The future of the SaaS Sales Pipeline : Smarketing

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You’ll know what a SaaS Sales Pipeline is. What about Smarketing? More Marketing jargon, right!

Well Smarketing is actually a big deal as it’s the solution to a big problem. I REALLY think you need to embrace it. To know why have a read of this.

Smarketing is the process of aligning the sales and marketing teams, with the aim of increasing revenues via a shared strategy and shared goals.

I have watched how these two teams can sit in the same building, sometimes metres apart, and not ever really align their goal, processes, and initiatives.

It’s almost as if Marketing is from Mars and Sales from Venus.

The result: low rates of growth! Yet according to Aberdeen Group, companies that prioritize marketing and sales alignment grow 32% faster than companies that fail to nurture those relationships.

Which means that in order to become a Smarketing Company you need to re-define the SaaS Sales Pipeline and make it a Smarketing Pipeline. Then you can create goals OKRs : Objectives and Key Results that have aligned and meaningful metrics, ready to be shared and be collaborated on. Somethings ZOKRI is designed to do.

15 SaaS Sales Funnel Stages That Are Inclusive Of Marketing

You’ve got Bookings and MRR goals that have to be met consistently in order to make your Growth Engine function. That means Marketing and Sales have a co-dependent relationship, with a common entity binding them together – the Customer and their Customer Journey.

Here are the stages of this new SaaS Sales Funnel stages for B2B that combine a Customer Journey with the more traditional Sales Funnel. We call it a Smarketing Funnel.

What is striking is the complexity. Both of these teams have a number of skills to master in order to optimize performance from stage 1 to stage 15. Which is why growing a SaaS company is hard and the odds are generally against you succeeding.

You should try mapping out your version of this funnel, using great OKRs. Having it defined and having transparency, accountability, and co-dependence, will improve performance.

Stages 1 – 7 is a Non Sequential Customer Journey: A Customer can enter and leave at any point, and they don’t need to follow each step sequentially.

Stages 8 – 15 is a Sequential Sales Process: A Customer should be able to end one stage and start another until a defined set of actions has been completed.

Together they are getting closer towards being a Customer Journey Map. Mapping out many of the potential interactions a customer has with you.

Stage 1: Awareness

Buyer Thought: No specific thought or problem.

Media: Advertisements, Sponsorship, Word-of-Mouth (Social).

Notes: Having brand awareness helps to increase top of the funnel lead volume and will increase conversion rates further down the funnel as customers buy from brands they know, recognize and trust.

Example OKR to increase Solution Awareness

Objective: Make our Ideal Customers Aware of our Solution

  • Key Result: Solution Awareness amongst target customers is over 25%
  • Key Result: Increase Google Impression for our Brand* keywords to over 10K
  • Key Result: Increase LinkedIn Company Page Engagement to 1000
  • Key Result: Increase Referred Sessions from ‘PR List: Influential Publications’ to 300

Teams: Marketing (Content, SEO, Social, Paid Media, PR)

Stage 2: Education

Buyer Thought: I need to learn more about …

Media: Google (Search), Word-of-Mouth (Social), Podcasts, Webinars, Books.

Notes: Your customers will want to educate themselves on the topic your company is expert in, not just your product. Educating your market allows you to be perceived as experts, topical authorities, and thought-leaders. Example keywords a customer might search for at this stage for ZOKRI are “OKRs”, and “What are OKRs?” Other search modifiers of “OKR” would include: examples, ideas, guide, resources, tutorial.

Example OKR to increase Education

Objective: Become a Topical Authority for customers that want to learn

  • Key Result: Increase Clicks from Education Keywords to over 20K
  • Key Result: Increase Email Subscriptions to over 3K
  • Key Result: Increase Content Downloads to over 2K
  • Key Result: Increase Webinar Attendees to over 1K

Teams: Marketing (Content, SEO)

*An Education group of keywords for ZOKRI would contain keywords like “OKRs”, “OKR examples”, “OKR guide”, “OKR resources”, “OKR tutorials”, “How to write OKRs?”.

Stage 3: Category Search

Buyer Thought: Which software can help me with this challenge?

Media: Google (Search), Influential Websites, Word-of-Mouth (Social)

Notes: When a buy has identified and need and knows the software solution category they need to research but perhaps not the brands, they will often use a search engine or social circles to create a company / brand / solution short-list. Example keyword for ZOKRI here are “OKR Software“, and “OKR Solutions”.

Example OKR to increase Category Search visibility

Objective: Be found for what we do

  • Key Result: Increase Clicks from Category Search Keywords to over 5K
  • Key Result: Increase PPC Category Search Keywords Sign-ups to over 500

Teams: Marketing (Content, SEO, Paid Media)

* A Category Search group of keywords would contain keywords like “CRM Software” and “CRM Solutions” if you’re Salesforce. These are prized keywords and competitive for both Paid or Organic Search. It’s not uncommon for non software vendor content to rank highly so sometimes optimizing for this part of the journey can also include being present and prominent on 3rd party websites (see stage: Independent Evidence)

Stage 4: Independent Evidence

Buyer Thought: What do other people think of these solutions?

