B2B Enterprises and SaaS Business Models
By Endeavor Greece May 8, 2022
Endeavor Greece hosted a Virtual Panel Discussion featuring Apostolos Kallis, Chief Commercial Officer at ETIYA, George Kartakis, GoToMarket Lead at PayPal, Petros Perselis, VP of Customer Success and Product Support at Cutover, Athina Pitta, Head of Sales and Business Development at Skroutz, Nondas Virvidakis, VP Professional Services at ActionIQ, moderated by Yorgos Koutsoyannopoulos, VP of Engineering at Ansys. This discussion highlights the challenges founders face across B2B Enterprise and SaaS business models, best practices and international insights on the many elements that go into building and running a successful global sales team and process.
The technological and human elements of the sales process
When asked just how scientific the sales process is, Mr. Kallis told us that you can’t dismiss the importance of the human factor, as there’s a huge element of sales that comes down to how you connect with people. To what extent can you appreciate what they need and then present things in the right way with that information? On the other hand, the quality of the data that you have and how it’s used is also important.
Mr. Kallis explained that they are “increasingly reliant on both the tools and sequence of events that leads to a sale.”
Mr. Perselis added that in order to be a successful account executive, salesperson, or commercial leader, one needs to use both the left side and right side of the brain. Using your innate soft skills, as well as learning new practical scientific skills that contribute to the sales methodology, will ultimately lead to a better outcome.
Deploying and supporting a sales team
Mr. Virvidakis explained that the Professional Services teams can be a supportive function to the sales and pre-sales teams, and there’s a different approach depending on what part of the sales cycle. At ActionIQ, they allocate a certain amount of their bandwidth to support the sales cycle which includes people allocation & subject matter experts both on the product as well as in the process, and they help them by making their servicing packages as digestible for the customers as possible so that they understand what the value is and want to engage – once you land, you can continue expanding. Post-sales, they try to find opportunities to support account managers so that they know exactly when to lean in and try to upsell.
Sourcing the right talent
Ms. Pitta told us that it’s most important to know your customer and what they want to be sold on. Once you figure this out, you can then establish the right process and which individuals should be involved, including outsourcing tasks that can further contribute to the goal of closing the deal.
Ms. Pitta highlighted that “The protagonist in the sales process is the account executive, and then the other roles can be shared according to which is tailored to which department.”
Invest in sales team vs working with sales representatives
Mr. Kallis stated that it depends on if you are targeting enterprise customers or B2C customers, as it does change the approach. His advice remains, to prove it internally before one starts branching out to external sales channels. Meaning, that the founding team needs to have absolute confidence that they can sell the product before they can replicate it in other countries and regions through third parties. One has to assume that the third party is going to be less effective than you in articulating your value proposition and positioning your product. On top of that, they are probably looking for and selling other services and products other than yours, so you need to be careful with the reward structures you put in place, the training, and the incentives. He concludes by saying that it makes sense to set up channels and sales reps worldwide, but you need to set it up in-house first, so you can be able to apply it externally.
When asked by Mr. Virvidakis, if there is a way one can test the waters before committing to a sales rep, Mr. Kallis responds by saying that sales is the one area where you need to invest properly and upfront, without cutting corners on defining the key success criteria and understanding the process end to end.
Training, accountability & probationary period
Designing commission plans are also important so that the sales representatives will not chase something that’s going to be the best commission for them, but for the company’s business plan.
“Commission plans need to be a coordinated effort between product, finance, and sales to come up with the right variables and the right balance,” explained Mr. Kallis
Mr. Kartakis mentioned that before getting to the commission aspect of the deal, it is important to retrain the sales representatives.
Mr. Kartakis said that “accountability comes together with the commission”
Make sure that the sales manager is accountable for this customer for a significant period of time, to make it a smart commission and not one out of money. Also, it is recommended to implement a probationary period to make sure the offering lines up with the business model, and then once the probationary period is over, you can be commissioned for your work.
Customer success & customer/product support
Customer Support to Mr. Perselis is more of a reactive, transactional support. On the other hand, Customer Success, he believes, falls under the category of focusing on platform adoption, providing value, and answering the question “why is the customer using our solution vs the competition’s solution”. At the end of the day, they could be happy but will they stay with us in the long run (retention), and are they willing to expand their business with us (expansion). This goes back to what behaviours you want to drive, whether it be platform adoption and value realization, retention and expansion. Therefore having a measurement for those metrics, for whatever is valuable.
Mr. Virvidakis tells us that the important thing we see in the customer success function is that they work with their customers to define what success means for them and help drive them in that direction. The professional services team is more focused on executing services vs driving a successful conversation with the customer.
“The same way everyone is a seller in a startup, the same way everyone drives towards retention and net retention.” Mr. Virvidakis explained.
