Selling SaaS to SMBs? Know your stakeholders (or lose deals)

Selling SaaS to SMBs? Know your stakeholders (or lose deals)

Stakeholders? Come on Steli, we’re selling to SMBs. Not enterprise. We don’t have to worry about stakeholders.

Until a year ago, I thought the same thing. Selling to SMBs isn’t the same as selling to enterprise. It’s faster. Simpler. You don’t have to worry about tons of different stakeholders and 100 layers of approvals. Right?


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t matter if you’re selling to a Fortune 500 company or a startup founder, you’re always selling to people. And those people have different wants and needs.

If you don’t differentiate between the different, unique stakeholders at your SMB customers, you’re going to run into problems. I know, because we did.

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How we made a huge mistake with Close by talking to our customers

If you’ve read any of my other posts or heard me speak at all, you know how important customer intimacy is to me. Whoever understands the customer best wins.

At Close, we’re constantly looking for ways to proactively reach out to our users, get to know them, and provide them even more value. And so early last year, for the first time ever, we hired a customer success team to do just that.

But right away they came across a problem.

We have thousands of customers and only a small team, so who should they talk to first? Naturally, our success team decided to go with the largest companies first. But when they started to look into these bigger companies, they realized some of them have hundreds of sales reps using our inside sales CRM. So the next questions was, who exactly do we talk to?

Again, the natural choice was to go with the manager or admin—the person who’s running the account and would seem to be the most invested in our solution.

So our success team went out and started talking to these admins. They started running webinars and coaching and consulting them. And the more they interacted with these admins, the more they heard about their needs and wants, and started giving that feedback to the rest of our company, especially our product team.

Now, you’re probably asking, “Ok Steli, what’s the problem here? You’re getting valuable feedback directly from your biggest customers? Isn’t that a good thing?”

In most cases, yes. But we ignored one very important detail.

We lost sight of who our most important stakeholder is

Before I get into the mistake we made, and how we solved it, I need to give a bit of background on CRMs and SaaS tools in general.

If you've ever wondered why so many CRMs are so complicated and not user friendly at all, it's because they were never built for the user. Most companies realize the person with the most decision-making power when it comes to purchasing their solution is in leadership, and so they focus all their features on those people: CXOs, VPs, senior-level execs.

When we built Close, we wanted to break that cycle.

Our mission has been and continues to be to build the best CRM for SMB customers. And even more specifically, for the actual sales reps using it. And it’s brought us a huge level of success.

But a few months into our customer success team talking to the admins at our customers, we realized something strange was going on.


Our NPS score—a simple survey that lets customers tell you how happy they are with your product—stayed the same. And then it dropped.

We were investing so much in our users’ success and in developing the platform for them. Why weren’t they happy?

After digging into these scores we realized our massive mistake: While our NPS score for admins had improved from prioritizing new features for them, our score for sales reps had gone down dramatically.

We were prioritizing the wrong stakeholder. And our most important one was getting pissed off.

NPS surveys aren't fun—but they can save your business

If you're not measuring customer happiness, I'd recommend you start doing it soon. Many times the individual answers you get won't be that insightful, but the beauty is that you have a system for measuring customer happiness over time, and you'll be able to spot important trends early on, like we did.

Our NPS tool of choice is Wootric. They have a simple 1-click integration with Segment (another great tool in our stack). "I also like that they play well with other systems like Slack and Zapier–we were easily able to push our NPS scores and feedback into a slack channel for the whole team to view", says Liz Stephany from our Success team.
And it's really easy to filter and segment responses even for non-technical people:

NPS segmentation-min

Plus Wootric makes it easy to control how often people get surveyed. Whatever tool you use though, remember:

Listening to the wrong stakeholder can sink your SaaS company

This mistake taught us a huge lesson. Just because a customer is an SMB doesn’t mean they’re not made up of different stakeholders.

It’s not enough to just know your customer. You need to understand the ecosystem within their company. Only then can you need to differentiate, segment, and prioritize the right stakeholders and make sure you’re putting effort in the right place.

Differentiate: Who are the different stakeholders you’re going to deal with in SMB SaaS?

If you think about stakeholders in SaaS, there are a few basic categories you need to be aware of:

  • End User: Who uses your product for most of their day? In our case, these are sales reps.
  • Admin: Who buys your product or has the most decision-making power over the purchase? In our case, this is the sales manager or team lead.
  • Leadership: Who interacts with your product on a high level? People like the CEO or founders who won’t use the product every day, but have a lot of influence over whether or not they purchase.
  • Engineering/Operations: Who integrates your product into other tools? If you have an API or your tool connects with others, these are the kinds of project stakeholders who will be doing that work.
  • Other departments: Who occasionally uses your product? For Close, that means support or success teams who use Close occasionally to research customers.

Segment: Who is the most important stakeholder and who can you empower the most?

Once you understand that most SMB SaaS customers have these five different stakeholders, you’ll probably realize that they don’t all want the same thing. They have different needs. Different levels of influence. Different problems and priorities.

So you need to ask a few questions and segment them into different groups:

  1. Who uses your system the most?
  2. Who uses it occasionally?
  3. Who buys your system or has the most influence in the decision?
  4. Who can block the purchase of the system or lock it in?

Prioritize: Understanding who your most important stakeholder is

At the end of the day, you want to try to serve as many stakeholders as possible. But not equally.

You need to prioritize for your most important stakeholder. They’re your North Star, and the voice you want to amplify the strongest.

Once you’ve identified which stakeholder is most important, listen to them. Pay attention to them. Survey them and target them with your success team. Really invest in the relationship and prioritize their issues in your product roadmap.

For Close, we know that the sales rep is our end user. But we also know that engineering and operations can be a huge blocker for sales. They can say “nope, not secure enough” or “nope, we can’t integrate this product with our system,” and your deal is toast.

So, while the end user is our most important stakeholder, we also know that engineering is an important stakeholder. Which is why we’ve put a lot of work into our API, making it an important factor in acquiring new customers. (And more technical people love it. Like Taylor Brooks, a SaaS founder who said "When it comes to sales software, Close has one of the most flexible and powerful APIs on the market. Any and every feature in Close has an API endpoint, which gives me full control of my data and how I’d like it structured.")

It’s not enough to just know who your end user is. You need to understand your whole customer ecosystem and which stakeholders ultimately have the biggest sway over you getting the deal and providing value.

When you understand stakeholders, you understand your customer even more

When you’re growing and selling to bigger and bigger companies, it’s easy to default to the easiest solution and only talk to admins and leaders. But when you do that, you lose touch with the people you need to talk to the most.

Remember: Whoever understands the customer best will ultimately get them.

As SMB SaaS companies, we need to be better at understanding our stakeholders and prioritizing them, instead of just thinking of them as single-unit entities. Because they really, really aren't.

So whatever you do, don’t fall into the same trap we did. Look at your customers and really understand their ecosystem.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a company of 5 or 500, you can still differentiate, segment, and prioritize stakeholders and make sure you’re focusing on empowering the right ones.

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