Bottom Up vs. Top Down Selling in the Enterprise with ThoughtSpot’s CEO: SaaStr Podcast 467 and Video

There’s an old story of a family traveling home with their donkey. The son rides the donkey first, but someone on the road stops them and asks why the head of their household is walking. The boy and the father switch, but a few minutes later, someone accuses the father of not being chivalrous because his wife is walking. The family decides that the parents should ride the donkey together. But as they’re both riding someone stops them and accuses them of animal cruelty because they’re weighing down the donkey too much. Eventually, the family just carries the donkey back home. 

 

Sudheesh Nair, CEO @ ThoughtSpot is not one to tell you what to do when it comes to sales, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what to do with his product. He’s most interested in what businesses should think about—the whys and hows of the choices businesses make. He shares some wisdom about using both bottom up and top down strategies and suggests some principles for mapping these out based on what business intelligence platform ThoughtSpot has done.

 

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Cui bono (who benefits)? 

If you watch crime dramas, the first question the detective asks is who benefits? Sudheesh suggests there are a few personas involved in the sales process, and they benefit from your service in different ways that should inform your sales strategy. 

 

  • Gatekeepers: These people are responsible for protecting the business that you’re seeking to sell to. They don’t get credit for making things better, but they’re motivated to do their job more efficiently at a lower price.
  • Business Users: The business users are responsible for moving the needle on the business, so they’re the risk management specialists and customer service reps. They want to drive more customer spend and might be willing to spend more on your service to do so.  
  • Enablers: These are the payroll, HR, and other internal teams that are responsible for increasing productivity. They want the service to facilitate education and improvements.
  • Leaders: These top dogs spend more time on strategy than tactical details and are interested in moving the business forward and bringing in higher growth metrics. 

 

How does the product evangelize to them?

Gatekeepers are empowered users who seek products with clear ROI from the service and simplified workflows. Business users are more focused on delighting and improving, and they’re good at ministering on behalf of the product if they’re pleased with the experience. Enablers have a lot of authority in the sales decision and seek services that can improve insights and scale operations. Leaders are interested in efficiency—optimizing decisions, codifying mandates, and generally moving the needle.

 

How does the persona buy? 

Gatekeepers must collaborate with many people to deploy the service over a large surface area, so they will need to be able to get internal buy-in. Business users tend to make individual decisions, and when they come on board they have a small footprint so there must be some strategy for how to scale these buys. Enablers have more of a footprint, but they must deal with federated deployment and alignment. Leaders have big sway, but a mistake many SaaS businesses make is to think that they mandate everything. The service has to work for the company, so those on the ground must buy in as well. If you push sales with leaders, you better make sure you back it up

 

How does the deal naturally move? 

Imagine different waterfalls representing different sales structures. 

  • A slow-moving river with a plunge is similar to the traditional deal flow that moves slowly and produces much. For this, you must have strong resources in marketing and sales for a long period of time. 
  • Slide waterfalls happen quickly, but then don’t have a fall for a long time. To work with these, you must understand that they’re very different than, say, a cascade. If you invest in building a vibrant community to back up the sales, you’ll experience a lot of churn. 
  • A cascade waterfall involves lagging and expanding. The entire team must be on board, and product managers are heavily involved in making sure the right people are getting the right product. 

 

Do you have the right team to sell? 

There are two types of salespeople. Limelighters jump in when they see a problem, with or without knowing how to solve it. If they fail, they move on to the next time. They are interested in input, and they believe that output will follow. Landgrabbers, on the other hand, are masters of their trade. They shape with feelings and decide with data. They’re able to turn a sale around on a dime. They have serious skills, they cost a lot, but they’re worth it.

 

What kind of cash runway do you have? 

There are two general types of SaaS companies: garage-dwellers and high-rollers. With garage-dwellers the product-market fit is still questionable. They’re focused on cashflow and don’t have an ecosystem to support scale. High-rollers seek growth, as long as the go-to-market part of their P&L is finding efficiency. Your sales strategy and spend will need to follow the model that you fit within. 

 

Repeatability is more important than mastery. You might want Michelangelo to create a masterpiece for you, but it might take him seven years and it would never be able to be replicated. But Thomas Kinkade pushes out many beautiful paintings on the regular with be plenty to spare. You must avoid the pitfall of focusing on a Michelangelo: a product deployment for a marquis customer that you spend tons of effort and time on, with complex pricing and twelve months of legal back and forth, missing out on a bunch of other prospects. Instead, in the Thomas Kinkade model, pricing is fixed, deployment is easy and fast, and people may recommend them to many other people for any use case; you can put a Thomas Kinkade in your bedroom or your bathroom. Don’t throw the entirety of your resources into some kind of masterpiece of a deal. Watch out for Michelangelos. 

 

Pain points aren’t everything. A lot of people poke for pain and only sell painkiller products. But the vitamin market is much bigger than that of the painkiller market, and in SaaS there’s no good reason just to focus on solving pain points. Sudheesh sees three approaches to this, which might all fit within a single product strategy.

  • Candies: These products make people happier, and the target of the sales strategy is the customer. People buy for the enjoyment of the experience, and they buy based on a story.
  • Vitamins: These make the customer stronger. The target of the sales strategy is someone that knows the customer, someone who will recommend it through word of mouth. People buy based vitamins based on the benefit. 
  • Painkillers. These are things that make people feel better. They solve a problem and they’re prescribed by an authority figure. (That person is the target for sales). People buy these based on facts. 

 

You can create a sophisticated strategy that hits different touchpoints here, combining different top down and bottom up approaches. But you must be able to map this out and back it up. 

 

In closing, here are some best practices for your sales strategy, whatever approach you take.

 

Destroy siloes: You can’t have company leaders who hold tightly to their domain. Product, engineering, marketing, finance, and sales need to be knitted together in order to figure out what the customers want and how to sell it.

 

Centralize analytics operations: ThoughtSpot recently removed their sales operations department and replaced it with a central function in which they have finance, product, marketing, and sales operations together. If you want your finger on the pulse of the customer, you must build the right structure and have the right tools to study the results.

 

Map the customer journey: If you don’t map your customer journey properly, you won’t be able to make quick real-time decisions, you will miss out on ways to build lifetime value, and you won’t be able to sell it.

 

Stop talking about company numbers. Aggregates are the enemy of excellence. This is what Sudheesh calls the tyranny of averages. For instance, don’t study aggregate productivity within sales—talk about productivity within market segments and things like retention, attrition, investment, etc. 

 

Place community at the core. In the modern world, your customers and community should be part of your teams and must be at the heart of your process. 

 

Takeaways:

  • Blend everything. This is not the time in the industry to think dogmatically about being top down or bottom up.
  • Map out a unique journey for your business based on what information and resources you have. 
  • It’s your donkey. Many people will have different opinions, but only you know what’s right for your business. As long as you’ve got your ear to the ground, you will be able to determine what’s best.
Published on August 5, 2021

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