Episode 16: Getting Practical About SaaS Marketing with Monica Evans

This is The Marketing Hero podcast by ClearPivot, turning marketers into heroes.

Maia Wells:
Welcome to the Marketing Hero podcast. I'm your host Maia Wells. In this episode, we're bringing you some practical boots on the ground advice and examples from the trenches of SaaS marketing. Here on the Marketing Hero, we are huge proponents of sound marketing strategies and doing everything with a purpose in mind.

We want to add to that today with a more detailed look at some specific project examples in SaaS marketing and sales, that really help you smash goals. I'm honored to be talking today with my colleague, Monica Evans, our Senior Consultant here at ClearPivot. She is an incredibly intelligent and creative growth marketing expert that all of our clients really love. Right now we're about to discuss Monica's favorite SaaS marketing projects, including real actionable details that you can steal. Monica Evans, welcome to the show.

Monica Evans:
Thanks, Maia. Glad to be here.

Maia Wells:
Let's start off with a question we like to ask all of our guests. What's your favorite part of your professional life and how did you figure that out?

Monica Evans:
I think the biggest thing for me is that I love working with different types of businesses and clients. I think it really keeps things interesting and it keeps my mind stimulated and I really like crafting marketing collateral for those businesses or really doing in-depth integrations for some of my clients.

And I think over the course of the last, I want to say 11 years now doing marketing, I feel like it's kind of evolved over time as well, from what I used to love doing when I was starting out marketing to what I love doing now. And I think I kind of figured that out when I worked first for sales at HubSpot, when they were still known as a startup, back in what that was like 2010, I want to say. And I was in their sales department and I realized very quickly that I am not a sales person, but I really loved the software that HubSpot had at the time and this kind of notion of inbound marketing and what that means for clients. And so that's kind of really what sparked that interest of marketing and then helping companies grow through their marketing.

Maia Wells:
Yeah, that's a fantastic journey really to go through. As what are you into at the beginning of your career? What do you learn through different positions that you may be in and different companies you work for? So you ended up focusing in on inbound as maybe a favorite technique or a strategy. Is that something that you apply when you're working with SaaS companies now?

Monica Evans:
Oh, most definitely. I think with anything now, you very little do you do, kind of direct mail and although there are SaaS companies that do a really kick ass job with doing some direct mail, but that always goes in line with inbound. And so if you're doing anything SaaS related, your audience is always online. Especially if your SaaS product is a little bit more technical, your audience is definitely online. So you're going to have to have a pretty awesome inbound strategy to be able to capture those leads, as well as keep them around using your product.

Maia Wells:
So when you are working on a strategy like that for a SaaS company, for example, consulting on how they can actually start employing inbound marketing methodologies, where do you start? Even for somebody that may not know exactly what we mean by inbound, what's your most important first step when you're consulting with SaaS companies on marketing?

Monica Evans:
The biggest thing with SaaS companies is they think they have a really great product. And most of the time they do have a great product, but they don't know anything beyond that. They're like, "This is going to save time for so many people," or, "This is going to increase revenue by X amount, or this is," but they don't know where to begin with that. They don't even know who their audience is. They might think they know, but they haven't really done due diligence to try to figure out if that's truly who their audience is.

Monica Evans:
So I think the biggest first step with consulting with SaaS companies is, figuring out who you're going to market to. Who are your intended users? Are you wanting to be an enterprise solution? Or are you more B2C, kind of quick and fast and easy sales. Determining between those two things, because the process is very different from somebody who can just sign up for a free trial and then paid for it and then be on their merry way, versus an enterprise company that's going to have a bunch of different licenses, going to have massive teams. The sales process is going to be a lot longer. So really deciding which route you want to go first, versus which route that might need to come later.

Maia Wells:
Right. So figuring out those routes to market. Is it different, let's say, you were mentioning in the B2B context for enterprise software, or even a SaaS solution that fits in with a bigger software platform. What's unique about that? Obviously we know B2C is pretty, we all do that every day. We go on our iOS device or on our Android device and we get apps. It's very familiar to all of us. What about when you are trying to take a different route to market with your SaaS product? Is there something that's unique about figuring out that path?

