(by Neil McLean) The modern software buying process is long. Buyers consider many different vendors when exploring software options. In fact, according to Gartner research, SaaS vendors today are only involved with the last 45% of the sale process (Gartner). The other 55% of the time consists of buyers searching for the market for solutions to their unique business challenges. Today’s enterprise software buyers want to learn all there is to know about the vendor marketplace before making a purchasing decision. This “self-education” can be expensive for sales teams and can quickly result in a lot of unqualified demos for sales engineers.
As a sales engineer, your time is valuable. Giving demo after demo to unqualified leads is not a scalable process and quickly leads to burnout!
Are the leads your marketing and sales teams are giving you as qualified as they may think?
The following Five Signals are helpful guideposts to determine rough prospect qualification across the buying cycle but should always be considered holistically. One triggered signal is not necessarily a cause for concern, but multiple triggered signals should raise eyebrows. Use these Five Signals to help filter through the noise and focus your efforts on the prospects who are actively looking to buy today.
Signal 1: Omni-Channel Engagement
How are prospects finding and reaching out to you? Answering this question is a key in determining active interest and buying intent.
A vast majority of the prospects requesting a demo on your website are “just browsing” with no intention of buying from you, or your competitors, in the short term (Peter Cohan – Ignition Demos). These self-educators are looking for information about your product and the market at large, but are not yet ready to buy.
Given that the modern SaaS buying journey is long and vendors are typically only involved in the second half, exploring how your prospects find you is a key indicator of interest in a near-term purchase. Prospective buyers that engage with multiple channels (e.g., email outreach plus marketing website engagement) are much more likely to have a vested interest in your product offering when compared to those prospects who find you via a single outlet. While this is not always the case, this is a strong signal of buyer intent, especially when considered with the other four signals.
Signal 2: Volunteered Information
We’ve established that self-educators are only looking to learn about the market rather than buy. Filtering out the self-educators to focus on the active buyers is an essential step in the presales process to better utilize your time and resources. A simple request for information is a strong tactic to help weed out the window shoppers from the qualified buyers.
Self-educators are looking for quick facts and do not want to volunteer up unneeded information about themselves to sales teams. Tools such as web forms and “contact us” links both help collect useful sales information and act as a filter to block out the self-educators from the active buyers. Explore how much information your prospect is providing to help determine if they are a serious sales candidate or just looking for quick information.
Signal 3: Company Profile and Fit
Stepping back to take a holistic look at the prospect’s organization is an essential step in filtering out the noise to determine buyer intent and fit. Compare the inbound organization to your existing customer base. Does this company match your idea of an ideal candidate for your product of service? Does the company have similar pain points and business challenges to your existing customer base?
Explore publicly available metrics such as company headcount, funding stage, and operating vertical to determine if the prospect’s company falls within your typical base. When aiming to meet quotas, sales reps and account executives do not always consider these factors when passing on leads to the demo stage of the sales process. A significant mismatch from your ideal customer profile (ICP) can be a serious cause for concern.
Signal 4: Active Content Engagement
A key strategy to differentiate between self-educators and active buyers is tracking level of engagement with your publicly available content. Prospects can engage with a variety of content made available on your website to collect more information on your product offering. These channels may include video tours, whitepapers, case studies, or interactive product demos. Lack of active content engagement prior to the demo stage can be an indicator of lack of interest or a self-educator just looking for a quick product overview from a sales engineer.
How do you track this engagement? Metrics such as page views, link sharing, and exit rate help craft a comprehensive story about each user’s engagement.
Before ever sitting down to deliver a demo or product tour, sales engineers need to work with sales and marketing teams to track how prospects have previously engaged with available content and resources.
Signal 5: Follow-Up Interest
The fifth and final signal to help gauge buyer intent is around follow-up engagement. Does the prospect respond to follow-up notifications or marketing campaigns or was the prospect a one-time viewer?
Self-educators will take the information they want and leave. Serious buyers will want to stay involved in the vendor’s selling motion. This can come in the form of requesting addition to a marketing list, requesting additional pricing quotes, or requesting a call back with a rep.
In a market test evaluating response times for 433 companies, Drift found that only 7% of these companies responded in the first five minutes after a form submission. More than half didn’t respond within five business days (Drift). If your customers are requesting more information about your product offering or actively looking to move forward in your sales cycle, enable them to do so! This follow-up engagement will not only better qualify the leads that are progressing through your sales process, but also help convert those self-educators into future buyers.
In the fast-moving SaaS world, sales engineers are stretched thin. There is not enough time in the day for dozens of one-on-one product demos. While sales and marketing are incentivized to push prospects through the pipeline to the demo stage, sales engineers should ensure that the leads they are given are truly qualified.
As an SE, use these Five Signals of buyer intent as a framework to structure your thinking around prospect qualification. Again, one or even two of these signals raised is not a dealbreaker. While every company is different and factors such as deal size and level of effort required should always be considered, it is when you identify three or more flagged signals when you should raise concerns.
If you find this to be a common occurrence at your organization, work with your sales and marketing counterparts to communicate that there is a problem in your existing sales process. Back your points with data around your slipping demo-to-close rate and showcase which of the Five Signals are most commonly being triggered by unqualified prospects. Explain that numerous unqualified demos to the self-educators of the world does no good to help the overall success of the company. At the end of the day, make the most of your time and focus your sales and demo efforts on qualified prospective buyers.
Author Bio: Neil is the CEO and co-founder of Navattic, a sales and marketing solutions to enable sales and marketing teams to create and share interactive demo experiences for prospective customers. Navattic enables teams to position the product demo as a growth engine for sales and marketing success. Prior to co-founding Navattic, Neil supported various sales engineering roles at Oracle focusing on SMB through enterprise deals.