Getting to Yes(s)

Perin Adams, Mar 19, 2020

Buying software takes time, and internal approvals are opaque. Here's how to simplify it.

Buying software takes time. Beyond evaluation and internal testing, the typical software approval process can take weeks - for the clients we work with, the average length is 26.5 days.

While every company has different requirements (and they should!) that vary greatly based on industry, size, organizational structure, etc.,  the result is the same: salespeople are left navigating a complex, unknown, and opaque process every time they sell.

BirdboxA sales rep trying to navigate internal approvals. 

Putting it mildly, this isn’t a great result. It’s not efficient for either side and has steep diminishing returns. Does it really make sense to spend 10 hours over 4 weeks navigating a software approval process when you’ve already aligned on value? Of course not. 

The biggest advice we can give to both Salespeople and Stakeholders purchasing software? Align on the process and necessary steps early on so you can get to a decision faster.

Over the past year, we’ve facilitated hundreds of software purchases for companies with employee counts ranging from 100 to 10k+. The most surprising thing? How similar the core process is. While the approvers and methods may change, the core process is the same - it all comes down to the same 5 "Yeses"

 

Yes 1. Stakeholder

Step 1 is value. Does the stakeholder see value in the product / service, and have they articulated that? When reps think of “getting to yes,” this is typically what comes to mind.

So, what's happening on the "back end"?

Once a stakeholder knows they want a product, their first step is letting their management know. Typically, this happens through an “intake” or a “request” form that alerts the necessary internal teams that this is something they’re interested in - surfacing it to Finance, Security, and Legal for review. 

Example Intake Form
Example of an internal “Intake” form 

Companies -  If this is the only “yes” you’re requiring to move forward with a purchase, you’re leaving money on the table. It’s a dirty truth of the Software industry - pricing is highly variable, and getting to fair pricing / terms can take multiple rounds of negotiations. Companies get a terrible ROI requiring stakeholders navigate the full purchasing process - once it’s clear the product meets their needs, your stakeholder’s time is better spent getting back to work

 

Yes 2. Finance - Budget

Step two is budget. If there’s no money, there’s no deal - that’s why this step comes first. This step ensures that the purchase / renewal is properly budgeted for and that employees don’t get a purchase to the finish line without Finance having it on their radar.

Autonomy is a core pillar at many companies, but “rogue buying” has the potential to sink a ship. In this case, if there’s no money… there’s no company.

Now, there’s a difference between dictating purchasing decisions and simply having the proper controls in place and making sure the internal team is aligned on spend. This goes a long way in preventing 11th hour disappointment - from both the Sales Rep (and their forecast) and the Stakeholder hoping to use the tool. 

This step isn’t a firm commitment of funds - it’s an awareness step that a purchase is tentatively approved for consideration. Spoiler Alert: final commercial approval happens later. 

 

Yes 3. Security

Step three is security. Security is fairly straightforward - it’s about ensuring the software purchase is compliant and stays under the acceptable threshold of risk. While security requirements vary based on how a product will be used and what kind of data it has access to, these evaluations often rely on standardized documentation or industry-standard certificates. 

The Security team should own this evaluation, and the most efficient organizations streamline this process using some sort of centralized questionnaire / assessment that the Vendor (or the Vendor’s security team) can complete for full evaluation.

Similar to budget approval - if there’s too much risk, there’s no deal.

Now, while net-new purchases typically always require a security review, renewals often bypass this step. This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all post-sale - once a vendor is on Security’s radar, they’ll typically set up their own cadence for regular risk assessment that isn’t tied to the contract cycle.

 

Yes 4. Legal

Step four is legal.  Fun fact - lawyers are expensive and their time is incredibly valuable. Legal should be across every deal, but they should only review things that are close to complete. (Read: Value ✅  Budget ✅Security ✅)

Here’s an actual fun fact - Legal isn’t out to get you. (That’s the long arm of the law you’re thinking of.)

In all seriousness, while Legal can sound like a challenging hurdle, we’ve actually observed deals are rarely lost in this stage. Companies have legal requirements, but there’s almost always a resolution that can be reached. 

The biggest time-saver? Upfront non-negotiables. Before starting a legal negotiation, it’s helpful to share the non-negotiables on both sides. This saves unnecessary cycles and helps reach consensus sooner.

i.e.  Auto-renew or publicity must be removed from the contract.

Yes 5. Finance - Final Terms

Step five is finance. While Finance isn’t always the signor, they usually want “final review” on contracts that are about to be signed. In this step, they’re making sure the final commercial terms line up with their budget expectations and they’re ready to sign off on the final, official cost and payment terms. 

The best way to streamline this final “yes”? Proactively confirm that the other 4 have been checked off. If you’ve followed the initial steps, it really is that simple.

Closed-Won

As a rule, we tend to overcomplicate, and uncertainty makes us nervous. What we’ve learned after hundreds of cycles is that at the core, any complex purchase can be distilled into a relatively simple sequence of events. 

Stakeholders / Leadership:

Defining this internal approval process, upfront requirements, and having a clear centralized view of approvals will help you effectively balance autonomy, responsible controls, and speed of execution.

Sales Reps:

Understanding this internal motion and following these steps when getting to yes (and yes, and yes...) is a simple way you can get more clarity and control around your in-flight opportunities. 

always be confirming

Now send it for signature - ding the deal.



Image Credits: Bird Box - Netflix
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