Roles in SaaS Company: Who You Need to Start Hiring When Your SaaS is Growing
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Many startup founders start working on their products alone or with a co-founder to set the product afloat. Often, they work without any budget, dreaming of getting seed funding. But once they get it, a new challenge comes in: who do they need to hire first? The funds might not be enough for a big team, so there's a need to prioritize and start with the most essential professionals.
As a design agency, we have worked with both two-founders-teams and big companies with numerous product teams. In this article, we’ll describe the six roles in a SaaS company that appear at the introductory and growth stages of product lifecycle. But first of all, let’s start with a question that concerns many founders (even after getting funded):
How far can a startup go with just a founder on board?
We can always develop theories on what the perfect team should look like, whether a startup can have just one hire and so on. But instead, let’s look at the real-life example - it would be far more interesting than coming up with thousands of assumptions.
Pocket app (saving-texts-for-later service) is a startup that managed to serve 20 million users with just 20 employees. Remarkable, to say the least, but what is more breathtaking about Pocket is that for the first four years, it had been operating with a one man team (and was pretty successful). This one man was Nate Weiner, the founder.
So yes, a startup can be run and bring profit with just one person on board. The question is whether your product is as simple (and genius) as Pocket. And since you are reading this section, you might be having some doubts.
The truth is, you can’t find a perfect team structure on a blog page, even a very smart one. It all really depends on your needs. If you just follow some standard structures, you might end up with a blown-up team. But to have a small but efficient team like Pocket, there are still some simple rules you can follow.
Before building a team
First of all, start from the need: think about your goal and who can help you get there. Second, add new team members gradually. Hiring five people at once will make it hard to onboard each new team member and establish good teamwork.
Let’s imagine you’re on the way of adding team members to your SaaS team one by one. We’ll go through the main SaaS company roles, starting with the ones you might need at the very first stages and going up to the ones that are necessary for a big team of a scaling product.
Describing every position in detail would make this article endless. That’s why we focused on the KPIs of each position so that you know what goals you can solve with the help of each new employee added. We will also focus on soft skills because we believe that successful products are built by people, so you should never underestimate soft skills and communication.
As the statistics show, most startup founders have a background in computer science. So it’s safe to say that they are either able to work on the product development in the beginning or at least know well when they need a developer ways to find a good one.
Now, let’s talk about another important role to consider – designers.
Can you launch a product without a designer?
The story of Pocket teaches us that you’d still have to hire a designer sooner or later. And we wouldn’t be a design agency if we didn’t start the list of essential SaaS team members with UX/UI designers.
To not give unfounded statements, here is a story from one of our clients. Tromzo, a code security app. The company hired us to build their first prototype which they needed for investors’ pitch. Strictly speaking, they didn’t need a well-designed prototype to get funding at early stages… But they went an extra mile to impress the investors and it worked. They got the money needed for further development and launch.
When talking about the Early Stage, the designer’s help will be also needed with creating a website and some marketing materials. Even though it is not our main specialization at Eleken, our designers often perform some small tasks like these to support clients.
But the most important part is that UI/UX designers help you create a good user experience and get more happy users. Some people think it’s hard to measure design impact, but there are lots of metrics that show the quality of design.
Product designer KPI
- Usability metrics: completion rate, effectiveness rate, and such. These metrics help you identify if users can achieve their goals effectively when interacting with your product.
- Conversion rate. Design can make (or break) your conversion rates.
- NPS (Net Promoter Score). The user’s interface is a part of the overall experience with your product. Designers share this metric with the customer success team, but at the introduction stage, it is the result of their work mostly. When the NPS is lower than 30, it means that you need to do something with your design (or functionality).
Soft skills of designer: creativity, critical thinking, persistence.
To learn more about specifics of SaaS designers hiring, read our article on how, where, and when to hire a designer.
SaaS roles at the introduction and growth stages of product lifecycle
Let’s say, you have the development and design figured out. Now it’s time for launch and finding product-market fit. Naturally, to earn customers in a new market, you need a marketing manager to develop a go-to-market strategy and reach all the potential customers.
However, if your product is a B2B SaaS working with few big clients, it would be more beneficial to hire a sales manager first.
