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Professional Services for B2B SaaS Companies


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Most startups experience a tension between product and service sales at some point in their lives. While Professional Services can generate revenue and customer insight, they can also distract a startup from its core mission: building a successful product.

This presentation looks at the opportunities and risks associated with setting up a Professional Services team within your company.

Published in: Business, Technology

Professional Services for B2B SaaS Companies

  1. 1. Professional Services for B2B SaaS companies May 2014
  2. 2. Many B2B SaaS companies will consider whether they should be doing professional services at some point in their lifetime. They will be met with a lot of conflicting advice on this very topic. In the same spirit as my previous presentation, I have therefore compiled some of the best content on this topic from around the web. Whether you’re already doing professional services or you’re just considering whether to get started, this presentation will provide you with insights into the key benefits and the big challenges you’ll be facing when you start implementing your professional services strategy. Introduction
  3. 3. The case for professional services
  4. 4. Mark Suster: Many young startups are being advised not to have a professional services business and in my opinion this is a big mistake. The line of reasoning goes: “Services businesses are not scalable and the market won’t reward this revenue so make sure that third-parties do your implementation or clients do it themselves. We only want software revenue.” This is a huge mistake. If you’re an early-stage enterprise startup services revenue is exactly what you need. Let me explain why. ➔ Successful implementations: How do you get referenceable customers? You build a great product and make sure it is used in such a way as to deliver real benefit to your customers. 5 reasons (1/2)
  5. 5. Mark Suster: ➔ System integrations: your customers will not dedicate the teams to build the integrations because they are not yet committed enough to your product or company. [...] And the other thing: the more your product is integrated with other systems, the lower your churn rate will be. ➔ Channel partners not yet formed: until your sales volume is sufficiently large, no self-respecting SI or VAR is going to commit resources to making you successful. ➔ Your best eyes & ears: your most successful sales people are the people who are on the ground doing the implementations. ➔ It’s profitable revenue covering your fixed costs: professional services = profitable revenue streams that fuel your business continuity. 5 reasons (2/2)
  6. 6. Paul Graham: Sometimes we advise founders of B2B startups to take over-engagement to an extreme, and to pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. [...] As long as you can find just one user who really needs something and can act on that need, you've got a toehold in making something people want, and that's as much as any startup needs initially. Another consulting-like technique for recruiting initially lukewarm users is to use your software yourselves on their behalf. We did that at Viaweb. [...] We felt pretty lame at the time. [...] But in retrospect it was exactly the right thing to do, because it taught us how it would feel to merchants to use our software. Do things that don’t scale
  7. 7. Add a new revenue layer Jason M. Lemkin: But here’s the thing. SaaS Compounds (more on that here). Imagine if you just added one extra layer, one extra segment, one new way to sell, one product extension… that just might add another 10% growth this year. [...] Add professional services, for real. Yuck, you say? Professional services? Well, enterprise customers are happy to pay for them. You can pack another 20-30% of revenue onto any enterprise deal if you do it right here. Yes, I know it’s not recurring. But you’ll get it in new deals every year. Hire a head of professional services and charge for Pro Services. It will work in any six figure deal, and many five figure deals.
  8. 8. Avoid common pitfalls
  9. 9. John Warillow: In the case of 37signals, Fried has no plans to sell but loves the freedom of running a product company. 'When you're a consulting business, you have to say yes to big clients, who end up telling you what to do. You become beholden to the giant corporation who is paying you $60,000 for a project,' he explains. [...] In a service business, clients always take priority, so it is hard to find the time to work on your product offering. In the case of 37signals, it needed project management software to better serve its clients, so it had a natural motivator: either develop the product faster or risk losing clients. Big clients have a loud voice
  10. 10. Jason M. Lemkin: Understand that you can make 3-20x the revenues on a given enterprise customer with a solution sale vs. a tool. [...] But obviously, you’ll probably need a lot more people and processes (and features and software development) to provide a true solution. You can’t sell, provision, implement and support a solution the same way as a tool, even if it’s basically the same business process you are addressing. You’ll probably need solution architects. You may have to fly there and go on- site. You may need account managers and a dedicated professional services team and sophisticated customer success managers. [...] In any event, at least: don’t fear the solution. Don’t fear the professional services team, or the solution architect, or the sales engineer. A solution sale takes more work
