Many B2B SaaS startups I’ve met managed to find early product-market fit, but struggle to evolve their product to help them scale; they’ve achieved some good traction and need to expand their beachhead, cross the chasm and replicate their success into a much larger market.
To manage that transition, your product and offering will need to evolve in several significant aspects:
10x Valuable: Tool → Solution
A tool allows you to solve a specific problem or add value as part of a larger business process. Becoming a solution requires you to address end to end business processes. Transforming your product from a tool into a solution requires expanding your product’s capabilities to address more complex use cases, integrate with other solutions used by your customers and become an inseparable part of your customers’ environment.
A product that helps collecting referral leads, for example, becomes 10x more valuable when it not only allows capturing lead data but automatically creates them in customers’ CRM, performs data validation, lead de-duplication, routing workflows and reporting.
10x Strategic: Nice to Have → Must Have
Your first customers are usually early adopters that sign up to use your product since they buy into your vision and passion, they love what you’re doing but 90% of the time if you close shop, they can still get their job done as they always did.
To make your solution a must have you need to focus on a few selected use cases where your product becomes a necessity. Depending on your business this transition could be achieved by providing real $ value (new business, higher renewal rates, cost savings) rather than ‘soft’ productivity gains or by enabling core business processes that were otherwise impossible.
In EchoSign, for example, adding an integration to Salesforce.com transformed it to a must have for Sales organizations. The core value was there (closing more deals faster) but it became a must only after customers were able to replace their fax and email contracting process across their entire sales team. Yes, they could have gone back to using fax and email, but the value was so clear now that there was really no way back.
10x Efficient: Ad-Hoc → Repeatable Delivery
As your business matures the cost and complexity of acquiring new customers and delivering your solution must go down significantly. Your product will need to evolve to make this possible.
In many cases such a transition involves providing self service or automated tools replacing support or customer success interactions (e.g. provisioning, on boarding, setup, customization, reporting, etc.); implementing best practices as part of your solution; delivering an out-of-the-box solution integrated solution with other products that complement your own and allowing partners to package and sell your solution as part of theirs, etc..
Evolving your product will require heavy investments in areas that you may have considered a distraction when building the product that got you so far – user management, permissions, workflows, reporting, support tools, etc.
Is it worth it? What if you keep focusing solely on the core product that got you initial traction? The risk of losing focus and spreading to thin is real and can definitely get you off track. My advice – don’t tackle everything at once. Identify which areas are already blocking your growth and preventing you from getting to the next level and focus on making it 10x better before tackling other aspects.
If prospects like your solution but can’t get the budget, find a way to become a must have; if your product is used sporadically and is easily challenged by competitors, transform it to a full end to end solution; if customer acquisition, on boarding and support costs drag you down, focus on streamlining your product delivery model.
Your new core
As you grow and your market matures, your old core may become a commodity or can be easily displaced when a competitor challenges your product (e.g. file sharing). But, if you manage to transform your product you’ll soon find that those new capabilities you’ve added have become your new core competencies making your business much scalable, valuable and far more resilient to competition.