on how valuable it is to be able to leverage fans, and what stress it gives to always have to bother the same few. You’re constantly on that edge whereby one of them will get fed up and say, ‘No, not me this time’.

So the way to solve it is to fix the root cause: Ensure every new customer has the highest possible chance to become a fan

And that begins with defining who you’re for and who you’re not for. It’s the difference between a flywheel and a … oh well … flat wheel.

And this is about this: characterize the 20% inside within your [current segment] that instantly see what makes you remarkable, and are prepared to pay a premium as a consequence.

Then say goodbye to the other 80%

The effect: You will start growing faster as a consequence in revenue, profitability, energy, momentum, …..

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If you’d ask a random customer if they’d want to do a reference call, what’s the likelihood they’ll say ‘Yes, sure!?’ What if that was 100%?


 

Step 6: Showcase your product to create Aha! moments

This goes hand in hand with the art of Storytelling, which, unfortunately, is often a foreign concept in our industry amongst sales and pre-sales reps.

One SaaS CEO recently shared a story about how they pay a lot of attention to orchestrate their demos like Hollywood movies.

Instead of doing so-called Harbour tour demos’ (you can do this, you can do that), they are using a straightforward structure: Situation, Complication, Resolution.

The demos are heavily scripted and optimized to match the right features to hit the right pain points, and, not unimportant, are tuned to create WoW-moments.

Storytelling is magic for shortening sales cycles:

  • Stories are memorable;
  • They are ideal for triggering emotions of fear, frustration, or hope.

And because of their structure, they provide context, are concrete, and are simple to comprehend.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What demo-sin have you experienced that should be avoided?


 

Step 7: Turn Proof of Concept into Proof of value

A way to shorten sales cycles is to get potential customers to commit to something smaller. Many businesses I know offer a Proof of Concept. But just the fact you can provision an operational system only gets you halfway (or nowhere).

One SaaS CEO recently said in one of my Masterminds: “It’s about solving the most valuable and critical problem. It’s about understanding what outcomes (not outputs) your customer dreams to deliver.”

And you achieve that by focusing on driving Proof of Value, not Proof of Concept.

Proof of Value helps you get sniper focused on shortening the sales process.

Proof of Concept bakes in failure from the start

Why? Because Proof of concept plants the bad seed in the minds of a prospect.

Here’s the thing:

If a prospect asks for a Proof of Concept, they are not committed. Their mindset is to trail, not actually to solve their problem. It sends the wrong message to the organization, and s such, people will not give it dedicated attention. So, it’s a mindset positioning challenge.

A comment from one of the CEOs in my SaaS CEO Mastermind group tells the whole story:

“I analyzed all our customers – and the ones that became our biggest fans did not do a proof of concept. The ones we have constant struggles with did.”

So how to go about it?

  • Start referring to it as Proof of Value.
  • Demand a fee that’s high enough for the customer to go ‘all in.’
  • Charge a fee that incents you to deliver remarkable value – fast.
  • Set clear, measurable criteria for success i.e. real value delivered
  • Treat it as a (limited-scope) actual deployment – with the right people, real data, and real workflows
  • Alternatively, simply offer a one-year SaaS subscription contract with an Exit moment after three month

A proof of value will help you filter out bad customers. It’s a proof of seriousness.

Remember – it’s not about you. You’re always ‘all in’ – it’s your SaaS solution.

It’s about your prospect. They are the solution, not you.

 


Question for you to reflect upon

What if you’d stopped offering Proof of Concept projects and started offering Proof of Value projects?


 

Step 8: Zoom in on the high-value edges

I came from the ERP world, which typically covers multiple processes within a company. And hence there’s much more at stake for a customer – meaning long sales cycles.

So what fascinates me always is: How can you go around that?

One tactic to accelerate enterprise SaaS sales that is seriously underrated is Land & Expand.

