How to put together a top-tier SaaS marketing strategy
The SaaS (software-as-a-service) space is anything but static.
Sounds like an understatement, right?
In fact, recent data from Blissfully notes that the average business should expect almost half of their software stacks to change within the next two years.
Translation? Customers are cycling through SaaS products like crazy.
Even so, the cloud market is scheduled to grow a staggering 17% in 2020. This signals a massive window of opportunity for SaaS companies looking to stake their claim.
Doing so means nailing down your SaaS marketing strategy, though.
In this guide, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about SaaS marketing. This includes defining what SaaS marketing is and providing actionable tips and tactics your company can roll out to drive demos and subscriptions ASAP.
What is SaaS Marketing?
To kick things off, let’s talk about what sets SaaS marketing is and what sets it apart from other industries. Because comparing SaaS marketing to ecommerce (or pretty much any other market) is apples and oranges.
SaaS marketing (Software as a service) is a specific type of marketing that focuses on building awareness, generating leads and acquiring and retaining customers for a SaaS product.
Below’s a quick rundown of what defines SaaS marketing versus other industries.
SaaS marketing is all about long-term customers
In short, SaaS companies are looking to acquire and retain customers for the long haul – years at a time.
Once someone becomes a customer, SaaS companies are responsible for consistently communicating and marketing to them to prevent churn. When someone churns, they’ve basically dropped out of your funnel. According to data from Recurly, the average voluntary SaaS churn rate sits around 5% annually.
Whereas a traditional company may treat a transaction as a “one and done,” SaaS companies are laser-focused on long-term retention after a demo or download.
That’s exactly why so many SaaS companies operate on a “freemium” model or give away a free version of their product to reel in users.
The SaaS customer journey is complex
Food for thought: it can take anywhere between six to eighteen months to close an enterprise deal in SaaS.
That’s because the customer journey through a SaaS marketing funnel is anything but straightforward.
For starters, SaaS marketing requires a company to create and promote content at varying levels of awareness.
Let’s say you’re marketing an SEO tool. Some of your target audience may not even know what SEO is yet. Meanwhile, you might have customers at later stages of the funnel comparing your product to competing SEO tools and others who are ready for a trial.
In other words, what a customer “looks like” is anything but one-size-fits-all. This translates into creating a wide range of content and marketing materials based on what your prospects know (or need to know).
Notable for companies in the SaaS B2B marketing space, Gartner recently observed that the average buyer is more overwhelmed with information than ever before. SaaS marketers today must find a balance between educating their audience and drowning them with information.
The SaaS space is crowded with competition
Another major understatement.
Take a peek at the SaaS 1000 or the MarTech 5000 and you’ll see just how crowded the SaaS space is.
Heck, simply looking up “CRM” on the software review platform Capterra returns 770 results as of writing this.
It doesn’t matter what subset of SaaS you’re working in: competition is fierce.
But again, this level of competition speaks to the need for new solutions and software. Keep in mind that the average business relies on dozens to hundreds of SaaS apps. There’s always room to provide new solutions to the challenges companies are facing.
What are the staples of a SaaS marketing strategy?
Hey, good question!
Putting together an effective SaaS marketing plan means understanding the best ways to attract and reach customers.
And again, there is no single way to make it happen. Instead, there’s a combination of channels and tactics that successful SaaS brands have proven work time and time again. Let’s break ’em down.
Email marketing might seem old-school but it’s integral to SaaS.
Remember what we said earlier about the customer lifecycle lasting a long time? Email remains one of the best channels for making frequent, one-on-one touchpoints with customers.
Here are some typical SaaS marketing emails that most companies send on the regular:
- Onboarding emails (for a product demo)
- Feature announcements
- New content (webinars, blog posts)
- Company newsletters
Note that approximately half of SaaS customers log in or use a product less often than once a month. Yikes.
Email is the perfect way to give customers a nudge and likewise make sure that someone is satisfied with your product.
For example, this email from Sprout that announced Instagram scheduling gave recipients a new reason to check out their content calendar and spend some time in Sprout’s platform.
Meanwhile, this message from Squarespace serves as a general check-in and webinar invitation to make sure customers aren’t sleeping on their platform’s best features.
