Best sales methodology for SaaS: 8 stages + 5 top sales models
Is there a perfect sales methodology that your SaaS sales team can follow?
In some cases, SaaS sales leaders may use a specific sales model to train and scale your team. And maybe it works for them.
But asking your team to strictly adhere to a sales model that isn’t built for SaaS can hurt their productivity. Or worse, it might make them close the wrong deals and lose more valuable prospects.
So, why is SaaS sales so unique? How can you build a better process and pick a sales methodology that works for your SaaS sales team?
Here at Close, we’ve spent nearly a decade selling our own CRM software to SaaS sales teams, and helping them develop strategies and processes to close more deals and scale their businesses. In this article, we’re going to share our top tips for choosing and implementing a sales model that works for your team.
SaaS vs. traditional sales methodologies: what needs to be different?
SaaS is a unique beast. You need to do more than make people buy your product—you also need to make sure they use it.
Here are some of the main differences you’ll need to adapt to in a SaaS sales model:
- Customers can come into your business through a self-service model, without interacting with the sales team.
- SaaS sales teams are ultra-focused on the highest-quality deals coming into their pipeline.
- Since the team is selling software, the sales model will almost always involve a product demo.
- With free trials for the software, SaaS teams are normally selling to prospects who have more intimate knowledge of the product, and they can use this to prove the value of the product during the deal process.
- In most cases, SaaS teams use more automation to optimize their interactions with prospects and close more deals faster.
So, how exactly should a SaaS sales methodology work?
8 key stages of the SaaS sales methodology
While the exact stages will vary depending on your business and your market, these are the basic steps that a sales methodology for SaaS should include:
1. Decide whether to focus on inbound or outbound
While there’s no scientific process or formula to tell you whether inbound or outbound is better, there are some ways you can consider whether your business will see better results through inbound or outbound sales.
Especially for early-stage SaaS startups, you won’t have the manpower to effectively do both. So, pick a focus and push to make it work, but always be ready to pivot if the sales data tells you it’s not working.
Here are some signs that your SaaS company is more suited to an inbound process:
- You’re a startup without enough capital to invest in a big sales team
- You have a product that people search for online, giving you a higher chance of reaching potential customers organically through content marketing
- The purchase decision for your product doesn’t require a lot of time
- Your team has a unique advantage when it comes to creating content
- Your target audience prefers to do their own research and doesn’t respond well to outbound sales
On the other hand, your SaaS sales team might be more effective doing outbound sales if:
- You’re selling a high-ticket product to larger companies
- You have a totally new solution to a problem (and no one is searching for it yet)
- Your product has a long sales cycle
- Paying your sales team a healthy commission isn’t a problem
- Your target audience is open to receiving cold calls and emails
- You have a very clear target market
Dig deeper into the differences between inbound and outbound sales in this article.
2. Develop a strong inbound process
If you decide to pursue an inbound sales process for your SaaS company, you’ll normally run with lean sales teams that work to qualify prospects and close deals, heavily relying on a steady stream of inbound leads to carry them through to hit quota.
So, build an inbound pipeline that is strong. For SaaS, this should always include:
- Clear, easy way to contact your sales team
- Inbound forms on your website to capture new leads
- Free trial option for your product
Of course, lead generation ideas vary from the most simplistic to the most grandiose (and expensive). Without breaking the bank, test different inbound methods and see which works best for your company (i.e. where you generate more high-quality leads).
Continue leveraging as many of these lead generation techniques as you have the bandwidth and budget for. If they’re bringing in valuable leads, they’re worth it.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- An effective content marketing strategy
- Downloadable guides and templates (like our Sales Resource Collection)
- Joint webinars with related, non-competing brands
- Social media posting and connections
- Niche online communities
These are just some of the lead generation techniques that brought us 200k+ leads in less than 4 years.
3. Build a solid outbound strategy
If you decide that outbound is right for your team, they should get ready to hustle.
For early-stage SaaS companies that are still searching for product-market fit, you can use a solid outbound sales strategy to validate your product and learn from the market as you grow.
You can validate your product idea by:
- Talking with customers face-to-face
- Chatting over the phone with a larger test group of potential customers
- Emailing potential customers to gather more data and build an early list of prospects
- Separate buying intent from general interest by going for the test close
Once your SaaS company has product-market fit, your team needs to learn how to target key accounts and reach out effectively for a solid outbound process.
First, your team needs to know who they’re looking for—which means you need to build a data-backed ideal customer profile.
Next, using that profile, reps do research to find the right accounts and identify key stakeholders to reach out to.
Then, it’s time for cold outreach—this might include:
- A series of templated cold emails
- Cold calls
- SMS messages
- Reaching out over social media (particularly LinkedIn)
When your outbound strategy works, your reps will have a steady flow of highly-targeted leads added to their sales pipeline alongside inbound leads.
4. Qualify inbound leads for ultra-targeted deals
For inbound leads, qualification starts when a new inbound lead takes action that indicates they’re interested in purchasing your product.
The first stage of qualification should be automated with lead scoring.
This will tell you who should take the self-service route, and who should be added to your sales team’s pipeline. All it takes is adding a couple of questions to the forms on your website that pinpoint key indicators of success for your customers.
Why is this important? Because it means your team can focus only on the deals that have a higher chance of closing. See how we’ve set this up for our own sales team at Close.
After high-scoring leads are added to the rep’s pipeline, it’s time for more in-depth discovery and qualification.
