An A-Z Guide
Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, now accounts for 25% of all software, and industry-wide revenue is projected to reach $157 billion by 2022. Are you getting your share of this business? Maybe you’ve hired an outside marketing team and are just not sure they’re maximizing your potential, or you’ve got an in-house team struggling to decipher SaaS marketing best practices. Maybe you’re a team of one, trying to keep a steady flow of qualified leads headed toward the sales team. In any of these cases, there are important fundamentals to get right before anything else, and even more detailed SaaS marketing must-haves you can’t afford to overlook.
Have you developed your buyer personas? How about foolproof analytics and reporting strategies that measure where you currently stand and where you want to be? Have you thought about your specific strategies for social media, website content, and advertising? How and when do you pass marketing leads to the sales team? What do you consider a marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead? Is your CRM integrated with all the systems it needs to talk to and gather information from?
No matter where you are in the process, or how your marketing and sales efforts are configured, it’s important to understand and explore the very best practices in SaaS marketing. This resource includes all the fundamentals, as well as plenty of advanced strategies and tools to help you get your SaaS marketing program firing on all cylinders.
There is only one way your SaaS company can stand out successfully in this fiercely competitive environment. You have to develop a shrewd marketing strategy and implement it using the latest tools and techniques, all tailored to your unique business, products, prospects, and customers. This means understanding the powerful impact of inbound marketing for SaaS and making sure everyone in your organization is on board, from marketing to sales, C-suite, product development, and customer success.
The simplest way to understand Inbound is the concept of the flywheel. Rather than the traditional sales funnel that starts with leads and ends with sales, the flywheel starts by attracting and educating leads with strategic content and takes them through from the Attract stage into Engage, Close, and Delight. The reason it is a wheel shape rather than a traditional funnel is because delighted customers will naturally draw in more leads through word of mouth and reviews, which will start the wheel process all over with your next cohort of prospects. These 4 stages are all essential pieces of the inbound flywheel, with Attract and Engage primarily under the purview of marketing, Close primarily a sales phase, and Delight as a focus for your service team.
We approach SaaS marketing with a keen eye toward the holistic inbound flywheel, because all of the parts connect to attract, qualify, sell, and keep your subscribers.
Your product is at the center of this entire conversation. It’s useful, fun, profitable, or unforgettable. Essentially, your product has propelled you this far, and it is good enough to have attracted some users and created some traction for you. But in order to supercharge your sales efforts, you need a steady stream of good-fit leads. And, that’s where inbound marketing comes into play. You need a well-crafted marketing strategy that makes the most of every dollar you spend to reach the right prospects, build trust in your company and specific products, and clearly set you apart from competitors. Then you need an implementation plan that uses the right tools to send the right messages at the right time to attract attention and keep potential customers focused on you as they make their buying decisions.
To help you pull it all together, we’ve created this comprehensive SaaS Marketing Guide. It covers everything you need to know to build a strong, successful digital marketing strategy that pulls in traffic and vets leads for you, so your sales team can focus on growth goals.
Read on, to learn about all these essential marketing components:
Every SaaS Marketing program will be different, because each company and set of products has its unique attributes and goals. However, there are fundamentals the every SaaS marketing department (and by extension sales and service) should know about. Whether you're brushing up on the latest techniques for yourself or your department, or learning more about how it all works so you can vet your next agency hire, this section provides all the basics. Let's start with the wide-lens view with the SaaS Marketing Flywheel, then move into your marketing foundation in the form of your brand, tech stack and website.
The first part of the SaaS marketing flywheel is Attract. In this piece, your goals will relate to getting brand new leads into your database. While each company will need its own specific strategy and KPIs, a few of the most important SaaS marketing metrics to track are:
Once you’ve attracted a potential customer and converted them on something small, like a content offer, your next step is to further engage that lead as a way to qualify, sort and segment them in your database, and prime them for a sale if they’re a great fit.
Your sales team typically oversees the Close phase of your holistic inbound program, and, along with marketing leadership, pays close attention to metrics like:
Of course, this particular resource is focused on SaaS Marketing, so we don’t go in-depth on SaaS sales here, but everything marketing does is meant to support sales and company growth, so it’s important to remember just how intertwined the process of inbound can be.
The last stage in the inbound flywheel is to make your customers feel so included and happy they can’t help but share everything they love about your company and solution. Typically overseen by your Service team, this part of the flywheel helps you strive for improvements in:
Further down in this guide we go into a ton of detail of every level of this flywheel concept, specifically related to SaaS marketing. But before we get there, let's continue our exploration of the basic foundations for great SaaS marketing. Up next is more about your brand, tech stack and website.