Once your product has an established pool of customers, a customer success manager comes into play. Their job is to make sure that the customers are satisfied, stay loyal, and bring more revenue to the company.
At the growth stage, the number of tasks increases and even if in the beginning the founder may act like a jack-of-all-trades, they would need help at this point. That’s where the CTO (chief technical officer), and product owner have to be hired.
From there, the team continues to grow: you will have a finance manager, data analyst, operations manager, and an HR manager to take care of different tasks. Some of these positions are the same in SaaS as in every other company, so we’ll focus on the ones that have direct connection to SaaS metrics.
What are Marketing Manager Responsibilities?
One of the goals of an aspiring startup is to promote your SaaS business and acquire new users. That’s why you need to hire a Marketing Manager who will help you attract new customers in order to generate more revenue.
This person will be responsible for creating various marketing campaigns across social media, email, affiliates, advertising, and content marketing channels. Marketing Manager runs thorough market research, builds customer journey maps, creates content, and delivers product value to your target audience. It is a metric-based position.
You can see ROI (return on investment) of the Marketing Manager Position by watching three numbers.
Marketing Manager KPIs
- Generated leads. What’s the number of MQLs (marketing qualified leads) you get on a weekly or monthly basis?
- CAC (customer acquisition cost). How much does every lead cost you? Know your CAC for each marketing channel. When you invest time and money, you need to know returns.
- Unique visitors. How many new visitors do marketing campaigns bring to your website? To increase that number, your Marketing Manager should use social media, inbound content, partnerships, and so forth.
Soft skills of Marketing Manager: curiosity, creativity, ability to multitask, tenacity.
Do you need to hire a Sales Manager for SaaS?
There is a common misconception that great SaaS products sell themselves. It only works for organic sales which take a long time to bring revenue. If you are determined to maximize your profit faster, you will need a Sales Manager in your team. Again, you can take this role as nobody knows your product better than you. Or you may hire a professional Sales Representative who will work tightly with the Marketing Manager and generate more revenue for your SaaS business.
This person is responsible for building sales funnels, integrating pricing strategies and discount offers, making demos, communicating with clients, and managing revenue streams. There are four key metrics to track to measure the performance of the Sales Manager.
Sales manager KPIs
- A number of demos. How many demos does your manager do weekly?
- Demos win. What is the close ratio? How many potential clients who had a demo end up becoming customers?
- New MRR (monthly recurring revenue). Is there a new MRR added to the top line every week/month?
- The average revenue per account. How much money can you get from one customer?
Soft skills of Sales Manager: strategic thinking, confidence, analytical mindset, effective communication.
What is the Customer Success Manager responsible for?
As you get your first customers you need to communicate with them, help them figure out different product-related issues, and receive valuable feedback about your SaaS product.
You need a proactive Customer Success Manager who will retain clients, deliver product value, improve the onboarding process, and build long-lasting relationships with customers. CSM is someone who makes sure that customers get activated, retained, and satisfied.
With this role, you will need to measure a couple of metrics to watch how things work and whether this role adds value to your business:
Customer Success Manager KPIs
- Time to first response. How fast does CSM respond to new tickets? People want to get service in a timely manner and do not tolerate long-time waiting.
- NPS (Net Promoter Score). Customer Success Manager owns this metric along with the Product Owner. It tells you how the customers are communicating and interacting with your CMS.
- Expansion MRR. Does CSM generate additional monthly recurring revenue? Does your Customer Success Manager upsell or cross-sell?
Soft skills of CSM: empathy, strategic mind, communication, active listening, problem-solving skills.
Why do you need a CTO?
In many SaaS companies, the founder can be a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) as well. You probably created core technology and built your product on a cloud-based platform with all the features and frameworks. But at the growth stage, the engineering load is growing and it is difficult to cope with all the functions and responsibilities of CTO along with being engaged in other business processes.
You need to hire someone who will be responsible for software development and infrastructure, data centers, and security debugging, and new releases. You need an Engineer to make sure your product is running smoothly and delivers all the necessary features to your customers.
The results of the work of CTO can be also measured with metrics.
- Velocity rate. It is a rate of progress for a CTO or their team. How much work can be done during one Sprint?