See how that works?
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The importance of SEO and organic reach really can’t be stressed enough.
As illustrated in his research regarding the best traffic sources for SaaS, consultant Mike Sonders notes that organic traffic accounts for the bulk of leads and traffic for top-tier SaaS companies (up to 68% total).
The previous Gartner study highlights the fact that folks are doing more and more independent research when looking up SaaS products. In many cases, this means turning to a quick Google search. This is why so many companies are looking to get featured on “best of” lists in addition to creating their own blog content for SEO.
Beyond educating customers, blogging is a prime way for SaaS companies to target keywords and attract leads via search engines. That’s exactly what we do here at Sprout.
Webinars are all the rage right now for a reason.
Data gathered by GoToWebinar notes that a quarter of all webinars are created by SaaS companies. Meanwhile, the same data notes that nearly three-fourths of B2B and sales leaders cite webinars as the best method for generating high-quality leads.
Webinars and digital events are great for driving demos, showing off your product and likewise promoting thought leadership.
Webinars can either be presented live or downloadable “on-demand,” perfect for prospects and current customers alike. Plus, replays and broadcasts can be uploaded to the likes of YouTube to help build out your channel and score search traffic at the same time.
PPC and social ads
Pay-per-click advertising is alive and well for SaaS.
Many companies use Google ads to increase visibility for specific keywords and likewise outrank competitors. PPC campaigns can be run immediately and don’t require the waiting game involved with SEO.
Social ads are similarly becoming more prevalent for SaaS, enabling companies to bypass social algorithms and advertise directly to relevant customers.
Checklists, webinars and case studies are prime content for social ads, for example. Facebook actually has its own slew of SaaS marketing success stories such as BigCommerce who saw a 3x lift in trial conversions from their ad campaign.
The beauty of a platform like Facebook is the ability to zero in on specific customers based on demographic and interest data. Additionally, Facebook’s remarketing ads allow SaaS companies a “second chance” at winning over people who might have bounced from a landing page or previously downloaded a demo.
Organic social media
Social media has become integral to SaaS marketing at large.
Although software companies may not seem like the ideal candidates to thrive on social media, many SaaS brands are taking full advantage of platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
So glad we can make designing easier for you, Alice! Thanks for popping by our booth! 🥰 #Bett2020 https://t.co/TblUdjEy9C
— Canva (@canva) January 25, 2020
For example, social media represents a place to do all of the following:
- Go back-and-forth directly with customers
- Curate product feedback and ideas
- Announce new features and products
- Promote top-of-funnel content (blog posts, videos)
- Highlight industry accolades and earned media
- Show off your employees and company culture
Dear Firefox and Safari users,
Just a quick note to thank you for asking for Grammarly on @googledocs. We listened, and now it’s officially live!
— Grammarly (@Grammarly) January 21, 2020
What should be the top priorities of my SaaS marketing plan?
Let’s talk tactics.
Now that we’ve broken down the channels, let’s showcase specific SaaS marketing strategies and must-dos to score those ever-so-valuable customers.
Streamline communication with your customers and leads
The sooner you can respond to a SaaS customer, the better.
This rings true whether we’re talking about product issues, pricing questions or even praise.
When you’re juggling multiple marketing channels, it’s crucial to allocate your resources and keep a close eye on messages and notifications. Doing so could be the difference between a long-term customer and a lost lead.
Recent data from Salesforce notes that the experience a company provides is just as important as their product or service. The takeaway here is that you can’t afford to let questions or feedback linger.
Case in point, social customer care is becoming more of a priority for SaaS companies. Channels like Twitter allow a quick and simple place for customers to ask questions.
No plans at the moment, but we are Bearing it in mind 🤔😄🐻
— Bear – Markdown Notes (@BearNotesApp) January 28, 2020
Companies can likewise listen in on conversations where their product is being mentioned or recommended.
— SparkMail (@SparkMailApp) January 29, 2020
Oh, and don’t forget quick troubleshooting for current customers.
