CEO of Rookout. Has led data-driven businesses, products and R&D teams over the last two decades, from startups to government organizations.
If we’ve learned anything from this global pandemic, it’s that things can change very quickly. And how effectively your business responds to significant change is a major contributor to its future success. I’m thinking of a recent talk I attended, where the CMO of TripActions — a software for booking travel — pivoted overnight to better frame their value proposition to existing and potential customers. The fact of the matter is: If a travel company that was hit hard by Covid-19 found ways to be agile and stay relevant, then there’s little room for excuses from the rest of us.
There’s a famous saying that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.” And while it’s certainly true that many businesses wished they had embraced digital transformation, distributed teams and agile methods of software development before the global pandemic hit, it’s also true that this time can be a forcing function to make significant improvements now.
So, the question all software vendors need to ask themselves is, “What do my customers need right now?”
My advice is to think of your customer base in three separate groups: Those who were negatively affected by the global pandemic, those who are just trying to get by and those who are seeing more activity than ever before. Each requires its own approach — there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. By empathizing with your customers’ situations — the good and the bad — you’ll be in a much better position to add value and build a long-term relationship.
1. Customers who have been hit hard by Covid-19.
Many businesses are hurting right now. Some had a limited online footprint before, but are now relying on online services as the only way to maintain a sense of business continuity. Others are dealing with a distributed workforce for the first time. How can you help your customers through these transitions? What value can you add?
A recent Crunchbase article on offering freemium trials makes the claim that any sticky SaaS company should consider offering months of their product for free. As the CEO of a software company that primarily targets the enterprise, this would be a bit hard for us to do personally. But I believe the intention behind that idea is correct: Know how you can add value and make it easy for new customers to sign up or for existing customers to better leverage your tooling. Then throw in some free goodies and services (e.g., extend trial periods, lengthen PoCs, etc.). Worry about the ROI when things return back to normal — customer experience is paramount right now.
2. Customers who are keeping a steady heartbeat.
Many companies froze their plans due to the volatility and lack of certainty for the future. They paused their hiring plans, reigned in spend and are doing what they can to ride out the storm responsibly.
Ideally, you want to be part of the solution as a software vendor; you want to be the armored truck that is protecting your customers from all of the chaos outside. So, be proactive. Reach out and ask how you can help. Better yet, if you know your customer well enough to know what they need, offer it before you’re even asked.
3. Customers who are experiencing hyper-growth.
There are certainly some companies that are seeing a surge of demand. One of the most obvious cases is Zoom, the videoconferencing technology with a valuation that shot up to surpass the top seven airlines combined. But they certainly aren’t the only ones — e-commerce websites like Target have been experiencing traffic that mirrors what they are used to seeing on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
The key here is making sure these customers are maximizing ROI without overextending their resources. Because once things return to a more “normal” state, they don’t want to be left feeling like they now have a bunch of unnecessary baggage that’s useless under typical market conditions. So, connect with your champion and make sure they are getting full value out of your product. If there is a gated feature or professional service that they need now more than ever to deal with increased demand, don’t hesitate to offer it to them for free for a couple of months. The customer may decide to pay to keep it later, but for now, offering it for free can be the right thing to do.
When things return back to normal, you won’t regret being a company that was there to help your customer through the storm.