Three Ways to Lose a SaaS Customer

driving SaaS renewals A recent hack of my Web site led me to sign up with a security as a service (SaaS) vendor to monitor my site. A month in, they emailed to ask if I was pleased.

I don’t know, and that is bad. The updates they give me are so unclear, and their service so hard to navigate, I’m less sure about my security status than before.

When it comes time to renew my subscription, I’ll either cancel or find another SaaS provider whose value I can assess. If you’re a SaaS vendor, are you alienating your customers like this?

Dumb SaaS Mistakes

This provider seems to lack any understanding of my business. I make money by talking to clients, marketing myself, interviewing experts, and writing and revising marketing content. I lose money every hour I spend deciphering cryptic security messages, reading FAQ’s on arcane security topics or fiddling with complex WordPress files.

Whatever application or service you’re providing over the Web, your customers pay you to handle the IT plumbing so they can make money. Here’s what this vendor got it wrong, and what you should avoid with your customers.

Failed to properly set my expectations. Their Web site promised to “clean your site of malware with one click.” They may or may not have done this. But even after my site was supposedly clear of malware, it didn’t look and run right. It took many, many more hours and a lot of money with a designer fixing what the malware broke. A “one click” fix implies I’ll be good as new after that one click. If that isn’t so (and a customer will need other help beside yours to get back to business) tell them up front.

Bombarded me with jargon. This security provider tries to tell me what they’re doing, but fail miserably. Their weekly security alerts are full of techno-babble (see below) and provide “alerts” which turn out to be routine notifications I don’t need to take action on. This is a waste of my time and of theirs.

Error message one

Are hard to work with: Rather than ask questions or get help via email, I have to log into this provider’s Web site to create my own trouble ticket. The site is crammed with tiny type and technical jargon. The “trouble ticket” option is hidden under other buttons, and requires me to submit my FTP log-in info to proceed. (You do have your FTP log-in credentials on the tip of your tongue, right?)

How to Get My Business 

  • Build your service around on my needs, not your technical specialty. In the case of a security monitoring service, I’d love it if they partnered with WordPress experts to take ownership not just for cleaning my site, but returning it to its original look and feel.
  • Communicate effectively.  Only contact me when I need to take action. Don’t tell me about routine security updates or “alerts” about which I don’t need to or don’t know how to respond to. (One exception would be a clear weekly or monthly report telling me how many infections/attacks you stopped, and the effect they would have had on my business, to help me measure your value.)
  • Make everything easy. Large type, attractive icons and plain English terminology on Web sites, please. I work in email, not trouble tickets – let me ask questions and get help without logging into your site. And give me one or two click access to information about the most recent issue, without forcing me to go through a list of service requests. This is user interface 101.

I know security is devilishly complicated and requires safeguards and extra steps to work through customers’ Internet Service Providers and WordPress sites. But it’s comparatively easy to:

  • Not promise a “one click” fix if you can’t provide it.
  • Make it easy for me to understand what you’re doing, and most importantly…
  • Remember the problem I’m paying you to fix isn’t fixed until I’m back earning money.

Need more help selling cloud services? Check out this sample content plan you can adapt to your own needs.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Content Cookbook #1: Selling Cloud Services

sales campaign cloud services(One in an ongoing series of sample drip content marketing campaigns for IT vendors. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Despite (or because of) all the hype, many customers are still confused about the different types of cloud services, fearful over security and regulatory compliance and uncertain about their ability to manage data, applications and users in the cloud.

This content sequence is designed to capture contact and qualifying information for prospects that are interested in cloud services but concerned about security and management.

Story 1: To capture “top of funnel” prospects in the awareness stage, clearly explain the differences between the major cloud platforms (infrastructure, platform and software as a service) with examples of why actual customers adopted each. Describe pros and cons of the various models, and suggest which are best for various types of customers. Briefly summarize the state of the art in cloud security and management to tease interest in follow-up stories 2 and 3 below.

 Offer this content ungated (no registration required) to establish yourself as a trusted and knowledgeable advisor. Promote via your Web site, email newsletters, content syndication, social media, etc. Call to action is an invitation o read gated stories 2 and 3 on, respectively, security and management.

Story 2: To identify prospects who are most concerned about security, offer a checklist of which security features a cloud provider should offer, and challenge the reader to examine if they have those same required safeguards in-house. Alternatively, create a checklist for assessing how much security a customer needs based on their size, industry, application types, etc.

Gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  Call to action is a link to story 4, a “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase.

Story 3: To identify prospects most concerns about cloud management, create a 1,500-2,000 word feature on the state of cloud management tools. What are the most critical cloud management requirements, which of those needs can vendors meet now, what’s coming in the future? Keep it honest and impartial, with only a brief “message from our sponsor” about yourself at the end.

As with story 2, gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name). Call to action is link to story 4, the “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase. 

Story 4: To capture more information about those in the consideration or purchase stages, go deep, long (2,000 words or more) and very specific with a guide for preparing a request for proposal for a cloud provider. This should be a template for assessing a provider, complete with suggested wording for terms and conditions, specific requirements for recovering data in case of failure of the provider and questions to ask about who within the provider is responsible for security and reporting on outages.

This most valuable and expensive content can be further gated with two to three more detailed questions, such as which security standards the reader must meet, the number of servers/storage they have under management or their expected time to purchase. Call to action can be a request for a sales meeting or demo.

Those who make it to story 4 are at least somewhat serious about considering the cloud and have told you, by their story choices and qualification forms, something about their needs and concerns. For those who stopped at stories 2 or 3, continue to marinate them in other useful content until they’re ready for further engagement.

Note: In place of “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar,” “video”, “podcast,” “white paper,” or other format.) And if you have a product or service you’d like to see a sample sequence for, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

Bob Returns From the Cloud

Where’s Bob? For those of you kind enough to notice, I’ve been off-line for several months under a happy barrage of corporate marketing work, along with some travel to Guadalajara, Mexico (interviewing a cloud consultant, left) as part of an ongoing IT outsourcing project.

Much of my work has involved deep dives into cloud computing, including a Computerworld piece outlining cloud security requirements, a white paper for a vendor about traditional ISVs moving their offerings to the SaaS channel, and another upcoming Computerworld story about how to achieve “agility” in the cloud.

Some thoughts from my time in the cloud:

  • First, security remains the big bug-a-boo supposedly scaring the biggest enterprises from the cloud, but the customers I talk to say it’s not a deal killer. Yes, you need to know where your data is, yes, you need auditability and, yes, if you work in geographies with strict rules (like the European Union) you need special controls. Cloud providers understand that, and the good ones will help you do the necessary work to stay secure in the cloud.
  • Second, the cloud is a mega-trend transforming everything, but it’s not instant magic for every application or service. There’s a reason why some of the biggest names in “cloud” (like Google, Amazon and Salesforce) run their own data centers rather than rely on someone like…well, like themselves. For really high performance, really tight controls over operations, and running your own proprietary hardware or software, sometimes your own data center is still the best.
  • The same goes, many say, for predictable workloads running on in-house gear you’ve already amortized. Running such apps in your own data center can deliver not only better performance, but lower-costs. Another note: The per-seat licensing plans used by many SaaS vendors also tend to favor smaller customers.
  • On the strategic front, customers are demanding (and vendors are delivering) more “productized” cloud services that can be rolled out in a predictable, consistent way. This often takes the form of templated servers and services (such as those produced by Puppet and Chef) that are pre-tested, pre-integrated and pre-priced. All this makes for yet more choices for customers, who have to decide where a “canned” service is adequate, and when it pays to customize it to reflect their own best practices. It also raises the specter of commoditization for some Web services (how many different Exchange server configurations does the market need, for example?)
  • Speaking of which, there are now “appstores” for cloud-based business intelligence platforms, application and database servers and middleware, such as those from RightScale and its ISV partners. Another interesting example of how the Web allows anyone, anywhere (with enough smarts) to sell to a worldwide audience.
  • Finally, it was interesting to hear what some enterprise-level customers want, but aren’t getting, from current cloud offerings. These include better, and bundled, support for “enterprise-level” requirements such as load balancers rather than forcing customers to find one themselves. They’re also looking for true, enterprise-level public cloud services rather than the likes of Google and Microsoft that actually (can you believe it?) suffer outages. Then there’s the need for highly verticalized SaaS applications for specific industries such as banking. As the CTO of one major bank told me, does every bank need it own application for handling online payments? While the user interface makes a big difference, it would seem the back end should be standard and, thus, SaaS-able. (New term I just coined.)

In short, there’s still a lot of opportunity for differentiation and innovation as the cloud matures. There’s also huge confusion between public cloud, private cloud, shared services, IaaS, PaaS, etc. Drop a line if you’d like some help clarifying where you fit into all this.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.