The similarity between winning at Rugby and winning with a Platform and Service combination

Ray Poynter on a rugby pitchPublished Ray Poynter, 29 June 2022

In many organizations, there is tension between the DIY/SaaS provision of software and the provision of services. The conversation tends to rotate around whether we are a platform or are we providing services. However, this misses the point about synergy, a concept often referred to as SwaS – Software with a Service. I want to highlight the synergy by talking about my favorite team sport rugby.

In rugby, it has been said that it is the forwards who decide which team wins, but it is the backs who decide the score. The forwards win the ball, through lineouts, scrums, and most of all the rucks. To win a game you need the ball, and nine-times-out-of-10 it is the forwards who win the ball. The forwards need skill and thinking, but mostly they need power. Once a team has the ball it is usually up to the backs to score. The backs don’t focus on power, they focus on providing agile solutions to the options confronting them.

If we think about companies providing solutions such as CX or communities, we can see the same synergy and interaction. The platform is like the forwards, it provides the power and it wins the contracts. However, it is the research and customer success teams who take the system from a commodity to a winning system. Strong research teams without a strong platform are not scalable and they tend to exist on ad hoc projects. A strong platform without strong research and customer success teams only delivers ‘inside-the-box’, standard and simplified solutions.

There is a clear message from the world of rugby for researchers and customer success professionals who want to leverage success. In rugby, if you are a talented back you want to play behind a powerful set of forwards, people who will deliver the ball to you and provide space for you to operate in. In a synergistic organization, the researchers and customer success teams will typically account for a smaller proportion of the revenue, but they can be the key driver in achieving above-average profits.