Ever wondered what it takes to build or develop an enterprise SaaS product? Or is your team working on one already but want to know if you have your checklist updated with the latest information on what goes into the development of great SaaS products that add value to other businesses? If so, then you’ve come to the right place as this article aims to point out four things you need to consider when building an enterprise SaaS product.
1. User Research
As with all products and services to be created, an extensive user research needs to be done to understand the target market or user base for your SaaS product. A User research is a process that enables entrepreneurs and product owners learn about their target audience, find solutions to their problems and create solutions that their target audience will find valuable. This information also provides insight into the demographics of people facing those problems and the solutions they have tried in the past towards solving those problems and that’s where your Buyer Persona comes in.
Is your SaaS product a B2B, B2C solution or both? This is one important question you need to address before you commence development of your SaaS product. A properly conducted user research arms you with all the information you need about your user base so you can make very informed design decisions and hit the market with a bull's eye approach.
A user persona is a semi-fictional account of the actual users, customers or businesses that will potentially become a user when your SaaS app is released. You should research and include some or all of the following characteristics in your user personas, depending on your specific strategic needs:
- business or personal challenges,
- pain points,
- job title,
Tailor your user persona with relevant information that you can use to better understand the needs of your user base. A well built user persona will help you better improve your app and make it useful for your target user base.
2. Market and Competitor Research
Market research is a process the objective of which is to ascertain the viability of a new product, service or in this case, the process of finding out if there is a market for your enterprise SaaS product. It is another very important aspect to consider before building an enterprise SaaS product as it gives you insight into the market. Market research helps entrepreneurs:
- make informed decisions,
- remove the guesswork out of innovation,
- helps entrepreneurs and business owners to invest their time and resources into the most profitable ideas and projects.
There are mainly two types of market research that you can conduct before developing your enterprise SaaS, primary and secondary.
Primary research is the process of gathering first-hand information about your market from users. This can be carried out either yourself or through a market research professional but the important thing is that you control the entire process.
Primary research provides the most accurate market data as you would be collecting data from your prospective users directly. But it could be very expensive.
The following methods are used in conducting primary research:
- Customer Surveys are detailed studies of a market to gather data on customer attitudes, impressions and opinions. It is important to have a defined group of people to be surveyed as you cannot carry out surveys on everyone - and that’s where your buyer persona comes in. Online tools like Survey Monkey, Zoho Survey, Survey Gizmo help you in gathering the data you need for this process.
- Questionnaires are also primary research methods focused on sampling opinions from a group of people that represent your product’s target audience. Just like surveys, they can be executed using online tools like Typeform, Survicate, Survey Monkey, Qualtrics to name a few.
- Focus groups require gathering a group of people that fit your buyer persona and conducting in-person interviews with them. For an enterprise SaaS product, you can achieve this by selecting a list of startup founders, or C-level executives that form part of your buyer persona and interview them.
This will provide you with accurate insights into their needs, products they are currently using, extra features they expect from those products and what drives their decision to go ahead with a product or service.
Secondary research is the process of using market data that has already been provided by a third-party service or software to determine the viability of your product. A good secondary research starts with understanding your competitors so it’s a good practice to make a list of competitors for your enterprise SaaS. Secondary research sources include:
- Free Public Sources. These provide market reports and statistics on top-performing products or businesses in your industry. These reports can be accessed freely on tools like Statista.
- Commercial Sources. Services that provide research information for a fee. If you have the funds, this can save you a lot of time and hassle by providing you a well-put research. Some of the well-known research companies are djs research and iResearch Services.
Define Your Competition
Defining your product’s competition is a much more detailed process than just pitting Company A against another Company B. In most cases, your competition will either be:
- a division of another company like Adobe Spark owned by Adobe Systems or
- a whole company like Canva.com.
A very effective way to define your competition is by searching for products or companies with overlapping services to your SaaS product. This can be achieved by defining the industry term relevant to your SaaS (like business intelligence) and searching for similar industries and products in this space via the G2Crowd Software Search Tool.
Research Your Competitor’s Stack
Once you’re done defining your competition research, it is important to know what powers their product - the programming language, framework, libraries and plugins. In addition to this, you also want to know how they market their products, what special offers they provide, their pricing structure and a look into their clients.
In gathering this data, you need special tools like BuiltWith Technology Lookup to help you out in understanding your competition. BuiltWith Technology Lookup provides detailed insight into all the tech and marketing information you need about any business just by inputting its URL.
