The 31 tools we use to make our “semi remote” SaaS team work efficiently
My co-founder (Benoit Hediard) and I started Agorapulse five years ago. From day one, we knew that we wanted to create a truly international SaaS business. “Truly international” meant being able to work primarily in English but also serve our users in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
At the very beginning we worked with translation services, but as soon as we were able to afford it, we started looking for native speakers to join the team. And guess where you can find the best native speakers to help you grow your business? In their own country ;-)
Building a remote team quickly became the only (and best option) for us. As of today, our 28 team members are located in 7 countries but we still have an office in Paris with 6 full time and 3 semi remote team members (9 total, that’s one third of the team). The 17 others work entirely remotely.
But with a great remote team comes great responsibilities, which include finding, evaluating, and selecting tools to run your business remotely!
Here are the 31 tools we’re using today (and why we love them). While most of them are not designed to specifically address the needs of remote teams, they almost all offer valuable features for a distributed workforce.
Staying in sync and collaborating as a team
We adopted Facebook workplace a month ago when it was in Beta. If you’ve never used it, it’s a private Facebook just for your business — with a couple of twists to adapt it to a business environment.
The main motivation was to see if this could be THE asynchronous communication tool we could use in addition to Slack (being our synchronous communication tool).
After a month of use, this is what I think about it:
- Workplace a great tool to have casual conversations, make announcements, share non-project related news or information. In a nutshell, it’s a great social tool.
- Here’s what it’s not: a business tool. It’s not designed to manage projects or communications that are project related. If you need a place for your remote customer support team to collaborate, update each other on existing bugs, new features, etc., Workplace won’t cut it.
Why is Facebook Workplace a must have for remote teams? It facilitates casual conversations and content sharing among your team members. As it embeds all the basic Facebook features everyone already knows and uses (comments, likes, mentions), it’s easy to get started and to give feedback to other team members. While Slack is a great tool to keep that team spirit alive in real time, Facebook Workplace can be the one asynchronous tool to help your team socialize. (Our “Agorapulse Musical Tastes” group on Workplace is really popular with our team.)
Slack is definitely the hot communication tool for teams these days. About this time last year, it quickly becomes the main gathering place for all our team communication.
Watch out though. It’s a real-time communication tool that can quickly go out of control if you don’t pay attention:
- If you have a large team (let’s say 40+), following what’s happening on Slack can quickly become a full time job in itself! You need to define rules on how to use Slack to make sure that people don’t get too distracted (or distract others!).
- If the conversation you want to have is not a good fit for synchronous (real time) communication, don’t start in on Slack. Instead initiate the conversation on email, Workplace or Basecamp. There are definitely conversations that are a good fit for real time (Need help about an urgent support issue? The beta seems broken?) and others that are not (sharing a new blog post you wrote or one that mentioned you, sharing customer feedback).
Why is Slack a must have for remote teams? First, you immediately know if your team members are online or not, which is pretty useful when you work in different time zones. It’s also super easy to set up channels by team / job so you can keep everyone on the same page. Finally, it’s the only place where your remote team can have that feeling of a “living office.” Asynchronous tools don’t convey that feeling.
Basecamp is the grandfather of project management. It lacks the bells and whistles of more sophisticated tools like Asana, but this is why it’s a great tool for simpler projects. When we launch a specific project with remote team members, Basecamp is the easiest way to have a place where we can share all the key documents and have discussions about how the project is going.
It’s better suited for short term projects (the ones you need to start fast and will within 3 to 6 months) and for non-structured projects (where the need for task management, a roadmap or GANTT chart doesn’t exist).
You can use it for a lot of simple projects. For example, we’ve created a template for onboarding new employees and we use it to make sure that every new team member has all the tools and assets they need to get started.
Why is Basecamp a must have for remote teams? The main reason is that you need tools to organize team communication. In a remote environment, email just won’t cut it and Slack is only adapted for real-time conversations. Basecamp is really easy to use and very well suited for simple projects.
Asana is the tool of reference for our marketing team. The main reason is because we operate in monthly sprints (you know, that agile methodology) and we want to be able to measure the number of items / tests we have for each monthly sprint and what percentage of these tests we were able to run.