From the sales execution perspective, we’re often ignoring it for a range of reasons;

  1. With this tactic, you need many more deals to make your target.
  2. The typical hunters and farmers structure in enterprise SaaS Sales means deals are handed over from one team to the other when the 1st contract is signed.

Pretty selfish arguments, right?

Would you agree they work counterproductive to the growth of a SaaS business?

What if we’d approach this from the perspective of company value creation instead of sales-rep value creation?

Why even care? Just read this quote from of the members of my CEO Mastermind:

We’ve designed our sales process around three months period where you negotiate for a month, drive proof of value for a month, and then sign the contract in the third month.

We did that because we know, with a good level of confidence, that 90% of customers that have started with the product have moved from the initial starting point and have grown 4-6x within the 1st year. So they’ve added more users, they’ve added more capability, etcetera.

When we started running it in a cycle, the sales process suddenly went from eight months to three months.

Key takeaway: find your way in by zooming in on small but high-value (w)edges. Deliver value fast, repeat. Everyone wins.

Besides that

  • It mitigates risk for the customer
  • They’re much more motivated to help get the 1st deal in
  • Value creation happens much faster and more predictably
  • This turns more customers into fans – driving word of mouth
  • You’ll often stay under the radar of the purchasing department

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

How much money have you left on the table the past 12 months by ignoring the potential of Land & Expand for your SaaS business?


Step 9: Master the art of timing & creating urgency

A significant element in accelerating the SaaS sales process is timing, i.e., developing a sense of when is the right time to accelerate a deal.

The best moment is obviously when the problem has become a burning problem and needs to be solved urgently.

There’s a significant role for your sales team here. And their part is to be the guide, influencing the customer’s behavior to bring them closer to getting the Aha!’ moment, i.e., the value tipping point.

You have multiple ingredients to play with:

  1. Your customer’s vision, i.e., what’s the change they seek to make for their customers?
  2. Their board-level targets, i.e., where do they aspire to be in 12, 24, 36 months?
  3. The external pressures, i.e., the things your customers have no control over but still have to deal with, one way or the other
  4. What’s becoming the biggest roadblock for them to achieve their vision and targets (their pains)
  5. What’s the risk of doing nothing, i.e., what will be at stake if they make no decision? What happens if they keep the status quo?

Remember – Deals only close when value and urgency are clear. Only then will customers start mobilizing resources.

But beware – creating urgency can work for you,… and against you.

I often get emails that rub me the wrong way in the way they aim to create a sense of urgency. I am not sure about you, but the typical ‘Your 40% discount offer ends tonight’ goes directly to the dustbin when I see it. I am the last one to say that creating a sense of urgency is not what you should do.

Creating tension is critical to initiating action. Without tension, people don’t move, and businesses don’t make decisions.

However, the research uncovered by Phrasee® shows this:

  • Going the negative way makes people feel angry (48%), inadequate (39%), sad (38%), or anxious (38%).
  • 56% agree that brands using negative emotions are partly responsible for harming people’s mental health.
  • 63% agree that brands using high-pressure selling tactics are responsible for getting people into financial difficulty.
  • 27% agree that anxiety-inducing marketing has made them buy things they have later regretted.
  • All in all, 76% agree they are turned off by brands that use high-pressure selling tactics.

So the art is in doing it right. But what does ‘right’ really mean?

To me, these are situations where creating urgency feels very right:

  • When it’s about aspiration, i.e., bridging the gap to a far better situation
  • When it’s about creating exclusivity – the type of exclusivity that grows status, importance, belonging
  • When we’re using scarcity to guarantee high quality

In short – Creating a sense of urgency correctly is about the following words: Genuine value, trust, and credibility. It’s about swapping pressure for positivity. That drives real action.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If you look at the most lucrative opportunities in your SaaS pipeline – where can you credibly leverage urgency to create motion?


Step 10: Build a remarkable proposal as a slam dunk

Now that you’ve come so far in the process, the final part of accelerating the deal is to package your work in a proposal they can’t refuse.

