What’s a SaaS solution’s value chain? It’s simple, it’s all the parts of your offering that link up in order to turn customer income at one end into a solution the customer values at the other.
In this post I’m explaining which half of the chain causes most SaaS companies to fail, and revealing what you can do about it.
The SaaS Value Chain Broken Down
The SaaS value chain can be broken down into two sub-chains: the supply chain and the demand chain.
Each of these chains can then be sub-divided into three high-level organisations we all know:
- Supply chain: purchasing, research & development, distribution
- Demand chain: marketing, sales, customer service/success
The Supply Chain
The supply chain is responsible for turning raw materials (your software, software integrated from other companies, electricity, servers, and similar) into a complete software solution. This involves a purchasing department who buys raw materials, a research & development (engineering) department that builds the software and finally a distribution department that makes sure the software is available.
A distribution department within a SaaS company will usually carry a different name, but it’s whichever team is responsible for ensuring software is stable, fast and accessible 24/7 worldwide. It’s likely they will work closely with the R&D team.
The Demand Chain
The demand chain is responsible for generating awareness of the solution the supply chain has built, turning that awareness into customers, then servicing those customers.
This involves a marketing department that builds demand for the product; a sales department who is responsible for negotiating with buyers and closing deals; then finally a customer service/success department whose goal is to make sure customers are happy, renewing, and upgrading.
When The Chain Breaks
If any element of the SaaS value chain is broken, business grinds to a halt. For example, on the supply side: if purchasing cannot negotiate contracts for all the software the R&D team need, they cannot build a product. If the R&D team aren’t great engineers, they’ll never build a product people will buy. If the distribution team is no good, then the software will be unreliable, and customers will churn very quickly.
The same holds true on the demand side: if marketing can’t build demand for the product in the market place, then sales will have no leads to close into customers. If the sales team are no good, then they won’t be able to close any of the buyers the marketing team attract. Finally, if customer service is bad, then new customers won’t renew.
These are all revenue killers.
It’s therefore fundamental that all the links in the value chain are optimised to their fullest potential. No part of the chain can be allowed to underperform, because the knock-on effects damage the entire company.
Excellent Supply, Poor Demand
When it comes to SaaS, it’s usually the case that company founders are technology and product focused. We often hear the story of a couple of software developers working in a garage to build the first version of their product.
But while SaaS companies often build excellent products, turning all elements of the supply chain into measurable processes which can be iteratively improved, they fail to apply the same rigor to the demand side.
These issues are then compounded by a massive culture issue faced by the business world at large.
The business community very much thinks of the supply side of the value chain in terms of a science. Everything can be measured, from lines of code produced per year by developers through to server uptime, or even discount rates achieved by the purchasing department.
By comparison, many companies fail to apply scientific thinking to the demand side. Many organisations still think of sales, marketing and even customer service as an art, where the best in the field are portrayed as artists, geniuses or rock stars. Think of Mad Men’s Don Draper, the advertising expert who could come up with brilliant messages to sell any product; or The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, the ruthless salesman who could sell a pink sheet stock to anyone.
This is subconsciously reflected in the business world. We think that top sales people are these super talented, rare people with a “gift”, and therefore frequently fail to enforce and optimise good sales processes, due to fear of stopping sales reps from selling in their “preferred way”.
We think that brilliant marketers have a special way with words and imagery, and that it’s their job to come up with the next Silver Bullet campaign that’ll make the product a success, and therefore don’t apply process to marketing teams, either. We worry we’ll stifle their creativity.
Exactly the same happens in Customer Service. We seek out a “people’s person” when hiring support personnel, and hope they’ll be able to solve any problem thrown their way with minimal process (although more progress is often made here than in Sales & Marketing).
This all results in a breakdown of performance, and a huge loss in value.
If you want to make your SaaS company successful, it’s time to start thinking about how you can take the scientific principles you apply on the supply side of the value chain, to the demand side:
- Start using marketing automation software like HubSpot Marketing Hub, and track every marketing campaign down to the revenue generated. You can then begin to link marketer’s income to revenue contribution, much like the sales team.
- Implement a CRM system like HubSpot Sales, and invest in developing a formalised sales process that your sales reps must follow; then monitor revenue performance to optimise the process over time.