It’s also the best way to stay organized as a team and make sure we’re not losing focus and are staying on track with our big goals.
Why is asana a must have for remote teams? Being remote makes team communication more challenging. It’s also harder to make sure everyone understand the big picture and stay focused. Asana can help with that in a meaningful way.
Sharing files and documents
I can’t imagine ever going back to Microsoft Office. Since we started adopting Google Docs as the go-to tool for documents, spreadsheets and presentations, things have become so much easier!
In the early days, Word, Excel or PowerPoint had a couple of power features that were really missing in Google Docs. But these days, I never run into limitations even with the trickiest feature.
The huge plusses are:
- It’s seamlessly collaborative. Really, working on a doc with other team members is just a blast. Forget doing this with Office.
- It’s all in the cloud. No more lost docs or a dead hard drive.
- One doc for all — say goodbye to Version Control Hell. If a team member edits a file at 5PM PST, and the Paris team opens the doc at 9AM their time, it’s all up to date. No more conflicting copies (we used to have a ton of these in our shared Excel spreadsheets on Dropbox).
Why is Google Docs a must have for remote teams? All of the above :-)
As stated above, we don’t use Microsoft Office anymore, but we still have a bunch of Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents. Piled onto that, we have tons of extra files like PDFs, scanned docs, invoices, etc.
Dropbox is a great tool to get them all organized teamwide and make sure nothing gets lost on someone’s hard drive. We use it a lot for all accounting, HR and legal documents. It’s also a super simple way to share documents with a third party, like setting up a virtual data room with your auditor.
Why is Dropbox a must have for remote teams? Storing company documents on somebody’s hard drive is just a big no-no. You need team access and safe backups.
Video Conferencing tools
Being a “semi-remote” team, we do a lot of communication using web conferencing tools (mainly Google Hangouts, Skype and appear.in). As our remote team grew, it became difficult to use those solutions for our weekly video meetings. We ran into a ton of audio and video issues and not all of the solutions had enough “room” for all our team members.
That’s when we decided to use Highfive. It’s a device you plug on your flat screen TV that comes with a wide angle camera as well as a crystal clear Dolby speaker and 360 degree microphone. It really feels like the other participants are in the room with you.
Why is Highfive a must have for remote teams? When you want to connect two or more offices, Highfive is really second to none when it comes to A/V quality. A must have for better remote communication.
Appear.in is a video conferencing system that’s entirely based on the browser. There’s no software to install and no need to create an account. Just share the URL of your meeting room and simply wait for your participants show up. The big win versus Skype or Hangout is that there’s a lot less friction in participating to call as it’s as easy as copying and pasting a URL.
Why is appear.in a must have for remote teams? If you need to have quick chats with your team members or users, or share voice, video and screens, it’s the easiest option out there.
Join.me is the web conferencing we use when our counterparts cannot use the audio/video capabilities of their computer and want to join by calling a phone number. (appear.in doesn’t provide a phone number to join.)
You can also record join.me calls which can be useful for training. For example, when we provide a tour of our app to a new team member, or explain how to use one of our tools, we often record the call so it can be used for other (future) team members as well. No need to redo the same demo over and over again.
Why is join.me a must have for remote teams? The fact that you can record calls makes it easy to create training materials for your team. Need to show a team member something they need to know but other team members may need that training as well in the future? Hit record and save time moving forward.
Communicating With Our Users (And Providing Support)
Intercom is the main tool we use to communicate with our users (both free trial and paid customers). It’s used for support, on-boarding messaging, feature announcements and one-on-one communications for customer success.
The main reason we’ve switched to Intercom is to centralize all customer communications in one place. Prior to Intercom, we used to do support using Helpscout and on-boarding messaging using customer.io and switching to one tool to another was a bit cumbersome.
But keep in mind that like with every all-in-one tool, it’s not the best tool at everything. For example, it’s lacking key support features that Helpscout offers, like feedback on support messages or decent statistics about your team workload (and response time).
Why is Intercom a must have for remote teams? When you want to have all your conversations with your users in one place and collaborate with your remote team when handling them, Intercom can be very useful.
Are there any alternatives? Well, since Intercom has become very pricey over the years, you may want to look at alternatives. I’ve found one that’s pretty similar and much more affordable, it’s called Crisp.
