Standout Features of a SaaS Product Launch
Product launch check-lists - we’ve all seen them. You know the general process, which always looks more or less the same regardless of the specific product: market research, competitor analysis, goal-setting, marketing activities, and so on.
But what’s different about the process when the product you're launching is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)? We’ve put together a list of a few of the standout features of SaaS product launches that set them apart from other new product development experiences. By no means exhaustive - these are some of the unique technical and marketing challenges that need to be navigated for a successful SaaS product launch.
Finding a Server
Critical - and unique - to the SaaS launch process is choosing a hosting provider and server. According to the team at Chanty, more than 40% of SaaS companies now use Amazon Web Services as their server of choice. However, they suggest you consider taking the time to do a comparative analysis of various hosting providers before choosing a server for your SaaS product, as server requirements will depend on functional specifications. For example, will the interactions between users and the system happen in real-time? If so, a low-latency, high-performance server is required.
The location of your server, depending on your target market geography(first-time), might also be a consideration. There are new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implications, for example, for companies whose servers are located in the EU, and accordingly, some companies shopping for B2B SaaS solutions will only consider EU server-based products. For more reading on server and hosting options for SaaS products, check out this article from Future Hosting or this article on GDPR implications for hosting.
Acing the Customer Onboarding Experience
Planning and designing a seamless customer onboarding experience is crucial when transitioning out of pre-launch, into beta phase, and beyond. A well-designed onboarding experience can minimize frustration and hesitation for trying a new product, and generally ensures a good first impression.
Every time I talk to a low-touch, self-service SaaS company experiencing massive drop-off immediately after sign-up, low Free Trial-to-Paid conversion rates, few customers staying past 90 days post-conversion, etc. it is always an onboarding issue. – Lincoln Murphy, Sixteen Ventures
Below are some guiding principles for a winning customer onboarding design:
- Allow users to easily sign up and sign in
- Display a welcome screen
- Give a quick product tour of your top 3 features – keep it short and sweet, don’t try to demo all the features of your products, just the three most important ones necessary for MLP (see below)
- Create automated life-cycle emails (after sign up, after activation, end of trial, etc.)
For more reading on Customer Onboarding, click here.
Focus on achieving a "Minimum Loveable Product"
In a SaaS product launch, it's important to keep your focus on achieving a so-called “Minimum Loveable Product” (MLP) – the trendier name for Minimum Viable Product (MVP) - at least during product testing. Similar to other types of product launches, the idea here is to get the User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) to the point where users will begin to love it with the minimum possible work from your team.
This can feel painfully counter intuitive to the passionate app designer or engineer, especially with SaaS trends towards UX/UI personalization. The natural inclination will be to achieve the best possible experience for each type of buyer persona they’re targeting before releasing, even in a beta testing phase.
Getting to know what each user likes and dislikes, and giving them ways to customize a platform to reflect those preferences, will work towards the success of a SaaS solution. The hyper-personalization trend, especially when paired with AI and easy automation, can provide customers with added value, while boosting the results of a SaaS company.
Alacrity Canada on Hyper-Personalization in SaaS
However, having an MLP focus does not mean leaving your commitment to creating a valuable user experience behind. Instead, it means getting the most feedback from users who already love your product as quickly as possible, so that you can move on to creating an even more value-added, loveable application.
UX and UI Refinement
Focusing on MLP will help to constrain perfectionism where it doesn't add value early in the pre-launch/beta testing phases. However, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) refinement, like central hosting, is in the DNA of SaaS products. Refining your UX/UI begins almost immediately after product validation, but will continue throughout the lifecycle of your application. Indeed, one of the perceived benefits of a SaaS product to the client is that they get access to a product that comes with automatic, seamless updates and improvements.
(Remember, this is a double-edged sword: frequent updates and improvements mean users expect quick fixes – if something isn’t working they’re likely to jump back online in a couple of hours and check to see if it's fixed)
Beta testing is an important early stage of the refinement process: Go into your circle of trust and find individuals who are willing to test your product. This should come before the product is “perfect” (see above, i.e. MLP), but after your team has performed its own thorough testing.
- Functionality Testing
- User Experience (UX) Testing
- Performance & Load Testing
- Compatibility Testing
- Security Testing
Once team-led tests have been performed, its time to allow some trusted, first-time users to have a go. Typically, this group includes family, friends, etc - although some advise against inviting friends and family, to ensure unbiased feedback. Ultimately, it's your choice. But regardless, the testing phase should be iterative – after beta testers have had a go, send that feedback on to the entire team so that they can perform their tests again, and so on.
Consider Crowd Marketing on a peer-to-peer review platform
When planning and initiating marketing activities, many SaaS entrepreneurs opt for crowd marketing on peer-to-peer, business solutions review platforms, like G2Crowd or Capterra. But consider and choose wisely: your marketing ROI can vary greatly depending on product readiness, where your leads are in their buyers’ journey, the suitability of your specific products’ software category, and the type of profile you are prepared to invest first-time. Stay tuned our upcoming post on choosing marketing channels for SaaS product launch.
Build relationships with SaaS Influencers, and other organic advocates
Getting the movers and shakers to take notice of your product early on is not necessarily unique to SaaS product launches – but SaaS brand advocacy has never been as important as it is today. Increasing trends towards personalization and automation across the SaaS industry means that brand awareness must come both from the traditional, ‘pay-to-play’ method of hiring influencers to post about your product as well as encouraging current users and employees to advocate your product on their own accounts.
Neil Patel of Neil Patel Digital says that content shares and product recommendations work because “people trust peers and thought leaders more than they trust brands and institutions.” According to Patel, in a time when trust in digital media is in decline and yet content consumption is higher than ever, these recommendations are crucial.
Encourage current users as well as team members to do their own advocacy – you may even consider incentivizing a viral effect with special offers for users who share or invite their friends. But don’t forget to also build relationships with influencers who have sway over your target market. You can search potential partners with tools like TapInfluence or Upfluence.
Stay tuned for much more on SaaS, IaaS (Infrastructure-as-as-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and other as-a-Service models. For a succinct, but comprehensive general Product Launch checklist, check out 18 steps to take before you launch a product or service from Forbes. We also love this overview of the elements (systems, sales and support, feedback, etc.) of a product launch checklist from Aha. If your organisation is navigating a new B2B SaaS product launch, we're here to help. Contact us to find out more.