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September 13, 2018

Four Things You Should Know About SaaS Marketing Vendors

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Having founded a distributed marketing platform company back in the days when vendors were still called "application service providers," I got to thinking about the buzz that has surrounded SaaS marketing vendors. And it occurred to me that, when you get past the hype, some enduring—maybe even timeless—truths apply to SaaS vendors relationships just as much as they apply to the software models that came before.

So, I thought I would try to lay out four of those truths, to see if they might prove useful to enterprise customers who are trying to navigate their way to SaaS.

1. "Change is a constant. And change is hard."

The great promise of SaaS is that the platform you subscribe to today will get better and better over time. But of course, every silver lining has its cloud—and in this case, the challenge is taking the time to (a) learn about the new features, (b) determine how they apply to your business needs, (c) implement them properly, and (d) train users to capitalize on them effectively.

To gauge the level of change you're in for, take a look at each SaaS vendor's 12-24 month product roadmap during the evaluation process (if they don't want to show a roadmap, be forewarned). Take a moment to pick out two or three items that seem most relevant to your enterprise. Ask the vendor how they would help you implement those enhancements when they arrive. Listen for concrete answers, of course -- but even more, listen for empathy.

Does the vendor understand the human reality in your user community? Do they have thoughts (or even better, tools) to capitalize on new capabilities? Remember that an unused enhancement isn't like money in the bank; it's more like laundry on the floor.

2. "Relationships matter more than software."

At Gartner’s 2018 digital marketing conference, a leading digital asset management (DAM) analyst reported that enterprise customers are spending more on services than they are on software - even though their software-spend is mostly SaaS. When that fact was unveiled, a ripple went through the crowd. But the buzz was one of recognition, rather than dismay.

The reasons for the shift are apparent. When an enterprise adopts a standardized solution, it has to adapt to that solution—and adaptation is a complicated affair. Today, more than ever, enterprise customers are counting on their SaaS vendors to help make that change happen. (Can you say, "integrator" all over again?)

If you're like most SaaS customers, that means you're going to want a sherpa who will go with you on your journey, rather than an outfitter who waves bon voyage from the steps of his trading post.

So how can you tell if your vendor has that "sherpa DNA?" Check references—in depth. Of course, you'll be talking to a happy customer, because those are the only references that vendors will ever provide. But even a satisfied customer has had their challenges. Ask for examples when times got tough, and the vendor had to step up. And don't be afraid to take the conversation to a personal level. You want to know who's going to be at your side from contract signing to go-live—and beyond. Here's what you’re looking for:

A champion — who advocates for your company when reviewing the product roadmap, and then helps you plan for implementing new features when they become available.

• A customer-obsessed partner
— who reviews your adoption rates and ROI on a regular basis—not just in anticipation of your next renewal.

• A service-oriented culture — where phone calls get answered, emails get replies, and promises get kept.

3. "You want a partner. Not a pushover."

If you've got a five, six, or seven-figure subscription going with an enterprise SaaS vendor, they may seem eager to respond to your every whim. Naturally, that kind of responsiveness can warm the heart. But actually, it should raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Because you aren’t supposed to be the expert in this field; your SaaS vendor is. And as experts, they should have a strong position about features that belong in the product, and features that don’t.

In your evaluation process, ask vendors for enterprise brands to give you some examples of when they said "no" to a feature request from an important customer. Dig for specifics. Probe for the reasons behind the decision, and how the vendor helped the customer solve the problem or fulfill the need, without loading up the software with features that, someday, might get in your way.

You may not hear pretty stories, wrapped up in a case study. But you’ll see if the vendor has the courage of their convictions regarding tightly built, uncluttered software. And that conviction, long-term, will be an essential part of your organization's success.

4. Beware the "Vendor Lock-ness Monster"

When you're first signing a SaaS contract, it's all about optimism. The UX is great, the CapEx conundrum has been replaced by OpEx ease, and all is right with the world.

It isn't easy, at a moment like that, to think about unwinding the relationship. But that's precisely what you should be thinking about. Because as it turns out, SaaS vendors can be just as hard to excise as the legacy systems that they are so happily replacing today.

Before signing the contract, take a hard look at the software integrations (data feeds, single-sign-on, etc.), and business process changes you need to onboard the solution fully. Forecast the breadth and depth of the content and assets that you'll be loading onto the vendor's platform each year, and multiply that number by the number of years (decades?) the relationship could reasonably last. And then, with all those thoughts in mind, ask your vendors to walk you through an "off-boarding" scenario.

Yes, I know. The question may cause the temperature in the room to drop a few degrees. But ask it anyway. Vendors who respond with confidence will demonstrate the maturity you need—and may even help you think of some contract details that you might otherwise miss.

Conclusion: (Almost) Everything Old Is New Again

The point of these four truths is not to say that the benefits of SaaS are a myth. Quite the opposite. My point is that, by keeping these basic realities in mind, you've got a better chance of actually realizing the promises of SaaS. And that's when customer and vendor alike truly win.

CampaignDrive is the ideal SaaS vendor for enterprise and multi-location brands in need of a marketing platform that adapts and grows as you grow. Our distributed marketing platform bridges the gaps between marketing teams by centralizing assets and providing the tools they need to drive brand compliance.

If you are looking a SaaS vendor and long-term partner to expand your local marketing capabilities, request a demo with a CampaignDrive expert today.

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