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Archive for the category: SaaS Metrics

The Promise of SaaS Customer Success Metrics

saas customer success metricsOver the past few years, the SaaS community has gained a solid understanding of SaaS financial metrics, as well as many of the operational principles required to achieve them. However, there has always been an obvious gap between what happens on the top line and what happens on the ground. It’s one thing to claim that a 50% reduction in churn will result in a 2X increase in recurring revenue, but it’s quite another thing to make it happen. Achieving that 50% reduction in churn is usually a tedious and unreliable process of trial and error. This is about to change. As the SaaS industry matures, we are witnessing the evolution of SaaS metrics beyond simple, historical financial measures toward sophisticated operational measures in the form of new SaaS customer success metrics and predictive analytics.

saas customer success metrics kpi dashboard

We are witnessing the evolution of SaaS metrics beyond simple, historical financial measures
toward sophisticated SaaS customer success metrics and predictive analytics.

This is the second post in a series inspired by my ongoing collaboration with Bluenose Analytics that explores the new Metrics-driven SaaS Business and its foundation of emerging best practices in customer success metrics. [Attention SaaS CFO's and VP's of Customer Success! Please see the exclusive invitation at the end of this post if you like this series and would like to explore more in person.] The first post discussed the unique qualities of SaaS that enable the Metrics-driven SaaS business to apply a more analytic approach to management than traditional licensed software. This second post drills down on the promise of customer success metrics to bring greater rigor to the processes of churn reduction, upselling and customer success management for increased recurring revenue and decreased recurring costs of service.

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An Ocean of Customer Success Data

The promise of customer success metrics is immense. Unfortunately, so is the challenge of developing them. Read more »

Bluenose Enables the Metrics-driven SaaS Business

bluenose customer success metricsWe are witnessing a dramatic change in the way SaaS businesses are managed. While SaaS financial metrics, such as recurring revenue, acquisition cost, service cost, churn, growth and lifetime value have dramatically increased our understanding of the economics of SaaS businesses, they have proven inadequate for managing them. As useful as they may be, SaaS financial metrics look at the past, not the future. They can tell you that you have a problem with churn, but they cannot tell you what you should do about it. Motivated by the need to better understand churn, many SaaS businesses have been independently exploring a new class of customer success metrics and have begun to embed them in SaaS customer success workflows with the hope of preventing churn before it occurs. We are witnessing the emergence of The Metrics-driven SaaS business.

Two weeks ago, I kicked off a new blog series on The Metrics-driven SaaS Business vision in collaboration with Bluenose Analytics, who I believe is going to help make this vision a reality. Over the course of the last five years, I’ve discussed the potential of SaaS customer success metrics with a variety of startups, but I didn’t feel anyone fully got it until I met the folks at Bluenose. There was always something missing, and that something was predictive analytics.

For those of us that work in SaaS, we feel the customer success metrics pain when we try to bend Web marketing tools like Google Analytics, Marketo or Eloqua to the purpose of SaaS customer success. Unfortunately, they are just not up to the task. They don’t integrate the critical subscription, product usage, and account engagement data required. More importantly, they don’t have the necessary analytical power to enable the Metrics-driven SaaS Business. At best they supply simple historical reporting and heuristic scoring systems that have little basis in reality. There is no short-changing the math. If you want real predictive analytics; you have to use real statistical methods.

Real Stats. Real Easy.

I started my software career at SPSS, a very successful Chicago-based software company acquired by IBM. SPSS made predictive analytics under the tag line: “Real Stats. Real Easy.” The reason I bring this up is that I think a lot of folks believe that real predictive analytics is something that is hard to do and even harder to apply to everyday business. Well it is hard to do, but it can be very easily applied to everyday business. A SaaS customer success manager doesn’t need to know a system is using logistic regression or survival analysis to produce health scores and churn alerts. She just needs to see the red light go on and get the alert in time to keep a customer from churning. Plus, statistical visualization methods can be incredibly intuitive and powerful, providing the ability to zoom out to see high level root causes and drill down to investigate account-specific issues.

Bluenose Analytics Enables the Metrics-driven SaaS Business

The Bluenose platform uses real statistics to create SaaS customer success metrics,
root cause analyses and predictive analytics that enable fact-based churn reduction.

I was lucky enough to get a preview of Bluenose back in November, and they got two things right that I have been waiting to see a long time: powerful statistical visualizations and predictive analytics. Of course the system has the baseline SaaS customer success capabilities, such as work flow management, surveys and broad data integration, but these are just a SaaS customer Success ERP module without the right analytics. Simple heuristic scoring systems just doesn’t cut the mustard. SaaS customer success metrics need real stats, real easy.

I think the Bluenose management team gets the potential of predictive analytics for SaaS customer success, because their roots are in serious big data analytics, specifically anti-virus software. That and I know they interviewed more than 50 potential customers in the development of their requirements. Having announced a significant pre-launch $11 million A round in December, the production release is imminent and the company is actively seeking and working with pilot customers. Anyone who follows my blog knows that I don’t do advertising and I rarely give product recommendations. For me, blogging is a labor of love, not commerce. The reason I am collaborating with the folks at Bluenose is that I think they get it, and I want to see the Metrics-driven SaaS Business become the standard in our industry.