As stated above, we’ve decided to work with Intercom for all user related communications. But when it comes to nurturing leads, Intercom is really not the right tool. We simply could not capture email addresses and nurture those leads with Intercom. So we had to pick a specific tool to take our lead nurturing to the next step. After a long evaluation process, we chose ActiveCampaign, mostly because it was bundled with API connections with most of the other tools we already use.
Why is ActiveCampaign a must have for remote teams? ActiveCampaign is not specifically designed for remote teams, it’s valuable for all teams, remote or not.
As a self service software priced for low to no touch, we invest a lot on the on-boarding experience of our free trials. We’ve tried every self-serve education approach, including the creation of our own homemade on-boarding guides. Appcues seems to be the best tool to guide new users and show them the key features of your app they need to be aware of.
It offers a lot of look & feel options, A/B testing capabilities and stats than can help you test your on-boarding assumptions.
Why is AppCues a must have for remote teams? AppCues is not specifically designed for remote teams. It’s valuable for all teams, remote or not.
Since we started to seriously invest in customer success, we’ve been looking for a tool to help us with this important endeavor.
Salesmachine is the only tool we’ve found to help us with our customer success needs that doesn’t cost several thousands of dollars per month. When we got started, we couldn’t afford the Totangos and Gainsights of the world.
Salesmachine provides useful statistics about your users’ health as well as the ability to identify red flags based on user behaviors and a trigger-automated workflow for your customer success team to work with.
Why is Salesmachine a must have for remote teams? If your customer success team is remote, Salesmachine provides great tools to work collaboratively on your customer success goals without stepping on each other’s toes.
Providing great support starts with providing great self help support. The vast majority of users don’t want to chat with a support agent — they want to figure things out by themselves. According to Zendesk, 67% of users prefer self help support than sending an email.
The unique value proposition of Support Hero is that it allows us to embed our self help support content in a widget right within our app. This is the best possible experience for our users who don’t have to click on a link and exit our app to get the support they need. It also provides a LOT of stats about the performance of our self help support articles. Super helpful.
Why is Support Hero a must have for remote teams? With a remote support team, it is key to have a shared knowledge base every team member can access and edit. We use Support Hero with the entire support team (everyone can contribute) and we even have a “private” knowledge base for all the content that’s only useful for team members (not for our users).
If you’re serious about providing top notch support and user experience, FullStory is a must have. It’s this kind of tool you don’t know you need until you experience it for the first time and think “Oh shit! I had no idea we had that problem!”
Putting it simply, FullStory records all the sessions of your users. It’s like standing behind their shoulders when they use your product and witnessing how they do it (and struggle with it sometimes). You have very powerful filtering options allowing you to watch sessions of users using a specific feature or new users only. For support, it can show you what users were doing right before they sent you a support ticket. A total time saver.
Why is FullStory a must have for remote teams? It’s not a tool designed specifically for remote teams. But it’s useful for all teams, remote or not.
Before using Receptive, we had no process to capture user feedback. This was frustrating for us as we had no data backed process to gauge what feature we should add (or fix) next. Our users would make feature suggestions but would never know if we ended up implementing them.
We looked at all solutions on the market to manage customer feedback. When we stumbled upon Receptive, it really was one of those “aha” moments!
Receptive allows us to:
- Gather feedback in a transparent and seamless way
- Make sure that our users know when we implement the features they are interested in
- Filter feature requests by meaningful data points (feature requests from free trials, from customers, from high value customers or by number of votes).
Why is Receptive a must have for remote teams? While Receptive is not specifically designed for remote teams and can be used by any SaaS company, it’s very helpful to provide your remote support or customer success team with one place to gather all the feedback they get from users. It’s also useful for our product team to review that data without having to discuss with the customer facing team members who are not in the same time zone as they are.
Measuring Everything (Or Trying Hard To ;-)
Segment is really the lifeblood of all our app’s and users’ data. All our events are captured by Segment which then connects to all our tools (Kissmetrics, Salesmachine, Appcues, ActiveCampaign, Intercom, etc.) so all the tools we use that needs to collect event data are pulling them from the same, unified source.
