Guest post- What I Learned at SaaS University by Robert C. Johnson
Hi, I’m Robert Johnson from teamsupport.com– I won the competition for the pass to the SaaS University in Dallas last month and while I would have rather won a $100 million lottery, I didn’t complain… I promised Justin I’d write a lessons learned post, so I can share my learnings with you- and here it is….
Frankly, I would not have attended the seminar if I hadn’t won the ticket. It was a significant time and money commitment (2 days and $1,000), but in retrospect I’m glad I was able to attend.
It was a jam packed two day session which started with a keynote presentation by Peter Coffee of SalesForce. Obviously SalesForce is pro-SaaS and Peter enumerated the reasons we all know why SaaS is poised to take over the world.
Afterwards, Rick presenting some highlights from SoftLetter’s SaaS survey. This survey was sent to a large number of SaaS companies, including mine, and ends up being a “best practices” guide that helps all SaaS companies measure against ourselves. One of the most interesting things to me was on the marketing side – Apparently Webinars really work! Of the various methods SaaS companies use to market themselves, the webinar method appears to be one of the best (note to self: Set up a webinar program for TeamSupport…).
Once the two keynotes were finished we broke out into some smaller groups and split tracks. I won’t go through the details of all the presentations over the two days, but I will share a few highlights below:
- Pat Fetterman from Plex Systems (an ERP provider) gave a fascinating presentation about how they charge customers for new feature development. It’s a brilliant idea, and one I would have loved to have implemented in my last company. I suspect this idea only works when you are dealing with a semi-customized product in a very defined vertical, but it’s a heck of a good idea and one way to help revenue growth.
- Michael Whitener of Vista Law gave a nice presentation on some of the legal issues regarding SaaS and selling enterprise level deals. One key takeaway was that most corporate legal departments have no idea what SaaS is and they don’t have boilerplate agreements in place. His recommendation, which makes a great deal of sense, is to have a enterprise sales agreement ready to go so you’re not stuck with having to modify an agreement for perpetual license software.
- While I only caught the tail end of it, Ted Finch of Chanimal.com had an interesting presentation on building a reseller channel. This is something we’ll be implementing in the near future.
- Lincoln Murphy of 16Ventures is a well known presenter and he didn’t disappoint. He spoke on the “Network Effect” and how to get more value out of a SaaS offering. The idea basically is that with a multi-tenant architecture, you can extrapolate a lot of your clients data and either resell it in aggregate or use the metric data to better help your existing customers. It makes a great deal of sense, but of course you need a critical mass of customers to make it work.
- Rick Nucci from Boomi spoke about their product and integration between SaaS vendors in general. This is a hot topic, and I want to follow up with Rick on some of their technology.. While it was a bit of a sales pitch about Boomi, for some reason this one didn’t bother me as much as some of the other presentations – Rick did a nice job of talking about integration in general and the challenges we all face.
As I said, it was a busy weekend and I’m sure I missed some worthwhile information, so don’t take the above list as comprehensive.
While the two days was well spent, I think there were a couple of areas that could have been better represented. The most surprising and notable thing to me was that while there was a great deal of technical talk (including some veiled sales pitches), there was no conversation at all about customer service.
Admittedly I’m hyper-sensitive to this since I believe that you can’t build great companies without great customer service, and of course I run a customer service application company. However, I don’t think you can have a two day conference about SaaS and not have a long and frank discussion about customer service, managing customer expectations, getting rid of expensive customers, etc. As we all know, success in SaaS is in great part measured by our lack of churn, and churn can be lowered with excellent customer service.
All in all, it was a good two days and worth my time. Rick has a wealth of data about SaaS operations, and puts together a good seminar with a broad range of speakers. Thanks again to Justin and Rick for my opportunity to go!