How to Define Your Automation Strategy? Start with Key Business Infrastructure
It is no secret that many SaaS companies are heavily invested in growth, sometimes above everything else.
The rush to grow, however, may cause them to neglect other business optimization steps to optimize their business processes, such as automation initiatives.
In such cases, it often takes the emergence of a pain point to push them to take the issue seriously. Common pain points here include:
Trouble keeping up with invoicing
Inability to tend to customer support demands
Limitations with marketing activities
Devising a forward-looking automation strategy
Many SaaS companies start out with building their product and keeping their customers happy; sometimes, to the exclusion of almost everything else.
While this approach may suffice to get a business off the ground, it doesn’t necessarily translate to sustained growth.
Coming to this realization may happen over time for SaaS businesses, or it may happen suddenly. But when a wall is hit due to outdated business infrastructure, it’s important to develop a forward-looking strategy.
While your approach needs to be based on your company’s specific circumstances, many leading SaaS businesses are taking a forecast-based approach rather than a historical one.
SaaS companies looking to scale up need to predict their needs based on their current data and growth goals. This requires to reflect upon the following questions:
What levels of technology, personnel, and processes will be required to automate key processes and workflows?
What resources will you need to access?
How will your strategy impact your finances?
The ability to identify possible future scenarios can separate the winners from losers in the SaaS world.
It is important to adopt a proactive planning attitude toward the scenarios because it will typically take much longer to overcome a scenario when no plans have been made for it.
Furthermore, employing the right technology and processes can enable your SaaS business to scale.
Automating core business segments
There are three starting points for automation efforts:
The margins of your business
Core business segments
A combination of both
Starting at the fringes is the most risk-averse strategy you can adopt. As such, it is not where the biggest gains are.
Core business segments, on the other hand, maybe the fastest way to achieve automation-fueled growth.
Starting with these can put a company in an excellent position to rapidly become more efficient and support faster growth. Now, let’s take a look at four core business segments that are ripe for automation.
Marketing is an essential driver of growth. But if your marketing staff spends significant time on repetitive, low-value tasks, it cuts into their ability to attend to their primary function -- that is, helping get the word out about your company and drive qualified leads to grow the business.
With marketing relying heavily on SEO these days, there are plenty of opportunities to use software tools to automate key portions of the SEO process. These range from content creation to social media distribution, and more.
Make is an example of automation software that cuts down on the time it takes to access website activity data. For instance, you can easily connect Google Analytics to Slack, and get Analytics reports via Slack at any given frequency.
A recent report by CommuniGator and Smart Insights found that the highest-ranked advantages of marketing automation for B2B marketers were:
Improved user experience and relevance of communications (60%)
Higher conversion rates (59%)
Better quality leads (57%)
Generating more leads (57%)
As with marketing, your sales teams are heavily focused on bringing in new leads, as well as converting them to customers.
They’re also likely to work on cross-selling and upselling current customers to contribute to the growth effort.
Nonetheless, when bureaucratic workflows tie up your sales staff, their ability to get out there and meet with prospects (whether in-person or virtually) can be slowed down.
Sales automation tools can take care of processes that don’t require higher-level thinking and free up time for salespeople to sell. For example, searching through large lists of potential prospects to identify leads can be an extremely time-consuming process. Software using pre-set filters can automate this function, delivering better leads to salespeople in a shorter amount of time.
Another good example are follow-up emails. Automation software can easily streamline this task. Moreover, there are tools that can guide sales staff through every step of the nurturing process, providing reminders of scheduled calls and other interactions as a lead moves from prospect to customer.
Payment collection and invoicing
As SaaS companies climb through various growth phases, there’s typically an evolution of the systems they use. One of the most common moves is to scale up and outgrow old systems.
Given the crucial importance of the billing and revenue recognition processes, this should be a high priority for any growing SaaS business.
The first step is to make sure your company has a solid general ledger accounting system in place to ensure the correct accounting principles are applied to your invoices. Next, if your company is still using a manual billing process or outdated billing software, you should look to upgrade to an automated billing system.
Subscription-based billing that automates recurring invoices can be a vital tool for SaaS businesses. This ensures customers are billed correctly and consistently by reducing the potential for errors associated with manual billing systems. It also helps with revenue recognition, which is crucial for subscription businesses to get right.
Ideally, your IT system will provide access to a dashboard that can provide a quick view of all your company’s revenue sources. To enable real-time revenue monitoring, you should be able to source data for your dashboard right from your payment software.
Business models and pricing strategies vary for SaaS companies, and preparing invoices can become quite a complex task requiring the flexibility to invoice different customers in different ways. Basic billing systems may not be able to handle this type of complexity when it comes to providing recurring billing operations. They also often lack the agility needed to evolve your businesses to meet the changing demands of the market.
Using subscription billing software for SaaS billing can solve this issue and, in many cases, can also integrate with your technology stack to offer enhanced workflow functionality.
While customer service has long been appreciated as a crucial element in customer retention, it can also play a major role in spurring your company’s growth. After all, existing customers who know and appreciate your products and services are often the most likely to buy more and purchase new offerings.
Automated customer service tools can add efficiency to a variety of processes. One example is the use of tools that use machine learning to sort incoming email tickets from customers and send them to the proper departments. By efficiently routing tickets, customer service response time can be decreased, boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Automation can be especially helpful if you monitor customer service requests across a variety of channels. For instance, Make’s solution saves you from the chore of checking all customer-facing channels each time you log on by providing notifications if you’ve received customer tickets or requests on any channel. The app can also automatically use online translators to translate messages you receive from foreign customers and prospects.
Many customer service functions can benefit from some level of automation. The key is to focus on selecting the specific tools that can be of great utility to your company.
Avoiding fundraising and scaling roadblocks
Having an automation strategy can be crucial for SaaS businesses when it comes to raising capital. Lack of financial and operational transparency can be a roadblock to the process of raising funds from investors.
You can avoid this by building the proper infrastructure to automate the collection of the necessary data.
This is yet another reason why automation is important. It helps your business get ready to scale and meet high standards to win over venture capitalists—which can help your business earn its next round of funding.
The benefits of getting automation right
Implementing automation throughout your key infrastructure technology stack places your SaaS business in a prime position to reap significant operational benefits. The process can also produce data and metrics that give you an invaluable picture of your company’s revenue streams.
Selecting an automation strategy is part of the maturation process for SaaS businesses, and there is no point in delaying it further.