A SaaS Cocktail: 12 Ingredients for Running Our Business
The other day, I was looking over our list of customers with our new VP of Finance and noticed that quite a few SaaS companies (like us) were on the list. It got me thinking about all of the various SaaS products we use to run our business…and it turns out to be a pretty long list. Some of these we stumbled upon and have stuck with because they just work. With others, we evaluated multiple options and finally took the plunge.
Of course we take advantage of some internal systems (like for source control) and use some installed applications (like MS Office and Quickbooks), but by and large we are very dependent on online software. And by and large we’ve been very happy with the service, performance, price, and feature set of these tools.
So if you’re looking to start a business (or just thinking about converting over to more web-based software), we recommend you check out some of the following.
Email Exchange Hosting: 123Together
The website leaves something to be desired, but 123Together does a decent job with hosting our Exchange 2003 email. Most of us use Outlook for access, but the webmail version is always available if we’re logging in from other machines.
Virtual PBX: RingCentral
Truth be told, we only recently got land lines installed in the LiquidPlanner offices. Up until then, we used our personal cell phones to receive calls forwarded from our 800 number. We each have an extension (plus general extensions for Sales, Support, Billing, etc.) and we can easily set the behavior we want for each line. Call forwarding is a no-brainer, and we can pass responsibility for answering the phone to different people when one of us is out of the office.
Website Hosting & Content Management: SquareSpace
This is a new one for us. We used to use Joomla, but frankly, it sucked (at least the version we had). It seems like we could barely change simple copy without involving a developer. Charles researched and tested SquareSpace himself, and it looked to have almost all of the features we needed. During the implementation process we ended up doing quite a bit of custom coding, but the platform itself is robust and the team very responsive. Look for another blog post soon on this with all the details.
Project Management, Bug Tracking, Document Storage, Collaboration: LiquidPlanner
This pretty much goes without saying. We’ve been using our own software to build LiquidPlanner (and run the rest of the projects in the company) for three years now. We keep all of our project plans, documents, dialogue, links, and timesheet data in LiquidPlanner. We also use it for bug tracking, which works quite well, so we don’t require a separate system for that. We can’t imagine managing projects any other way.
We shopped around quite a bit before deciding on Salesforce since it’s the most expensive tool in the mix. We looked at SugarCRM, Highrise, and a few others. Ultimately, Salesforce was the closest to what we needed. We’ve integrated it with our own internal administration tools, so we can get customer contact information and usage data (like trial expiration date and number of users –not actual project data!) from Salesforce without having to login to a separate system. But we pay for that convenience.
Online Demos: Acrobat Connect
Adobe Connect is my lifeline to the outside world. We have three separate accounts – one for support, one for sales, and one for biz dev/media. We do all of our demos/Q&A sessions, etc. using this tool. The only drawback I’ve found is that you can’t record the sessions for playback later.
Customer Feedback: Survey Monkey
We use Survey Monkey (the paid version) for collecting customer feedback at various points in the trial/usage process. I’d like to take better advantage of this tool, but we just haven’t had the time yet. Ease of use is big here – anybody on the team can create a survey (or analyze results) in minutes.
Email Marketing: Constant Contact
We use Constant Contact to send our new feature announcements and customer updates, usually about once a month or so. They’re good about making sure you’re following all the SPAM rules so your emails actually get through. Templates aren’t the easiest things to set up, but I’m able to copy and modify past emails to get new ones out the door pretty quickly.
Website Analytics: Google Analytics
For our size company, Google does the job well when it comes to Analytics. They’ve beefed up the service recently and I need to explore some of the new features, but we can get good data from the tool and use it to inform our marketing strategies and understand what’s working. I like being able to get a sense for how traffic is looking, where it’s coming from, and what search terms are performing well in just seconds (that’s usually all the time I have). Charles, on the other hand, likes to stay up late into the night pulling different reports and sending nuggets of information out to the rest of us.
I hesitate to list these, because I touch them so infrequently. But having them there when you need them is important. And dedicating more time to SEO is one of my new year’s resolutions.
Advertising: Google AdWords
We don’t spend a lot on marketing or advertising. Thankfully we get tons of traffic on word of mouth and natural search results alone. But along with a few other campaigns here and there, we do run some PPC ads on Google, with the help of the very talented folks at Confluence Digital.
Incident Management/Help Desk*: This category gets an asterisk, because we don’t have a SaaS solution in place. Not using yet, anyway. We’re thinking about using Zendesk – we’ve gotten some great recommendations for it (one customer even integrated LiquidPlanner with it!) and we’re ready to graduate to the next level. We welcome any comments about people’s experience with it or other tools.
So that’s the current list. At the end of the day, we love cloud software. And we hope LiquidPlanner is loved by other teams like ours.
P.S.: one more installed product I can’t live without – SnagIt by Techsmith. A must have for marketers.