Baton invited renowned CS expert Rod Cherkas to provide insights on the challenges of managing implementations at Series B stage companies.
As the founder and CEO of consulting company HelloCCO, Rod has held post-sale leadership roles at such CS market makers as Gainsight, Marketo and RingCentral. In this second of three posts, Rod offers his expertise on the unique challenges of the implementation process at the Series B stage for SaaS startups.
Following a successful Series A, Series B SaaS companies are focused on scaling their operations to secure greater market share. These companies have demonstrated that they have the product and user base to succeed on a larger stage, but in order to move forward, must fine-tune their processes and further develop their offering.
As part two of our three-part series, we explore what happens at Series B SaaS companies during the implementation process. We highlight the changes to approach, roles, and process between Series A and Series B, and what’s most important at this stage.
Unlike Series A companies that may do whatever it takes to attract and please early clients, Series B companies generally have a better established (and often documented) approach to implementations. There are often implementation offerings or packages that are available for sale to new clients. They have a clear value proposition, pricing and expectations for timelines included. Sales organizations are likely to attach these implementation offerings to new client deals, which also plays an important role in setting expectations for these clients. In order to meet the needs of an expanding client base, there may also be different offerings, pricing models, and delivery models that align with the structure of the sales organization.
During Series A, there is little definition or organization in terms of implementation teams. In contrast, Series B SaaS companies generally have an implementation team with clear responsibilities for initiating, managing and completing the implementations. These teams (sometimes described as professional services organizations) likely now have a manager responsible for team results and expectations.
On an individual level, there may start to be specialized roles on this team, based on expertise in project management, the technical/integration aspects, and the general consulting/implementation process. There may also be different segments that start to develop, such as a team that works exclusively with SMB clients or a team that works only with Enterprise clients.
Customers in different segments have different types of needs, so it is important to understand those needs and differences in order to ensure success. Enterprise teams may view this not only as a software implementation, but also as a change management exercise, as there are many stakeholders that may be involved or brought along for the ride. SMBs may have limited time to do these implementations, so time spent on implementations takes away from other work they need to do.
As the implementation team grows, it is increasingly important that there is documentation in place that sets goals and benchmarks for the different customer types or segments. This documentation creates consistency, establishes guidelines for scope, streamlines new hire onboarding, and helps sales teams set expectations successfully with prospects. Teams may begin requiring their team members to track their time against each of their projects in order to aid resource planning and recognize revenue.
Sometimes, the implementation process for a new offering gets blended into an existing team, and doesn’t get the attention and focus it needs to get those customers successful. This is especially true for companies that have multiple product lines. Companies must think carefully when assessing the need for different teams required to do the implementations. It should look more like a Series A type process, but lives in a Series B type organization with different measures of success.
At this stage, clients may also consider leveraging delivery partners if it is appropriate for their business. They start to see a predictable enough need for the extra staffing (staff augmentation) to handle the variation in volume throughout the quarterly cycle. Partners also may have the experience and team capacity to handle implementations of larger clients.
What’s Important At This Stage?
In addition to what’s important at Series A companies during implementations, Series B companies prioritize the following:
- Consistency – Similar types of clients should be able to expect similar processes and similar outcomes. As the team begins to scale, there is more importance placed on delivering a consistent experience to each client.
- Predictability – Forecasting becomes more important as it helps teams set expectations for how long it will take clients to go live. It also allows them to estimate the amount of headcount resources they will need to handle the pipeline of client implementation projects, and determine if and when partners need to be brought in or subcontracted.
- Specialization of Roles – Establishing and defining responsibilities helps teams identify what roles are required to improve outcomes for clients, boost productivity for the team, and create satisfying work for team members.
- Building relationships with Sales – Liaising with sales helps implementation teams get a better idea of the implementations coming down the pipeline so that they can be prepared and appropriately staffed. It’s also important to have predictable bookings of services revenue attached to new client deals. Good handoffs and effective information sharing allows the implementation team to get off to a fast start with clients.
- Financial Targets – At this stage, the implementation team may have financial targets they need to hit each quarter. This could include bookings (sale of services to be delivered in the future), revenue (actual work delivered in a quarter) and expenses (cost of the team and other expenses). However, as this is often a huge change for a team that had previously been focused primarily on customer experiences, not all managers or implementation consultants enjoy this shift.
- Documentation of Processes – In this stage, processes, best practices and workflows for different segments of clients, specialized roles, and even regions have been developed. They begin to be documented to ensure consistency and streamline onboarding of new hires and clients.
- Financial and Productivity Metrics – As teams scale, there may be increased focus on the financial impact in order to ensure that they can operate efficiently. Teams may start tracking utilization, bookings, billing rates, and revenue delivered on both an individual and team basis. Not everyone will like having to track their time, or having their time tracked, but it is important to ensure that resources are being allocated efficiently.
- Incentives – At this stage, the fun of being part of a fast-evolving startup may have passed, so individuals may be measured or motivated by different things. In order to keep employees satisfied, companies may have compensation programs where some part of an employee’s pay is variable. Team leaders must decide what outcomes to incent, and whether they are measurable or just qualitative.
Series B SaaS companies have demonstrated that their product and team are capable of success, but in order to successfully scale, they must fine-tune their implementation process. By refining roles and responsibilities, improving documentation, and tracking performance metrics, they can achieve the consistency and predictability needed to push them into Series C and beyond.
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About this series:
This article is the second in a three-part series that looks at Series A, B, and C SaaS companies during implementations. The articles were developed in collaboration with Rod Cherkas, founder and CEO of HelloCCO, a consulting firm that works alongside CEOs, Post-Sale leaders, and their investors at fast-growing Enterprise SaaS companies. Since 2002, Rod has been at the forefront of defining and executing innovative post-sale experiences for recurring revenue businesses in ways that improve client onboarding, increase retention, expand product adoption, and accelerate growth in shareholder value.