For illustrative purposes, we’ll be conducting a research on Canva to know what technologies are used to power the product including the plugins working behind the scenes. So go ahead and input “canva.com” into the search bar and click the Lookup button.
The default result displayed in the search results is a Technology Profile which gives a categorized list of all the libraries, frameworks and add-ons used to build the website. Find the full list below:
- analytics and tracking services,
- language files,
- CDN service providers,
- advertising services,
- SSL certificates,
- web hosting providers,
- email hosting providers,
- operating systems and servers,
- CSS media queries that are in use by canva.com.
Detailed Technology Profile gives you insight into the last time a framework, library, plugin, analytic service or advertising service was detected to be in use by Canva.
This information allows you to study the growth of the company and by researching each of the technologies in use, you can determine the reasons why some were discontinued and why others are still in use. Lastly, and most importantly, the Meta Data Profile gives you a summarized amount that the company you’re researching spends on technology. In this case, BuiltWIth shows that Canva spends about $2000 every month on software engineering tools.
3. MVP Planning
Now that you’ve discovered what your target market wants, researched your competition, and documented the likely stack that will power your SaaS product, it’s time to plan your MVP. MVP (minimum viable product) is a technique of creating an early prototype of a website or a product. It offers the core features and interactivity for a test-run by early adopters of your product.
According to Techopedia, your minimum viable product should have the following characteristics:
- it should have enough value that people are willing to use it,
- demonstrate enough future benefit to retain early adopters,
- provide a feedback loop to guide future development.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the steps to be taken when planning your minimum viable product.
Identify and Document Your Business Need
Your enterprise SaaS product satisfies a need, which you have already discovered during the user research process so it’s time to put that information to use. Whether you are meeting a current need or filing a gap that has not been met by other SaaS products, it is important to determine what the short-term and long-term goal of your product is.
Another important point to note is the success criteria of your product. Dan Kosir, Director of Marketing at ClearBridge Mobile, explains that you need to set the criteria that determines whether your product will be successful or not. This criteria, Dan explains, does not have to be made up by just one metric but could be a combination of more than one.
Choose the Unique Features Your SaaS is going to stand out with
Once you have gathered data on what your target market needs, it’s time to describe what makes your SaaS unique from other products already on the market. A quick example is Snapchat in its early days versus Instagram. There were various social media applications already in the market at the time Snapchat launched but what made it unique was the fact that it provided users with a different way to share special moments using short videos that other users could engage with. Knowing what makes your SaaS unique will save you lots of effort, time and money as you would already have a clearly defined focus for your MVP. Once you’re done with this step, it’s time to plan what your core features are and what will make up add-ons for your product.
Differentiate Between Core Features and Add-Ons
You might be faced with a lot of things to develop for your minimum viable product but it is best to differentiate which features are core features and which features will come as add-ons. One way to achieve this as described by Antonio Duarte, is to separate your features into two lists of core features that you should focus on right away and add-ons that can be included after the MVP launch.
Plan How You Will Raise Funds
The development of your final product will require funds from investors but these same investors would love to see a viable product before parting with their money. So how do you then fund the development of your MVP? Most startup entrepreneurs pitch friends, family members or a trusted network that they belong to in order to raise funds for their minimum viable product. Others make use of some of their savings from other jobs or another business they run to fund the development of their MVP.
In case you do not have access to any of these options, you can create a crowdfunding campaign to fund your MVP. If you are going down this route, ensure you create a give back system to those who fund it. One way to do that is to give them a month-free access to use the product after the MVP launch.
4. Who is Your Team?
After you have picked what features are the most important aspects for you in your SaaS application, the next step is to build your execution team. Ideas are worthless without execution, so make sure to build a team that will be able to execute. When it comes to team building you have two main options, in-house and outsourced.
David Semerad, CEO and Founder of STRV, a mobile and software development company, gave a hint on what should fuel your decision of either approach to team building. In his words,
“If you are developing a product that is not yet on the market and is on par with Facebook or Uber, then going in-house is probably the best choice, as you will be facing a long-term commitment and lofty international goals. Your team will be under one roof; your team members will share your vision and you can easily change the direction of your project at a moment’s notice”
Choosing the Right Development Software
Now that you have a great team, you need to sit down with them, brainstorm and decide on the engineering solution that will be able to provide the solutions that your targeted user base needs. Based on the competitor research, understand which software engineering solution will help you create the product and understand which one is the best fit for your use case. To help with this step of your enterprise SaaS development, Incredo offers a free consultation to guide you with your SaaS development, so you will be sure to start off your entrepreneurial journey on the right foundation.