- Code coverage percentage. You need to do unit testing. Code coverage can help in evaluating the test performance and quality aspects of your software. It will help you know the efficiency of your development team.
Soft skills of CTO: constant learning, strategic thinking, communication, determination.
Can you be a Product Owner for your SaaS?
This role can also be taken by you. The Product Owner is the link between the target audience and development team who strives to maximize the product value and combine all user stories in a product backlog. This person works closely with the CTO and communicates the customers’ needs to the development team. The Product Owner collects customers’ feedback and work on the issues they encountered.
Let's see some metrics to understand whether this role is relevant for your SaaS.
The Product Owner KPIs
- North Star metric. It’s your most important metric. It helps you reveal whether your product is succeeding or not. North Star metric is unique for every SaaS business. For example, Airbnb's North Star is the number of bookings within a certain period. Your Product owner should be responsible for this metric.
- Activation rate. The Product Owner needs to make sure that people are interacting with your product and can easily find all the relevant features.
- Completed user stories. This metric can also help you measure the performance of your development team. Both the Product Owner and CTO are responsible for completing user stories. The more user stories they can complete in one Sprint, the more productive they are as a team.
Soft skills of Product Owner: communication, critical thinking, curiosity.
Building SaaS company structure
Now it may look like you get to a hydra team with five “heads”. It may look weird, as if you have people leading unexisting departments. However, it makes sense: once you have a team lead, they can grow their team and find exactly the profiles they need and organize the hierarchy (or horizontal structure) from the initial core team.
If you are at that scaling point when the team has grown to a size that requires more complex structure, you can take a look at how successful companies structure their teams. Not that there is no single correct team system in a SaaS. Roles and responsibilities of each team member can be different from one company to another. If you started from the needs, as advised in the beginning, you know that you got where you had to come.
Alternatives to hiring: outsourcing and team extension
When you are just starting a company, hiring professionals from different fields is a huge challenge and takes lots of resources. That’s why outsourcing some of the work to a design agency is a smart decision in such cases. You get the result faster while saving time on the hiring process.
The downside of the outsourcing is the lack of involvement of the designer in the specifics of the product. At Eleken, we try to address this problem by providing direct contact between a designer and client’s team. Our designers work on one project at a time so that they can dedicate all their attention to it, attending team meetings and being available at any moment. We call it a team extension. Curious to know how it works? You can do that with a free 3-day trial.
Send us a note telling a bit more about your product and we will get back to you.
Why SaaS Buyer Personas Fail (and How to Get Them Right)
Given that you understand your audience, your SaaS company turns into a Bollywood movie where everyone is happy and dancing.
Customers get exactly what they want, exactly where they're looking for it for the price that is optimal for them. They gladly pay that price, therefore you have no issues with churn, revenue and customers’ lifetime value.
But how can you know the “audience”? It’s a generic term for thousands and millions of potential buyers. It seems also impossible to understand all the individuals hiding under the “audience” term — it's just more than human brains can process.
What is a buyer persona
To move closer to understanding our customers, we need a tool that sits somewhere in between the “audience” that is too generalized to explain anything and “my 1,123,654 buyers” that is too detailed to explain anything.
That's where segmentation of target audience comes in. It generalizes clusters of your target users who exhibit similar attitudes, goals, and behaviors relating to your product. As a result, you have a manageable number of audience subgroups.
SaaS buyer personas are the next step after the audience segmentation. Made out of complex user data they take the form of real people to highlight specific details and important features of the group. It helps product teams to create empathy with users.
Remember why every Amazon meeting has at least 1 empty chair?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes that obsessing over customer experience is the only possible competitive advantage. One problem is that customers aren't there at every meeting, so it's easy to forget about their needs. Using his trick with a chair, Bezos makes it impossible for the team to forget about the customer.
Buyer personas serve the same goals — because empathy is really important and really elusive.
What’s wrong with personas
Say you start developing personas to understand user needs. You seek a simple buyer persona template and call it SaaS Sally. You add photos, some demographic data, some assumptions.
And then, the pretty slides you’ve made move to the dustiest digital shelf and never go back. You don’t use them because they don't help you reach buyers.
