If you are the founder of an early stage SaaS start-up, or simply someone who has worked in an early stage SaaS start-up, we'd love for you to complete the survey below. What we want to know is which key message would be most compelling to you as you considering buying a handful or point solutions versus Outseta - a platform that offers basic CRM, subscription billing, email marketing, customer support, and reporting tools that are fully integrated from the get-go. Further discussion of the relevance of each of these key messages can be found in the article below.
When we wrapped up our idea validation interviews for Outseta in December 2016, one of the first items we turned our attention to was creating a first draft of our company’s value proposition and messaging guidelines. We wanted to make sure that as we started talking about our start-up publicly we were doing so in a consistent manner that resonated with an audience of early stage SaaS start-ups as much as possible.
The output of that work is what you’ll see on our website, our social media channels, our Angellist profile, and just about every other public facing mention of Outseta that you can find today. Over the last 7 or so months our product has gone from an idea to a minimum viable product, we’ve talked to dozens of additional start-ups, and as we get set to really step on the customer acquisition pedal for the first time it feels like the right time revisit our messaging to make sure that our go-to-market messaging is as compelling as possible.
In all honesty, we still don’t know exactly how we should be talking about Outseta and which messages will resonate best with our audience. On top of that, we don’t yet have the website traffic to test our way into conclusive results in terms of which message variations perform best. With that in mind, this post will serve two objectives:
- To offer an honest, stream of consciousness look at my thoughts on our messaging.
- To call on other SaaS founders to get their input on the messaging that would best resonate with them.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Outseta Messaging Guidelines Version One
The statement below is the first version of our value proposition. This is written in a fairly “standard” format, with each of the words in CAPS representing a trigger word that should be followed by a particular part of the value proposition statement.
Outseta Value Proposition, V1
“Outseta is FOR early stage, SaaS start-ups WHO are frustrated by the time, complexity, and costs involved in integrating multiple software solutions required to effectively run their businesses. Outseta IS the only all-in-one platform integrating subscription billing, email marketing, support, CRM, and reporting tools THAT reduces costs, maintenance, and helps SaaS start-ups get off the ground faster BECAUSE a single, clear view of their business’ operational performance allows them to better focus their efforts and spend more time building their business.”
For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job with the first version of our value prop - I don’t read this and consider any of it to be “wrong” at this point, but there are a few areas that I think we might be able to tighten up. Let’s go through it piece by piece.
FOR (target customer): “early stage, SaaS start-ups”
We got this part right. While there are likely other types of businesses who could derive value from Outseta, this is who we are building the product for and I think we’re right to keep our target market narrowly defined at this stage.
WHO (what’s the opportunity): “are frustrated by the time, complexity, and costs involved in integrating multiple software solutions required to effectively run their businesses.”
This part I’m not so sure about. In order for a SaaS start-up to have felt this frustration, we must either be dealing with second time founders who are now working on a new start-up or a company that’s already tried to integrate a handful of point solutions and struggled with it. I think the majority of the companies that are going to be a good fit for Outseta likely haven’t made those software decisions yet, so I’m not sure that they’re actually frustrated and feeling pain just yet. I think it’s possible that the real opportunity more about consolidation and working one vendor to address these needs - that means one bill, one company to call for support, and a smaller technology footprint. My thinking is that many companies will understand the benefits of buying a platform solution, even if they haven’t necessarily felt the pain associated with taking a different path.
IS (what are we offering): “the only all-in-one platform integrating subscription billing, email marketing, support, CRM, and reporting tools”
I think we got this part right as well. This is the most succinct, easily understood description of what it is that we’re offering. I’ve heard from others that we might be making a bit of an over-statement by saying we’re “the only” vendor offering this, but from what I’ve been able to find we’re the only vendor offering this combination of functionality specifically for SaaS start-ups.
THAT (differentiating benefit statement): “reduces costs, maintenance, and helps SaaS start-ups get off the ground faster”
I feel pretty good about this part of the value prop statement as well. We deliver on this, allowing SaaS start-ups to launch more efficiently.
BECAUSE (proof statement - why does this matter): “a single, clear view of their business’ operational performance allows them to better focus their efforts and spend more time building their business.”
This is the other component of the statement that I think we might not have quite right. Giving a start-up a clearer, more useful understanding of their customers and their business’ operational performance is absolutely valuable. But I think the reduction in costs, in maintenance, and in general in the overhead associated with a handful of point solutions really boils down to one thing that’s hugely valuable to start-ups - time saved. We allude to that when we say “spend more time building their business,” but I think we could call it out more deliberately. Time is perhaps the most valuable currency to start-ups, and any time savings both extends runway and increases a start-up's chances of success.
Outseta One Simple Thing (OST), V1
“The software starter kit for your SaaS business”
The notion of “One Simple Thing” is a concept that we borrowed from Mike Troiano. The basic premise is to describe what your product or company does, and make sure that prospects are categorizing your product on your terms rather than their own, in a single sentence. I think it’s hugely useful.
