Saturday, March 21, 2020

10 free things SaaS companies can do to prosper during the COVID-19 pandemic

While the world is in panic mode and as we all get used to working from home regularly its important to remember that things will get better.

When we're busy helping our teams, our customers, our neighbours, our families, it's easy to lose sight of the fact we also need to position our SaaS businesses to come out of this period stronger and ready to pounce on the opportunities that will present themselves.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) studied business performance after the 2007 recession in the US. They found that only 9% of businesses outperformed their pre-recession financial performance 3 years after the recession ended.

Post-recession winners aren’t the usual suspects. Firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish. They have the lowest probability — 21% — of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.
Roaring Out Of Recession, Harvard Business Review, 2010
I think you'll agree that the key here is not necessarily to make the right decisions, ostensibly because making the right decisions implies that we know exactly what we are dealing with here and for how long, which we do not. But as Dr Harriet Lerner says, “we should not let fear lead us into isolation or stop us from acting with clarity, compassion and courage. Terrible things happen, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope.”

So if you are with me so far, you now have two options in front of you:
  1. You can look at those numbers and worry about whether that will happen to you; or
  2. You can galvanise your team and plan for how you're going to be best placed to grab new opportunities in a rebounding market.
If you chose number 2, welcome to the club. This is what we're doing to not only be empathetic and compassionate during this pandemic, but also to position our SaaS business for growth.

1. Washing our hands with soap

You have probably heard this a lot recently, but it is literally a life saver. I realised that most of us have probably never been taught how to wash our hands properly and systematically.

Medical professionals go through many hours of training on this aspect of hygiene alone. So we can all do worse than to learn from them and learn the process they use.

2. Getting exercise into your bodies

Personal trainers aren't an option. Gyms are probably closed or at least not the most desirable places in this climate. So why not try fresh air exercise by walking or running on the road or in a park (as long as social distance is maintained, of course)?

For those of us who need professional help to exercise, there are number of options that are free for us to try during this pandemic.

Depending on where you live and the public spaces that are available to you, it might be a great time to take advantage of the drop in the number of cars on the road and enjoy the cleaner, fresh air outside.

3. Focus on sleeping better

The current level of media and politician-driven panic is not healthy. As our collective anxiety levels rise, our sleep quality deteriorates. Not only is poor sleep bad for our general health but good sleep has been proven to enhance our memory and cognitive function.

Clearly, we're going to need both if we're going to position our businesses for post-recession growth.

Regular exercise has been proven to improve sleep, but it might also help to encourage your teams to watch a little less of the TV news and read turn off the instant Coronavirus alerts that pop up on their phones. Doing this will help to reduce anxiety and hopefully also divert their minds to more productive topics, while benefiting their sleep patterns too.

As an aside, studies show that good sleep also helps our bodies effectively utilise the full benefits of vaccines. This will be important when the vaccine for COVID-19 is finally released. Until then, no harm in practising good sleep, right?

4. Eat healthy and regularly

Just like sportspeople feed off the energy of crowds in the stadiums, us office-going types feed off the energy of our colleagues. This energy is hard to find when we're all working from home.

Because energy can be both positive and negative, it's super important to maximise our intake of the right variety. If we're exercising and sleeping better then that's almost half the battle won.

Adding healthy food at regular intervals every day to this mix is a sureshot recipe for greater work-from-home productivity and better mental health.

In this age of empty supermarkets and panic buying I make it a point to ask my team at every morning huddle about whether they have enough food. Because if a supermarket is empty in their area, it might not be in mine and what better way to help someone than to deliver a care package.

5. Develop a daily virtual huddles schedule that everyone attends

Messenger systems like Slack and MS Teams may have revolutionised the way we communicate with our teams, but they are not enough in such strange and disconcerting times. We all need and cherish a human connection. So if we can't achieve this physically, then we should the phone or video conferencing substitutes.

I've found that it's good to start these meetings with a general well-being "check-in." Just a couple of sentences or questions can sometimes be enough to get a sense that they're not alone. That we're all in this together.

