Follow these 11 industry trends to see “where the puck is going” and make sure your SaaS product strategy gets you there first.
I wrote a post recently on the one and only law for SaaS. In it I described the one law and the many freedoms that you have for SaaS. The idea is that you basically can build whatever you want as long as it supports your business growth strategies.
In this post, I want to offer some guidance on what you should be considering in building your expansion-stage SaaS product strategy based on the trends in the industry that I see.
A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” — Wayne Gretzky
SaaS product strategists need to follow Wayne Gretzky’s advice. A good product strategist meets today’s customer market needs. A great product strategist sets up to capture tomorrow’s needs!
Tomorrow’s Needs are Today’s Trends!
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the significant market trends for SaaS companies:
You are using your mobile device more and more. You pick it up when you stand in line for Starbucks, check it in the elevator, keep it on your bedside table, and often you can’t keep a conversation going because you are increasingly sucked into the device. This is happening with your customers, too.
What are you doing about it with your product strategy?
- Do you have a mobile-first strategy with your browser-based user interface?
- Do you have a simple mobile app?
- Are you using push notification technology to connect with your users?
You are developing ADD with all of the multitasking you are doing and shortening the time that you devote to everything. Meetings are shorter, conversations are shorter, and you have a shorter attention span. Again, this is happening with your customers, too.
What are you doing about it with your product strategy?
- Do your users have to think too much to find, install, and configure your product?
- Do your users have to think too much to use your product?
- Do they have to click too much or run through too many screens to do what they want to do?
- Are you providing lightning-quick response to your users interactions within your product?
- Are you tracking your speed from your customer’s perspective and constantly work to improve your speeds?
You absolutely hate it when you try to use a product and it is out-of-order for whatever reason. It used to be okay when SaaS products broke, as the category was early. But when SaaS products break these days, you really get upset. It may be the most frustrating experience that you have. What is wrong with the company that put out this product? Like picking up the phone, you expect your SaaS products to work. Your customers feel the same way.
How are you adjusting your product strategy?
- Do you have maintenance windows that your customers experience?
- Do you have redundancy in your infrastructure?
- Do you have the proper release testing so that new builds don’t break your product?
- Are you tracking availability from the perspective of your customers?
- Are you helping your customers get through any outages that you still have?
You use 2-3 applications for most of what you do. Perhaps 7-10 if you are a real technology geek. Finding, downloading, and using a new application is a pain-in-the-a$$, so you are really careful about what new things you try.
When you need to enter a lot of information that you already have in other products before you get any value, you pass. Even if you try something new, you are not likely to use it again. It’s too much work. It all goes back to speed. And if you’re feeling this pain — you guessed it — your customers are, too.
So, how are you taking the need for integration into account with your product strategy?
- Do you have an API that makes it easy for you to integrate with other products and make it easy for other products to integrate with you?
- Do you integrate with the other products so that your users can get the benefits of your product through the interfaces of the other products?
- Even better for you, do you allow your users to use your interface to access the functionality of others?
5) Social Networking
You use social networks because you get great satisfaction out of connecting with interesting people, and you are working hard to build your network with great personal and professional contacts. Some of the products you use are making it easier for you to communicate with others within their own products and you are loving it! It’s likely your customers would love to see more social capabilities in your product, too.
What are you doing about it with your product strategy?
- Do you help your users connect with other users inside or outside their companies who can help them?
- Do you facilitate approaches that allow them to interact while leaving the important results of that interaction within your product so that it can be useful in the future?
- Do you allow and facilitate community formation in your product?
Social networking is not about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter — it is about connecting people to each other in any setting in any domain, business or personal!
You make a lot of decisions every day, and with each week it seems like you have to make more. You don’t like to think deeply about every single decision, as it takes too much energy and you have too much to do. You really appreciate it when you use products that give you information that makes your analysis and decision-making easier. You love it when some products offer suggestions on what to do next so that you can get on with it. And, yes, your customers love those product features, too.
Now, how are you going to let that guide your product strategy?
- Do you understand all the decisions that your customers need to make?
- Do you save data, analyze it, and offer suggestions back to your customers?