It’s tough to be terribly specific in a single sentence, but I think this statement achieves a few objectives - it specifies that we’re selling software, that the software is for SaaS businesses, and that it’s an entry level offering or something that you’d use when starting out. I like the statement for all of those reasons.
When describing Outseta to others, I’ve often heard “Ahhh, I get it. You’re offering a start-up in a box.” For whatever reason that analogy has helped people understand the concept - “here’s a pre-packaged set of tools.” It doesn’t matter to me all that much whether we’re talking about a “box” or a “kit.”
I have two issues with our existing OST. First, there’s software for functions like accounting, HR, and software development that aren’t included in our platform. I think we’re missing a bit of specificity around what functions our software does and doesn’t cover. Second, it lacks a bit of emotional appeal to me - it’s accurate, but maybe a little flat or dry. It’s not exactly spurring me to action. Apple’s OST when they first launched the iPod - “1000 songs in your pocket” - is more successful to me in terms of delivering on that emotional appeal.
Home Page Headline and Sub-head, V1
"The software starter kit for your SaaS business." (headline) "Focus on growing your SaaS business, not integrating the software systems that support it." (subhead)
When we first launched our website, we used our OST as our primary headline followed immediately by the sub-head “Focus on growing your SaaS business, not integrating the software systems that support it.” I think that leading with the OST made sense - as a new company, we need to help people quickly and easily understand what it is that we’re selling. It’s tough to lead with the “why,” or to lead with benefits when people don’t yet understand what it is that you’re offering.
That said, I think we got the subhead wrong for a couple of reasons. First, I think we overestimated the amount of pain that start-ups would associate with integrating a handful of point solutions. Start-up founders tend to be relatively technical people with a can-do attitude - while the integration work is time consuming, it’s often not seen as terribly difficult or painful. Second, it’s something of a negative statement - “do this, NOT that.” This led us to a second iteration on the subhead that is more focused on benefits “Better understand your customers. Reduce your technology footprint. Launch more efficiently.”
I don’t think we have this perfect just yet, but I do think it’s an improvement.
Key messages are those primary marketing messages that resonate with your potential customers and help you deliver on your value proposition. There are a number that we’ve considered from the get-go, and more than anything I think we need additional feedback on these and help prioritizing these messages against one another.
- “A single view of the customer, from lead to lifetime value”
I like this message because it hits on the single, 360 degree view of the customer angle. Ultimately that’s what integrating a stack of point solutions is most often working towards, although I don’t know that that’s necessarily something start-ups are trying to achieve when they begin shopping for software. I like the “lead to lifetime value" bit because it reinforces that we’ll help you better understand the entire customer lifecycle.
- “Give your technical co-founder their day back”
This message hits of time savings. Technical co-founder time is always extremely valuable (and expensive) - there’s a significant opportunity cost if your technical co-founder is working on anything other than building product.
- “Reduce your technology footprint”
I personally don’t think many start-ups give much thought to reducing their technology footprint. That said, I think most will understand the benefit of paying fewer bills, working with one company for support, etc.
- “Focus on growing your business, not integrating the software systems that support it.
Per my previous comments, I think there’s a bit of a negative connotation here. That said, I like the notion of “more time to focus on the important stuff.”
- “Extend your runway”
By saving start-ups time and money, Outseta can effectively help start-ups extend their runway. While that’s hugely valuable to any start-up that hasn’t raised a ton of funding, I worry that it also could have a negative connotation to it... “we’re going to give you more time before you run out of money.” It feels a bit to me like we’re offering a life preserver to start-ups, who tend to be wildly optimistic.
- “Improve your odds of raising funding”
This is one of the most interesting messages to me. Start-ups that are using a handful of point solutions often really struggle if they are trying to raise funding. They struggle with issues around data quality, they struggle to surface business insights for potential investors, and they don’t have accurate or “standardized” SaaS metrics that potential investors can use to compare their business against other potential investments. Outseta can provide standardized, apple-to-apple comparisons of key SaaS metrics as well as benchmarking data against other SaaS businesses. This can definitely save significant time and increase investor confidence during a fundraising process. That said, as a business we believe that way too many SaaS companies focus on raising funding rather than building a profitable business, so we’re hesitant to really emphasize - or at least lead - with this message.
Other similar or related companies whose messaging I like include….
17hats.com - “Chaos. Simplified. Designed for 'businesses-of-one,' 17hats is the complete system to tame the chaos of invoicing, contracts, and client management.” I really like the notion here of bringing order to chaos - I think that’s something we’re doing at Outseta as well. I also like that they are embracing being a “complete system” or platform.
Intercom.com - “Our products work together to help sales, marketing, and support teams better communicate with with customers.” I really like how Intercom deliberately calls out the groups that their platform is meant to serve.
Our messaging will always be a work in progress, evolving as we spend more and more time interacting with prospects and customers. I am certainly eager to get to the point where we can consistently run A/B tests to see with statistical significance which messages best resonate with our audience.
In the meantime, we’d love any comments, opinions, or feedback that you have based on this article. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below, or better yet take the brief survey included at the beginning of the article.