– By Elchin Aliyev, Enestech Software CEO.
The huge advantage of any cloud-based product is that, technologically, it is quite easy to distribute around the planet. This may give the wrong impression: at the start, developers might think it is enough to make a cool feature, and demand will not wait.
But this is not always the case. When it comes to customer experience, functionality sometimes even recedes into the background. The first is cultural differences, approaches to work, money issues, and quick reactions to new changes.
Below I will give four recommendations for B2B SaaS products on how to scale them in 2021. We have learned these lessons from our own successes and failures in the deployment of our SENET product, a comprehensive SaaS desktop and web solution for managing gaming centers and cyber clubs. Today, SENET is used by 1,800+ gaming centers and eSports arenas and 6.5 million of their visitors in more than 70 countries. Two years ago, these figures were several times lower. I hope our experience will be useful for cloud service developers.
1. Not everything needs to be delegated
The main point is this: you should control the development of the product, especially in the early stages. If you don’t have your own technical team, outsourcing may seem like an attractive solution. Like, there is no need to spend time on team building, adaptation, project management. You pay for the result and enjoy your free time.
But we must look at the pros and cons. Sometimes it is very difficult to explain to third parties all the pain you want to solve. The price tag for a custom product, which was not on the market before and which needs constant upgrades soars to the skies. And in the case of low cost, deadlines are stretched, there are problems with coordination and speed of corrections.
Either way, no one will be interested in the result as much as you are. Especially if you need a product as a solution to the problem of your own business and/or industry. And you can immediately measure their effectiveness in real-time.
Here is our case: Senet has grown from a basic management tool used by a company-owned chain of gaming lounges. While the number of PCs was still insignificant, administrators ran spreadsheets and controlled machines with simple alarm-based programs. It did the job until there were several hundred computers.
What were our main requirements? We were looking for a system which would allow managing gaming centers remotely, as well as display statistics and occupancy of your gaming center in real-time, and also allow booking PCs in one click and set tariff plans. We needed to simplify administrators’ workflow and at the same time ensure a convenient experience for our visitors.
No external solutions suited our needs. Then we came to the contractors. Several teams, long negotiations, and the conclusion was simple: for a crazy price we will make a mediocre product!
So we’ve put together our own little development team. They’ve created the software that met all of our requirements. In addition to the above, the program calculates staff efficiency, monitors transactions, records financial performance, allows you to create individual loyalty programs, and more. The training ground was at hand, our network of gaming centers. We tested new ideas and ready-made solutions on them.
Due to full control, we immediately made SENET so that we would not be ashamed of ourselves, and to gain an advantage over other gaming centers. Because it not only had to facilitate management but also save money in the future.
2. Take the language and culture into account.
The main point is this: complete your team with people from the regions where you will promote your product.
There is one common global pattern, for businesses within their own country, to use their own native language, for international expansion – English. Indeed, English works for negotiations and first attempts to enter another market. But mass sales of B2B products are impossible to perform without immersion in local languages and cultures. Because they don’t speak English there every day and don’t want to strain themselves once again.
There is another trap here. Your sales manager can learn the language or cultural features of the country you want to go to with the product. But he/she still will not perfectly fit or will fit, but not very soon, depending on the rigidity and conservatism of a particular country.
You need people from there. They don’t just understand the cultural code, it’s inside of them. They don’t just speak the local language well, they literally feel specifics, accents, and dialects in the language. Know what is happening in the country, what are really the pain points of customers. After all, even purely external similarities can matter.
It is these nuances that will make you stand out from the competitors. Sales of a technological product also depend on purely human communication.
Here is our case: after the completion of the main part of the work, it became clear that the potential of the system is much greater. If we could not find a product that would suit us, how many more such gaming centers around the world? So almost immediately we made the system cloud-based and entered the market.
We started the expansion of the Ukrainian SENET from the CIS market. The decision was successful because in the countries of the former USSR it was possible to work in Russian. There were no special difficulties with the mentality either. So in a year of selling the product, 23,000 computers from ten post-Soviet countries have connected and keep using the product.
So riding the wave of success, we decided to move to other markets. We localized our site and the service in English invited native English-speaking salesmen from the USA and Australia and went worldwide with the product.
But a new leap did not happen. In the US, we were met by a competitor who has a larger market share. In Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, customers did a little better. But countries whose language is not English wanted to communicate in their native language, Spanish, German, French, and so on. For them, the product in English is not always a pleasant extra effort. And this is not to mention the markets of Asia and Africa, where the professional and life system is even more different.
We made a risky but logical decision. We created multicultural and multilingual sales and support offices. Colombians, Ecuadorians, Americans, Australians, Pakistanis, Mexicans, Hindus, Turks – we have chosen a language and culture for each market. All these people work either in our head office in Kyiv or in that part of the world where it is convenient for them to be.
