You’re building an enterprise SaaS company and looking to put together a top-notch sales team. Given the choice between a car salesman and a car mechanic, who would you prefer to add to your team and sell your software?
Initially, the answer might seem obvious: the car salesman. After all, he has experience selling something (in this case, automobiles) and understands how to convince customers to fork over money for a product they might or might not need. Assuming he’s been selling cars for some time, he likely possesses the persistence and optimism essential to a prolonged career in sales. And he probably dons a dashing suit and a winning smile.
On the other hand, the car mechanic doesn’t even have the word “sales” in her job title. Her mandate isn’t to convince customers to buy a product, but to roll up her sleeves and fix practical issues that people encounter with their automobiles. She wears a coverall splotched with oil and grime — not exactly the presentation of a salesperson that comes to mind.
Yet, given the two choices, I would opt for the car mechanic to sell my enterprise software. Before you object, hear me out.
Sales is where the rubber meets the road (pun intended, of course). You might be building the most amazing enterprise SaaS product the market has seen, but, without Sales, you don’t have a viable business. To generate sales, you will likely need to hire exceptional salespeople. That raises the question: what should you look for when hiring an enterprise software salesperson?
There are a number of sales virtues, but I’ll focus on a few that are especially important in enterprise software.
This is a no-brainer. Someone who is to sell technology software successfully should be comfortable discussing AND using software. I’m not just talking about someone who is familiar with the latest buzzwords (AI or big data, anyone?) or can regurgitate the day’s headlines on Techcrunch. I’m talking about someone who can fluently converse in the features and use cases of the product, perform live demos of the product before groups of would-be customer users (sometimes very technical), understand the technology ecosystem and how the product can best integrate (or not) with that ecosystem, and brainstorm product customization work that might be necessary for a customer’s requirements.
Companies buy software that provides sufficient value to them, that is, software that resolves a significant pain point and/or empowers innovation beyond what companies themselves can internally achieve. Therefore, your sales team must be skilled in selling based on customer value. In practice, here’s what that looks like:
Meanwhile, all the above must be done with humility and empathy. Selling the customer value is NOT about showing off how awesome your product is or how accomplished you are. It’s about showing — not simply telling — how your product offers a value-add solution to the customer’s very concrete problems while aligning to their business.
Selling enterprise software is tedious, often consuming weeks, if not months, of effort to win a single deal. The requirements and use cases of the enterprise are manifold and complex. It’s not uncommon for numerous customer stakeholders from diverse teams, each with their own needs and interests, to be involved in the sales process. Successfully navigating all of this requires an orientation to detail that:
Not to mention the fact that an enterprise software salesperson usually juggles multiple sales opportunities at any given time.
Ok. Back to our car salesman and car mechanic. While the salesman can embody these traits, the mechanic lives and dies by them. Hopefully it’s starting to become clear why I would take the car mechanic over the car salesman.
The mechanic handles problems that are technical in nature. She asks questions of drivers and examines their cars to decipher the precise issues they are facing. She determines AND performs firsthand the technical fixes necessary to get their cars back on the road as quickly and safely as possible. Unlike the car salesman, her objective is not to sell the latest model loaded with options, but rather to align her skillset to her customers’ pain points (i.e. dysfunctional cars) and provide value to her customers by alleviating those pain points. To do this, she must be detail oriented, as the automobile is a complex machine with many parts that, when mishandled, can create a problem worse than the original.
In other words, the successful car mechanic must be technically savvy, able to cater to customer value, and detail oriented. Nothing more, nothing less.
We are seeing an evolution of software sales from the car-salesman archetype to the car-mechanic archetype play out in the real world.
Looker is an illustrative example of a company that has embraced, with success, the mechanic archetype: it filled the ranks of its inaugural sales team with math and econ majors that could be the “plumbers … hooking stuff together.” More broadly, the sales function is increasingly demanding technical skills and comfort with data-driven processes.
Indeed, the sales engineer role, which is an indispensable piece of most enterprise SaaS companies’ go-to-market strategies, is simply the industry jargon for the car-mechanic sales archetype. It is now commonplace to see account executives supported by sales engineers who exhibit the traits laid out earlier. The natural progression is for companies to hire more and more account executives who can be their own sales engineers.
As the SaaS market continues to grow and mature, it’s not hard to see that the car mechanic will see her stock rise. Wearing a nice suit won’t sell software — but rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty for the customer will.
Sungwoo Chon is a business strategist and operator who has worked at both startups and public companies to build, scale, and optimize their go-to-market and product operations. Get in touch at email@example.com.