We don’t have to tell you how important branding is, but when’s the last time you evaluated the impact of your brand on your business goals? Does your original brand still resonate with your target audience? Is it time to refresh your look, the tone of your writing, or bring in something new to stay relevant? Especially in the world of cloud-based technology and software solutions, your brand is crucial. It’s what differentiates your company from everyone else, and allows for a foothold for your audience to get on board. Let’s get real about your SaaS branding efforts.
In the context of software, where there is not necessarily a physical product or place, your brand is even more crucial than in other businesses. Building a SaaS brand is a unique experience, where personality, design, and messaging come together to guide your customers into believing in your solution. Before your leads ever get into the sales process, your brand helps them to build confidence in your company’s knowledge, honesty, and helpfulness.
Remember, you’re not creating your SaaS brand in a vacuum. You’re creating it for people. Smart marketers create buyer personas: generalized representations that humanize each key segment of your target audience. Though they exist only on paper, personas embody typical traits of each prospective customer group: age, gender, income, job function, chief pain points and desires. They serve as “advisors” as you create your marketing tactics and messaging so you can speak to prospects as if you are having an in-person conversation.
Building brand affinity starts with storytelling. Tell stories about how, exactly, your customers are using your SaaS product. Focus on the feeling it gives them, the accomplishments it helps them to achieve, or the bottom-line impact. Try sharing more about how your solution was created, and why. It’s not just about the brand promise of what your solution can do. It’s also about telling the human stories behind it to build trust and convey your core values.
Share the story of your founders, how they met, and what sparked the idea for your innovative solution. Tell your customer stories, sharing their unique applications of your products, interesting use cases, or API integration solutions. Making your technology and brand feel human is an important piece of your overall marketing goal, and storytelling provides footholds for your leads to grasp that connection.
Keep these basic tips in mind for messaging that speaks well about your brand as well as your products:
Now let’s talk about the visual side of your brand. Since your logo is the most obvious symbol of your brand, all your other marketing visuals should reflect the same general look in colors and tone. This is especially true for your website. Consistency helps broaden and reinforce brand awareness, whereas a lack of consistency confuses prospects, creates a sloppy impression, and eliminates your ability to differentiate yourself from competitors.
For digital products, visual branding is even more vital. You can’t fill your marketing with beauty shots of physical merchandise, so the visuals that are available to you must instantly convey your brand message and personality. Colors and typefaces can have tremendous impact, negative as well as positive, so professional design is essential, both within your product as well as in your marketing assets. Don’t forget beautiful, clean videos and photos of your software’s features and functionalities. Even though you aren’t taking photos of a widget in a light box, you are still showcasing your product, and the way you do so is all part of building your best brand.
So, you’ve got a great brand. It’s updated, beautiful, relatable, and you know how important it is. How do you ensure you’ve got the right structure to turn those good feelings about your brand into profit? Seamless integration between sales and marketing is a very basic necessity for any company, and that happens not only in your business processes but also in the software you choose to run them.
Your marketing tech stack must integrate your live sales process — your BDR world — with your automated marketing software and other tools to provide a seamless experience internally and externally.
Every SaaS company needs to select some kind of software or platform for:
Here at ClearPivot, we especially like HubSpot as the central platform, because it is a truly comprehensive solution for Sales, Marketing and Service, that is user-friendly. It serves well as a foundation for all your marketing and sales components, from CRM to chat to content creation and distribution to analytics, automatically ensuring integration wherever needed. That makes marketing and sales more efficient and far more effective. Some other common marketing platforms are Marketo, ActiveCampaign, Pardot, ConvertKit, or even MailChimp. Remember that marketing is a front-facing process that requires a different sort of technology toolkit than back-end business operations or product development. How things function for marketers determines the experience that prospects and customers will have with your brand, and that experience is supposed to turn into revenue, so careful selection of the right platform and consideration of how that flows into and integrates with the sales process is crucial.
Your website exists to clearly communicate two things:
It’s possible that your product is truly unique, but it’s more likely that you have (or soon will have) competitors. And that’s why the second point is so crucial. Website visitors want to know what your product will do for them that the competition’s offering will not. Your software is more advanced, easier to use, cheaper, whatever. Your customer experience is second-to-none. Your company operates sustainably or gives back to the community in tangible ways. You get the idea. Your website is the hub for communicating that, and is the most important piece of the Attract and Engage stages of your business flywheel.
When your website offers content that is useful and easy to find and understand, visitors come to view your company as a reliable resource and they trust other communications from you more. You can augment that with third-party verification — logos of well-known companies that use your product, or even your integrations. Call out awards or other honors you’ve received, links to media coverage of your company or products, or short testimonial quotes from happy customers.