Media: Expert blogs, comparison and review websites, Word-of-Mouth (Social), Case Studies, Logo use.

Notes: We can narrow a list of companies / brands / solutions down to a short-list by reviewing guides and review websites. Example keyword for ZOKRI here are “Best OKR Software”, “ZOKRI Review”.

Example OKR to increase Independent Evidence of Excellence

Objective: Manage our online reputation

  • Key Result: Increase Average Review Rating on Independent Review websites to 4.5
  • Key Result: Increase Reviews on Independent Review websites to 30
  • Key Result: Increase Referred Session from Independent Review websites to 400
  • Key Result: Get 3 new Case Studies from client advocates

Teams: Customer Success, Marketing (Paid Media)

* A Independent Evidence list of keywords would contain keywords like top, comparison, reviews, ratings, best, comparison, ratings. A Independent Review website list would include key blog posts with category lists, and software comparison websites like G2Crowd and Capterra.

Stage 5: Brand Direct

Buyer Thought: I want to see the website of my shortlisted products.

Media: Google (Search), Direct Visit, your website content.

Notes: A customer know your brand name and wants to go straight to your website by typing in the URL into the browser or searching. For example, a search for our brand would be the keyword “ZOKRI”.

Example OKR to increase Independent Evidence of Excellence

Objective: Inspire Brand Engagement

  • Key Result: Increase Google Impression for our Brand Keywords to over 10K
  • Key Result: Increase Direct New Sessions to 27K

Teams: Marketing (Content, SEO)

* A Brand list of keywords would contain your brand name and the many variants that a brand name often has, including misspellings.

Stage 6: Trial or Demo Sign-ups

Buyer Thought: I want to try this software out to see if it will solve my challenge.

Media: Your website.

Notes: Focus on increasing conversion from visit to trial, and a target number of sign-ups balances your Key Results i.e. convert more and enough.

Example OKR for increasing trials

Objective: Inspire more Trials

  • Key Result: Increase Session : Trial Conversion Rate to 4%
  • Key Result: Increase Trial Sign-ups to 1500

Teams: Marketing (CRO, Content / Product Marketing)

Notes: A customer know your brand name and wants to go straight to your website by typing in the URL into the browser or searching. For example, a search for our brand would be the keyword “ZOKRI”.

Stage 7: Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

A Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a lead that has been evaluated by Marketing and based on agreed set of criteria, has been deemed to have a higher likelihood of becoming a paying customer, relative to other leads.

MQLs are then passed to Sales where Sales can further qualify the lead.

Example OKR for increasing MQLs

Objective: MQL fuelled Growth

  • Key Result:  Increase MQLs to 6K
  • Key Result:  Increase New MQLs to 1.2K
  • Key Result:  Increase MQL : SQL % to 30%


The Software being used often changes as well. Platforms like Hubspot and Marketo are replaced with Salesforce and Pipedrive.

Stage 8: Leads

A lead is a potential customer that shows an interest in your product. They may have become a Lead as a result of completing a Conversion goal like a Demo Request or via the nurturing of MQLs.

Note that a Lead in is a person, not a business, although that person may work for a company that we want to do business with.

Salesforce best practice training suggests: “No Lead should sit in the Lead Record for more than two weeks. We only have a few basic categories for each Lead – Contacted, Not Qualified (or Not Interested), or Qualified. It is the sales person’s responsibility to reach out to the Lead and quickly ascertain the correct status. At that point, they should be moved out of the Lead Record and classified as something else.”

Which moves us nicely along with Lead Qualification.

Stage 9: Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

An SQL is a potential customer that has already met the criteria for MQL and has further shown a higher likelihood of making a purchase. SQLs are flagged by Sales Development Representatives and forwarded to quota-driven Sales or Account Execs for closing-level engagements.

SQLs can also be found independently of Marketing and SDRs are often very good at prospecting themselves.

Example OKR for increasing SQLs

Objective: SQL fuelled growth

  • Key Result: Increase SQL to 320
  • Key Result: Increase MQL Discovery Call Success % to 60%
  • Key Result: Increase SQL : Demo Complete % to 80%  Key Result

This OKR focuses on the volume of SQLs, optimizing the process and tactics of getting more people on Discovery calls, and getting leads to turn-up to Demo Calls – quality.

Stage 10: Accounts & Contacts

Assuming you’re using CRM Software like Salesforce. when you convert a Lead in it will automatically becomes both an Account and a Contact. One being the Business Name and the other a Person. And of course and Account can have lots of Contacts from the same Business in it.

Stage 11: Opportunities

Now we’re at the business end of the Smarketing Funnel. When an Account becomes an Opportunity you’ve assigned an estimated monetary value to it, an estimated close date, and other useful information gathered as part of the lead qualification process and demo, like competitors being considered for the project, goals, and stakeholders.

Stage 12: Demos

After qualification you may agree that a demo is the next step and agree a time and audience to demo to. Setting an agenda for demos is essential.

