Selling SaaS in the COVID Economy: An Interview with VanillaSoft CRO Darryl Praill

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SalesRoads, an outsourced SDR Firm, and a VanillaSoft partner, recently released a white paper looking to uncover the state of sales across the SaaS industry. Titled, “Selling SaaS in the COVID Economy,” you can download the full report for free on the SalesRoads blog. 

To support their research, SalesRoads surveyed 755 sales professionals and conducted 30 in-depth interviews with leaders across the SaaS space. One such interview was with VanillaSoft CRO Darryl Praill, who agreed to add his own commentary as part of an extended interview regarding the findings.

The original interview conducted concurrently with the initial research can be read at the end of this article.


Selling SaaS in the COVID Economy

SalesRoads: You had mentioned during our first interview that although VanillaSoft was open to remote work, you did not set out to build a culture of remote work. Our research found that 93% of respondents are more likely to consider remote work in the future. Would you consider VanillaSoft as part of that majority — and if so, why?

Darryl: Yes, I would definitely consider myself part of the 93% majority who are more likely to consider remote work in the future. Why is that? The entire COVID-19/WFH experience has forced the entire organization to adapt to a distributed workforce. Systems are now in place. Communication behaviors and supporting technology are deployed and adopted. Whereas before it was most impactful when we were all together, from a learning and development and cultural perspective, now the company has transitioned in the entirety to the new reality. Accordingly, this opens up massive opportunities for us to hire the very best regardless of their location. Geography is no longer an impediment to achieving our objectives.

SalesRoads: Also on the topic of remote work, you mentioned in our first interview that you had to ensure your team members were paying attention to Slack. This was at the start of June. Now that August is upon us, how has your team adapted? Are they work-from-home pros? 

Darryl: The team has truly become work-from-home pros. This was accomplished by us having a lot of company-wide meetings, virtual lunches, Zoom coffee talks, etc. Along the way there was a lot of sharing about how to use the virtual platforms such as polling, gifs, @-commands, etc. People were amazed to learn you could use it for group chats and screen sharing. Once everybody understood the tools and understood the social expectations and etiquette around engagement, it became a robust tool to keep everybody in contact and aligned.

SalesRoads: Another thing you mentioned the last time we spoke was that total activity within the VanillaSoft platform was down 7%, but just a couple of weeks later activity rebounded to be within 2-3% of pre-Covid levels. Has that recovery trend continued or has it plateaued? 

Darryl: It appears to have mostly rebounded however it’s difficult to say with definitive proof because COVID has caused us to lose clients who were impacted by the pandemic and gain clients who benefited from the pandemic. By all accounts we are statistically comparable to pre-COVID levels. However, one should not confuse sales activity (which is why people use VanillaSoft) with sales contracts or sales cycles.

SaaS sales strategy

SalesRoads: Our research found that in general, respondents were finding it easier to reach prospects across all channels including email, phone, social media, and via webinars. From your own experience, how has the crisis affected your ability to reach prospects across those same channels (email, phone, social, and webinar)?

Darryl: Prospects were extremely engaged and responsive during peak COVID. I suspect that was more of a desire to interact with people outside their WFH bubble and restore a sense of normalcy. As they’ve adjusted, and as society attempts to return to some new normal, we are seeing less engagement from the initial responsiveness. Overall, prospects will definitely engage via email and via social media. Telephone is harder unless you have direct cell phone numbers; that’s where texting can be a real opportunity. And, finally, direct mail and gift incentives have had to shift to home addresses which are far less readily available.

SalesRoads: Our research found that respondents we’re most optimistic about their outlook for 2020 with 62.5% being positive or very positive, while only 15.7% were negative or very negative. With Q2 wrapped up and Q3 underway, what is your outlook for the second half of 2020? 

Darryl: That’s a tough one. We are cautiously optimistic however we clearly will not hit our original 2020 sales targets. The impact of COVID has put us too far behind. The challenge to a robust recovery is directly connected to the USA’s ability to contain the virus, combined with the global need to avoid a massive second wave which is typically associated with past pandemics. If we can do that, then we feel confident on an economic recovery that looks healthy for 2021. 