So let’s dig into that.

The most important pages of every offer are the management summary – and the pricing page. All the rest is about mitigating risk.

Your opportunity is to win the deal with a remarkable management summary.

And an excellent management summary follows the 5C story framework: Context, Catalyst, Complication, Change, and Consequence.

Let me illustrate the 6-step flow:

1: The title: Your promise

Summarize your promise to your prospect. What will the outcome be once they are finished?

2: Context, i.e., the essence of ‘What do you see?’

Summarize what’s going on. Paint the big picture for them. Talk to them in their language. Where do they want to go? What goals do they have in place to achieve that? What’s challenging them externally, and what does that lead to?

3: Catalyst – what’s changing

Summarize what they’ve told in the discovery meeting. What’s changing, and why is doing nothing, not an option?

4: Complication – what makes it hard to change

Summarize what’s becoming increasingly challenging and why that is the case.

5: Change – How they’ll improve

Visualize how they’ll improve by working with you. Summarize the top 3 or 4 points that help address their most valuable and urgent topics – ideally, the topics where you can exceed expectations. Don’t go overboard – this is the management summary. Keep it concise – but concrete.

6: Consequence What they will gain

Translate things forward. What impact will the top 3 or 4 improvements make on them? What will they become as a consequence of buying your solution? Again, the better you link this section back to their top corporate goals and even better ‘their vision / long-term aspiration’ – the more you’ll resonate.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If you look at your last three proposals – did they accelerate the sales process or slow it down? Could you have omitted the discount if you leveraged the management summary to tell a story?


In Summary

I wrote this blog intending to answer the big question: How to accelerate the sales process in B2B SaaS?

Here’s why: The biggest thing that causes failure in many companies is just poor sales progress and bad sales process.

Throughout my career in B2B software sales, I’ve been intrigued that some sales processes took 12-18 months to close while other deals closed in weeks. And my key takeaways are:

  • It had nothing to do with the vertical we were in
  • It had nothing to do with the product we sold
  • It had everything to do with how we approached it.

So how do you go about it? How do you shorten your sales cycle by +50% without lowering your price? Here are ten steps in summary

  1. Sell the idea, not the product.
    You’ll own the audience, unlock the money, create a scale advantage, and create a magnetical effect.
  2. Build sales confidence into the process.
    The three ingredients to do this: Focus on Essence, Extrinsic, and Empathy
  3. Lead the sales agenda to win their hearts.
    The four aspects that matter: Change perception, Less is more, balance facts & emotion, and end on a high
  4. Build trust in the process.
    Be human, make it about them, be ‘one of them,’ know your stuff, be concrete, and care.
  5. Leverage your fans.
    Your prospects view all your SaaS customers as peers; hence, talking for 10 minutes to them beats days of in-depth workshops with you.
  6. Showcase your product to create Aha! moments.
    Stop doing harbor tour demos’. Instead, tell stories with a straightforward structure: Situation, Complication, Resolution.
  7. Turn Proof of Concept into Proof of Value.
    Proof of value will help you filter out bad customers. It’s a proof of seriousness.
  8. Zoom in on the high-value edges.
    Zoom in on small but high-value (w)edges. Deliver value fast. Repeat.
  9. Master the art of timing & creating urgency.
    Deals only close when value and urgency are clear. Only then will customers start mobilizing resources,
  10. Build a remarkable proposal as a slam dunk.
    Follow the 5C story framework: Context, Catalyst, Complication, Change, and Consequence.

With every interaction with a prospect, we can accelerate the sales process. Take that opportunity. Imagine what that difference that could make in the next quarter.

Good luck

 

Additional resources to help you build the strongest foundation to accelerate the B2B SaaS sales cycle

The easiest way. Book a free call to explore if there’s a fit to do this together.

Otherwise – here are three other options

 

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About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.