This article by Andy Mowat was originally published on LinkedIn.

I joined Culture Amp exactly three months ago to run GTM Operations (Sales Operations, Marketing Operations, and Customer Success Operations). Like many companies, we purchase a lot of SaaS tools and, while my focus has been on accelerating revenue, improving team efficiency is critical to our success. In my first week at Culture Amp, I quickly saw that:

  • We had purchased tools we weren’t using.
  • Our teams weren’t trained on some tools (and in some cases didn’t know they had access).
  • We had tools that performed similar functions.

These challenges aren’t unique to Culture Amp. I have written this article to share best practices that you can apply at your company to quickly realize similar savings. As a side benefit, you will also find that your team gets more value out of their tools, becomes more efficient, and will thank you!

Know Your Core Vendors

It is critical (as we will talk about further in this article) to have a vision for your technology. As part of that vision, you should be clear who those core vendors are and focus your first efforts on them. Some key actions:

  • Get long-term pricing protection and understand how they scale with you. My first call was to Salesforce. As we were considering both Dynamics and Salesforce for the long-term it was critical to understand how Salesforce would scale. Our agreement locked in our pricing for 3+ years (keeping a single-year financial commitment), making us comfortable to build our long-term strategy around Salesforce. We have taken similar steps with a few other key vendors.
  • Have a high bar for core vendors. We classify every tool by how core it is to our long-term strategy and how hard they would be to replace.

Define the Tool Set for Each Team

We weren’t making it easy for our teams to have the right tools. New hires had to first figure out that a tool was available and then track down the individual who could provision it.

To address this:

  • Work with teams to understand their needs. We built a matrix that defined which tools we would provision going forward to each of our eight customer teams. By asking team leads and ICs you are quickly surprised at how much they encourage you to cut!
  • Auto-provision. After you define the tool set, work with your IT team to set up auto-provisioning and de-provisioning. It will make new teammates ramp faster and save you money!

Optimize What is Left

Just because you have decided to keep a tool for one team, doesn’t mean you are done! You still need to optimize the use of each tool. Here are some basic tips:

  • Look at the usage reports. For each tool we were planning to keep, we viewed the usage reports to find which teammates were using the tool (and how they were using it). Side note: If you can’t see utilization reporting that helps you make the right business decisions, insist on this from your vendors either in-app or request a regular emailed report (they can always do that). If you are paying for a tool and not looking at the usage reports, it will cost you.
  • Ask your team. For a number of tools we weren’t clear on, we sent our team simple surveys asking basic questions like 1) Do you use? 2) Did you know you have access? 3) How much value do you get? The results were surprising. In one case 75% of those who had access weren’t aware of that fact!
  • Train your team. It is important that when you decide to buy a tool for your team, you help them use it by training them. My favorite approach is to document how to use the tool in confluence, then run a video training, record that training and add it to confluence. This confluence manual then serves as a page not just for current teammates but also for new hires to ramp faster!

Have Visibility and a Clear Strategy

While a complete systems diagram and vision is desirable, it isn’t necessary (or practical to achieve in three months). Instead, at both Box and Culture Amp, I have found a great approach is to build a simple Google Sheet (message me via LinkedIn for my template) that allows you to:

  • Classify each vendor. Be able to quickly sort by key classifications including Function, Value, Department Expensed, and Status.
  • Define who “owns” each vendor. Clarify for everyone who administers, integrates, and negotiates each vendor.
  • Track cost and renewal date. Track the cost as well as the expiration of your renewal so that you know which vendors to prioritize and when. Tip: Strike the auto-renew clause wherever you can.
  • Partner with compliance. Compliance is your friend! At both Box and Culture Amp we handle sensitive date (customer files and their employee data) and compliance is critical. I have found that with the Google Sheet I can be a proactive partner to compliance and bring them issues and visibility.

Negotiate With Vendors

It is important to have a relationship with each vendor you are comfortable scaling. And, once you commit to that vendor, I believe strongly that it is a mutually-beneficial relationship.

  • Lock in long-term pricing. I learned this from the great folks at Box. Get caps on future price increases. (I’ll pay you more if I use more seats but not more per seat!)
  • Know how it scales. Get pricing tiers so you know how much you are likely to pay as your usage grows.
  • Eliminate the auto-renew. As mentioned above, this is not your friend. It gives the vendors leverage in a relationship. If we find value we will renew.
  • Know your leverage. It is important to understand your size and not negotiate for little things that aren’t impactful. At Box, we almost always red-lined. Here at Culture Amp, I pick my battles and focus on important terms and security (see above).

“For a vendor, it can be frustrating when a $10,000 buyer acts as though they’re a $100,000 buyer.” — SaaS CEO

Help Your Vendors Grow

Buying software is a partnership! Just as your vendor is helping you grow, you can do the same for them.

  • Drive adoption for your vendor. Once you commit to a vendor, you want to (like they want you to) get as much value from the tool as possible. So make sure to train the teams, talk with your vendors on best practices, and work to make sure 100% of your team who has the tool are using it.
  • Speak on their behalf. I’ll have hard conversations early with vendors, but once we get to agreement, I work hard to drive their long-term growth with us.For vendors you find valuable, you can help them in many ways, including: serving as a reference, providing reviews on sites like G2 Crowd and Capterra, providing case studies, and writing articles about them (for my quick plug, I think LeanDataFormAssembly, and Salesforce are invaluable tools for any B2B company and also great partners to boot!).

A big thanks to Vee Sandhu, one of the sharpest procurement folks I know. She taught me a lot of this!! Thanks Vee. And most importantly, thanks to the Culture Amp team for empowering me to drive the vision for Customer team tools.

The Author

Andy builds the processes, systems, and teams to help companies scale. He has run GTM operations (Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success) at four global companies and is passionate about the leadership and systems to support rapid revenue growth, team efficiency, and a world-class customer experience. He currently leads growth operations at Culture Amp (sales operations, marketing operations, and customer success operations).

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