Hey there! NFC keys are supported in the latest beta of 1Password for iOS and we are working to get this into a final release. 🙂https://t.co/FLcfbrPmte
— 1Password (@1Password) January 29, 2020
If you’re part of a SaaS marketing team, you can’t have your wires crossed when it comes to communication.
That’s where something like Sprout’s collaboration tools can be a game-changer, allowing multiple team members to work within the same social inboxes without stepping on anyone’s toes. The end-result is swifter communication and more questions answered on behalf of your customers.
Additionally, features such as social listening allow you to make sure that mentions about your brand are positive and that you’re consistently engaging with customers via social.
Curate reviews and customer success stories
Social proof and positive reviews are key to SaaS marketing, generating a sort of digital word-of-mouth.
According to data from Groove, testimonials and social proof go hand in hand with higher conversions.
This speaks to the importance of being featured and regularly reviewed on sites which aggregate customer feedback for SaaS products.
- G2 (formerly G2 Crowd)
- Product Hunt
We're excited to share that for the sixth consecutive quarter, @g2crowd has named Terminus the Leader in Account Based Execution (and a few other categories)!
We ❤️ our customers and we're thrilled that our customers ❤️ us back: https://t.co/kXQjto5TVX
— Terminus (@Terminus) July 9, 2019
Piggybacking on the above, keeping open channels of communicating makes it much easier curate reviews on such sites. It makes it easier to ask for testimonials and case studies which are among the best ways to prove that your product is up to snuff.
For example, Optinmonster promotes a variety of testimonials on-site. These testimonials address a variety of industries, allowing them to show off their social proof and win over different segments of their audience.
Meanwhile, their testimonials and case studies break down specific metrics and performance data. The ability to show off actual numbers is much more compelling than just praise for a job well done.
That said, even the seemingly simplest forms of positive feedback can serve as good news for your business. Notice that many SaaS brands take the time to respond and re-publish shout-outs from customers.
Thanks for sharing!
— Cloudflare (@Cloudflare) January 21, 2020
This again points to the importance of social media monitoring and listening to ensure that you’re already gathering and responding to social proof.
Create and promote content for the top of your funnel
Research shows that people typically engage with at least eleven pieces of content before they’re ready to make a purchase.
This, coupled with a lengthy SaaS customer journey, speaks to the need to have a diverse content calendar. Specifically, plenty of top-the-funnel content such as blog posts, case studies and videos that raise awareness for your product and the problems it solves.
This sort of content is perfect for social media and serves as a way to both educate and entertain your audience.
For example, here’s a pretty straightforward blog post promo from HubSpot.
Creating the right brand messaging for your company is both an art and a science. 🎨🧪 Some steps:
▪️Determine what differentiates you from others.
▪️Identify your audience.
▪️Pick a promotional strategy to spread your message.
Learn more: https://t.co/DKk4oGwOe6
— HubSpot (@HubSpot) January 24, 2020
Platforms like LinkedIn are also ideal for sharing content such as checklists and other downloadables.
We’re also seeing SaaS brands step up their investment in video content, going hand in hand with 2022’s top social media trends.
Specifically, bite-sized video that showcases specific product features is great for YouTube, Linked and Twitter alike.
Such content is easy mobile-friendly and easy for followers to digest at a glance. Short-form video serves as a way to quickly educate customers without requiring them to sit through a full-blown webinar or read a blog post.
Need help building your survey? Check out our free tutorials 🌟 https://t.co/Jf5xkbWdXQ pic.twitter.com/Ry88MK2MKb
— SurveyMonkey (@SurveyMonkey) January 21, 2020
Make it painless for people to sign up for a demo
Simply put, don’t require people to jump through a bunch of hoops to get your product in their hands.
For example, the specifics of your demo should be straightforward. You should also make it clear where to access your demo via landing pages with clear calls-to-action.
Here’s an example. Zoom’s homepage contains multiple spots to sign up for their product. Meanwhile, instant log-in via Google means that the product only takes a few seconds to access.
Sendlane’s trial is also a great example of clear messaging. Their sign-up page spells out the trial’s limitations (14 days, 100 subscribers, 500 emails) and the fact that no credit card is required.
When in doubt, keep your demos and trials as simple as possible.