Monica Evans:
Yeah. I think the language is just very different for a B2B kind of audience. The marketing is a little bit more kind of, I'm trying to think of the best word for it. Your targeted audience for B2B people are C-suite level people at the companies that you're trying to target. So they're more focused on, how much is it going to save them in money? Or how can I reduce the time to market? Or things like that, where they're just looking at high levels for them. So they're going to buy kind of a software solution that's going to, essentially, either save them money, time or resources.

So your marketing collateral and who you're targeting, that needs to be very spot on. Whereas B2C, you can have these quick and easy growth hacks for B2C people. It's easy. The buy-in to the product is really cheap. You're basically saying, this is easy set up, do this, do that. But with the B2B, your sales cycle could be six months. It could be a year. There are so many different collateral pieces that go involved with it, not just starting from the inbound first touch, but we're talking about kind of the sales cycle, providing sales collateral for the sales team to be able to move them along the sales cycle.

Monica Evans:
And a pretty awesome kind of team to have that bridges the gap between sales and marketing is kind of sales enablement. Sales enablement teams are huge in big B2B companies because they kind of teeter between marketing and sales. So they provide the case studies, they provide the metrics, they provide all the things that help assist the sales team move along because that's ultimately going to be how you're going to close that deal.

They might do kind of proof of concepts and stuff. And so you get the engineering team involved because they have to be able to set up an environment for the B2B company to be able to test out your product and see if it's kind of worth it. And they're doing this, probably with a bunch of other people. So how do you differentiate yourself? So there are so many different things that you need to think about on the B2B side, that's very different from the B2C side. So if you're talking about really, truly wanting to do enterprise level stuff in sales, you are going to have to put a lot of time and effort to make it as robust as it should be.

Maia Wells:
So Monica, let me back up for just a sec, because I have a vocabulary question for you. As you know, we're both working in the SaaS marketing space every day. So we hear things, we read things, even produce things. And I've ran into this question about the vocabulary around applications versus SaaS. And so I wanted to get your take on that. Whether in the B2B context, we should be calling it SaaS and in the B2C it's called an application or vice versa? Just give me your take on the vocabulary real quick of app versus SaaS.

Monica Evans:
Yeah, definitely. So I think it's not just black and white, because I think there are, when you go to your phone and you go to your Apple store, or if you have an Android, your Play store and you download an app, that's very targeted to individuals. It's a quick and easy thing. Your app is 4.99 and then you're good to go and you have it on your laptop or a phone. But SaaS companies, like HubSpot, which is a solution intendant for B2B companies, they also have an app for their sales team. So they have apps as well as online web applications, as well. So you can't really say all apps are for B2C and all SaaS products are technically B2B. They're very interchangeable. SaaS is SaaS, regardless of if it's for a B2B company or a B2C individual.

Maia Wells:
Makes sense. So if we move on from that basic definition, how do you actually have a successful SaaS product? So from your experiences in the industry, have you seen any patterns, have you seen anything that works well when people are doing marketing and sales right? How do you become successful with your SaaS product?

Monica Evans:
Yeah, I think the biggest thing with companies is that they get so fixated on getting users. They want somebody to sign up for their SaaS company or their SaaS product, they want them to use it. And because their product is so great, they think that the users are just going to use it daily. That's not always the case. So yes, you got them to sign up for your SaaS product and they've logged in, they've created an account, all great. But what beyond that? Are you tracking usage? Are you sending out follow up emails? Do you have training doc information to send to them? That's what truly makes a successful SaaS product, is everything beyond that first initial signup.

Monica Evans:
Setting up workflows that basically, we'll be like, "Hey, I noticed that you signed in today. Are you having any troubles? We have this great training doc." Or if you have something like Canva, for instance, if you sign up for Canva and you're creating PDFs or illustrations, and Canva will send an email being like, "Hey, I noticed that you were trying to create an image for Facebook. Here's some great templates that you can use to get you started." Those types of things.

