This blog first appeared on the Website of Value Management SaaS Provider DecisionLink.
This new decade will see a dramatic increase in the deployment of Customer Success programs. Success not Service – meaning businesses being proactive about their customers’ projects, as opposed to being merely reactive to customers with problems, submitting support tickets, sending emails, or complaining on social media.
Why? Well, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers, especially, know that profitable growth depends greatly on the fullest possible adoption of their solutions in each customer project. While great customer service might mean that they earn a 100% renewal-rate across the customer base in one year, most SaaS executives know that is not enough. Nor is it realistic because there is always some churn from external factors such as M&A, economic downturns, or staff changes. They need to earn more each year from existing customers: to cover the churn, finance R&D, and to pay the cost-of-sales of winning new customers in a very competitive environment. The current status in the SaaS industry is that “net retention is a critical figure: if you’re at ~106% you’re in line with the average, if you’re below 100% do a little work to figure out what’s happening, and if you’re ~120%+, you’re in great company.” (see – https://about.crunchbase.com/blog/net-dollar-retention/).
So they are all investing heavily in customer success programs (in the form of onboarding and implementation services) and there is a focus on new executive-KPIs like Customer Lifetime Value or specifically Net Dollar Retention Rate. Of course, they cannot apply the same resources to all customers. Most use tiered structures that balance people resources and technology. Many have three tiers of programs: the lowest level is mostly automated (e.g., online self-service) while the highest level involves more consultative outreach from customer success managers. And even Sales success metrics are moving away from just pure selling – many sales executives are now being measured on reduced churn rates i.e. customer retention and expansion. Again, renewal at 100% of existing run rate is not viewed as a win; to exponentially improve profits, 120% renewal-rate now the new bar.
Customers Have Also Learned How to Renew
Buyers are also beginning to realize the importance of those renewal meetings. Often, a SaaS subscription was signed up by an empowered individual-contributor out of their expense budget and IT or procurement is only involved when the renewal phase is reached, and their considerations are usually different than the original buyer (support, integration with other systems, security. These negotiators also have their own agenda such as a strategic sourcing strategy which may not include the SaaS provider in question.
Renewal negotiation has moved from a “shall we continue the project” discussion to an almost full-blown re-evaluation of the initial investment decision. Compliance guidance, or just good procurement management practice, is pushing buyers to evaluate a new shortlist in the renewal phase and each additional user group or functionality is treated as a brand new project.
Chief Financial Officers are increasingly turning their attention to SaaS expenditures and ask questions about return on investment (ROI), business outcomes, and revenue contribution. Most importantly, they are asking the SaaS user and their provider to demonstrate that the solution delivers quantifiable value to their company.
Enter Value Management
Financial justification tools have been promoted for decades by technology vendors/providers to accelerate their own sales process and help document a need to invest. The tool was typically only used for the business case appendix and it was hardly ever validated post-sale. Also, an ROI calculation is a one-off forecast consolidating capital investment, perhaps running expenses and increased revenues and/or decreased costs.
One consequence of an “as-a-service” investment is that the value must be monitored continually because usage and deployment of the service will fluctuate over time. So ROI is no longer a one-off forecast based upon estimates and assumptions, it must be modelled and set up in a system which is able to collect actual data and provide ongoing reporting.
With on-premise software, it has always been difficult to track the ongoing expenses, revenues and costs. SaaS is, by design, more easily measured and monitored than on-premise software, including value-relevant data about usage and relevant business outcomes. Setting up a value management collection and reporting system is therefore realistic in most cases without custom programming and extensive investments and it can be offered by small and large vendors, and be deployed for customers of all sizes.
DecisionLink worked with Dimensional Research recently to survey over 200 SaaS executives and sales managers to understand how they approach value management in their renewal discussions. According to the study, only a quarter (24%) of companies provide value analysis during the renewal process. Another 11% of companies provide value analysis, but only for customers that are at-risk.
Customer Success Supported by Value Management Will Prevail
Closer attention from finance departments, plus the advent of SaaS, is now generating a clear preference for applying full value management principles throughout the project lifecycle. On the vendor-side, value management will become important in departments such as Customer Success to audit and prove the business benefits and document project effectiveness.