You google more info about personas to find out what went wrong. You read a buyer persona guide that makes fun of your pathetic SaaS Sally and say you need to “go dipper” and feed your personas with more insights and data.
All right, but making decisions while keeping in mind tens or hundreds of persona features becomes unwieldy. And it's unrealistic to find universal segments of customers with similar motivations, goals, information needs, attitudes, and behaviors across a broad array of situations and scenarios.
How to make personas work?
Here at Eleken design agency, we’ve got a bunch of people that know the answer. Our designers research user personas every time they need to build multiple user flows (like all the time). And here’s what the masters say:
There’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones.
This is worth repeating:
There’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones.
Before you make buyer persons, ask yourself, “what are my personas for?”
How to create personas for marketing
How to build buyer personas for better marketing? Let’s see how with SaaS buyer personas deals Beamer, the marketing tool that helps you to send targeted notifications. They must be good at targeting!
On its main page, the company pitches itself for three groups of customers — those who need their services for SaaS, ecommerce, or a website.
The three personas apply not only to the main page — Beamer makes targeted landing pages focused on the goals and pain points of each persona so that they resonate with them.
Moreover, as you sign up, Beamer asks you to specify what is your website for, and makes it
for purpose — after I’ve chosen that I’m writing for a blog, the next screen I see is talking to me as a content writer.
To make its offer convincing, Beamer needs to pick its strongest selling points and put those front and center. What information does Beamer need to gather for building customer personas?
The key is to have insights that reflect customer pains and customer gains. As we collect such data by running a survey or a series of interviews with the customers, we may notice that the answers vary depending on the type of site or app the client is running.
Website managers want to grab the newcomers’ attention. SaaS owners need in-app messages to increase user engagement and retention when ecommerce guys want to announce special deals and discounts.
Thus, Beamer can roughly divide their buyers into three groups according to their needs and build marketing messages that include what is important to each persona.
But when it comes to pricing, we can notice that Beamer slices the audience pie in a completely different way. Here they divide users not by a company type, but by a company size. Why so?
How to make buyer personas for product pricing
When you work on pricing, personas will help to figure out what features of a product different groups of people would find most valuable and least valuable, and what they would be ready to pay for them. Thus, you’ll be able to build a pricing grid that contains a satisfying option for each group of users.
Also, since it’s a matter of money, you need to look at some financial KPIs for SaaS companies. If a group of customers is willing to pay less than you spend to acquire that group, the unit economy doesn’t click and you’re going to lose more than you gain.
On the picture below, we can see a starter kit of data you need for developing personas for a SaaS pricing strategy.
Having data collected, you’ll notice that it needs to be segmented into personas along another axis, when compared with the marketing personas we reviewed above.
SaaS and ecommerce startups have more in common with each other when it comes to buying software than an ecommerce startup and Amazon. That’s why marketing and pricing personas can be segmented differently.
How to create personas: UI/UX design
Once we at Eleken designed a product website for Abode, a security-focused smart home solution.
The security systems market is huge, and to help Abode bite a piece of this market, we needed to understand users’ motivations, needs, barriers and more in the context of how they would use a design to ideate, iterate and usability-test optimal design solutions.
The goal and the scope of focus for this design task are very granular. Just imagine using Beamer's broad marketing personas mentioned above trying to understand how different users navigate down the site. The information in marketing personas would not be specific enough. It’s just for other purposes.
For Abode, we conducted user interviews to find out what people are looking for as they open the website.
We figured out that according to their intents all website users can be divided into four groups:
- those who want a security solution but no security hassle;
- people who already have a security system and need some additional devices;
- users that are looking for an optimal price/quality ratio;
- and security geeks looking for sophisticated solutions.
With this knowledge, we could understand what information users need to reach their goals and how they want to feel as they move down the page.
We used personas to explore different user journeys and brainstorm how we could implement a UI/UX design solution to give all 4 types of customers what they're looking for.
Crafting Useful Buyer Personas
As we remember, there’re no one-size-fits-all personas, only situational ones.
When creating user personas, tailor them to a specific task whether you need to wrap your value proposition in the right way, make a pricing grid, or app redesign.
Think of the information you need to gather about the audience to complete the task. There’s a ton of data you can get, so it’s vital to figure out what really matters.
