I had a recent experience with a CRM eval that left an impression on me, and I came to the conclusion that running a SaaS evaluation of other solutions on a semi-regular basis can be super helpful. Keep reading for a few tips/learnings.
From my recent experience, the key here is “proper evaluation”. This means running a process, having requirements, and being thoughtful about methodology. I’m not sure this works if you just sign up for 1-2 services and play around for an hour. Build a spreadsheet, document your process and the data collected. Actually use the products with real data. Try the import tools. Enable the integrations. Use the tools in anger as the Brits say.
I recently went through the exercise of selecting a new CRM platform for the fund, and rather than just pick one I thought would meet our needs (or keep what we had), I decided to run a full-blown competitive evaluation. It was an awesome eye opener. I work with a lot of SaaS companies, and there was something magical about going through the normal interest>trial>shakedown>decision process with 5 products at once. The magic was that I saw strengths and weaknesses in every vendor’s approach and was able to directly compare what I felt was best-of-class against what was happening at some of our portfolio companies. It highlighted a lot of low-hanging fruit and areas to fine-tune, I.E. things that our companies were not doing that would improve the 0-60 or qualification experience, as well as confirmations about what was already where it should be.
In some ways the project was a nice change of pace and a thing to really sink into for a week, and I learned a ton about which companies had a really dialed in process and which didn’t. For many prospective buyers, that initial experience with the brand and product set the tone for the entire evaluation process and perception of the company itself. You can learn a lot about a company in the first few hours after you sign up for something!
- It starts with the form. If you are B2B SaaS and you are not collecting a company name and a phone #, why not? Its a great qualification filter for B2B solutions. Learning: don’t be afraid to collect the necessary info up front. Its part of qualification!
- The category leaders got in touch with me within hours. Sometimes under an hour! Not a form email, a call. I didn’t find it annoying because I was actually a qualified lead and wanted to talk to them. Learning: Engage quickly and show me you are hungry and responsive and want my business! It tells me what kind of company you are. Don’t wait a week to call me.
- Qualification best practice – They qualified me out of the gate in a polite way and then often got me in touch with the “private equity” specialist that understood what I was trying to do. In one case, the company dis-qualified themselves because they knew they wouldn’t be an ideal fit. Bravo! Learning: its ok to be direct and cut me loose if I’m not an ideal customer. Qualify quickly. I’ll respect you more.
- Email and human engagement were in sync. No surprise that the two companies that called me within an hour or so had their act together with the marketing email drip campaign also. I wasn’t getting pinged by a human rep and a different robo-marketer at the same time. Learning: consistent and intelligent communication are key to a good experience. If your organization ins’t in sync before I give you my $$, how will it go after?
- Help, don’t push. In some cases it was pretty clear the company wanted to just be available to answer questions, but in others they wanted to push me along, like getting shoved from behind in the line for Space Mountain. Guess which one I liked better? Learning: Direct and friendly = great, but there is a fine line. Don’t cross it. You are telling me about the culture of your company.
- Product Experience – What I found to be optimal was the built-in wizards to orient me around the UI, and then a pre-sales human available to answer questions. When someone tried to schedule a demo I declined because I didn’t want to sit through them, I wanted to see how intuitive the UI was. It was a leading indicator and a key criteria for us (usability). Learning: Features are important (tablestakes!) but UI and UX matter a ton. I have to actually like the product, regardless of reqs.
- Hand-Off – One company in particular did a great job of handing me off from the pre-sales / qualification team to the actual sales rep. Both were on one call, both had the same data on my needs, and I never had to repeat myself. This built a lot of trust. I knew who to call and who was going to work with me going forward. Learning: Be consistent and ensure your workflow between lead-gen, pre-sales, post-sales, etc is seamless. You can lose me at any of these steps if you fumble.
So, after you are done re-reading Bessemer’s awesome 10 Laws of Cloud Computing guide and gut-checking where you are with the core elements of SaaS, I’d encourage you to run a proper competitive analysis of SaaS solutions in another category. Hold your own process and customer experience up to what you think is best of breed. You’ll learn a ton, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t find at least 5-10 tweaks that could end up making a real difference.
I’d love to hear from you after you do this, or if you have recently and what your experience was!