“Talk To The Software”

23 Aug

Sometimes, the best salesperson is an error message.

One question that often arises for SaaS companies that sell to the enterprise is whether they should funnel customers through salespeople, or offer a self-service product.

Usually, the partisans of the two sides are like opposing factions in a holy war.  The Church of Sales insists that human salespeople are better at selling software than any order form, because they can understand the customer’s needs and help them find the right (and more expensive) solution.  Meanwhile, the Self-Servicists argue that buyers hate salespeople, whom they consider a waste of time, and that anything that comes between the buyer and an order button is a waste of time.

Both sides have a good point; salespeople are critical for consultative sales, and it’s a rare company that will sign off on a 6- or even 5-digit purchase without talking to a human being.  On the other hand, many buyers screen any phone calls they receive from vendors, and view negotiations as about as pleasant as a dentist appointment.

Our experience at PBworks is that you need to try to leverage the best of both worlds.  Ultimately, we’re agnostics who combine self-service and sales in an ecumenical strategy that I call, “Talk to the Software.”

Here’s the secret: Your goal should be to play “Good Cop, Bad Cop” with your salespeople playing “Good Cop” and your software playing “Bad Cop.”

Once upon a time, we were members of the Church of Sales; we wanted to learn as much as possible from every deal, so every communication went through our Sales team.  The problem was, this put our salespeople in the position of being the bad guys.  Customer over their storage limit?  Have Sales call them.  Customer needs to buy more user licenses?  Have Sales call them.

The net result is that customers start avoiding your Sales team.  When we became agnostics, we turned enforcement over to the software.  Now our software plays “Bad Cop” and blocks users who violate their licenses, leaving it to our sales team to play “Good Cop” and help them get back in compliance.  Our Sales team has better, more productive conversations, and because they don’t have to act as enforcers, they also have more time to find expansion opportunities.

Don’t make your salespeople play Terminator–let the tireless, ruthless servers in your datacenter handle your dirty work.

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