Optimizing SaaS Apps with Cloud Broker Michael McKenna

By Neha Singh Gohil | Updated: 14 Jan, 2014

MichaelMcKennaMichael McKenna, a registered SaaSMAX Reseller, has been working in the CRM arena since 2001. With dual degrees from Trinity College Dublin, plus a background in project management and sales, Mike is a recognized CRM expert with over a decade of experience in delivering cost-effective solutions that work.

With SaaS apps predicted to become a $75 billion market in 2014, it’s no wonder that new enterprise applications spring up seemingly out of nowhere almost every day. Amidst all the noise, it’s challenging for SMB owners to choose, configure and deploy tools that are ostensibly designed to help. That’s where Michael comes in.

At Dublin-based SmartCloud, Michael provides consulting and training services to companies that are looking to reduce IT costs by leveraging the cloud. He and his team parse through dozens of SaaS applications to select, implement and deploy the right tools for their clients. Michael shares a few of his best practices and SaaS tips with us here.

What are some common attributes of companies that are looking for cloud solutions?

Our customers tend to have between 5 and 50 employees, and are focused primarily in the web, high tech, financial services, media and distribution sectors. Generally, company owner/managers have heard of the promise of the cloud, but lack knowledge on how to leverage it. If the company has deployed cloud services themselves, it’s been in a very limited way – using the consumer version of Dropbox, for example. They always have a certain degree of ‘fear’ about making the leap into the cloud.

But at base, each of these companies have identified that improving their business processes will enhance sales, customer service and employee retention. As such, they’re all looking for cloud services that would directly impact their bottom lines.

What is the role of a cloud services broker in assisting these companies?

SmartCloud offers a curated approach to the overwhelming job of choosing and deploying enterprise cloud services that integrate with one another. Our primary job is to identify the best processes and applications to migrate, and to demonstrate that this can be done efficiently and painlessly.

What makes it difficult for a company to choose and implement cloud solutions on its own?

The number of applications out there, and the great variety of features and industry segments can be mind-boggling. When companies go through the options alone, without a lot of cloud experience, they become paralyzed by questions like “Am I sure I’m selecting the right app?” or “How do I migrate data from my legacy system to the new cloud-based solution?” or even “What do I need to train my employees?” The uncertainty inevitably leads to expensive and time-consuming errors or to no action being taken at all.

What are the top 3 features that a SaaS app must have before you would consider recommending it to a client?

  • Integration – This is increasingly important, as end users want to work with an integrated solution rather than a handful of standalone apps. Ideally, we like to see a deep functional native integration between the apps. But I’d also approve of integrations using cloud connectors such as Zapier.
  • Mobility – Users want device and location independence, particularly given the growing BYOD trend globally. So, a successful SaaS application must offer a mobile solution as well as the traditional web-based interface.
  • Ease of Use – Applications have got to be intuitive, with a short learning curve. Users should be supported with video tutorials and online learning modules. Nimble is an excellent example of a CRM that users can get up and running very fast with the help of just a few short videos.

How do you overcome adoption hurdles when deploying cloud applications?

We recommend AGAINST the ‘Big Bang’ approach of implementing everything at the same time. Instead, we plan to introduce change gradually and make incremental changes as people become familiar with the new technologies. For example, we start with a core system that touches the most people at the company (usually email) and take time to complete this migration first. Once people are completely comfortable, then – and only then – do we start to layer on complimentary apps like CRM, Helpdesk, etc.

You also have to be willing to meet people where they are. For email specifically, we see a lot of resistance to leaving Microsoft Outlook for Gmail (our preferred email app). Some are very familiar and comfortable with Gmail, which gives us an advantage. But for those who prefer to stick with Outlook, we integrate Gmail into Outlook and let them keep it. Often, once they see us layer in Yesware and Contact Monkey, even the resistant employees are won over.

How does that adoption hurdle translate in the world of CRM?

I consider CRM to be a hub for the company, around which all of the other applications tend to work. But, salespeople hate using CRM. The systems are designed not to make the sales process easier for a salesperson, but to make the process of reporting on it easier for a sales manager. From a salesperson’s perspective, CRM can add a lot of time and complexity to their daily workflow.

Our solution to this problem is careful deployment of an application like Nimble, which is very intuitive and easy to use. The app itself pulls in contact information from various social media networks, so that the salesperson doesn’t need to do a lot of manual work. But even before it’s rolled out, we spend an awful lot of time cleaning the CRM data, collecting cached email addresses from users’ inboxes to import into the system, and organizing it in a way that makes sense. That makes the final product a lot easier and more accurate and attractive for salespeople to adopt.

Where can SaaS companies do better to support their users?

There are three places where I could see vendors making vast improvements in 2014.

  1. Bundled Packages: We need a situation where a number of vendors collaborate to ensure that their apps are tightly integrated. They can then offer a cohesive bundle to the end user, who can to select from that bundle of apps rather than individual applications.
  2. Single-point Pricing: Most SaaS apps today work independently and issue separate bills to their end users. Instead, our clients want one bill, one number to call and one throat to choke if things go wrong. If apps are offered in bundles, this would be the next step.
  3. Data portability: Users dislike having their data locked in when they decide to move from one application to another. Whatever the reason for the move, the data is the customer’s, and they should be allowed to take it with them.

When is a cloud broker’s job complete?

If I’m doing my job correctly, I don’t think it’s ever really over. Nowadays, it is not sufficient to sell a boxed product, walk away, and drop in every 12 months to install an update. The market and the opportunities of the cloud are moving far too fast for us to check in annually. Instead, we see cloud brokers as partners who need to be constantly adding value.

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