Skip to main content
GTM, Sales

What if sales is rocket science?

Jacco van der Kooij

Written by Jacco van der Kooij

Founder, Winning by Design


Too often I hear people say “sales is not rocket science“.  Although the complexity of launching a rocket go well beyond my imagination, the complexity of human beings working together appear to be equally challenging.

So if sales is to be “rocket science”, who are the astronauts, the rocket scientists, and what is their destination?

What would happen if…

What would happen if we treat sales as rocket science, would we have vetted processes?, would we have frequent training programs?, accredited certification?, or a Sales Operations Manual?  These are the questions that got me to write this post.


Three Era’s of SaaS

You can identify a few different ERA’s in SaaS sales each marked with an event of significance:

  • ERA of SaaS 1.0 – A new approach to “engineering” with a single code base: Late 1990’s, early 2000’s, SaaS 1.0, was born to reduce the impact of multiple code branches resulting in increased QA cycles.  Due to all the different code branches it took more and more time to test code vs write code.  Top engineers worked in QA.  What was needed was a single code branch, so that all clients could share the same code-base.  As the internet bubble burst it became a cloud, and in the years to come the cloud would grow to satisfy the needs of small companies (VSB) all sitting on a single code base. This was THE ONLY way to do it for these VSBs as they could not afford tens of thousands of dollars of software.
  • ERA of SaaS 2.0 – A new approach to the “business model” with a recurring revenue model: We are late 2000’s, a time marked by the collapse of the housing market. This is when SaaS 2.0 exploded onto the scene.  This time among SMBs based who had just seen their CAPEX budgets go up in smoke. The value proposition of a small recurring fee over that of a large upfront payment was the life line they desperately needed. SaaS companies selling these services were powered by online marketing campaigns (inbound), and inside sales organizations (outbound). They had a field day as they reaped the rewards with a very simple value prop “Buy xyz for $1M upfront” or contract with us for “$x,000/month”.  They are rescuing buyers from their budget woes.

picture oil pump at sunsetPicture Oil Pump at Sunset by: Kirby Museum – Kirby Steibel

  • ERA of SaaS 3.0 – A new approach to how we “sell”: Starting early 2014, developing during 2015 and expected to make major impact in 2016 is a very different situation.  Many of you may have already seen their marketing campaigns perform like tired noisy oil pumps that needs lots of care and maintenance.  These campaigns are suddenly not providing the thousands of (inbound) leads anymore.  Why? Because your unique SaaS service now appears amongst tens of competitive SaaS services doing the exact same thing, and to make matters worse they do this among hundreds of other SaaS services all competing for the exact same budget.  At the same time your Inside sales organization is not equipped to deal with this.  Why? Because the value proposition is not simple anymore, EVERYONE offers a “monthly service”. Your Inside sales organizations never received the training how to sell an advanced value proposition to a CxO.  A skill set that only a few years ago required 5-10 years of professional experience against a $250,000 – $500,000 compensation plan.  For more depth on this see enjoy the post – Stop the Sales Hacking.

self discoveryWho cares! It is all becoming Search and Content right..??

While marketing and sales organizations are studying “what went wrong” and “what is the journey of our Ideal Customer Profile”, our clients simply google the problem and in 0.43 seconds get the answers they need!  So why not focus 100% on Search and Content Marketing – and let’s call it good.

While marketing and sales are studying how to engage and sell to clients – our clients have turned to Google how to solve their problem 

True, originally our clients got great results from a search, but today we see paid influencers, tweeters, and bloggers that can tweak these result to the interest of the highest bidder.  Yikes we are back at the beginning.

Pick me. Pick me. Pick me.

Is there nobody interested in focusing on just helping a client solve its problem? Are we all just interested in pushing ourselves to the front of the crowds, as if we are teenagers at a concert screaming pick me, pick me, pick me?

