Salesforce pioneered the SaaS industry building a cloud-based CRM. However, the actual CRM was built for more traditional businesses, not the kind of business Salesforce is itself: A SaaS business with online products and a subscription model. Other CRMs exist, but they all follow a similar structure as Salesforce.
In my role as Co-founder of Userflow and Cobalt.io, I have firsthand experienced this dilemma, and with the current growth of SaaS. I think it’s time for a new or existing player to take the challenge of building a true CRM for SaaS, which combines the powers of Salesforce like conversation tracking and opportunity mgmt, with true SaaS elements such as trial/PQL monitoring, subscription tracking, and reporting.
Why Do We Need a SaaS CRM?
Salesforce has been a fantastic success and today has many SaaS businesses as customers. But if you truly look at it, the Salesforce product itself has not changed into being fit for SaaS.
Salesforce and its competitors still use traditional things like products instead of subscriptions, and calculating a simple thing like ARR requires workflows or add-ons. This gap becomes even more apparent with the big product-led movement, as Salesforce is definitely not built to support a self-service PQL (Product qualified lead) sales process.
Technically, one can customize CRM tools like Salesforce and Hubspot to sort of cover these needs, but it is not truly fit for purpose.
What Would a SaaS-Focused CRM Look Like?
A system of record -> Not an add-on to the old CRMs
While I understand why new players are concerned about starting a battle with Hubspot and Salesforce, I think a true SaaS CRM needs to be built from the ground up and be a true system of record for all SaaS sales, not just an add-on to Salesforce. This will likely be easiest to sell to the SaaS SMB market at first, but over time if the product is successful, it will start taking market share upmarket.
A SaaS CRM needs to support tracking and reporting of the SaaS customer billing models, especially subscription models. Things like reporting on ARR, ACV, CAC, etc., should happen out of the box without major customization. This can likely be achieved by integrating closely with the payment provider that the SaaS business is using, for example, Stripe, Recurly, Paddle, or Chargebee.
Closely Tied to the Product
SaaS companies, and especially product-led SaaS companies, rely heavily on their product to convert and retain customers. Therefore, understanding product usage is critical for selling in the right way to customers. Painless integration to the product or a data warehouse is consequently essential for a SaaS CRM.
CRMs like Hubspot and Salesforce have many automation capabilities. Still, their software was built years ago and the possibility to automate sales processes, especially in SaaS, can be done much smarter based on product usage data and conversation analysis.
Integrating to other tools smoothly has been another CRM strength and a SaaS CRM of course also needs to integrate into the ecosystem, especially with email providers such as Outlook and Gmail, or payment providers such as Stripe. But the need for integrating with certain tools can also be reduced with a SaaS CRM that already has these as default capabilities. E.g. Hubspot’s recent move into payments is a good example of a CRM doing this.
Fit for both Sales and Customer Success
Due to Salesforce and Hubspot’s gap in customer success-related features, specific tools for this purpose have arisen. But there are so many overlaps that having both Sales and CS work in a SaaS CRM would be much better and ensure a stronger collaboration. CS-related features such as health scoring and renewal management should be a core part of a SaaS CRM.
Who is Already Doing Some Interesting Things?
While no one has fully taken up the battle with the traditional CRMs to be a replacement, there are companies doing some interesting things in the space. Below, I have highlighted some of the areas.
With the popularity of product-led growth (PLG), a new breed of startups has arisen. These tools are essentially helping companies discover Product qualified leads (PQLs) based on e.g. product usage data. One can then either trigger email automation via other tools or have sales reach out directly. Most of these tools rely on a connection to a customer data platform like Segment, and must also integrate with the traditional CRM. You can see a list of these tools below:
Reverse ETL Tools
Reverse ETL Tools (BTW a terrible name if you want to sell to sales and customer success teams) serve a similar purpose as the PQL/PLG tools by providing sales and customer success teams easier access to data, especially product data. It basically allows you to pull data from the data warehouse and into a CRM and other tools. Some examples are below:
Customer Data Platforms (CDPs)
While CDPs are mainly an aggregation and structure for sharing custom data between different tools. They do have a unique position, given they have all the customer data already. I could see a potential future where they start looking into other areas, e.g. PQL tracking, etc. But let’s see. Two popular CDPs are listed below.
In-app payment tools are often the first thing a SaaS company buys (even before a CRM), putting them in a unique position. They contain customer account and contact data, as well as subscriptions, discounts, and invoices. All things that you would need in a SaaS CRM either directly or via integration to the payment providers. Below is a list of some of the most common SaaS payment providers.
SaaS Metrics Tools
Based on the payment tools, startups have arisen that do SaaS metric reporting really well. All you need is to plug in Chartmogul to Stripe, and you get reporting on MRR, ARR, Churn, etc. Doing the same with Salesforce would take weeks if not months to configure properly. There are two key players in this new space, and more are likely to come.
No-code Onboarding and Support Tools
No-code user onboarding and support tools are another group of tools that companies will buy early and therefore populate with user data via in-app scripts. This data can be used to measure customers from a conversion and retention perspective. Some tools are listed below.
While I think that a SaaS CRM innovation is most likely to come from a new player, then we should still keep an eye on the traditional CRMs. Hubspot especially has made some interesting moves by expanding their product suite with email automation/sequences and their recent payment platform. But the problem they will face is that they are building on top of a core not fit for SaaS purposes.
Will We See a SaaS CRM in 2022?
I think it is inevitable that someone will try to build a SaaS CRM in 2022. I believe that given the explosive growth of SaaS and the traditional CRMs being aged, either a new or one of the companies listed above will try to take on the challenge to beat Salesforce and the traditional CRMs, and I look forward to following the progress.