I used to think I knew the difference between a product and a service. Yet this is one of those topics where the more experience I get, the less I know.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a well-known model, but a misnomer. It’s hosted software sold on a subscription basis. That’s it. It’s not “service” in the sense that most agency staff or alumni could relate to.
The service tends to come from one of two areas:
1) It’s the cost of doing business. This is more common. It’s when a company that’s trying to sell software, which tends to involve higher margins with lower costs of scale, has to service accounts (often without charging more) because customers find it difficult to use the product themselves.
2) It’s an intentional upsell. A client pays more and gets added service beyond the basic account management. This essentially turns it into Product as a Service (PaaS). The service is the opportunity. It costs more to build this out but could help with customer acquisition and retention.
For people like me who have worked on the product and software side but spent much more time at agencies or more broadly in a service industry, what we need to learn is the converse.
Agency-style businesses need to learn how to be in the SaaP business: Service as a Product.
It’s a topic I’ve been learning about a ton this year as I’ve refined my own offering. Much of my education came from Focused Founder CEO Apoorva Pande, who helped me refine my own product offering, which you can get a preview of here on this new landing page I’ve started to test out.
All of this requires connecting parts of my brain and experience that don’t usually intersect. On the agency side, every proposal is bespoke. You could pitch two identical-looking white bread companies, and one pitch would be all about how it’s the aspirational white bread for the post-paleo world while the other one would be all about passing on traditions of intergenerational carbo-nostalgia. It’s all just white bread.
With SaaP, you may still customize deliverables for different clients, but the focus shifts to how much you can keep consistent so that you can repeat the program and then scale it.
Consistency. Repetition. Scale.
These are not words that most service-centric people learn in agency school (there was no time to cover that after the 35-part series, “How to Fudge Your Timesheets and Make Them Look as Believable as Possible”).
As I talk to others about SaaP (another peer who’s been a helpful sounding board is Deepwater Strategies CEO Shawn Kallet), here are some of the questions that come up in conversation. If you’re in the service business and looking to productize your offerings, ask yourself these questions. You’d be surprised how hard some of the most basic ones can be.
1) What is your product? Hone your elevator pitch.
2) Who is the ideal customer? Do you have an ideal customer profile (ICP)?
3) Have you tested the product-market-fit where you match your product to your ICP? How have you tested it? If there’s a disconnect, how might you change either the product or ICP?
4) How repeatable is your offering? How much of it can you replicate for others?
5) Who can help you deliver it? When I started consulting, I was of the mindset that I’d do everything myself. I’ve since started working with freelancers on-demand and will invest in this further. Your team, even on an ad-hoc basis, can include subject matter experts, tactical staff to deliver select components, project managers, virtual assistants, production assistants, and others. Who you need depends on your skills and product. While contracting or hiring others will eat into your costs, it may allow you to net higher margins as fewer of your own higher-cost hours are needed. The team also helps scale, and scale is the grail.
6) How are you selling this? Often, you’ll say, “Word of mouth.” That’s terrific. Some people can become fully booked that way, but few can scale beyond their personal capacity, and most (myself included) wind up with too much bandwidth and too few billable hours. Word of mouth isn’t usually enough.
7) What repeatable, scalable methods have you found to scale your product? If you talk to someone who figured this out, take great notes, and see what you can try yourself.
Are you in the SaaP business? What have you learned from it? How much have you figured out? I’m eager to keep learning and to keep sharing everything I can. Granted, reaching out to Apoorva or Shawn will get you even further along. I can also share more thoughts of what’s gone into my own offering.
Those are a few things I’ve been trying to make sense of lately. What are you making of yourself?
PS: Check out the next SpeedUp events on Upstream today at 6pm EDT.
I’m trying a new section with some quick recommendations and observations. Let me know what you think, and share any of your recommendations.
Reading: Dune by Frank Herbert — totally hooked.
Listening to: The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, which is eerily relevant when walking through Manhattan these days. Eerie: I just got to the part where, at a dinner party, a guest references Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” during a pandemic.
Watching: Cobra Kai is a damn near perfect TV show and relentlessly satisfying. Just finished it. I’m also most of the way through the final season of Homeland.
Moment of Gratitude: That the first presidential debate ended in under two hours. My god, that was exhausting.
LEARN. TRY. SHARE.
AN OFFER FOR THOSE WHO MISS CONFERENCES
This came from my friend Cory Treffiletti as he’s been helping with this. I don’t usually share such offers outright, but it’s such a fun idea:
Missing conferences and events? Miss getting a great “swag bag” and meeting new, exciting, innovative companies? Then sign up to receive The Arkitektive! The Arkitektive is a “swag bag” delivered in a box quarterly to your door. Included are some awesome, eco-friendly, branded merchandise, curated by our staff and featuring some of the most interesting companies and products you’ve yet to hear of. You get invited to a quarterly unboxing webinar, you get to meet the C-Suite and you can follow up on your schedule if it makes sense to have a virtual meeting and hear more. It’s all the innovation and none of the risk, delivered to your front door. Get signed up now and start getting your quarterly swag box in November. Apply at http://www.thearkitektive.com today!
WHAT TO DO AFTER YOU SHINE THE BLACKLIGHT
Have you tried The Markup’s Blacklight tool? Not my idea of a good time either. Brilliant journalism though. Here’s what to do about it, with a nice plug for Brave.
Thanks to Don Steele, Rachel Pasqua, Matt Wurst, Jaimee Kniffen, William Alvarez, Wendy Weatherford Marks, David Kohlberg, William Alvarez, Duc Luan Dam, Gina Waldhorn, and Mike Marzano for spreading the word recently. Here’s your own personalized link, with more referral rewards for sharing the newsletter. Visit https://referralhub.page/serialmarketer to see how you’re doing.
Please send over any events you’re hosting or attending, and I’ll add them to the list. All events below are virtual, and all times are EDT.
COMMUNICATIONS WEEK (REGISTRATION NOW OPEN)
This is an annual event series by Kite Hill PR that is going virtual, and they always get a terrific speaker lineup. Register now!
TEAL’S CAREER GROWTH SUMMIT
“Teal’s Career Growth Summit is a virtual event aimed at helping professionals navigate their career growth. Over the course of 2 days, we’re bringing together established professionals and experts in the career space to run round tables, workshops, and virtual networking sessions to help you put yourself in the best position to find, land and grow in a job you love.”
SOFT LAND EXPO: USA EDITION
I’ll be speaking at this one and am excited about the roster they’ve put together: “Soft Land Expo: USA Edition (SLEUSA) is a bi-directional event that will connect both international companies seeking to enter the U.S. market and U.S. companies seeking to internationalize to global markets with key agencies, resources, and service providers to support their success.”
BIG YELLOW HACKFEST
November 5 / November 12
This group is amazing. Check them out. “We have a trust problem in the marketing and advertising industry. Over the past 15 years, as new distribution mechanisms like social, disciplines like content marketing, or initiatives like diversity and inclusion emerged, we silo’d. We continue to silo, not integrate–while we watch the world innovate. This compromises brand experience, and, in turn, threatens brand trust. Big Yellow Think Tank seeks to advance collaboration across brand experience. By leveraging this abrupt shift in the world, we will reimagine the way we work and serve brands. Big Yellow Think Tank is ready to set a new standard and we need your voice. Our first initiative? A virtual hackfest.”
13TH ANNUAL LGBTQ MARKETING & ADVERTISING SYMPOSIUM
“Each year, CMI produces our signature LGBTQ Marketing & Advertising Symposium (now in our 13th year) for marketing/advertising/communications professionals. The event is held in collaboration with, and hosted by Google NYC.”