We all want to be data-driven, optimize customer journeys, engage them well at each touchpoint so that we can seamlessly advance them from one sales stage to the next, and thereby leading to retention, renewals, and referrals. But it all starts with understanding how businesses buy (especially in a B2B SaaS set-up), what they care about, what qualifies as a great buying experience for them, and then building a process around that understanding.
In this blog post, we will talk about understanding what an average SaaS buyer goes through as part of their buying process, how to adapt according to the buyer maturity stage, how to tackle competitive deal situations, and the key pillars of buyer experience.
The impact of touchpoints in the SaaS buyer journey
Customer journey mapping refers to the visualization of all possible customer interactions with a company, product, or service. The goal of customer journey mapping is to identify and document the various touchpoints a customer has with a brand and to understand how customers interact with a company at each touchpoint.
Customer journey mapping is also used to identify opportunities to improve the buyer experience by improving prospect interactions and touchpoints.
For example, a SaaS customer may begin their journey with your brand by reading a review by one of your customers on a software review site. And with every other touch point, the customer comes closer to your brand by adopting your freemium subscription/pricing, enjoying the user experience your product offers, interacting with sales and customer support, and so on.
Customer journey mapping can be used to document the customer experience for a specific product or service, or it can be used to document the customer experience for a company as a whole.
All said, how you sell is how you win.
From the website visit to customer onboarding and beyond—it could be the simplicity of the form on your demo or sign up page, how quickly the sales reps follow up, or sometimes it may be the tool that routes the meeting requests via the calendar—every single touchpoint matters!
Typically customer journey mapping includes customer experience maps, user experience maps, and product/service experience maps. But the scope of this blog post is focused on the sales experience. In fact, a study done by Challenger in 2019 revealed that buyers attribute 53% of their buying decision to their sales experience.
And that means as a sales organization, though you have a very short window of time with your buyers, your influence is outsized.
The difference between a good buying experience and a poor one is that the SaaS organization that offers a bad experience hasn’t thought through every detail. It’s easy to think about the experience in parts such as following up with the prospects after they convert, or having them talk to our SDRs.But if you aren’t thinking about the buyer experience holistically, you’re already doing an enormous amount of harm there to that buying experience.
The moment a prospect engages with your brand through one of the touch points (e.g.your website), the clock is ticking and every single touch point from there on matters!
Factors of influence in the buying process
Based on our observations as well as conversations with a bunch of our customers, we see that there are at least 4 major factors that influence the buying process.
1. Circle of trust
Given the number of online communities, groups and social media connections we have today, one of the first steps that buyers take before getting into the buying process is—reaching out to their circle of trust.
For instance, a buyer interested in investing in a conversation intelligence solution usually reaches out to their trusted communities like Reddit, G2, or Facebook groups in SaaS to research the tool, ask others about their first-hand experience, get an overall feel of the product, and possibly even a demo of the product in action.
2. Their own past experiences
Another key factor of influence is one’s own past experience with a brand or a product. For example, if a buyer has already used Hubspot CRM in the past, and has had a great experience—chances are they will go back to the Hubspot team again. If you’re in Hubspot’s shoes, this is also one of those moments where you have an opportunity to craft a unique buyer experience rather than having them go through the whole sales cycle from scratch.
3. Fresh demand created by a marketing or great sales outreach
There’s a lot of power to demand generation and sales outreach. Inbound and outbound go hand in hand. A prospect might come across your posts on social media, or might consume your content via blogs, podcasts, or ebooks—or maybe something that one of your outbound specialists said resonated with them—and they want to learn more about your product and evaluate it for their use case.
4. Free-trials and your online reputation
Consumers want to experience the product first hand and one of the first things they often seek is the possibility of test-driving your product. Specifically in SaaS, there is no debating that free trial is a big ice-breaker. The try-before-you-buy experience has a magnetic pull for attracting new leads, driving sign-ups, and quickly converting high-intent users into customers.
Subsequently, the allied aspects of influence are: transparency of your pricing (a pricing page that doesn’t merely ask them to talk to sales), reviews on business review sites such as G2, and more. From our understanding of talking to customers, most customers shortlist anywhere between 3-5 solutions to choose from.
Now that we’ve the various factors of influence, let’s look at another factor in the buyer experience—the mismatch in understanding of the buyer stage.
The buying stage mismatch
One of the key aspects to understand during the sales process is—the stage that a buyer is in. Many times it’s possible that the stage that a salesperson moves a buyer into might be very different from the stage the buyer is actually in.
