How to Define Your SaaS App Requirements

by Miguel Perez
Blog Post

So you’re building a SaaS app…

There are a number of new SaaS apps coming out, many as competitors in fields that are already becoming crowded. Look at the field of project management or productivity apps as an example – these are highly competitive and already have some key big players who dominate.

SaaS apps are often an attractive business model to get into, which is why it can seem like everyone is out there trying to enter the field. Build an app, get customers signing up for monthly recurring revenue and keep the app updated and maintained over time.

If only it were as simple as that. The fact is that new SaaS is built, then shut down again all the time. Not all can be a winner, although that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

One of the major contributors to the success or failure of a SaaS app is the strategy you follow to determine your app requirements. We find it helpful to answer a few questions about your desired end-product. Let’s look at some ways to break that down:

Who is it for?

When you are defining your SaaS product and overall strategy, an absolute key is knowing exactly who you’re building it for. There are many companies out there who have been reluctant to clarify a specific audience because they worry that doing so may leave some possible clients out. The problem is, if you don’t define your audience, your messaging can become unclear.

“A confused mind never buys.”

A defined audience is obviously important when it comes to marketing your finished product and putting your website together – how many websites have you landed on where it’s difficult to tell what they do and who they do it for? The chances are, if you don’t understand quickly, you will give up and leave.

It’s important to define your audience well before you get to the point of marketing, however. In terms of your SaaS build project as a whole, it’s much easier to set the course for your features and requirements with a specific audience in mind. Developing buyer personas early is a good exercise to go through. You may have multiple personas within your target audience and these will help to guide your development. You have to be building for someone.

SaaS guru Lincoln Murphy offers a simple way to speed up the process of identifying the right customer profiles to target. His suggestion is to rank your potential customers according to the value they bring to the business:

“Instead of spending months interviewing customers in detail, create a spreadsheet that rates potential customers according to budget, market size, accessibility, pain level, and customer lifecycle. You can then rate your customer profile, such as small B2C companies, according to this criteria. The profile with the highest score wins.”

How to Define Your SaaS App Requirements

Enterprise or consumer software?

Who is it that you really want to serve? The fact is that enterprise and consumer software are completely different in how they are executed. Enterprise tends to have a heavier focus on security, audit trails, user management and scalability across a large business. Consumer apps still require things like security, but it’s on a smaller scale.

Consumer apps tend to require a shorter development cycle in order to reach a “minimum loveable product” (the minimum required for a product that consumers will love to use). It’s common to release that “minimum” product prior to working on extra features and upgrades, but for enterprise software, it’s expected that you have a much more comprehensive product on release. Enterprises want to implement and have their teams trained as soon as possible, rather than have to update them on new features with any sort of regularity.

What problem are you solving?

Why does your SaaS exist? A key to success and to defining your app requirements is to know exactly what problem (or problems) you are solving. It has to be something that is important enough to your target market that they’re going to want to pay for a solution.

Can you solve the same problem as a competitor? Of course, you can, but it’s easier to gain some kind of edge if you’re solving it in a different way, or have obvious advantages that they don’t. A straight-up competing product, with little to distinguish it, leaves the obvious point of competition – price. If that’s all you’ve got, you can end up in a race to the bottom, hardly a promising tactic for the future success of your business.

Where can you get ideas for the important problem/s you will solve? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Look at reviews on other SaaS products in the same category. What do customers love about it and what suggestions do they have for improvement?
  • Talk to your target market. What are the recurring themes of any problems they have? You could try surveying directly or posting questions on forums or Quora.
  • What pain points or problems have you experienced in your industry? Are they common with others and could you build a software solution? (Stepping back and figuring out if this is a big enough problem is key – just because it is to you doesn’t mean that it’s a good software idea).
  • Are there people/businesses who are still using antiquated and/or clunky systems to get key tasks done? These can be an opportunity for a SaaS solution.

Why should customers choose you?

If you’re building another Dropbox, why should I choose you instead of, well, Dropbox? This is about your value proposition. Perhaps you’ve identified a subset of Dropbox users who would find more benefit from choosing your product.

You might choose to distinguish your product based on the feature set you create, for example by adding in features that people want but aren’t available on a competing product. Even this can be risky though, it’s not difficult for established competitors to simply add to their feature set and keep their current customer base.

If you can solve a unique problem, that’s even better – something that no one else currently has a solution for. It’s a risk to be the “first mover”, but it has definitely paid off for big SaaS such as Salesforce who now dominate in their categories.

From another perspective, your strategy might be to build a “lite” version of a software and target a specific subset of the market. For example, a SaaS-like Salesforce is a huge, feature-packed package which might be too big or too expensive for some. There might be certain features or functions that people would like to have, but they don’t need all the rest.

What are your core features?

Having answered the first three questions, you should be in a better position to understand exactly what your core features need to be. This is a vital part of your requirements because it is so easy to get distracted by “nice to have” or features that are really side issues. Your core features should directly answer the problem you are solving.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

It is much better to have a few very well-constructed features rather than many mediocre ones. This will mean saying “no” to some ideas, shelving others until later and generally remaining hyper-focused on your central solutions.

Sometimes this might mean defining your own ideology and remaining true to it. Basecamp opted to do this from early on, despite criticism that they were “blinded by ideology.” They didn’t build a Gantt Chart option and still haven’t. Why? Because they don’t believe they are necessary for good project management.

Final thoughts

If you want to build a stand-out SaaS app, you have your work cut out for you in a field that has become highly competitive. That’s not to say it’s an impossible task – by working to clearly define your app requirements you can give yourself an important head start on competitors.

Answer a few questions before you begin:

  • Who is this for?
  • What problem am I solving?
  • Why should customers choose us?
  • And finally, what are our core features?

Having the answers to these will help you to clarify what is needed and to keep those requirements at the forefront of your product development. Instead of building another “me too” product, you can carve your own path to serve a unique audience.

Koombea helps companies to build effective, unique SaaS apps. Talk to us today about how we can help with your needs.

by Miguel Perez
Blog Post