Strategy| Growth| Leadership

How SaaS underdogs can beat big competition with Zandra Moore, CEO and Co-Founder at Panintelligence

May 12, 2021 17 minute read Edward FordEdward Ford

Last updated 17 May, 2021.

If you haven’t tried at least twelve times, then you've not tried enough.”

Zandra Moore.

 

With smaller teams and budgets, underdog companies sometimes need to fail a LOT before they finally succeed against giants.

If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone.

 

In the latest Growth Hub Podcast episode, Edward Ford met with Zandra Moore, Co-Founder at Panintelligence, a BI and predictive analytics tools provider located in England. Zandra discusses how Panintelligence:

💡 Positioned themselves against the big fish

💡 Identified points of differentiation

💡 Built out their go-to-market strategy

💡 Competes with much smaller budgets than their direct competitors

 

... and there’s so much more to it!

We hope you find it as insightful as we did!

 

Don’t miss out on our upcoming episodes! Subscribe now on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Spotify to The Growth Hub podcast ❤️ 

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Links

Panintelligence

Crossing The Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore

Follow Zandra on Twitter

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Advance B2B

Follow The Growth Hub on Twitter 

Follow Edward on Twitter

 

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Transcript.

Edward: Welcome to another episode of The Growth Hub podcast. And it's my pleasure to welcome Zandra Moore to the show, who is CEO and co-founder at Panintelligence. So Zandra, thank you so much for joining us today here on The Growth Hub podcast.

Zandra: Really delighted to get invited. Thanks, Edward.

Edward: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to this episode as it's a topic many SaaS founders, CEOs, and marketers will relate to, and that's how to take on big competitors as we hear your David versus Goliath story, of how a SaaS underdog from a small city in Northern England, is taking on legacy BI heavyweights. So to kick things off, I'd love to know, why did you decide to enter a crowded space and compete against giants like Power BI, Tableau, and Looker for example?

Zandra: It's an awesome question. In fact, it's asked of our investors and in that series, Around, that we did last, I think 2019 it was now. It was often a question that came up. Do you know what? It snuck upon us, quite frankly. It wasn't what we set out to do. Actually, we started as a technology inside of another company. We were a BI tool built for our own need as a Fintech. And we had a big legacy finance application for big banks, and we needed to improve our reporting, business objects at the time. Which was probably those big legacy tools you're talking about, got acquired by SAP. We just found ourselves having to develop more around what business objects didn't do, that we wanted.

Zandra: My co-founder Ken, he started building something in his bedroom quite literally, and that was the start of Panintelligence. And what was initially alongside BI technology to integrate into our legacy Fintech platform.

Zandra: Roll forward a few years and that business got acquired and we had the opportunity to spin Panintelligence out as its own standalone product. Because we built it for ourselves as a software business, we've done all of that hard work, that massive software companies from an integration, security, embedding authentication. All of the things that mattered to software vendors, we have done those things that other technology companies in the space hadn't done.

Zandra: It felt very logical for us to go into an embedded space where we're selling to software businesses. And at the time, to be honest with you, this is 10, 11 years ago, we started. It was people like ClickView that were really around and Peavey wasn't really in the market in the way that it is today. No one was looking at it, as people like BusinessObjects, Cognos, Clicky, Tableau, and then over the last five years, we've seen the emergence of other technologies, people like Power BI and Looker.

Zandra: So yeah, we've sort of been in this space a while, but very specialized and embedded. And yeah, we're now taking on those really big brands, but we obviously had to do, and to be honest with you, it's something we haven't really noticed and something we've always done. So we don't really think about it that much, honestly.

Edward: Yeah, that's great to hear. And not the first time an internal tool has become a SaaS company. That's how Slack got started, for example. So that was great to hear. From you, we'd love to know how did you then go about positioning yourselves in this market?