And I think one of the greatest things that I feel like one of the companies I work for is FitFusion. And they are accustomed GPU accelerator and also a platform to help data scientists build AI applications. What we did was we created kind of a workflow series where once they signed on, we integrated from that software into HubSpot based off of usage that they were doing. So we use segment to be able to pull in that information into HubSpot so we can see, when was the last time somebody logged in, what were they actually using within that product? And then sending detailed documentation on how best to use that. And there would be a series of emails that would kind of follow up. And that increased engagement by three times. And the more that you encourage people to use your product, the more that you give them opportunities to get training docs or give past experiences people have done, get people that are going to utilize your product more, and then they're going to ultimately then become advocates for your product.

Maia Wells:
Yeah, definitely a good point on going beyond just the initial signup and helping people to get the most out of your product, really. And so is that mostly a marketing endeavor, do you think? Who would be involved in that process? Let's say in a big SaaS company where there's lots of different people working on marketing and sales, who gets their hands in the pie when you're trying to construct that experience for the users?

Monica Evans:
I think you kind of work along all teams. The marketing is probably generating the content, but you're getting that information from the engineer team on how to use the product, tutorials, that kind of stuff. You're also working with the customer success team of like, "Hey, what can we utilize here?"

And sometimes though, if you're a startup SaaS company, you don't have all of those departments, right? You don't have marketing, you don't have sales, you don't customer success, sales enablement, all these things. But you do have an engineer person and you do have a marketing person. And those two are what you need. Because engineer knows how to use the product and marketing knows how to write it in a clear understanding that resonates with the audience because it's not so technical. But you can create those type of things. I just think that you need to include more than just marketing because the engineer has all the data on the backend on how are they using the products, how are they doing this or that? And that's valuable information for the marketing team to be able to be like, "Okay, this is where we see that our users are dropping off on the third day and never coming back."

Maia Wells:
Right. So definitely having that integrated approach and reaching toward that same goal together, which is, it kind of reminds me of, and I've worked with you for a while. So I know that you have always been, since I've known you, a big proponent of really connecting sales and marketing, which kind of reflects that connection of product and marketing on that other side. And I know that you work a lot kind of in that space of between sales and marketing in so many different intricate ways of examples that we could talk about. On that end of things, since you do work in that everyday, why do sales and marketing have to work so closely together? And then you can maybe also talk about how product fits in there.

Why are these bridges so important? Because I think a lot of companies end up having really differentiated departments between sales, marketing, product. And sometimes these people don't even talk to each other much. I've talked to some other guests before and people that I know in the industry who complained about that. And it's like, "Product doesn't understand why marketing is putting out this message and sales needs a different type of collateral than what they're receiving from marketing," for example. So we see the ways that problems can happen. Why is the process of creating bridges there so important for SAS companies?

Monica Evans:
I think the reason why there is always such a disconnect is because people are so stuck in their departments. They're just like, "Marketing, we know what's best." We know how to say the best things in front of the audience, and then product is like, "Well, we create the best software. We know what's best." And then sales are just like, "I just want to get a sale. I just want to have the money to get through it."

But I think the thing is is that having open communication between all the departments allows you to sell the product quicker, be able to actually talk about your product effectively. Because you're working with the product team. And also the product team is constantly making updates to SaaS products. They're working on sprints depending on your sprint cycle.

Monica Evans:
You could be working on a sprint weekly, every two weeks, monthly. You are always on sprints working to get your product updated. So if marketing doesn't know what's coming up, how are they supposed to market it? And if the sales team doesn't understand all the changes, how are they going to sell it? So I think the thing is, is that, when you have that open communication between the two, it's extremely important for product, for marketing to know what product's doing, for sales to know what product's doing and product to give that information back. And it just kind of be this streamlined conversation amongst all departments, because you can really utilize and do your job more effectively if you have that open communication.

Maia Wells:
Can you think of that you've run into, in your career, of either of these problems happening and how you fixed it, or maybe a company that was doing it amazingly from the start, which I'd love to hear about.

