Creating Your Foundation for SaaS Marketing

If you’re marketing (or planning to market) software as a service (SaaS), you have a significant amount of work ahead. Having worked on a few different SaaS products (some successful, others not), we have seen the difficulties firsthand. When marketing works, it’s super fun. When prospects ignore you, it’s demotivating. Previously, we outlined strategies for building SaaS solutions, and in this article, we’ll outline a strategic framework for creating your foundation for SaaS marketing.

Differentiate Your Product & Company

Almost every SaaS industry has LOTS of competition. Not long ago, client/server software was entrenched — some still exists — but the wise software vendors embraced SaaS. Now, the market is filled with options, which can spring up in a short time with the amazing level of tools, infrastructure, and development talent available. If you’re the NKOTB (new kid on the block), you need to find a way to differentiate yourself from the 31 flavors of vanilla already in your space. Being new in an established market can work in your favor, or it can be a huge disadvantage. For example, if you have a SaaS customer relationship management system (CRM), it’s a jungle. You will battle big guys with deep pockets like Salesforce and Hubspot.

You have to find a way to “create your own ladder” where you can be on the top rung. For example, you could serve a specific niche (plumbers, field sales reps, government agencies) or a specific need (dialing, automation, AI). No matter what you do, you’ll want to make sure your brand is different. Zig when everyone else zags.

Be Visible

Marketing is sales at scale. It’s not really a business until you have customers, so get customers (more on that later). And when you have customers, make sure you’re visible to more prospects like your customers (e.g., thos plumbers, field sales reps, and government agencies). Do the basics with your website to make sure you show up in search engines. If you don’t have a website, do you really exist? It may make sense to attend industry conferences and trade shows, not only to market what you do, but to mingle with potential customers and peruse competitors. Alongside your website, you should experiment with social media — listen first, contribute later. See what the market is doing in social before you invest in it.

Tool Up for SaaS Marketing

Three areas to invest in tooling are marketing, sales, and customer service. Sales (and potentially marketing & customer service) require a CRM. From first contact (inbound or outbound marketing) through the sales funnel to managing the relationship, you’ll want a centralized way to manage your relationships. You may end up with multiple systems to suit your overall needs, but a core prospect and customer database is essential. Your shopping list should include as much automation and analytics as you can afford. That which gets measured gets done (e.g., lead generation, sales conversations, good support). As we’ll discuss next, with SaaS, sales and marketing don’t stop at the initial sale.

Play the Long Game

SaaS marketing never ends. You may start with a simple strategy like content marketing. You build a website, you launch your product, you write a dozen blog posts about your industry, and you submit your site to Google and Bing to be indexed. Your SEO techniques work and you get some traffic. Your blog posts are good, so someone can subscribe for more or inquire about your SaaS product. Now you’re list building (welcome to the game). When it comes to SaaS marketing, lead with education when possible. Now you have the ability to build sales funnels, sharing useful ideas, explaining the benefits of your SaaS solution, showcasing what others are doing, and building rapport. It’s all feeding into your customer journey, which you should map (from cradle to grave).

Once you get some traction, “land & expand” should become your mantra. You build your reputation with reviews, success stories, testimonials, awards, and case studies. The better you manage each interaction and touchpoint, the better chance you have at winning in the long game. Early on, you’ll be challenged as an NKOTB. Be nice and helpful to your audience, even during adversity. When someone signs up, the work really begins to convert them from “customer” to “advocate” (someone who champions you is highly valuable). The true beauty of SaaS is scalability, so you can leverage your solution to more clients with minimal overhead. SaaS marketing happens during all those touchpoints — customers have more freedom of choice in these crowded markets — so you’re marketing even when they’re already paying you.

Build an Experiment Framework

We are practitioners of conversion rate optimization (CRO), which means we believe in running a wide variety of marketing experiments. We’re entrenched in some competitive markets: SaaS, cloud hosting, native cloud application development, and technology consulting. We use a variety of tactics, including paid search, social media, SEO, and email marketing. We’ll split test on different ideas to see which works best. In SaaS, you can do that too. You may also experiment with things like pricing, free trials, and tiered functionality. You may try making explainer videos, creating detailed demonstration videos, or conducting interactive webinars. If you look at a variety of unicorn SaaS products, you’ll see a wide range of ways they were discovered and scaled. And on all of them, a CRO experimentation framework is used for growth. All. Of. Them.

Your Foundation for SaaS Marketing

We mentioned that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to SaaS development platforms. And the same is true for SaaS marketing strategies. What worked for Dropbox in 2002 probably won’t work for your SaaS solution in 2021. What Slack did to grow in the past five years may never happen again. You simply won’t know until you launch and experiment. Build a solid foundation for your brand, sales management, customer service, and marketing programs. Look for good marketing ideas and include them in your backlog of experiments. Test, observe, measure, and iterate. With your foundation, you’re well on your way.

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