6. Survey your team to find out how they are really doing

Some of our team members prefer anonymous or written feedback as opposed to that given in a "public" forum like a daily virtual huddle. Such opinions are important in helping us as business leaders reflect on and fine tune our strategies.

Plus, by using a service like that provided by Best Employee Surveys you can use the information gathered to benchmark your team's attitudes and performance throughout this period and beyond. Just think about how valuable this data might be when your SaaS business is growing exponentially after the bounce and your HR team is trying to measure the value of all the team engagement ideas that you implemented during the pandemic.

A simple Google Forms or Typeform survey would also suffice as free alternatives here. The key, however, is to get your questions right - is this worth paying for?

7. Talk to your customers and let them influence your product roadmap

Sounds obvious right, but how often do we actually do it? I, for one, don't do it nearly enough when things are going well.

But if you are a B2B SaaS company, when you're checking in with your customers to make sure they're well, why not use the opportunity to gather some fresh intel about what they actually need?

In fact, MckInsey found that B2B companies who "care about open and honest dialogue with customers and society" are perceived by buyers as having greater brand strength.

Isn't this reason enough to get on the phone?

8. Lock down your application security

There are unfortunate elements among us who will try and exploit any lapse in our concentration when it comes to AppSec. These hackers pray on SaaS companies who put their app security in the "too hard" or "we'll do it later" baskets. Why? Because such companies leave open doors that hackers love waltzing in through.

Already during this pandemic, we've seen increased attack attempts on our clients' environments. Health SaaS companies in particular are under severe strain because of the nature of data they hold.

Here’s a quick list of must-do AppSec tasks that every SaaS team can implement and will cost you no extra to implement:
  1. Apply all patches and updates to any open source modules or libraries used in your SaaS app.
  2. Check for and close any ports that shouldn’t be open after each release.
  3. Ensure directory permissions are not set to 777 for all folders.
  4. Ensure your app’s HTTP security headers are appropriately configured – they can use the free Cyber Chief service to give them clear, actionable instructions.
  5. Repeat the above steps for all your environments – dev, test, pre-prod, staging, prod, etc.
If you are interested in a done-for-you AppSec subscription that provides on-demand application security, full penetration testing, all while making your developers more security-self-sufficient, then talk to my team about our web app AppSec plans.

9. Think about where you need to cut costs and also where you need to invest

HBR found that the businesses who prosper after recessions are not the ones that only cut costs or over-invest in growth. It seems a more balanced or "progressive" approach is required. HBR defines a progressive company as one which:
Progressive companies stay closely connected to customer needs—a powerful filter through which to make investment decisions.
Roaring Out Of Recession, Harvard Business Review, 2010
Rather than cutting costs by firing employees, progressive companies find savings through improving efficiencies and productivity. They use these savings to "judiciously increase spending on R&D and marketing, which may produce only modest benefits during the recession, but adds substantially to sales and profits afterward."

In SaaS terms you have to figure out whether everything you're doing right now is going to contribute to your future growth. How can you best position your SaaS company to capitalise on proven purchasing decision making factors like these?

What tools are you giving your sales team to answer your prospects' questions that they may never ask you, but still judge your product based on their perceptions alone? Are you missing really obvious cost sources that are bleeding you money and driving away prospects and existing customers?

10. Concentrate on something other than the Coronavirus

My favourite sports teams have stopped playing. Our favourite out-of-home excursion options might be in lock-down. The only thing the news channels are reporting is COVID-19 doom and economic gloom. In this environment, it's easy to fall into the trap of endlessly thinking and talking about the pandemic.

As a business leader I believe it's my responsibility to give my teams a chance to focus on something else. So how about stopping all Coronavirus talk in meetings after your virtual daily huddle is done? How about sharing upbeat Spotify playlists with your entire team so they can listen to something other than negative media channels throughout their day?

Remember that for maybe for the first time in human history, we are actually all in this together. Connect with me on LinkedIn to let me know how these ideas worked for your team or even if you’ve got some more ideas to expand this list.
SaaS Brief