3 Questions to Separate Good and Bad SaaS Project Requests

October 30, 2018

Wearing both the hats of Customer Success and Professional Services, I’ve found that a primary function of my role is to help customers imagine what is possible with the software. In conversation they bring ideas to the table and I help them assess the validity of those ideas. There are ideas of all shapes and sizes, it’s exciting but also overwhelming.

Like an investor you have limited resources, primarily time. Often, picking one project means cooling the jets on another prospect. So how do you know which to pick? It’s not as simple as the one that pays the most...

These three questions help me sift through the dreams and qualify mutually beneficial high value opportunities. The goal is not only to satisfy your customer but to do right by the company and invest your energy into activities that provide a strong return.

What is the Project's Business Value

This is the first question I ask, always. I want to know why they’re considering the project and make sure they have a strong case for it.

Overlook this step and you run the risk of sinking time and energy into a “flavor of the month” idea that will fizzle over time. Maybe interest doesn’t wane, but the idea doesn’t have a strong enough case to win an endorsement from the customer’s management.

Sound bad? That’s the best case scenario. Worse off, build and deliver the project only for the customer to find out it was a straw man and did not provide the right outcomes. Trust will be damaged and that is not worth the short term revenue boost of a one-time project.

To the best of your ability you have to ensure the expected outcomes of a prospective project have been clearly thought out. Without this answer you are at risk of wasting time and eroding trust.

Ask this question and one of two things will happen. You receive a positive answer and a box has been checked; milestone reached keep on going. You receive a negative or non-existent answer. Now you’re ahead of the problem and can say no because you’re doing what’s best for the customer. This helps build trust. By asking this question you always win.

Will the Customer's Value Metric Grow?

Before we get into this question let me define value metric as the scalable lever that account growth is based on. Common examples include licenses, usage, storage, or premium features.

Why is this important? Subscription models are driven by retention and expansion. A good project has lasting value, in other words recurring revenue. A project that does not affect recurring revenue is a one-time deal. You were paid for your time, but the investment has no dividend.

Prioritize opportunities that facilitate expansion. That means picking the right types of projects for the right types of customers. I’ll always take the $5,000 project that adds $1,000 ARR of users over the $10,000 project with no account growth.

To help qualify projects this way, ask your customer how much more capacity will be needed after the project is deployed or when the project is functional, what the next step is for maturing their business.

Can the Core Functionality Be Reused?

I’ve found projects fall into one of three categories: (1) been there, done that; (2) duplicate and elaborate; (3) uncharted territory. The last category is the most troubling because it means research, trial and error, and you’re probably stretching the capabilities of the software.

To safeguard your investment of time and energy, exploratory projects should include some element that can be used again in a future project. Building an integration with a new CRM will be costly and to justify that expenditure you should have other accounts who have the same need. Even better, that venture will facilitate new business. Instead of charging the customer an exorbitant amount for the time it takes on an exploratory project, I prioritize projects where the learning is applicable to other opportunities and treat it as an investment in learning.

We want to be long-term greedy. The previous two questions aim to establish symbiotic growth, the customer grows so the company grows. But this question can help identify if an opportunity will be mutually beneficial when shared growth is not a given.

I hope these questions help you differentiate between projects that appear sweet and those that will be fruitful for long-term growth. It’s tempting to cater to my creativity and builder mentality, but I have to remember that building does not necessarily equal growth. More importantly, not all growth is the same. Qualifying the right kind of projects can save you time, grow your customer portfolio, and keep you on the fast track for success.