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Event Insights: From Founder-led to Fortune – B2B Software Sales for Scalability.

The Key Lessons From Our Breakfast Debate

Date: Wednesday 5 May, 2024.

Location: London, UK

Experts: Pippa Begg, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Board Intelligence, Abakar Saidov, Co-Founder and CEO of Beamery, and Henry Sallitt Co-Founder and Managing Partner at FPE.

Category of Advice: Scaling Sales, Organisational Excellence, SaaS Sales, International Expansion, Product Pricing.

B2B SaaS Sales

Transitioning from founder-led sales to a scalable sales business model is a critical challenge for B2B SaaS companies aiming to grow. How - and when - do you hand over the reins to a sales lead or team? Who should you hire? Do traditional SaaS playbook methods always deliver results?

To explore these important questions, we hosted one of our most over-subscribed breakfast debates, sponsored by FPE. Attendees heard the highs, lows and lessons learnt from two founders who have lived and breathed the transition from founder-led to scalable sales methods within their own companies: Pippa Begg, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Board Intelligence, and Abakar Saidov, Co-Founder and CEO of Beamery. The discussion was expertly chaired by Henry Sallitt, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at FPE, who shared some of his key learnings as a software-specialist investor. 

The diversity of experiences and strategies shared by our speakers underlined that scaling sales isn’t a one-size-fits-all process, but they were generous enough to candidly share the unique challenges and valuable insights it’s given them along the way. 

While it would be impossible to convey all of the advice they shared, we've distilled the key takeaways below to help guide any founder on this complex journey. For further advice, please use our connection centre, where you can search for sales experts or view our masterclass series on Scaling Sales and Product Strategy.


1. Know Who You’re Selling To And How To Sell To Them

In the fast-evolving landscape of B2B software sales, adhering strictly to traditional sales techniques can often fall short. Pippa Begg shared insightful reflections on why bowing to pressure to use standard playbook SaaS sales strategies, like using Sales Development Reps (SDRs), did not align with their business model. “We wasted about three years trying to execute this beautiful SaaS playbook that basically just didn't fit our company. For example, everyone said, ‘Do SDR calls, that’s the only way it's going to be scalable’. But with us, we realised that we’re selling to chief execs, and they don’t even answer SDR calls, so that was a great way to burn away cash in a pointless model.”

Key Takeaway: Don’t feel pressured to run out and adapt textbook sales methods without first outlining your key customer buying patterns and their decision making process. This alone will enable you to tailor strategies to ensure that resources are invested in approaches that directly address how your target decision-makers operate and prefer to engage.


2. Make Your Network Work For You: A Focused Approach to Growth

The power of your network in scaling sales cannot be understated, particularly in B2B environments where relationships and referrals reign supreme. Begg shared how pivotal referrals have been for Board Intelligence: “Seventy-percent of our business comes from referrals. So, when we realised that playbook methods weren’t working, we created our own model which looked at our network and that network effect. We focused on our networks and created this big database - the idea being that everyone that we currently were working with, say 40,000 board members, they touch probably another five businesses each. So those are the people we really need to focus on, not everyone on the market. We don't need a mass model. We need something that is effective for our audience."

Saidov also discussed the challenges and creative solutions when traditional pathways are unavailable: "Basically many investors would tell us that the only way to sell software to enterprises is to know someone. But if you don't know anyone, what do you do? We set up a registry for random events. I remember early on, sitting there in a pub at a barrel with two recruiters drinking beers, and the event was called Dragon's Beers and Boards but you never know who you are going to meet and we ended up meeting our first ever big customer at a similar event.”

Key Takeaway: Tailoring sales strategies to focus on the most influential contacts within your network can optimise resource use and enhance customer acquisition. Evaluate your current network and identify key influencers who can act as bridges to larger pools of potential clients. Consider creative networking strategies that go beyond traditional settings to engage these pivotal connections in meaningful ways.



3. Content Cannot Be Playbooked 

The debate over the efficacy of high-volume marketing communications is another playbook move that doesn’t necessarily deliver ROI. As Begg explained, “We were told we should have this massive, high volume content marketing strategy. But again, we found that CEOs don’t pay attention to that stuff. Again, it was a great exercise in how to lose money."

Saidov outlined why experimenting and testing marketing content results is so important, explaining how they came to use a more targeted approach that yielded better results for his company.

The other challenge Saidov explained is that, “When you're building something brand new, it's like a different door. No one's searching for what you're doing. You can't do advertising online because nobody's actually looking for it. So we hired one guy straight out of university and basically I said to him, figure out what people are searching for on the internet. And figure out what kind of content people want. And iteratively we figured out that once a week, we wrote a fairly long form blog post. We tested the kind of click bait stuff. We tested cross-linking. But essentially, we started writing something that ranks really high in SEO. And some of those blog posts are still driving a lot of traffic for us." 

Begg agreed and confirmed that their content marketing is something “We have invested a lot in what I would call ‘amazing content’. So not high-volume content, but, ‘A-ha, I’ll read that and think differently’ content.”

Key Takeaway: Assess your current content strategy. Is it in a format and sent in a way that your audience uses and engages with? Have you tracked whether high-quality, search-optimised pieces that address specific topics your target audience is actively searching for might work better? This approach not only increases the relevance of your content but also enhances its longevity and impact. 


4. Tailor Your Sales Strategies to Each Product

Understanding that different products demand distinct sales approaches is crucial for optimising market penetration and revenue. 

Begg noted the varied challenges and strategies required across their product lines. "Our AI writing tool required a different approach from our Board Portal, given its unique position in the market. Board Portals are established products and over a certain company size, everyone uses one, it’s just a case of which one you use and converting people to use yours. But with our AI writing tool, there is no other product like it in the market... So you need two completely different sales motions." This indicates not only the complexity of managing multiple products but also the strategic necessity of customising sales approaches to each product’s market dynamics and buyer behaviours.

