Cloud technology continues to transform the way business is done. It has had an impact on the way software is bought and sold but also on the quality of software itself. A true cloud offering, as opposed to a hosted version of an on-premise solution, makes it easier than ever for software companies to focus on delivering real value for the customer.
While working on my own project at the-skore.com I met with Sean Dukes, the founder and principal owner of Learnsmarter, a software developer creating solutions on the Salesforce.com platform. Learnsmarter, founded in 2007, is a UK based startup building solutions for organizations that run training courses. Here’s what Sean had to say about his experience moving to a cloud offering.
CJW: How did you get started with Learnsmarter?
SD: We inherited an existing Training Administration System from a previous venture. It was an on-premise solution built on an older technology platform and was becoming harder to maintain and sell. We knew we needed a new product and the hosted model really made sense to me.
Trust is incredibly important
Our first approach into Software as a Service (SaaS) was based on renting servers and running everything ourselves. The software looked pretty neat, but there were so many challenges, many of them around security. Trust is incredibly important in this market and ultimately we decided this option just wasn’t good enough.
CJW: So what attracted you to Salesforce.com (SFDC)?
SD: The platform. What we wanted to do was possible and all of our security issues more or less disappeared. There were other benefits too. Obviously SFDC customers themselves are a great market. We could also see that there was a great deal of potential synergy integrating our new products with an established CRM system. It was something our customers would want and another thing we didn’t have to create ourselves.
moving to Force.com was the smartest decision of my career!
It hasn’t been a completely smooth road, but moving to Force.com was the smartest decision of my career!
CJW: SFDC claims to be a highly customizable platform. Can’t customers just build their own solutions?
SD: One of our biggest competitors on the SFDC platform is companies customizing SFDC themselves. You can extend it very easily, adding fields, objects and tabs and we have made sure that the work we’ve done supports these kind of customizations too.
But … training transactions can be surprisingly complex and what seems like a simple task can become unwieldy if you’re not careful. This is where we come in. We preserve the SFDC look and feel, but build something solid that really flows and gives a great user experience.
A big advantage is that the customer knows from the outset exactly how much they are spending, compared to customizing which can end up as something of a black hole.
CJW: Making complex processes easier for the user certainly adds value but how do you identify those?
SD: You don’t have to look very far. Something basic like setting up a course is a good place to start. Managing trainer, room and resource availability and ensuring you don’t get clashes is not something the SFDC platform was designed to do.
I do like challenges though. If a developer comes to me and says something is impossible I get excited! We can really add value in those situations where customers want to do something, but can’t do it easily for themselves.
We also look at the ways that the world has changed. Companies have been focused on cost savings since the beginning of the financial crisis nearly 6 years ago. In that time so much has changed and that creates opportunities, companies that don’t change are getting left behind.
CJW: Can you give us an example of the sort of changes you mean?
SD: Recently we’ve been talking about “Post Apocalypse Training Administration”. Many of the companies we speak to haven’t invested in new technology since Lehman Brothers collapsed, in the meantime there has been a communication revolution. In 2008 the iphone was barely a year old and social collaboration technology had yet to make a significant impact in the workplace. People were still distrusting of what Gartner now call the Nexus of Forces.
As these companies venture out of their shelters they are looking to get directly connected to their customers. Paying for a custom website that integrates with your legacy systems and building an ecommerce solution is a considerable expense. We can get customers up and running with all this in days. From a demo on Monday a customer can be selling training courses on their website by Friday.
We have at least one customer where the system virtually paid for itself in a weekend. Their traditional channel of telesales didn’t account for the shift patterns in their target market. With the phone lines only open 9-5 many would-be customers simply weren’t around to make bookings. Moving to an ecommerce solution transformed their sales to such an extent that they had to rapidly transform their supporting processes to deal with the additional demand!
CJW: And what has been the main impact on how you do business?
SD: The biggest change for us has been on the way we approach sales. With traditional software, the sales process was all about the close and when a customer did make their selection they were totally committed.
Now the customer has a choice and with lower initial cost of entry it’s less risky for them to buy and easier for them to change. It’s not simply about making sure stuff works, although of course that’s important. We are totally focussed on making sure our solutions make a positive impact on their businesses. Otherwise they may just go elsewhere.
It allows us to close the loop on continuous improvement
We work with some great customers and we’re proud to see our application running on their websites. I think the cloud model is a much better deal for everyone. Our customer interaction is no longer dominated by pre-sales and implementation. We have more time to engage with customers during business-as-usual operations, we learn from our customers all the time and our products get better as a result. It allows us to close the loop on continuous improvement, something that was simply too costly with traditional software. The more our customers succeed, the more we succeed. It’s a win:win.