The Metrics-driven SaaS Business

saas business metricsMy first serious lesson in the criticality of SaaS metrics was about six years ago when I was unexpectedly stumped in a board of directors meeting. I had just presented the booking plan for the year and one of the Director’s in the meeting said that the plan was good, but we really needed to increase our booking rate. My first reaction was something like: “Well our current booking rate is pretty strong and we’re a SaaS business, so even with no immediate improvement to bookings we’ll continue to pile up revenue quarter after quarter, right?” Wrong! I had totally neglected the impact of churn. At the time, SaaS investors and executives were still getting their heads around the SaaS recurring revenue business model, so there were very few resources to turn to for support. Yet as the person in the room primarily accountable for the top line, I had to have the answer.

Fast forward to today. In 2014, we not only have a much better understanding of the financial levers that drive SaaS business success, we are on the verge of a metrics revolution in the way SaaS businesses are managed. Unlike licensed enterprise software, the SaaS recurring revenue business model offers a much higher degree of stability, measureability and predictability. These three factors form a foundation that enables SaaS executives to take a much more analytical approach to driving SaaS business success. SaaS business executives are uncovering new operational metrics that connect SaaS customer success to SaaS financial success, and in the process are creating recurring revenue machines. Today we are witnessing the emergence of The Metrics-driven SaaS Business.

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This is the first post in a new SaaS metrics series inspired by my ongoing collaboration with Bluenose Analytics. This series explores the promise of customer success metrics and their role as the glue that connects SaaS customer success to SaaS financial success. This first post discusses the unique qualities of SaaS that enable a more analytic approach to management than was possible with licensed enterprise software and introduces the concept of the Metrics-driven SaaS Business.

The SaaS Metrics Mandate

Why are metrics so uniquely important in SaaS? Read more »

Negative Churn | It’s Not that I Don’t Dislike It, I Do

negative churnMost of us were taught at an early age that double negatives are a bad thing, because they are unnecessarily complicated and increase the chances of miscommunication. It is with this principle in mind, that I propose that we permanently ban the ridiculous term “negative churn” from the SaaS metrics vocabulary. Churn is negative growth. Negative churn is simply growth.

Many of my esteemed SaaS colleagues have casually adopted the negative churn idea without issue, such as this post by David Skok, and this one by OpenView Partners, and this one by Lincoln Murphy, and to my knowledge the very first one by Daniel Drucker who attributes the origin of negative churn to the folks at Bessemer Venture Partners. A very prestigious group of SaaS metrics experts indeed. So, what’s got my goat?

SaaS Growth vs. SaaS Churn

Negative churn implies that the economics of SaaS growth are the same as SaaS churn, only reversed. This is not the case. The business processes and customer decisions that drive SaaS growth are fundamentally different from those that drive SaaS churn. For example SaaS growth might be driven by a sales process that targets a customer need, whereas SaaS churn might be driven by a customer going out of business. As metrics, these numbers are intended to measure those processes. When they are commingled, they lose their value.

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What is MRR Churn? | SaaS Metrics FAQs Part 2

saas mrr chrunSince publishing the original SaaS metics blog series and subsequent SaaS Metrics Guide to SaaS Financial Performance, I’ve received numerous inquiries on various details and hidden gotchas in SaaS metrics implementation. This new series of SaaS Metrics FAQs explores some of these finer SaaS metrics points in a simple Q&A format. In this second post, I examine SaaS MRR churn, a SaaS metric that extends from SaaS customer churn which was covered in the first installment.

SaaS Metrics FAQ #4 | What is MRR Churn?

SaaS MRR churn measures the erosion of SaaS monthly recurring revenue (MRR). Mathematically, the SaaS MRR churn rate is an extension of the SaaS customer churn rate calculated by substituting monthly recurring revenue in place of the number of customers. For example, if your SaaS business has 100 customers representing an MRR base of $1M at the beginning of the year, and 5 customers cancel a total of $100K in MRR during the year, then your annual MRR churn rate is 10%, while your annual customer churn rate is only 5%. The general formula for for SaaS MRR churn can be stated as the amount of MRR cancelled (ΔMRR) per time interval (Δt) divided by the total MRR at the beginning of the interval (MRRtotal).

SaaS MRR Churn Rate = ΔMRRcancelled contracts
Δt x MRRtotal

In the formula above, the Δ is a common math symbol that means change or interval.

SaaS Metrics FAQ #5 | Why Measure MRR Churn?

