A friend of mine, Tom Stergios at Advanced Technology Group, recently posted a blog titled Selecting The Right Billing Solution. It’s a good read packed with useful information, and it makes a key point that I think often goes overlooked.
While Tom breaks the selection process down into four different areas: functional, technical, commercial and intangible, it’s worth noting that we often miss the fourth area. In evaluating SaaS billing providers, those intangibles take on more weight, because you’re not just buying a piece of software, you’re buying a relationship with a vendor, and your success depends on how that relationship plays out over time.
What will it be like working with the billing vendor? How will their culture mesh with yours? Will you have access to A-team resources? How are issues resolved? How do they prioritize? What are escalation procedures? How does their business direction fit with yours? You need to get inside their heads and understand what drives them.
A question I’ve found to be particularly useful in that regard is, “How do you define success?” The most common answer you’ll hear to this question is, “Well… um… we want you to be successful. We want you to be a reference customer.” Duh. We all want reference customers. Saying it doesn’t make it so. And chances are, what they’re really saying is that they define success by making the sale. What they really want is your name on their logo page.
For example, I was on a project a few years ago deploying a billing solution for one of our company’s overseas divisions. Our vendor wanted us to be successful… until we started to run into problems on the deployment. At that point, the sales exec had already cashed his commission check and was nowhere to be found. The professional services team was incentivized to bill more hours, not to solve our problems. Success was defined from the point of view of the vendor, not the customer. We solved most of the issues ourselves. The project came in late and over budget.
Another answer you might hear from vendors is, “We define success as getting you up and running and getting you through your first billing cycle.” That’s a firmer commitment, and I had a good customer experience a couple years back working with a vendor who gave that exact answer, but I think that’s still short of the commitment you’re looking for.
You’re in it to build your business. You need to know that your vendor has the same priority. The response you’re looking for is something like this: “As a SaaS vendor, we’re in a recurring revenue business. Our success is defined by our ability to retain you as a customer after go-live. We measure success by retention and up-sell. When you’re satisfied enough with our ongoing service to bring us more business and renew your contract, we’ll know we’ve been successful.”
Building your recurring revenue business is about nurturing relationships with your customers over time. The same is true for your SaaS providers. Success should be defined not as a point in time, but as an ongoing process.