Zandra: We got it wrong a few times, I think it would be fair to say. Go-to-market strategies again, they're not things that you just suddenly wake up with. It takes a lot of test and validation. We started by focusing on an indirect route to market. So through resellers, and system integrators, and marketplaces. So things like the Sage marketplace, Salesforce marketplace, and working with resellers, who would resell us into the market. And whilst that really helped us with get off the ground in the early stage. Actually, you're not directly in that relationship with the end customer. And that creates some challenges.

Zandra: I think the light bulb moment for us was when we really saw that alliance is not Net Dollar retention, our growth and expansion revenues are really coming from those embedded software partnerships, where we have direct relationships. And they were also the ones where we were delivering and driving more value, and they were helping drive our roadmap. So it was a really symbiotic relationship. And actually, it's where we were getting most of the value feedback from being significantly differentiated in the market.

Zandra: So really the market taught us the lesson, and we listened. And then we refined that to focus on just cloud embedded business intelligence and analytics for SaaS vendors. Because actually we realized that's what we had the most significant differentiation, and we're driving the most value. But yeah, we probably have a two or three steps go-to-market, but we've definitely landed in the place that really plays to our strengths now, which is great.

Edward: Yeah. That's great to hear. And if we discuss differentiation in slightly more detail here, you touched upon it there in the previous answer. What would you say are the three biggest things that make you different compared to those companies that you're competing against?

Zandra: Yeah. I'm going to try not to turn this into a sales pitch. It's not when it works for you, and you use it. I'll try and keep it light, but I'm very passionate about what we've built. It really is different in the market, which we're very proud of. So the first thing is that we're three things in one. So most tools that are like: Tableau, or ClickView, or Power BI, or data visualization tools, dashboarding essentially drilling into data and presenting that visually. And then you've got other tools like SSRS, or Cognos, or maybe Crystal reports which are formatted reporting tools for distributed reporting, on this Space Reporting. And then you've got other tools out there for data analysis like R, or Python, or Alteryx, which are machine learning prediction, building predictive models. And we've built a solution that is all of those three things in one technology, that can be embedded in the SaaS platform.

Zandra: It really helps SaaS vendors to accelerate their roadmap and capabilities around, not just data visualization and presentation information, but distributed alerts, alert based data-driven insights from reporting. Getting things into people's inboxes, essentially being told when things are happening, as opposed to having to go and find it. And then the real secret sauce that I think makes us get people stop and go, "Oh, that show me that is, the fact that you can build predictive models in a really easy way within Panintelligence, and apply data to those models. Score that data and either automate decisions or present those predictions to users in a way that they can consume quickly and take action on." So yeah, three in one is the thing that really stands out, is making it really different from other tools.

Zandra: And then lastly, we are absolutely a 100% focused on being white-labelled embedded in SaaS, all the things that matter to SaaS vendors: white labelling, security, authentication, how we're embedded, styling, all those technical deployment things that matter. Again, we really attend to that, because that's what we do. So yeah, I think the fact that we focus on a very specialized notion embedded SaaS cloud deployments, and three in one would be the two main areas that really stand out for us.

Edward: Yeah. That's great to hear. And I think it could be really useful for fellow SaaS marketers, and CEOs, and Founders to understand how other companies think about their differentiation. So they can start thinking about how they themselves can differentiate. So great to hear that.

Edward: And I think the other reason is that we heard about your positioning and differentiation. But I'd love to dig into the actual process. I know you mentioned that it was an organic iterative process. But can you talk us through in a little more detail, the process of how you actually went about finding your positioning, and those areas of differentiation?

Zandra: Yeah. We were at a crossroads at our series, Around, where we knew we had too many channels essentially to market, and we needed to really focus and refine our go-to-market. So like I said, we were selling through marketplaces, through resellers, and also directly to software vendors.

Zandra:

And when we closed our Series A, we had a new chairman that came into the business, a man called Howard Bell. He was one of the founders of PayPal in Europe and really expert in go-to-market strategies. And he helped lead me and the team on an approach to really refining the go-to-market. Which was using the framework of Crossing the Chasm by, and he goes, "George Moore says..." George Moore and George or Geoffrey, I'm not quite sure. I should know because it's the same surname as me, but that framework is really about identifying your addressable market, your time and your sandwich you can be familiar with, refining that and understanding how big that is. And then identifying your ICP, your ideal customer profile, being able to really characterize that ICP. Knowing exactly what their characteristics are, and where you might find them and what they're looking for. Your crown jewels, which I got three in one I described, the fact that we're built for embedding, rapid deployment, those are the things that we specialize in.