In addition to detailed information about how your products work and the value they deliver to customers, websites that perform best include features that inspire visitors to convert into leads, including:
We’ll talk more about creating and organizing content in later sections.
No one knows better than you how rapidly technology is changing. That applies to your website in a big way. If it’s more than two or three years old, it’s probably starting to show its age, missing the very latest design and features that visitors now expect, especially when it comes to the mobile experience. In some other industry, problems like slow load times, a poor CLS score, or amateur design might be merely irritating or amusing to visitors, but these types of UX issues will be deadly for your SaaS company. If your website is behind the times, what does that say about your app? (Hint: It ain’t good.)
Responsive design is particularly important. Appealing visuals and on-point content won’t matter if they don’t appear quickly and sensibly on small device screens. Responsive design automatically displays website content in the proper way for each viewer.
High-functioning websites need regular updates behind the scenes, too. You know this. Starting with the proper, robust back-end code facilitates updating as the marketing world changes, of course, but you’ll also want to give your website the same ongoing technical attention as you give your own app. Your website is at just as much risk of accumulating technical debt as your app itself. And, by all means, don’t forget the backup!
SaaS companies often assume it’s simplest to build their website on the same back-end platform where their app is running. Don’t do it! As noted earlier, marketers need ready access to your website. If it is running independently from your bread-and-butter app, it will allow your marketing people to implement all their campaign activities without having to pull your internal developers away from your product roadmap in order to build out the marketing team’s requests.
Inbound marketing means your prospects find you. Many of the smartest marketers in technology, software, and SaaS know this and make sure that inbound is an important aspect of the marketing strategy. The inbound approach helps you to meet your audience where they are comfortable. Most SaaS users are accustomed to solving their problems by seeking and vetting solutions then taking action without speaking to or consulting another human being. In the B2B SaaS context, the prospect usually has to advocate for adoption among fellow users and decision-makers. Your inbound marketing strategy should be based on content that helps with all aspects of this process. With proper SEO planning and optimization — along with an effective Google search advertising effort — inbound means providing the guidance and knowledge your prospects need most.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the strategy you use to ensure your content appears in top search results. Study after study has underscored the fact that searchers rarely look past the first page of search results (and you know this about yourself, too, right?), so achieving top-of-the-pack display on Google or other search platforms is imperative.
Highly sophisticated algorithms are constantly working behind the scenes to detect content and index it for quality — with specific scoring systems using natural language processing to reward rich, relevant, and meaningful content. To achieve excellent SEO on your key search terms now, you have to impress those algorithms. You have to produce quality content. This means you are providing insights, details, help, how-tos, recommendations, entertainment, or nuance with every piece you post or release.
How you present content on your website affects SEO as well as your site visitor’s experience. Today, search engines look for more than a keyword match. Google, for example, focuses on search intent. In other words, Google is getting a lot better at identifying the value of content and rewarding content creators who provide it.
By organizing your content in topic clusters, you communicate your depth of knowledge and provide a variety of specified content to meet different search terms. The center of your topic cluster is a pillar page, and your individual topic spokes are then deep dives into all the specific subtopics relating to your central pillar page topic. By linking it all together correctly and including basic SEO best practices on the content you publish, you allow it to be found and served appropriately.
You can picture this system as a hub (the pillar page) with spokes leading out to each subtopic. By producing concentrations of content around each topic, you demonstrate to search engines that you are an authority on the subject, not a website with some random information about it. Greater authority boosts SEO ranking.
Content that will rank highest is the content searchers want most, right? So pick the topics you know your top prospects are most interested in. What are your strongest products or product lines? Which ones offer the strongest opportunity for sales growth? Using your personas and analytics data that shows your past website visitation patterns can also help identify valuable content clusters.
Most businesses can identify their main categories of products, services, benefits, or pain points, and start to create pillar topics out of those. For software companies and apps, some general categories to think about for core content are:
As an example, let’s look at what this might look like for a company that makes online customer satisfaction surveys. They may focus on one of their core solutions — Customer Experience Management.
So in this case, “customer experience management” becomes the Pillar Topic, and you iterate from there on the different aspects of that overall topic that someone might be searching for. From the pillar, you then branch out into problems that people might be searching for and think about topics around the solution your app or platform provides. In this example, the customer survey software company might plan content on:
It also helps to ask yourself the question: “What does my prospect need to know in order to buy?”
Or, put more deeply, “What does someone need to know about my solution before they’ll sign up for a subscription to our product? The answers to that question become your topic clusters.
