Ed Bradley CEO and founder of Virtualstock, a global drop shipping software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, which supports blue chip retailers including Aldi, Argos, and B&Q shares his advice for companies navigating challenging market conditions.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the SaaS market over the last few years?

High interest rates and persistent inflation have left SaaS providers under the spotlight as corporations take stock and evaluate all their outlays. This has led to some providers falling out of favour, but it’s also sent a jolt through the industry as SaaS firms really hone in on their competencies or shake up their offerings to try and keep hold of their clients.

So, the last years have seen some considerable innovation in the sector which is always exciting. As we think about how to maximise the value of our services, one thing which we need to be doing is developing consultancy arms. Going beyond simply providing software to offering actionable insights that help our clients meet their goals is how SaaS providers can drive value in the current landscape. Moving from a client-provider relationship to long-term strategic partners is the future for SaaS.

What sort of consultancy and advisory work are SaaS providers best positioned to offer?

There are a range of areas in which SaaS providers can step in and offer clients strategic advice. The first is in integrating emerging technologies. As a digital-native business, a SaaS firm is well placed to help firms build technologies into their services. Everyone is clamouring to deploy AI right now, and SaaS providers can absolutely help with that. We’ve got a wealth of data at our fingertips and years of experience in sorting it and leveraging it for our businesses – as well as some of the leading data scientists and engineers. We can offer thorough integration support and resources to ensure a smooth transition into AI for our clients.

The UK’s facing some tech talent shortages – how can SaaS leaders ensure that this doesn’t undermine their business?

Being CEO of a SaaS firm isn’t just about tech – you need to be committed to building a culture as well. SaaS has never been on the more glamorous end of the tech spectrum, and people are drawn to the bright lights of AI and virtual reality, so company culture is absolutely vital. If your firm has a stimulating, inclusive, and ambitious company culture then people are naturally going to be drawn there. As a founder or CEO this is your responsibility to set the tone from the top-down.

SaaS providers might struggle to match the more extravagant benefits of large corporates but they need to get creative. I’ve found that away days are a great way to keep staff engaged and built a cohesive team spirit – at Virtualstock we go on charity hikes and have a whole-team lunch every week to help with this. Equally making sure senior figures are down on ‘on the ground’ getting to know everyone and understanding their concerns and aims is crucial – nothing undermines motivation more than having the top team walled off in glass boxes.

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Which emerging technologies are having the biggest impact on the SaaS market, and how might this change in the next five years?

Like any industry right now, everyone in SaaS has got their sights firmly trained on AI. And this isn’t just hype and hyperbole – it’s already transforming the sector and will absolutely continue to do so. AI is powering increasingly granular levels of personalisation to increase user engagement, retention, and satisfaction. It’s also being rolled out to support the back-end of SaaS products, as designers use it for time-consuming manual tasks like coding, software testing, and data analysis. Whilst AI is obviously huge, in tech it’s always important not to be blinkered.

There are other technologies out there that CEOs need to be aware of so they don’t get blindsided – notably virtual reality. At Virtualstock, we’re in the retail space, and some of our partners are already rolling out VR in exciting and innovative ways. SaaS providers need to be thinking about ways they can capitalise on this and provide new insights and value for clients. They can offer software, custom datasets, and coding advice to clients to best support them in leveraging VR – this goes back to developing out advisory services. Any emerging tech can be an opportunity for agile SaaS providers to offer their insights.