Software as a service (SaaS) companies are typically attractive to investors because they have sticky, recurring revenue, scale easily, and often create space for more efficiencies in any number of industries. As they go to market, solutions aimed at human resources, finance, and communications teams tend to have an easier pathway to success. Historically, these teams are more familiar with tech, have management accostomed to paying for tech, and are often proactively looking for technology-based tools that can make their work - and the work of their team members - simpler, faster and more profitable.
However, the same cannot be said for all industries. In sectors that are still more offline than on - like construction, logistics and manufacturing - SaaS tools are often met with cynicism or outright rejection. Even if a salesperson gets through the first few hoops they face longer approval cycles, delayed implementation time, and progress that can only be measured by baby steps. Companies in these industries still largely use pen and paper to track and report their day to day activities, inventory and even their records of compliance. High-Tech for these teams is email, text and excel. In simplest terms, blue collar industries still require a different approach when it comes to selling tech-based solutions.
As investors with a thematic focus in supply chain, and experience in chemicals, construction and logistics, we know that even the best SaaS tool will not survive without a sales strategy that resonates with their specific audience. During our investment process, we dive into a company's sales tactics, and here are some of the best practices that we’ve seen lead to tangible success:
Simplicity matters. Selling a tech product into blue collar companies requires an attitude of empowerment - not disruption. While the end goal may be to change the way they are doing business by increasing efficiencies or cutting unnecessary steps, the sale has to be about making life easier for the workforce through product simplicity. One suggested strategy is to offer a product that requires little to no training. Over complicated product development, out of the gate, will scare an end user.
Get some FaceTime - and not on your iPhone. In-person matters to these industries, so get going to trade shows and visit the field workers. Selling face to face allows the decision makers to see you as a person that they can level with, not a mysterious voice behind a screen. Shake hands, make jokes, get friendly. Waking up at sunrise and showing up to a job site where workers are just getting in with a box of coffee and donuts will get you brownie points with the end users.
If you can't be there in person, pick up the phone! People working in these industries tend to be very hands-on. They aren’t often sitting at their desk browsing emails - so if your primary method of contact is digital, you may not be getting a response any time soon. Instead, we suggest getting real comfortable with your phone script. A personalized voicemail is much more likely to get a response than an email from your CRM.
Referrals. These industries are built on TRUST. One thing the industrial sectors does not trust are tech bros building product from an ivory tower point of view. Join associations, get to know the union reps. Once you sign one customer, ask if he or she can refer you to their friend at another company. Although these are massive TAM of industries, these are small circles.
Lean into legacy when it makes sense. If you are marketing to legacy sectors, go where they are now: Craigslist, Facebook marketplaces, snail mail, catalogs. The whole world knows that Google, Instagram, TikTok can be amazing when launching your startup in e-commerce or work productivity tools but its not king in every vertical. Construction companies are still largely purchasing their machines via paper catalog, so can you meet them where they are at, while still showing them a better way?
NVP portfolio companies like GearFlow, Agilis, Clockwork and FleetOps are masters of the blue collar industry sale, and use most or all of these tactics in their day to day. We’ve seen them out pace their competitors, win big league clients, and capture loyalty from their end users that you rarely find in other industries. A blue collar sale might be harder to land, but once you show the field teams the value of the tools and skills you provide, they’ll be anxious to champion your cause to internal stakeholders and industry counterparts.