Monday, September 25, 2006

willingness: the credibility catalyst

I attended a workshop last week at which one of the speakers. . .spoke. . .at length on the topic of "how to market your SaaS company". Fascinating stuff. Distilled to its crusty essence his message was "SaaS is a cash-flow business that demands different approaches to sales, marketing, development and ultimately service."

I can buy that. Especially the service element, but not in the traditional way we think about service.

Let's start by agreeing that all we want - all anyone "in the marketplace" wants - is to know that for any given problem/desire/need we have, that somewhere out there is a provider who is experienced/credible/willing to help us "service" that need.

In this regard, I see service less as "how fast do I answer the phone and close support incidents" and more as "how well do I willingly project my credible experience into the marketplace." The trick is that while experience begets credibility, credibility doesn't beget willingness. You need a culture of willingness from the beginning - it is the invisible delivery catalyst.

We all know when we meet someone who sincerly wants to help us solve a problem. You decide if they're credible, a quality you gauge based on objective (and often subjective) measures of their experience.

It may seem almost foolishly axiomatic, but I think it's the subjective measure of willingness that seals the deal when choosing between equally credible, experienced alternatives. We respond to that spark of curiousity, of caring, that tells you "I'm listening." It's a very human quality that can't be enforced or bought.

In a cash-flow business like SaaS where you have to earn the customer's business on a month-to-month basis, a failure to engage the customer openly, honestly and above all willingly spells death.

But if that quality of willingness is the critical success factor, how do you test for it? You can interview for experience, you can check references for credibility. How do you hire a team that you know will willingly engage the customer day after day, week after week?

Do you know how? Because if you don't have that team, you're going to fail. Especially if you're counting on actually collecting some money for each of those 78 monthly billing cycles instead of just the yearly maintenance renewal and the end-of-quarter perpetual license fees.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points about services component -- especially as it relates to the SaaS model.

It's becoming increasingly important for SaaS vendors to a) recognize that they are in fact an SaaS vendor and b) build out their product halos accordingly so they can continue to improve on their products and help their customers get deployed using their service quickly and effectively.

Ron said...

I wonder aloud about the relationship between willingness and trust. Trust on the part of both customer and provider, which implies a space of vulnerability where curiosity may be aloud to roam. Without that vulnerability, curiosity is pointless; you'll get locked out areas, and no bonding will take place.

Just thinkin'

Verif. Word: "gamey", which I may well be!