It also allows us to test new tools and by simply clicking a button, all our data is sent to them without any engineering time being spent. Life saver when you’re small and lean.
Why is Segment a must have for remote teams? Segment is not specifically designed for remote teams, but its ability to try new tools with any engineering involvement allows remote team members to test and adopt new tools with a lot less friction.
ChartMogul is where all our business metrics live (MRR, ARR, LTV, ARPU, churn, etc.).
This is not a team tool, nor does it provide any kind of collaboration features. But as a remote team, we want every team member to have transparent access to our financial health. As a consequence, we give access to ChartMogul to each team member. When the end of the month comes by, everybody knows how much progress we’ve made and that’s a great feeling!
Why is ChartMogul a must have for remote teams? If, like us, you want your team to really feel part of the adventure, sharing all your financial details in real time can be a great idea. It can also give them comfort if you’re growing and generating profit. Maybe not something that would work for companies having financial difficulties or slow growth. But eventually, they’ll know anyway, so why hide it?
Kissmetrics is our go-to resource for everything data analysis related. Every member of the marketing team has access to Kissmetrics and is trained to efficiently use it to query our data and get the answers they need.
Why is Kissmetrics a must have for remote teams? Kissmetrics is not specifically designed for all teams — remote or otherwise.
While Pendo is a multifaceted user support tool, we use it primarily to measure feature usage on Agorapulse. We then use that data to determine what features are used the most and by whom.
For example, our social media publishing feature allows users to schedule their content (at a specific date and time), add their content to a predefined content queue or publish their content immediately. According to Pendo, 90% of the content published via our platform is scheduled, not queued or published immediately. This is an essential piece of information for our product team when we have to decide what to improve in our publishing tool. In this case, offering better scheduling options should come before improving our content queue feature.
Why is Pendo a must have for remote teams? Pendo is not specifically designed for remote teams. It’s valuable for all teams, remote or not.
Marketing & Social Media Tools
Our list wouldn’t be complete with Agorapulse, of course :-)
We eat our own dog food an use Agorapulse daily to manage our Social media tasks. As a business owner, the three things I love about Agorapulse are:
- We can use the team collaboration features to make sure the appropriate team member is notified when a comment or message should be answered by her (mostly for language reasons in our case).
- I can monitor (and often delete spam) on my Facebook ads. I really hate spam on ad comments and have never found another good solution for that.
- I can share content from anywhere using our Chrome extension and customize my posts per social network. I can even recycle evergreen content (requeuing it on Twitter or duplicating it on Facebook).
Why is Agorapulse a must have for remote teams? Agorapulse offers advanced team collaboration features that come in handy for any remote team: assigning incoming content, reporting on team member workload and response time, and assigning drafts for approval.
A good marketer should always be testing her assumptions. A/B test is clearly the kind of thing you need a tool for. We chose optimizely a long time ago and have stuck with it.
One of the reasons we like it, beyond its WYSIWYG interface, is its connection to Kissmetrics (mentioned above). That connection is the key as a succesful A/B test should not be limited to what’s hapening on the top of the funnel (the page you’re currently testing) but should also show you the results at the bottom of the funnel as well (trial conversion, paid conversion, LTV, ARPU).
Our most successful tests proved to be succesful on metrics that Optimzely could not report on (mostly revenue related). Actually, these sucessful A/B test showed lower conversion on the page (like fewer free trials), but higher revenue at the bottom of the funnel (better conversion from free trial to paid or higher revenue per user).
Why is Optimizely a must have for remote teams? Optimizely is not specifically designed for remote teams. It’s valuable for all teams, remote or not.
If you run Facebook ad campaigns, you’ve probably already used the native Facebook ad manager or even its Power Editor if you manage a lot of ads.
For a “casual” Facebook advertiser like me, these two native Facebook tools are too complicated. Not to mention that Facebook keeps changing them (and I don’t have the time to keep up).
AdEspresso makes it simple to create and optimize Facebook ad campaigns. For me it’s a no brainer. It also allows A/B tests of copy, visual, landing page and targeting. A must do if you want to optimize your results.
Why is AdEspresso a must have for remote teams? Adespresso is not specifically designed for remote teams, but if you have several team members looking at your ad campaigns, it’s useful to have one place where you can quickly see how every campaign /ads are performing.