Your blog is where you will build out most of the subtopics in your Topic Cluster. Properly-built blog articles attract organic search traffic to your website, and by providing value, you have a chance to educate and serve your audience, and guide them into signing up for your solution. A blog is by far one of the most effective marketing tools for SaaS companies.
A quality blog can:
A blog is meant to deliver value to readers, so content should be genuinely informative, and not just a thinly veiled sales pitch. It’s OK to periodically highlight a product and talk about how your company and products support the specific topic — after all, it is your blog — but keep that to a minimum, and make sure your mentions are never overtly sales-y. In fact, your blog should always be conversational — friendly in tone as if you’re telling a story or explaining a subject to someone in front of you. Wit and humor, used appropriately, can help build rapport with your audience.
There is no shortage of excellent, relevant, and interesting topics to write about in your blog. So what can you talk about that will attract and please readers?
You don’t even have to write. For one thing, you’re busy, so finding time to put pen to paper (so to speak) could be tough. And lots of people don’t particularly like to write. No worries, you can team up with a professional writer to create great blogs on your behalf. Your marketing agency can help — in fact, they’ll come up with the topics, too.
And here’s a secret: some of the most successful blogs are actually videos. All you need is a couple of introductory sentences and the embedded video. Done. Infographics are also very popular, and you can treat them the same way. Done and done.
We talked earlier about the importance of consistency in visuals and messaging. The same holds true for timing. Set a schedule for publishing blog articles, and stick to it. For a SaaS company, blogging weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly is best, especially when you are first launching or announcing lots of new features.
Create an editorial calendar to plan out topics in advance, mixing it up to keep things interesting, and keeping an eye toward your different buyer personas and their stage in the buyer’s journey. You want to make sure you’re building a library of content on specific and searchable topics, but be flexible as well. If something timely comes up — a special honor, a community disaster, etc. — you want to produce a blog that captures the moment. Every time you publish a new blog, share it with your social media followers and email newsletter recipients to increase your reach. And be sure to invite website visitors to subscribe to your blog, by placing quick-click invitations on your home page, other key pages, and the blog itself.
Everybody’s on social media these days, most certainly your tech-forward prospects and customers. You’d better be there, right with them, or they’ll wonder why not. Knowing your personas will help you decide which social platforms are most relevant for your SaaS company, but you’ll probably want to focus on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and maybe Twitter. Several SaaS companies have found success with Facebook Groups. And forward-thinking B2C SaaS companies should also consider Snapchat or TikTok.
Like your blog, social media gives you a chance to converse with your target audiences, presenting helpful information that helps lead them down the path to sign up for a demo and get into your marketing funnel. That, my friend, is really the key for SaaS social media success: interacting genuinely, providing value, and using content to inspire action. Unlike your blog, social interactions can be much more intimate, especially if you’re posting to a small niche group rather than all your followers. You can even carry on one-on-one conversations if need be. But of course your goal is outreach — and feedback. Two-way conversations that enable you to listen and learn from followers.
You should post about whatever is one the minds of your prospects or customers — essentially the same types of topics you blog about, only in brief:
Hot tip: don’t just post through your own company account; encourage team members to post about your company and industry from their personal angle to their own universe of friends and followers, especially on LinkedIn and Twitter. This can greatly extend your reach and “humanize” your company at the same time.
Social sharing is always desirable but responses are even better because they get the conversational ball rolling and encourage others to get actively involved as well. This engagement builds awareness of your brand and products, reinforces your position as a knowledge expert, and helps establish personalized relationships that can lead to sales and loyalty down the road.
In the end, though, social media is most valuable for your company when it motivates people to visit your website and convert into leads that you can nurture individually. So, as you analyze social metrics, focus on conversions generated more than how many likes or shares you’ve accrued.
Of course, you can also pay to advertise on certain social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. We’ll talk about that in the next section. Among other things, this is valuable because it is an excellent way to drill down even deeper with targeting, to reach those in specific tech or leadership positions such as CTOs, CFOs, and CEOs. And if you’re speaking only to tech professionals, you can use the tech-speak language that you know and love, with no worries about confusing your audience.
Inbound marketing is designed in many ways to reach target audiences “organically” by putting content you know prospects want right where they’re looking. Because your content is relevant and timely, it should attract attention and trigger a response (a visit to your website). Done right, this can be exceptionally effective. However, you can boost your results even more with paid online advertising.
