Naming SaaS solutions and escaping the 1990s

One afternoon in the Spring of 1993 in a conference room in San Jose, California I learned that product versions for software are meaningless.

Well, not exactly meaningless, but mathematically illogical, as in 1 + 1 = 4.

The product manager for Lotus 1-2-3 and I were briefing an influential Dataquest analyst on the forthcoming enhancements to the Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows spreadsheet. It was a major overhaul of the less-than-successful version 1.0 and 1.1 releases of the product.

Favorably impressed with nifty new features like instant charting and "Scenario Manager," the analyst suggested we abandon plans to label the new product "release 1.5" or even "2.0."

If we really wanted to make an impact, to heck with arithmetic. Skip a few steps entirely and call it "Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4."

And the tagline that adorned the tee-shirt read: "It's Not Just a New Version. It's a New Vision."

Version numbers are irrelevant for SaaS solutions

Which brings me to the naming conventions for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.

When it comes to sticking version numbers on SaaS solutions, don't bother with labels like 1.1, 2.0, or anything-dot-anything.

Also drop any notions about using "Winter" release or a "Spring" release. These seasonal monikers work for beer; not for SaaS solutions. (I also suspect they're confusing to customers in the southern hemisphere.)

In the old world of desktop applications and on-premise software, we made a big deal about new versions. It helped us sell more software. Our version 4.0 must be better than the competitor's version 3.0. And it must be way better than our old version, 1.1.

It worked really well for awhile and companies made a lot of money on this upgrade cycle. Every couple years we convinced people to rip out the old stuff and buy some new stuff.

An old naming convention doesn't fit a new model

But the logic of the upgrade cycle, and the version labels that went along with it, don't fit with SaaS solutions.

In the SaaS model, solutions are upgraded regularly and the upgrades are delivered as part of the subscription. The user doesn't have an installed version that's outdated, because the user doesn't have an installed version at all.

And if the prospective customer is asking "Which version release will I be buying," you need to do a better job of educating them on the basics of SaaS.

The only people who should know or care about version numbers are in your customer support group. In order to diagnose problems, they may need to know precisely which version the customer has access to at any particular time.

But that doesn't require a big, bold label a la "Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4," "Oracle 8i" or "Windows 95." Version numbers on SaaS solutions are sooooo 1990s.





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This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.