Zandra: So what are the three things that are defensively different about your solution that the rest of the market can't say? So you are your core crown jewels. And then after that, you'll start digging into what is the whole product solution. What are the core elements of what your proposition contains that people are actually buying into? And it isn't just your product as a SaaS company, it's the services, and the additional wraparound support that's provided on top of the product, which is all part of your whole product solution. And then the channels and alliances, or partnerships and routes to market after that.

Zandra: And it's a really great framework for taking, not just the leaders of business, but the whole business through as a language. And we've really embedded that in now. And it helps to get very clear on the messaging, and that everybody could challenge that. After the first iteration of that frameworks, we did a three-month test and trial phase. And then we revalidate that. I mean, we did a whole research piece back into our prospected customers to validate that our crown jewels or our crown jewels. That our whole product solution wasn't missing anything, and that we had got the ideal customer profile right. And that we were hitting the sweet spot for our business.

Zandra: And to really just check that we were not just forging ahead on the path that the company could be obliterated. I say yes, it was organic, and it was in a way. Because it was partly because we were listening to the market, that we'd started with some sense of what our crown jewels and our ICP was. But that process helped us to really think in a more systematic way, and refine it and validate it.

Edward: Yeah. That's awesome to hear about how you built the go-to market. I think it's Geoffrey Moore if I remember correctly.

Zandra: Geoffrey, if I care.

Edward: I think so. I'm not fully sure, but I think most people listening will probably know, because that's for sure one of the classic SaaS marketing books. So that's great to hear. So if we take this as a starting point and focus on marketing specifically, what does this then mean for your marketing? And how does it translate into your actual marketing strategy?

Zandra: I think it's been a tough 18 months because I think a lot of channels that were working have changed. I think firstly it refines your messaging and your positioning, which is great. Because it gives that clarity to, yes, to website content and anything that you're sending out from a messaging through whatever channel. So that's brilliant as a framework. But knowing which channels are going to work for you is always iterative and changing, it's dynamic. We went into the first quarter of 2020 with certain channels that really working for us. And by the end of 2020, those channels were just not working in the same way, because it would have moved to remote working, and people were getting overloaded with digital. Because we weren't physically meeting, and networking, and events had all stopped.

Zandra: Digital events were really starting to work, but again everyone realized that, and suddenly there was so much that none of us could do. We were getting a real violation. So a lot changed, I think over the last 18 months around channels. And we've had to be really tuned into that, and make sure that we don't just assume that the channel is constantly working for us, and validate that the return on investment.

Zandra: For us, the sales cycle isn't..., we're not a pure SaaS, and the fact that we're embedded, which means that there's a bit of a longer sales cycle for us. So our time to close can be circa, 120 / 150 days. Whereas the more spin up type SaaS might be 30 days. So sometimes, because of a longer sale cycle, because people are testing and validating that the technology fits into their stack and is right for them, we have to be really tuned into our channels working. Because we can't always wait to see the full cycle close.

Zandra: So we have to make sure we're really focusing on what's converting further up the funnel for us. So really looking at what's generating those demonstrations for us in the business, our SQLs are essentially technical demonstration. I think it depends on the type of SaaS business you are, but for us Enterprise, our ICP is quite high in some respects in comparison to some of the pure-play. Yeah, that does have its impact on monitoring and refining your factor channels, I think.

Edward: Yeah. That's great to hear. And what does your marketing playbook then look like now, after the changes you saw in 2020 that you mentioned there, and also to make sure you can compete with these other big players since I guess you probably have smaller budgets than the likes of Google, Microsoft, Tableau, et cetera?