The simple answer to this question is money. Read more »

SaaS Metrics FAQs | What is Churn?

saas metrics faqsA little over two years ago, I published a series of well received articles on SaaS metrics that culminated in the SaaS Metrics Guide to SaaS Financial Performance. Since then, I’ve received numerous inquiries regarding the many practical quirks encountered in day-to-day SaaS metrics implementation. In response, I’ve decided to revisit the SaaS metrics topic with this series of SaaS Metrics FAQs where I’ll elaborate on some of these finer SaaS metrics details in a simple Q&A format. This first SaaS Metrics FAQs installment tackles the many problems associated with measuring SaaS churn, so if you have a Q, please feel free to submit it in the comments and I’ll do my best to provide an A.

SaaS Metrics FAQ #1 | What is Churn?

SaaS churn is the percentage rate at which SaaS customers cancel their recurring revenue subscriptions. It is a key SaaS metric of historical SaaS business performance and an important parameter in revenue forecasting. When used in forecasting, SaaS churn can be interpreted as the probability rate at which customers will cancel their subscriptions. In it’s simplest form, SaaS churn can be stated as the number of customers cancelling (ΔC) per time interval (Δt) divided by the number of customers at the beginning of the interval (C).

SaaS Churn = ΔC
Δt x C

In the formula above, the Δ is a common math symbol that means change or interval.

That’s the simple answer. In practice, SaaS churn can be both difficult to define and difficult to measure. Read more »

SaaS Benchmarks | Acquisition Cost and Churn Challenges

saas benchmarkI routinely get asked questions like the following: What is a typical churn rate for SaaS? How much should I pay my SaaS sales reps? What is a good time frame to recover acquisition costs? A few years ago, the best answers I could give were simply based on my own experience and conversations with other SaaS colleagues. However, as SaaS has matured as a category, some high quality SaaS benchmark studies have appeared.

Recent conversations with Lauren Kelley over at OPEXEngine highlight for me how SaaS companies across the board struggle with customer acquisition costs (CAC) and churn. The 2010 OPEXEngine SaaS benchmark study shows a WIDE range of results across these critical performance metrics, indicating that there is no one right way to tackle these challenges that will work for SaaS companies across all sizes and sectors. But, there are plenty of wrong ways.

SaaS Benchmark Results – Customer Acquisition Cost

SaaS companies vary a lot in their willingness to invest in customer acquisition. For example, the OPEXEngine SaaS benchmark report gives an average payback period for CAC alone of about Read more »

SaaS Metrics Guide to SaaS Financial Performance

I’ve wrapped up the highlights of my SaaS metrics series into a tidy SaaS Metrics Guide to SaaS Financial Performance. Like the original SaaS metrics series, this reference guide presents simple rules-of-thumb and graphic visualizations that capture the dynamic relationships between core SaaS metrics and SaaS financial performance.

It is NOT a comprehensive overview of SaaS metrics, but a deep dive into the most critical SaaS metrics with the goal of fostering intuition and deeper understanding of SaaS financial performance, including charts, formulas, definitions, sample calculations, and hyperlinks back to the full SaaS Metrics Rules-of-Thumb posts. Feel free to pass it along. Cheers! JY.

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SaaS Metrics Guide to SaaS Financial Performance (PDF format)

Original SaaS Metrics Rules-of-Thumb Posts

SaaS Customer Lifetime Value Drives SaaS Company Value

For the life of me, I still can’t fathom how VCs value early stage startups. I think it is one part business logic and five parts voodoo (no offense to my VC friends, but you know what I mean). However, I’m guessing most SaaS-focused VCs know this SaaS company valuation principle in their gut even if they can’t reduce it to a financial projection: SaaS Customer Lifetime Value Drives SaaS Company Value. For what is a company if not the sum of its customers?

The link between SaaS CLTV and SaaS company valuation
arises naturally from the SaaS subscription model
where topline company revenue emerges
as the sum of individual customer revenue streams.

This is the final post in a series that aims to uncover the mysteries of SaaS financial metrics from a new angle, a little mathematics. In this installment, I’ll explore the important SaaS metric of customer lifetime value (CLTV) and introduce a new SaaS financial metrics rule-of-thumb that relates SaaS CLTV to SaaS company value.

Buyer Beware: The ideas presented in this installment of the SaaS metrics series are not meant to offer methods or models for evaluating the value of any particular SaaS company, but rather to offer credence to the gut reaction above. Use the formulas herein at your own discretion. Chaotic Flow, i.e., me, accepts no liability thereof.

SaaS Metrics Rule-of-Thumb #10
SaaS Customer Lifetime Value Drives SaaS Company Value

The financially accepted method for estimating the value of company is the calculation of the discounted value of its future cash flows, or net present value. Now, I’m not saying that anyone in InternetWorld actually uses this method, but for the sake of this series on SaaS financial metrics, this is the only approach that lends itself to mathematical analysis. So, I am stuck with it.

The exact mathematical statement of SaaS Metric Rule-of-Thumb #10 above is expressed as follows (see SaaS Metrics Math Notes below for the derivation):

SaaS Company NPV = CLTV x NEWLTV

Where CLTV is the average SaaS customer lifetime value and NEWLTV is an analogous measure for the lifetime value number of customers that represents Read more »

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