EuroCloud UK and a lesson in SaaS marketing

Short of time, short of cash, unwilling to make big upfront commitments: how do such customers make their buying decisions? I've seen the process from the inside the past few weeks, signing up for several services in preparation for the launch of EuroCloud UK.

In the midst of a busy schedule the past couple of weeks I've been preparing for the launch meeting in London of EuroCloud UK, the British instance of the Europe-wide SaaS and cloud industry community network that was first unveiled last month. Any readers from UK SaaS or cloud ventures who will be in London this Wednesday are welcome to come along, by the way — there will be quite a few people there from some of the country's key players — but please make sure you register online (using the link above) before you come to make sure your name is on the guest list.

Acting as EuroCloud UK co-ordinator, I've found myself in the past few weeks making some snap buying decisions about online services that I imagine are similar to the decisions many SaaS prospects in start-ups and small businesses are making every day. Trade associations, like government organisations, have to be conscious of the need to be economical in how they spend the funds entrusted to them, so I've been wary of incurring commitments. Furthermore, the organisation is as cash-constrained as any start-up — until we start signing up members, we're decidedly pre-revenue. We're time-constrained too, since none of us involved in the start-up team are getting paid for our time.

Short of time, short of cash, unwilling to make big upfront commitments: how do such customers make their buying decisions? I thought it might be instructive to share some of the thought processes I've gone through with readers of this blog.

The need to promote the launch and track registrations for the event created the first really crucial 'crunch moment' when a buying decision had to be made. There wasn't time or resource available to set up a complete website, and we have limited scope at present to edit the UK page of the site. We urgently needed a landing page for the event and a registration process that would automatically manage the attendee list.

Less than two weeks ago, I found myself scanning a handful of Google results pages to quickly compile a shortlist of potential providers. Key requirements were an easy-to-edit landing page, a simple registration form, easy creation of emails to attendees and printing of an attendee list. I wanted to get it done that morning, so set-up had to be instant and automatic. I was willing to pay a moderate sum, but in the end, Eventbrite won the day because it delivered all the features and makes no charge for free events. Ideally, I would have chosen a UK provider, but at least Eventbrite is backed by the European Founders fund and co-founder CEO Kevin Hartz spent some time at University College Oxford, so it has some UK connections.

The decision seemed vindicated later that morning when a colleague recommended the MailChimp email list management service and a cursory look revealed that it comes with ready-made integration to Eventbrite. A short while later, I'd imported EuroCloud UK's email list of contacts into MailChimp and used the API to turn the event page into an HTML mailer which, with some light editing, was ready to send. Like Eventbrite, the decision was crystallized by being able to get a result fast without having to incur any expense (MailChimp is free for 500 contacts and up to 3000 emails per month). I was also impressed by the way it handholds you through the minefield of email management best practice, and encouraged by the number of integrations supported, including (who have kindly provided an account to EuroCloud UK for member management). The only downside is that, as far as I can tell, MailChimp has no UK connections whatever.

What I found interesting about this experience is that both providers are pursuing a 'freemium' model, and I was hooked. I chose them in the full knowledge that I'm likely to move up to their paid services and I'm comfortable with that, because I can see from the usage I've had so far that the capabilities they offer are going to offer value for money. There are some drawbacks — the Eventbrite integration doesn't extend to updating your mailing list with a note of who's registered or declined the event, for example — and MailChimp had a data glitch earlier today that forced me to temporarily reschedule a mailing I was trying to set up. But the model of offering services for free in the knowledge that many customers are going to step up to paid subscription bands later on seems to be a good match for enterprises like the one I've just got into with EuroCloud.

I should add before closing that we've also made use of Huddle team collaboration to help co-ordinate planning for EuroCloud UK and Gmail has been a faithful friend, too. I'd also like to thank EuroCloud UK's many launch promoters, a good number of whom will be at the central London launch event on Wednesday afternoon, along with various other cloud and SaaS industry participants.