Zandra: We definitely have a smaller budget, working on that though. Yeah, the great thing about being small is you can be agile and respond really fast to the changing dynamics of the market, in a way that perhaps larger vendors can't. So there is some kind of power in that being smaller. And I think might go back to how much the world changed in the last 18 months around, some of the channels that are working and then some channels which are switched off. Our ability to adapt and refine; we did it in days. And one of our competitors was acquired, Chartio by Axiom. And within 24 hours, we'd spin up an entire campaign. We had the data of all of their customers, and we were able to go and prospect to that customer base.

Zandra: We were able to do that so fast, and I don't think some of our large competition can move at that pace. Because of their own kind of approval channels of teams, and the size of the team, just what's required. So there is some power in being small, but yeah, small budgets. You have to work a little bit harder on finding different routes. You get a little bit more focused on data, I would suggest.

Zandra: So account-based marketing is important to us so that we back target the list of ICPs, is really qualified and validated. So we're using the resources that we have, really effectively. Not really a spray or pray approach, we don't take a paid ad type, approach to marketing. It is pretty much more account-based. Knowing who our ICP is, knowing where to find them, being agile enough to adapt our channels to that audience quickly, based on what's happening. And being really patiently persistent with those accounts that you're targeting, and try lots of different approaches. That seems to work for us.

Zandra: There's a rule that we use, which is 12 touchpoints. I don't think it's a common one, but if you're using multiple channels to try and approach a target customer, ideal customer, then if you haven't tried at least 12 times, and then you've not tried enough. So we take that approach.

Edward: Yeah. That's really good to hear. It makes a lot of sense. So what then have been some of the mistakes that you've made along the way on your journey in trying to compete with these kinds of companies?

Zandra: Not realizing our own value. I think we can all have kind of, I don't know, this David and Goliath in this kind of... You don't necessarily believe you can take on giant, sometimes. And definitely earlier in our journey, we'd be really intimidated if we came up against some of the bigger players. And in some ways that can be a self self-fulfilling prophecy, if you don't believe you can win against these companies. So there is a different mindset and believing you can. And you just need those first few wins, to suddenly realize actually, you can take on. I think that's what everybody goes through that. I think you just have to go through that. I think you just have to go through that, I don't think it's something that you can just flip over into a different mindset.

Zandra: I think recognizing that just because somebody is using one of these tools, it doesn't mean that they're happy with it as well. So sometimes we would hear they were using something like a Looker, or Power BI, or a Tableau, and we'll call to look at us. But actually often when you really persist with understanding the value that they're getting from that or not, and the things that then they need to be able to do. What you realize is actually there's space for us too. They don't necessarily remove these technologies. So not assuming that this is always a swap-out conversation, or that there's already technology that presently, you can't compete with. But actually recognizing the added value that your technology offers and positioning alongside, has again worked really well for us.

Zandra: But again, it would probably take a while to learn, that that was a space for us in a way we could position ourselves. That be two things. I think there's probably more, that's why I keep getting better.

Edward: Yeah. I think there's a really good point. Yeah, always good to remember that David beat Goliath in this story, so good to keep reminding yourself that. In general then, on this topic, how do you think, looking back at your own experiences, how smaller SaaS companies can really stand out, differentiate, and take on bigger and more established competitors?

Zandra: It's going to be a little bit selfish here, and I'm a bit biased on this if I'm honest with you. We spend a whole existence, our whole existence is working SaaS companies. They are our customers, they are the people that we serve, people that use our technology. And often we are working with the Davids, always invariably working for Davids, and what we help them to do is differentiate. All of this conversation as it has been about: standing out, being different, competing. And what we help them to do is really differentiate. So having machine learning at the heart of their platform, having really engaging data insights, that drive real value, and drive decisions, and drive outcomes. They're really switching that capability on fast so that they can have Goliath level functionality in that product.

Zandra: And it really surprised the market, and compete. For me, it's about building in that differentiation, so that you can stand toe to toe, and ideally building in more than just, it's not a me too, but actually together. And finding technologies that can get you ahead, and not thinking you have to build all of these things for yourselves. And a platform I think it's really powerful to essentially land grabbing in a market. And I think where SaaS vendors really, I suppose can be conflicted, is we're essentially product companies, and we're all passionate product people, often a lot of us is a technologist and we can't help ourselves getting really passionate about the tech.

