• Causal Engines

Lessons from AWS’s top-performing enterprise account executives

One of the most common challenges that early-stage SaaS businesses face is getting their first sale. Overcoming sales inertia and successfully converting a lead into a paying customer is difficult. It’s especially difficult when you’re selling a high ticket item to a large enterprise, which often takes three to six months.

Although there is no magic formula to the perfect sale, we set out to learn from some of America’s best enterprise sales reps. This week, SaaS Operational Tactics interviewed Karl Schutz, a leading enterprise AE at Amazon Web Services.

Karl fell upon his passion for sales after his first year at Dartmouth College. During the summer before his second year, Karl moved to Boise, Idaho, to work for Hewlett-Packard at their call center. There he would accept calls from HP’s consumer segment and guide them through the purchase process.

A couple of years later, while working as an operations lead at a San Francisco-based software startup, Karl was asked to assist with sales. He discovered that working with prospects to recommend software solutions was his true calling. After almost five years at MuleSoft learning the fundamentals of enterprise selling, Karl is now a leading account executive at AWS.

We asked Karl about his process to learn what makes him stand out from the rest. Here are our findings, summarized in the order in which the sales cycle generally takes place.

Before the Intro Call

Prior to reaching out to a prospect, Karl spends a considerable amount of time researching them. Whether it’s a LinkedIn or Google search, or combing through company websites and executive interviews, he emphasized that it is very important to find a commonality or point of interest to bring up during the first call.

Even if you don’t intend on making lots of small talk during the first conversation, it’s critical to keep a few ideas on hand when they become relevant, Karl explained. In fact, he believes that skipping out on the initial research phase is almost pretentious in a way. It’s all about forming a strong relationship with the prospect.

The First Conversation

During the Introductory Call with his prospects, Karl usually spends 30 to 50 minutes actively listening to the needs and interests of the prospect. He wants to figure out what they’re working on -- like company initiatives and projects that have specific deadlines. He also hopes to distill what snags or pain points they are running into.

Once Karl is confident that he understands the true needs of the prospect, he introduces AWS, it’s product capabilities and benefits and how it could potentially help them. Often, this involves sharing success stories from customers that are similar to the prospect.

Karl remarks that many sales people tend to make a critical mistake during this process: they talk way too much. Instead, he recommends active listening techniques in order to gauge the interests and needs of the prospect.

The “In Between” Stage

After the intro call is complete, Karl crafts a plan to address his findings. This portion of the sale requires the most discretion and artistry because there is no specific process that is effective for all prospects. Many times, Karl asks the prospect if they have a particular way they would like to proceed. Sometimes, prospects will have a bias or preference for navigating the process, and it’s helpful to take that into account, he explained.

Although the middle stage of the sales cycle is not a linear process, Karl typically relies on a three-part framework.

  1. Tech validation: Karl works with the prospect to demonstrate how AWS’s products can solve their problem at hand. Sometimes this involves a demo or a proof of concept.

  2. Business validation: Karl shows that AWS will be a sound business decision. He has to prove that it will speed a process up, save on costs, etc. Usually, the business validation is intricately intertwined with tech validation.

  3. Delivery plan: Once he’s made the case for AWS, Karl works with the prospect to develop an implementation plan. This includes things like delivery, integrations, and training.

Sometimes during this “In Between” stage, there can be significant friction that blocks progress on the sale. For instance, the development team may not want to work with new tools. Or the C-level management may not want to take on another project.

If you encounter a situation like this, it's important to speak their language, Karl said. Address any concerns and work to find a solution.

Another way to curb sales inertia is to tie the delivery plan in with a preexisting company deadline for a project or initiative. For instance, if a prospect has a new product launch in six months, there is a specific motivator that helps speed up the sales cycle. This is a great tactic to avoid long delays common with enterprise customers.

In the next edition of this series, we will dive deep into the closing stage of a sale and how to deal with objections.

We would like to thank Karl Schutz for his time and insights.

This article was written by Grant Sobczak.