Creative Tension: SaaS Strategy vs SaaS Tactics
There are two common mistakes people make when planning and operating their business – and these mistakes are just as common for SaaS businesses as any other kind. Both mistakes lie in the area of strategy and tactics. Broadly speaking, strategy is the big picture view of your plans and operations and tactics are the detailed things you are actually going to do to achieve your strategy. The two mistakes are around scope and vision.
Let’s take a look at strategy first. The commonest mistake founders (and almost everyone) tend to make about strategy is that they do not look at it with enough scope – they tend to think too narrowly. Note that this doesn’t mean that thinking bigger picture will make your strategy more successful – it’s just a mistake not to consider it.
The mistake around tactics is the flip side of the strategy error above. Your tactics have to be very specific and detailed – the more so the better and it is a common mistake to make tactics too general and not specific enough. It is in the details and the specifics that the little successes are found that compound to greater overall success.
But even more important than strategy or tactics is strategy combined with tactics. What do we mean by that? The tension between the grand plan and the day-to-day delivery against that plan is where the real work and real change happens that determine the difference between success and failure. For example, it is now well understood that for many platform businesses, moving to a specific market niche where you are getting traction and finding success can lead more quickly to concrete success than stubbornly sticking with a generalist one-size-fits-all philosophy. There are many SMB platforms tailored to specific businesses like pet store or yoga studios or builders that have found success and relatively few generalist platforms businesses have found success. Why is that?
It is because relying on strategy without being informed by tactics or relying on tactics without having a bigger vision are both just complicated ways to spell failure. A business needs both strategy and tactics to succeed and it needs to learn from lessons it learns along the way in both areas. Relying only on strategy leads inevitably to trying to do far too much, while focusing just on the details without a bigger picture and direction can mean you follow your details down the wrong pathway, away from what you planned all along.
Unfortunately, navigating the narrow pathway between the two forces of strategy and tactics is not easy and there are a million guides to that path that will all tell you something different.
Here are a few guides (covering both strategy and tactics) we have found that make sense to us.
- Salesforce has put out a great ebook that is by no means complete but summarizes the main arguments of several successful SaaS founders in various stages of starting a SaaS business and the strategies to follow.
- Joel York’s Chaotic Flow blog takes a look at sales strategy through the lens of three models that can all be successful in the right circumstances
- The kissmetrics blog argues that there is really only one concept that you need to bear in mind for a sales strategy – serving the customer.
- Hubspot put out a good solid backgrounder on basic SaaS marketing planning.
- New Breed Marketing rounded up marketing advice from thirteen different SaaS marketing experts.
- And finally, the SaaS Marketing Blog basically gives you all the marketing advice you could need.
- Peak Personnel Recruiting has some advice about hiring sales people for a SaaS business (which should be the majority of your hiring once you have found product-market fit).
- SaaStr has a great, great piece about what your first 100 hires for your SaaS business should look like and contrasts the mix of people needed at startup with the mix needed 100 people in.
- CloudStrategies discusses how company culture drives success for SaaS businesses.
- Zuora has some basic advice about how to encourage and foster growth at your SaaS business.
- Joel York (again) at Chaotic Flow has written an in-depth piece about a customer-oriented approach to growth for SaaS businesses that is a must read.
- John Peltier at The PM Vision wrote about how product strategy can support overall growth in a SaaS business.
- OpenView takes a look at eleven different product strategies that can help your SaaS business get out in front.
Business and operations
- This Quora answer from Tim Hampson addresses the overall strategy to take when building a SaaS business.
- Bplans has a basic blog post about how to set up your core business planning and strategy.
- Cloud Strategies takes a look at SaaS operations and strategies and how to optimize them.
- Clifford Oravec has some solid advice about customer strategy – how to find customers and figure out what they want more precisely.