Is Web-Based Software Right for You?

Web-based and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are quickly becoming the norm in many industries. The marketing automation industry is no exception. With the widespread adoption of hosted salesforce automation systems such as Salesforce.com, marketers are already in the path of a strong trend. In this overview, we’ll cover what a SaaS system is, what an on-premise system is, the difference between web-enabled and web-based, and the advantages and limitations of using this type of software in the marketing automation field.

Software as a Service Is Here To Stay

The Software as a Service model of deploying software has come of age and is gaining traction in sales and marketing organizations. Marketers are adopting this Internet-centric model to offload the burden of server maintenance and data backup, while expanding access to their system and providing their staff with an intuitive user interface. While some users might remain skeptical of new technology and question a third-party’s ability to safeguard their data, the early challenges with SaaS have been overcome. To assess the SaaS model, it is important to first understand what it is and how it differs from traditional software deployment models. Many marketers have heard of SaaS or “web-based” software, but few understand the differences between traditional client/server, web-enabled, web-based and SaaS systems. In this article, we will define these models and outline the advantages and potential disadvantages of each.

What Is a SaaS System?

SaaS refers to a type of software deployment in which all of the system’s software and data is hosted and managed at a central data center operated by the software vendor. End users simply access the system through their web browsers and a broadband Internet connection. The software vendor will manage data backups and periodic updates. The management company will typically pay a monthly subscription fee to use the service, rather than purchase the software up front. Examples of SaaS marketing automation products include Marketo, Silverpop, and Eloqua.

What Is On-Premise or Client/Server Software?

The alternative to SaaS is the traditional standard of client/server, on-premise software. Fewer sales and marketing organizations today are using this deployment model for their software, although some companies remain committed to it. In this model, software is installed on the server and on each computer in the office. The server hardware is located in the user's office and is accessed on the PCs used by the sales and marketing staff. The company is also responsible for data backup and security. Typically the software is purchased upfront and there is an annual support fee to cover upgrades and customer support services. Leading vendors such as Neolane and Manticore offer on-premise deployment options.

Then What Do “Web-Based” and “Web-Enabled” Mean?

While SaaS and web-based have pretty much become synonymous, subtle differences can be drawn. Some systems are web-based in that users access the system through a web browser; however, the server that hosts the system is maintained on-site by the company (i.e. “on-premise”). “Web-enabled” refers to a hybrid model in which a traditional client/server system is augmented with an added feature that allows users to connect to the system over the Internet using tools such as Citrix or a special browser-based user interface. This web-enabled option might be used as a way for users to access the system from home or the office. Alternatively, some companies choose to use the web-enabled model to offload server maintenance to a third-party hosting company. Many client/server systems provide a web-enabled option.

In Brief: Client/Server, Web-Enabled, Web-Based, and SaaS

Lead nurturingList managementSalesforce CRM integration
Lead scoringSmart lead capture formsDatabase management tools
Lead managementBatch email marketingSocial media integration
Web activity trackingAutomated drip marketingCustom security controls
Campaign analyticsEmail deliverability toolsSecure partner / channel access
Territory assignmentReal-time sales alertsRevenue cycle analytics

What Are the Advantages of a SaaS System?

  • Limited IT burden. A key reason why many marketers choose the SaaS model is that their data is secured at a centralized location and monitored by IT staff that handle routine back-ups, upgrades, modifications, installations and necessary maintenance. The security and maintenance is typically far superior to what a company could implement in their own office. Moreover, there’s no need to buy server hardware.
  • Ease-of-use. SaaS and web-based systems are often easier to use. Since the user interface is essentially a web page, the user experience is often on par with making a purchase online. If you’ve successfully made a purchase on Amazon.com or eBay, you can probably figure out how to use a SaaS or a web-based marketing automation system fairly easily.
  • Remote access. Many sales and marketing representatives appreciate the ability to access their management software from outside the office. This might be while attending trade shows or conducting demonstrations at prospective buyers' offices. With a SaaS system, users can access their system from anywhere they have Internet access.
  • Subscription pricing. Marketers often like the subscription model of SaaS. Subscription pricing means that the upfront costs are low as the fees spread out over time. Thus, these expenses become an operational expense versus a capital expenditure.

When Is SaaS Not Right for a Marketing Organization?

  • Poor Internet access. With the SaaS model, it is important to have a quality Internet service provider (ISP) that is optimized for speed and has dependable bandwidth. If the Internet goes down, the system is down. Of course, on-premise systems can go down too when there are networking, electrical or hardware failures.
  • Complex customization. Because SaaS systems are typically designed to serve numerous clients from a single, centralized “code base,” there have traditionally been fewer options for complex customization. This, of course, is changing over time as SaaS vendors build out more advanced configuration capabilities.
  • Long-term pricing parity. While the subscription pricing model reduces up-front costs, those regular fees add up over time. In the long-run, SaaS fees will typically equate to those paid up front for a perpetual license for a client/server system.