Category: Product Management

What’s Different about Managing SaaS Products?

By Felicia Anderson

SaaS provides a treasure trove of new user insights.

As customers adopt Software as a Service (SaaS) in record numbers, those software providers that effectively leverage SaaS’ unique advantages will move into industry-leading positions.  Companies that fail to do so will lose competitive ground.

Here are 3 areas that every SaaS product team should consider to make the most of the SaaS opportunity.

Instrument your products to observe true user behavior

SaaS providers have unprecedented visibility into users’ activities.  Product teams should add capabilities to track user behavior quantitatively and use that information to improve the product.  This approach typically yields much better results than activities such as focus groups because it shows what users actually do, not what they say (which is often notably different than what they do).

Intuit, a company renowned for its practice of following customers home to monitor user behavior in a natural environment, got dramatically different results when talking with users about a solution versus silently observing their behavior from within the product.  In one case, they were considering how to improve the onboarding process for new payroll customers.Man 1

Initially, they mocked up screens to show the option of running the first payroll prior to completing the full configuration.  With screenshots in hand, they met with 20 prospects and asked if they would choose the option of running the first round of checks before completing the set up.  Not a single prospect expressed interest in this option.

Then they changed the screen on the actual site to show this as an option.  They didn’t have the backend functionality yet but wanted to test user behavior.  Intuit founder, Scott Clark, recounts that “when they actually didn’t ask an opinion and just watched behavior, 58% clicked, “I want to cut the checks first.” 58%.”[1]

That’s an eye-popping difference:  zero percent interest when talking with the prospects versus 58% interest when presented with the option in the product.  The product team proceeded to add the capability, which resulted in the fastest customer growth for that product in ten years.

Use SaaS’ superior customer feedback options

Great SaaS products enable users to provide feedback within the context of the user experience itself.  With an easy-to-find, simple, in-application feedback capability, users will typically provide more accurate and more useful feedback. Well-designed in-app feedback can reduce customer service cost, increase issue resolution speed, and result in more actionable enhancement suggestions.

Tweet this:  Great SaaS products enable users to provide feedback within the context of the user experience itself

EdX, the nonprofit that provides free online courses from MIT, Harvard and other leading colleges and universities, provides a great example of in-application feedback.  The user goes to the same place for all types of feedback, and the form is very simple and short (just 2 questions, see below).  But possibly the most important feature is that access to the help tab moves with the user so that it is always visible, even when the user scrolls down.  When users have a suggestion or concern, they do not have to scramble to figure out where to go to share their feedback.

EdX Feedback

EdX Feedback Form:  Simple, Short, and Easy to Find

Minimize churn

SaaS industry leaders understand this simple truth:

“the single biggest driver of long term profitability for your cloud business…is the renewal rate of your customers.”[2]

To minimize churn, mine the data from your SaaS user base to identify leading indicators of attrition.   One useful practice is to monitor usage by account to identify accounts that have recently reduced either their log-in frequency or their transaction volume.   These accounts are frequently at risk of churning, so coordinate with sales, professional services, or customer support to intervene prior to losing the customer.

Tweet this:  To minimize churn, mine the data from your SaaS user base to identify leading indicators of attrition

Goldfish2SaaS provides exciting, new ways understand and stay close to customers.  With on premise products, product managers could only speak with and get feedback from a limited number of customers each year.

With SaaS products, on the other hand, it’s possible to glean insights from the entire user base, whether that’s 100, 1,000 or 100,000 users.  Armed with superior information across a broader set of users, product managers of SaaS products can deliver solutions with even greater customer value.


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About the Author

felicia-anderson-headshotFelicia Anderson is Director of Program Management, Cloud Services at OpenText.  She helps product teams improve product investment decisions and increase launch success of cloud-based products.




[1]Why Intuit Founder Scott Cook Wants You To Stop Listening To Your Boss, Fast Company,

[2] Byron Deeter, Bessemer Venture Partners,


Product Management Workshop: Aug. 22-23 in Chicago


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The Craftsman PM: A 2-day Hands-on Workshop 
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When: August 22-23 930AM – 430PM both days
Use Code ONPM for a special registration discount just for OnPM Readers!

Tweet this: Product Management workshop – Chicago – August 22-23 2015  – #prodmgmt

5 Reasons why you should regularly attend your product’s training classes

by Saeed Khan

If you work on a product that requires a training class, your product is way too complex!!!

OK, just kidding.  :-)

computer-training-classIf you work in the B2B space, it’s almost guaranteed that there is a training requirement for your product. The training may be delivered face-to-face in a classroom setting, or over the web with a live instructor, or even possibly as a self-paced recorded course.

Regardless of the type of class, odds are you (PM, PMM, UX Lead etc.) didn’t create that class and almost certainly you don’t deliver that class to customers.

