4 Megatrends for B2B SaaS Leaders

4 megatrends for b2b saas leaders

Right now, we’re changing the way we work and how we connect. Priorities and expectations have shifted. While many of these changes may only be temporary, these temporary changes will have long-term effects. Christine Crandell, President of New Business Strategies, urges B2B SaaS leaders to embrace a new way of doing business.

In an interview that we hosted with Christine, we dig into 4 of the megatrends she sees impacting B2B SaaS organizations:

  1. Authentic connections redefining commerce
  2. Companies organizing around the customers
  3. Vigilant organizations rising driven by purpose
  4. Business models shifting from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed

Watch the interview to hear what these megatrends really mean for organizations and what leaders need to start doing to respond.

Key Takeaways from the Interview for B2B SaaS Leaders

We have to redefine efficiency to truly understand our customers.

Let’s understand the customer, let’s do voice of the customer and really, really listen. And then align processes to that customer, to that engagement, to those micro-moments that have the most value. And once you understand what that alignment looks like..[you can ask] What am I going to optimize? We have to look at the customer, re-engineer our processes, and then put in technology. – Christine Crandell

Customer expectations are heightened and brands are being held accountable

If you send me a survey and I fill it out, I expect the brand to respond to me to say, what did you do with my data. Even if it’s just an NPS. So we are now seeing that the customer is expecting brands to know more about them personally, and not just categorize them as a persona at a particular stage in an industry in a [specific] geography. – Christine Crandell

The companies that use this time to truly pivot strategy will become market leaders

McKinsey found that companies that use this time not to just fiddle with their business model, but truly to pivot, truly to innovate to make some rash, not harsh decisions, I should say, about what to keep are the ones that actually will be the market leaders in the next era, the next generation or the next economy. And interestingly enough, it’s during this downtime that the hot young companies are actually created. – Christine Crandell

Realigning around the customer will promote speed and efficiency

[Your] workers are going to see stuff on the front line. Don’t stymie that.  Embrace that and have those mechanisms where they actually can go off in a pod and go experiment with something. And if it works, well, great, then let’s socialize it. But that’s where the speed and the agility is going to come from. It will take us quite some time to get there because as you said earlier, these are old habits that will be hard to change. But I think a lot of nimble young companies are embracing this already. And looking at the future and looking at engagement from a completely different mindset. – Christine Crandell

Watch the full interview with Christine here

Full Interview Transcript

Madeline: Hey everyone, I’m Madeline Turner, Head of Marketing at LoopVOC. And chatting with me today is my new friend, Christine Crandell. She’s a career B2B Board Member Advisor, customer marketing, and digital transformation consultant at New Business Strategies. Christine, thank you so much. We’re thrilled to have you.

Christine: Thank you very much. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Madeline: You published an article recently that I’ve thought about a lot over the past few weeks. The six megatrends that you predict will emerge on the heels of this pandemic. And there are the six that you focus on in the piece, but four of them that I find particularly relevant right now for B2B SaaS, authentic connections, redefining commerce, companies organizing around the customers, vigilant organizations rising driven by purpose, and business models shifting from optimization and efficiency to agility and speed. So, I’d love to spend this time today digging into what these megatrends really mean for organizations and what you think they need to start doing to respond. But before getting into all those details, we’ll kind of back up a little bit. And my first question for you. All of us have been impacted by this pandemic. We’re changing the way we work, connect, how we entertain ourselves, and priorities are shifting, both personally and professionally. And many of these changes we hope, will be temporary, but you seem to suggest that these temporary changes will have long-term effects that we have to accept that the way it was won’t be the way that it will be. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Christine: Sure. Change is an interesting thing. In that we oftentimes assume that something happened, like COVID happened, and the response is, “Oh my God, I didn’t expect it. “I’m being blindsided, oh my gosh.” Because we’re surprised. What’s really interesting is when you sort of peel that tipping point away, which COVID was a tipping point. The trends that are very much at play, that have matured today have been around for 10 plus years. And so they start off as being little independent, emerging trends. And then as they mature and interact with each other, they then become stronger and then they wind up reaching this tipping point. So for anyone that is deeply rooted in strategy or is a futurist or really reads the tea leaves. You can spot those trends, that’s not how human nature is wired. So human nature is that we assume that tomorrow is a linear extrapolation of today. So if today is a really good day, then tomorrow is going to be a little bit better than today. If today was not so good then tomorrow might be even or a little bit worse than today. That’s just how our brains work. But the key is if you look at those trends, and you track them, and you track the maturity, and there’s a way to go do that. And, I consume data, chocolate, I consume data. And yeah, it’s just like, “I want more data.” And you can actually start to see those patterns. You’re doing pattern-matching, you’re doing sense making, and you can see those trends over time. Oftentimes, though, there is a tipping point that sort of just pushes it over the edge and in this particular case, COVID pushed a number of these trends that were bubbling and ready to sort of pop over the edge. And here we are.