- Does your product consider past decisions that your users make and offer up new suggestions based upon them?
- Do you add outside data and analysis that your customers would find useful?
- Google has an “I’m feeling lucky” button. Do you?
7) Rewards and Recognition
You love making progress and love feeling recognized for the work that you put into something. You love it so much that you put more work into activities where you get recognized for your work. You may even play a lot of computer games (“if I could only get to the next level!”), check the number of inbound links to your blog posts, or participate in industry shows in order to win recognition. These are things your customers are doing, too.
How are you taking advantage of this desire with your product strategy?
- Do you have a certification program for your users?
- Do you give them scores for doing things well?
- Do you give them badges for unlocking the value of your product?
Gamification is not only for games!
You don’t have the budget for expensive products, particularly new ones that you are not sure will work (not to mention the concern the company might one day up and disappear). You don’t mind paying for products that have real value to you, but it is hard to figure out if the value will be there. You also want to make sure you have the best cost structure in the event that the product actually does add a lot of value. Luckily, open source and low price, easy-to-use products are available to help get you started and test out how the category will effect your business.
Most vendors are giving really simple free trials and some even have fremium approaches, so it is getting easier for you to try different categories of software and then decide how to proceed. If these are the types of solutions you are seeking out, why would it be any different for your customers?
How is your product strategy addressing this?
- Do you have an “entry” version of your product that has a low- or no- price point?
- Do you have a land-and-expand strategy?
- Are you making it drop-dead easy for your prospects to start doing business with you?
- Do you have a pricing strategy that extracts more revenue from your customers as they realize more value in your product?
9) Cost to Serve
You like it when your vendors run efficiently. You know that if they are managing their cost structure well then they will be able to continue offering you a better and better product at the same cost, or perhaps even a reduced cost. This is true of your customers as well.
What are you doing about it in your product strategy?
- Are you running on the most efficient infrastructure?
- Are you automating away the labor involved with installing, configuring, training, and issue resolution?
You know that Salesforce.com (and other long-time and successful SaaS companies) is doing everything it can to keep its infrastructure safe and secure. You don’t see it as a customer in the product interactions, but you trust that they are doing the right things below the water line. You have confidence in their infrastructure, their security, and their people.
In the early days of SaaS, this maybe wasn’t as important to you, but you have more and more SaaS vendors and you expect your vendors to make you confident in them. Your confidence in Salesforce.com has been built from years of working with them, the company that they keep, and the messages that they deliver. If they have a major security breech, outage, or other issue, this may change, but for now you are confident that they will deliver what they have been delivering. You sleep well at night because of this and your customers deserve to catch the same peaceful Z’s.
How are you addressing security concerns with your product strategy?
- Do you have a chief security officer?
- Do you have security and infrastructure audits?
- Do you have certifications and are you working to get the next certification?
- Do you have customers who are known to do great diligence using your product?
You are a young, small company, so you have to do a lot more to deliver confidence. Delivering it as a product strategy is difficult, but doable!
11) Product-Market Specific Trends
Of course, users in every product market want a product that creates the outcomes that are the most valuable for them, and this remains the single most important aspect of your product strategy for the customers you serve. In a lot of ways, this is the kernel of your product, and the points above wrap the kernel.
You need to understand your customers and users as well as the trends in their jobs and lives in order to position that kernel of your business where your customers and those trends (the puck) is going.
For example, if you sell a SaaS marketing automation product to marketers, you better make sure that your product supports mobile marketing in addition to your marketing customers accessing your product through mobile devices!
Since the details of these trends are product-market specific, I leave it to you to figure out where to place the kernel so that the puck hits it squarely. You need to spend a lot of time studying your users and possible users!
A Bonus Future Trend
Finally, while it is probably too early to put it on the trend list, I suspect that portability will become a trend in the next few years. I wrote a post on SaaS portability here, and suggest that you at least think about it at this point.
I wrote the trends above from the perspective of your customer, as your product is what your customer sees, feels, thinks, and says it is. Some or all of these trends will impact your product category over the next few years. The first product strategist who clearly sees where the puck is going and gets to it with the best product and the best competitive advantage will win, so consider these trends and what you can do to capitalize on them!