- Use customer service software like HubSpot Service Hub, develop support processes and monitor churn over time. Iterate and innovate, scientifically.
It’s only through process and a level of scientific rigour that your SaaS company can achieve its best. So long as we keep viewing the demand chain as an art, huge amounts of revenue will be left on the table.
Process (done right) doesn’t have to eliminate creativity, either. It simply creates boundaries the best marketers, sales reps and customer service personnel can be creative within, and ensures that what works is scaled out across the entire organisation.
How to Use Data Visualization in Your Content to Increase Readers and Leads
Have you heard of data visualization? Even if you don’t know the term, you’ve probably seen some examples.
Data visualization refers to graphical images that represent and explain data trends or other numerical information, such as charts, maps, scatter plots, or graphs.
You can use data visualization in articles or on web pages to make numbers and data easily digestible to the reader. Especially when you are trying to distill down complex topics to convert more readers, data can add value and help you make your case.
The Benefits of Data Visualization
Visuals are a powerful addition to your articles and presentations.
Our brains process images at a rapid pace, according to an MIT study. Including visuals in your article not only breaks up the text and gives your reader something else to look at, but also may help them process the information more quickly.
Think about it: we’ve been communicating visually from the cave painting days. Data visualization just takes image communication to the next level, integrating stats and data into compelling visuals that your brain can absorb faster than just scanning numbers.
Plus, it’s more than just laying out the numbers. Data visualization is about presenting data in a very specific way to back up your claims or illustrate your point. It’s more than just a table of statistics the reader has to work through to figure out for themselves.
Numbers can often be the “proof” you need to convince your reader to take the next step or to make a purchase, but many people don’t want to take the time to read through all the data.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, people don’t read word-for-word online, going back to the internet’s earliest days. Instead, they scan, looking for stand-out headlines and images that grab them. Data visualization gives you that opportunity to capture their interest and get important stats in front of their eyes.
Examples of Data Visualization
Are you inspired to start creating data visualization images for your content, or are you still needing some examples? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.
1. USA Today Housing Bubble Graphic
Using an interactive map, USA Today created this graphic to help readers understand the data behind current housing sales trends. The simple color palette makes it visually appealing, and the ability to scroll over each state to learn more means readers may spend more time on the page, interacting with the data.
2. CNBC Job Change Graph
This visual from CNBC is an example of using a bar graph in a visually compelling way. At a quick glance, you can see what’s growing and decreasing. As you look closer, you can check out more detail about the numbers and specifics.
3. NY Times Nutrition Scatter Plot
Scatter plots can get complex, which is why this graphic from the NY Times uses images to help make the point. It also explains the XY axes, so readers understand what they’re looking at.
Types of Data Visualization
When it comes to creating unique images, the only limit is your imagination, but here are a few common types to get you started.
Bar graphs are a simple option. Think back to your school days and science projects. Bar graphs can be vertical or horizontal, with each bar representing the values of each category.
Bar graphs can represent any set of numbers you need to compare side-by-side, and you can use colors to reflect different categories. For example, you could compare salaries for different jobs, prices for different products, or populations of different groups.
Pie charts consist of circles representing 100% of something, broken into “slices” of ratios or percentages.
They are a great way to illustrate how various categories compare to their larger context. For instance, you can show how many people of a certain group have different behaviors, habits, or preferences.
While not always the most visually compelling, tables can allow you to provide multiple data points or categories to help people understand the relationships among items.
On a table, you can lay out in rows the main categories you’re comparing. Along each column, you can include as many different topics as you need to.
Tables are simple and useful but can easily get cluttered. Make sure to highlight the sections that need your attention and use colors to make things stand out. Keep everything lined up and clear to make it easily scannable for your readers.
A power horse of online images, infographics can mean almost anything. However, an infographic typically acts as a curated collection of charts, graphs, icons, and short text to share high-level information about a topic or tell a narrative.
They are usually vertically designed, with strong headlines and numbers. Its power comes in combining various elements to tell a story. Infographics are great for an overview, such as a brief history behind a topic or a quick lesson.
What’s more visual than a GIF? Functioning as a quick video, a GIF can allow you to show growth, movement, regression, or progress. GIFs often involve an animated graph or chart that shows demographics or change over time.
When the information you present is demographically or locally focused, maps can help tell that story visually. You can connect readers with information relating to specific areas or groups of people in those locations.
