How 15 SaaS sales leaders have adapted to the challenges of COVID-19 and a market downturn14 min read

SaaS Sales covid

The recent pandemic has made sales teams rethink their approach to selling SaaS solutions, as COVID-19 has amplified traditional challenges and common objections. It’s almost impossible to estimate future revenue thanks to frozen budgets across the board, so sales teams have had to refocus their efforts and take a flexible approach, to stay top of mind and relatable. 

To help the sales teams in our community, we spoke with 15 SaaS sales leaders who have had to adjust to the changing economic landscape, due to the knock-on effect of COVID-19 on sales pipelines, revenue forecasts, sales models, budgets and teams. Their top three challenges?

Stuck pipelines. Accurately forecasting revenue. And frozen budgets.

Sales teams are seeing a major shift in what customers view as must-haves vs. nice-to-haves. Therefore, it has never been more important to find short-term solutions to temporary setbacks, show compassion, and get your messaging right so customers can continue to see the value in your solutions for the unpredictable future. 

In this article, you’ll find insights from 15 sales specialists which we hope will give you the guidance and inspiration you’ll need to make it through these tough times, and come out stronger and wiser, post-COVID. Take a look at some of the tried-and-tested advice from SaaS sales experts in the industry, who have combated unsettling market conditions over the first half of the year. 

A | B | C | D | G | J | M | O | P | W

Alfie Marsh, Spendesk

Spendesk is the all-in-one spend management solution that delivers more control, visibility, and automation to today’s finance teams. Combine spend approvals, virtual cards, physical cards, expense reimbursements, and invoice management into a single source of truth. With automated reconciliation processes and complete pre-spend control, finance teams are empowered to make smarter spending decisions.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Forecasting revenue accurately, changing your sales model.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Shorten time frames, quick iteration of segments, test new segments / messaging / channels to adapt to the new environment, regularly reassess and double down on what’s working and cut what doesn’t.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“You don’t need to know the answer, you need to know how to find the answer.”

Brian Garvan, MeetingPackage

MeetingPackage is a venue management SaaS solution that enables hoteliers and other venue selling stakeholders to sell meeting rooms & event spaces online with dynamic pricing across hundreds of distribution channels.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Forecasting revenue accurately, prospects freezing their budgets, smaller teams.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Adapting to a modified short term forecast to reflect Covid disruption and likely lag to return to previous growth path. As we are a supplier to meetings and event spaces, many clients are closed or furloughed in recent months which has meant taking an innovative approach to cultivating sales leads.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Covid may feel bad at present, but it may be a massive turbo-boost to SaaS models as the present crisis has shown that dependence on manual processes has broken and only digitisation of the M&E booking process can support business continuity effectively for both venues and clients.”

Cris Villar, Landbot

Landbot is a platform that helps companies to create conversational experiences, and boost customer engagement with human conversations, at scale.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Prospects freezing their budgets, changing your sales model 

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“For prospects with frozen budgets, we’re offering temporary yet significant discounts so we can still close deals and drive expansion in the upcoming months – we just need to make sure we consistently deliver value. 

When it comes to ‘changing our sales model’, we went from a classic MR > SDR > AE structure (combining both inbound and outbound) to a 100% Inside Sales approach where we drive adoption, look for PQLs, segment them and automate contacts to add real value and eventually drive a sale.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Take this time to ‘go back to basics’, understand your users and how they’re exploring your product, and be there to help whenever they need it. These users might be pretty different than some months ago, so be flexible when it comes to ‘who your target customer is’ and delve deep into the needs they have NOW, you might be surprised.”

Dave Ascott, Chattermill

Chattermill uses cutting edge artificial intelligence to analyse customer feedback across customer touchpoints for organisations to harness customer insights at scale, boost customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Smaller teams, stuck pipeline, prospects freezing their budgets.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“We revised the plan and 1.) focused on the sectors that were still open for business and 2.) the activities we could undertake which would still have an impact. In some circumstances it was clear that it wasn’t possible to trade on the current reality so we looked at how we could trade on a future reality. As part of this we worked with prospects to agree terms that worked for both parties given the unique situations we all find ourselves in.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Communication is key, with remote working conditions and lack of contact with the team normal communication is not enough.  There is enough ambiguity created by the situation without creating additional ambiguity through poor communication.”

