SMART Selling in the SaaS world

What we all could learn from Sonar6Post #3 from the HR Technology showSaaS (software as a service) is supposed to cost less. At least that’s what all the vendors tell me.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

What we all could learn from Sonar6

Post #3 from the HR Technology show

SaaS (software as a service) is supposed to cost less. At least that’s what all the vendors tell me. It’s also supposed to be easier to use and easier to implement. I’ve often wondered if these lower cost ideals are really true. Why am I such a Doubting Thomas? Because most SaaS vendors are on-premise converts to SaaS. These firms haven’t really changed anything about their business. They still sell the same way. They still implement software the same way. And so on. If it’s all the same, except for the business model, how can it be cheaper?

I saw the answer last week and I got it from a different kind of vendor. Their lessons are important for all SaaS and SaaS wanna-be firms to study and copy.

So, imagine you’re a software vendor, like Sonar6, trying to sell into the North American market. Now suppose that your firm is based in New Zealand. It’s at least 6,000 miles between Auckland and San Diego and over 8,000 miles from Auckland to NYC. Can you imagine Sonar6’s cost of sales if they need to send over pre-sales personnel for even some of their larger prospects?

Cost of sales for many software firms is one of their largest cost items. I’ve seen old school firms fly in 6-8 product experts, sales people, industry experts, change management specialists, project managers and the ever-present ‘regional/ industry client relationship’ executive. That last person flew the most air miles, spent the night in the most expensive hotel room and won’t remember one of the prospect’s names by nightfall. But, he/she will pay for dinner and breakfast for ‘the team’.

Prospects will make these folks come in at least three times to do product demonstrations. They may need to come back two more times to explain the proposed work plan. Next, there could be three more prospect visits by a negotiating team to try to close the deal.

The cost of sales includes a lot of travel costs, time spent in non-billable activity, time spent responding to RFPs and prepping for demonstrations and more. The opportunity cost, that is service time that could have been billed, is huge, too. It’s expensive and customers pay for it indirectly.

Sonar6 looked at several of these components and changed their way of doing business. Here’s their approach:

- they put their software pricing on their web site. Without the haggling, they can avoid a lot of wasteful and expensive negotiation trips

- they make their product available for free for 30 days. If you like it, you can buy it. If you don’t, that’s okay too as Sonar6 hasn’t spent anything with this sales effort.

- they created their applications to be so logical, so intuitive and so compelling that they sell themselves. Seriously, if you’re going to sell an application that runs on the Internet, it ought to be so obvious and straightforward to use that it doesn’t require a phalanx of trainers and change agents to help explain its myriad eccentricities.

When you do these things, your cost of sales plummets. You don’t need to hand-hold prospects. You don’t need to play time-consuming negotiating games. You don’t need to create expensive work programs. You get the point.

The second big area of change to win in SaaS applications is to achieve true multi-tenancy. Katherine Jones is covering that point in a companion post. Suffice to say, if a vendor can apply upgrades to hundreds of customers simultaneously, then the cost of their operation plummets. An old-school application that is hosted is not multi-tenant and it can’t be operated as cheaply as a SaaS product. SaaS applications need to be cheaper than packages and bespoke software. When they are, SaaS vendors can win. Cost of operations, like cost of sales must be reduced.

Cost of SaaS operations also go down when the vendor is smart about where they run their operations and what they use for hardware. Some of the vendors we met at the HR Technology show use low cost cloud service vendors like Google and Amazon. When it’s all done, I’ll bet these providers may be far less costly than the data centers many SaaS operate themselves.

So, when you’re evaluating a SaaS vendor, see what they’ve done to reduce their cost structure, especially in the cost of sales and cost of service delivery. Yes, look at their SAS 70 compliance efforts but also look inwardly to see if they truly understand how to get their costs, and yours by inference, down to record lows. That’s the smart way to evaluate SaaS vendors. And that's how your costs will come down, too.

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