Lessons for Sales Ops: Buying Tech

I love buying tech. There’s so much cool stuff out there for sales teams. It’s amazing to see what companies are doing and all the new tools that are available to help improve my sales team’s performance. 

I wasn’t always that way, though. When I was just getting started in a Sales Ops role, I hated the buying process.

I didn’t know how to evaluate vendors, guide the buying process, bring up price, or sell the value of the tool internally— basically, I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve come a long way since then.

The good news is buying tech shouldn’t be daunting. It should be an exciting opportunity to learn new ways to improve your business. I’m here to share a few tips from my experience, and provide guidance on how you can make effective tech purchases for your sales team.

If you work in Sales Operations for a B2B focused company, you’re going to have to evaluate and purchase sales tech at some point — B2B sales processes are simply too complex and the tech out there is too good to avoid it. Here’s my advice for making the buying process informative and productive.

Start by working from the bottom up

Before you start evaluating tech, there’s an important distinction you have to make. Are you solving a top-down problem, or a bottom-up problem?

Top-down problems are directives that come from management, and are generally more exploratory. The CEO may have heard about a tool from a friend, or learned about a new way of doing things at a seminar, and wants you to investigate it.

You have more flexibility and discretion with these types of problems, because they typically stem more from curiosity and a desire to make incremental improvements than a real, critical business pain.

The problems that are more pressing are the bottom-up ones. These are the problems that have a tangible impact on your company’s ability to source and win deals. I’ll riff on a common sales term to distinguish between the two a little more clearly: bottom-up problems are the “need-to-fix” issues, whereas top-down problems are the “nice-to-fix” ones.

Don’t even think about buying tech until you’ve identified and prioritized your bottom-up problems. Don’t waste time tinkering with top-down requests if they’re not aligned with the more pressing bottom-up problems. Be the voice of reason — identify the fundamental problems that hamper your go-to-market team, and focus on building or buying tech that will solve those problems first.

Worry about the top-down stuff later, even if you get pressure from above. They’ll thank you in the long run.

Build for one-off problems, buy for systemic issues

If you’ve done a good job identifying the problem you need to solve, the next step is to make a quick assessment of whether you’re better off building your own solution or turning to an external vendor.

The rule of thumb I follow is build for one-off problems, and buy for more systemic issues — but realistically it always comes down to a cost-benefit analysis.

My logic is this: if you’re facing a systemic issue, chances are other businesses in your space are facing the same problem — which means there’s a market for any company that can solve that problem.

In the world of SaaS, if there’s a market for something, you can bet your bottom dollar someone has created an app dedicated to solving it. Their solution will be better than anything you can cook up on your own in the short-term.

At the end of the day, you just have to do your homework — see what solutions are already out there, figure out how much time and money you’d have to invest to come up with your own, and make the call on which one will give you more bang for your buck in the long run.

Tips for Buying Tech

Once you’ve identified a problem and recognized that you’re better off buying from an external vendor than building a solution internally, it’s time to dive into the buying process. Here are the key steps I recommend you follow to make sure you end up with the best solution:

    • Do your homework — I mentioned this before, but it’s worth bringing up again. There are a lot of tools out there, so gather as much info as you can before you contact any vendors. Ask for references from your peers, check out review sites (G2Crowd is a great one for SaaS companies), and read up on forums and blogs. The more informed you are ahead of time, the easier it will be to make decisions.
    • Use your sandbox and leverage trials — The exciting thing about tech is that good apps present cost-effective, elegant ways to solve major business problems. The terrifying thing is bad apps can really screw your system up. Do as much testing as you can with trials and your sandbox ahead of time to make sure you: 1) have the best solution for your needs, and 2) aren’t going to break your current workflow by adding another layer of tech.
    • Don’t Succumb to Pressure — The reality of the buying tech is everyone wants you to pull the trigger as quickly as possible. The vendor’s sales reps will try to get you to make a decision quickly, and you’ll be pushed by your superiors and others in your company to solve problems as quickly as possible. Don’t let it get to you — do your due diligence, and don’t let the buying process move forward until you check all the boxes. Speaking of which…
    • Check the Right Boxes – Have criteria going into the purchasing process that you want to see from a vendor, and check off each of those criteria as you progress through the purchasing process. A few examples of what I look for are:
      • Will the solution fit our security parameters?
      • Does the vendor have good customer support?
      • Is the onboarding process simple?
      • Is this solution the most effective for the problem we’re facing?
    • Don’t fear the budget – Don’t misinterpret this last point as the classic salesy “if the pain is bad enough, there’s room in the budget” type advice — the budget exists for a reason, and you have to live within it. The thing is, if you find a piece of tech and you truly believe it’s an important value-add for your company, there are ways to at least get it on the map.

Prove out its value as much as you can with a free trial and make sure all the pertinent decision-makers get exposed to it. If you can’t get money to purchase the solution for your whole team, try to get a pilot program in place that you can expand once the smaller segment sees value from it. Thinking creatively can go a long way.

If you follow these tips, you’ll avoid the pitfalls involved in buying sales and marketing tools, and get the most from every investment you make.

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