Figure out a crystal clear pricing structure
It’s no secret that SaaS pricing can be a controversial subject.
For example, a 2019 case study by Reply.io notes that a “freemium” model can be hit-or-miss in terms of driving long-term subscriptions. There’s also plenty of debate over whether to adopt higher or lower price points to differentiate between “discount” and “premium” services.
Regardless of what your pricing structure is, there shouldn’t be any secrets about it. In short, don’t skimp on details on your pricing pages. Clarifying what your customers “get” with each pricing plan will ultimately result in fewer questions and set the right expectations upon onboarding.
For example, Slack’s pricing page breaks down each of their plans clearly.
Here’s another example from Wave.video, using a checklist to showcase and outline specific plan features. Note that they also include the annual billing price in addition to the monthly cost.
Dig into your customer data and analytics
SaaS marketing is rooted in data, perhaps more so than any other type of business.
Why your entire team needs access to social business intelligence
For example, there are seemingly endless data points that can influence your product and marketing decisions. This includes product usage data gathered from your customers. Some key data points to consider include:
- Average churn rate
- Customer lifetime value (CTLV)
- Landing page conversion rate(s)
- Organic traffic and conversions
- Top-performing ads and marketing messages
And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what SaaS brands can track. Either way, regularly looking at your numbers allows you to make more informed decisions that are backed up by data. This includes social media analytics to highlight your top-performing content and ROI.
Empower people to use your products
In addition to creating and promoting content, a solid knowledge base and repository of resources is a smart move for SaaS companies.
Doing so empowers customers to take full advantage of what your products have to offer. It also reduces the time spent on customer service and questions.
For example, check out the depth of Zendesk’s resources for customers including webinars, an asset library and in-depth guides for each piece of their product suite.
How else can SaaS companies stand out from the crowd?
To wrap things up, let’s dive into some final SaaS marketing tips for companies in crowded spaces that are struggling to stand out from the competition.
Define your value proposition
Sometimes the best way to make an impact on SaaS customers is by being straightforward with ’em.
Instead of overwhelming customers with data or what’s under the hood of your product, think about your value proposition.
In other words, your company needs to answer the following for customers at a glance:
“Okay, what can you do for me?”
What pain point are you taking care of? Are you saving people time? Energy? Money?
Your value proposition might seem obvious to you, but it’s crucial to spell it out for customers (hint: put it front-and-center on your homepage).
Make your brand unmistakable
SaaS companies need a defined branding strategy for the sake of grabbing customers’ attention and making a lasting impression.
It’s easy to overlook elements such as logo design and brand voice when you’re trying to push a powerhouse product with tons of features. That said, these simple pieces of branding are what’s going to help you define you versus your competitors.
Think of companies like Slack with their recognizable color scheme and messaging emphasizing on improving one’s life at work.
Daily stand-ups are a valuable way to spend 15 minutes each day. They're also easily hosted in Slack. The benefits? Everyone saves time and managers get more transparency. 👉 https://t.co/VvyXji4UKN pic.twitter.com/5btSehmkaC
— Slack (@SlackHQ) January 10, 2020
Mailchimp is another great example of masterful SaaS branding, with a distinct logo and creatives that are distinctly theirs.
Take time to showcase your company culture and values
Finally, remember that we live in an era of brands getting real.
SaaS brands are no exception.
Culture, values and philanthropy are all factors that set companies apart and likewise matter so much to your customer base.
Especially through social media, you can highlight your values and likewise humanize your brand. Doing so is also a brilliant way to bring your team together.
Ready to fine-tune your SaaS marketing strategy?
Listen: there are a lot of moving pieces involved in SaaS marketing.
Heck, it might feel like there are too many.
That said, it’s more than possible to come up with a succinct strategy that results in demos and downloads.
The channels and tactics highlighted above can serve as the foundation for your SaaS marketing plan no matter what industry you’re in. Through analytics and experimentation, you can figure out what works best for your customer base and make tweaks over time.
What do you consider to be the most important pieces of SaaS software marketing? If you’re looking to learn more about how to build your B2B marketing strategy, check out fresh stats on social media use in the software industry.
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