How SaaS buyers should work with software salespeople
Being a good software buyer seems easy. You find the software product you want, negotiate a good price, and sign a contract. Is it really that simple?
Not even close. Being a great software buyer means understanding the ins-and-outs of the sales and purchasing process, not to mention the entire landscape of products and solutions that your company might need. In fact, companies are investing in creating better buyers, with entire departments or roles dedicated to purchasing and procurement.
How does SaaS procurement work?
Procurement represents a company's solution sourcing and buying functions. Procurement can be a part of someone's role (IT/Finance/BizTech) or can be a standalone department. Large companies may even retain a chief procurement officer. Regardless of who heads up software purchasing and supplier management, their responsibility remains the same: evaluate and buy things in the most efficient way possible.
However, if a company is growing, and especially if they’ve transitioned to remote work, they’re likely now using hundreds of different software and SaaS solutions. Sourcing, buying, purchase orders and software auditing quickly become a significant burden for purchasing managers.
It is no longer scalable for the procurement process to be done "the old way,” where procurement is introduced at the last moment to play hardball with the salesperson. This approach to procurement management dampens the relationship between buyer and seller, ultimately impacting contract management, annual renewals and connection to a vendor and partner.
There's a new way to buy software. This modified procurement process is rooted in outcomes vs. tactics, transparency vs. surprises, and a mutual respect for efficiency in the software supply chain.
Why buyer and seller relationships matter
Buying software might feel like a transactional relationship. However, a salesperson is not just a cashier. The inner workings of vendor relationships affect nearly every level of the buying organization, and set the stage for both short- and long-term initiatives with a critical business partner.
Gartner defines vendor relationship management as a "discipline that enables organizations to control costs, drive service excellence and mitigate risks to gain increased value from vendors throughout the deal lifecycle." Having a good relationship between potential suppliers and buyers can lead to exceeding business objectives, minimization of potential business disruption and avoidance of deal and delivery failure. Ultimately, treating the software salesperson with respect and understanding will derive more value from the SaaS solution.
5 ways SaaS buyers can build great relationships with salespeople
Start with a discovery call
Slow down to speed up.
Discovery calls have an important role in the sales process. They also play a role when procuring software. A discovery call is an opportunity for both parties to understand if a buyer is a good fit for a seller’s product or service.
Discovery calls are traditionally viewed as redundant when a deal has entered the procurement stage ("all of these details have already been discussed"). However, starting a negotiation with a discovery call can add incremental value to both the buyer and the seller.
On a discovery call, buyers should be genuinely curious. Learn about the company, like the company's story and the value that the product delivers to customers. This will create a better understanding of the product and how it aligns with the company’s needs.
Secondly, learn about the salesperson. Understand what they are motivated by — like price or timing — and ask if there are any blockers that they foresee impacting the deal.
Performing a discovery call will identify ways that you can help the salesperson, and will also create the opportunity to plan around potential challenges that will impact the contract.
It is the duty of procurement to be diligent (and at times, skeptical), but lean into curiosity. By prioritizing the partnership with the salesperson, understanding their needs and offering assistance, the salesperson will likely feel inclined to help you as well.
Focus on outcomes
When buying software, buyers should focus on the outcomes that they are hoping to receive vs. the sales tactics. This will allow the buyer and the salesperson to spend time on the macro business needs vs. the minutiae of a purchase requisition.
Here are 4 questions to ask improve to focus on deal outcomes
- Product Outcome: What product tier does your team need in order to accomplish their business goals?
- Timing Outcome: When does your team need access to the software, and when do they expect to receive the forecasted amount of value from the purchase?
- Price Outcome: What price (either total cost or price per unit) does your finance team expect? Why do they expect this price (i.e. cost reduction, cost savings)?
- Terms Outcome: What legal and security terms are required for the current contract and what future protection is expected?
Once the buyer’s expected outcomes are defined, compare them to the outcomes of the salesperson. Are they similar? If so, you're aligned. If there are discrepancies, this is an opportunity to problem solve together.