Madeline: You’ve discussed how our forced separation will really stir up this desire for connection. And even looking at B2B SaaS customers want authenticity and human connection. But with the rise of technology, automation bots, how do you suggest that businesses balance efficiency and scale with a deep understanding and customer relationship building?

Christine: It’s a good question because it’s a little bit like the chicken in the egg, which came first? So let’s go back and set a little bit of context. We have been for the last 20 plus years focused on optimization, we’ve been focused on productivity, the economy since World War II has been really focused on productivity. How do we scale? How do we do less? How do we do more with less people? And so there’s been this whole orientation around how do I just you know automate? And we could arguably say that, we went a little overboard with the automation, pre-COVID. When you look at chatbots and you look at, and I’m not picking on chatbots. I haven’t been on chatbots but I’m not picking on them. But you looking at technology we’re in for so many brands to actually talk to human being is virtually impossible. You know, there are certain, we shall not name them applications in which you can send out newsletters or whatever, they maintain your lists and whatnot, where you cannot literally ever talk to anybody. So the two pieces of efficiency and customer really actually can fit together but we haven’t looked at them that way. We’ve been only looking at how do I actually do more with less? Well, now we’ve come back, we’ve had this tipping event and this has been brewing for a while. This brand or this customer dissatisfaction with being treated as a number with what I call foe relationships up through personalization. This over automation, this technology isolation has a backlash. And that backlash has really come to play in COVID, and how brands dealt with it. So when we look at this efficiency and customer, the really key thing is, let’s now understand, let’s put the customer first. Instead of looking at how do I optimize internally? how do I get a checkup faster? How do I process appeal faster? How do I develop my product roadmap faster? Or with less product marketers? Now let’s focus on more, let’s understand that particular customer. So we have to redefine efficiency, to actually start with understanding that customer. And there are many customers, ironically, or interestingly, in all the hundreds of work projects that we’ve done. For any organization, there’s only typically three or four customer journeys. So there’s not like there’s thousands of them, but they’re three or four customer journeys. So first, let’s understand the customer, let’s do voice to the customer and really, really listen. And then align processes to that customer, to that engagement, to those micro moments that have the most value. And once you understand what that alignment looks like, what’s sales doing? What’s marketing doing? What’s product marketing doing? What’s finance doing? Then you can start to say, what am I now on those processes? What am I going to optimize? Where do I use technology? So before it was, “Oh, my God, this technology is really cool. “Let’s do AI, let’s stick it someplace. “Let’s go fire some people.” And now it’s the other way around. Now we have to look at the customer, let’s re-engineer our processes, and then let’s put in technology. The one caveat I wanna say is, we got into this trouble a little bit in our optimization of processes with the past 20 or so odd years. Is that we didn’t recognize that because of how technology was built, we were actually institutionalizing rigidity. So it became very hard to be agile. And we’ve been talking agile a long time. Now we have this phenomenal opportunity because we’re going this way and we’re turning it around and putting the customer in the center to say, let’s be very mindful as to when we look at technology to say, “Are we sure that we can spend on a dime “so that we aren’t institutionalizing rigidity.” And I think that will be very disruptive into the tech marketplace as vendors, this is not unusual. This happens, every 20, 30 years, when the technology mainstays today wind up becoming the brands that in 20 years, people won’t even recognize because they won’t be around.

