The buyer experience in SaaS today has a close resemblance to Henry Ford’s pioneering idea around mass production. This comparison might sound a little far-fetched at first, but hear me out.
Fordism was a manufacturing philosophy that promoted the idea of leveraging assembly line production techniques to manufacture mass consumer goods for mass consumption. Fordism standardized everything and there was very little room for customization.
Take Ford’s Model T car, for example. It came only in black because manufacturing cars in other color variants meant adjusting the assembly line and compromising on the efficiency of the production process.
"Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black," Ford quipped when someone asked him about the lack of color variety in Model T cars. Mass production was an impressive idea back then, but not anymore.
Companies during the SaaS industry’s nascent years also exercised a similar monopoly. There were fewer SaaS products, lesser competition, and fewer options for customers to choose from.
As a result—consumers had to shell out quite a bit of money or were forced to sign complicated contracts when they wanted to buy a SaaS product.
We have come a long way since the early days of SaaS. Software as a service has dethroned on-prem solutions and is on its way to probably wipe it completely out of existence. SaaS is the software that Marc Andreessen warned us about 10 years ago.
Today, every business category you can think of has hundreds of SaaS companies fighting for a piece of the pie. For perspective, here’s how crowded the martech landscape was in 2020.
There are about 8000 martech solutions in this supergraphic—a staggering majority of which are SaaS products. Guess how many were there when Andreessen in 2011 predicted the oncoming tsunami of software? Just 150.
But despite the 5000X jump in the number of SaaS solutions available in just one category, the buying experience of SaaS customers has largely remained unchanged.
Today, while Ford offers a wide selection of car makes and models to appeal to each market segment—many SaaS brands are still stuck with the old sales model that’s akin to selling Model T to customers who aspire to drive Tesla cars.
The broken SaaS buyer experience
Several SaaS businesses offer a rusty buying experience that’s reminiscent of the 2000s. They make customers fill out lengthy forms, schedule a demo, and go through a series of qualification criteria much before the real buying consideration begins.
Brands don’t seem to realize that they don’t have the leverage anymore—the customers do, with the plethora of options available to them at the tip of their fingers. Businesses gloss over the fact that the old ways of selling software products don't work anymore in today’s buyer-centric market.
The problem, however, is not limited to sales-led SaaS companies. Product-led companies are equally guilty of offering a software buying experience that’s riddled with friction points.
Product-led SaaS brands fully automate their entire buying journey leaving no room for customers to talk to a human in case they hit a roadblock during their product evaluation. It’s like the brands expect customers to figure out everything about the product on their own.
For instance, just because the customer onboarding journey is automated, it doesn’t mean that it’s helpful for the customer. Optimizing for efficiency is very different from optimizing it to make things easy for the customer.
Buyer experience > your sales process
It doesn’t matter what GTM strategy you have if it doesn’t center around delivering a seamless buyer experience. Consumers today want on-demand services, personalized brand experience, and instant gratification—not just in SaaS but across all aspects of their lives.
Brands such as Amazon, Netflix, and Sephora are leading the customer experience (CX) from the front because they offer a uniform, contextual brand experience across all touch points. And they have all nailed personalization.
Sadly, no SaaS brand in the B2B space can claim similar feats because most of them are more concerned about optimizing their sales processes rather than seeing things from the buyers’ perspective.
The SaaS buying experience is broken because brands don’t have good visibility about what goes in the prospects’ minds. Everyone involved in the sales process might be doing exactly the right thing and yet they miss the forest for the trees:
- Marketing runs intent-driven ads to attract the right audience to your brand
- A sales development rep (SDR) qualifies a prospect and hands them over to an account executive (AE)
- The AE gives them a product demo and marks the task as “demo done” in the CRM
The entire process is carefully put together for the sales team to mechanically follow a standard protocol. The focus is entirely on the brand and its sales process.