  1. Attendees – Execs on calls earlier is better
  2. Focus – which features / value are to be focused on
  3. Next Steps – what does success look like and what are the next steps
  4. Respect Agreement – it’s OK and desirable to not waste each other time if the fit is not right, which means you don’t waste time and have phantom Opportunities

Then you need to prepare to demo. Here’s a checklist:

  • Who does your best demo? Why use anyone else but your best?
  • Is the account you’re demonstrating an example of the best your software can be (that will be the assumption of the prospect)?
  • Would a Custom Demo / Proof of Concept be the best way to land this customer?
  • Do you need support on the demo from other team members or executives?
  • Do you need to practice to ensure you nail it?

All of this sounds obvious but I have seen poor demonstrations being given by junior, inexperienced sales guys, with low levels of industry knowledge. The audience: significant prospects with real expertise. And to make it worse, they’d chosen an average account to demonstrate, and then demonstrated it in a vanilla way – they could have watched a video demo.

Stage 13: Trial

Buyer Thought: Is this the best solution for me / us?

Media: Your website / software application.

Notes: Self-sign-up or via a distributed login makes way to the much harder task of managing the trial user on-boarding experience, but both have to deliver the value a user was looking for / wanting to find.

Trials can be dangerous if they are not managed well. Good questions to answer at this point are:

  • What does a great trial look like?
  • What can go wrong and how do you avoid that happening?
  • How the trial will be run?
  • When and who will get on-boarded?
  • Is a custom demo better than a trial?
  • What are the criteria for evaluation?

The key to a good trial process is not to lose control. I’ve seen a lot of client trials happen where sales teams do not know when the prospect is logging-in, for how long, what they did and didn’t do, and whether they discovered the value the software offers and the value they were looking for. Then radio silence. Deals stuck in the pipeline, missed quotas and moaning.

So once again, planning to be in control of the trial is critical.

The $ cost of getting a lead to trial stage should not be underestimated. It’s usually thousands of dollars, and a number of people have worked really hard to make the Opportunity happen. FFS – don’t drop the ball now, do your best work!

Stage 14: Negotiation

Buyer Thought: What’s the deal and terms, and is everyone onboard?

Media: Case Studies, Competitor Comparisons, Presentations, Contracts.

Notes: Hopefully the lead was qualified and execs have been involved, but sometimes an internal see still needs to happen. Helping you main point of contact manage and persuade internal stakeholders, potential budget holders, and sometimes procurement is important.

Example OKR for getting more deals faster

Objective: Make the investment easy to justify

  • Key Result: Reduce average days from Trial Start to Sign-up to less than 10 Days
  • Key Result: Increase Trial to Closed Won to over 45%

Stage 15: Closed Won / Lost

All being well, Closed Won is the final state change you give the Opportunity. You’ve sold your solution and the baton is now passed to Customer Success.

Closed Lost will happen as well. The important thing to do with these is learn. Why did the sales not happen? Why did you lose? What would you do better next time?

Example OKR for increasing Sales

Objective: Achieve sales growth targets

  • Key Result:  Generate New MRR of $100K
  • Key Result:  Increase Average Revenue Per Account to $850
  • Key Result:  Increase Months Up Front Payments (MUFP) to 9.5
  • Key Result: Generate Bookings with Total Contract Value (TCV) of $1m

SaaS Sales Funnel Metrics

What you should have seen from the above funnel is that the best way to align Sales and Marketing is by using Metrics contained within Goals like OKRs. If you look at the funnel above you’ve got the ability to define Metrics in the form of:

  • Specific Numerical Goals e.g. Subscribers, Sign-ups, MQLs, SQLs, MRR and many more
  • Percentage Goals or Ratios: Conversion from landing pages, and funnels stages

When you understand which activities drive each of these Metrics you’re able to define goals that can be owned by individuals and collaborated on in teams.

With goals also comes accountability and transparency. Everyone knows how many leads are needed, or how good the quality needs to be, and whether the sales team are controlling the Opportunities. Too often these teams have goals but they’re invisible to each other, or they are high level metrics, or not the right metrics.

Do Sales really want to be told that we’ve increased followers and session? I’m pretty sure they want to know about Leads and how they are becoming Qualified Leads, and feel that Marketing are creating a growing supply of them.

Marketing also want an opportunity to help as well as they only really win when sales quotas are smashed. So if deals are being lost to competitors, I’m sure they’d like to talk about that and work on the many Initiatives that can help like brilliantly designed Battle Cards, better Case Studies, PPTs etc.

A Typical SaaS Sales Funnel

This is a typical sales funnel, and it’s not. For the sales team they will see the stages they are familiar with, but they should also see what has gone on in Marketing to make their part of the funnel function. The co-dependance of teams inside SaaS is everywhere. Every team needs every other team to align and function. This is more obvious in Sales and Marketing, yet despite this, it’s really common to have mis-alignment.

So Sales and Marketing in a B2B SaaS Sales environment really do need to be called Smarketing, and OKRs and ZOKRI’s OKR Software can make that a reality.