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Entrepreneurship and the Enablement Economy
At its best, the Software-as-a-Service model is about enabling the success of customers

When focusing on one element of a SaaS provider to evaluate, it should not be the technology it is providing today but its commitment to finding new ways to succeed in the future. This kind of agility that goes beyond technology is why SaaS is so loaded with potential for entrepreneurs.

With the barriers to entering the communications market nearly eliminated, this next wave of entrepreneurs have an opportunity to focus on enabling the success of their customers through sourcing, developing and delivering the technologies they need. It is a mindset shift that is critical to leveraging the cloud delivery model to its fullest potential. This is about not just delivering features or functionalities, but helping customers to shape agile, efficient and successful businesses.

Engage, Educate, Enable, Succeed
The most exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs in the cloud is to use the flexibility it offers to co-create, refine and evolve new enterprise services. A SaaS provider has the freedom to change the services it offers with input from across the value chain, as long as they remain focused on the core aspect of their business where they add value: enablement. Whether they offer supply chain management software through to cloud communications, the service is a tool for their enterprise customers to drive efficiency, grow and increase profitability.

Services have been decoupled from infrastructure and that means more freedom to explore new ideas, innovations and business models. It also means sellers and buyers can have a greater influence on one another. An innovative SaaS provider can influence what their customers sell and how they sell while creating a feedback loop that sees services evolve rapidly to meet customer needs.

The relationship between the buyer and seller begins with outlining the business objectives of the customer and it's up to the SaaS provider to shape a service offering that will enable the customer to succeed. This takes a consultancy-based sale and evolves it into an ecosystem that extends beyond the point of sale.

At its most advanced, the SaaS provider can work with customers to co-create and develop the services that will ultimately help meet their business objectives. That is the goal. Not delivering a new technology but clearly having impact within the customer's business and measuring the results of the engagement. When business and IT become aligned, the SaaS provider has to become increasingly adept at using their service platform to influence their customer's businesses.

It also works the other way. SaaS providers learn from customers and at the same time play a role in educating their customers to ensure that they are using the services effectively or, in the case of the channel, are skilled in selling the new services being provided. If it will help the customer to achieve its goals, the SaaS provider can educate its customers' sales staff and arm them with new skills to take these services to market. In this way, enablement means extending the relationship to include not just learning from customers but guaranteeing the success of the operation through education and sharing experience and expertise.

Entrepreneurs in Enablement
The opportunity for entrepreneurs is in creating businesses focused on shared value that evolves the enterprise IT channel model to best use the characteristics of the cloud. This is about focusing less on shifting units or seats and more on creating sustainable and profitable businesses dedicated to helping customers transform their operations and increase profitability.

Why would an entrepreneur be interested in this space? SaaS businesses that are focused on enablement have an advantage over competitors and deliver unique advantages. The closeness that they develop with their customers gives them high rates of customer retention and stickiness as well as a rapid path to differentiation.

Technologies and services will always change but if the business is dedicated to finding new ways to serve customers and evolve their offering then they will always be relevant. If a service provider anticipates emerging customer demand combined with listening and reacting to customer feedback, these customers don't need to look elsewhere for new services. Price comparison also is not central to decision making, ensuring that they do not compete on price but rather on the quality of the service they offer and the real business results they enable for customers.

Similarly, they are able to differentiate their offerings in the long term with more customers feeding into their service creation and refinement, making it easy to anticipate the needs of new customers. This in turn helps them to win more business.

By focusing on using cloud services to enable the success of customers, they create an ecosystem where customers get better services based on feedback and development while new customers become easier to obtain because their needs can be anticipated. Costs of sale are mitigated by long-term relationships, which increase profitability, and the business is able to tap recurring revenue streams.

While this might not appear as exciting as the success stories from the consumer communications market like WhatsApp, focusing on enablement builds dynamic businesses that are flexible and largely future-proof. The model works hard for both the buyer and the seller.

An Evolution
The cloud is ready to enter a new phase of its evolution where the technology is understood and the advantages are leveraged to build a healthy value chain. Entrepreneurs who recognize the opportunity to building businesses around enablement will have a lasting impact on their customers and the market.

SaaS has demonstrated how service development and management can sit outside of a business but that's only the first step. Thinking bigger about how enterprises are served and matching technology to business results is an exciting and logical progression. It will open new doors for both SaaS providers and customers to grow together and intertwine a value chain that has previously run from A to B from the provider to the customer.

The future IT and communications services delivered via the cloud will be shaped by the entrepreneurs that go beyond just the technology and look at how the relationship can develop. Enterprise customers simply want better solutions to meet their needs and are ready to work with providers that have a new approach dedicated to their success.

About Alan Rihm
Alan Rihm is CEO, managing Partner, and a member of the CoreDial, LLC board. He sets strategic direction for the company, and works closely with the board and management team to fulfill on the team’s commitment to its “hedgehog strategy” (see Jim Collins book ‘Good to Great’ for more on this concept).

Alan organized the spin-off and formation of CoreDial, and joined the company as CEO in 2005. He has been instrumental in establishing the company as one of the leading services delivery platforms for private label cloud communications. Under his leadership the company has experienced tremendous revenue and channel partner growth, as well as industry leading sales and operational key metrics.

Alan has been a successful entrepreneur in the Philadelphia region since 1995, and has a deep background in guiding software and service companies to critical mass and profitability. He is a graduate of Drexel University.

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