Madeline: Absolutely. I mean, the point about, we got ourselves into this leads me to my next question of, part of what makes it so difficult for companies to do right by customers is the entire way our companies are built. It makes it difficult to even know who our customers are, or what they want. It’s like we create these experiences that are meant to deepen connections, but our internal brokenness and lack of communication around the customer leaves us delivering disjointed moments instead. So now, we’ve talked about this being a problem for a while, but why do you think that it’s even more of a problem that organizations need to address right now?

Christine: So COVID had a very interesting effect. And it didn’t matter if it was B2B or B2C. So the brands, and I’m gonna just use generically the brands. We have all gotten the emails, “We’re there, we have your back.” And in essence, they really didn’t. And so it’s everything also from the advertisement. I’m sure everyone has gotten the pitches from their vendors that says, I got one the other day where it says, “Well, if you buy now you can save 50%.” And so there’s lots of that. I get it. I get that brands are focused on acquisition. They’re trying to preserve the revenue, they’re trying to preserve cash. But when you look at it from the customer’s perspective, it seems disingenuous. And so it’s all so toned up. So there has been so much communication that’s happened around COVID where customer base is very sophisticated. It doesn’t matter if they might not have the largest business in the world or they could have the largest business. They’re wise from their consumer experience. That they can spot that into the B2B world and that they see the brands are disingenuous. And so what has happened as a result of it, what is that brand seeing the revenue drop and seeing their win-loss rates drop have just pumped up our email to the increase of 30%. And HubSpot found that the response rate naturally plummeted and what was resonating were just marketing emails, where it was more educational, informative those types of things. So what that should tell brands is that I made a mistake. I should have done like salesforce and other brands did that says let me back off from the acquisition and let me focus on building a customer relationship and let me care about that customer. “Are you okay? “Is there anything that you need? “Can we send you masks? “Can we send you wipes? “Is there anything that you need?” And so customers now have a higher expectation because they realize that they are now going to choose brand loyalty based upon their experience through COVID. They’re now gonna be very judgmental. If you send me a survey and I fill it out, I expect the brand to respond to me to say, what did you do with my data. Even if it’s just an NPS. So we are now seeing that the customer is expecting brands to know more about them personally, and not just categorize them as a persona at a particular stage in an industry in a geography. They’re expecting them to close the loop on voice of the customer and on see set. They are expecting brands to be much more ethical and much more transparent. And they’re going to vote with their dollars. And so companies that say, “It’s business as usual, pre-COVID.” Are going to find themselves very much out in the cold.

Madeline: Absolutely, and you’ve worked with a ton of really large companies and oftentimes the larger the company, the bigger the problem. So talking about breaking down barriers and internal silos sometimes it’s easier said than done. Do you have advice for leaders on what they can start doing to turn this from a pipe-dream to reality and how do companies use this time to make major shifts in how and why they do business?

