The Secret Sauce for SaaS Growth in the Product-Led Era




  • — May 23, 2019

    What’s the secret recipe that creates successful solutions such as Slack, Zendesk, and Drift?

    In the product-led era, the immediate answer would be “a great product, of course!”

    But in a customer-centric world dominated by hyper-competition, a great product alone is often not enough.

    The true motor of successful SaaS operations is a cross-functional business strategy that revolves around the company mission and a single goal: the success of your customers.

    If you only think about customer success in terms of after-sales support, your product and your marketing/sales activities alone are not going to generate steady growth.

    Customer success, both as a mentality and as a department, needs to be the main trigger of key decision-making processes throughout the entire customer journey.

    Let me show you what I mean.

    Customer Success: The Main Ingredient of the Secret Sauce

    You’ve heard it before: “Customer success is a strategy, not a department!” Now more than ever, this adage holds true.

    Customer success needs to start with the very first touch point your potential customers have with your brand.

    The promotional messages you post and the content you produce or curate need to be focused on educating your target group on how to tackle a specific problem, with or without your solution.

    The best store is the store where the clerk advises their potential customers to go somewhere else if they’re more likely to find what they actually need. This is great service!

    In a customer-centric world, the success of your target group is more important than clinching a deal that, in the long run, makes nobody happy. Not even you.

    The price for a lukewarm deal in SaaS is churn. A very high price. Think of all your acquisition and onboarding costs. For what? For a customer who soon realizes that your solution actually doesn’t solve their problems!

    Customer success starts with defining customer and user personas. Basically, pinpointing who suffers from a specific problem and what they need to sort it out.

    Who Will Benefit from Your Help? Defining Your Target Group

    If the profiles of your customer personas are spot-on, you’ll be talking to people who actually feel the pain and are willing to listen to you.

    Why is this part of customer success? Because you need to define who you can actually support in achieving their goals.

    If there’s a mismatch between your target group (with their expectations, needs, and target KPIs) and the value your solution and your expertise provide, you won’t be able to lead them to success.

    If you address the wrong person or the wrong problem, you won’t be able to provide any value.

    What does an inbound marketer need to be successful? Whatever it is, it’s very different from what a business development person perceives as a priority.

    Your software might be a great solution for product marketing, for instance, but it won’t really help either of them.

    They won’t perceive the need to invest time in your product and even if they do, you won’t be able to help them achieve their goals and be successful.

    Your know-how and product are fire extinguishers. Now you need to find the person who’s trapped in a burning elevator. This person needs you. They will listen and you’ll be able to help.

    Customer success starts with identifying the person who needs you most and who will be more likely to become successful thanks to your help.

    Customer success managers are in continuous contact with customers. They know what customers really love about your product to the point where they could never do without it.

    That’s why customer success needs to be involved in defining who your target group is.

    And talking about success: the person who uses your software might be the same person who is bringing it into their company. But it might also be a different person. Decision makers often pick a solution and other people have to use it.

    UX, User Personas, Onboarding – More Ingredients for Success

    If you want your customer (as an account) to be successful, you need to make sure that the user persona and their needs are in line with your research as well.

    Your user experience will determine the success of your software. You need to enable users to use your application without any frustration, constraints, or difficulties. Defining your user persona, then, is as important as finding your ideal customer profile.

    Product managers and product marketers will determine how easy it will be for users to achieve their goals.

    How can a customer be successful if you design your software, its onboarding experience, and process flows without thinking about usability, speed, and success?

    Product people can carry out usability tests and research, but ultimately, customer success agents will be the ones who are in touch with the actual end users. And live tests, as we know, are often very different from internal user acceptance tests.

    Customer success as a goal is deeply rooted in the feedback loop between customer success agents and product/engineering.

    If you then add the topic of feature requests, within the scope of a customer-centric mentality that defines the product-led era, it’s clear that one of the strongest voices when it comes to defining the product roadmap needs to come, again, from customer success!

    Food for Thought: Marketing Your SaaS for Success

    So far, we’ve seen that customer success starts with a customer-centric mentality in product development and targeting.

    This mentality extends to marketing and your lead generation strategy.

    Once you define who really needs your product and you manage to design it according to the needs of the users, it’s time for marketing to address these people in order to support their goals.

    Your marketing messages must be in line with what your potential customers feel is their main pain point, and your inbound activities must support them when they look for solutions to solve their issues.

    First goal: Presenting the problem. Second goal: Educating the target group on how to solve it as quickly as possible. With or without your solution.

    A company’s mission should not be relegated to a poorly-designed page on your website. In the product-led era, you need to make sure that everything you do truly leads customers to hit their targets.

    If you offer design software, your mission should be to populate the world with better design. If you offer a project management solution, you should fight for a world in which teams are more productive and things move faster.

    Your mission should define your role on this spinning blue planet. How do you prove that you actually live your mission if you just try to sell a product?

    Successful SaaS companies don’t sell products! They provide solutions to a global problem they intend to tackle.

    Slack is saving the world from email overload and inefficient peer-to-peer communication.

    Marketing is a key component of customer success because your positioning is linked to your brand and to the value you offer to your potential customers. Good marketing addresses big problems. And if your product is the best solution to tackle such problems, the by-product of great marketing is leads and trial users!

    Is your marketing aligned with customer success? Are your marketing and sales activities aimed at supporting your prospects and their goals?

    Leading Trial Users to Success

    Once you attract prospects to your assets (content), the ideal customer journey should continue in your product.

    Your trial users need all your attention. The onboarding phase is mission critical and at this stage, you have to make sure your users have everything they need to achieve quick wins as soon as possible.

    The sooner you provide value the more likely users are to invest time in exploring your solution.

    Success for trial users means a frictionless experience that brings them from zero to hero in no time. It means guiding users to the solution to their problems in the most effortless way.

    At this stage, your product is on stage to be judged. You have a very limited amount of time to prove that your customers can rely on you.

    Customer success and product people need to work hand in hand to optimize this phase. You only have one chance to impress your audience! And of course, you want them to achieve their goals without any frustration.

    The Perfect Recipe = Happy Customers

    If this is the case…congratulations! Your trial users will probably turn into paying customers and that’s when the standard customer success processes start: definition of goals and metrics, check-ins, QBRs…

    Time for customer success to shine as a department by supporting users to continuously achieve their goals and renew their trust in your solution.

    Customer success is the permeating essence of successful software in the product-led era.

    Digital transformation represents a shift in focus from processes to customers and their experience.

    The ultimate goal of a great customer experience is success.

    If you focus your mission and your activities on the success of your customers, your entire organization will be structured in such a way that every unit is automatically aligned with customer success.

    And your cross-functional approach pivoted on customer success will set your product apart from your competitors.

    If you want to learn more about cross-departmental operations, organizational relationship management, and SaaS product roadmaps, I strongly recommend to join this live webinar or watch the replay.

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    Author: Andy Mura

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