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Trends amongst successful SaaS CEOs

Patrick Campbell May 15 2016

We’ve spoken with or worked with a lot of SaaS companies. Through Price Intelligently and ProfitWell, we’ve seen inside more than 15% of the SaaS market and all data indicates that’s more than anyone else out there.

While I’m still on my own journey to become a “successful SaaS CEO”, I’ve been blessed through our work to see some pretty stark trends between those operators who are helming companies that are succeeding versus those who are failing miserably.

To help get those thoughts together, we were fortunate enough to link up with the team at Drift to put together a guide of those trends, as well as some heavy experience from one of the O-G’s of SaaS, David Cancel - Drift’s CEO. The result is The SaaS CEO’s Guide to Happier Customers.


For those of you who don’t know, Cancel is one of the most successful SaaS product leaders out there. Period. Some of you may not have heard of him, because his personal brand is getting stuff done, not managing his personal brand. Yet, through five exits (Ghostery, HubSpot, Performable,, etc.) and a stint where he transformed HubSpot’s stack as their CPO, he’s the very definition of a successful SaaS CEO.

For those of you who want to just read the guide, here you go. For the rest of you, here’s a summary of the four main pillars of being a successful SaaS CEO with some excerpts to keep you moving.


#1: Create customer driven product (Don’t think you’re Steve Jobs)

When I’m arguing with Facundo (our Head of Product) about our direction, he loves to bring up the fact that Steve Jobs once said, “I ensure you the person who said ‘the customer is always right’ was in fact a customer”, which is a more dense way of saying Henry Ford’s old quotation, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

What Facundo, Steve, and Henry are evoking here is the concept that figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. While that’s 100% right, most product folks get this 100% wrong.

The above statements don’t mean you produce product in a vacuum. While the genius in a great product operator is finding the best solution to a problem, customer’s are absolutely brilliant at telling you about their problem and all the facts, figures, and opinions around that problem.

Too many product folks think Steve and Henry (and Facundo for that matter, but don’t tell him I said that) were just magically brilliant enough to come up with these ideas and they never spoke or understood their customers. In reality, these folks obsess about learning and listening to their customers through closed betas, customer advisory boards, win/loss analyses, and the like. 

"Here’s a dirty secret. Steve Jobs listened to customers."ico-twitter-yellow

#2: Price your products based on value

If you’ve read any of our posts before, you know we’re all about pricing strategies, especially value based pricing. Yet, the most successful CEOs we run into always ensure that their pricing aligns with their customers perception of value through constant customer development around where those customers see value.

Why do successful CEOs do this? Well, because successful SaaS CEOs realize that the lever in their business that has the most impact on their bottom line is pricing. In fact, pricing has 2-4x the impact of getting acquisition or retention right. It’s that important. 

“Good pricing has 2-4x the impact of good acquisition or retention."ico-twitter-yellow

#3: Manage to the right metrics for retention and growth

If you don’t know your customers and your business metrics, there’s no way in hell you’re going to know what build, who to build it for, and if you’re going to stick around as a business. Metrics are that important.

Yet, knowing which metrics are important specifically is a bit of a tricker subject. Earlier stage it may strictly be user growth; a bit further along may be revenue growth; and at one point it may be LTV. Regardless, you should have compass metric, and then at least be aware of your:

    • Net Promoter Score: Oodles and oodles have been written about NPS, so we’ll spare you, but there’s yet to be a better alternative at such a low cost for measuring satisfaction.

    • MRR and MRR Growth: Goes without saying. If you’re a subscription business, then MRR is imperative to track.

    • Revenue Retention: In the earlier stages, knowing how much money you’re losing from existing customers (or gaining if you’re using a value metric), is likely more important than your overall growth.

    • LTV/CAC: In these questionable startup times, knowing the efficiency of your growth is increasingly important, so you should know your lifetime value in relation to your customer acquisition cost.

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#4: Ensure you have a Go-To-Customer strategy

Sure, “go-to-customer” strategy sounds like some jargon buzzword we made up with the Drift team, but in reality you as a CEO need to have the customer experience buck stop with you. Too often we hand off the experience to someone in charge of customer success. In reality, similar to our go-to-market strategy, we need to ensure there’s an immense amount of thought put into how we’re going to drive customer usage, satisfaction, and growth.

The Drift team goes through the tenants of a good strategy in the following slideshare, but essentially a GTC ensures:

    • Segmentation for relevance: Ensure conversations are always relevant by segmenting how you communicate with your customers

    • Grow through proper monetization: Effective upsets and cross-sells help achieve growth that aligns with your customer’s needs

    • Satisfy to retain: Ensure C-SAT is as high as possible to ensure customers are seeing value and intend to renew.

    • Engage to drive usage: Engage customers in their subscription to drive usage and show value

You’re the boss. Don’t screw it up on the important aspects of your job.

At the end of the day, the buck stops with you. The beauty of SaaS is that although your role requires diligence, a hard work ethic, and some ingenuity, the subscription model isn’t rocket science.

That being said, your role is always shifting. Make sure you center yourself around the most important aspect of your business - your customer.

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The SaaS CEO’s Guide To Happier Customers from Drift
By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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