The Secret to Selling SaaS – Value vs. Product

6 minute read

When it comes to selling SaaS, conversations with customers often begin with this question: “So what is it that you sell, exactly?”

If you sell a technology product, or anything that lives in the cloud, the answer to this question can be a little elusive. Nowadays, the most valuable technology companies don’t just sell products, they sell something more.

If you sell an innovative product, something that requires your customer to ‘Cross the Chasm’ of the early adopter, sometimes that customer can go 57% of the way through the buyer’s journey, but still not understand what you’re selling. This is especially true if marketing puts product features front and center, instead of focusing on the value your products deliver. It’s even more common if your products have that ethereal, shape-shifting quality of a cloud service or app. However, this communication gap between you and your customer can actually be an advantage if you talk about the value you’re offering, and you avoid explaining the product.

The SaaS sales pipeline: out with the old, in with the new

Access to information has completely changed the conversation successful salespeople have with their customers. Customers are far savvier about what they want and where they can get it. Mistakenly, most people will begin selling by talking about their product. They’ll describe the features, functionality, go through some screenshots, and maybe even walk the prospect through a demo. ‘You need this product!’ they say, ignoring the customer who has the look of someone who has heard it all before.

Take Salesforce for example. What is it, exactly, that Salesforce sells?

  • A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system (
  • A platform for application development (
  • Services
  • An apps platform (Salesforce1)
  • A marketing platform
  • A community platform
  • An analytics platform and applications (e.g. Wave)

The list goes on. Depending on your needs, you can pull out everything you need from that list to run your business. Looking through their ‘products’, what defines a product and how it’s delivered is suitably nebulous. By offering a multi-tenant, scalable, and easily upgraded cloud solution, Salesforce has led the way in redefining how and what we sell to our customers. Salesforce encapsulates all that they offer in their ‘Customer Success Platform’, comprised of Sales, Service, Marketing, Community, Analytics, and Apps. Salesforce has millions of happy customers.

Selling SaaS is all about relationships

So what is it, exactly, that they sell? Traditionally, a product is defined as something we provide a customer to meet their needs, in exchange for money, goods, or services. A quick scan of some big names in SaaS reveals something interesting. While all claim to offer something tangible like a product (an application to help you with your marketing needs, for example), all of these companies place the emphasis on their relationship with their customer, and the value they deliver to that customer.

All of these companies have something in common – the value they offer is scalable, easily upgraded, and you can mix and match their solutions to suit your particular problem. Components are arranged so every customer is free to access and use what is valuable to them in order to solve their own particular problems. Every customer is different, and so is the problem they’re trying to solve.

“With cloud software, we’re now in an era where it is possible to provide individual solutions to address individual customer needs.”

The easier you can make it to solve the customer’s problem, the happier they are. Cloud solutions just happen to do that in a way that makes it easier than ever before. It’s a great position to be in from both the seller’s and the buyer’s perspective, so why not talk about it? The conversation is about more than the product; it’s about the value that’s delivered at the end.

Sell SaaS is about delivering value, not product

Technology companies often struggle with the task of shoving whatever it is they do for their customers into a box called ‘product’. Trying to reduce what you do down to something tangible called a ‘product’ is a viable way to find your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), but what about everything else you offer? Better sales conversations require you to sell more than a product.

A new way of selling SaaS

Great sellers are even better relationship builders. They start their conversations with customers by finding out what challenges and obstacles they face so they can determine if the value they offer matches their needs.

They ask questions like:

  • Are we selling a piece of software, a smart application, training, or a sales methodology?
  • What do they add to the Salesforce CRM?
  • What is Sales Transformation and how can it help me?

Unlike the lone wolves of eras gone by, relationship sellers don’t try to sell you anything when they first meet you. At least not upfront. This approach to selling SaaS is part of the account-based selling methodology – putting the solution last and learning about the customer and their individual problems first. When the customer’s problems and challenges are agreed upon, you can sell a solution, or more importantly, you can talk about the value you’re going to deliver for your customer.

The core of ABS sales methodology is to first align the customer’s problems to your solutions and then to talk about mutual value attainment. To do that, you’ve got to understand the customer and their needs, and what they value most, so you can deliver that value directly to them. Locating your business on the cloud means that your solution will include not just a tangible product, but a range of other components like expertise, smart coaching, analytics, models, and templates, all designed to deliver value. Taking advantage of cloud technology, or any modern distribution method for that matter means selling more than products.

Always remember: delivering value to the customer is more important.

How do you sell value?

There are 5 key steps to selling value as part of your SaaS sales pipeline:

  • Know what value means to your customer
  • Get to know your customer’s business intimately
  • Collaborate with your customer to identify their needs based on obstacles they face
  • Align your customer’s problems with your solutions
  • Agree upon the value you can deliver

According to Jill Konrath: To win more sales, stop selling. When people feel like they’re being sold, they put up barriers:

“The way to win sales, and customers, is to stop selling products, and start selling value.”

–Jill Konrath

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