Online ads enable you to put your brand/message right in front of specific audiences — perhaps the C-suite folks we mentioned earlier, or any other group you want to home in on. Different types of ads allow you to reach different types of targeted groups most efficiently. Many modern ad platforms enable you to do targeting based on important traits such as industry, job title, or job function, which can be a real boon for SaaS marketing where you want to reach specific types of IT professionals or decision-makers.
So you might consider:
Pay-per-click (PPC) search ads are the ones you see displayed with search results on Google, Bing, etc. They appear based on targeting criteria you set using keywords, which the search engine matches up with whatever the searcher types into their browser. That means your ad is automatically relevant. And if it’s well-crafted, your prospect will click through to your website. You only pay when they do that — hence the name, pay-per-click.
Display ads, also called banner ads, are the ones you see at the top, off to the side, or at the bottom when you visit a web page. These are typically very concise, like a billboard — an eye-catching visual and very short message — but also with a button to click to take action (visit your website).
Video ads can be used across many of these platforms, but also specifically served on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, or served via video-specific ad networks like Springserve or SpotX. These networks work similarly to the Google Ads network. One way that SaaS companies can easily create video-based ads is by using screen captures of their software or app in action.
Social media ads are something we noted earlier, and they can be very effective in reaching a larger percentage of your target audience as well as your existing followers. (Many social users don’t realize that everything they post isn’t necessarily organically shown to all their connections. In fact, non-sponsored Facebook posts typically reach only about 2-5% of your followers.) You can advertise simply to boost reach, and you can also increase results further by creating highly engaging ads that include video, slideshows, etc.
Retargeting ads seek out website visitors who left without converting by opting-in (subscribing to your blog, downloading premium content or a free trial, etc.) or making a purchase. The ad that person sees reflects the content they were looking at before they left your site, keeping your brand and message in front of them and, hopefully, inspiring them to return to take further action with you. You can incorporate retargeting into any of the types of ads we’ve mentioned above (search ads, display ads, video ads, and social media ads).
Native advertising (aka. sponsored content) is the online version of an advertorial you might see in the newspaper or a magazine — a guest article or blog post or infographic created by you and overtly promoting your brand or products, and which appears on someone else’s website. This content is called “native” because it is formatted in a similar way to the rest of the non-sponsored content on the site (though the native advertising still needs to have some sort of notification of your sponsorship of the content in order to avoid conflict-of-interest legal issues).
Industry newsletter sponsorships can be particularly valuable for SaaS companies who need to reach “insider” audiences. Sponsorships can be pricey, though, so if your company is still small you might want to put this on your list of future marketing opportunities. Some examples of industry newsletters include theSkimm, the Hustle, and Product Hunt. Also, advertising on tech-specific web pages such as relevant categories within Capterra or tech review pages on G2 can also make sense for SaaS companies.
Online ads must attract attention and motivate the viewer to click through to your website, responding to whatever call to action appears in the ad. To ensure that, ads must be strategically created, considering factors such as:
Analysis and action are the keys to online advertising success. Being clear about goals, and then choosing the right metrics to measure them will make your campaigns most effective, because you will continue to grow from what you learn about your users’ actions.
Online advertising platforms will give you hundreds of trackable metrics that you can use. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these four:
If your ad is getting lots of impressions but not many click-throughs, your targeting might be wrong. Or if you are getting lots of click-throughs but not a lot of conversions, it might be that your ad is working well but your landing page needs improvement. It all works together. That’s why content planning, consistency and relevancy is so important.
A truly effective advertising strategy will pull in long term and short term KPIs, and intertwine business goals from both marketing and sales. So, in addition to tracking things like cost per click and cost per conversion, most SaaS advertising strategies will focus on specific goals like:
Although an inbound marketing strategy based in strong digital best practices many times makes the most sense for SaaS companies, there may be times when you can effectively use certain traditional advertising channels as well. For example, you can leverage direct mail to gain the attention of higher-level executives who are often impervious to email approaches. However, since direct mail is expensive, campaigns must be carefully planned, targeted, and executed. For instance, a marketing automation platform once sent over a personalized art print to our ClearPivot team. It was nicely framed with an invitation for the entire team to enjoy lunch on them if we agreed to a demo of their software. It certainly got our team’s attention!
Don’t want to go that big? Send printed direct mail that appears to be hand-written — a nice touch that virtually guarantees your mailer will get a second, closer look. You can also integrate automated direct mail campaigns with your CRM software, to achieve more precise targeting, even to pinpoint individual recipients. Add a unique personalized URL to each recipient’s mailer, sending them to their very own personalized landing page. Talk about impressive.