If you do – read on. 

pick meFour Elements of The New World

Let’s take a look at this new world and build a new approach:

  • The New Business Orientation – Customer Centric: This new orientation requires Marketing and Sales to work very closely together and help a customer, inform, educate, consult, etc.  BUT NOT SELL!  They have to build the right kind of plan – together, with the best interest of the customer in mind. They have to intimately understand the conditions to client success in this new, and for many, foreign world.  But it won’t stop there, since 75+% of the revenue is earned after the deal closes, the focus has started to shift and will continue to shift to where the revenue is. Expect Customer Success to evolve rapidly over the years to come. In particular with specialized responsibilities.  As a successful SaaS 3.0 company you need to lead not lag in customer success.

a new world

The New Business ModelAnything as a Service. You can buy razors as a service, elevators as a service.  Pretty cool.  But realize this, in Software As A Service the playing field has been completely equalized. Today everyone looks and feels the same, same color schemes, similar U/I, all logo’s are blue or green. The barrier to entry is minimal.  You will find yourself competing with three very motivated and capable college drop-outs who are couch surfing and powering themselves with state of the art tools. How are you going to differentiate yourself?

  • The new B2B BuyerConsumers.  Today every B2B buyer is a consumer who has had a great experience buying a $19 t-shirt, a $800 LinkedIn license online.  They now expect the same experience when buying a $24,000 software license.  Successful companies must be able to cater a B2B buyer with the convenience of a consumer, yet with a customized, consultative, provocative B2B experience as if he worked for a F500 company.
  • The new B2B Sales Force – Online.  Traditionally the very knowledgable/high cost B2B sales force has been in the field, close to the customer to develop relationships, and save on travel costs.  The traditional lower cost, high velocity/energy inside sales team has been hidden in a cellar.   Today we only need to meet a client every so often, at an annual social event. When asked most customers prefer the shorter, get-to-the-point online meetings, at a higher frequency.  So today ONLINE SALES TEAMS need to excel in ONLINE selling (not inside selling, nor social selling).  This team needs to combine the depth and experience of a seasoned B2B sales professional with the energy and agility of an Inside Sales Rep.  Great news is that tools can help!

Fix it by making how you sell as important as what you sell

This is creating an incredible opportunity for a new generation of superstars, and companies that wish to embrace a more modern sales approach.  In this approach:

  • a happy customer generates leads – that is “social selling”
  • small local events where you share insights among a group of peers (who sell each other) become the “in-person” meeting
  • the education process “generates leads” NOT “content marketing”

The new sales professionals “diagnose” via research, “speak” in tweets, “converse” in blogs, and “pitch” in online videos.

This new generation will rise to be focused on helping customer, powered by great insights into the problem,  understanding the context of the solution, have domain knowledge – AND – are able to communicate this online.


Case-in point: Equalizing the playing field.

If you have two very equal and highly competitive services who do you as a client go with?   In most cases, clients go with the person brought a group of peers together on a Friday afternoon to share insights, who answered their questions late at night, tuned the offering to their needs, and helped them to validate the decision to their management.  That is a new sales organization, trained by marketing.

Sales People are the Unique Selling Point in SaaS

Well if sales people are the Unique Selling Point, then the way how we sell has become as important as what we sell.

new power sell

Your sales force has become the unfair advantage. We can determine the goal of that sales organization; no longer to “get them to sign on the line that is dotted”, but to actually make a customer successful!   Why?  Because this is where that 75+% of the revenue comes from.

The new destination for sales is to make the customer successful

So with the new destination of customer success, who are the astronauts and rocket scientists?   Well, if the destination is “success” the astronauts who are on their way to that destination must be our clients, and the rockets they are in must be their “businesses”.

If that is the case, then who are the rocket scientists that lay awake at night trying to get them there…? The rocket scientists are teams that consist of marketing, sales and customer success professionals

I believe that when they do that, they will wake up every morning not having to worry about hitting targets, quota’s etc.  I have seen too many companies fail as their sales leader sits in front of me sying “sales is not rocket science”,  I beg to differ…

Once we treat sales like rocket science, more SaaS companies will become successful

Want to learn more?

I hope you found this post and its insights valuable.  These and many more insights on how to Design, Build and Scale an as a Services Sales organization can be found in the book, “Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization“.

Yes those are rockets on the cover of the book :-).

Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization

This is NOT one of those e-book that is nothing but a stack of blogposts put together to look like a book.  This is a hardcover coffee table sized book (144 pages), that can be used as a defensive weapon.  It contains a series of highly detailed blueprints, and is based on insights gained from working with 50+ companies over the past 24 months.  Get the book on <<Amazon>>.

Become part of the sales community?

This post was originally posted on SalesHacker. A great community of sales enthusiast. We recommend you check them out and join their conversation.