by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

8 things small businesses look for when considering SaaS

Sep 27, 2016
Enterprise ApplicationsSaaSSmall and Medium Business

Cloud marketers and SaaS pros share their advice on how to make cloud-based software attractive to small and midsized businesses.

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Credit: Thinkstock

More and more, small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are turning to cloud-based software to help run their business. Yet many are hesitant to make the move, worrying about safety and cost. So what can Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers do to woo SMBs and allay their concerns? Here are eight suggestions on how to make your cloud offering attractive to a smaller business.

1. Make sure your software is easy to use – and easy to understand. “Business owners and their employees expect [cloud-based] business apps and services to be as easy to use as their personal consumer apps,” says Ken Oestreich, director, product marketing, Cloud Services, Citrix. “Cloud services and apps need to be intuitive, so people can begin using them without training. The easier your apps and services are to use, the more people will use them, and since service revenues are based on usage, you want customers to use those services frequently and for extended periods of time.”

“Avoid using buzzwords and jargon [in your marketing],” says Michele Neylon, founder & CEO, Blacknight, a domain registrar & hosting company. “Small business owners aren’t stupid, but the technology sector has an awful habit of using buzzwords and jargon and not plain English. So use simple, plain language to describe what your service does and why people should buy it,” he advises. “If people can understand quickly what you’re selling, they’re more likely to buy it.”

To demonstrate why small businesses should purchase or license your service, “make training [and explanatory] videos [that show] people how to use your product,” and feature them on your website and YouTube, says Steve Benson, founder & CEO, Badger Maps, a sales routing software for field salespeople. “A lot of people would rather watch a video on their own time than schedule a demo with a sales rep.”  

[ Related: 12 tips to help SMBs select and manage vendors ]

2. Clearly explain the benefits of your service. “It is important [prospects] understand how and why your platform is going to help [them],” says Victor Sanchez, director of Sales, ForceManager. Show that you “understand their pain… and offer a solution.”

“When selling cloud services to SMBs, it’s important to clearly present the financial and supplemental benefits,” says Frank Bianchi, vice president, technology outsourcing, CGS. “On the financial side, providers should detail the return on investment (ROI), including reduced personnel support costs, capital expenditures and benefits to predictable cash flow.

“Supplementary benefits to implementing cloud services include backup and disaster recovery as well as other enhanced security capabilities, which the majority of SMBs cannot afford to implement and maintain via their own on-premises technology.”

3. Allay customers’ security concerns. Small businesses, like larger businesses, want to make sure their data will be protected. So when selling your cloud service, let prospects know that your SaaS solution with keep their information safe (or safer than an on-premise solution) – and be prepared to back up your claim.

For example, if you are marketing backup software, let business owners know that “cloud backup software provides the ultimate protection against ransomware and other forms of malware,” says Jessica Couto, vice president, U.S. sales and marketing, Carbonite. “That’s a great selling point [for] small business customers. Ransomware encrypts important digital files and threatens to render them inaccessible unless a hefty ransom is paid. But with the right cloud backup solution, there’s no need to pay the ransom.”

4. Post customer and third-party reviews and testimonials. “Don’t discount the impact of online customer reviews and social content,” says Mat Hamlin, director of products, Spanning by Dell EMC. “Today’s cloud service buyers are often researching and testing solutions well before they ever engage with your direct or indirect sales teams. Happy customers are the best possible evangelists and can help ensure your products are always on the buyer’s short list.”

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“Smart marketers highlight customer testimonials and user stories that sell the value of the software and how it has helped them to succeed,” says Michael Freeman, director, demand generation & marketing operations, Adaptive Insights.

In addition, “cloud and software vendors should seek out and post real third-party reviews about their services,” says Rob Boirun, CEO, Reviewster Network. “Credibility can go a long way and most consumers nowadays know what a fake review or testimonial looks like. Independent positive reviews are usually a key buying indicator.”

5. Offer a free trial. “By offering a free trial, you’ll immediately standout as having confidence in your technology’s performance and ability to successfully compete,” says Doug Hazelman, vice president, Product Strategy, Veeam Software. Moreover, a free trial “is not only a great way for the customer to compare multiple vendors, it’s an opportunity for you to show you can truly solve their issues instead of just meeting obligatory criteria from a marketing checklist. It’s also a good idea to supply customers with a generic test plan so they can try out different features of your product they may not have been aware of.”

[ Related: 6 tips for small businesses considering outsourcing ]

6. Be transparent about pricing. “Be transparent with prices so that people don’t have to ask you about them and can understand them,” says Benson.

“Cloud companies need to make their pricing as transparent and simple as possible,” agrees Andrew Leigh, vice president, alliances, Jitterbit, a cloud-based integration platform. “Make the entire price list publicly available on a single page of the website. Customers are much more likely to renew and expand their cloud service contracts when they can clearly understand and plan expenses; hidden fees and surprise charges for new services destroy the foundation of trust that cloud sales requires.”

7. Offer tiered subscriptions/different pricing options. “Cloud service companies shouldn’t be afraid to sell small, prove value and let the customer buy more over time,” says Leigh. “Cloud services should be sold with natural up-sales built into the customer journey, so that deals are agile and scalable, just like the technology they offer to customers.”

Specifically, “SaaS solution pricing plans need to be designed with discount tiers and volume incentives that ensure that pricing does not become a significant barrier to broader adoption,” says Bob Muglia, CEO, Snowflake Computing.

8. Provide excellent customer service and support.“Be available to your customers,” says Shawn Miller, CEO, eComLane, a provider of dedicated business-class servers. “It’s shocking that most cloud server hosts rarely have a phone number or live chat available on their site. If a customer can’t reach a person or their hosting company, they [will] run to Facebook or Twitter to voice their issue.”

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“A dedicated and highly trained account manager [and support staff are] crucial to the happiness of a client,” says Couto. “In the tech world, especially when dealing with data backup, when a client contacts the support team they are often looking for quick help. Having a highly-responsive, 24/7 team will set you apart from the rest and can often lead to customer referrals.”

“SaaS products that provide 24/7 helpdesk services have a competitive advantage for small business owners when making software and service product decisions,” says Ebba Blitz, CEO, Alertsec, a provider of encryption software. “Providing a level of support that enables small business owners to focus on the business of their business, rather than operations, aids in overall success.”