Tech & Design tools
Github is the central hub for all our code: all our open source Grails plugins and Groovy/Java libs repos, but also our private repos. It really makes coding seamless as a remote team.
Why is Github a must have for remote teams? Github is the de facto standard for code sharing and remote collaboration. All developers are used to it.
Pivotal Tracker is where our developers, QA and support team members live. It’s the best way to keep track of bugs and feature improvement in an organized way.
The mobile version is pretty useful too.
Why is Pivotal Tracker a must have for remote teams? When your developers don’t work in the same place as your QA or support team, a tool like Pivotal Tracker is really the only way to keep the whole team on the same page.
We recently strated to work with a talented UI/UX team member in Paris on the overall redesign of our app and our website. But the key stakeholders are all around the world. Our CMO in Portland (USA), our product manager in Poitiers (France), the two cofounders in Paris (France) and the developers are both in Paris and Buenos Aires (Argentina).
InVision is really the only way to make sure we can give feedback on design proposals as a team.
Why is Invision a must have for remote teams? UI/UX is an aspect of the business that requires a LOT of feedback, iterations and conversations. Collaboration is key and when your team is remote, you can’t live without InVision.
RescueTime is an awesome time management tool. You install it on your laptop and it tracks everything you do. The tool tells you if you’re productive or not and how many hours you’ve worked.
My co-founder and I use it to keep track of our own productivity.
Some of our team members do too, but we’ve not required the entire team to use this tool as we were afraid they may consider it invasive. We may revisit that in the future. When used right, it’s a great tool to force yourself to stay focused. It can also be used to help your team do the same.
Why is RescueTime a must have for remote teams? Being remote means it’s hard to get a sense about how productive we all are. RescueTime can help us being accountable. When used individually, we’re all accountable to ourselves. That’s already a good start. It can be enough. The team edition can create transparency as the data can be visible team wide. A little bit of competition can boost productivity, but this may not work for all teams.
Hubstaff is a time tracking tool. It’s pretty drastic as it records the time spent by team members on your tasks, how much time they’ve been active and can even take screenshots of their activity every five minutes! Pretty Big Brother like.
Definitely not something I’d use for our regular team. However, when hiring a freelancer for a specific task or a virtual assistant (VA) where the quantity of work done matters more than quality, Hubstaff can be useful. Especially if you don’t feel you can trust them up front.
Why is Hubstaff a must have for remote teams? There are certain jobs (Internet research, database building / cleaning, email hunting, etc.) for which you may need to hire VAs, part time or full time, and it can be hard to check on their productivity. Hubstaff is great to just make sure that the job gets done and the number of hours you’re paying for are being put in.
Have you ever had trouble trying to find a convenient day and time to chat with a team member? This can be a real headache, especialy if you are both working in different time zones.
Calendly makes booking calls mega easy. Just share your booking link with anyone in your team (or outside!) and they’ll be able to book a time with you when you’re available. It’s a no brainer!
Why is Calendly a must have for remote teams? Calendly makes it super easy to book meetings, no more endless back and forth via email to find a convenient time. This is super helpful for booking calls with customers or users, but it’s also very useful internally. All my team members have my calendly link and they know they can book a time with me any time they want. No friction!
Screencast-o-matic is one of the few tools I use on a daily basis. It’s useful for both customer support and communication for our remote team.
When I want to show someone something that’s happening on my screen, whether to show how to do something or to discuss an issue with our tool (or any tool we use), doing a screencast is usually the way to go to save time and be efficient.
Making a screencast and sharing it with screencast-o-matic versus writing a long explanation with screenshots can save me hours of work every week.
Why is Screencast-o-matic a must have for remote teams? When you need to give feedback to a remote team member or you want to show them how to do something, making a screencast is the fastest and most efficient way to go.
1Password is a helpful tool to store all your login/passwords in a safe place. You can also use LastPass. One of the great feautres these tools offer is a way to share passwords with your team.
With all the tools we use, looking for a specific password can be a huge waste of time. 1Password or LastPass will make this pain go away!
Why is 1Password or LastPass a must have for remote teams? You use a lot of tools with your teams, don’t you? In that lies the answer.