If you need a broad bird's-eye view for high-level understanding and decision making, make broad personas, but remember that you can't see the small details flying high.
If the task requires any specific insight, you need to get closer. Thus, you narrow the view to be able to focus on important details. With a narrow scope, there is less context to consider, so we can get the richer data.
As you learn what your customers love, what are their gains and pains, the precise design will help you to build a deep empathy with your users into the product you’re making for them.
So, with that said, craft your buyer personas, and in the meantime, visit our article about the human-centered design — that’s the next milestone on the road to a successful SaaS startup where customers get exactly what they want, exactly where they're looking for it for the price that is optimal for them.
SaaS UX Audit Case Study: Lessons Learned
A SaaS UX audit is a powerful tool to identify a product's strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. But what exactly is it and when do you need to invest in one?
At Eleken, we know a thing or two about UI/UX audits and often conduct them during product redesign. In this post, we are going to walk you through a typical process of UX audit step-by-step, show you specific examples of how we conduct them and tell you how your SaaS product can benefit from a UX audit.
Why and when do you need a UX audit?
When it comes to SaaS products, a UX audit is crucial for improving user satisfaction and product effectiveness. We recommend conducting one during the initial design and development phase to detect problems early, and one after launch to fix issues, enhance onboarding, and adapt to users' changing needs. This is especially important if you added some new features that weren't planned initially. The longer your product is live, the more likely it is to collect issues only a thorough analysis will be able to detect.
For conducting a UX audit, we also recommend working with an expert in this field. Experienced UI/UX designers, especially those specializing in SaaS, possess the specialized knowledge and skills to tackle the unique challenges of auditing SaaS products. Plus, with their expertise, you can better identify crucial areas for improvement, gain valuable insights on how to enhance user satisfaction, and eventually come up with the design that will let you boost retention rates.
How does a UX audit go?
Depending on the product, specific steps to how to conduct UX audit might vary. But we at Eleken generally following these steps:
- Getting familiar with the product. Our designers learn what are the business goals, who is the target audience and what pain points the product solves.
- Gathering user data. At Eleken, we often receive tons of valuable data from our clients thanks to usage analytics and support ticket trends. We also conduct additional research using various UX audit tools to help us gain insights into analytics.
- Usability evaluation. Here, we're diving deep into the product's interface, navigation, and overall usability. By identifying the areas of friction, we can learn how to streamline the user experience.
- Performance assessment. We analyze the solution’s performance in different scenarios, identify potential bottlenecks, and optimize the loading times when possible.
- Accessibility checkup. It's essential to verify that the product is inclusive and works seamlessly with any other tools or services it integrates with (for example, screen readers), ensuring that end-users users have a cohesive and seamless experience.
- Putting together the UX audit report. In our case, we prefer using Figma as this way we can immediately offer the solutions to the issues we’ve identified. But there are different ways to approach it, and you can check our post on UX audit report examples to learn more.
Sometimes the redesign that comes after the UX audit will entail a complete overhaul of some product parts. And in some cases, you just need a quick fix to a couple of minor issues. In any case, it will be worth it.
Now, let's take a closer look at a couple of our cases to see the power of UX audit in real-life scenarios.
Our examples of conducting UX audits
Here are some cases that show how UX audit can be conducted depending on your project.
How Eleken improved TextMagic's usability to support their product expansion
TextMagic is the UK-based all-in-one text messaging service for mobile marketing with almost two decades of history under its belt. The company came to us in 2019, looking to design their CX platform to further expand their product line.
When trying to add new features without proper UX audit it's a straight way to a bad user experience. TextMagic wanted to avoid this pitfall from the get-go, so they decided to opt for professional help from Eleken designers.
Here’s how our UX audit process looked like:
1. We began by analyzing the competitors, including Intercom and JivoChat for live chats, Mailchimp, Autopilot, Sendgrid, and Sendinblue for email marketing, and Zendesk as our main reference point. We learned about their strengths and weaknesses by studying their patterns and user flows.
2. Next, we defined the clear value proposition of the product, ensuring it meets the needs of our target audience, which includes marketers and sales teams.
3. To understand our users better, we created user stories and mapped out their journeys. It helped us identify the tasks users wanted to accomplish and the necessary functionality we needed to improve or implement.
