The HotLine Magazine Archives
For The Profession of Cloud/SaaS Product Support
By Mikael Blaisdell

I’ve been reviewing position announcements posted on LinkedIn and other services seeking potential employees for customer support roles. The typical job description is explicit. VP or Director of Customer Support/Service/Care. Must have 5-10 years experience in all aspects of technical support operations. Must have [insert technical expertise details.] We are a startup On-Demand software company, and you will be responsible for building our Customer Support team from the ground up, etc.

Major Concerns

There are some major concerns in the above position requirements. First, there aren’t any available candidates with 10 years’ experience in running a customer support contact center for a SaaS firm because SaaS hasn’t been around that long. Therefore, the people who meet the time length requirement will be those that have run support departments in traditional perpetual-license companies. Will they be able to make the transition to the SaaS/Cloud world? Or will they expect to recreate what they know from the old model and impose it upon the new? With all that the SaaS community has come to understand about trying to turn traditional model organizations and individuals into SaaS players, such an expectation is a recipe for disappointment.

Second, the next questionable requirement is the technological expertise specifications. While fluency in a particular technology may be useful in communicating with customers, SaaS is supposed to be about selling productivity and value from a service rather than technology for its own sake. It is seldom that a good technologist turns out to be equally valuable in coaching customers in how to obtain increased productivity. The skills that make an individual a good break/fix technician are not the same that are needed for effective management of a customer support contact center for a SaaS company — or even for a perpetual license software manufacturer.

Next, hiring a builder to construct your house based only on what they’ve done in building other people’s homes is risky. There are three separate and different skill sets involved in a successful custom home project, those of the Architect & designer, the Builder, and what will be needed for property maintenance afterwards. While there are people who can do all three, such people are uncommon — and they generally prefer to specialize in one.

It might seem appropriate to look for a candidate with a good background in professional services, but that expertise may not be exactly what will be most needed for an on-demand software company. In traditional model technology manufacturers, the Professional Services group is about implementation. While such can be very profitable, it is also heavily transaction-oriented rather than being based in the maintenance of a mutually profitable long term relationship structured around an income stream profit realization strategy.

SaaS is a different model, and the difference, the SaaS DNA, must be consistently expressed in every department of the company and on every level. The success of an On Demand organization depends on hiring the right people for each role, who are SaaS players throughout. They won’t be found by searches using old model specifications.

September 4, 2007