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The Software as a Service—or SaaS—industry continues to boom. Several leading research institutions, such as Gartner and Forrester, predict double-digit growth to the year 2020. That growth led to an industry valuation of over $200 billion in 2016.

Every dollar earned, of course, requires a sale. While small or consumer-focused software sales may occur without person-to-person interaction, business-to-business software sales are more likely to require support from sales staff.

For sales personnel working with enterprise-level clients, the sales cycle may stretch months or even a year. Those elongated timelines can make it difficult to know exactly when to reach out to a prospect, or which message to deliver for maximum impact. Further, a single mistake may disrupt or waste months of arduous work by the marketing and sales departments.

How, then, can sales teams manage and nurture leads effectively throughout a sales cycle? A CRM can support business development in every industry, but it may have an even greater value for software companies. Here are the seven ways in which CRMs play a critical role in software sales:

1. Assess which marketing channels generate the best leads

Where does visibility for the marketing team stop? Do marketers know the relative value of a lead from an online form versus a tradeshow encounter? At some point, tracking the value of leads anecdotally no longer scales. A software sales CRM can help identify the most valuable marketing channels by following leads from initial contact to close of sale.

Even for small software businesses, a long sales cycle can make it difficult to recall a lead source. A CRM not only removes the guesswork but also eliminates manual input. Apart from reducing human error, an automated lead-origination process removes one more tedious step required of the sales staff.

Over time, deep knowledge about lead origin may also support the development of marketing automation. Which messages are most influential for sales? And when should those messages be delivered? Software CRM data can help businesses deploy the right messages at the right time—without added effort.

2. Find out what it takes to get to a client demo

There are many ways to get a client to try out a software product: ‘freemium’ models, trials, or in-person product demonstrations. The right method varies based on the software. For example, an electronic health record system might make the most sense to demonstrate in person, while a cloud-based accounting platform may be easier to provide as a time-limited trial.

In any case, a client demo often proves persuasive. Getting prospective clients to request a product demonstration is a unique challenge for software sales representatives. While text-heavy whitepapers or graphics may suffice for other products and services, those materials struggle to convey the interactive user experience of a software platform.

If a software trial is the highest value action for a lead, a software sales CRM can help sales staff reach that goal more often. By examining the CRM data, sales teams can methodically review the chain of interactions that led to a product demonstration. For managers, the CRM data may help persuade existing staff to try new techniques or discard old habits by reframing their subjective feedback as a data-backed recommendation.

3. Establish a structured process that leads to predictable success

A client demonstration represents one key juncture in the software sales cycle. However, there are always more interactions on either side of a software demo. A software CRM system can help pinpoint pivotal interactions that transition top-of-funnel leads into sales-qualified prospects.

Similarly, a CRM can help identify the appropriate follow-up talking points and timelines after a product trial. That information can increase the percentage of post-demo sales. Combining all data points throughout the process yields a complete portrait of the sales cycle to help spot weak points and highlight key contacts from start to finish.

4. Make it easier to share leads within an organization

In a long sales cycle, it may be impossible to ensure a single staff member is available at a pivotal moment for a client. Months after becoming a lead, a client may call back for final confirmation of a product feature, or to make a last-minute addition to a big contract. Likewise, large organizations may receive initial calls at a call center, distribute those leads to remote sales staff, then close the sales with a final call back to company headquarters.

In either scenario, multiple people have critical interactions with potential customers. Without a CRM sales system in place, companies risk keeping vital information from those who need it most. A software CRM can house all lead information in a single, remotely accessible location. That means client information is updated and available in real time to anyone working with a client.

A centralized repository is helpful for clients, too. Easy-to-access client data streamlines their interactions with internal teams and helps build trust in the relationship.

5. Get the data to support sales and revenue estimates

The potential value a software CRM can reach beyond the immediate sales staff and managers. Over time, data in a CRM can help predict sales and revenue in upcoming quarters. That information is essential to top-level executives attempting to make smart budgeting and hiring decisions.

A CRM for software sales can also identify issues before they become major problems. A shift or reduction in marketing budgets may quickly reveal a dent in high-quality lead generation. Or, a change to product features could quickly diminish retention rates. With early notice delivered by CRM data, executives can reallocate budgets or make advance preparations to deal with a potential downturn.

In short, a CRM provides business intelligence that helps software companies produce more stable returns

6. Identify the right time for an upsell

Cloud-based SaaS solutions are more flexible than their one-time-purchase counterparts. That’s because they offer the on-the-fly expansion of features and scalability as business needs change. For many in software sales, this makes the initial sale a point-of-entry to potentially lucrative upsells in the future.

Just as a sales CRM offers data for the first sale, it can also help track the time-to-upsell. This knowledge can then inform marketing and sales strategies for existing clients. In an optimal scenario, a CRM can help inform predictive marketing efforts that tease the potential benefits of an enhanced version of the software just as a client may be experiencing a new pain point.

Likewise, software businesses can use CRM data to avoid bothering satisfied customers with upsell advances when it may be too early in the relationship.

7. Know when to check on a subscription service

In recent years, some of the world’s largest software providers have switched to subscription models, including Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite. From a sales perspective, subscription models change the focus from a one-time purchase (with a potential repurchase a few years or upgrades later) to monthly or annual retention.

This shift can put added pressure on marketing and sales teams to maintain an active dialogue to ensure client satisfaction. Software CRMs can help identify the right time to reach out, highlight new features, or remind subscribers of a pending or lapsed renewal.

A sales manager can also investigate patterns in a CRM that appear to impact retention rates—positively or negatively. That knowledge can make customer service improvements proactive rather than reactive. It can also help identify which type of client may need special handling or guidance to support retention efforts.

The value of a CRM for software sales

Industry experts suggest that business-to-business sales look less and less like impersonal, conveyor-belt operations. A more modern, nuanced approach requires deep client understanding on an individual and collective level. By employing a software CRM, businesses can increase knowledge on both fronts.

An increase in consumer knowledge allows for smarter marketing that brings in more qualified leads and better manages those leads within the system. For managers working to improve their teams’ performance, the structured data housed in a CRM ensures actionable, persuasive insights to roll out new sales strategies and measure progress quantitatively.

For everyone involved in sales, the C-Suite demand for “more sales” can seem like an ambiguous directive. However, a software CRM can serve as the foundation for a scalable process with more consistent returns.