David Delnero, Clari

Clari’s mission is to help companies realize their fullest potential by transforming their revenue operations to be more connected, efficient and predictable.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Stuck pipeline, prospects freezing their budgets.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Contract, Creativity and Flexibility.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“An empathetic posture and understanding of circumstances will yield longer term value.”

Guy Weigert, SimilarWeb

SimilarWeb gives you global multi-device market intelligence to understand, track and grow your digital market share. They empower companies with the insights they need to win their market.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Prospects freezing their budgets, stuck pipeline, forecasting revenue accurately.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Increasing frequency of pipeline reviews in order to forecast better based on how the situation evolves, as well as unsticking some of the pipeline that needs support.

Regarding budget freezes, introducing more relaxed payment terms, and more free trials to prove the value early on while reducing the ‘long term commitment’ risk.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Over communicate as much as possible – Your team really needs clarity, visibility, transparency, and support as much as possible these days – communicate with them regularly and make yourself available as much as possible.”

Jeff Lurie, Appsumo

AppSumo is a marketplace for software and tools dedicated to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners. They hand-pick groundbreaking SaaS products that help their community of 1M+ “Sumo-lings” scale their businesses. Their motto is “The tools you need to grow your business shouldn’t put you out of business.”

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

“With what we do in helping launch and invest in these SaaS tools – we have had to work with products that have had to push their campaigns due to team members becoming ill, layoffs, product restructuring, overall dealing with the uncertainty during these tough times.”

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“We are anticipating the objections. Providing the solutions to combat low sales months/churn that SaaS is seeing in customers wanting discounts or not wanting to pay full price for their subscriptions. Our messaging has had to evolve. We are acknowledging what is happening, but that we can ride this wave together, and pull through. We are offering solutions and a strategized way to thrive.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Be adaptable. Every action you take should be done with a reason and a clear outcome expected from it.”

Johnny Costello, Sendible

Sendible.com is a social media marketing platform that allows individuals, agencies and small businesses to engage with their audience across multiple channels at any time. 

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Prospects freezing their budgets

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“We are focusing on gaining market share rather than increasing our revenue at the moment.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“The most human companies will come out of the current climate stronger. I would encourage you to be transparent & honest with customers. Also, where your customers are in need, you should support them even if it means giving them free time on your software.”

Maciej Woźniczko, PackHelp

Packhelp is an online marketplace for custom branded packaging, established in 2015. They provide innovative packaging solutions for e-commerce brands, retailers, agencies and enterprises.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Forecasting revenue accurately, stuck pipeline

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

Stuck pipeline 

I think it’s one of the most common problems of every single sales team. Usually the solution is to create a proper follow-up strategy influencing time-to-close. In our case this is particularly important as we achieve effects of scale on the production side of the business when orders flow is optimized. Therefore we can use this effect and share the benefit with our customers, creating a well-working discount strategy. 

Forecasting revenue accurately 

With two separate sales channels we forecast both differently. Self-service sales are easily forecasted based on pure maths equations – we already gathered a lot of information about seasonality and CAC/LTV proportions allowing us to foresee a couple of months ahead. This is of course steadily corrected by product improvements. The second channel, supported by salespeople is forecasted individually by each team member. We try to calculate Pipeline coverage (= pipeline value x win-rate or estimated probability of closing x time-to-close). 

Increasing sales team velocity 

This is the tricky question on how to align growing sales vs. growing sales headcount, keeping right proportions and making sure we’re improving team velocity (due to bigger expertise and automation). We’re collecting historical data on performance metrics (sent offers, generated leads, converted leads, sent emails, done calls etc.) and combine them with headcount evolution in time looking for the biggest sales efficiency ratio. Once we have the highest numbers on our timeline, we set targets accordingly and try to beat them or automate parts of the process in order to do so.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Diversify & measure. In this climate especially it’s super important to experiment on all levels of the sales funnel (lead generation sources, processes, channels, structure, amount of time spent per lead etc.). Measure all metrics and try to fill the pipeline. Once you’re there you can see what works best. This is the time for flexibility and going out of our comfort zones.”