At this stage, reps ask questions with specific goals:
- Match leads to key aspects of the ideal customer profile
- Determine needs and customer pain points
- Understand the decision-making process
- Reveal maximum budget
- Flush out the competition
- Highlight the value of your product
Asking open-ended questions about the prospect’s company, challenges, and needs also helps reps determine the right solution for the customer.
Down the road, reps will use the information gathered at these stages to develop a personalized product demo and help the prospect build an effective workflow inside the product.
5. Relentlessly follow up
In SaaS, you’ll almost never close the deal on the first call. Sales cycle length normally depends on the price of the product, with higher-ticket deals taking several months to close.
That’s why following up is such an important part of the SaaS sales methodology. When someone has expressed interest in your product, keep following up forever. We have seen this work time and again with our own sales team and with the SaaS teams we work with.
To do this effectively, set up a sequence of emails to regularly follow up with leads at scale. In Close, you can build sequences with emails that are templated and personalized, with specific rules about when and how these emails are sent.
(Psst… looking for inspiration? Check out 47 email sequences that today’s top SaaS sales teams are using to close deals)
6. Develop a personalized product demo
SaaS sales is all about proving the real-world value of your product and enabling prospects to become successful users.
This is the stage where this strategy comes into play.
Product demos are an essential part of the sales process for SaaS companies. But if you want your product demos to stand out from the monotonous blur of demos that your prospects are sitting through, you need to make the demo itself valuable.
The team at Close does this by building out their prospect’s unique sales workflow directly into their free trial of Close during the demo itself. Then, once the demo is over, the prospect is left with a customized free trial product that brings real value from the moment they start using it.
Of course, this isn’t possible for all SaaS sales teams, but your demos should absolutely be personalized to the unique needs and challenges you discovered earlier in the process.
Show them the power of your product for their daily lives.
7. Collaborate on a plan for success
Once prospects see the real value of your product and you’ve helped them build a process inside the product, they’re much more likely to close the deal.
At the later stages of the sales process, it’s important to keep up the collaboration between the sales rep and prospect.
Here is where negotiations, pricing, and choosing a plan come into play. Throughout the process, the rep has proven themselves to be an expert in the field. So, in the negotiation stage, they can work alongside the prospect to guide them towards the plan or pricing that makes the most sense for their business.
8. Close the deal and retain them over time
For many sales teams, the job ends once the prospect becomes a paying customer. From that point on, the Customer Success team takes responsibility for them.
But here at Close, we do things a bit differently.
After the contract is signed, the rep who has been handling the account continues to work with the new customer to get them successfully onboarded and happy within the product.
We’ve seen this extended collaboration boost customer retention rates beyond those early months, and it’s also given measurable results to other SaaS sales teams we’ve advised.
Why does this work? Because the first few months a customer is using a new SaaS product will determine whether or not they stay on for the long term.
When you treat this as part of the sales process, your sales team will help customers see real, immediate value from your product. In the end, more customers will decide to stay with your product, and you’ll increase your customer lifetime value.
A continued relationship with these customers will help retain them, and after a few months, they can be transitioned to your success team.
All of these stages are essential to a sales methodology for SaaS companies. So, which model fits these requirements? How can you choose a model that works for your team and your market?
5 best sales methodologies for SaaS
There are hundreds of sales methodologies touted by sales experts. While each probably has a time and place where they work, we’re going to dive into the top sales methodologies and how they work in a SaaS environment.
1. Customer-Centric Selling
Customer-centric selling means putting your customers’ needs ahead of your own agenda. This model works for SaaS because the sales team focuses on bringing in highly qualified customers that will see real results with your product.
2. Challenger sales
SaaS is all about innovation and pushing the bleeding edge of what’s possible with technology. That’s why Challenger fits well with SaaS—it’s all about challenging your prospects to live outside the box and gain a new perspective about their industry and needs.
When selling SaaS products to other startups, a Challenger sales rep becomes an advisor and guide that challenges prospects to test their preconceptions and try something new.
3. Consultative selling
The goal of consultative sales is to build a strong relationship with prospects. Sellers work to understand the prospect’s need before offering a solution, but also work as expert consultants who can effectively guide the prospect.
Beyond simply selling a product, consultative selling requires being candid and selfless while searching for the right solution to fit their specific needs. Sometimes, this means helping prospects see that what they assumed they needed isn’t actually the right solution to their problem.
4. Value selling
This SaaS sales methodology leads with tangible, measurable value that your customers get from using your product. Reps translate real data from customers into potential results for prospects in the sales process, putting a dollar value on the problems they’re facing and the solution they could see.
In SaaS, you often find yourself trying to justify the price tag of your solution. But I always say: Never talk price before value. That’s exactly what this sales model is all about.
5. Target account selling (TAS)
The TAS sales model works best for SaaS companies going after enterprise customers. With target account selling, quality is placed at a higher priority than quantity. Teams develop clear, precise customer profiles, and work to match any new potential customers to that profile. During the sales cycle, extra time is spent on discovery and qualification, and reps work harder to develop relationships with multiple stakeholders to solidify the deal.
Mix and match to create your ideal sales model for SaaS
Your business is unique, and so is your ideal sales methodology. No one can tell you that one model is ‘perfect’ for your business (and if they do, they’re probably trying to sell you something).
The best model for your business may be a mixture of different sales methodologies. Maybe your ideal customers need to have their ideas challenged, but also need to see real value before they’ll be convinced to buy. Maybe your team does a lot of research to target the right accounts, and then focuses on building a workflow inside your product, as a consultant.
Mix and match sales methodologies to see what works best for your market. Pull the best strategies from each and use them to close more deals.
Want more advice on building an effective SaaS sales process for your team? Download your free copy of SaaS Sales For Startup Founders!