Christine: Yeah, so let me take the last question and then back to the first. So there’s been a lot of work done on what happens to companies that leverage these downtimes to re-engineer themselves and to innovate. And so two things came out of this. McKinsey’s the one that’s been probably the most writing about this and their work is actually really, really good. Is that they have found that companies that use this time not to just fiddle with their business model, but truly to pivot, truly to innovate to make some rash, not harsh decisions, I should say, about what to keep are the ones that actually will be the market leaders in the next era, the next generation or the next economy. And interestingly enough, it’s during this downtime that the hot young companies are actually created. So when we look at the old, another downturn like 2000, and you start looking at who are the leaders today, like Adobe, and those types of guys, they were all born in economic downturns. So we should not lose sight of that. I think my advice to leaders and we work with small companies as well as big companies. And the advice is the same is to start small. Too oftentimes companies will rush into this, and they think it’s a tactic or think it’s a program and then when they realize it’s a huge amount of work, and some of it isn’t particularly sexy, then they lose interest. And they sort of say, “Well, I’m just gonna bit fiddle here on the edges, “and call it a day.” So I’m going to start off with a list. I have a list of 10. So the first one that I say is, understand your customer, but from the outside, again, that means talking to your customers. And you’d be surprised how many brands or companies say, “We talk to our customers all the time.” And reality is that they don’t. They don’t do it in their cabs. They don’t do it in their Customer Advisory Councils, they don’t do it in a CX Council, they don’t do it and watch their customer, they really don’t to their customers. So the key is, understand that journey and understand that qualitatively. You can augment it with quantitative data, but do qualitatively so you actually get that richness of depth. The second is clean up the customer data. We all have messy data, my company has messy data. We all have messy data and whether it’s using the CDP or Master Data Management, just clean it up and get it into a format where you know the health of that data because it’s actually critical. I think the third is to truly listen to the voice of the customer. And truly use it not as a panacea to check the box, but to really use it to close the loop with that customer and to hear where their opportunities to diversify, their opportunities to innovate. And what you can do differently. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to build a bidirectional relationship with customers. And it’s a missed opportunity for most brands, most brands. The next is train your people and in the culture of that’s customer centric and onboard them. When I see lots of onboarding programs, I’ve only seen it in two instances, we’ve worked with over 100 companies around the world where the customer journey maps are part of the onboarding process. And that’s the simplest thing to do is say, “Here’s the journey map. “Let’s teach you how to go through it. “You are here. “This is your job. “These are your touch points.” So oftentimes that has to be baked into the onboarding program. An informative worker is going to be an empowered worker who will make better decisions for the customer. And then break up big organizations. We have a hierarchical model that has been in place for probably 100 years. And we always say, well, we’re made trickster, we’re flat. Well, not really, we’re still look like a pyramid. And we have entrenched in our culture this perks with ranks orientation, meaning the higher up I go in your organization, the more Benny’s that I personally get. The best way to sort of break that apart is to break the organizations and create, I call them pods, have actually done a couple times. They work really well of cross-functional teams between six and 12 people. So you’ve got sales, you’ve got marketing, you’ve got customer support, you might have product management, or you might have an engineer. It depends upon your business and have them wrapped around an account or have them wrapped around a particular market. So let’s say we have oil rigs as a market. So wrap them around the oil rigs and enable them to actually run it as a business. The how you keep the pods aligned is that they wind up being accountable to corporate objectives, which are measurable and time-bound. So everybody actually lines up not like a pyramid, but they actually line up, corporate objective. And so what happens here is all of a sudden now, and for someone who is a confident leader, with high EQ, I’m okay with that. Because it means you’re gonna have to trust your workers. But what happens is you’re moving that decision-making down to the front line. They’re gonna be able to respond faster, they’re going to be able to pivot faster. They’re going to be able to spot opportunities much earlier and vet those opportunities and then socialize them internally. We did this at a university, which actually works really well. There’s other folks that have done this in software companies, FourSeasons does this, which is why the guy who opens up your car door knows your name, which I know freaks everybody out. But it’s a wonderful way of empowering your frontline workers and with it, your worker satisfaction just goes through the roof. So next is, so we talked about breaking it up. So aligning and then we talked about aligning teams to your corporate objectives, which are measurable and time-bound. The key thing as you identify innovation, innovation could be coming from you. It could be something that you license from somebody else, spin it out, take that innovation group and go stick them someplace else, because the natural tendency for large organizations is to kill anything that counters the norm. So you’re gonna have to spin it out with the organization and just foster it, feed it with some money. And the next orchestrate campaigns to journeys and use marketing mix modeling. We have been, as organizations pretty standard or slow to respond and mixing, where we do our marketing spend by channel, mostly because it’s been very hard to do that scenario analysis with the advent of AI, with the advent of some amazing new startups and new companies in that space, you actually can do real-time modeling. So you can almost on a weekly or monthly basis, you can start, moving your money around as you see that revenue performance happening, as you see trends out on horizon. So, again, it’s a pace change. And then the last is be human. I think that’s the key that we have left out in the past 20 years. Is we forgot that we are all individuals. We’re all unique. We all want compassion. And we all want to belong, and we all want to have meaning. So, embrace that. So the net of it is, let go of old habits and get uncomfortable. And the more uncomfortable you get, the more you experiment, the more you’re going to go find really those true gems that are critical to the future. And, yeah, it’s feels kind of… but it’s key. It’s really key.

Madeline: Yeah, and I mean, there’s a reason they say that old habits die hard. We’re talking a lot about some cultural and foundational changes that have to happen in order for businesses to survive or even thrive in this next phase. But we have a habit of taking too long to do right. But moving quickly and being agile is critical right now. So how do you do you think that realigning around the customer actually promotes speed and agility in this customer first world?