In addition, it is highly probable that, on the user-side, financial and procurement professionals will also be leveraging a value management solution to support a company’s decision-making process for multiple projects as a standard operating practice.
“This is the final missing link in the industry. Connecting the value that was promised in the sales cycle to the value that is being delivered and demonstrated.” -Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight
If you would like to discuss this topic already, feel free to contact me.
Always keeping you informed! Peter.
The concept of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has transformed the software industry. On the demand side, clients enjoy the new consumption model, with generally lower entry points, continual support in some cases, and a less capex-intensive approach overall. And the software/SaaS providers have learned that business success and profitable growth depends more as much on the full adoption of their solutions and renewals across their customer base as it does on winning net-new customers. So they invest heavily in Customer Success (in the form of onboarding and implementation services) and Customer Support resources to ensure customer satisfaction and maintain a strong renewal rate.
Buyers also have their financial metrics and most business purchase decisions, including software, must be supported by some sort of financial analysis and forecast, using financial instruments such as:
Return-on-Investment (ROI) — Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) — Internal Rate of Return (IRR) —
Payback Period — Net Present Value (NPV)
In response, many software vendors routinely offer one or more tools to establish value during their sales process – tools such as an online ROI calculator or other spreadsheet templates. Or they help buyers to develop their own business case, perhaps by providing data collected from their existing client base. This was so important in the traditional software sales process that the vast majority of vendors even deploy a supplemental consulting resource to collect data and advise on the topic.
The irony is though, in my experience, most sales conversations still dwell and stay focused on the price of a product or subscription instead of the value. This is due to some serious muscle memory on both sides of the purchase decision:
- A business culture of sales quotas and discount models instead of a customer-first, value-based selling approach
- A focus from buyers on the cost budget they must invest instead of the value they are creating.
The other issue with most vendors’ ROI tools is that they are mostly focused on the initial investment approval process and tend to produce a one-off report. Anyway, collecting accurate data is quite difficult and so most of the ROI/TCO/IRR/NPV forecasts are some sort of estimate based upon many assumptions. Often, the document is completed on a pro-forma basis and not validated; and it is hardly ever audited at a later date on the actual outcomes of the project.
SaaS has also democratized software buying and many SaaS subscriptions are now signed up by individual contributors out of their expense budget – curiously, in these cases, IT or procurement only gets involved when the renewal phase is reached. But the SaaS spending honeymoon is likely ending. Chief Financial Officers are now turning their attention to these software expenditures and expect answers – answers in their taxonomy of return on investment, business outcomes, and revenue contribution.
Many SaaS providers tell me that the renewal negotiation has moved from a “shall we continue the project” discussion to an almost full-blown re-evaluation of the initial investment decision. Compliance guidance, or just good procurement management practice, is pushing buyers to evaluate a new shortlist in the renewal phase and each additional user group or functionality is treated as a brand new project.
The potential advantage for the current SaaS supplier is that they have, hopefully, provided a strong customer experience and that is well documented. Another is that the supplier is able to prove that their service has provided value to the organization:
- At the minimum, as measured against the forecasted benefits from the start of the project
- Ideally, based upon a continuous value management process.
I’ve known DecisionLink as a pioneer in the topic of customer value management for quite a while now, so I wasn’t surprised to hear they were interested in the above developments. They decided to find out how the SaaS industry is reacting to this new emphasis on ongoing value management and field a survey across numerous SaaS sales organizations. Then, they asked me to review and analyze the survey data and write up an insights report which you can see here.
I hope you will enjoy the report and it will help in your planning; whether on the demand or supply side. It also discusses lessons learned in the SaaS industry that will be useful for all sectors. Manufacturers of any type of goods can transform from a “product” orientation to a “solution” orientation by packaging up their “piece of hardware” and wrapping services, maintenance and support, upgrades, financing, monitoring, replenishment and other value-add services to an otherwise commoditized piece of hardware. For example, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that produce tractors, airplane engines and printers, are all delivering full solutions “as-a-service”.
Always keeping you informed! Peter.