In addition, we have localized the product. Now SENET is available in 7 languages; we are also preparing Portuguese version.
The new multinational team has allowed us to attract customers in English-speaking countries, the LatAm region (Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, etc.), the Gulf region (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan), Turkey, India, Pakistan. This year alone, SENET has added 20 countries to its list.
3. Strengthen the team
The main point is this: keep an eye on the balance of power in the team. As you move forward quickly with sales and business development, strengthen your technical backgrounds, development, and support. Most likely you will receive more and more new requests from new markets. You will need to do additional features and updates. You just have to have enough heads and hands to cover it all.
Also, pay attention to the mutual understanding in the team. A multicultural company is committed to tolerance, flexibility, and openness, but also to a willingness to set common rules. The drivers of these values are the managers and HR.
Here is our case: by hiring people of different nationalities, we realized that the attitude towards work, life, mistakes, and successes vary from culture to culture. And many interests must be taken into account for such a team in order to work effectively.
Gradually we learned to work with such different reactions. We have changed the process of hiring and adaptation, we hold various cross-cultural meetings. We try to treat each employee carefully, ask specific questions, talk to them not only about work, build trusting relationships. And we look carefully in the eyes, literally.
As for our technical side, when the number of users increased rapidly, we received technical inquiries. Customers asked to fix something, change, add features that are in demand in their market.
We urgently needed to customize the product for each new segment. And only 20 developers were responsible for this. So right now we are recruiting new technicians to put our Colossus on its feet. By the end of the year, the development team will be three times bigger.
4. React to changes
The main point is this: follow the trends in the world and specific countries where you operate and use them in your product. Features, tariff policies, business models, approaches to the organization, all this can vary from region to region and change very dynamically.
The recommendation is as old as the business itself, but it is often forgotten. The possible reason is excessive confidence in the development of the sphere. Ten years ago, cloud services began to conquer the market as an alternative to inconvenient and expensive box solutions. Constant light updates and subscription model have proven their effectiveness. But it’s a matter of time, and new options will gain relevance. This is influenced not only by technological opportunities, but also by solvency, and cultural features, and, of course, local and global crises.
Here is our case: SENET is available to customers by subscription. The price is modest, about $100 per month. It depends on the size of the gaming center and the features required by the customer.
But, as it turned out, not everyone is willing to pay even a small amount of money for an intelligent product. They don’t see the point in doing so when they can download a primitive or cracked service. Even if it is limited in functionality and dangerous in terms of personal data. But it’s for free.
The goals of the country; the goals of the economy can be held to ransom by the misuse of content. As an example, in one country, we were surprised to find that billing systems compete with those who offer a larger bank of pirated films. Of course, we did not and do not do that.
It was extremely difficult to convince small business owners to buy quality legitimate software, and it would be even more economical. We argued that the program saves budget on technical engineers, saves money from manual theft by administrators, and it updates games with no need to close gaming lounges for technical breaks.
However, in some countries, it did not work. We realized that we were fighting windmills. Anti-piracy education programs were not part of our plans, so we went the other way.
From September in some countries SENET is available as freeware. The main feature can be used free of charge, premium features are available at an additional cost. Our earnings are from ads that are viewed by the users and additional services and products. The people who came to play are our direct target audience, so the financial indicators did not suffer from this decision.
What are the quantitative results of such an experiment? Now we are being joined by 100-150 new gaming centers and eSports arenas every month. Undoubtedly, after the end of the quarantine, the growth of new customers will increase 5-10 times.
In addition, we were the first among e-sports management systems to offer gaming centers owners a revenue share model. This is beneficial for both parties, our client earns, increases the visitor base, respectively, can sell even more advertising (broadcasted by our product) and related products. As a result, our share increases in proportion to the increase in our client’s earnings.
The pandemic also pushed us to these decisions, because the mandatory pause forced the owners to look for ways to reduce costs. For many, we removed monthly payments during a full lockdown. We realized that if we stay in the usual paradigm, we would quickly lose momentum — and our current customers.
Gartner estimates that the SaaS solutions market will reach nearly $ 105 billion in 2020 and generate about $141 billion in 2022. “The ongoing transition from local licensed software to subscription-based SaaS models, coupled with the growing need for new software tools during the COVID-19 is a driver of SaaS growth,” says researchers in the Forecast: Public Cloud Services, Worldwide, 2018-2024, 2Q20 Update.
And although this growth rate is slowing down, the market offers endless opportunities for SaaS solutions. The requirements for process automation and customization services became higher during the pandemic, and they continue to grow. No one wants some general service. Time and technology dictate an individual approach to each client. This is a great chance for both tech giants and small teams.