TLDR; Proposals are a collaborative effort, so don’t rely on the information you got from earlier calls alone. Your proposal should cover details like price, terms, discounts, and a timeline or expiration date for the proposal.
- Price – Understand the difference between per seat, usage, and hybrid pricing models. Which fits you best?
- Terms – What are the levels of service on the table? How soon will they be paying you?
- Discounts – If you’re in the early stages, lots of things are arguably more important than cash. What else could you bargain for?
- Timeline – Understand your prospect’s procurement process, and be sure they put a date on it.
The sales process for an early stage B2B product can be daunting and leave you wanting to hire a salesperson to deal with all things related to sales – but don’t. Sales can be fun, and with a little bit of practice and with the right frameworks you’ll be on your way to hiring a sales team you can train on your company-specific process for enterprise sales. Having a sales process you’ve developed as a founder allows you to develop the critical sales skills necessary to lead a company, have confidence in product market fit, better understand the challenges your sales team faces, make better hiring decisions, and build confidence in your forecasting for scale.
At The Sales Method we are here to help you hone your sales skills and create a repeatable, scalable sales process for your business. This article is the third in a series we’re publishing about enterprise sales for early-stage SaaS startups, so if you’re in this space and feeling a bit lost, we’ve got your back.
Below is a quick overview of the enterprise sales process for an early-stage SaaS startup. It can take anywhere from 3-18 months depending on the complexity of the sale and the size of contract and client you’re dealing with.
- Qualify – Identify a Champion within the organization who will help you navigate the sales process and build buy-in across decision makers and influencers
- Stakeholder Meeting – Align buyers around value of using the software and their buying process
- Proposal -> Contract – Collaboratively craft a proposal with your buyer
- Negotiation – Align on pricing and timeline
- Verbal – Agree upon pricing, Terms of Service, and timeline.
- Legal – Legal review
- Close – Receive signature
We’ve already gone through the steps involved in a Qualifying and Stakeholder Meeting. If you’ve never made a Send Deck or Sales Deck, we suggest you check those articles out. In this article we’ll be going through the next stage in the enterprise sales process – crafting an effective proposal.
At this point, you should have a clear understanding of your buyer’s needs, decision making criteria, and buying process from both your qualifying and stakeholder meetings. You’ve aligned the stakeholders around the ROI your product can offer and how that will be evaluated. You may be tempted to think this is everything you need to put together a proposal, but think again. Like everything else, we’ve discussed, crafting an effective proposal is a collaborative process. Below we’ve outlined the areas that are important to understand from your client’s point of view. Understand how they think about them, their requirements relating to them and how they prioritize them. We’ve broken these talking points down into four core areas:
- Signature Process / Timeline
Creating the outline for a proposal is best done via a discussion with your potential customer so that you’re able to craft a formal proposal, also known as a contract, that is optimized to both have the highest likelihood of positive reception from your potential customer as well as lead to a deal that you are happy with. Every buyer will have different needs and priorities. This is not a comprehensive list of everything you need to discuss, but we will cover most of the key topics. Whenever possible, get on the phone or meet with your buyer to outline the proposal verbally before putting anything on paper.
Price is likely one of the most important criteria in your buyer’s decision making process, but may or may not be the most important. Undoubtedly, this is not the first time you and your potential customer have talked about pricing, however, ideally up until this point you’ve only offered a loose range and the criteria on which price is determined.
Early customers signal to other potential customers that your company can in fact do what you say it can do. Customers attract other customers. In the early days you want to price your product competitively, but you are not looking to optimize for maximum price. In the early days you are optimizing for quality of customer and use cases to build proof for product market fit. Your pricing will change as many times as your product over the course of your startup’s life, don’t feel like you’re stuck with the pricing structure you give your first customer.
More often than not, founders underprice rather than overprice their product to early customers. As you expand your product, brand, customer base, or move up or down market, you’ll adjust your pricing accordingly. Don’t worry about it being perfect out of the gates. Your pricing, like your product, will evolve and always be a work in progress.
In terms of recurring pricing models, we usually see three types of pricing: Seat, Volume, or a hybrid of the two. Seat pricing charges a price per seat or user (think Salesforce), while volume pricing charges based on usage of the product (Stripe or AWS). More than likely, one or the other will make the most sense for your business, or the market you’re targeting already has a standard structure for pricing (this doesn’t mean you can’t change the model if it makes sense to do so e.g. Brex in the banking industry, but this was part of the innovation of their product itself). One thing to note is that if you are going to offer volume based pricing, please be aware that what you charge for is the behavior you are disincentivizing so make sure you’re not disincentivizing where the value of your product sits.