Christine: I think that what’s interesting, what I see on the horizon is something I’m incredibly excited about. In that we will look at, companies will naturally attempt to adjust what they’re currently doing, and they’re gonna find that it doesn’t work for me. And again, that’s part of human nature. And so as companies that experiment and find that by bit fiddle over here really didn’t move the needle that much, and they’re gonna get to the point where they say, “Okay, I need to really think outside the box here.” And so what we’re going to see are companies who will look at their products and say, “How do I actually really reduce the standardization “of this product? “And how do I maximize or increase the options “around that product so that customers can configure “those products and services to their own uniqueness.” We claim we could do that today with cars, but not really. But imagine if you really could do that. You can say, “I’m gonna buy that chassis.” Or let’s take something that’s a bit more in the B2B space. So I’m gonna do a cell phone which probably a better example is. So I have this chassis, this body, and I’m gonna have these capabilities. I’m going to 3D print this at home. And I’m actually now going to be able to get, this kind of a cover or this special type of glass and that gets sent and I can actually assemble it at home. I think that what we’re gonna see are radical redefinitions of how products are defined and built, again, with this minimal standardization, this maximum of options. And I think what we’re also going to see out of that are completely new ways of how do I get the speed and agility. And here in this case of the phone, you have speed because the customer has actually gone off and designed their own phone, which by the way will create a whole new set of industries around helping customers configure this. And the speed is that for all intensive purposes, that customer may be able to build that phone to their particular specification in less time than it would take for them to actually go shop around the multitude of options that are available today and sort of make those trade-offs and get something that is not exactly what they wanted at a much lower price. So, it’s completely blowing that up. But that will take, this is where we look at the innovators from the followers. This is where people are gonna say “I’m comfortable as an organization, “completely blowing up this model. “And let me go try this and see how I can go do that. “And then let me tweak it. “If the customers are there, and they respond positively, “then I’m going to vest to it.” What’s the biggest missed opportunity in my mind is that too often brands actually don’t involve their customers in this process. So if you look at baking in your customer and doing co-creation with your customer. So we have this goofball idea, Mr. Customer, we actually want to empower you, to do X, Y, and Z. Maybe 3D-print part of your piece of equipment. Come on in, come in, and Hazmat suits and all that stuff come into it. And let’s actually work through that. What are the value components? What is the return? What are some of the obstacles? And too few companies actually do that. It’s sort of this little chassis wobble. I’m gonna invite you customer in only to this point. I’m gonna have a couple of hidden agendas, but I’m not going to embrace the central partnership. And it’s those brands that do that, that embrace it into a partnership are the ones that we most successful. DHL actually does this really well. One of the things that DHL did to their co-creation was actually develop, it’s totally cool. They developed a drone and the drone actually is put into like a crate, and it’s got stuff in it. Say for instance, you’re going to deliver medicine out into a remote part. And so this crate is moved to someplace wherever it needs to be out in the remote either by helicopter or by truck gets dropped, the top pops open, the drone comes out and then starts delivering. When the drone’s done, comes back in, the top folds down and it waits to be picked up. That’s co-creation, that came out of this co-creation. And so the other is, it’s also looking at engagements. Customers have a vested interest to say, “I wanna do business with you.” And if you as a brand are open to us working together on messaging, on your customer-led growth strategies, on campaigns, the brand is gonna find out that they’re gonna be able to pivot a whole lot faster. Because they have a team behind them of customers that are going to inform them. But you got to be able to let your barriers down and let those customers and this whole notion about, “Oh well, they’re gonna share my trade secrets.” I get it, but you have to trust your customers, as well as you need to trust your workers. The workers are going to see stuff on the front line, don’t stymie that, embrace that and have those mechanisms where they actually can go off in a pod and go experiment with something. And if it works, well, great, then let’s socialize it. But that’s where the speed and the agility is going to come from. It will take us quite some time to get there because as you said earlier, these are old habits that will be hard to change. But I think a lot of nimble young companies are embracing this already. And looking at the future and looking at engagement from a completely different mindset.

