What You Should Be Looking for in a SaaS Solution
Let me start by sharing a personal story (analogy alert, you've been warned).
A family friend of my father's has been buying the very same car for over 20 years; an Opel Corsa. I must have seen him visit my parents with multiple models of that car over the years and every time a new model was released, surely enough he would visit the very same dealership and trade in his old Corsa for a new version of that very same car.
Now, considering his needs - he has a family with 2 children and a cat - this car is not a great pick. It's quite small, doesn't have a particularly large boot and leg space in the back is limited. You may be thinking, this sounds like a budget issue. In fact, the person in question is a doctor earning a very decent salary which means he could be driving anything from a big engine sports coupe to a luxury SUV, but no - still to this day he is driving the same model, bought at the same dealership from the same person.
When I asked my father why that is, he explained to me that due to his job requiring him to drive around a lot, his car is an essential tool for him and over the years he has developed a very close relationship with the whole team at that dealership, from the sales associates to support staff, to the technicians that service his Opel Corsa. This means that whatever happened to the car, from warranty issues to getting proper maintenance, he could be sure that he is well taken care of and received quick, fair and high quality service. His experience with them has been so great that he wouldn't risk dealing with anyone else, even if that meant that he is settling for not only less than what he could afford in terms of quality, but also settling for less than what he sometimes needs.
Last but not least, he knew the brand, but also the particular model he was buying and felt comfortable with it. Fair quality, good fuel economy, small enough to easily maneuver and park around Athens, which means it did 80% of the tasks he needed really well, even if that meant the family needed to squeeze a bit during the occasional trip. And over the years, it did the exact same tasks perfectly while adding features with each new iteration that gradually made his life easier: Bluetooth connectivity, then Navigation with live traffic information, followed by Apple CarPlay and a ton of security features made their appearance organically as he changed models every couple of years without him having to think about or research those once, since they were explained to him by the dealership staff come update time.
Buying a car is a process that is led by emotion, and I would argue that for an Executive facing a decision on which SaaS Solution can support their company's success it's even more so.
Sure, you can look at analyst reports, magic quadrants, engage your procurement colleagues to write 500-question assessments and sit through countless hours of demos, this is all part of the process and can provide you with important information. But let me put my hot take out there: When buying SaaS software, product is not the most important decision criteria, the company you are buying it from is. Put differently: don't buy the product, buy the seller.
Having written that, I can almost feel an angry mob of Solution Architects polishing their pitchforks and shouting at the top of their lungs: "Heresy!!". Well, to this crowd I say that I understand it's a tough pill to swallow but that's the curse of the cloud: The product is the product and what works for you may not work for someone else.
This, by nature, means that you'll have to settle here and there, but is having every feature in the market available to you today that important? I am sure you can find a vendor out there that offers a blockchain based, SaaS platform for vending machines with advanced AI features that auto-selects the snack your employees crave before they even touch a button and allows them to pay with Dogecoin, but do you really need this? Even more importantly, is this what you will need tomorrow?
Jumping off the hot-take-train, I am certainly not suggesting that the product you are buying is irrelevant. It is, after all, the foundation to support your goals, your business and your success. But having held roles on all sides (Customer, Integrator, Software Vendor), what I am saying is that I believe it is not what creates success. Here is what I believe the secret ingredients to success are:
1. The Success Model (duh!):-
Look past the product and into what support you'll be getting once it is in your hands to make you successful - do you expect a lot of handholding from functional and product experts or do you have enough resources with expertise internally? From how a tool will be adopted to how new features can be implemented as they become available to what happens when it breaks, it is no longer a secret that companies need to have a supporting partner with a robust model to help them when needed. You need to know how much lifting you can do yourself and what your partner can support you with achieve success. As reliable as an Opel Corsa can be, if your dealership has no service area it will sooner or later break.
2. The Team:-
This is often overlooked, but keep an eye out for the people involved in the sales cycle from a vendor. Even better, go beyond those and ask to meet the team that will be supporting you when you're in BAU mode - the individuals comprising a vendor's team are the best indication about said vendor's culture and how this matches up with how your teams work. Much like that family friend and his long-term acquaintances at the dealership, it's the people that you work and develop trust with, not "the company".
3. The Partner Landscape:-
More and more SaaS providers are switching to a partner-first model. Being capable to deliver a quality implementation is important, but many companies have the misconception that partners come in, do the work and then move on to the next project. Chances are, you will be working with those partners more than you will with the Software Provider, so you want to make sure their partner network has high quality partners with sufficient breadth and depth of services they can offer.
4. The Collaboration:-
Throughout my career I have seen very different approaches to how companies engage software vendors - from "pure" providers of a service that are kept at a safe distance, to fully integrated and indistinguishable from internal employees. That will heavily depend on how "traditional" your organization is, but the honest truth is that being open to integrate the vendor's team into your structures and working jointly will always yield better results than simply coming up with requests behind closed doors. Similarly, sticking around for a cup of coffee while the Corsa was being serviced helped my father's friend develop a trusting relationship with the team, which led to this little bit of extra care given to him every time he visited.
5. The Long-Term Vision:-
And saving the best for last - you absolutely need to make sure you understand the long-term vision (their "north star" if you will), and compare this with your direction and goals. Software changes rapidly and whether you are in HR, Marketing, Sales, IT, or whichever function, features that are hot today won't be relevant tomorrow. What will ensure your sustained success is a partner that develops in the same direction you are and will keep delivering incremental improvements that are important and relevant to you - whether that is blind-spot assist and Apple CarPlay or AI-generated job recommendations for your workforce.
What do you think? Do you have any other secret ingredients that can lead to a company's success when selecting a SaaS vendor?
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