Monica Evans:
I can't say the company name, but they are a survey company, a SaaS product, and there is a massive disconnect between all departments. So the sales team is very siloed. The marketing team is very siloed and the product team is siloed, as well. So you have this issue with being able to market to your audience effectively. So they've seen this kind of increase of people using the product or signing up for the product, but they're not actually continuing engagement, because they haven't really figured out how they can kind of keep them engaged. So they're not speaking with the product teams. So they're not understanding why they're falling off, about when they're falling off, to be able to target them in a way that's going to work. All they have done is they've set up workflow emails that are just like, "Oh, you signed it up. Cool." I'm going to send an email a day later and be like, "So how's it been working?"

Maia Wells:
So just not really anything that's segmented or targeted or connected with product use in any kind of way?

Monica Evans:
Yeah. Because they have such a disconnected kind of flow inside of HubSpot, as well as the sales team is only using Salesforce. So Salesforce is not really getting a clear understanding. The sales team is using Salesforce, not going to clear understanding of what's been kind of happening with marketing to be able to use that for selling. That is like a big thing that causes issues because the sales team comes back and like, "Well, this is all marketing's fault because we're not getting the correct leads that we want." And marketing is saying like, "Hey, we've given you all these leads and then you guys just aren't doing your job effectively." And so now it's just picking the blame when really, the root of the problem is because there's just no clear communication about what each department's doing.

Maia Wells:
Well, and it sounds like it's not only communication and processes, but maybe even also the tech stack or the infrastructure set up. Because what I just heard you say is some people are using HubSpot, some people are using Salesforce. Are those systems integrated, I guess, would be the next question? And how can you really set yourself up for success in a more integrated way with the technology you're using?

Maia Wells:
I know a lot of people listening here can identify with this situation, where the it's the blame game. If you're a sales person, it's always marketing's fault and vice versa. And product people don't want anything to do with us marketing folks sometimes. So I definitely know people out there listening are identifying with that problem and can probably even point to some problems that they've seen with that tech stacks situation. What's the best way to set yourself up for success in a more holistic way with the technology you're using?

Monica Evans:
Yeah. I mean, the beauty of being a startup is that you can start from scratch and structure, from the beginning, is extremely important. So kind of, if we go back to what we talk about, what is the most important thing with consulting for SaaS companies? How I talked about figuring out your routes to market and intended users. It's also this. So now that you've kind of figured out who your intended user are, the markets you're attracting, the routes you're going, now, what happens when they sign up? Where is that information being populated? What software are you going to be using to track all your leads coming in? What are you going to do to be able to understand how people are using your product? Those are the questions that you need to ask yourself, and then you can just set up a structure and an integration from the beginning.

So I think the thing is, because even so, SaaS companies might have partner channels too. Have you thought about that? And how has that gone to kind of fit into your overall structure and information flowing between marketing, sales, product, all that stuff. So I think the biggest thing, and there's so many different tools that you can use, anything that has open API, that you can connect into HubSpot.

So you can create, if you have your SaaS product and you want to know information when somebody logs in or something, you can easily integrate that into HubSpot and update property records and the contact by just connecting it through a company-like segment where you can have API and then just connecting those things in HubSpot. But you really need to map it out and it needs to be documented because I think the problem is, that if you don't have things documented and you hack things from the beginning, people leave over time. And so they only have that information in their head. So what do you do when they've left and you have new people coming in and they're just like, "Well, I don't understand where any of this information is, what have we done?" All this stuff. So setting up all of that from the beginning and really mapping it out and documenting it is extremely, extremely important.

Maia Wells:
Yeah. I feel like you can't stress that enough, right? So it sounds like you're a fan of HubSpot. What's the best way to set it up and what different pieces and parts do you need to make it all work?

Monica Evans:
So I think the thing is, is that one, you need to figure out what software you're going to use first, to be able to map all things. A lot of enterprise companies or enterprise SaaS companies use Salesforce for their CRM, because, ultimately, it's probably one of the most robust CRMs for a large organization. So if they determine that CRM is what they're going to use, perfect. That integrates with HubSpot. Are you using a different marketing automation tool? And if you are, making sure that the property fields are being updated into HubSpot correctly. If you're going to be using HubSpot, the CRM, even better. I mean, it's all integrated. HubSpot has really advanced their CRM, so it's on that competing side of Salesforce. And then figuring out kind of beyond that, your customer success, what about tickets coming in and all that kind of stuff.