Original Interview, conducted Monday June 8, 2020. 

SalesRoads: What has your company’s policy been with respect to remote work before the shutdown? And did the shut down change your remote work policy either on a temporary or permanent basis?

Darryl: So, we had remote workers pre-COVID, but we did everything in our power to hire local so that everybody was in the office and fed off of one another — We’re not opposed to it, but we did not actively seek out a culture of remote work. We had the support infrastructure, that wasn’t an issue. And in fact, ironically, in the last six to nine months we had actually gone through and ensured everybody was on the exact same, you know, central software. So everything was top notch and that was just coincidental. Since COVID, it wasn’t a difficult transition other than it was disruptive. And it forced us to have a new routine…The other thing we had to do was we had to make sure that people were attentive to using Slack for communication. Not everybody was a good Slack user because they could just talk to somebody before, so that took a little bit of retraining. But beyond that, everything was good. 

SalesRoads: Yeah, makes a lot of sense given everything that we’re kind of experiencing right now. One thing I want to ask you, from your perspective: Does your team and the greater SaaS professional community expect the rest of this year’s sales outlook to be more positive than other industries?

Darryl: That’s a really good question and I wish I could give you a generic answer, as relates to SaaS, (I can’t give you an answer) but I can explain why I can’t — it all depends on who you’re targeting, right? So for many SaaS vendors, if they have a solution that targets travel, for example, they’re devastated no matter what they do. So it’s not exclusively a SaaS-thing; it’s a, ‘who do you target’ thing. But the one thing I will say about SaaS, in its own original format, how it was envisioned was a month-to-month subscription. We’re a month-to-month subscription at VanillaSoft. Therefore, we anticipate a certain amount of burn and churn. However, we’re probably more susceptible because if I were to lose 25 or 50% of my monthly subscriptions, even if they’re just on hold, because it’s a month to month, then that has a dramatic effect on me, whereas many SAAS vendors today are annual only, so, they can endure this because they already got their cash at least. Many prepays, where they’re going to have some impacts, some (customers) may need to make quarterly payments or semiannual payments, and that could have an effect on them. But for those companies as a whole, they’ve already got the cash and they’re just riding it out.

SalesRoads: It’s interesting, in some ways you almost anticipated smy next question, because I was curious about how your pipeline has been affected? Like the number of deals and the size of the average deal — have they gone up, down, or remained neutral? 

Darryl: I can tell you the volume of new deals overall — And this is me, not just my company — but talking to many people in the industry, the number of new deals being created is down. The number of new deals being closed is down. It does vary… A few touch points (I follow) closely, one being Toko now owned by Gartner. But they are regularly surveying their SaaS high tech clients that use HubSpot, so there’s a large install base where they have a cross section to really see what’s going on and they’re saying there was a worst case where deal creation was down by about 30%. Really, that was the worst case; it was more so 20% of the whole was down, and it’s already recovering.

SalesRoads: Yeah, that’s really interesting and that makes a lot of sense and. The last question I want to ask you about is; how much of an impact has it been for your team (working remotely), you know, in a greater sense to not be able to have in-person, face-to-face meetings with prospects or even people who are, you know, thinking about jumping ship? You know, like from a retention standpoint?

Darryl: Almost zero impact on us, because almost all of our deals are done over the phone or over a video call. It’s the price point of what we’re selling. We’re not selling enterprise software that’s, you know, six figures or higher. So therefore, there was never  travel in it before — unless the only time we would ever have travel involved was if someone’s coming to us and say, Hey, we want to do 1000 seats. We want to make sure we understand your value prop for 1000 seats. I’ll get on a plane, I’ll come to visit you.

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About the Author:
David Kreiger is the President and Founder of SalesRoads, one of North America’s leading B2B Appointment Setting and Demand Generation companies. He has been named as one of The Most Influential Leaders in Sales & Lead Management by the SLMA the last four years in a row.

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