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Subscription Sales

Frictionless Selling for the New World of XaaS Sales

The Future of Selling is Frictionless, Not Filling out Forms

5 min read
By Steve Frost
Just a few years ago, the only image the term “Low-Friction Land” would have conjured up might be an icy runway at O’Hare Airport. But in the world of anything-as-a-service (XaaS) sales, low-friction or “frictionless” selling refers to the ability for customers to start using the technology with minimal upfront commitments and low effort. “Land” is in reference to the first phase in TSIA’s Land, Adopt, Expand, Renew (LAER) customer engagement model; and a new way of landing customers may soon become the new normal.

Why Frictionless Selling is the Future

While no sale can ever be totally frictionless, the idea of getting your customers on board without a complex sales process is not only more efficient, but aligns your sales process with the customer’s preferred buying experience. Having this capability is a critical part of a digital transformation, and is one of the most important things that will separate the “haves” from the “have nots” of the technology industry in the years to come. As the industry is always changing, so must our approach and best practices in order to be a “have” and succeed. Additionally, they addressed how to avoid being a “have not” and miss out on growth and revenue opportunities.   

The entire digital purchasing experience has been transformed for products, services, cars, and even homes, in a way that would never have been fathomable a decade ago. As consumers, you can purchase almost any consumer good you ever want online. For example, let’s look at the Amazon selling experience. Even if you’re buying a high-ticket item, like an Ultra HD TV, do you ever talk to a salesperson in that process? Of course you don’t. You have all the information you ever need at your fingertips. You can see all of the specs, compare the product you’re looking at to its competitors, and even read hundreds of reviews from people who have already purchased that item. You can still go to Costco or Best Buy if you want to see the TVs in person, but even their on-site experience is meant to inform you and your decision, not “close the deal.” It’s easy, empowering, and a lot more fun than the old way (for those of us old enough to remember the old way).

Because of this, it’s easy to understand why when someone buys everything else using this sort of empowered, digital process, they’re going to want to buy their enterprise technology that way too. As it turns out, Amazon also sells Web Services, and it brought the same model that it used for selling books to selling you mission-critical technology infrastructure.

You can get started using AWS in just three clicks. No salesperson. No endless set of qualification questions. No waiting for a quote. No RFP. No negotiation. In just a few minutes, using a process you’re already completely familiar with, you’re up and running.

The takeaway: Don’t think this sort of digital experience isn’t coming for your industry, or that what you sell is too complicated for that to ever happen. It can and it will.

It begs these critical questions you have to ask yourself:   
  • Where does your customers’ digital journey end?
  • Can your customer start using your product with little-to-no friction if they find it compelling enough?
  • Does their path as a prospect end by filling out a form?

Why Forms Add Friction

If you’ve ever used forms in online sales, then you know from your own experience that by filling out those fields and hitting “submit,” you are inviting an endless stream of phone calls and emails from salespeople. If you’re not thrilled about that idea, then you should assume your customers probably aren’t either.

Yet, when TSIA performed a survey around this topic recently, we found that the end of the road for most prospects was indeed asking them to type in their information and hit “submit."
Results of form survey as discussed above
Results from New Prospect Sales Process Survey

While it might be more understandable for traditional hardware and software companies to struggle with adapting to low-friction or frictionless offers, only a fraction of businesses that sell subscription-based offers (represented in orange in the graph above) allowed their customers to try or buy their offers without going through their established sales process. This represents an incredible missed opportunity, and one where companies need to re-focus their resources.   

When companies rely on forms as their top-of-funnel, it is usually followed by hours spent on follow up by the sales team, often in vain. Ask yourself: do you, as an executive, ever actually answer your phone if you don’t know who’s calling? What are the chances of you returning an email of a well-meaning but entry-level salesperson? The reality is that you’re only returning that call or email once you’ve already decided what you want to do, or are at least almost all the way there already.

However, using the frictionless model you’re able to free up sales to better allocate their time and empower marketing to lead the charge as customers self-onboard. From there, you can figure out how to fit them into your engagement models, and turn them from low-friction onboarders into real enterprise customers. 

The Impact of Frictionless Selling on the Sale Engagement Model

As frictionless offers proliferate, it’s going to dramatically change how we approach the sales process, starting at the top of the funnel (as demonstrated above). But what comes of the other early parts of the traditional sales cycle? Some of it disappears and some of it just shifts until later in the cycle. The qualification process changes, certainly. You don’t need to determine if someone has the potential to become a customer because they’re already a customer. At that point, it’s figuring out if someone can become a bigger customer.  

And turning those low-friction onboarders into enterprise customers is not going to happen by using the old “show-up-and-throw-up” sales methodology. That method relied heavily on powerpoints and product demos, which people don’t have time or patience for in the digitally transforming sales world. We can’t stress this enough: customers don’t buy anything that way anymore. Why would they have a different purchasing process for technology than they do for everything else?

How to Get Started

First, you have to build a frictionless offer. If you want to do that, you can find a myriad of great advice on TSIA’s XaaS Product Management page. But as an overview, here are three big-picture items to think about:
  1. Make it a priority. Not shockingly, the same poll mentioned above showed that companies who have a stated and defined goal of driving more revenue through e-commerce and automated channels succeed at a much higher level with their low-friction or frictionless offerings. Other TSIA research shows that when companies put someone at a VP-or-higher level in charge of e-commerce and low-friction selling, they’re a lot more likely to succeed. You have to put someone in charge of this effort and give them the resources they need to get things done.
  2. Start with expansion and renewal. As you can see in the figure below, when companies were successful with frictionless offers, they were focused on the latter part of the LAER customer lifecycle. Additional licenses or capacity of your core offerings are rife to turn over to a frictionless process, and you can also sell value-added services, such as monitoring, preventative maintenance, etc. online with little or no sales involvement. Perhaps the most common capability for low-friction selling is the renewal of XaaS or support/maintenance contracts. Once you’ve developed these capabilities on the back part of the sales cycle, you can think about how to better use them in the front.
    Results of form survey as discussed above
    Results from Sales Process Survey
  3. Make a plan for what happens once they’re on the platform. Once a customer is on the frictionless platform, you have to decide what you are going to do with them. Are you going to keep them in their own bucket, segmented as a semi-supported basic user? Or do you have a plan to turn them into an enterprise customer? Do you know which accounts your sales team will spend their efforts on? Or better yet, what if a new business unit from an existing customer starts using your low-friction offer? Are you prepared to route them to the customer success team you already have in place? Capturing, analyzing, and actually using the data and signals from your low-friction offerings is going to be critical as you segment customers and allocate your sales and customer success resources.

 October 7, 2021

Steve Frost

About Author Steve Frost

Steve Frost is the vice president and managing director of revenue research and advisory for TSIA. He also serves TSIA’s vice president of expand selling and subscription sales research. Throughout his career, he has held various leadership and business development roles at companies like Google, Netscape, and Loudcloud, helping them define their go-to-market strategy and business development tactics. Steve is dedicated to helping technology organizations grow their services, subscription, and XaaS revenue by optimizing their practices for growth throughout the customer lifecycle.

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