All Great Software is Self-Serve

This is one thing that I have learned in building software for both consumers and enterprises alike, that all great software products are essentially self-serve. And while most of the greatest software companies of previous decades were built on top of platform monopolies or on the brute strength of their sales force, great software companies of the next decade will be built upon great user experience and will follow a self serve model.

So what is a self serve product ?

“A self-serve product is one where a customer can go through the full product experience — from signing up to first use to activating new features to managing their account to upgrading and/or cancellation — all without ever needing to interact with another person”

-Gokul Rajaram, Ex-Facebook, Ex-Google and Product Lead at Square

Self serve is not only restricted to just the product, but encompasses entire discovery to value lifecycle, enabling people to discover your software, understand the value proposition, sign up for it very quickly and start deriving value from it.

Internet has truly democratised how the software gets delivered and it has become possible for the first time in history for software companies to serve the long tail of small and medium businesses in a cost effective way.

On a parallel front consumer tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix have been making it ridiculously easy to get things done for billions of consumers by providing an absolute frictionless user experience.

This level of UX has pushed the benchmark for consumers magnitudes of notches up . And this has triggered a massive wave for Consumerization of IT where the principles of design and simplicity are helping product leaders rethink what enterprise software means. The dull bloated world of complex enterprise software applications and platforms is witnessing a renaissance of User experience design, driven by the principles of consumer tech products and technical sophistication of consumers.

Days of armies of sales force trying to sell complex bloated software to enterprises which nobody other than the top management loves , are nearing an end, replaced by a new breed of cutting edge software products which have DNA of consumer products and user experience design at the very forefront.

The golden strategy in this new world order of Enterprise software is ‘Land and Expand’. A small set of users within the company start using the product and they love it so much that it spreads within the company by word of mouth. Because of the simple per user monthly recurring pricing a team leader doesn’t mind putting in his credit card initially which he can easily get reimbursed. Then over a period of time entire functions within companies are using the new product without even a single sales person getting involved. All billing, support, upgradation is a part of the productised service.

Self Serve gives user an instant gratification to see the value as quickly as possible. Customer habits on B2C front have morphed into digitally pro-active personas who don’t have patience for anything other than rapid feedback loops. This new age customer is not gonna email you or call you, he will simply search for his answers online.

B2B software companies which had all of their focus on following a high touch sales hunt model are trying to get off the treadmill and build all of their systems, people and product and marketing efforts to target the exponentially growing segment of self serve customers. Companies which have traditional sales-force first products and strategy are getting outcompeted by smaller and agile self-serve first companies.

Usually self serve first products target the long tail specific customer segments first and slowly as their product matures, they move up the ladder to mid to large enterprises.

Slack is a very good example of self serve first product which followed the strategy of ‘land and expand’ and also since it was a chat product , it had inherent virality to it which it was able to leverage because of its product design. Atlassian has built a Decacorn of a company with this strategy.

So SaaS enterprise products which are built in a serve -serve first fashion have tendency to grow really fast because of bigger top funnel, agile mindset, low operating costs and amazing user experience. Easy to use simple software is required by companies of all sizes- whether a small 5 member company or 10,000 member fortune 500 company.

Although it is easier said than done. Many of B2B SaaS companies which I talk to end up building their products in self-serve fashion, not necessarily as a function of their initial strategy but more because of set of constraints that forces them to think from the customer’s lens. Often times they don’t have the traditional sales know how or resources to go the conventional way which leads them to focus on online-only channels for customer acquisitions and depend upon product levers and messaging to activate them into paying customers.

Self Serve Product Design is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it

There are couple of tactical and practical things you need to keep in mind while designing great self serve products. They may seem very simple, but it is how well companies end up executing on them that makes all the difference.

Reduce Onboarding Friction

Onboarding of new users is the most important part of product experience cycle and you can’t afford to screw it up. So make sure this is as frictionless as possible and requires as few clicks as possible. Think of using commonly deployed single sign on solutions by Facebook or Google where most users already have their accounts. Another simple rule is don’t ask for anything more than what is required to help a user sign up. The idea is that user should start seeing the value from the product as soon as possible.

Comprehensive Documentation

Customers don’t want to contact support for little things and they are more comfortable to search for solutions to their queries by searching on google or through your documentation. So this makes having a very comprehensive documentation of your product and all the frequently asked questions nothing short of table stakes. Stripe does it really well with its extensive interactive API documentation. This will ensure that customers don’t require any unnecessary hand holding to get a complete product experience and can solve common issues themselves.

24 x 7 Support

Let me clarify, self serve doesn’t mean no customer support. It just means no ‘high touch’ customer support, but when it comes to helping customers help themselves in a light touch scalable manner , self serve products need to be light years ahead of their legacy counter parts. Despite all of your efforts to make product experience as smooth and directions as self -explanatory as possible, there will be some users who will get stuck, so having a highly responsive 24 x 7 support is critical to help them out.

No Feature Bloat

You need to say 1000 nos before saying yes to a feature. Don’t overcomplicate the product and don’t try to build everything for everyone. It is advisable to have a simple yet powerful core and then you can provide add ons or plugins for power users who want more functionality. You will realise the variance graph of those users follows Pareto’s principle where only 20 percent of your power users will be using 80% of advanced functionality. So start saying No to feature requests.

Clear and Simple Pricing

Pricing is also a key determinant to decide where does your product lie in the self serve continuum. Make sure the product assortment-pricing matrix is simple and has cheap tiered plans for teams to get started. Also it will be great to have an unrestrictive free trial to hook the initial customers who are in exploration and testing phase. Since CAC for self-serve products is low, they are able to charge significantly less as compared to other conventional software offerings and still manage to maintain their payback period well within 8–12 months. Having a clear idea about Lifetime value of your customers by identifying how long they stick with you will also help you tweak and improve you pricing on the fly.

So how prepared are your company’s marketing, positioning, pricing and product functions to ride this massive wave of Consumerization Of Enterprise IT ?

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