Madeline: That’s so interesting. You said a few things that really struck a chord with me about, we have a tendency in B2B SaaS and really everywhere, of seeing something that worked for one company, and then everybody goes and creates the same thing. So we’re all operating off of the same playbook where you have a small, medium, large or whatever pricing strategy. If you get these features within this package, these within this. And if you want to customize it, it’s super expensive. But thinking about in this next wave, what it looks like for customers to really be a part of the experience creation of the features and integrations and products that they need. So whether we’re not building for them, we’re building with them. And your piece about the front people on the front lines. They’re the eyes and the ears of our company. And so often what customers are sharing with them or the market is sharing with them and all the conversations, they have it, it gets lost. Maybe there’s an email chain, but there’s no way. We’re not really treating our frontline employees as our first responders for our customers, or even as market research. So I think that they’re using the resources that we already have in throwing out the playbook, it maybe wasn’t working that well to begin with. So I love that.

Christine: Yeah, but let’s understand where they came from. And that came from, I’ve been a CMO for public and private companies and in a public company, everything was around earnings per share. Everything was around guides to Wall Street. And so what happens, let’s go further. On a private company, let’s say your venture capital base, then you’re looking at, “Okay, what is my next tranche? “What do I have to achieve “to get that next tranche of funding? “What is the plan exit strategy? “What do I have to “and how many multiples do I need to get to “within five years so that I can have the exit strategy “that that fund is committed to their limited partners?” And so we have become short-term oriented. We have made so many decisions, even in our personal lives, like okay, “I do this, I get this now. “I will go and buy my whatever fancy expensive car now, “even though I really ought to put it in my 401k “because I’m going to need it down the road.” So we have a culture that’s based on short-termism. What we’re talking about now is saying that does not work and we’re seeing that. We’re seeing it in ventilators, we’re seeing it in masks, we’re seeing it in the fact that there’s finally toilet paper now in the grocery store. Where was that for the past six weeks? I don’t get that. So we have to change that horizon to be longer term. And what we’re talking about is now unraveling that and taking that longer term orientation. And that will be bumpy because the Wall Street’s not gonna like that at all. Because, that’s not what automated trading is building on. But I cut you off, I’m sorry,

Madeline: No, no, no, this is great. Before we wrap up, I just wanted to see if you had any closing final thoughts for leaders right now maybe that we didn’t touch on in this series of questions.

Christine: Yeah, I think that it, one is to take stock of where are you today? And I’m not talking necessarily about, do I have enough cash? How am I gonna bring my workers back? Just take stock of the business today, and take stock of where the marketplace in the industry is today and look at sense-making. Look at that trend analysis. And for someone who is not used to looking like that there’s a couple of things. If you’re a large enough organization, just think of it as being one headcount. That’s all that they do. It’s a special skillset. You’ll find it with folks that are very much in the strategic bent. But their sole job’s to do nothing more than read the tea leaves and provide guidance. It could be marketing, the Chief of Staff, whatever. I think that if you can’t do that, then spam it out. There’s organizations that actually do this, some of the stuff that we do. So one is get a handle on the emerging trends. The other is something that you said that I thought was really really wise. It’s experiment, experiment, fail fast, experiment and get uncomfortable. When you get outside that box. And you get uncomfortable is where you’re going to find those opportunities that are gonna make you the winner next year. And don’t put it off. Don’t put it off, because companies today that are doing that are the ones that will be the winners in the future.

Madeline: Well, Christine, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go if they want to get in touch with you?

Christine: Sure. So we have a website with a very quirky URL. There’s a long story for that, which I’ll spare you. It’s a new biz S, so it’s www.newbizs.com. Or you can just google Christine Crandell and I will pop up. I’m on Twitter, I live on Twitter. So it’s @ChrisCrandell, and Crandell is, Cran is cranberries, Dell is the computers. So if you have any questions, shoot me a note. I love just sitting down and helping people navigate this and love to have this conversation. So thank you. Thank you very much.

Madeline: Yes. Thank you so much. I know that we have been having more frequent conversations over the past several weeks throughout all of this craziness and Lauren and I are both super grateful for your time and for joining us today.

Christine: My pleasure and go LoopVOC.

Madeline: Yeah. Thank you, have a good one.

Christine: Goodbye.

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