So I think the thing is, is really determining which software do you want to use and how they're all going to be integrated. And then it goes beyond that. So for the CRM, what are your deal stages going to look like? What happens when you move a deal stage in the pipeline or, in the pipeline, you move the deals down the stages. What's going to update? What's how are you going to track? What is the most thing that you want to be able to track, in terms of revenue, where people are coming from, from your partner channels? From B2C? From B2B? Really determining that. And that's why I say documentation is key because you got to map that out to be able to set it up properly in any system.

Maia Wells:
Is that something that you do for your clients? You help them to map it out and then implement?

Monica Evans:
Yeah, definitely. So kind of back to that survey company, they had one legacy client of legacy products that were in Salesforce. And then they had new products inside of Salesforce, but they didn't update their legacy products with their new products. So building out workflow marketing campaigns to be able to understand, well, what is this legacy product and what is this new product if we're sending marketing emails to them?

And it got so confusing, and then the person that ended up setting up to begin with left the company. So then we're sitting here, like, "Okay, well now that we don't have that, we're starting from scratch." But they have years and years of data. I mean, we're talking about 10 years of data inside of Salesforce. That is just a mess. So we had to start back from the ground up and we documented, this is the flow that we wanted. And then we had to go through each part of the property fields and look at every property field in Salesforce, every property field in HubSpot, map them correctly, set up the workflows for marketing. It's a massive project and you don't want to get to that point, ever.

Maia Wells:
It sounds like you definitely don't want to get to that point, but I know that that company is probably better off for having done that. What kind of differences would you anticipate? Let's say from that project example, after having cleaned all of that up, and like I said before, untied those knots, what can be the results of that?

Monica Evans:
So the results of that are one, better targeted marketing campaigns, so you're not missing anybody. Because the thing is when you have messy data, you have to make sure that if your enrollment trigger for like a workflow campaign of, okay, somebody signed up for the free version of this product. But you have a legacy product of the free version, then you have the new product of the free version and all this stuff, you have to make sure that you have that in your enrollment trigger or else you've lost all the other people that are falling under that. So cleaning it up just allows for you to fully understand what data you actually have and it's all accurate. So anybody new coming in, there's one field that's like, "Okay, this equals this." And I'm also a true proponent of not single line text fields on property fields.

Maia Wells:
Oh, can I get an amen? Yes, absolutely.

Monica Evans:
If somebody spelled it differently, then you miss capturing those people as well. So always drop down, select on all your property fields to make it as clear as day when setting up workflows. But I think when it does work properly, beyond marketing, you also get, everybody has a clear understanding on that contact record. Where did that person come in from? What deal stage are they in? And then, how much revenue have they generated? And then the reports that you get, are going to be so robust because your information in your CRM, or your marketing automation tool is so accurate that you're going to have a clear understanding of what is actually giving you the best revenue.

Maia Wells:
And it follows, then, that having that clear data, especially on revenue, is super important when you're working with something like partner channels. So you just mentioned, maybe people might be working with partners to sell into big, huge companies like Oracle or something like that. They have this whole partner network of apps that can integrate. And there's many big software companies with marketplaces. And so there may be partner channels out there. There may be other ways of selling. Do you think having this clear, structured data is important for tracking partner relationships and where the money is flowing?

Monica Evans:
Oh, most definitely. I mean, when I worked for Zero Wait-State, they basically a product life cycle management software, but they partner with Oracle and their sales team. So because Oracle has some solutions that they offer, Zero Wait State's products live inside of Oracle. And so we've set up kind of a big partner program with them.

And so we wanted to know how much of revenue did we get from our partnership with Oracle versus what we did by just selling our software on our own. And if you don't have a clear setup for that stuff, then you will never truly understand what partners kind of bring in the most revenue for you. And then once you have that information, you're able to be like, "Okay, well maybe this partner, maybe we should reduce the cost that we're spending on this partnership and, and dump that money somewhere else that's actually working." But you'll never be able to understand that if you don't have it set up properly, where you can capture the data that's coming from different channels.

