Does owning the customer matter in a SaaS world.

 

I recently had an interesting debate with someone about ‘customer ownership’ and how this plays out in a SaaS world.  Its perplexing because my verbal sparring partner has some great points, but the root of my unease with the whole debate was based on uncertainty about if it even matters anymore?

 

Lets look at the evolving SaaS reseller and integrator market.  A bunch of companies that have made money off selling, installing, integrating and managing on premise software have seen the writing on the wall and are looking at morphing their business models to support SaaS. In this case they still sell, but in the services are significantly different. The configure, training and provide 2nd level support.

 

The issue is that in the first instance, that customers was ‘theirs’. They held the core engagement and their walk away position was strong.  But in a SaaS world (Saleforce.com, or even Microsoft’s hosted exchange product), the SaaS provider holds the customer, they are no longer the integrators. So they can do the upfront work, but easily get disintermediated in the medium to long term. Imagine if Salesforce.com of Xero or whoever decided to increase revenue by building a consulting and training practice…what then for their channel partners?

 

My counter argument was that in a SaaS world you are on the line every day for great delivery. This includes the channel partner, if you don’t deliver then of course you can loose the customer. There is also a lot of relationship and customer knowledge etc that comes with the deal AND if you are dumb enough to be a one track pony then of course you are under more risk. What i mean is, if all you do is sell Xero or Salesforce.com and you haven’t thought about expanding your engagement into that customer with other services like change management etc then you get what you get.

 

What do you all think, Is customer ownership still relevant? If so how does it work in a SaaS world? Where do you stand on this? I think its important because a good channel model is going to be increasingly important to SaaS to counter the stagnant growth perceptions that exist.

 

 

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