To Succeed, SaaS Companies Must Move Fast Without Breaking Things

By Giorgina Gottlieb July 6, 2018

Contributed guest post from Giorgina Gottlieb, VP Marketing for Squelch.

Based on today’s prevalence of Software-as-a-Service companies, the success of the SaaS model might seem like it was a foregone conclusion.

But, as Harvard Business Review explained last year, some early SaaS implementations were greeted with significant skepticism. For instance, when Adobe Inc. first launched a SaaS version of its Creative Suite product in April 2012, its net income “plummet[ed] by almost 35% percent the following year.”

The tide turned, however, over the next few years as providers and customers alike came to see the benefits of SaaS. And as perceptions changed, so did bottom-line results. Returning to the Adobe example, by April 2016 the company’s “stock price had nearly tripled from its value four years earlier.”

The Future of SaaS Is Bright, But Challenges Remain

From our current vantage point in mid-2018, the SaaS train appears to be unstoppable. In fact, Gartner has predicted that “by 2020, more than 80 percent of software vendors will change their business model from traditional license and maintenance to subscription.”

So, the trend line is clear and the future of SaaS looks bright. But that doesn’t mean creating a successful subscription-based software company is easy.

As Harvard Business Review put it, “[T]he move to SaaS comes with considerable challenges: Firms will need to change their structure, sales culture, and incentives, and convince existing as well as new customers of the new offering’s value.”

In other words: it takes a lot more to succeed than just setting up a system to collect recurring revenue.

The Need for Speed

One of the key features that distinguishes successful SaaS companies from their less-successful counterparts (and especially from traditional license or on-premise software providers) is speed.

As one cloud security firm noted, “You used to have to wait years between releases of software to get new features. Not [so] with the subscription model. When a feature is ready for prime time you get it immediately without any further investment.”

It’s an obvious customer benefit to be able to ship bug fixes and new features more quickly. But the flip side is that customers now expect product updates to happen at the speed of light. In order to meet these expectations, SaaS design and development teams must move fast.

And this need for speed is not limited to product updates. The nature of a subscription model is that customers pay regularly (often monthly) for your service. And each time they make a payment, it presents a natural opportunity for them to reflect upon their satisfaction with your company and product.

That means speedy customer support (to resolve product issues and billing questions) and customer success (proactive efforts to help customers get as much benefit as possible from your product) are more critical than ever.

Move Fast Without Breaking Things

Facebook’s early motto was “move fast and break things.” But in 2014, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted, “What we realized over time is that it wasn’t helping us to move faster because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn’t improving our speed.”

As important as this balance between speed and reliability is for a free, largely consumer-focused platform like Facebook, it’s even more crucial for SaaS companies with paying customers — especially products used by large enterprises.

So how can a SaaS provider move fast without breaking things? The answer lies in making efficient and effective use of your data.

Data, Data, Data

Software companies are collecting more data than ever before. But without the right processes and tools in place to access, organize, and internally share that data, capturing it won’t do much good.

“Big data isn’t just a buzzword or a passing fad; it is a fundamental, increasingly ‘table stakes’ capability for companies in all sectors,” explained Matt Zisow, director of product at Wayfair, in an interview with ZDNet.

“If you’re not actively investing in your company’s ability to gather and harness your data in ways that matter to your customers, you’re almost certainly falling behind your competition, even if you don’t know it,” Zisow continued.

Empowering Customer Heroes

Effectively harnessing a SaaS company’s data is particularly important for customer support and success agents who are on the front lines interacting with existing users on a daily basis.

A recent research study conducted by Squelch and Dimensional Research of more than 300 customer support agents found that an overwhelming majority (97 percent) want to provide a superior customer experience and feel they could do so with a better support system.

Half reported having to weed through too much irrelevant information when providing customer support and almost 70 percent make their own cheat sheets, bypassing corporate systems to help themselves help customers, according to the study.

Various tools, including knowledge management systems, enterprise search, and Squelch’s own customer experience optimization solution, have emerged to help support and success agents surface relevant customer data more quickly. Such tools also make it easier for agents to keep track of useful information for future customer cases and to share data with other members of the company (such as sharing product feedback with the development team).

By ensuring that customer support and success agents can easily access the right information at the right time, subscription-based software providers can move fast without breaking things and get one step closer to becoming a truly successful SaaS company.

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At Squelch, we focus on optimizing the customer experience through the teams that serve customers after the sale. We believe these agents are the heroes of a company, engaging in key customer interactions where speed, knowledge, and empathy go a long way to defining the customer relationship. By empowering your heroes with the right information at the right time, we help create a foundation of confidence that can be measured in both employee and customer satisfaction. Learn more at squelch.io.