A voice of reason in a cloudy landscape

David Abramowski

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Souper Frustrations – SaaS and the Grocery Store Dilemma

ISVs do their best to model out the desires and needs of their target user and then build the software to satisfy those needs

Remember the last time you went to a grocery store that you were unfamiliar with?  Remember how frustrating it can be and how much time it can take to find the simplest of items?   You roam around the aisles wandering with your eyes rapidly moving between the category signs and the items on the shelves.  You don’t quite understand why that can of chicken stock you are looking for isn’t in the soup aisle.  Finally you find that chicken stock in a special section next to the spices four aisles away.  Frustrating right?

That grocery store chain has spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on designing their store to be the most organized, thoughtful, easy to use experience for the user errr.. I mean consumer.  I’m sure there was a study done and the result was that most people in their sample group thought that the chicken stock should be next to the spices, therefore it ended up on that aisle instead of the soup aisle.  Yet, as a new visitor to the store you don’t think like the test groups, and the result is that the first few visits are miserable.  As a matter of fact, you may decide to abandon that new store and drive half way across town to visit a store you are already familiar with.  It’s not the store layout, the lack of research or the signs around the store – it’s the general level of familiarity you have as a user that makes or breaks your experience.

This same analogy can be applied to today’s web applications.  Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) do their best to model out the desires and needs of their target user and then build the software to satisfy those needs.  Unfortunately not all users think the same and what may be logical for one user may not be logical for the next.  Back in the days before app stores and instant downloads of everything, vendors of boxed software for personal computers were all aware of this dilemma.  They created getting started guides and quick start brochures all to help the user find their way around the software in the very first experience.

With SaaS offerings it seems that most companies are forgetting to solve this problem up front. The SaaS vendor thinks that the users will just get it and quickly adopt the solution.  The software vendor may even think – “well heck we are giving them a 30 days free trial to figure it all out they will eventually get it”. Unfortunately the conversation numbers from try to buy are showing all of us that there is still a significant gap that isn’t being addressed.  I personally think that putting in place an Onboarding program for each and every web application out there is what can make the difference between the start of a happy customer relationship or the lack of interest in completing a trial.

When it comes to introducing users to a successful start, SaaS vendors and web application entrepreneurs should do their own self evaluations.  They need to look at the overall experience of new users and determine how to make sure that every user sets off down a path leading to a mutually beneficial result.  Simple application can satisfy the needs of new customers with a quick video or getting started eBook.  And the more complex applications that involve multiple steps to get setup, interaction with third parties, installation of additional software or even the need to setup and teach other users all require a bit more guidance, examples and checklists to take those new users down a path to success.

There will always be a learning curve with everything new that we experience in life.  And those who profit from the new experience of software in the Cloud will be the ones that get their users quickly entrenched in their solutions.

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More Stories By David Abramowski

David Abramowski is a technologist turned product leader. David was a co-founder of Morph Labs, one of the first Platform as a Service plays on AWS. He was the GM for Parallels Virtuozzo containers, enterprise business, and most recently he is the leader of the product marketing team for the IT Operations Management solutions at the hyper growth SaaS company, ServiceNow.