Focusing on outcomes will allow the buyer to work with the SaaS salesperson as a partner instead of an adversary.
Speak the same language
For both the buyer and the seller, time is money. In order to buy and renew software efficiently, both parties in the procurement process need to speak the same language. By learning the language of software sales, and, ideally, the language of the particular software provider, procurement teams can develop efficiencies in their buying process. By learning the ins-and-outs of a specific vendor, buyers will reduce barriers in conversation and be able to navigate the conversation with fluency.
More and more, procurement teams are hiring former software salespeople to join them to help buy and renew software. This is a forward-facing approach taken by companies who need more time back in the day and are looking to improve their bottom lines. We’ve seen this approach is taken when a company’s software stack surpasses 200 products. With former SaaS sales professionals managing the procurement cycle, these teams often have a huge advantage in knowing how software salespeople think, talk and prioritize.
Steer toward the deal-breakers
Instead of avoiding deal-breakers in a negotiation, try to find them. Remember, both the buyer and seller care about efficiency and finding the best fit. So, if there are deal-breakers, they should be discussed early and often.
A 'no' is the second best thing to a 'yes.' A ‘no’ allows the salesperson to focus on other opportunities. This is another reason why discovery calls are so important.
When talking about potential deal-breakers, be direct and transparent. If the product is too expensive or doesn’t serve the team’s needs, let them know clearly. Additionally, buyers or purchasing agents should show respect and empathy. The salesperson likely put a lot of work into winning account and if it doesn't end successfully, they will be disappointed and lose a deal. The procurement department may also need to work with this salesperson again in the future, so don’t consider the relationship over after one failed deal.
Once deal-breakers are cleared, the level of stress will be reduced between both parties. Now, buyers can focus on "the easy stuff", which are the less critical remaining needs and requirements.
Here are a few common deal-breakers that you want to encounter early on when buying software.
The salesperson might propose a cost for a SaaS solution that is far out of the budget set forth by finance, or, the cost is above the expected perceived value.
The salesperson needs a deal signed by a certain date, which may not possible for your team due to internal policies, RFQ/RFP processes, or stakeholder needs.
There may be misalignment on contract term length, legal clauses (i.e. indemnity), or meeting the company’s software security requirements. You may also need to require a certain supplier performance, uptime or success metric in your contract terms.
Treat the salesperson like a customer
Never underestimate the value of relationships when buying and renewing software. People prefer to do business with people they know and trust. In fact, people are 6 times more likely to do business with someone they like. Every buying process is a great opportunity to learn about a new company, build a supplier relationship, and find ways that everyone’s goals can be met
In return, salespeople will be more receptive to helping accomplish the buyer’s goals. Once you both successfully achieve your outcomes, the partnership will have built a strong foundation to work together in the future.
Rethink the buyer/seller relationship
In order to reach successful outcomes, SaaS providers must rethink the relationship between buyers and sellers. Salespeople need to change their mindset about avoiding procurement professionals, and the procurement function can make significant steps to pre-empt issues by building relationships, understanding the goals of the salesperson, and finding creative ways to problem solve, together.
Overall, the best buyers are those who are empathetic, direct, and help streamline the sales process. Owning this mentality will pay dividends every time you purchase software.
How Vendr can help improve your sales relationships
Is your procurement team struggling to develop strong relationships with SaaS vendors? If you’re stumbling through negotiations and failing to understand the sales side, Vendr's SaaS buying platform offers both a product and people-powered service to enable fast-growing companies to procure software quickly, directly and with guaranteed savings.
Vendr has facilitated over $2.5 billion in SaaS purchases across 1,200+ suppliers for finance and procurement teams at companies like HubSpot, Brex, Canva, Reddit and Toast. With leveraged knowledge of thousands of transactions and billions of data points, the Vendr team partners with your organization to streamline your entire SaaS buying process to get your team working on better software, faster.
Looking for more? Learn how we help consolidate your tech stack, perform a free savings analysis, and identify buying process challenges all before you even become a customer with our self-guided tour of our SaaS buying approach.
Originally published May 2019; updated March 2022.