  11. 11. Paul Graham: Consulting is the canonical example of work that doesn't scale. But (like other ways of bestowing one's favors liberally) it's safe to do it so long as you're not being paid to. That's where companies cross the line. So long as you're a product company that's merely being extra attentive to a customer, they're very grateful even if you don't solve all their problems. But when they start paying you specifically for that attentiveness —when they start paying you by the hour— they expect you to do everything. Be careful of crossing the line
  12. 12. Mark Suster: The most important thing to be careful about is to be sure WHY you’re doing the PS business. Hopefully it’s not as a way of avoiding fund raising or finding quick pockets of money. Don’t become addicted to the quick hit of cash that a big implementation project can provide.Your goal should be to do PS as a way of accelerating future non-linear software growth.Therefore you need to be careful not to accept projects that are too far out of the core business. [...] Be careful that you don’t incentivize your sales staff to make you into a professional services firm. You can’t pay full bonus on PS revenue. Not only because it’s lower gross margin, less scalable and more consumptive of staff but also because if you make it easy for them to sell PS which is always higher revenue than paying for software you’ll be sure they sell it ALL DAY LONG. Don’t let PS take over your company
  13. 13. Mark Suster: Your PS business cannot become a management distraction. Another rule I outline with our portfolio companies who sell enterprise solutions is that I don’t want them to become a distraction for management. If your CEO is having to get involved too much in reviewing project success or your core product team is getting sucked into implementing too many features to support the rollout efforts chances are you’ve gone too far. Control the size of PS revenue relative to your software business. So how much PS is too much? [...] By the time you’re at $5-20m in software sales I’d like to see PS be no more than 25% of your total revenue. Manage, but from a distance
  14. 14. Crossing the chiasm
  15. 15. John Warillow: But as their projects grew larger and more complex, Fried and co-founder, David Heinemeier Hansson, found themselves looking for a piece of software that could help them better manage jobs among a growing network of staff and contract help. [...] They decided to build a simple piece of project management software for their own internal use. 37signals' clients saw the simplicity of the software and started asking where they could buy it. It wasn't long before Fried and his partner realized they had built a product that might have mass appeal. They polished it up, gave it the name Basecamp and announced its availability. A year later, Basecamp was more profitable than the web design business, and so 37signals stopped being a service business and started being a product business. From service to product company
  16. 16. Mark Suster: One of the best ways for young startups to finance their business without any dilution is what I call “customer financing,” which is mostly only possible in businesses that target businesses rather than consumers. Customer financing often comes in the form of your company agreeing to build a product with a “sponsor” customer or two and helping them with the rollout / implementation. Often in this strategy you end up giving them the product for free and bill them only services fees. You own the IP you create. The benefits for you are even more clear: you get to build a product raising significantly less external money (if any at all) and therefore no dilution. Customer financing = less dilution
  17. 17. Conclusion
  18. 18. Making the best out of PS Done right, a professional services implementation has a lot of advantages: ➔ You get the ability to sell more, while targetting larger clients ➔ You become less dependant on investors for your financing ➔ You can do customer discovery while making money As long as your company can avoid the pitfalls described above, defining and implementing a professional services strategy will help you will all the core parts of your business. However, you’ll have to make sure that the size of customers you’re going after justifies it: professional services only make sense when you’re aiming at medium-to-large customers.
  19. 19. Special thanks Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures) ➔ Website ➔ Twitter Jason M. Lemkin (Storm Ventures) ➔ Website ➔ Twitter Paul Graham (Y Combinator) ➔ Website ➔ Twitter Jason Fried (Basecamp) ➔ Website ➔ Twitter
  20. 20. Looking for help? I am available for short consulting missions: strategy advice, questions about the enterprise sales cycle, positioning review… Get in touch:
  21. 21. Guillaume Lerouge Director of Sales & Marketing XWiki SAS