The more well-known term is “eating your own dog food,” but who wants to do that?

Today, technology drives organizations. We rely on it, which is why a misstep in selecting technology partners and their SaaS solutions can impact an organization in regrettable ways. It can impede your ability to scale in a graceful manner. It can slow down your journey of automation. It can even introduce risk related to compliance or security, depending on the solution. 

Whenever you decide to buy, a proper assessment of any SaaS provider is crucial. Selecting the best technology fit and the strongest partners ensures the longevity of your decision. That means looking specifically for SaaS providers that use their own solutions. In essence, they are “customer zero” because they drink their own champagne.

How to procure the right SaaS providers 

During the evaluation process, the most sound technique I’ve discovered for assessing a SaaS provider is to find out whether the company uses its own solution. The logic is simple. If your champagne is good, you like to drink it. If it’s not, you’re likely to try to give it to others without having any. The same holds true with SaaS solutions.

As a CIO, I’ve noticed more and more prospects are eager to know about our “champagne” consumption and how we deploy our solutions internally. This line of questioning is both welcomed and encouraged because it triggers two things for you, the customer.

  1. Validation: If the technology works in the provider’s environment, then it should work in almost every customer environment. This also sparks the conversation about how you, the customer, can make the provider’s solution universally adoptable among your targeted users.
  2. Use cases: When the technology provider shares its internal use cases, you are exposed to fresh ideas on how to propagate the solution beyond your targeted users and to other departments in your organization, which expands your list of reasons to adopt the technology. In return, your needs also can inform the technology provider’s roadmap in fresh and practical ways.

Start with the POC

SaaS providers that drink their own champagne are “customer zero” organizations. They ensure the first people who interact with, experience, and test the solution are their own employees.

Now, take this customer-zero idea back to a proof of concept (POC), which is where every buying process should begin. A robust POC includes the specific business needs against which you’re evaluating technology options, defined use cases for automation, and your success criteria. And, anytime a SaaS provider develops a solution for a line of business, find out how the provider deploys that solution similarly. 

For example, if you’re looking for a financial or customer relationship management solution, it’s imperative the internal finance or customer success team uses the product for every aspect of your problem statement and can show you how. Demos should be delivered with real data, and you should have exposure to the provider’s team members who can demonstrate know-how and share their own use cases. 

The sparkling benefits of champagne-oriented tech partners 

Selecting technology partners that drink their own champagne brings many advantages. 

  1. Stronger user experience: Customer zero is walking in your shoes every day and experiencing the same features and frustrations. As a result, the provider’s product and engineering teams receive constant internal feedback. 
  2. Faster issue resolution: Errors and bugs are reported and addressed with speed because the feedback loop between development and internal users is extremely tight. You can also bet on strong communication and collaboration within the technology provider, which often equates to better solutions.
  3. Achievable bottoms-up roadmap: Customer zero’s feedback is feeding the development of the engineering roadmap, which means real users are driving and pushing for swift development. At the risk of pushing the champagne metaphor, it’s a bottoms-up approach rather than top-down from executives. 
  4. Better sales experience: Sales teams that use their own solution are better equipped to talk about product benefits from first-hand experience. They can also speak to product development plans and upcoming new features because they stay abreast of timelines, having a vested interest in improving the solution for their own daily use. 
  5. Honest advocates: Speaking to a solution’s benefits is a given. But when a provider’s employees are customer zero, they also tend to understand and be more forthright about limitations. As a result, conversations are more frank, and roadmaps tend to be more accurate. There’s often a recognition that it’s better to lose a sale because it’s not the right fit than to create an unhappy customer.
  6. Sharing best practices: As champagne drinkers, all employees of a SaaS provider have the ability to detail problems they overcame using their company’s own solution and can share how to improve internal processes by using it. These business best practices are invaluable for hitting the ground running when you implement a new solution.

Build or Buy? A confronting decision that still exists

Gone are the days of building every technology solution in-house. That paradigm ended with the advent of cloud-based SaaS providers. Organizations are now free to focus on strategic and core competencies rather than building an entire technology stack from scratch. 

That’s why many CIOs are looking for ways to automate internal business use cases. They’re creating IT roadmaps that reflect what needs to be done and which tech solutions could help. But the buy-versus-build decision still thrives, to which I offer the following advice:

  • If a competency is strategic or integral to your offering, build it. SaaS solutions are unlikely to match the complexity of your specific requirements, and future roadmaps may not align with your needs. By building, the end result will match exactly what you need.
  • If it’s not a strategic competency and a SaaS solution is available, buy it. Harness the expertise and investment a SaaS company has dedicated to its product. That solution will evolve and automate at a faster pace than anything you can build and maintain.

If it’s “buy”, partner with customer-zero organizations

It’s so important to do your homework and make an informed purchase decision. Understand your own use cases and get confirmation on whether or not the solution addresses them. Have reference calls with a technology provider’s current customers and find out about their use cases. Uncover limitations. And, if a feature isn’t available, find out if it’s on the roadmap and whether it’s a realistic timeline. Don’t settle for TBD.

And never forget that, if current limitations with a provider’s solution equate to manual workarounds for you, you’re missing out on automation. That opportunity cost is huge, as is the actual cost. Time is wasted when providers don’t deliver on roadmaps, so make sure you don’t let other people throw up roadblocks in your automation journey.

When you focus on finding customer-zero organizations, you’re locating stronger technology partners that are truly invested in their own success, as well as yours. And who doesn’t want to raise a glass to that opportunity?

In Sunny’s next post, he discusses how today’s data platform should equip organizations for tomorrow’s data challenges and opportunities.