We had the opportunity to speak with Bob Marsh about B2B SaaS sales. He’s spent his career in SaaS sales and is currently the CRO of Bluewater Technologies. Bob also does a lot of speaking; he’s spoken 15 times at Dreamforce as well as at SaaStr and Hubspot’s conferences. Visit his site at meetbobmarsh.com to learn more about his speaking. Our interview is below.
1. What are you seeing in the market? The way customers buy has changed, and unfortunately it’s changing faster than the way sales people sell. Buyers are doing more research on their own, there are far more stakeholders involved, remote meetings are not going away (Zoom’s enterprise customer growth continues for instance), and attention spans have shortened. Sales people are not adapting fast enough and sellers need to recognize they’re still selling to human beings; you cannot just ‘technology’ your way to the close. Buyers may be spending less time with salespeople, but they don’t want a purely digital experience. A buyer wants to be shepherded through the process. Bob believes in a Surround Sound selling process, which has four pillars: i) connect emotionally, which means you need to be genuine and ultimately liked as a person to establish trust; ii) social amplification, meaning you need to find a way for the buyer to be seen doing a good job to their superiors and that there are others who have purchased from you successfully — this make them feel safe; iii) preferred access, meaning you need to figure out how the customer likes to buy whether they prefer email, the phone, in-person meetings, text etc.; and finally iv) rationality, meaning the sale has to make sense for both the buyer and their organization, and that the customer can clearly envision how the process will work, what success looks like, and how you’ll get them there.
2. If stakeholders are being added to the sales process, what do you do? Salespeople become involved with their key contact but other decision makers are most definitely involved in the decision. If you discover more constituents are involved, ask the buyer “I know others are involved in this process, what resistance are you getting from some of these individuals.” This will reveal what others are saying, but also what’s on the mind of the customer that they’ve hesitated to share. Additionally suppose one of the constituents you need to convince is the CIO or CRO of the prospect. One technique is to have your own CIO or CRO reach out and greet them, acknowledge them, mention you and your hard work, and build that social connection with their CIO or CRO. This is part of the emotional connection in the Surround Sound process.
3. How do you find the ICP? First off, when you identify the ICP, it doesn’t mean you say no to everyone else. It means you identify who is the perfect customer so that’s where you spend your marketing and direct outreach resources. You should still take those inbounds even if they don’t match your ICP initially. In order to identify the ICP, you need to figure out how the buyer thinks. Ask yourself how would a successful buying experience would feel with a perfect customer, who are you engaged with, how often do you talk, etc. The more quantitative way to identify the ICP is to do a win/loss analysis: on your wins, where did the lead come from, at what point in the sales cycle did we have confidence in the close, what did the customer love about the product and the process. On your losses, ask similar questions: where did the lead come from, how did they behave, what were their objections, and if you can identify the things that could have turned a loss into a win, what would those things have been. No doubt, patterns will emerge which will help you further refine your ICP.
4. When do you make the investment in an outbound program with SDR’s? You do it right away, if you can. In the early days you’re naturally outbounding because no one knows about you, so technically your outbounding program came first. To scale it, when you can clearly articulate the ICP and you can afford the cost of the SDR team, that’s a good time. Note that a typical SDR is someone earlier in their career, so you only bring the SDR on when you clearly understand the customer profile and sales cycle yourself because these individuals will need hand-holding. Bob does see companies build SDR teams too soon. Building an SDR program is a serious investment in time and capital, so you need to have a very clear understanding of your own business and process.
5. How do you hire the right VP of Sales? Don’t do this too soon. The CEO should be the defacto VP of Sales for as long as possible, especially if they’re a sales oriented CEO. If you’re a customer minded, sales driven CEO, you should act as the VP as long as you can. No one will do as good a job as you, and you have the benefit of being the CEO in the eyes of the customer. Otherwise, you bring a VP of Sales onboard when you know who the customer is, what your process is like, etc. You’re likely at $3mm+ ARR. When you bring on a VP of Sales, avoid individuals that have big corporate logos; they wont be used to startup life. You’ll be better served finding a young up-and-coming sales manager, let them sell your product on their own, and then bring sales talent below them. Bringing in a good strong sales person in your industry and letting them evolve into the sales leader is the way to go.
6. What do you look for when you hire an AE? They have to take initiative. They’re not waiting for others to lead a conversation or run a process. They need to be personable; that doesn’t mean they’re super outgoing rather it means they can have a conversation easily. They also need to be humble and curious. When Bob interviews a potential AE, when they first sit down, he literally doesn’t say anything. He lets it get awkward because he wants the candidate to take control of the situation. The second thing he does is to open up with “tell me about yourself.” It’s a very open ended generic question. Bob wants to see if they launch into their career or their personal life. In an ideal world, they blend both and tell a story, not just give facts. It’s amazing what people will say. Bob looks for cultural fits and sales acumen, moreso than industry expertise and years in the business. Bob also asks “what questions do you have for me.” Having no questions is a very bad answer. They’ve got to have questions about the company, strategy, or even Bob personally. They need to show curiosity. At the end, Bob just says “ok great” and ends the conversation with no clear next steps. He wants to see if the candidate takes initiative and says “alright so what are the next steps.”
Bob Marsh is as experienced a sales leader as it gets. Visit his website meetbobmarsh.com to learn more about his speaking engagements for your team.
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