In reality, most prospects agree to sit on a discovery call or a product demo because it’s part of their research process—they are evaluating your product with five other SaaS tools to see which fits their bill.
The B2B brands that are actually offering a smooth-sailing buying experience are running low-key account-based sales and marketing campaigns—away from everyone’s knowledge. They design a personalized sales process for every account they target.
They have all the sales enablement assets that can help the prospects make up their minds. In addition to that, they also have a sales-assistance team that can jump in anytime to remove any possible friction in the process.
The rest are either entirely sales-led or product-led, taking an inward-to-outward approach (the model they want their team to align to) rather than taking an outward-to-inward approach, i.e., going by what a customer goes through and expects in their buyer journey.
6 ways to fix the broken buyer experience
A frictionless buying experience offers the customers a good mix of both—a delightfully automated product experience punctuated by the sales handshake when needed. It also balances all the factors that are critical to a successful sales deal like marketing, product, pricing, subscription plan, the flexibility of booking demos, and so on.
Here are six specific ways to fine-tune your sales approach so that you can design a customer-focused buying experience:
1. Offer a rewarding trial experience
There is no debating that free trial is an amazing gift to the SaaS world. The try-before-you-buy experience has a magnetic pull for attracting new leads, driving sign-ups, and converting high-intent users into customers.
Case in point: Totango research found that around 16% of SaaS brands they surveyed attribute 50% of new sales from new trials.
But now that free trials have become a default practice in the SaaS world, many brands offer them without putting too much effort into them.
Gartner reports that SaaS trials frustrate a lot of buyers. Their biggest complaints include complicated sign-up processes, difficulty in setting up the software, product configuration, and usability issues.
As a result, the contribution of free trials and freemiums to bring in new business in SaaS is on a steady decline—also according to Totango’s findings. This can improve—only if your brand is sensible in creating a rewarding trial experience.
Begin by making the new user sign-up easy.
Set up an email nurturing cadence simultaneous to the trial period to help the new users make the most of your product. Give your prospects quick and easy options to contact you directly if they have any queries.
Remember that it’s better to not have a trial offer at all than to offer a faulty buying experience that’s a waste of time for both you and your customers.
2. Make booking demos easy
Not all SaaS brands offer free trials. Depending on the kind of customers you are targeting (e.g., enterprise, healthcare, defense), you might be better off offering a free product demo instead of free trials.
Some brands—like Avoma—offer both. We have a 14-day free trial and also an option to schedule a demo. As a brand, Avoma caters to knowledge professionals across industries and offers product capabilities that appeal to several functions across an organization. Since we serve a broad customer persona, we have designed different buying experiences for different buyer profiles.
And we keep our demo page simple. Customers just have to enter their email address, book a date on the calendar, and confirm the demo. That’s it.
If your brand offers product demos, make sure the demo-booking experience is a breeze for customers. Don’t intimidate them with a lengthy sign-up form. Leave room for collecting more information about the customers during the demo session and thereby make the demo more contextual.
Embed a calendar right on the demo page to let them pick a convenient date and time for the demo call. This helps you to avoid the back and forth in email correspondence once the customer requests the demo.
Similarly, make sure your website has critical information about your product, features, pricing, and integration for the prospects so that there are no hidden surprises for them during the demo.
3. Offer sales assistance to reduce friction
If you offer your prospects a free trial of your product, you might want to add a human touch to it for better impact. By design, most product trials are set up in a way where sales is entirely cut-off from the automated process.
While this was originally intended to give customers a self-paced product experience while allowing the sales team to shed some of their load on automation—it’s not a black-and-white territory. Prospects opt-out of your funnel for various reasons and it’s helpful if the sales reps know when to step in to prevent the drop-offs.
Instead of leaving your prospects at the mercy of their self-discovery, give them the option to reach out to the sales reps when they want to. Include a call to action (CTA) in the email nurturing or your product interface.