4. Our designers conducted a thorough UX analysis of the TextMagic’s existing functionality. Using heuristic evaluation, we looked for usability inconsistencies and logical gaps, which allowed us to compare our product against common usability principles.
5. Finally, we compiled a detailed report that explained the improvements we identified throughout the audit. Additionally, we created a new UI Kit to enhance the overall user experience.
Based on the insights from our UX audit, we managed to create intuitive flows and minimalistic interfaces. Even with complex product functionality TextMagic has, they do not overwhelm the user and help them to get the job done quickly. You can check out the UX audit results in our Figma file.
Here's, for example, a contrast checkup. The grays used in the initial design blend together, so our designers offered to change the palette to avoid the issue:
In the initial design, the "add new button" was blending too much into the background. We fixed it by adding a distinctive blue field:
The most obvious solution was to rely on existing patterns the users are familiar with (for example, how tabs look in Google Chrome):
We added circle indicators in orange to immediately attract the user's attention to the tasks at hand:
How we streamlined the UX of Ricochet360 and reduced the learning curve
Ricochet360 is a cloud phone system and CRM platform that allows sales teams to manage all their prospects in one place. When we joined the project, Ricochet was planning to improve user experience and renew the design to scale successfully. The main challenge we had to address was the learning curve. The problem was that it took more than a month for users to get how to use the product.
The UX audit done by our designers allowed to find small UX frictions that piled up and resulted in bad user experience. Let's take a closer look at one of the main pages, which is “Add a new lead”.
Our UX audit allowed us to identify the following problems:
- No established data formats (for example, for phone numbers) and no clues in which format to enter it.
- Lack of clear hierarchy. People grasp info better when it's grouped. Here, we had 30 fields that seemed to be equally relevant.
- 30 fields are just too much, full stop. Especially considering some of them were rarely used.
- Adding a new lead is often a subtask, so opening a new window to do it breaks the workflow. Making the page a pop-up window would've streamlined the process.
The interim solution, which immediately improved business performance without waiting for a lengthy redesign, looked like this.
*An image to place here
The main difference in comparison to the initial design are the visual cues:
1) the user sees in which format they should enter the data from the get go (light gray text on the forms' background helps with that)
2) red framing immediately alerts the user when they've entered the incorrect data.
After the complete redesign, the page was simplified to this:
We've hidden most of the fields under the "Additional information", leaving only the essential ones, and adding the option of editing the fields that the user actually needs for their work.
How the UX audit helped AdvanResearch (ReVeal) get ready for market expansion
ReVeal were looking to expand their user base, but their initial design would inevitably lead to confusion by non-technical users. The problem was that the company has been adding new features without any design system in place, which resulted in the solution becoming too complicated to operate.
After conducting a UX audit, our designer detected over 30 flaws in the design that could be fixed to improve user experience. As an analytics app, ReVeal provides its users with the information on the real estate trends. Below, for example, is a suggestion on how to redesign the sliders to give the users a more clear understanding of what exact information they are working with.
In some cases it was easier to straight-up redesign a feature, like here:
For some cases, it's enough to tweak the already existing solutions a bit. For example, in the Reveal’s initial design, the data points overlapped. The common solution to this issue was to group them when the user zooms out of a map.
Or you can even unsheath that good old Occam's razor and simply eliminate the superfluous and confusing options. Different buttons for one function are always confusing, so in our case, we recommended to stick to just one design:
Last but not least, we also researched two direct and three indirect competitors. Our designer studied the use cases of other products to build hypotheses about ReVeal. Later, these hypotheses became the basis for the redesign. As ReVeal wanted to expand its user base, we created a structure which catered to the needs of two different audiences. Redesigning to simplify the user interface allowed the app to reach the users without previous experience of working with such products, which was exactly the goal.
UX issues, especially if the product exists for a long time and develops without a strict plan, tend to pile up. A button here and a label there might not seem like a huge problem. But at a certain point, they might make a user experience terrible and churn rates too high. So, if you feel like your onboarding is way too lengthy, user retention is not great, or you're planning to roll out new functionality tailored to a new audience, it's a good idea to conduct a UX audit before the small issues hurt your product.