Larger SaaS companies with larger marketing budgets are also re-discovering the value of billboards and other broad-based offline advertising options. If you want to reach influential software engineers on their morning commute, for instance, a billboard along I-280 in San Francisco is hard to beat. The nature of your product, scope of your business, and specific challenges and desires of your personas will tell you if and when the time is right to consider expanding your marketing in this way.
If you were a traditional brick-and-mortar business, you could host special events at your store. SaaS companies obviously don’t have a storefront. But so what if you don’t have a physical location! You can and should still work events into your SaaS marketing strategy because events have special value. They bring you face-to-face with prospects and customers.
So get out there and mingle. Industry trade shows are an obvious choice. Exhibitor space is usually costly, so it can sometimes be better to reserve your budget for smaller niche shows where you can be most relevant and stand out better. Or wait to become a vendor until your marketing budget is bigger, and simply attend as a regular attendee at first. Consider taking multiple team members if the show is vast, so you can fan out and meet as many people as possible. Talk to people in the booths, on the show floor, in the seminars, and of course during those precious networking periods in the bar and over dinner. Remember themes and common questions and make sure to compare those notes. Events can be a huge eye-opener for product development in terms of requested features, or a source of marketing ideas as you discuss common stories among the responses to your solution.
Some events provide a more affordable, second-tier opportunity for companies that wish to exhibit but can’t afford to go whole-hog with a booth. This comes in the form of static display tables placed in strategic areas such as reception space and lobbies. This can be a good way to introduce your brand to a new audience if expected attendees represent your top prospects. Whether you have a table or a booth, make the most of your time and monetary investment by:
Trade Show Tip: Make sure you have at least multiple tablets if you’re offering trials and premium content, in case your booth gets crowded. You will also want to use a form that resets any browser cookies after each submission to avoid people accidentally overwriting each others’ submissions.
Your trade show sign-ups are collected through forms that should be linked to a CRM and marketing automation platform like HubSpot or Marketo. This allows you to create segmented email series to follow up, deliver premium content or special-access details, and then delight with the specific value that leads your prospects to the subscription checkout.
Don’t wait too long to get started sending those messages. Once you deliver what the prospect signed up for, start a conversation by asking what part of the show was the most enjoyable or valuable for them. Be sure to include a call to action in each email — a reminder to download the premium content, an invitation to view a demo, or a link to sign up for a trial. Have your salespeople send personal messages to attendees to connect via LinkedIn, if that feels appropriate.
While direct mailing or printed messages might not end up in your lead generation plans, you may consider an effort toward thought leadership opportunities. Speaking at events or meetups with your potential user community is a great way to share your solution and generate brand awareness. The point is to create a personality for your CEO as an industry expert, generating faith in your expertise and, by extension, your solution.
Whether your target audience is B2B, B2C, or a mix of both, there is another way to build brand awareness and endear your company to prospects and current customers: partnerships. You can team up with a complementary business to host an online event or participate at a live event, as well as co-promote using other inbound marketing means.
But the real surprise may be cause-related marketing. Today’s customers want to buy from companies that prioritize sustainability and supporting their community — even when it comes to their platforms and apps. Whether you pick a tech-based charity like Girls Who Code, a big national organization such as Charity: Water, or something in your own backyard where your team can get personally involved, aligning your brand with doing something worthwhile is smart business and a significant way to boost the spirits of your staff and customers.
Talk it up, in your blog and your social media posts, inviting readers and followers to join you or talk about what they’re doing in their own community. Start a challenge, and match donations. When you partner with a non-profit, they will be happy to publicize your support, too, increasing your marketing reach. Everyone benefits.
Social Media Tip: Make sure your social branding efforts are genuine and align with your real-life practices as a company. Being disingenuous can come back to haunt you.
What’s your main expectation for your marketing department? For most SaaS leaders, the main expectation for marketing is bringing in new leads, qualifying them as good-fit customers and passing them forward into the sales process. The first step in this effort is lead generation.
One of the most popular ways that SaaS companies are approaching lead generation now is through the “freemium” model. You know, free + premium. A freemium tier is a basic level version of your software that users can use for free indefinitely. One example is the Instagram app, Repost, where you can use it for free with limited features and automatically-included branding that you can remove when you pay. The user can always elect to subscribe at some point in the future to take advantage of more features and the benefits that come from them. With the right marketing and usage adoption, they will.
One advantage of a free version is that users can take as much time as they want to make a purchase decision, rather than feeling constrained by a limited trial period. And, you still have ongoing opportunities to use in-app tools, email, and other lead nurturing tactics to promote eventual upgrades or perhaps a switch to one of your other products. Your job as a marketer is to make that upgrade or switch a no-brainer.