It can also be hard to introduce new products. Abakar outlined that with an untested product, he’s found that experienced sales people are reluctant to put their reputation on an untested product. “It wasn’t that they couldn’t sell them but they wouldn’t sell them.” The answer he came up with? Asking product leaders or managers to conduct the first handful of sales, to prove there’s an appetite for the product in the market so that the onus is then on the the sales team to learn how to sell the new product too.  

Key Takeaway: If your sales team is great at selling one solution and poor at another, take a step back and consider whether the poor performing product meets the unique market needs of the customer, or there is a sales incentivisation challenge. Conduct a thorough analysis of your product portfolio to identify differing customer behaviours for each solution. Develop targeted sales strategies that align with these insights to maximise impact and efficiency.


5. If You Expand To New Territories Have A Leader On The Ground 

Navigating international expansion requires a nuanced understanding of local markets - a lesson Beamery learned through its venture into the US. “The worst thing you can do is to make a market feel like they’re disconnected from you, you need a founder, or a leader based there initially.” He also outlined that spending time on the ground in the US enabled him to realise that some of the best salespeople were based in Austin and Charlotte, rather than on the coasts, a nuance that he wouldn’t have picked up on as quickly if he hadn’t been there on the ground. “Today, 80 percent of our revenue is in the US, and 80 percent of our sales and marketing is in the US. It’s worth also noting that it’s not all about the coast – and that you need to know where talent is based too. Lots of sales happen in places like Austin and Charlotte, and so forth because most enterprise salespeople are not actually based on the coasts.” 

The other important aspect is being on the ground makes it easier to get to meetings and networking events, “it was easier for me to get to events in Miami or Vegas by being based in the US. You’re there and more inclined to go and see what comes of it, if it’s a shorter flight than if you’re 8+ hours away.”

Key Takeaway: When expanding in a new market, you have to be committed, from the Board down. Don’t delegate the new region to someone else (who has to learn the company's market, products, and culture remotely), if it's important, relocate yourself or one of your most trusted leaders. Conduct thorough market research to understand specifics of the local market and target customers. 


6. Hire Wisely: Why The Person Who Gets The Meeting Might Not Be The Person Who Closes The Deal.

“Today, about half our sales team are from a traditional sales background,” explained Begg who elaborated on the advantages of diversifying team roles based on unique skills sets. "We’ve had a lot of success with ex-teachers – if you can command the attention of a room full of inner-city teenagers then you can probably get a board to listen to you too.”  

Additionally, the differentiation between roles within the sales process was highlighted by Saidov, who stressed the importance of aligning individual capabilities with specific stages of the sales cycle: "Essentially the advice I always give is, hire people that get you meetings. They don’t have to also be the ones to close the deals. But getting the meetings is the first step.”

Key Takeaway: Building sales teams with diverse professional backgrounds can enhance team performance. Also consider creating specialised roles for initiating sales contacts and separate roles for closing deals to optimise each phase of the sales process.


7. Understanding and Adapting Pricing Strategies for Scalable Growth

Navigating pricing strategies, especially in the era of AI, requires a deep understanding of what your customers value and are willing to pay for and both speakers shared how they had adapted their approaches to better align with market expectations and their own long-term business goals.

Saidov discussed the challenges of pricing new products, particularly the temptation to undervalue or even give them away for free in order to attract initial usage. He stressed the importance of understanding what the market is willing to pay: “The first bit you need to understand from your market is their willingness to pay. What we found is that there's always a temptation to give away a product to see if people use it. But what happens when you double your price? And I think that the right way to build it is reverse engineering, which is figuring out with as much guesswork and proximity as you can, a willingness to pay and then figuring out what product you can build or provide for that amount."

Begg shared insights into the need for adaptable pricing models, especially when dealing with different market segments from SMEs to enterprise clients. Her experience led to a strategic focus on higher-tier clients due to the complexities involved in broader market pricing: "Our mistake at first was to come down as we went down the market. What we realised quite quickly is, basically, we didn't need to shift our pricing. We won the same amount of mid-market business whether we were priced high or low. It's really hard to have one price model that stretches from a FTSE company to a SME with 10 people in it. The result was that we decided to focus solely on enterprise and delivering the services that they need at a high level, like security. SMEs don’t need that level of security and so they don’t need to pay our prices just yet."

Finally, the group touched on services and how you should price those with Sallitt emphasising the financial aspects of service delivery within the software sector, highlighting a target for sustainable profitability: "We look for businesses that have 50% margin on services. If you can’t do that then work out how to do it or stop doing it."

Key Takeaway: Implement a pricing strategy that starts with a clear understanding of the value your product offers and what the customers in your market are willing to pay. Consider tiered pricing to accommodate different market segments effectively, ensuring that each is optimised to deliver profitability from that customer relationship over its lifetime (Customer Lifetime Value). Regularly review your pricing structure to ensure it continues to meet your strategic business goals, particularly in terms of service margins.


Conclusion: The Secret To Mastering The Art Of Sales In B2B SaaS

As host Henry Sallitt reflected on the discussions, he highlighted the important role of strategic innovation and adaptability in scaling B2B SaaS sales effectively. Sallitt concluded, "I guess my key takeaway from today is that sales is either the easiest job in the world or the hardest. And I think what defines which end of that spectrum your business is at is the quality of thought that's sitting behind the sales tactics. It’s this that determines how successfully you are able to engage with your own customers in the right way."

Thank you to our partner, FPE and to Pippa Begg and Abakar Saidov for sharing their time and expertise. 

For more on this topic, please see our Masterclass series on Scaling Sales and Product Strategy.


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