Software Executive Magazine

February/March 2018

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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tions are among the layers that Marod says affect the sale of a SaaS platform, particularly as Conversica has won larger customers with more detailed vendor agree- ment requirements. "I nurture longevity on our sales team because it takes a while to learn the ins and outs and develop those anticipatory sales skills. To expedite that, we do a lot of training, much of it based on detailed diagnosis of our sales wins and losses." One sales axiom that's been reaffirmed from those di- agnoses, says Marod, is that given the opportunity, time will kill every deal. On that point, it's virtually impossi- ble for him to refrain from plugging Conversica's tech- nology, which he says his own team uses to keep deals moving through the system and into the funnel. That technology automates the process of nurturing leads via a virtual sales assistant whose persona is, in fact, imperceptibly virtual to the customer. Demonstration of this artificially intelligent virtual assistant with the human-like conversational tone is central to the sales process. "We can talk about how polite, persistent, intel- ligent, and situationally aware our virtual assistant be- haves in her communication with prospects," says Ma- rod, "but that simply can't be fully appreciated until the demo, which means the demo is extremely important." Three Software Sales Challenges In A Bull Market The demo is often a deal-doer for Conversica, but Marod admits that it takes a lot of work to get there. "We're still working to find that perfect cadence or word track that gets a prospect to slow down and commit to tak- ing a look at such a bleeding edge technology," he says. "We enjoy a lot of inbound references and referrals, and word-of-mouth has done wonders for us, but we're com- mitted to honing our outbound skills." Like many software sales leaders, Marod says he often struggles to find qualified sales reps willing to come in and sell a new technology. "We have a healthy economy in the Bay Area, so competition for talent is fierce," he says. "Because we're not yet a big player, our power to draw in quality candidates is limited. We're investing in recruit- ers and referral bonuses to overcome the challenge." Finally, as Conversica expands its vertical offerings, Marod says the company is wrestling with the balance between recruiting and training vertically specific sales specialists versus preparing sales reps to be "armed for bear" regardless of the end user's vertical. At issue is which approach will best maintain healthy growth within its core automotive market while simultaneous- ly pushing reps into new, high-growth verticals such as insurance, finance, and education. "Aside from product development, these sales process and strategy refine- ments are our top priority this year," he says. S ware as further proof that integrations — and growing acceptance of AI — have contributed to the application's market ingress. "Microsoft isn't an early adopter of new technology. You have to have a proven entity to win their business," he says. Another mistake Marod admits to making — and this is an easy one for any SaaS-based company to fall vic- tim to — was failing to fully comprehend and account for the customers' return on the application investment when determining a pricing structure. "One of our early nonautomotive customers was a for-profit education in- stitution," he explains. "We hadn't fully processed how much return there was in getting a lead to engage in that vertical." At Conversica's one-subscription-per-rooftop cost, that customer reaped an unbalanced reward for its relatively small investment. That early mistake is a fine segue into Marod's fourth piece of SaaS sales advice. 4. Price With Agility Conversica recovered from its flat-monthly-fee pricing misstep by committing to a value-based cost structure. "When we got started in automotive, we were charging between $1,500 and $2,500 per site, depending on the number of users and integration complexity," says Ma- rod. "As we got into tech, education, and other verticals, we realized that some of those clients were getting killer deals from an ROI perspective." Enabling six- and even seven-figure returns on four-figure software investments might sound like a surefire way to close sales, but devaluing the benefit of the application by un- derpricing it is a dangerous precedent to allow. "We got strategic and built some pricing packages based on lead generation volume, with some variation to account for integration and custom development work, like adding languages," says Marod. "Adopting a variable pricing model ensures we can balance maximizing the return and profit for our customers while optimizing the re- turn we desire to reinvest in the product." It's also en- abled Conversica to embrace entry-level companies in addition to its base of enterprise-class customers, all while ensuring its rates are competitive in each of the vertical markets it serves. 5. Train, Demo, Repeat At the 2017 Dreamforce conference hosted by Sales- force, Conversica competed in and won Demo Jam, beating out 30 competitors in Salesforce's 3-minute live-pitch competition. That pitch, says Marod, has been honed by relentless training. "The sales process has grown in complexity over the course of my tenure. As much as I like to keep it simple, because you don't want your salespeople getting caught up in the weeds, it's just a complex time to be selling software," he says. Security concerns, terms of service, and legal protec- 23 SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018

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