You may have attended the class (once) when you were hired or started working on the product — assuming the product already existed — or maybe never at all if you started early enough and learned it on your own.

Regardless of which situation you are in, you should make it a practice to REGULARLY sit in on your product’s training class.

What do I mean by ‘REGULARLY’?  Well, it depends on a number of factors, but at least once per year, if not 2 or 3 times per year if possible.

If the class is a long class (say 2 or 3 or more days), and it’s difficult to commit those days completely (we’re always pulled into meetings etc) then at least sit in on the FIRST day of the class a couple of times a year. Try to pick classes where there are a good number of students attending.

But WHY? We’ll I’ll tell you.

1. It’s an easy way to meet customers face-to-face

OK, this assumes you have a classroom style training course. And if you do, that great!!! Take advantage of it. Meeting these users face-to-face is a great way to start building a relationship with them. Most classes I’ve seen start with some kind of self-introduction by the students. It’s a good way to learn about who is (will be) using your product and also to introduce yourself to them.

You don’t have to become their friend during the class, but when you introduce yourself as the PM for the product they are learning about, trust me, they’ll remember you. And later, if you reach out to them, they know who you are.

Even if the course is NOT a face-to-face classroom setting — i.e. it’s taught by a live instructor to the students over the internet — you can still introduce yourself and make the students aware of you. Better than nothing I say.

Tweet this: 5 Reasons why you should regularly attend your product’s training classes #prodmgmt #prodmktg by @onpm




If you could take training classes on any topic, what would they be?

by Saeed Khan

As Product Leaders, there’s so much that we need to know in order to do our jobs well. These topics run the gamut from business, strategy, finance, technology, design, research, communication, marketing and more. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of topics.

So here’s how you can help me help you. :-)

Fill in the form below and let me know the top 3 topics you’d like to learn more about. I’ve left the answers open-ended, but please be specific if you can.  I’ll stop talking now. :-)

I’m looking forward to your responses.


Tweet this: If you could take training classes on any topic, what would they be? #prodmktg #prodmgmt

How much does self-interest play in your decision making process?

By Saeed Khan

Back in 2008, I wrote a post entitled “Self interest always wins out…”.

wiifmI was reminded of it again recently during a conversation with a PM friend of mine.  Believe it or not, we were talking about how releases were planned at our companies. She said that she keeps a spreadsheet with each planned feature that also has several columns with weighted values for categories such as Strategic Fit, Customer Satisfaction, Competitive etc.

i.e. this gives a semblance of an analytic approach to her decision making and she can always open the spreadsheet in a meeting if anyone wants to debate prioritizing one thing over another.

I’ve seen this kind of spreadsheet many times in my years, but what reminded me of my old post was that she said she always wanted to add a hidden column in the spreadsheet that factored in a “pain in my butt” value for a given feature.

e.g. how much personal pain she had to endure with customers, salespeople etc. because of he missing capability.

I’m sure we can all empathize with her. I thought I’d written a post on the topic years ago, but had to search to find it. So here is an updated version of that article for your reading pleasure.

But don’t just read the article, please comment on whether self-interest (at any level) plays a role in the product decisions you’ve been involved in. Be honest. :-)


Deep down, every single one of us is driven by self-interest.  From acquiring the most basic necessities of life, to how we deal with others, to the multitude of decisions we make each and everyday, self-interest plays a strong role.  Self-interest is not a bad thing and I’m not demonizing it at all. I’m simply stating an obvious fact. We do what will help us achieve OUR personal goals first and foremost.

And as much as we would like to think that’s not true; that we can look beyond ourselves and do what is in the common good, the fact is, more times than not, we will do what will benefit ourselves. Or at minimum, leverage the decisions we make to benefit our self interest.

keep calm honestWhen deciding what should and shouldn’t go into a product release, we try to look at the market needs, at the competition, at the strategic direction of the company etc. etc. But when push comes to shove, and we have to make a hard call on including something or not, our subconscious will have a significant impact.

In a conversation about prioritizing some requirements, I had to make a choice between two important items of roughly equal effort. When another PM asked me why I chose one instead of the other, I said that if we implemented the one I selected, it would get a lot of people off my butt. And that I was tired of hearing people complain about the issue. The other one wasn’t causing the same stink to be raised, but was clearly needed and valuable.

As I said it, it surprised me somewhat. I told the other PM, “I’m being honest here.”

I like to think that I focus on what will help drive revenue, better position us against competitors, help strengthen relationships with key strategic partners and all that good stuff. But seriously, when a hard decision needed to be made, my reasons were none of those.

It’s not as if that functionality wasn’t needed or that it wasn’t something we should add to the product. Don’t get me wrong. People were complaining about it because it was a gap in the product and customers needed it. But, the primary reason for my choice was driven by immediate self-interest.

So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been in that situation and made a decision for similar reasons? In retrospect, any thoughts on whether that was the right decision?


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About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.