Before you decide to offer a freemium, think carefully about what to include or leave out. You want the no-cost tool to be useful enough to demonstrate clear value, but not so wonderful that there’s no clear reason to upgrade. Keep in mind that, although these users will generate zero revenue, they may be adding to your cost of service and overhead. On the other hand, SaaS marketers who use freemium pricing often find these users to be priceless brand advocates. The benefit of a freemium strategy will vary depending on the solution and specific business case.
Another common lead generation alternative to freemium is free trials. Nearly every SaaS product that doesn’t have a freemium plan — except for the huge, enterprise-level, customized behemoths — offers a free trial of some length. The general market expects it, and the business consumer needs it. Your goal is to get prospects to see how your solution fits, and help them promote adoption internally. That’s where free trials and freemiums come in. Your ultimate call to action for prospects is “sign up and see for yourself.”
Trials generally go for two weeks, but vary depending on the particular product, users and market. Trials are your chance to showcase the solution’s most important features, demonstrate one-to-one the value of your products, and develop a relationship with your leads that makes them want to support your brand and your business. The best free trials hold nothing back, sharing most, if not all, of the solution’s great functionalities, and giving a full picture of what it’s like to work with the service. In the best cases, a free trial leads your prospects to adapt the technology and quickly want to rely on it. That’s when the sign up process is a no-brainer.
One mistake SaaS marketers often make is offering a too-short trial period. Give your prospect enough time to really get the feel of the product, to understand what it can do for them and how comfortably easy it is to use. The more complex your product, the longer the trial may have to be. In our Lead Nurturing chapter below, we explain how you can help prospects get the most from their trial period, to generate more conversions into paid subscriptions.
Prospects who are just beginning their buyer’s journey may not be ready to try your software yet, even if there’s a freemium plan or a free trial. So offer what they do want — more information about how to solve the problems that they’re facing in their lives. eBooks, a helpful newsletter, your blog, webinars, or use cases can all answer their questions, address their concerns, and move them closer to checking out your product for themselves. And since each of these offers has its own associated landing page, each presents its own conversion opportunity and allows you to gather valuable contact information and other data.
We talked in earlier chapters about developing traditional content offers that lead prospects to the ultimate “sign up” offer via your blog, web pages, social media interactions, and so on. But what about content topics? There’s no reason to feel stumped by this question, as you are actually surrounded by meaty topic ideas:
But you’ll need other calls to action, too — interim actions that prospects can take on their way to signing up for a trial, if they’re not ready at first. Interactive tools and activities are ways to engage prospects with your content so they heed your call to action toward a free trial.
Before focusing solely on the pitch to download and trial, also try some of these ideas:
As much as we might hope for an immediate conversion into a free trial, the truth is, most prospects will not immediately jump, especially when marketing SaaS in a B2B context. You can use a multi-layered approach to lead nurturing to keep prospects engaged with you, encouraging them to sign up for the free trial later on, or share the solution with others in their department or company. Every lead nurturing effort should have at least two layers — immediate and long-term nurture — with segmented messaging for each specific group of contacts.
As with any product or service, lead nurturing is most successful when it relates to each prospect’s area and level of interest. Use your content to help you differentiate your leads by offering several different CTA options. Track what your leads are interacting with, and respond with additional messaging segmented to where they are. For example, let’s say you notice a lead opens one of your emails and clicks to read a case study about how your solution helped a customer in the healthcare field. Then, they click on a link within that case study to learn more about your data visualization feature for patient data. This behavior, along with other data you may be tracking, might show you that this particular lead is a good fit for your eBook on how your solution helps healthcare providers. This is a very basic example, but you do want to view your website content, social media posts, and advertising as opportunities to track engagements and segment your leads, so your lead nurturing efforts actually lead up to sales.
Let’s look at some specific places your prospects can encounter lead nurturing:
Consider any trial period or freemium tier an opportunity to mentor your prospects into loving your solution. Use pop-ups and tooltips to enhance the in-app experience and guide your user to important features. For example, “Have you tried the XYZ feature yet?” could appear when first opening the app. Or, relate messages directly to user actions — for example, “Did you know you can do ABC with this feature?” or “Here’s a shortcut you can try.”
In-app nurturing enables you to proactively point out and demonstrate the product’s full capabilities. The user becomes fully educated rather than possibly overlooking benefits that may have special value for them, and they have the best possible experience using the app. When they love the trial, they buy the subscription.
