Who Are You Building Your Business Applications For?

I have had the privilege of meeting with many early stage business software CEOs and teams over the past 5 years since moving from an operational role to an investing role.

Each of these teams is passionate about the products they are creating. However, many, in my personal opinion, share something in common that may prevent them from growing their companies as fast as they might otherwise.

Most are so intent on building their products for and then marketing/selling to daily practitioners they forget about creating a version of the product or a set of features in the product for the people who aren’t likely to use the product very often, or at all; the people who must approve the expenditure.

These are typically the CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and/or other senior executives.

This group may not necessarily appreciate the specific product features required by the personnel who will use the application/product on a regular basis but I believe it is critical to ensure that the product contain features that are directly applicable to them.

Without such features, it makes the initial sales process more difficult than it needs to be and – in the case of recurring/subscription business models – it puts the yearly decision for the company to continue to use the application and sign the contract up for unnecessary scrutiny.

Most of the people who sit in these approval roles are measured by and interested in key operational results of the business. Consequently, I believe there are 3 features every business application should contain:

  • The ability for key executives- or their staff – to set thresholds within your application that they consider to be KPIs (key performance indicators) and to have the application automatically notify them via email when those thresholds are met/unmet and the reasons why.
  • The ability to deliver graphs/charts that can be easily configured to identify and highlight critical elements of the business that your application helps operationalize.
  • Usage reports that can be delivered periodically that  include user login statistics along with key operational results.

You want your application to touch key senior executives on a regular basis. That way, they are reminded about your company regularly (increasing your brand presence and importance) and realize that your application is providing their company with value. Without these fundamental application elements, you are in fact leaving it up to the skills of your daily practitioners to convey the value of the application(s) up the management chain.

While many may be quite good at doing this, others may not be quite as adept. As a result, in the case of software companies that use recurring revenue models, you are putting your annual contract renewal in the hands of lower-level personnel.

If you want supporting evidence of what I’m talking about, pick any start up and go to their website. While you are there, I am confident you will see comprehensive product feature overviews and use cases, etc. for daily practitioners. However, seldom will you find any discussion regarding product features for senior executives and/or material for the daily practitioner to “sell” their upper management on why they need your application.

So, if you build business application software, I would encourage you to look critically at your product and your website and ask yourself if you are really addressing everyone from the lower level practitioner who may need to use your product daily to the senior executive who may never use your products directly.

With a few relatively simple changes, you might help to accelerate your company’s revenue growth and decrease your churn rates.

  • Good piece Bruce.  At Adobe I noticed individuals starting to buy SasS apps to compensate for weak traditional enterprise wide apps (i.e. a rep buying a seat of SFDC instead of using SAP CRM or marketer using Evernote rather than the CMS or Basecamp over project mngt).  The first thing I’d do is check out the product site to determine if this is a rogue misuse of our budget or an individual act of innovation.  If its clear that the app solves enterprise class problems at exec level per the three bullets above,  firms can quickly find new advocates with significantly more scale to deploy their apps.  

  • Bruce, I could not agree with you more. I think the fallacy in the thinking that we will go the grassroots and then swarm the company and eventually get the management buy-in is the prospects/clients are now fragmented. And with turnover in companies the retention of that fragment customer (i.e departmental head) becomes a challenge as well. With a little thought towards what it means to the company or the leadership itself, would definitely help a quicker sale and  a larger one in some cases.

  • Great post Bruce, thank you

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