The last 20 years have seen drastic changes in how software is supported inside a business. We’ve gone from the early days of entirely on-premise software to the bulk of software applications living in the cloud. Just browse through Phil Wainewright’s “An eyewitness history of SaaS in 12 chapters” to get a feel for how far we’ve come.
As software applications migrated to the cloud, support for that software shifted as well - and it wasn’t an easy transition. Back before SaaS had taken us all by storm, all software support requests went through IT channels. As SaaS tools gained adoption, there was a bit of a chasm: IT didn’t support them, and there wasn’t a huge amount of support from SaaS providers themselves.
As SaaS platforms became more sophisticated, so did corporate support systems. Instead of tying everything to IT, companies created new groups to support, manage, and optimize a given department’s SaaS tool usage. Now you can bet on finding “operations” groups throughout most medium- to large-sized businesses. If they’re big enough, they have separate operations for sales, marketing, and customer success.
Given the rise in complexity of supporting SaaS, there are bound to be challenges for supporting it inside a business. Josh VanGeest knows them well. He’s held various operations roles over the last 9 years at Bazaarvoice, LinkedIn, and now TrendKite, and he’s even done some operations consulting on the side. So what does he think is the biggest hurdle for onboarding SaaS?
Change management is the absolute hardest thing. “People have a set way of doing things,” said VanGeest. “The vast majority of us are not early adopters, and so getting us to try something new may require a lot of effort.” Take the introduction of Salesforce.com as an example: potential users are likely just using contacts in their email client, or some other repository. They don’t want to start logging into a different system - they’d rather stick with the status quo.
Sometimes it isn’t just change itself. New SaaS tools can be more labor-intensive or tougher to use than previous methods, even though they produce better much results. And even small changes, like adding new terms to all future contracts, can be difficult to push through - especially if there’s no clear incentive for the employee. This is where you run into what VanGeest calls “passive detractor syndrome” - employees who agree to use the SaaS tool in a public setting, but never adopt it in their day-to-day activities.
When tasked with onboarding a new SaaS platform, VanGeest has a couple rules to live by to insure the success of a new SaaS platform, including:
1. Executive Visibility
In order to make SaaS platform adoption a core business priority, the message has to come from the highest levels of management. This requires quite a bit of work, according to VanGeest. “The CEO, Head of Sales, Head of Client Success - whoever it is - must be constantly saying the right things and looking for the right behaviors,” said VanGeest.
This means building out a process to drive accountability well ahead of launch. In one instance, VanGeest described building out a dashboard for the Head of Sales that tracked SaaS logins, messages sent, and other core measurable activities. This allowed him to create a scorecard for each person and tie back dollars and time saved where possible. Sales managers used these reports in 1:1’s with sales reps to hold their team accountable.
2. Tailored Incentives
Incentives are proven to drive new behaviors. But, they must be tailored to the individual. “In order to change ingrained behaviors, you have to pull out all the stops,” said VanGeest. But it can’t be a one-size-fits-all situation, as each person has different intrinsic motivators. For some, it’s a simple as financial compensation - spot bonuses, or larger prizes like vacations. For others, it can be the status of seeing their name at the top of a leaderboard. And then there are those of us who want exposure, maybe in the form of presenting to the company on how exactly the new SaaS tool impacted their workflow.
3. Regular Communication
Consistent, repeated communication is key during the initial rollout and launch. Company executives and managers must not only hold employees accountable - they need to be talking about the new SaaS tool at every opportunity. VanGeest remembers one launch where he dressed up a money suit and made a video of himself giving away prizes, which was circulated to employees by senior management. “Regular reminders about incentives, and callouts to people who are engaging in the behavior you want (and the ones who aren’t) really helps to raise visibility,” said VanGeest.
4. Convenient Access to Resources
Employees must have easy access to training and resources that will answer questions - fast. During an initial software push, VanGeest provides “super white glove” treatment. He has documentation ready for anyone who wants to use it, but he also makes himself available to anyone with questions to reduce adoption barriers. This tapers off after new behaviors are ingrained and adoption reaches the desired level, but he’s always collecting feedback on how to improve.
What are your tips for a successful SaaS launch? Share your secrets - drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.