Turning your customers into “Brand Ambassadors” has always been the dream. The biggest difference between most SaaS and Open Source is that the Open Source customers get something for their participation. They get to shape and “own” the product. Until SaaS figures out how to give something as valuable back to their community, it will be hard for the community to reach the same level.
Ben, in the spirit of Seth Godin’s post about thinking of something very valuable to give your best customer without expecting anything in return, what should SaaS companies give their communities to fire them up?
So here goes… bear in mind that each business offering is different so this advice is very broad brush, I’m more than keen to talk to individual SaaS enterprises to discuss specific strategies for achieving their aim. Anyway;
- There is no reason that SaaS users cannot feel the same sense of “ownership” as open sourcies. Many open source organisations are viable businesses, there is no reason why a linux business model could not be utilised for a SaaS offering
- Make your users feel special. If I subscribe to a SaaS CRM service, and obtain extra bang for my back, some extra service that is complementary to the primary offering but distinct, I will feel inclined to champion that product
- Allow the users to shape the product. Go beyond beta testing and foster a culture of participatory development
- Open the floodgates – go public with the intention to build a free SaaS product with community led deveopment and build in an alternative revenue stream other than subscriptions
- Find a niche that is so under-served by current offerings that just by creating a product (free or subscription) you attract passionate champions
- Adopt a persona of the underdog, appear to be a fighter battling the incumbents
- Find a vertical that is unserved by traditional software offerings – Facebook bought social networking to a bunch of non social networkers. TradeMe introduced internet auctions (and in many cases the internet itself) to a number of traders
- Aggregate the spend so that you per subscription amount can be as low as possible