Sales Stages for a Departmental, Trial-Driven SaaS Process

  1. Discovery Stage
  2. Technical Fit
  3. Selection 
  4. Business Justification
  5. Purchasing and Closed

The sales process for SaaS products with trials differs significantly from traditional sales cycles. Prospects can do most of the sales cycle with a free product available without engaging a sales team. The burden shifts dramatically to the selling organization to provide value at every process step. BANTing someone isn’t the right approach. Instead, sales teams should figure out how to support these trial-based sales processes and have confidence their product’s technical merits will carry the day. Of course, sales reps can always try an enterprise approach to alter the criteria, work the political angles, etc. But departmental SaaS products often command price points less than $50K ARR, where account control is costly to develop, and the volume of deals that need completion doesn’t support enterprise selling.

Here are some proposed stages for PLG/Trial/Freemium-based selling models. The stages are based on where the buyer is in the process, not where we are with the buyer. The buyer has control in these deals; our goal is to assist the buyer through their process, which likely involves:

  • Discovery as they try to define the problem they are solving and the products on the market
  • Technical evaluation of the possible products to purchase
  • Selection of the finalist
  • Business justification and approvals with a manager
  • Contracting

Discovery Stage

In the discovery stage, the prospect tries to figure out how to solve a problem. The prospect is investigating various solutions. For many products, the person in the discovery phase may be an individual contributor using their initiative or could be someone assigned to “look into this problem.” Regardless, they may need to be more organizationally savvy on how to evaluate and ultimately procure your solution.

Signs that your prospect is in discovery mode might be trials, freemium usage, webinar attendance, and white paper downloads.

You can assist the discovery process by helping the prospect formulate the problem they are solving and helping them think through the requirements for a solution. Some good questions to ask include: 

  • “I can probably help you further define the problem and some requirements for a solution. Can I ask you some questions about the problem you are trying to solve?”
  • “Tell me the problem you are trying to solve?”
  • “What criteria do you think are required to solve this?
  • “If you find a solution, is there a compelling event to cause adoption?”

For a prospect in the discovery stage, a seller should: 

  • Determine if your product can solve the problem. You know your solution better than the prospect. Help the prospect save time by either opting in or out.
  • Provide criteria for selection based on your knowledge of the problem and understanding of competitive products.
  • Provide a roadmap for how organizations typically purchase products like yours with somewhat generic advice on navigating the internal organization. Better yet, help craft a joint plan.
  • Do a custom demonstration highlighting possible solutions to their problems.

Technical Fit

The discovery and technical fit stages for a prospect many times overlap. A prospect may decide to embark on a technical trial even if they don’t know the scope of the problem they are trying to solve. Learning by doing is a powerful way to understand a problem and possible solutions. Indications of the technical fit stage could be a trial underway.

Some good questions to ask if you reach someone:

  • “I can probably help you accelerate the trial and either eliminate our product or show you where it might not work as well. Can I ask you some questions about the technical trial?”
  • “How are you measuring success for the evaluation?”
  • “What other groups need to be a part of the evaluation?”

Some actions a seller can take include:

  • Help qualify if trialing your product even makes sense. Help them qualify your product in/out. 
  • Assist them with the trial.
  • Provide a product evaluation guide.
  • Help them with troubleshooting support and other issues.
  • Schedule time with the product manager and prospect for post-eval feedback
  • Schedule a custom demo to highlight their technical criteria.


At some point, the prospect must decide which solution they will move forward with based mainly on the trial experience. Unlike a more enterprise sales cycle where all kinds of political, business, strategic, and other issues come into play, departmental SaaS evaluations are very product/fit driven. Evidence a prospect is moving into the selection process might include requesting a quote, asking for ROI information, a pause in trial usage indicating a successful trial, or even an acceleration in trial usage indicating the expectation to deploy. 

Some possible questions to help with selection include:

  • “It looks like your technical trial ended. Can I ask you some questions about the trial for our product team?
  • “How did the trial go?”
  • “What did you like? Dislike?”
  • “How did we match the proposed criteria?”

Business Justification

Once the manager or individual contributor who ran the trial is ready to proceed with their selection, the internal justification process needs to start. Unless the technical evaluator has access and authority to a credit card or the ability to generate a purchase order, the person running the trial will need to walk into someone’s office and propose the purchase. Managers are used to this interaction and, especially with SaaS tools, are used to employees wanting to implement the latest tool. Organizations are littered with SaaS tools. The purchase of your product is likely only by properly arming your technical evaluator with the right information to justify the purchase. Of course, if you can get to the decision maker, this makes the process simpler. But likely, you might not have that access.

Some questions to ask:

  • “Excited to be providing a quote. We have helped customers with purchases since we see so many purchase processes. Can I ask you some questions on how you purchase?”
  • “What is the purchase process?”
  • “What will your manager need to see to sign off or recommend?”
  • “Can we build a quick back-of-the-envelope business case?”
  • “What steps need to happen to get from here through procurement?”

Some actions to take:

  • Supply a PPT business case explaining the product ROI, Company, etc. Assume this will get passed around.
  • Understand the sign-off process in detail
  • Gain agreement to checkpoint the process

Purchasing and Closed

Enough has been written about getting contracts and purchase orders through purchasing and final approval. The problem here remains that you might not have access to the decision makers to get approvals completed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: