Marketing is, without doubt, critical to the success of your B2B software enterprise.
However, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a unique business model. It is largely driven by the user experience. You need to demonstrate a superior software and service experience to stand out.
You also need to think outside the box when marketing your B2B SaaS business. You need innovative ways of attracting qualified prospects to your brand, fully leveraging the dozens of ways you can offer free trials of your software.
One of the major challenges with SaaS marketing is that each use case is unique. Yet you need to produce content that keeps your prospects engaged, eventually turning them into paying subscribers.
In this comprehensive guide we will explore some of the major strategies available to you as a B2B SaaS marketer. And we will also offer some practical suggestions to help you make the most of these strategies.
Let’s get to it…
What Makes SaaS Different?
SaaS companies aim for long term customers
First things first, marketing SaaS isn’t regular marketing. You’re marketing an intangible. This is a major difference. Your prospects can’t see or touch your product, at least not in the conventional way.
Secondly, you’re not banking on one time customers like other ecommerce businesses. Retaining your SaaS customers is key to your growth. For this reason, the SaaS industry has one of the lowest churn rates.
SaaS companies invest a tremendous amount of time and money into acquiring new customers. Since the return on this investment is only seen over an extended period of time, it makes sense for SaaS companies to focus their budgets on retaining these hard won subscribers. The fastest growing companies keep their churn to below 5%
Image: Churn Rate By Industry, Source: Recurly
You need to be constantly communicating and marketing to your customer base to keep churn at its lowest.
The B2B SaaS customer journey is complex
Another thing about B2B SaaS marketing is the buyer journey is complex. While the decision making cycle for self service software is only a few hours, enterprise software sales cycles can last up to 18 months.
This is because B2B buyers go through many stages in their buying journey. Therefore they need a lot of content to help them in their decision. Generally speaking there are 3 phases to the sales cycle:
- Attraction: Attracting new prospects to your brand
- Engagement: Converting these prospects into paying customers
- Delight: Keeping these paying customers happy
All being said, there is no one size fits all solution. You will need to be creative when you create the content for your funnels.
You’re selling benefits, not features
SaaS companies often have a natural tendency to defer to their developers. They are, no doubt, crucial to your SaaS business. However, it’s the service providers (the sales, the customer support etc…) that provide the service experience in your business.
Some would argue that’s even more important than the product experience. After all, nobody buys a software, they buy a solution to their problems.
It’s a hard job outlining your value proposition, but your whole service team should understand it clearly. But they should also be aligned with your company culture. After all, that’s one of the main reasons you hired them. And your company culture’s one of the reasons your subscribers stick with your brand.
You need to go beyond marketing the just features of your software, and market the whole package.
How to Build Your SaaS Marketing Plan
Why you need a SaaS marketing plan
In a sentence, your SaaS marketing plan will keep you and your team focused on your objectives, saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.
It’ll make it easier to identify your target market, identify skills gaps in your team and set metrics for success.
In other words, it’ll make you more efficient. With all that being said, what should you include in your SaaS marketing plan?
What you should include in your SaaS marketing plan
Inbound marketing is a great way to build lasting relationships with your customers and prospects. It shows a deep understanding of your prospects’ pain points and a coherent content strategy. This strategy addresses their pain points at every stage of their buyer journey, including when they become your customers.
a) Your objectives
Your objectives will depend on where you are in your growth plan.
If you are a new SaaS business then you’re focused on growth, customer acquisition, driving traffic to your website and converting leads into trials of your software.
In this case you’ll focus more on top of funnel content like blogs, paid ads and social media. You will then follow up on your leads through email marketing and retargeting.
If you’re a more established enterprise, you’re more focused on delighting your existing users than acquiring new ones. In this case, you’d be more focused on bottom of funnel content like demos and consultations.
Your financial goals will tie in to your overall objectives. For example, if your objective is to add X million dollars to you ARR this year, you’ll need Y number of leads that’ll convert into Z customers.
b) Your content marketing plan
Your content is your key to success in digital marketing. A documented strategy will help you understand who to target, at what stages of the buyer journey.
So you need to understand who your ideal customer is, what their challenges are and how they go about solving those challenges. In other words you need to develop your buyer persona. And you’ll need to think about how you’ll serve them with your content as they progress on their buyer journey.
Essentially the buyer journey consists of three stages: Awareness, Consideration and Decision. These map nicely to the 3 stages in the sales cycle mentioned earlier, ie. Attract, Engage, Delight. Sometimes you may come across the AIDA model or other models. Essentially they describe the same thing.
As an example, the following types of content would fit into the following stages: -Awareness: blog posts, social media posts, whitepapers, webinars -Consideration: case studies -Decision: free trial offers
c) Your customer acquisition plan
Your customer acquisition plan focuses on the acquisition channels you use to attract new subscribers. You could write a plan for each of the channels you’re considering.
A major benefit of SaaS marketing, you can provide a fully functional free version of your software at little cost to yourself.
There are many ways you can offer free trials of your software: freemium, free limited version, 7-day free trial, 30-day free trial, trial with no credit card information… The important thing is to make it clear to your users they can trial the software at zero cost.
Once you’ve hooked them in, it’s important to keep them engaged so that they see enough value in your software to pay for it. Provide content which helps them answer their questions, have multiple touchpoints where they can interact with you and watch how they interact with your content. You could use email triggers to deliver your content based on your users’ behaviour.
Make it as painless as possible for your users to sign up to a trial. Make your pricing plan crystal clear so they know what they’re paying for once they sign up.
d) Your referral marketing plan
With the rising Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) it’s hard to ignore the value of referrals (a.k.a word of mouth) to the brand and to the bottom line. Benefits include higher conversion rates and higher retention rate. This also increases your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
A comprehensive referral plan will help you decide on your incentives, your tools and your promotional channels.
Identify Your Most Effective Marketing Channels
An effective marketing plan will identify the best channels to attract and engage new prospects. The combination of channels and tactics you use will be unique to your business. There are however certain channels that have stood the test of time and should be included in your marketing plan.
Email Marketing – Contrary to what you may have heard, email marketing is not dead yet. Not by a long shot. Email marketing has a 4400% ROI and beats social media on engagement. With its unique personalisation capabilities, it is hard to beat email.
You can use email to deliver blog content, newsletters, offers and onboarding campaigns, for example. It’s the perfect way to keep your users engaged with your brand – 50% of paying SaaS customers log in to their software less than once a month.
SEO – With more and more business buyers carrying out their own research before engaging with software providers, it’s extremely important for SaaS companies to feature prominently in the search engines. Despite the noises being made over social media organic search is an important source of traffic for SaaS businesses. SEO as an inbound marketing strategy is a long game, which benefits compound over time.
Your Blog – Your blog is the perfect place to demonstrate your thought leadership, capture new leads, publish new content and attract search engine traffic.
Social Media – It may seem counter-intuitive, but B2B software companies are embracing social media to engage with their customers, generate feedback, promote new product features and distribute their content.
LinkedIn is the platform of choice for B2B engagement. As a networking platform for professionals, it provides several options for creating and sharing thought leadership content. It also provides opportunities to join its influencer program or create groups around specific topics.
Although not a natural B2B platform, Facebook has many ways to promote and target your content. So it’s a natural place to promote your long form content to drive traffic back to your website.
With its focus on images, Instagram can be used as a micro blogging platform to attract new visitors to your website or landing page. You can also cross promote your Facebook content to Instagram.
Because of its fast paced nature, consistency of posting on Twitter is important, keeping to your tone of voice and posting frequency. Make good use of hashtags to join conversations and promote your content.
YouTube is the place to showcase your software and provide how-to’s, demos and company videos. It’s also the world’s second largest search engine, behind Google (which also owns YouTube) so there are also SEO benefits to setting up a YouTube channel.
There are, of course, many other social platforms you can experiment with. It will depend on what your objectives are. The important thing is to be consistent, remembering that social platforms are primarily just that, social.
Pay Per Click (PPC) – While SEO gives you organic reach, it takes some time to take effect. PPC campaigns can be scaled as needed, bypassing the waiting game involved with SEO. Google ads offer plenty of options for targeting keywords, as well as reporting capabilities to fine tune your campaigns. The great thing about Facebook ads are the highly sophisticated targeting options available. These include demographics like job title, purchasing behaviour and interests. Installing Facebook pixels on your website gives you the option of seeing which product pages your prospects are viewing. And analytics to help you track the effectiveness of your campaigns.
Build your technology stack
Marketing technology (MarTech) is a whole new subject of its own. Suffice to say that without it your carefully laid out marketing plan won’t gather much momentum. At minimum you’ll be looking at implementing the following:
Content Management System (CMS) and Blog – WordPress and HubSpot are two of the most popular CMS platforms on the market. They will help you organise your content any way you see fit, turning your website into a real content power house. In addition to the standard product and service pages you could also add elements like lead capture forms, landing pages and knowledge bases to increase engagement on your website.
Email Marketing – Email is going to be central to your B2B SaaS marketing activities. As we have seen earlier it is the most cost effective marketing channel by far. True to form, there are many, many SaaS Email Service Providers (ESPs) to help you do your job effectively. Some of the better known ones are HubSpot, Pardot and Marketo.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – As your business grows you will need to keep a detailed record of your interactions with your prospects and subscribers. This is the purpose of your CRM. It will also help your sales and marketing teams stay on the same page.
SaaS Marketing Metrics
Despite all the best laid plans SaaS marketing is always a work in progress. It’s constantly evolving. And, as Peter Drucker said, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. SaaS businesses are in the unique position of accessing stores of digital data and analytics to help them in their decision making.
At a minimum you should have a system for the tracking the following metrics:
Website Visitors – Sounds obvious but it needs to be stated. As a SaaS business your website is your store front. You’ll want to track your traffic sources and the conversion rates from your sources.
Leads – Your conversion rates will reveal how many website visitors convert to leads. Specifically, you’ll want to track how many Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL’s) become Sales Qualified Leads (SQL’s). In other words how efficient you are in converting your marketing budget into paying subscribers.
Customer Churn – As a SaaS business, you’re already familiar with this metric. This gives you the percentage of users cancelling their subscription over a given time period, compared to the total number of users in that time period.
Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) – As a subscription based business the value of your existing customer base is a critical bottom line driver, probably even more so than new customers. Understanding the average value of your subscription customers over their subscription lifetime will help you understand how much you need to spend to acquire a new customer, and catch any fluctuations in your lead generation funnels.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) – This is your benchmark for knowing how much it costs your SaaS business to acquire a new customer on average. It’s the total marketing budget divided by the number of new customers acquired.
Build Your Sales and Marketing Teams
It’s always tempting to hire for future growth but the best advice is to stay lean. Look at the numbers. Nothing eats away at cash flow more than staff overhead. Ask yourself whether the need can be met by existing team members. Especially in the beginning, it makes sense to fill your roles with multi-taskers. For example, people who can write blog posts and have experience with marketing automation.
In all likelihood, your content plan will drive your marketing strategy so it makes sense to look for hires with writing and editing skills first. When hiring, look for a cultural fit and how these team members can contribute to inbound marketing success.
In many instances, it is the case that you will need a sales team on board. Don’t just hire for closing skills, but also hire based on alignment of cultural values and company vision. Sales people who share these values are much more likely to stick with your company for the long run.
Another option is to hire an agency. But if you’re just looking for someone to put your instructions into action, then an agency is not the best value for money. In this instance, a freelancer or staff member are the better options. Look at an agency as a strategic partner that will bring fresh ideas to the table, as well as providing a wide range of skill sets that you couldn’t source inhouse.
We’ve now come to the end of our exploration of SaaS marketing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and can see the possibilities open to you.
Have a well documented strategy and proper planning that address all three parts of the SaaS buying journey. You’ll have in place a solid system that generates qualified leads and buyers and demonstrates solid marketing ROI.