Color-coding different areas of your maps can give your readers a quick visual of exactly which areas relate to which topics in your content. For instance, you can shade areas red or blue depending on how that region voted on a particular topic or election.
A heat map can show areas of concentration or intensity. You can use this for actual temperatures, such as climate or record temperatures in certain areas, or you could use it for proverbial heat, showing intensity or even popularity.
Sometimes heat maps illustrate population density, for instance, or the behavior of users on a website, such as how often they interact with a certain area.
A scatter plot is a type of graph that shows the correlation or relationship between two topics on a horizontal and vertical axis, with dots scattered throughout to represent examples of that relationship.
You can draw a line through the area where the dots are concentrated to see trends. Your reader can see that as one factor changes, such as increases or heats up, the other factor tends to respond in some way.
Pair Up Simple Data Visualization Types
The above are just a few of the simple elements you can use to illustrate your data. The options are almost innumerable. Just about any kind of chart, graph, or map can be employed.
However, some of the best data visualizations integrate multiple types or pair up more than one element. For instance, you can use a series of pie charts to show how trends have changed over time.
Sometimes, matching up multiple elements can illustrate your point more fully or allow you to describe various points of your narrative better. You could even use a chart within a chart or lay them out in an infographic style to tell a story.
Make Data Visualizations Interactive
To make your data visualization work hard for you, you may want to consider interactive options.
Interactivity allows readers to scroll over or click on various parts of your charts or graphics to learn more about each section. Maybe each bar on your graph or each area on your map has more specific information that your viewers can read.
This not only provides more powerful data points to your image, but it also allows it to be a more relevant and customizable experience for more users.
Data Visualization Tools
You can create data visualization images for your content from scratch using design software or an online option like Canva. However, data visualization tools can give you a leg up by allowing you to create truly stand-out projects.
These tools can take the guesswork out of the process and let you focus on plugging in the data and cranking out designs that reflect your brand and convey your message.
The great thing about these tools is that they are made for the casual creator. You don’t need to be a developer or coder to get into making great charts or graphs. Here are a few of the plug-and-play options that can get your idea off the ground.
Flourish advertises an easy option for creating and sharing data visualization. You can upload spreadsheets directly to the platform or create your images from scratch. It has a number of animated or interactive templates, which you can update with your brand graphics and elements.
Flourish has a free option that allows you to explore and create public data visualization. If you want to interact with your team or create private projects, it offers a few levels of paid options.
Datawrapper promises to be easy to use, with no coding experience required. It provides several intuitive options, with tools such as a color-blind check that remind you of colors that are color-blind friendly.
With a variety of defaults in its templates, Datawrapper brings the details of each data visualization that newbies may not have thought through.
This tool allows you to create charts and graphs that have the animation and customization you need to wow your audience. You can also use Infogram’s drag-and-drop feature to drag the images around and combine elements into a single, highly-effective visual.
Tracking the Success of Your Data Visualization Elements
The time and effort it takes to create data visualization and work it into your content can pay off if it helps drive people to your goals, like increasing readerships or leads. However, you’ll only know if they’re successful if you track the metrics.
Consider the Big Picture
As you start incorporating data visualization into your content, one of the easiest ways to track their success is to see how well your content is doing. The most basic questions to ask are: is the content with data visualization more popular? Do those pieces get more readers and more shares?
Dive Into the Data
One way to get a little geeky with your data is to set up a heat map tool, such as Hotjar. This can give you more data about how people behave on your page, such as how and where they scroll or click. This is especially useful for a landing page where you’re trying to convert people to sales.
Help Them Act
The only way to know if your data visualization is actually converting is to give readers a way to be converted. Once they have been convinced by the data you are sharing, what do you want them to do next? Make sure you keep clear CTAs near the data visualization. Clicks or email sign-ups can help you track the effectiveness of that image.
Data visualization can help you drive readership and more leads by engaging with them from the start. People come back to your online hub when they find quality content there. They’re also more likely to share your content with others when they find it interesting and engaging.
Data visualization can help you take complex or dry concepts and make them more compelling, helping drive home your point and increase sales along the way.
If it feels daunting to create and manage your data visualization elements, we are here to help out. We also offer services like SEO, content marketing, and paid media.
What kind of data visualization are you going to use in your content?
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