I was at the SaaS University conference in Austin this week organized by Rick Chapman from Softletter. This is really one of the only conferences in the United States that focuses on the business side of running Software-as-a-Service and cloud application companies.
These are my six favorite quotes on the sales and marketing of cloud applications and what I learnt from them:
1. “Software-as-a-Service is about Service (not Product)”
In the cloud you are selling a service, not a product. What does this mean? It’s often the best practices and business process around the code that matter most to clients. Chuck DeVita from the Growth Process Group shared how adding a design review methodology and implementation with conventional software products allowed one vendor to lift pricing from $15,000 to $100,000 per customer. The best practices and business processes were worth more than 5x the code itself.
2. “Products are evaluated, services are experienced”
Moving from a product to a service has implications for your marketing strategy as well. Ken Rutsky, an independent marketing consultant who used to run Marketing at Netscape and Secure Computing, pointed out that: “products are evaluated, services are experienced”. So for your marketing, forget about white papers and instead focus on creating experiences such as self-service demos and a self-service trial which give prospects a taste of your service experience.
3. “The CRM system of the future is your website (CRM is dead)”
Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite CEO said in his keynote: “the CRM system of the future is your website”. I would like the quote even better if it wasn’t so self-serving but there is still a lot of truth in his statement. The SaaS service itself is becoming the primary platform for communications with the customer. Rick Chapman added that a SaaS service should also embed community elements and become the primary channel for communications for customers amongst themselves.
4. “Product management is dead”
A surprisingly large percentage (about half according to an upcoming study by Softletter) of SaaS companies have integrated requirements management into their service: this means that customers can submit feature requests from within the application. Patrick Fetterman shared that Plex Systems has taken this one step further: they give customers a “budget” which can be used to “buy features”. Beyond the assigned budget, customers can also pay extra to get even more features. There are no product managers at Plex, just developers and community managers.
5. “Your customers know more about your solution than your sales guys”
This is another quote from Ken Rutsky. With so much information available on the web, propsects now have more knowledge and expertise about your product (and your competitor’s) than your sales guys. So why not get out of the way and create a friction less sales model? Most SaaS companies are moving towards a self-service discovery and self-service delivery model. In Softletter’s 2012 SaaS Report 51% of SaaS companies report to use a direct sales force. It is still high but down from 60% last year. Indirect (zero touch) selling on the other hand jumped to 25%.
6. “Don’t get people to buy, get them to use your app”
It is much easier to sell if prospects already love your service. The imperative to drive usage and adoption doesn’t stop after the initial sale. Most SaaS companies now use a “land and expand” sales strategy. In Softletter’s survey, the dollar-based renewal rate for SaaS companies ranges from 70% to 140%. Larry Cates from KeyStone On Demand, an online training application, analyzed the main reasons why customers cancel: low organization adoption, not enough customer stakeholders or the app is not utilized properly to gain full potential. These all relate to “lack of usage”. App reliability, competition or budget were reported much less frequently.