What are Cloud Solutions Anyway? Part 3

Posted on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

You have a cloud solution. Congratulations! Now, how do you sell it?

After you built your cloud solution, your next key decision is choosing the right go-to-market (GTM) strategy. There are many factors you’ll need to consider here, including subscriptions, pricing, and sales channel.

When crafting the GTM strategy for a cloud-based solution, you need to look at the subscriptions or offerings you will provide to your customers. Remember that customers like having options from which to choose, but too many options actually can deter them from making a decision. That’s why most cloud solution providers settle on three or four subscription options.  How these subscriptions are structured depends on the solution provided. Some solutions lend themselves to a feature-based subscription model, e.g., the Silver subscription has 10 features, the Gold has 20, and the Platinum has all of them. On the other hand, some solutions lend themselves to a usage-based subscription model, e.g., the Silver subscription provides up to 1,000 transactions a month, the Gold provides 5,000, and the Platinum provides 10,000.  Defining usage-based subscriptions should be done with operating and transactional costs in mind. Defining feature-based subscriptions can be a bit more confusing.

When considering a feature-based subscription model (one of the most common), an important thing to keep in mind is this question: What are the fire breaks between each subscription level?  Why would a customer want to purchase a higher cost subscription level rather than a lower cost one?  What are the “carrots” you can use to entice a customer to move up to a higher subscription? There are many ways to think about this, but there are often two major lines of thinking. One is to place entire features in only one subscription level, e.g., reporting is only in the Platinum subscription level. The second way to think about this is to spread out a feature over multiple subscriptions, e.g., canned reporting is available in the Silver package, basic report configuration in the Gold, and customized report wizards in the Platinum. The idea here is to whet their appetites with a feature in a lower subscription, knowing that once they see it they will want more, when they ask for more you have the perfect answer…upgrade to the next subscription level, and you can have it.

So, now that you have your subscription levels defined, you have to figure out how to price each level. Pricing is an art and has many components to it in order to get it right. Some factors to consider when defining pricing for a cloud-based solution are the length of your costs, license term, revenue recognition and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and the value of building a stream revenue base.

When thinking about pricing, the first thing to consider is your cost. Building, delivering and hosting a cloud-based solution is free for your customers, but certainly not for you. One of the most difficult things to understand is how much it will cost to host and maintain a new cloud-based solution. Work with your cloud provider to estimate compute and storage cost. Doing so on a “per transaction” basis often can help. Then, you can estimate how many transactions each subscription level might generate per month, and you can include this in your pricing model. The next step is to think about the license term. Most smaller, less expensive solutions choose a month-to-month subscription, which give the customer the option to exit every 30 days without penalty. For larger solutions with higher costs for onboarding a customer, some will choose a quarterly or even annual license model. It all depends on the investment made in onboarding on both sides of the table.

One of the most important things to consider when defining the pricing model for a new cloud-based solution is GAAP and revenue recognition. Many companies trying to make the move to providing on-premise monolithic software solutions are used to recognizing all of the revenue from that sale up front. However, revenue can only be recognized on a monthly basis when you’re selling a cloud-based solution, regardless of how you price it. Revenue is based on how your product is consumed. This changes the revenue recognition model, which can affect any factor within an organization, such as profitability, sales channel, and sales model to name a few.  An organization launching a cloud-based solution has to be prepared to build a stream revenue model business instead of an up-front, license revenue model business.

Cloud-based solutions are often billed monthly or quarterly (depending on the size and complexity of the solution), and because of this, they typically have a lower billable price point.  Due to low initial revenue streams, it often does not make financial sense to use traditional sales channels to sell these solutions. It is difficult and often cost prohibitive to pay a sales rep commission on a monthly service. Consequently, the price point and resulting compensation is so low that most field sales reps won’t even want to sell the solution. Because of this, most companies that offer cloud-based solutions use a sales channel other than field sales. Some will use inside sales reps and others will use digital sales channels, using products like Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud to market and sell online solutions to customers. While the GTM channel is an important choice to make, regardless of the outcome of that choice, enabling the customer to see and use the solution before they purchase it is a key component to success.

Free trials are key to a successful launch of any cloud-based solution. For one thing, people have come to expect a free trial, so not having one will be a major strike one in any cloud solution launch. Secondly, customers have a need to see the solution before they purchase it, so they can understand how it works and ensure the solution fits their needs. Remember, cloud-based solutions typically have no customization (custom coding) and minimal configuration (settings). Enabling a free trial will allow your customers to see the value your solution can bring out of the box. A few notes to ensure your free trial is a successful one:

  1. Full Features – Regardless of the subscription model chosen above, the free trial should ideally contain the full feature set and no usage restrictions to enable the customer to get the full experience of the solution.
  2. Nurturing Programs – Many forget that a free trial is great, but it is just that: Free. What often happens with free stuff? It’s free, so it has little to no value. Users often forget about free trials and don’t use them. Nurturing programs are essential to converting as many free trial users to paying customers as possible. Here are some major components for a successful nurturing program:
    • Welcome emails
    • “Did you know?” emails, in which features and use cases are outlined
    • “We noticed you haven’t logged in. Can we help?” emails

Nurturing programs should not stop after the free trial is over and should continue after a purchasing decision is made. Never forget that you could potentially lose every customer every month in the cloud model. Because of this, you need to keep in touch with your customers to ensure they know you are there. Do you have a new feature? Did you just learn about a new development or trend in the market? Let your customers know about these important updates, because this shows them you are a partner and not just a solutions provider.

We hope you enjoyed our 3-part blog series on cloud solutions! If you didn’t catch the first two in the series, click here to get started. If you would like to set up a time to learn more about how we can help you build an effective cloud solution, contact us here.

About the Author

Abdul Rafay Mansoor is a technical architect at ObjectFrontier, Inc., and his work primarily involves presales consulting. Abdul has been a developer for more than a decade, and he began taking on presales consulting roles a few years ago. Abdul’s area of interest is cloud native development, and you often will find him passionately advocating cloud adoption to our clients.

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