Maia Wells:
Right. I mean, if you don't have the data, how can you analyze it? So, it definitely makes sense to get that structure in place.

Monica Evans:
Definitely. Yeah. I think that's the biggest thing is, SaaS companies want to know so much information, but it takes so much time and effort to dig into data, to even come up with some sort of reporting. And I promise you and the people listening that if you just set it up properly, you will be able to pull any reports you want.

Maia Wells:
Yeah. It's definitely setting that correct foundation. It can be really tempting to focus on the cool, sexy, fun video campaigns we want to do in marketing and the ads we're going to put out there and things like user groups or community. Okay, yeah. Those things are all very fun and very effective if you do them right. But without the structure, it doesn't do much. I've heard you complain about things like user groups. What do you have against user groups? Tell me a little bit more about that.

Monica Evans:
Yeah.

Maia Wells:
Big sigh.

Monica Evans:
I know, because you always hear SaaS companies that are just like, "Oh, I want this huge community of users, using the products and talking about our product." And all that stuff. Yeah, so does everybody else. But user groups take a lot of time and effort. So instead of focusing all your energy on creating and trying to get user groups up and running and community and stuff, you need a lot of collateral. You need a lot of engagement. So if you are a small startup company that needs to promote their product so you can start making money, user group is not your answer.

You can focus on user groups later when you've actually established yourself. HubSpot didn't come out the gate with a user group and a community the first year that they started their product, their company. It took years and years and years and years to build that. And that's because they have such a robust marketing program with all the collateral pieces they have, not just on the marketing side for how to create the best blog post or for SEO. But beyond that, we're talking about use knowledge-based tools that user groups are using in a community. And if you don't have that, user groups are not going to work for you.

Maia Wells:
Yeah. I mean, it really sounds like, "Hey, you got to build the users first. You got to build those fans and the people that are using your solution every single day before they even care about a group or want a group."

Monica Evans:
Yeah.

Maia Wells:
Yeah. Well, that doesn't make sense. You've worked with many of your SAS clients for years and things are always iterating. We're always working in sprints across product, across marketing. How do you keep this all going long-term? What are the most important things that you have to continually do after you have set that strong foundation, how do you keep it going?

Monica Evans:
You've got to continuously update your website with the latest product releases. You have to have ongoing blog content, ongoing collateral pieces, not just for the website, but also for your email campaigns, for your sales team. Really always, truly keep it up today about what the Google algorithms are for SEO. Do you have pillar pages, if you don't know what pillar pages are, I'm sure we have an amazing podcast episode about pillar pages that we have the structure of how your website is always forever changing. So you need to make sure that you're keeping up to date with that.

Having a pretty robust education center for your product. And then the customer success team is huge. I think we forget about that sometimes because marketing is always the front face and center, but the customer success team is really what keeps it going. It keeps people engaged. It keeps touch points, it gets your users continuously using your product. And I think those are the type of things that you should really keep in mind when you've started getting users, you started making money, but to continuously grow, you need to make sure that you're doing all those things.

Maia Wells:
Well, thank you, Monica Evans, for all the great advice on SaaS marketing today. What are you most excited about working on next?

Monica Evans:
I am actually excited about, they're not particularly a SaaS company, but they are a law firm and I'm doing a pretty intense integration between their law, I would say it's a CRM and HubSpot and setting up HubSpot for connecting it into all of their things. So Kicksy, which is a call tracking software. That's kind of inside of HubSpot, Cleo Manage is kind of their law firm area. And it's all being integrated inside of HubSpot. And it's been a pretty awesome project because HubSpot has all of these new features and stuff that have just been launched and I'm really diving into those things. And I just really get a kick out of that kind of stuff. I like mapping things out how things are going to work and doing the integrations. I think it's one of those things that keeps things interesting.

Maia Wells:
Thank you for sharing all of your insights. We really appreciate your time on the podcast today, and we'll see you next time.
 
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