Mark Brooks, SimilarWeb

SimilarWeb gives you global multi-device market intelligence to understand, track and grow your digital market share. They empower companies with the insights they need to win their market.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Stuck pipeline

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“When it comes to stuck pipelines, we have analyzed where in the engagement model our Account Executives lose momentum. Typically, this happens as a result of not gaining access to the Economic Buyer. Very often, we haven’t sufficiently built a champion to shepherd the deal across the line, so the Economic Buyer doesn’t really have a vested interest or see any value outside of the cost presented. The deal, thus, dies. To combat the issue, we have started gated access to a discount with conducting an executive demo. If the client wants a reduced cost from the listed price, we require a 30-minute meeting with the Economic Buyer to relate the value and address what is important to them. After this meeting, we are more than happy to put their requested discount through the approval process. This simple tweak has drastically increased the frequency of access to power later in the engagement.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“The best piece of advice I’ve given to my sales peers is to remind them that people love to buy, but they hate the feeling of being sold to. The trick to being a good salesperson is to create the illusion that people are buying from you, not selling to them. The easiest way to do this is to get people to sell themselves. People are inherently guarded against believing a salesperson, but they certainly believe themselves. So, if they come to the realization that they need your product on their own, facilitating the purchase will be very easy. The most impactful way to that epiphany in your clients is to ask them questions – questions about their pain and questions about what will happen depending on the decisions they make.”

Oliver Gebert, elastic.io

elastic.io is an industry-first microservices-based hybrid integration platform as a service (iPaaS) that empowers IT organizations to accelerate enterprise digital transformation.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Forecasting revenue accurately

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Generating higher pipeline coverage via increased inbound/outbound demand generation activities.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Distinguish with sales excellence and persistence.”

Oliver Manojlovic, Personio

Personio is the all-in-one HR software for small and medium-sized companies, with a mission to make HR processes as transparent and efficient as possible so HR can focus on the most valuable assets in the company: the people. 

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Stuck pipeline

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Putting an even higher emphasis on a compassionate approach to prospect but executing tenaciously.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Do the necessary! You will find many excuses at the moment but don’t let the current environment distract you.”

Paul Terry, LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, and connects the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Prospects freezing their budgets, stuck pipeline.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Fine tuning our narrative to articulate how we can help, thereby unblocking conversations.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“When hiring, search for the attributes, teach the skills.”

Phillip Ansell, Eighty6 Software

Eighty6 Software helps you recognise when any customer stops buying any product. 

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Stuck pipeline, prospects freezing their budgets, changing your sales model, forecasting revenue accurately.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Looking to partner with supporting providers to access new customers to offer as an Add-On and via marketplace platforms.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Be flexible and look at your end user so you can reverse engineer a new approach. Be patient and be open to new ideas.”

Will Scott, SafetyCulture

SafetyCulture is a customer and product-driven company with an ambitious mission: empower front line workers to drive operational excellence and take ownership of their safety and wellbeing. 

Being in SaaS sales, what are the biggest challenges you’re facing?

Stuck pipeline, prospects freezing their budgets.

Briefly, how are you approaching these challenges?

“Pipeline and budgets being shifted is a real challenge.

Teams have had to adapt how we approach a conversation with customers, and the ability to be agile with our strategy has been key.

The current events have meant that in a lot of cases, expectations have had to be reset, but it’s provided an opportunity to re-look at how our sales process works, and how teams work with both prospective and current customers.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your sales peers?

“Speak to every customer, persevere and practice empathy. Businesses are changing the way they buy and as sales people, we have to adapt to that.

In speaking to every customer/prospect, particularly at the moment, to understand their situation on a human-to-human level, forgetting B2B, you’re building trust and whilst it may not be a conversation around a specific sales opportunity, you will be thought of when that opportunity arises again.

Now more than ever, we need to show value to our customers. We need to help them through whatever they’re going through, be flexible, and a true partner – not just another sales person.”

Want more sales content from SaaStock?

🎧 Podcast: Helping sales teams hit quotas with AJ Bruno, founder and CEO of Quotapath

🎧 Podcast: Building the sales function at a growing SaaS company with Javier Darriba, CEO, Bloobirds

📄 Blog: How to Efficiently Qualify Your Leads and Close More Deals

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