Customers Don't Really Care About SaaS

It wasn’t that long ago that just describing your application as a "software-as-a-service (SaaS),"  or saying that it ran “in the cloud” was enough to get attention.

Companies like salesforce.com and a few other pioneers could differentiate themselves largely by saying they weren’t traditional on-premises software.  'Why buy applications built on old technology when you can buy solutions built on new technology?'

Not anymore.

SaaS just isn't so new and different anymore.  In almost any market these days, people are well-aware of SaaS, and they have a decent choice of cloud-based solutions for HR, CRM, ERP and a whole range of other acronymed applications. 

"SaaS" doesn't make you different anymore

If your goal as a marketer is to differentiate yourself, simply highlighting the fact that your solution is "SaaS,""runs in the cloud" or is “web-based”  really doesn’t do much for you anymore. 

In your marketing messages, there’s no point in putting your “SaaS-ness” or “cloudiness (?)” front & center anymore.  

For customers, it’s just not the most important thing.

Instead, focus on what customers really care about.  Explain what SaaS really means for them:

  • They can deploy the solution quickly without adding lots of new hardware
  • They can access the application from any device connected to the internet
  • They can rely on regular updates
  • They can avoid a large up-front license fee
  • They can let experts worry about uptime and security.

SaaS buyers aren't techies

Highlighting benefits, not the technology itself, is an especially good idea for most prospective SaaS solution buyers.  Usually they're professionals in HR, sales, marketing, or finance.  They're not technologists. 

Of course they care about security, access, performance and other benefits that depend on the platform.  And sometimes a SaaS primer can help. (Call me if you need help with a primer.)  But most SaaS solutions are not a technical sell.

Talk so the customer will listen

Of course you’re proud of the solution you’ve built and how you’ve built it, and you'd love to tell everybody about your clever technology.

But if you want to get the attention of prospective customers, don’t talk about what you want to say.  Talk about what your customers want to hear.

Explaing SaaS and the Cloud on TV

Microsoft is running an ad on television that I think may be trying to demonstrate the value of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing.

It shows a mother who's having a problem composing a family photograph. To cut and paste different images into the photo, a la Photoshop, she appeals for help "to the cloud."

Huh?

You know the story of the blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant. One touches the leg and insists it's a tree. Another one touches the tail and claims it's a rope. A third one touches the elephant's trunk and is convinced it's a snake, and so on.

If we added the woman from the Microsoft "cloud" ad into this story, she'd be touching a discarded peanut shell that the elephant dropped a long way back on the trail. In other words, not even close.

It's sometimes difficult to explain SaaS and the cloud. One of the challenges confronting SaaS marketers is to educate all the buyers in the decision making process about this new mode of computing. Education is essential to winning the prospective customer's trust, and winning their trust is essential to winning their business.

In this effort to educate prospective buyers, the Microsoft "to the cloud"/photo-editing/discarded peanut shell TV ad doesn't really help. Sorry.

"It's bigger than the application"

A different ad running on television is actually more helpful to SaaS marketers... and it doesn't involve SaaS, the cloud, or even technology. It's from Starbucks.

The ad shows the process of creating a single cup of coffee for an individual customer, all the way from the plantation to the cup labeled with the customer's name, "Sue."


It closes with the tag-line: "You and Starbucks: It's bigger than coffee."

The message here: Starbucks is not just about the coffee. It's about the entire experience. They're marketing a relationship with the customer that goes beyond the product. In fact, they've even gone so far as to remove the word "coffee" from their logo.

That's a useful lesson for SaaS marketers. When it's done well, SaaS is marketed as more than just the application. It's about the entire customer experience: it's easy to purchase and deploy, simple to use, and painless to upgrade and maintain.

In addition to the features and functions, SaaS is about a commitment to deliver an increasingly useful solution reliably and securely over the life of the subscription.

It's bigger than the application.


Creative Commons License

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