5 questions to ask SaaS vendors

5 questions to ask SaaS vendors

Ben Nadel
by Ben Nadel

I have implemented Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for start-ups with a couple of employees, to enterprises operating in 30+ countries with hundreds of thousands of users. That’s the beauty of SaaS, you can access software with more features than you can dream of. If sign up for a CRM tool that’s being used by some of the biggest companies in the world the license fee is a small price to pay compared with the millions that’s been invested into the platform. You’d now be hard pressed to find a business of any size not using SaaS.

The growth of SaaS is not surprising. Gartner predicted a 17% increase in 2019, making it a $200bn+ market. In 2018, the average company of 1000+ staff spent $7m on SaaS representing a seven fold increase in three years. The data also revealed that mid-sized companies saw 39% of their SaaS stack change in 2018. These trends are expected to continue and we think the importance of selecting the right SaaS vendor and platform, and managing it effectively has never been greater.

At many points on a digital transformation journey there will be a need to speak with SaaS vendors. Having spoken to many vendors this year on behalf of our clients, we have some tips and tricks for getting more meaningful responses than “sure, we can do that”, or “it’s on the roadmap”.

5 questions to ask SaaS vendors:

Can I speak to some of your customers? – I’ve learned a lot from speaking to the customers of a potential vendor. Sometimes the best way to do this is attending an event where the vendors are selling their wares and you can bump into a few clients around their stall and illicit some feedback more naturally. Failing that, get a list of customers in your sector and make sure you ask them how long it took to implement the solution and what the key challenges were

What implementation support is provided? – competition in SaaS has not only driven license fees down, it’s made SaaS providers invest in their self-help offerings that allow users to take advantage of new features on their own. However, most large organisations will benefit from external support and it’s good to understand where the SaaS provider draws the line

Who can I use to implement? – for larger vendors you shouldn’t struggle to source suitable change practitioners will specific experience in the tool you are buying – but you should also seek to understand whether your own change teams will be able to support implementation. Some SaaS vendors will offer their in-house professional services team, but I would be cautious of those where that’s the only option

What does the roadmap look like? – almost as important as finding a SaaS provider who can meet your current requirements is partnering with one that will continue to meet them over the years to come. Some SaaS vendors are very open with their roadmap and take input from users to shape it. This helps you identify the best strategic SaaS partner and linked to the previous questions, helps you understand how they will keep you current

What’s your access to the founder or leadership team? – It’s good to understand where you sit as a client of a SaaS provider. Are they going to make a change to their software when your business needs it. I’ve often intentionally found something that the vendor cannot do and asked them when it can be done. If they come back with a date having spoken to the influencers in the business then you’re in a good place. If they blindly promise the world without any evidence or timelines, this is a red flag

A thorough and effective vendor assessment is paramount in SaaS but the more vendors you speak to, the more you go through this process, the more you will see how hard it can be to see the wood for the trees.

These questions can identify red flags early in the process, before embarking on a more detailed, systematic decision-making process. Equally, if a vendor is willing to customise a solution, provide access to the senior team and closely support your implementation, your SaaS journey will be that much easier.

This is the first in a series of blogs that will share our experience of helping clients to overcome the challenges of selecting, implementing and managing SaaS as they progress through their digital transformation journeys.

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