Startup Best Practices 18 - Collaborating with Your Customer During Your Sales Process

In sales processes, showing a product is always better than talking about a product. Better still is co-customizing the product with the customer during the sales pitch. This customization could be as simple as integrations or changing colors. There’s no better way for customers to understand a product, imagine how it would fit their needs, and become committed to the purchase than customizing their instance during the sales process. I’ve watched this brilliant sales tactic fuel tremendous growth at Looker, a fast growing analytics company.

At Looker, we call this technique co-development. Co-development has accelerated sales processes and maximized customer success. Here’s how it works. Each Looker instance must be configured to connect to a database, be informed of the data schema, and map the customer’s key metrics. As early as the first sales meeting with a prospective customer, Looker schedules a 60 minute call with a data analyst. During those 60 minutes, they co-develop these mappings and metrics. Within the first five or ten minutes, the data analyst sees her data in Looker and quite tangibly understands the power of the product. As the meeting continues, the data analyst will continue to learn and manipulate Looker, so that by the end of the hour, she will have the first version of a customized Looker for her business.

There are three reasons co-customization accelerates sales cycles and mitigates churn risk.

First, co-customization provides instant gratification by minimizing the time to utility.. With co-development at Looker, customers visualize their own metrics, presented with all the nuances of the business known to the data analyst in the first hour of the sales pitch. The buyer’s expertise is incorporated into their version of the product immediately. Most SaaS sales processes have shifted from education to execution sales, so buyers understand their needs before speaking to an account executive. Sales teams employing co-customization start the sales process with their product, accelerating sales execution by showing rather than telling.

Second, co-customization best equips the internal champion to win internal approval for a purchase. The data analyst’s initial intent to purchase is quickly converted into a tangible, shareable, interactive product using real data. What could be more compelling as an internal sales tool? Just try it. Other internal customers of the product can tinker and test, and the data analyst is empowered to assuage questions along the way. In addition, the analysts initial effort induces a degree of commitment to the product - after all, it’s the analysts code that is powering Looker already for the company.

Third, customers train themselves through the sales process. From the beginning to the end of the sales cycle, data analysts become proficient in Looker, relying on help during the sales process to ramp their understanding of the product. By the end of the sales process and implementation, the customer’s data team has been using Looker long enough to support their internal stakeholders. This on-boarding minimizes churn.

Whether you call it co-customization or co-development, the idea of collaborating with a customer through a sales process to customize a SaaS product to a customer’s needs accelerates sales and maximizes customer success. Customers feel the responsiveness of the vendor, understand how the product will fit into their organization, and educate themselves through the process.

Not every product is a good match for this type of sales tactic. But for the companies whose unit economics can justify the investment, co-customization can be a powerful growth technique.

Published 2015-10-11 in Best-Practices  Sales 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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