What has our Growth Team learned about selling SaaS solutions to governments during COVID-19?

Five key practices for government SaaS sales in uncertain times.

Like so many other startups, the Growth Team at RoadBotics has had to evolve our selling processes to meet the evolving needs of our clients and prospective clients — especially since our clients are almost exclusively local, county and state governments who are feeling incredible public health, political and financial pressure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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If you are a startup or SaaS company that sells to government agencies, then you are certainly following the litany of doomsday reports elaborating on short-term and long-term budget shortfalls. For example, A National League of Cities and United States Conference of Mayors released survey data that shows the grim budgetary impact COVID-19 is having on municipal governments’ abilities to secure revenues. According to the survey, 88% of local leaders anticipate the pandemic will lead to painful reductions in revenue this year, which will undoubtedly negatively impact their ability to maintain as well as purchase new software solutions that are critical to their operations.

Unfortunately and frustratingly, much of the pandemic’s impact on government budgets and purchasing is out of the control of companies like RoadBotics and other SaaS providers. And yet, COVID-19 has shown that it is more critical than ever to have governments — from local to state to federal — move towards more SaaS, cloud-based service offerings to ensure resiliency in operations and service delivery to constituents.

To help other govtech startups and government service SaaS companies meet the challenges presented by this ‘new normal’ of government purchasing, our Growth Team at RoadBotics has compiled our key learnings.

1. Consider Location.

Government restrictions on personnel and ongoing services vary dramatically from state-to-state, county-to-county and every municipality-by-municipality within the same county. The lack of centralized policy for COVID-19 has resulted in a patchwork of reactions and measures at all levels of government. If you are a SaaS company that sells to governments across the US, then this variability may seem like a massive challenge. Instead, we have seen great success in using the variability as an opportunity for enhanced A/B messaging testing and outbound outreach efforts. And because the on-the-ground experience of governments continues to rapidly evolve weekly, we have been forced to develop processes that accelerate our ability to plan, roll-out and gain feedback on the efficacy of our outbound efforts. If you have not previously done so, we strongly encourage tracking and taking into account location for outbound government sales efforts. It has made our sales organization more nimble and focused during COVID-19.

2. Listen to your Prospects & Track their Insights.

The best way to understand how your customer’s purchasing behavior is evolving, is to glean insights from your prospects. Whether your organization runs a prospecting system based on cold calls, email touch points, or other outbound sales efforts, all the prospect-facing team members’ activities should focus on capturing insights about your prospects’ current COVID-19 obstacles. Our prospecting team at RoadBotics views their impact on the company as not only developing qualified potential buyers, but also as frontline intelligence agents. In order to make sure that these captured insights can be used as critical decision making data for your evolving sales organization, be sure that you both qualitatively and quantitatively track them. Our team has found success in implementing an ongoing Google Doc of qualitative vignettes of details that prospects mention regarding COVID-19 in conjunction with quantitatively tracking categories for key COVID-19 obstacles that prospects mention are impacting their budgets and purchasing. We compile these qualitative and quantitative insights on a weekly basis so that we can review as a team and adapt our efforts accordingly.

3. Reassess & Reframe Your Value Proposition.

When COVID-19 first started to grip the country, every email or phone call started with the same “I hope you are staying safe during these crazy times” or some version of the same line. Our Growth Team was doing the same thing. After a while we asked ourselves if this was the best approach, especially since every communication people were receiving started with the same line — how do you stand out and grab attention? And more importantly, could we provide more genuine messaging that not only showed we cared about prospective clients but also showed them immediately how our software solution could address their specific concerns related to COVID-19. Using our frontline intel data, we were quickly able to see that our prospective customer (Public Works Directors and City Engineers) were very concerned about how their communities would be negatively impacted if they were unable to assess the condition of and do maintenance on their roads for an entire year (keep in mind RoadBotics provides the foundational pavement condition data and decision support software that enables hundred of governments across the US to make critical decisions about improving the roads we all drive on everyday). By understanding this key intel, we crafted new scripts and emails that immediately showed our prospective customer that we understood how COVID-19 was causing specific concerns about their pavement management as well as how our solution could alleviate that concern. In this way, we had to reassess how we typically framed our value proposition in a way that was empathetic to the new environment that our prospective customers were, and still are, operating in. So far, people have appreciated this direct and thoughtful approach.

4. Adopt Multi-Channel Outbound & Track Access to Decision Makers

Work from home policies have dramatically changed platforms for communication for government decision makers. Email communication may have once felt like a blackhole. However, as government employees rely more and more on email for remote communication, there is certainly an uptick in decision makers checking inboxes for relevant email messages. Additionally, we are seeing more government professionals logging on to LinkedIn and using the professional networking platform to connect with others during these social isolation times. Our data also shows an increased reach to decision makers through cold calling efforts because staffing rotations combined with work from home orders have caused many incoming calls to be immediately directed to the head of a given department. Whatever outbound method you are using, track your rate of decision maker access meticulously and use this data to experiment aggressively ramping up the most successful approaches week-by-week. And if you have the organizational capacity, consider new ways that your sales team can implement a multi-channel approach. With more and more government professionals communicating digitally and remote means, there is an unprecedented opportunity to meet prospective customers across various channels.

5. Test New Payment Models.

“We do not have the budget for new technology right now.” As our data began to show a consistent increase in this objection response from prospective customers, we decided to have a difficult, existential conversation about the very way we allow our customers to pay for our SaaS services. Were there ways that we could reshape our payment model so that our prospective customers would be better positioned in the short term to purchase our software, which we know will help save them money in the long term? Our team ultimately put ourselves in the position of our prospective customers and responded to this question with creative solutions that would decrease up front adoption costs, spread fees out over a long period of time and ultimately help them better mitigate the risks of taking on new technologies during times of increased budget sensitivity and uncertainty. Prospective government customers have shown great appreciation for having a menu of options that meet them where they are in their current challenging situation. It may be uncomfortable for your company to financially consider during these trying times, but we strongly encourage you to at least experiment with payment models in this new era of COVID-19 government sales.

We hope that our key learnings provide a framework for other SaaS sales teams across the US to better reach the government professionals who their technology seeks to have a lasting positive impact. There is no question that software solutions and data are the tools that enable outstanding elected and non-elected leaders to be revolutionizing forces for enhanced government operations in the 21st century. Let’s not allow COVID-19 to undermine tech companies’ ability to provide such critical value to our government leadership across the US and the world.

Government Tech, Policy + Politics | Founder @ Recode America Govtech + Entrepreneurship Practice Leader @ KRNLS