Episode #94 of the B2B Market Research Podcast – Analyzing Product Features in the Age of SaaS
- Can the 100 year old feature analysis process still work today?
- The general framework of a modern-day SaaS feature analysis.
- How to conduct a SaaS features analysis in 3 steps
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Sean Campbell – CEO of Cascade Insights
In this podcast episode, we’re going to talk about how to conduct an effective feature analysis in the age of Software as a Service (SaaS) apps.
This podcast episode is brought to you by Cascade Insights. Cascade Insights specializes in competitive intelligence services for B2B focused technology companies. Our B2B tech sector specialization helps us to deliver detailed CI and market research insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. To learn more about Cascade Insights, visit us at cascadeinsights.com and sign up for our newsletter. With that, let’s get into the topic of today’s podcast.
Every company needs to do feature analysis at some point. They need to understand what features their competitors are offering to the market. They need to understand how these features match up against the features they offer to the market. Even if what you offer is in essence a solution, where product features are just a piece of it and other factors come into play, features still matter.
Features analysis: The old way
With that in mind lets take a little bit of a trip in a time machine back to 2005, when the world was Windows XP and Office XP. Cloud services were a dream, and only the desktop publishing department used Macs. In this era, you bought the competitor’s product, you hired smart guys, they tore it down and you learned a lot.
You might have even created a compete lab and you had racks of servers and desktop machines where you basically tried to understand as much as you could about the competitor’s solution.
As a matter of fact, this kind of activity goes back a long ways.
NEC, one of the first technology companies, would buy competitor machines. They would tear them down and this would lead to all kinds of activity, including things like patent lawsuits. John Patterson at NEC was doing this 100 years ago, but do we want to take the activities and the techniques of 100 years ago and apply them to the problems of 2015? I don’t think so. In part because the world we face today is a world where Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are becoming ever more prevalent.
There isn’t a SaaS application to solve every need, but each year, SaaS apps penetrate more and more industry verticals, and SaaS apps solve an ever-increasing number of line of business problems.
There isn’t a SaaS application to solve every need, but each year, SaaS apps penetrate more and more industry verticals, and SaaS apps solve an ever-increasing number of line of business problems. In this era, you don’t need the compete lab. What you need is a lot of accounts and a lot of different logins. You need access.
Modern-day SaaS features analysis, deconstructed
One of the things that you can leverage is the try-before-you-buy model against your competitors. You can sign up for those trial user accounts. You can explore the product. You can see exactly how the features are going to run, in essence, what is the production environment.
If there are features that are only available to you if you sign up for longer term contracts, or for higher levels of service, doing so is still way easier than buying a bunch of hardware, then going through the process of buying the competitor’s product directly in the sense of installing the software, making sure it’s configured correctly, buying the appropriate hardware to run it on, and setting up in your data center. Logging in with your account and simply paying whatever fee you needed to to access that product for that month or that year is way easier by comparison.
You have to look closely at the terms of service for your trial and for the actual license that perhaps you purchased. And you, need to be clear whether you can actually publish the results of your analysis. In many cases the terms of service will disallow this.
Are there concerns? Yes. Absolutely. You have to look closely at the terms of service for your trial and for the actual license that perhaps you purchased. And you, need to be clear whether you can actually publish the results of your analysis. In many cases the terms of service will disallow this.
On the other hand, there are many things that you can do. You can educate your own sales team. You can even to some degree educate your own partners based on the findings that you’ve uncovered, and even in some cases, you can help educate your own product team. There are other options if you seem to be prohibited from doing it yourself. You can hire a third party to do it.
You can even recruit customers who are using this solution today and ask you to demo it for you. You can record their activities with tools like Camtasia. We’ve done this on a number of different projects where we’ve gone out and recruited customers who are using the competitor’s solution, asked them to demo the SaaS solution for us and we’ve recorded their activities. With their consent of course.
Then we’ve spent more time asking them additional questions about why they required the product, what kind of sales activities led to them engaging an actual purchase process, and just overall what’s the experience been like now that maybe they’ve been running it for a period of time.
3 steps to a SaaS feature analysis
With that in mind, lets take a real-world example. The world of marketing automation, in this area there are lot of players today. There are solutions from Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, along with many others, and you have mid-market players like InfusionSoft, and many others. Hence this space is a classic example of how you can use some of the techniques we’ve been talking about.
There are three main steps:
- Interview Competitor Customers – Of course you’re going to go interview competitor customers. They’re going to be able to tell you all kinds of things, and we interview competitor customers on almost all the studies that we do that are competitor focused. You’re going to ask them things like, “What’s it like to run this solution over time? How manageable is it? What’s the support process like? How well does it integrate with other solutions?” These are all great things to ask. You can even interview partners of the competitor to get a broader sense of how they’re driving the solution forward, and what they think the strengths and merits are of the solution.
- Experience the Product – But don’t stop until you’ve experienced the product yourself, or you’ve at least used a proxy to basically give you that experience. If you’re unable to sign up for the product yourself, or you’re concerned about doing so, this might be a good time to bring in a third party, or a third party point of view. Meaning this is where you can interview competitor customers, but while you’re interviewing them, ask them to demo the product for you.
- Capture those Experiences – Record those interactions with tools like Camtasia. Take screen captures. Let customers show you all the product features running in a production environment. With a little bit of webinar tools thrown into the mix, a little bit of Camtasia, and the right customer, you’re going to have the ability to see the product running “live” in a production environment. This is the kind of direct access that people would have wished for 10 years ago, and even NEC probably would have wished for 100 years ago. Obviously third parties can help in terms of signing up and utilizing competitor services over the long haul, showing you how they integrate with other products, and really doing fairly technical deep dives in how these products actually work in a real world setting.
In sum, don’t use the methods of 100 years ago to solve the problems of 2015.
In sum, don’t use the methods of 100 years ago to solve the problems of 2015.
While NEC might have got us all started on the idea of doing tear-downs of competitor products, there’s a whole new way to do it today, and your ability to recruit competitor customers and ask them to demo the product for you directly over the web, without you even having to fly to their site is a really powerful tool.
With that, I want to wrap up this episode. Thanks for listening, and hope to have you along with us on the next podcast.
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