This is a win-win strategy: your customers can opt for a personalized buying experience at their beck and call while your AEs can gain deeper visibility into the process and remove any possible friction from the buyer’s journey.
4. Be upfront and transparent about your pricing
Pricing is a highly subjective issue in SaaS circles. While some SaaS brands have no problem making their pricing publicly available, some others are very secretive about their pricing plans.
In their defense, these brands might have strong reasons to shield their pricing information from the public domain. If a SaaS brand requires its prospects to contact sales for pricing, they are:
- operating in a highly competitive domain
- only targeting high-ticket enterprise accounts
- offer a super niche vertical SaaS solution
- using pricing queries to qualify high-intent buyers
While all of them are valid reasons (from the brands’ perspective), they come at the cost of poor customer experience. Imagine a prospect landing on your features page, watching a video tour of your product, liking your product, and then discovering that they have to talk to a sales rep to know what pricing plan you offer. It’s an instant turn-off.
Buyers want to talk to sales only when they are comfortable and ready. In SaaS, it’s especially a norm for buyers to run their own research before they reach out to sales. Pushing them to go against their volition feels forced or dodgy.
By the way, no amount of secrecy can stop customers from finding out your product’s price range if they are willing. The internet is a wild world and there is no dearth of people who are resourceful enough to dig up such information from one of the several places like Twitter, Reddit, or other close-knit online communities.
A better alternative is to make your pricing information simple and upfront for prospects to understand before they can talk to your sales.
Also, pricing can be used as a qualifying parameter to deter the wrong target audience—but only if they have the right data to evaluate. Sharing your pricing information right out of the gates sets the right expectations for the customers and helps you save time and resources.
5. Offer flexible subscription options
In order to maximize profit out of a customer account, several SaaS brands offer complicated annual contracts that are hard for customers to get out of once they commit. It’s a rational thing to do when you are a SaaS brand that needs to improve its year-on-year revenue growth to keep your investors happy.
But from the buyer standpoint, it’s nothing short of predatory business practice. Take tricky lock-in periods, for instance. Many SaaS businesses only offer fixed annual subscriptions or contracts without the monthly billing option.
Sure, this gives them the impression that they are improving their customer retention and lifetime value in the short term. But in the long-term, the forced subscriptions and tacky sales contracts result in a high churn rate and overall bad PR.
Compelling customers to sign up for rigid subscription plans is not just manipulative—it also shows that the brand lacks confidence in its product.
If you trust your product’s capability to solve real-world business problems, then you will naturally have the confidence to offer a fair and flexible subscription option, and let customers choose what they want to do.
At Avoma, we tell customers, “Let’s crawl, walk, and then run.”
6. Shorten the sales cycle
One of the fundamental mistakes that SaaS brands make in ruining the buying experience for their customers is—they deliberately partition the discovery call from the product demo for no specific reason. It’s just part of their playbook.
As a customer, would you like to be in three levels of discovery and qualification calls before you get to see the demo? Obviously, no.
If a prospect has already researched your product inside-out and if they pass your initial qualification criteria, you can use the discovery call to show them how your product solves their problem, right there on the same call. It makes things simpler for everyone and they might appreciate you for saving their time.
Of course, there are caveats. Don’t force-fit product demo during the discovery phase if:
- the customers explicitly request another sitting
- the discovery call goes on for a long time
- you want to personalize the product demo for better results
But if the prospects come to the discovery call red-hot and willing, don’t make them go through 6–8 touches just because the sales pundits say so.
Finally, what color is your SaaS?
If your sales process is similar to selling all-black Model Ts to your customers, you might want to reevaluate your current processes and align them to the buyers’ expectations. This means offering them a healthy balance of automated product experience and sales-assistance when required.
Personalize the sales experience for each customer as much as possible. Scale is important for growth—but not at the expense of poor buying experience. And you can improve the customer experience at scale by understanding your customers and offering them a consistently good buying experience.