Zandra: But actually it's equally important to be focused on user adoption and usage as fast as possible, to take that come first-mover advantage and anything that can help you do that. Anything that can give you that, getting ahead differentiation, is highly valuable. And you don't have to build it all. I think that's how I see what we do for SaaS vendors, and how we help them to do that and take on the Goliaths.

Zandra: But yeah, I just think we can all be quite product-focused. And sometimes we need to be a lot more market-focused to realize that we can have some great code and a great product, but if we're not getting it in the hands of people, then we're missing the opportunity to really change things with our technologies.

Edward: Yeah. Super good advice. And I think it's a trap we can easily fall into. Especially as marketers, that you become a bit too obsessed with the product, but always remember that the market and the customer. I think this was super good advice. Zandra, we could move to our closing questions and our fast five challenge. So to wrap things up, I'll ask you five questions and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible. So are you ready?

Zandra: Gosh, okay.

Edward: Cool. Let's do it. I'm going to put you on the spot here. First question, what is the one book you would recommend others to read?

Zandra: I've got to say Crossing the Chasm, from what I've just talked about, but it was really important to us in our growth phase.

Edward: Yes. From my good friend Geoffrey. Second question, a SaaS company you love and why?

Zandra: Oh, an awesome question. And there's so many that I feel like if I mentioned one, I'm going to be in trouble. I would say monday.com. I think what they're doing is great. I think the whole no-code revolution is fascinating to watch. And Bubble as well, sorry about that but I mentioned two. I think NoCode is there's a huge distributer that sort of technologist. They're spinning out products quickly and solutions quickly without having to develop. It's going to transform the tech sector.

Edward: Cool. Love it. Third question, favourite place to learn about marketing online?

Zandra: Well, my head of marketing would have been much better at this than me. I use things like Nathan Latka for the SaaS sector, and he's not specifically marketing, but he has lots of I'd say generals of SaaS marketing and Escape advice. And one favourite YouTuber is a guy called, Jacco. If you go onto YouTube and look, Winning by Design, and Jacco, I think it's van der Kooij, is how you pronounce it. But he's a little bit crazy, bear with him, he DJs through his videos, but awesome. Go-to-market funnel, SaaS strategies. But yeah, Jacco, Winning by Design. He's going to teach you.

Edward: Awesome. A couple of great shout-outs there for sure. Then the fourth question, most important growth metric.

Zandra: Oh, right. Okay. Net dollar retention. I think it's massively important to not just land, but expand and keep what you've got. We're fortunate because we're an embedded technology, so it's quite sticky in that regard. It might take you a little bit longer to adopt and acquire a customer. But once you have that customer, you're really in it together, it's a partnership and you're driving value. So that really enables that Net Dollar retention. And I think is it for a longer-term strategy for SaaS growth and sustainable SaaS businesses. I think that's a key one.

Edward: Yeah. Great. And the last question, what would be your best piece of advice for our listeners?

Zandra: Don't give up. Somebody said to me, and I'm going to try and find the book, because he said, "I'm not ready yet, how not to die." But we had this great fireside chat to a guy called James at Islay from Cognizant, and it's when it's super hard, when it's really, really, really super hard, that's the time to dig in and push out. And it's not about: Have you got the right go-to-market strategy? Have you got the right product? Sometimes, just keep trying and you'll get there, and you'll find the path. It's just not giving up. He said I've got to read that book. So How Not to Die, which sounds a little bit macabre. We didn't get everything right at all the first time and it's been iterative. I think it's just, you'll get there. Just keep going and you'll get there if you believe in it.

Edward: Yeah, absolutely. It's all about the grasp and digging, it's so awesome. Well, Zandra, I have to say this is absolutely fantastic. And I just want to thank you so much for coming on The Growth Hub podcast.

Zandra: It's a pleasure, Edward. Thanks for the invite.