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Image: Creating an optimization plan for SaaS usage

Making purchases (whether large or small) requires critical thinking. A number of questions run through any buyer’s head while deciding. If you’re a conscientious buyer, the main question will likely be this: “Am I actually going to use this thing?” It’s pretty easy to measure the result in the majority of consumer cases. You can keep track of how many times you wore a suit, or how many times you used your gym membership.

SaaS purchases for businesses are another matter entirely. The buyer at a company is not usually the driving force behind the purchase. They may not ever use the product. And they’ll likely rely heavily on departmental owners and users to know whether the business is getting it’s money’s worth, without a lot of data to back up the assessment.

If you’ve been reading our blog recently, you know that there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that must take place in order to effectively manage relationships with SaaS providers. It’s absolutely critical to have an accurate record of SaaS contract details, monitor usage patterns, and run proactive audits of SaaS vendors.

Monitoring usage patterns only get you so far though – without goals in place. Why not create an optimization plan for each SaaS platform? Think of it this way: let’s say you’ve bought a gym membership with the intention of going 5 days a week. You’re probably going to push yourself to use it and track your progress. Performing this same exercise (no pun intended) with SaaS platforms will help hold internal teams accountable for the financial commitment of any given SaaS.

Before you start, remember that an optimization plan can be as simple or as complex as it needs to be. If your business uses a SaaS data storage company and the only metric is megabytes used per month, all you need is one number: the target MB per month. So don’t feel like you have to create a complicated plan for each SaaS provider.

But, there are instances that warrant a detailed plan – especially when there are multiple departments using the SaaS in a variety of ways. Salesforce is a prime opportunity for a multi-faceted optimization plan. Just ask Cindy Reeder, Senior Product Manager of Salesforce and Marketo at Yodle.

“Prior to our last contract renewal with Salesforce, we put together a utilization model based on usage of different types of licenses that aligned best with the access needs of each group. Business leaders were asked to justify all individuals associated with a Salesforce license. In the end, this model was used to determine final license count and type for our renewal contract.”

An optimization plan can take something that’s easily done on a small scale and push it out to a broader group. You can determine on a monthly basis if your gym membership is still worth the cost, simply because you (or members of your household) are the only one using it. An optimization plan to can push the onus back to the departments to define what their targets are, thus allowing you to focus on oversight.

The most important inputs to capture for a SaaS optimization plan:

  • What are the goals of the group in question?
  • Who are the users in the group?
  • How do the group’s goals translate into activities in the SaaS platform?
  • What’s the target number associated with each activity or action?
  • Where can you create reports to monitor those activities?
  • What’s the appropriate timeframe for performance checks?

Once you have the answers to these questions, the next steps are to create reports or dashboards for performance checks and schedule time for regular review. Department owners will likely have the most expertise in the SaaS platform, and they are heavily invested in making sure their teams meet targets. Rather than setting up the reports yourself (and trying to reinvent the wheel in the process), request a walk-through of existing reports and dashboards. There’s likely a way to add you to an existing report, and there may be email notifications that can let you know if users are meeting, exceeding, or underperforming on usage targets.

With all the correct inputs in place, your SaaS optimization plan is simply management by exception. You’ll be looking for data that falls outside the ranges in your plan – if there aren’t any, there’s no action needed. If there are, a quick touch base with the departmental owner will give insight. Was the last time period was a fluke, or does it represent a new pattern? And like quarterly audits of SaaS governance, you’ll want to ask if any of the inputs have changed – with the same frequency you use for performance checks.