Why Simplicity Is Crucial for SaaS Businesses (and How to Keep Things Simple)
Simplicity is undoubtedly worth fighting for — because once it gets away, many other things (including your customers) are likely to follow.
The software world is chock-full of models, frameworks, schemas, configs, processes, workflows, journeys, blueprints and so many other business-planning growth strategies that make every business consultant's mouth water. And yet, the term that I seem to hear most often when it comes to strategy these days — a term so compelling, yet so seemingly beyond the grasp of achievement for one growing company after another — is quite simply "simplicity." Pun intended.
You see, simplicity itself is quite possibly THE underlying principle and north star that guides every SaaS founder's visionary approach to starting a company in the first place — even more so than our old favorite term circa 2002-2020: "disruption."
And it's easy to see why. After all, simplicity is the ideology that just keeps getting away. It is the ideal partner that you're always thinking of, trying to nurture and care for ... until you walk in the door one day, and it's gone. It abandoned you (unless you abandoned it first) when "real life" took over, or in this case — real customers, real feature requests, real product feedback, real churn issues or real cash flow problems. Suddenly, simplicity became so simple to cast aside. Until it wasn't.
So, why do we let simplicity get away? Especially if it's the guiding principle that stokes our SaaS fire in the first place and is so closely tied to running an efficient, outcomes-driven business? How can you hold onto it, nurture it and keep it as your north star even as your business scales, changes and evolves?
Why simplicity matters
When you truly dig into a SaaS business and its metrics, simplicity is more than just an intangible term or guiding principle. Simplicity, in fact, is and should always be very tangible — tied to real tactics, real results and real metrics that can be correlated back to efficient, durable growth in every corner of your business.
Simplicity should impact:
How you innovate: As your company and customer base matures, it can be appealing to plot every little feature request onto your product roadmap (especially the ones coming from your largest, highest-paying customers). But maintaining balance and prioritizing feedback is critical to your ability to continue innovating while also maintaining the intuitive (dare I say "simple") product experience that your users demand and the NPS scores that your executives expect.
How you market and sell: We see it all the time — as companies scale, products become more feature-rich, and the problems you solve grow deeper or wider, your value proposition evolves, too. Ask any seasoned product marketer, and they'll tell you that one of their top challenges on a day-to-day basis is that of translating complex speeds and feeds into simple business benefits that sales reps can easily vocalize and prospects can easily understand. Solutions that clearly articulate how and when they create value and deliver an easy purchasing experience for prospects also deliver faster sales cycles, higher average deal sizes, and lower customer acquisition costs (CAC) for you.
How you retain and grow customers: Perhaps nothing's more important in today's shifting business climate than your ability to deliver value after the deal is closed and, as a result, retain and expand your customers. Typically, this starts at onboarding, where clear and concise processes can drive key metrics such as time-to-value (TTV) and user adoption of key features. But it also extends into how you engage your customers throughout their entire post-sales journey — making it easy for them to access support resources and documentation, engage either digitally or in-person with your customer success team, add or purchase more seats, features or products, and ultimately, see the ROI that you're delivering for them.
How to keep things simple
I'll tell you firsthand that there are very few thrills in life like starting a company from scratch, landing your first customers, then scaling it into a real, living business. But there are also very few challenges like it. Growth is hard. Adding people, customers, investors, advisors, features, products, services, solutions, markets, geographies — well, you can see how it can easily create a tangled barn of yarn ... if you let it.
So, here's a little advice on how to keep things simple. You've probably heard many of these when getting relationship advice:
Ask and listen (like, really listen): No matter what stage of growth your company is at, having an ear on the voice of your customers is critical. Whether you're sending surveys, collecting NPS or CSAT scores, soliciting product or feature feedback in-app or via a digital community, or leveraging a good old-fashioned phone call to understand what's working (and what's not), it's perhaps the most important activity your company can undertake. The only thing more important is making sure you're truly listening and responding to the feedback as you receive it.
Learn to say "no": Let's face it — saying "no" is hard, especially when a request comes from one of your highest-paying customers. But knowing how and when to say "no" is the only way to keep your product from turning into a bloated, unusable mess. Have clarity and reasoning behind your roadmap. Understand how to ask for clarification, reframe questions and offer alternatives. And most importantly, even if you're going to say "no," always make sure your customer feels heard, acknowledged, and appreciated.
Know your numbers: Last, but certainly not least, learn to leverage your data when making important decisions. Nothing makes it easier to make fast, informed decisions than the facts. And somewhere in all that data you've gathered are the answers you're looking for. The more you can leverage it with simple, insightful reports, the easier it will be to turn those insights into smart, decisive actions.
Keeping things simple while growing a business is hard. And when your product is made from millions of lines of code? Well, it can be even harder. But like anything worth having, simplicity is undoubtedly worth fighting for, worth planning for and worth working for — because once it gets away, many other things (including your customers) are likely to follow.
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