Interview With John Stoddart Director of Centric Logic

Sustainable growth is probably the biggest challenge facing any Saas Startup or entrepreneurial effort. Changing markets, shifting economies, technology revolutions and lack of funds can often prove to be an immense uphill battle for even the most experienced business person.

In the same way behind all wordclass athletes lay a coach to guide them through the path and provide the best practices for further improvement, so do Centric Logic provide the needed guidance and consultation for emerging businesses and startups.

Impressed with their keen background and thorough understanding of the saas market, I requested a short interview with Director John Stoddart.

Interview With John Stoddart Director of Centric Logic:

Please tell us a bit about your background.

Centric Logic is a small technology and marketing consultancy and we specialize in three things: helping accountancy practices, small entrepreneurial businesses and SaaS publishers.  Our background is accountancy – both Grant and I worked together in one of the UK’s top 10 accountancy practices and we specialised in Outsourcing.  Grant is an accountant and he specialised in developing products and I was the marketing person that made these into propositions and put together the go-to-market strategy.  Before that, I had worked for one of the world’s biggest on-premise accountancy software companies.

What do we do now?  We focus on three things for these customer groups – we act as an outsourced corporate sales channel, we develop specialist niche products (which can be bought in or white labelled) and we provide specialist consulting on back office outsourcing.

We write a blog (and try to make it interesting and fun), which can be found at http://centriclogicblog.wordpress.com/ and our website is http://www.centriclogic.com/Pages/default.aspx.  We are always pretty to speak to publishers if they need some help.

Centric Logic

What are the top challenges facing business managers, web development and web operations teams that operate in the SaaS market?

I’ll answer that purely from a B2B perspective.

We are huge advocates of taking the SaaS approach.  It provides businesses with some amazing new functionality and we think these will provide a significant improvement in competitive advantage for business.  But, we are talking about businesses and they have already invested in systems and processes.  So, the business case has to be very compelling to displace what is already there.  Business can be naturally conservative.  Add to this the typical SaaS, low cost, low touch sales model and you can see how adoption could be slow.  We think that the momentum is now gathering behind SaaS and that real, quantifiable advantages can now be calculated.

One of the places where SaaS can get a significant advantage is in usability design; to make products that are so much better than the old, on-premise versions that businesses currently use that they literally blow them out of the water.  Developers need to focus on solving the real business problems quickly, easily and cost effectively and they will have success.

How do the big players tackle these problems and how can smaller players in the SaaS market best tackle them?

In some ways it is very easy for the large players.  They have lots of cash and they can invest quickly to develop solutions and get them to market quickly.  This is necessary because some of this is a land grab.  Think about Dropbox – lots of companies can do cloud storage but Dropbox have the customer volumes.  That, and their product is great.  It is so easy to use that, as a client, you would not want to try something else.  It just solves your problem without a hitch.

How do the small players match this?  They have to be much more focused.  They need to develop a great product and commercialise in parallel.  Then, once they are successful they can get more investors and further develop the products.  As a marketer, I’ve always been at my most innovative, most inventive when the budget has been modest.  You have to be thoughtful about your business plan and what the priorities are.  This makes you focus on what functions provide the greatest customer value: you spend your investment capital more wisely.

From your experience in the SaaS market, how should SaaS vendors that are required to give 24 hour online support globally, most cost-effectively educate their customers how to use their solution?

We deal with B2B customers so I’m going to break this down into two parts: how do you educate new customers and how do you support customers on an on-going basis on an availability and functionality basis.  This is further complicated because some of the publishers we know and work with provide white-labelled solutions.  So, their customers have customers themselves.  It is complicated.

How do you deal with new customers?  The answer has to be with as much self-help as possible.  Firstly, the product has to be intuitive.  If it isn’t very user friendly then it will have a reduced chance of adoption.  Secondly, there should be good self-service wikis, demonstration videos, user groups and Q&As as possible.  This needs to be searchable and multi-lingual (although English is the pre-dominant language).  Next steps include online chat.  Last of all, there needs to be direct contact with an agent.  What a business needs to understand is the value of the customer and the expense of the provision of service.

What we do that is slightly different is think about how service is provided for white label products.  We can then offer support as part of a contract discussion: you can have the product and support it yourself and we will charge you $x per user per month.  But if we offer support for this too, then the price per user per month is higher.

Behind that, is the support that you need to have to ensure 24/7 access to the platform itself.  What you need to know, from an engineering point of view, is ‘where are your high demand periods’ and ‘what is the maximum number of concurrent users your platform can service without degradation’.

In a previous life I used to work for a global medical imaging company that provided 24/7/365 back up via three service centres, one in Germany, one in USA and one in Far East (Singapore I think).  These provided the third level support over 8 hour periods continuously around the year.  It must have been incredibly expensive to provide but, if you were in hospital requiring a scan, you would want to have this support available.

Which customer support techniques do you find to be most cost-effective for SaaS companies? For example: video tutorials, live chat, Q&A (Which do end-users prefer?)

I like to have the majority of the training to be done by pre-recorded packages, typically video delivered over the web.  Once the customer knows how to operate the platform, there can then be a small amount of one-to-one work with an expert for the very specific requirements (if they have these).  For us, this is all about keeping the monthly subscription fee as low as possible and the more you invest in training, the higher the fee needs to be.  It is a difficult equation because, if you don’t train your customers to use the platform, they will leave or just not use the platform.

This is SaaS’s greatest dilemma to solve.

From your experience what are the most effective ways for SaaS vendors to introduce their online solution to new users/first time visitors?

I don’t know anyone that isn’t doing this anywhere but on the web.  It is the dominant channel.

The only example I have of something different to this is for white label customers who already have an installed base of users and they competitively replace a SaaS product for an older platform.  This doesn’t happen very much now.

If you had only one marketing tip for young SaaS startups, what would it be?

My one marketing tip is to spend as much time as you can on your value proposition.  What do you give to your customer?  How much will that cost him?  What do you competitors offer?  Why is your offer better?  And this needs to be simple to understand: so simple that a customer does not have to work hard to know it is best.

If you don’t get that right – and then communicated effectively and clearly – then you are not going to be successful.

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Omri Erel
Omri is the Head of Demand Generation, as well as the Lead Author & Editor of the SaaSAddict Blog. Omri established the SaaSAddict blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to SaaS and cloud migration.
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