I had an interesting briefing with Bill Soward, CEO and Greg Schneider VP of Marketing at Adaptive Planning the other day, which I wanted to share. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will let you know that I worked with Bill years ago at Edify but I have been very impressed with what he has done at Adaptive Planning.
The original purpose of the meeting was to finalize a SaaS business profile but what I thought was even more interesting was their company’s approach to building a SaaS sales pipeline, especially in these tough economic times. I have heard many executives talk about reducing the barriers to sales but Adaptive Planning is really going to the extreme in terms of test drives and transparency for their prospects.
Having run sales, I can tell you that sales reps always have a lot of excuses why prospects aren’t buying and I know there are plenty of excuses to be had these days. What I think we can all learn from Adaptive Planning is that by addressing these potential sales objectives earlier in the sales process, you can build in more predictability and ultimately more sales into your SaaS sales process. Here’s what they have done…
The New Improved Test Drive
30 day trials are no longer new and innovative, they are table stakes for SaaS firms trying to sell their software. Adaptive Planning is no different. They offer a 30 day trial but they also offer…
- A Hosted Express version, which is easy to set up and start to use. This is managed and maintained by Adaptive Planning and is free to use. Most of their prospects have opted for this approach to their trial.
- Download the software for FREE, forever. You can go to SourceForge and download the source code and the Adaptive Planning Express product. To date they have had more than 79,000 downloads. Many of whom will become future paying customers. So if someone says I am not sure that your software will do what the marketing literature claims, just tell them to download it and use it.
Over-Educating Their Prospects
Bill and Greg agree that it is important to provide their prospects with as much information as possible and allow them to select what they need as part of their sales education process. This is also part of the company’s approach to relationship transparency, more about this in a minute. So part education building blocks consist of;
- A Resource center which is a collection of information like collateral, white papers, archived webinars and case studies. Most companies provide this type of information library.
- Pre-recorded video demo where the prospect can get a guided tour of the software, which isn’t really breaking in new ground but can be helpful for busy executives.
- Live Webinar demo, where prospects can interact with Adaptive Planningt team, again this is nothing new.
- On-line Training, which allows you to go into more depth around the product, which I think is a great idea. Because you always have the deeply technical buyers who need deep domain information.
- Online Community is another great idea. Using social networking to build a strong community around not only your products but also your company. Adaptive is using the Jive Software platform to provide chat threads, videos, blogs, polls and best practice advice. They even offer private collaboration spaces where customers can share best practice ideas privately.
By combining all of these building blocks, it gives the prospective buyer almost every way to learn about and evaluate Adaptive Planning’s software.
Bill spoke about having a transparent relationship with their prospect and ultimately their customer. They feel that their open information approach provides a prospect with virutally every way to experience and learn about their products, support, pricing and company. This is a powerful differentator when buying software but more importantly when a prospect is shopping for a vendor relationship. The reality is that today’s software buyer is more sophisticated but also realizes that their relationship with a software firm is typically lasts between 5-7 years and that they really do want to ‘try before they buy’. For Adaptive Planning their transparent approach is paying off.
Lowering Customer Acquisition Costs and Building a SaaS Pipeline
A term you hear a lot about in the SaaS world is CAC or Customer Acquisition Costs. This is basically the cost of finding, qualifying and signing up new customers. In the enterprise software world, where you were getting large up-front payments, you could sell with a team of sales professionals. In the SaaS world, where you are getting paid over time, it is imperative to sell using as close to a self-service sales model as possible and I believe this is what Adaptive Planning is doing. What I like is that they are not just cutting costs, they are putting everything out there in a transparent, logical way for their prospects to make their own decisions and self-qualify. There are still people at Adaptive Planning who will sell you software but only when you are ready to buy, which saves everyone time and money.
So far their approach appears to be working because they have more than 400 customers and continue to do well even in this recessionary environment.