Imagine a scenario where you shared your understanding of the buyer stage transparently with them. Chances are they might disagree with you on both sides of the spectrum. Either they might be far ahead in their evaluation and buying process or they might be too early in their buyer journey.
So, you want to make sure that you’re aligned with your buyers and take them through the right journey. You cannot have a one size fits all approach.
Mapping your sales process based on buyers
Today’s customers know a lot more about the software categories, the key players in your category, the different approaches each player takes to solve the problem, and more.
This wasn’t the case 10 years ago and you had to talk to the salesperson to get more information about the products. You couldn’t go to communities like Pavilion or Bravado and ask your peers, “What’s your experience with company XYZ’s platform?” like we do today.
Hence, salespeople were the gatekeepers back then. But in the current times, we cannot look at sales as gatekeepers anymore.
1. Understand the buyer stage
Today’s buyers come to the table educated. Before they reach out to you, chances are that they’ve already spoken to your customers and have an understanding of what it feels like to work with you, and how effective your product is in solving their problem.
While talking to Carl Ferreira, the Director of Sales at Refine Labs, he said:
I gave demos of Chilli Piper to two of my customers at Refine Labs. They hadn’t even spoken to Chilli Piper’s sales yet. Imagine this—they hadn’t even come into the sales radar of Chilli Piper and I had already compared their product to some of their competitors. That’s today’s reality which you see in private Slack communities all the time.
Sales is now a facilitator, not a gatekeeper anymore. However their impact in their limited time with the prospect is high.
Therefore, the sales process needs to be adapted based on the maturity stage of each buyer. Your buyers can always sense whether they are treated as if they’re in a much earlier or later stage compared to their current stage.
For instance, if a buyer has already done their research, clearly knows what they want, and all they want is to see the solution in action and get their questions answered—the last thing you want to do is to drag them back to the initial qualification stages just because you have a process.
Your sales process needs to facilitate the buyer and should not be geared towards the seller.
2. Have different processes for your key buyer types
When you design a buying experience, you need to think outside the box. Not every customer journey is linear where they have to go from an Sales Development Representative (SDR) to an Account Executive (AE) for a discovery conversation and then a demo.
We cannot have one approach that fits every buyer. The linear approach needs to be torn down and we need to think from the lens of the customer as to what’s in their best interest.
Sometimes, depending on the prospect, it's best they don’t talk to an SDR. Not even to an AE. Maybe it’s best that they don’t talk to anyone. Just let them sign up for your product and experience it for themselves.
But make sure that there’s someone always available to assist when the prospect needs help.
Let’s take another example. Let’s say a VP of Sales (a key decision maker in your target account) comes inbound into the sales cycle. You don’t want them to go through every step in the sales cycle. In this case, you want to make sure that this person skips the line and is directly talking to a subject matter expert.
The idea is to let them talk to their counterpart in your organization so that the resonance is high.
You might want to have criterias which can be the basis to route the prospects to ensure appropriate buyer experience.
3. Don’t let little annoyances build and compound
There is no one single touch point that makes you lose a deal. With every mismatch of expectation versus reality, the little annoyances keep building up and it compounds. For example, let’s say you have “Free trial” as a call to action (CTA) on your website and it leads you to a form to book a demo with a sales rep—that’s a mismatch. That’s not a free trial.
Even if you offer a true free-trial, there is an experience layer on top of it.
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 your company may have originally done this to give customers a self-paced product experience and allow 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 for assistance when they want to. Include a 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.
If you had to sum up the entire buyer experience and distill it into a framework—it boils down to three things: mindset, measurement, and execution.
Mindset: It’s about thinking differently about your buyer. Your buyer probably knows about your product already, they might know the cost, they might have already seen a demo. And that means you need to change your mindset and approach based on how much they’re already educated about you.
Measurement: You need to look into your process and understand where things slip through the cracks. It’s about understanding the math of your pipeline, the time between deal stages, the engagement at each stage. Regular pipeline reviews really help in bridging the gap.
Execution: Finally execution is all about taking the learnings from each stage and meticulously crafting the sales process in a way that makes sense to your buyer. Crafting the right process might be anything from hiring the right team, mapping each stage of the journey, to investing in the right tools.
We hope this post helps you improve your buyer experience, so please do let us know your thoughts. And a big note of thanks to Carl Ferreira of Refine Labs for sharing his nuggets of wisdom with us on The Modern SaaS Podcast, which we have crystalized into this blog post.