If your organization is doing business in the cloud and SaaS space, you know it’s all about managing your funnel and your opportunities. The entire organization needs to focus on streamlining the quote-to-cash process. However, you also need to consider the business buzzword of the year: “social.” There’s social media, the social enterprise, social games, apps and more. But let’s bring social back to its roots; social is really about communicating and understanding one another. In fact, “Know thy customer” should be a core tenet of any business. Social media and online service businesses simply enable far more touch-points by which to know your customers. Business owners can monitor what customers say and then capture basic information to manage customer relationships, but transactions and purchases provide insight to further define the relationships. It’s the financial details that provide unique context to each relationship. From the time you provide customers with a quote to the time they pay, the relationship is transitioning from a personal one to a monetary one. The relationship could be a subscription like Pandora, a contractual relationship like insurance or a metered usage relationship like downloads or compute power. But like most relationships, it is the details that provide the context. And to drive additional SaaS recurring revenue, you need that context.
The challenge today, however, is that the most popular customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are predominantly sales contact and lead management tools. Their ability to understand service businesses is rather limited since they were designed for a SKU-based world. They are ill equipped to understand the changing financial elements and touch-points of a modern service. This is why CRM applications need to integrate with billing applications that can model the full details of established agreements.
By integrating their CRM solutions with billing applications, businesses can bring key elements of modern service relationships from the billing system’s “brains” directly into the user interface (UI) of the CRM. In doing so, a business can release the power of social CRM and gain a substantial return on investment from these tools. For example, in a business-to-business environment, a sales representative often needs to provide his customer with a quote. If he can easily reference advanced product elements within the billing system and generate quotes for various service elements, he can engage the customer and present him with a quote in the context of the moment. If the customer agrees to the order, the sales rep can initiate the sale and enrolment directly from the CRM screens he knows best. This newer quote-to-enrolment workflow removes many of the silo hassles found in enterprise sales environments. In addition, the billing system can generate appropriate notifications to a service or provisioning platform and take over the forward monetization of that customer.
Access to the financial position of the business and the customer enables deeper interactions with customers in real time. If a sales rep has access to the financial history between a customer and the company, he can better serve his customer. If the customer is actively talking about a service issue, the sales or service rep can pro-actively assess the situation. If the customer is of high value, the rep can assist in saving the customer, but if the customer is on a free trial or freemium model, the sales rep will have had little interaction with him. In a cloud and SaaS business model, customer metrics are foundational. By presenting monthly recurring revenue (MRR), annual recurring revenue (ARR) and the contract or lifetime value (LTV) of the client into the CRM system, a sales rep has a far better visibility into the client.
In SaaS, clickstream activity also allows for a richer social understanding by comparing the behaviours of customers to other cohort groupings. Based on real-time analysis of a customer’s activity, businesses can up sell more effectively, since they are more aware of specific customer needs, but timing is key. Reaching out to customers after their moment of need may only be partially successful. The future of CRM will require integration of both real-time behavioural analysis and the ability to automatically respond to the customers.
So in order to move from quotes to customers to revenue, start with the billing system. It is the billing solution that models the unique relationship elements needed to support today’s consumptive, service-based economy. Then see what integrations and API documentation are offered to support a quote-to-cash model. Some of the most advanced billing systems today offer off-the-shelf package integrations through marketplaces like Salesforce Appexchange. By downloading the package, one can extend the hierarchical and service-based financial elements of the billing system into the CRM UI. This can help remove much of the relationship friction today’s service businesses face. Additionally, if your business employs a self-service model, it can leverage APIs to enrol customers directly via the billing system and sync that with the CRM, which can then be accessed by support or account management teams.
Ultimately, we live in a relationship-defined world, and relationships grow as parties share information. By presenting a more complete understanding of a customer to the individuals or systems that must support him, companies gain a far better perspective, of the customer’s service needs and his value to the business. Additionally, today is the age of the API. APIs real value is to allow unfettered connectivity between systems. SaaS businesses that have data silos can be crippled by lack of data visibility. However, businesses can now tear down system-based silos that characterized yesterday’s marketing, sales, operations and finance and support organizations. Contemporary models enable the two currents of billing and CRM to converge, allowing businesses to better know their customers and remove the friction that prevented more effective monetization of customer relationships.
The future for cloud, SaaS and social business models is focused around the power of social CRM and billing data combined. It is not just about tweeting, AdWords or liking a Facebook business page. Social CRM and billing involves building a complete relationship model and holistic financial picture of the customer. Only then can a SaaS business engage and respond to customers in valuable ways that impact the bottom line of the organization and drives organizational valuation.
By Scott Swartz
Founder and CEO of MetraTech: Scott has more than 20 years of experience in the software and services industry. Scott founded MetraTech in 1998, after spending time at NetCentric, an early entrant in the business of cloud computing and where he created the industry’s first SGML/XML billing protocol. Before NetCentric, Scott was a Director at Cambridge Technology Partners, a pioneer in the delivery of client/server solutions for large enterprises. At CTP, he led the deployment of complex customer care, billing, and logistics solutions for Fortune 100 and 500 companies. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical, computer and systems engineering from Harvard University.