Procurement and decision-making process
At ETIYA, Mr. Kallis mentioned that they initiated something called a 48 gating process where they can evaluate every opportunity through every department and evaluate to what extent they are able to pursue this because the cost of responding to an RFP (request for proposals) can be very high in regards to resources, trips, cost of putting together demos etc. Before you decide to go all-in on a particular opportunity and engage in the procurement “dance” you should have a clear understanding of their motive.
Mr. Kallis expressed that “The more you invest in the ecosystem of the customer and the players involved in the decision-making process, the more of a qualified, informed decision you can make as to whether you should pursue it to and to what extent.”
This is an area in which you need to invest in the right relationships with procurement departments – covering the human relationship of the deal and then also investing in data sets that allow you to do the other part of your research: determining the propensity of each customer.
Ms. Pitta talked about teams in Greece and their communication patterns and adds to Mr. Kallis’ points by reiterating that the qualification aspect is important in addition to the patterns that drive behaviour, whether they’re using another competitor and the details of their contract. Be useful, at the right time. Even if the right time has not come, she says that they try to nurture them with the right content. This process involves a lot of organization within the company to make sure they jump in at the right time and provide them with content that will keep them engaged until then.
Approaching multi-million dollar procurement teams
Mr. Virvidakis tells us that it starts out through networking, trying to find common connections, and people that can make introductions. Being involved in a startup you usually have some supporting mechanisms, pointing out that Endeavor is an example of this, but also the VCs that someone may be funded from.
Mr. Virvidakis advised that “When building a relationship, try to understand what the business problem is that they are trying to solve”.
In many cases, you might have to invest in events that will be of interest to your customers, in order to meet in person, which will accelerate relationship building.
Ms. Pitta spoke about her experience when working at Workable, and that the strategy used when going global and selling globally was getting together a team that spoke perfect English when campaigning in English-speaking countries for example. This was important when they were targeting the UK, they hired people from the country as they knew the market and they could understand the business and provide them with some referrals accelerating the deals.
Performance criteria for sales teams
Besides measuring people against revenue targets, Mr. Kallis tells us that at ETIYA, they also started measuring their sales reps by the number of qualified leads that employees enter into the sales CRM system. This has worked as a good measurement system wherein the case that the employee leaves in a year or two and hasn’t made any sale, they leave behind their leads that can be followed up with and used. Another metric used is “qualified opportunities’” because, given the long sales cycle and the complexity of getting awarded a project, it’s not always within the sales person’s control if it follows through.
“Getting an opportunity and being shortlisted by your customers is equally important because it means you are getting through to the right people and being exposed” explained Mr. Kallis.
Adding those metrics into the compensation plan is key, so that account managers don’t think of it purely in revenue numbers and think of it as creating qualified leads and identifying qualified opportunities.
Ms. Pitta chimes in by adding that the pipeline created is a metric and indicator they use, as well as SALS (sales accepted lead). She strays away from the compensation plan and toward performance metrics that help her company monitor the behaviour of the teams. Some metrics include; how often account managers interact with the customer, engagements for the pipeline, number of calls and emails sent. Mr. Perselis adds that these metrics are not measured for compensation, but more for coaching. This allows the team to offer feedback to see what works and what doesn’t in regards to the metrics being set up corresponding to their performance.
Advice to companies
Mr. Koutsoyannopoulos says he is impressed by the number of investments, the sizes of equity financing rounds, and the scaling up of startups right after the financial crisis. All this shows a great opportunity ahead, signalling a great decade ahead for Greece. That being said, he asks the panellists if they have any advice for companies looking to raise a new financing round, making plans to build their pipelines to build channels and their businesses?
“Reach out to experts and to people that have international business development expertise and bring them in either as advisors, or board members as early as possible because that expertise/advice is pure gold” Mr. Koutsoyannopoulos advised.
Mr. Virvidakis said that in regards to scaleups, one should spend some time understanding the markets that one is trying to get into and see where it makes more sense. Be resilient, don’t give up. Also use your networks, advisors, VCs and others.
Mr. Virvidakis said that “there might be a big opportunity to get into a particular market, but the costs and effort that it will take one to get there might not be worth it as a first move”.
Agreeing with Mr. Virvidakis’ points, Mr. Kartakis added, making sure to “know your numbers,” to avoid any future complications with partners you get involved with.
From a Board member’s perspective, Mr. Perselis adds the birds-eye view to the picture – taking a step back and looking at if the executives in the company are being bold enough. Try a new market, initiate a cold call, use your referrals, talk to the big names, what’s the worst that could happen?
“If you believe in your data and in your team, feel confident to go big when you’re selling” Mr. Perselis advised.
Ms. Pitta emphasizes that product-market fit is essential for a company to scale in addition to hiring right, and creating the right career path for employees with an incentive to do their best personally, as well as with growing the company. Last but not least, Mr. Kallis reiterated a point made earlier, saying that one should not “skimp” on salespeople’s compensation because the reality is that your salespeople are the face of your company. It’s very important to hire and incentivize people that can become the best possible brand and product ambassadors. Scaleups and start-ups should invest in both, identifying and incentivizing people, and consider this one of the most important functions in the business.