In the stakeholder meeting, we suggested asking your buyers “have you ever purchased a product like this before?” in the BANT section of the conversation. This question provides two very useful pieces of information:
- What the buying process for this customer is like
- What products your customer associates with your product – which tells us the pricing model that likely makes the most sense to this customer for the product
Have enough of these conversations and your pricing model will become clear.
In addition to your recurring pricing, you may also have one-time setup, integration, or service fees. These are typically upfront payments your customer makes for additional technical or professional service support. Cash is king for a startup so this additional revenue can be helpful for extending runway, but if your customer is not accustomed to paying these types of fees for other software they have purchased, it’ll be harder to include these in your proposal pricing. Also keep in mind that this revenue is heavily discounted by VCs as it is not typically recurring revenue.
There is a lot to consider when pricing a B2B Saas product and rather than go down the rabbit hole on pricing here, we highly recommend checking out the PriceIntelligently Blog. This is one of the best resources we have found for taking a deeper look at pricing models and best practices.
Questions to ask when approaching pricing:
- How many users are you looking to have on the platform? Types of users (if this is part of your pricing)
- Are you expecting to add more seats over the next year? If so, how many?
- What do you expect your X to look like over the next month/year?
- Are you expecting this to change? Up or down?
Once you have an idea of what the pricing will be, it’s time to tackle the terms of the agreement. In order to put together pricing that takes all the customers needs into consideration, as well as draft the terms of the proposal, you need answers to several questions:
- What functionality do the stakeholders need? What is “nice to have” vs a “need”? Do you have all the features they need in the current product? How much will you need to build, and do their needs align with your product roadmap?
- Does this customer require training outside of what is typically offered to your customers?
- Does this customer have specific requirements re: customer service hours? Do these hours differ from what you offer other customers?
- Does the customer require additional integrations or professional services outside of what is typically offered?
- Does this customer need a proof of concept before they are willing to buy? Will the ability to opt-out of the agreement after a period of time work for them vs signing a shorter term contract?
Any product or service requirements outside of what is typically offered may need to be outlined in your proposal and taken into consideration in pricing or fees.
- Are they willing to pay upfront annually? If not, will they pay upfront quarterly? As we mentioned earlier, cash is king! It helps you extend your runway, avoid the expensive dilution of venture capital, and scale faster using working capital.
- How soon after the date of the invoice will your customer pay? 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days?
- How will the contract be paid? Credit Card? Invoice? ACH?
- Is insurance required? How will this be negotiated?
- What is/are their security requirements? Does your product already meet all these requirements or will you need to go through additional compliance checks?
- What are their privacy requirements?
If the customer has a number of requirements that are going to cost you either time or $$ in order to pass, you may want to factor these into your pricing for this customer.
As an early-stage startup, discounts are a powerful tool to build your brand and potentially drive higher contract values (sounds counter intuitive, but they can).. Make sure to get the following questions answered to put together your proposal.
- Are they willing to allow you to use their logo on your website?
- Are they willing to do a press release about the relationship?
- Are they willing to write a blog or produce any other content about the relationship?
- Are they willing to do a case study?
If a customer’s logo is known in your target market, being able to use their logo on your website or do a case study with them can be incredibly valuable for attracting fast follower buyers. In this case, a discount for marketing rights could make a lot of sense.
Length of Contract:
- Are they willing to sign a multi-year agreement?
If you have completed a trial or proof of concept as part of the sales process with this client, they may be willing to sign a multi-year agreement. Guaranteed long term revenue is highly valuable for a startup as it is a guaranteed check in the future which allows you to scale.
Putting a timeline or ‘valid through’ date on a proposal is an essential step to the proposal process many founders miss. To ensure that you’re putting an appropriate expiration date on the proposal, make sure to answer the following questions.
- How long does their legal process take?
- Is there a procurement or RFP process?
- If you are part of a formal budgeting process, there are two steps to budgeting – budget approval and release of funds. When will the customer be able to sign the contract – upon approval or with release of funds?
Figure out the latest date for potential signature and add a week – this should be when your proposal expires.
Formal Proposal / Contract
You now understand the needs of the buyer and have verbally outlined an agreement. Now it is time to put everything down in writing.
Your formal proposal is the contract that outlines the items discussed with the potential customer. This may or may not be the final agreement the client signs, but we will get more into that in our next article on Negotiation. There are a number of online templates for proposals, although these remain out of the scope of this article. I recommend consulting an attorney to create your initial contract as well as any template terms and conditions.