A Guide For Successful SaaS Design

Matt McClintock October 1, 2019 How To

SaaS design

Software comes in different flavors and the one you probably interact with the most is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). SaaS is an aspiration; however, simply offering your software online is not SaaS, just a step in the right direction.

True SaaS includes the following characteristics:  you can sign up for it, learn about it, and use it without ever having to speak to anyone — unless you want to. Software without these characteristics is commonly passed off as SaaS but is actually known as “consulting-ware”, In many cases, the business model itself isn’t a good fit for SaaS. In other cases, however, a lack of understanding of SaaS leads to poor execution and delivery.
What are some of the guidelines for great SaaS design? Here’s a list of what we think needs to be addressed successfully to truly achieve a SaaS offering:

  1. Your software is truly useful
  2. Your software is truly intuitive
  3. Support isn’t mandatory, documentation is helpful
  4. Inbound marketing should be a driver of growth
  5. Pricing and billing is automated

Let’s break this list down.

  • Your software is truly useful

It would be irresponsible to say points 2-5 will get you to the promised land without pointing out the obvious. Everyone thinks their software is useful to the masses but if it isn’t, SaaS likely isn’t the answer. There are a ton of software companies with customers whose software just isn’t that great in terms of competition in the market. Even if they turn to SaaS as a solution to their woes, it likely won’t help. Software that succeeds in SaaS has to be useful in order to scale.

  • Your software is truly intuitive

This cannot be stressed enough. Clunky, outdated, difficult to navigate software does not work in a SaaS model. Software that requires extensive implementation, customization, support, and training is not a good fit for SaaS. Yes, it is software, but it is software that is only useful with all of the extra bells and whistles. True SaaS provides value out-of-the-box with useful software that provides an easy-to-use interface for technical and non-technical users alike.

  • Support isn’t mandatory, documentation is helpful

If your software is contingent on a support plan, maybe it’s not a good fit for SaaS. In 2019, software design needs to be so minimalistic and simple for the user that hands-on support and training shouldn’t be required to get your software to work. It should be available, but not mandatory (much like documentation). Hands-on support shouldn’t be necessary to use the software, but it does need to be available. 

  • Inbound marketing should be a driver of growth

A successful SaaS company gets a large portion of its users from inbound traffic as the result of a combination of content marketing and paid marketing efforts. The metric of value is Daily Active Users (DAU) and that count scales with true SaaS. It’s impossible to scale your software offering with a sales team making phone calls all day unless you have a steady stream of customers coming in from inbound channels.

  • Pricing and billing must be automated

It’s worth making the extra effort here. The onboarding process for users should not require a complex billing and payment setup and should integrate easily with existing payment services and processors. Make it easy for users to pay you and they will. Further, any good SaaS company not only makes the first mile of the product (including billing setup) seamless but also automates and simplifies recurring billing for the user. Most of all, billing is almost always subscription-based pay-as-you-go pricing in successful SaaS models.
Software-as-a-Service is a beautiful thing when designed and executed well. There are tons of software applications that do not employ a SaaS model and yet could benefit greatly from one. There are also some software applications that employ a SaaS model but are struggling to find success in that mold. The question to ask is can your software and its supporting company pass this test, or is there perhaps a point or two you can work on?

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