One of the challenges with metrics is that they tend to represent the business point of view. SaaS is a great industry for measuring everything and anything. Yet the standard set of SaaS numbers looks at the business only from one angle. The interests and priorities of the investors and leaders of the company.
Understanding the performance of the business is vital of course. But the two most important factors that determine SaaS (or any business) performance are your customers and your people. Learning from your people is a subject for another article. This one is about listening to the voice of your customer.
Don't drown it out
Customer interaction in SaaS and startups is focused on sales and marketing. Even customer support and customer success are often seen as tools for the SaaS sales process. Part of the onboarding experience. Or a defence against churn.
This is natural. But sales situations are not a good setting for customer voices. Whether online or face to face the balance is tilted toward the company message.
Yet your sales and support teams are also the primary touch point with your customers. The benefit you can accrue if you allow your people to engage in depth with customers is incalculable. I loved this recent post on Intercom’s excellent blog on the same general topic. The Value of Salespeople Who Don’t Just Sell.
So don’t allow your sales much to drown the voice of your customer. Make it a rule for everyone in your team to spend twice as long listening to customers as they do talking to them. And make sure they capture all those conversations.
The fundamentals - Experience and Value
Think about what you want to learn from your customers. When you are validating your business idea this is simple. What pain do they suffer? Will they pay to solve that problem?
Once you have real paying customers and a whole market of potential new customers… It is also simple: Customer Experience and Customer Value.
These are the two fundamentals. Did your customer enjoy the experience? Did your team and produce exceed expectations? Were they reactive? Or proactive, providing what the customer needed right when they needed it? The list of questions to probe customer experience is long. They are all worth asking.
Value is more concrete. And equally important. What value did your customer derive from the experience? Did this exceed the pain of adopting/ using your SaaS?
Whenever you hear the voice of your customer try to relate it to the two fundamentals. Resist the temptation to impose more structure.
Avoid the measurement mindset
Too often we equate metrics with measurement. The words just seem like natural companions. But you are not trying to measure your customers. They will measure you (back to customer value) not the other way round.
Plus measurement in early stage SaaS can be dangerous. Freud talked about the narcissism of small numbers. This is the delusion of small numbers. With 100 customers, can you draw genuine conclusions from the 2 customers who churn in a month? Compared to 1 a month before?
Your approach to the voice of your customer needs to be qualitative not quantitative. What do they do? What do they say? How do they feel? These are the questions you are trying to answer.
You are recording and analysing the voice of your customer. Not measuring against some expectation, benchmark or target.
Expand your horizons
Imagine your two critical business metrics were the voice of your customer and the voice of your team. Think about the power and insight of strategy, plans and incentive based on those two numbers. So much more real than MRR or LTV or Churn.
This dream may be impossible to achieve. It is well within your grasp to capture the voice of your customer. Through their actions and conversations. Spend time diving into those voices. Learn the lessons. Allocate resources and make decisions with the voice of your customer front of mind.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.