Whether ToFu (top of the funnel), BoFu (bottom of the funnel), freemium, trial or otherwise, using automated emails is common in SaaS marketing. There are all sorts of other user actions or simple time frame specifications that can trigger a relevant, timely email from you:
All of these are golden opportunities to send a “thanks for doing that” email, which is good, because it builds your relationship with that prospect. But smart marketers always add more — a call to action that inspires the email recipient to engage with you in yet another way.
Email nurturing is a great way to get visitors into a trial and help trial users get the most from it, so you can prove your product’s value and excellent user experience. Then, you can use email marketing to nurture your existing customers into brand advocates. We’ll dive deeper on that in the next section. For now, let’s consider automated
Workflows are marketing automation campaigns consisting of a series of messages that can be set to send when and to whom you select, based on your particular business case and timeline.
For example, for pre-trial prospects for a photo editing app, a message could be sent after someone fills out your form for an eBook on how to better edit their photos on a mobile device. That message could contain several pathways of actions, from learning more with your new video series on outdoor photography to signing up for a trial of your app. Depending on the actions your lead takes with that email, they may receive one of 3 tailored follow-ups 3 days later, and then based on their interests, geographic region, job title, or myriad other data points (as long as you’ve gathered them), you can send yet another specific message urging them toward benefits that encourage them to get into a trial.
Let’s take another example. In an email workflow taking a prospect from free trial into paid subscription, you will want to provide content that tells and/or shows the full story of your product even as the prospect is getting hands-on exposure to it via their free trial. Messaging should take on a more urgent tone as the end of the trial period nears, encouraging continued usage of the trial and, of course, encouraging the user to become a paying customer.
Beyond time-based message flows, it’s also possible to base messages on user actions in your app. For example, if a trial user hasn’t logged in at all for a certain period of time — say, a week — that could trigger an email that asks if all is well. Are they stuck on some detail, or having some other challenge with the app? If this is the case, you definitely don’t want them to languish thinking your software is hard to use or not the right product for them. Checking in personalizes your brand, reinforcing the fact that you care about each customer individually.
Post-sale, the tools you use for lead nurturing become tools for customer nurturing. This ensures they have a comprehensively positive experience with your app. Over the long term, that excellent experience and your ongoing communication pre-dispose customers to renew or even upgrade to higher subscription levels. We’ll get into more detail post-sale customer nurturing in Part 6.
Not all leads are created equal, and you want to focus your resources on attracting your best customers. The first step is understanding who those people are, through buyer personas and detailed analysis of your contact database. Then, you’ve got to segment your contacts and communicate very specifically with each of your contact segments. This means segmenting campaigns and messaging to reach the right prospects at the right time, but how do you know who they are and what they want? In a word, data.
Contact segmentation starts with what you know about your lead. You can’t begin to sort your leads into any sort of usable groups until you have data. Gathering some details about your leads doesn’t mean you’re being obtrusive. The best source of data is actually the user themselves.
There are a few ways to get the data points you need to segment effectively. One way is to ask for it. Include easily-selectable info on your forms, like a dropdown select with the amount of seats needed on your signup form, with the available choices aligned with your sales process thresholds. You can even customize fields in your CRM to capture “self-reported personas.” This means you can use your forms to help you differentiate between end-users and decision-makers, or between different types of users.
You can also gain a lot of useful information from the interactions someone has with your digital content. What a person clicks on, watches, or reads on your website can answer questions like:
The answers to these questions will help you to plan your sales strategy and create the right experience for every lead.
If you want to further automate your segmentation processes, you can use set up automated lead scoring. With automated lead scoring, particular characteristics or activities are awarded certain levels of points. Let’s say being from a Fortune 500 company is 10 points, and downloading an eBook is 8 points. You can set points thresholds, or even particular actions to assign leads to categories, or pass them directly into a direct-sales process.
This practice is most effective for larger companies with large volumes of leads that need to be vetted, qualified and passed to your sales team. It takes a lot of ongoing tweaking and analysis to get the models to be effective, and you’ve got to have a sufficiently large contact database.
One way to use lead scoring to segment leads is to separate them into two groups: self-service candidates (those who will be expected to make the product purchase on their own with no involvement from your sales team), versus those who want or need more complex assistance and guidance from a live sales rep. You can identify a simple threshold for this: for example, self-service prospects might be anyone who represents less than $xx/month in revenue or who will require fewer than X licenses. You will find out which group your lead belongs to by asking them. Include a simple dropdown on your form that asks them to identify their situation or intentions. Just make sure the amount of detail you’re asking for from a lead aligns with the value they are receiving by filling out your form.
Another way to use data to segment your contacts is to use auto-generated fields like Number of Employees and Annual Revenue pulled in based on company properties in your CRM. Then, you can group leads into categories of service, or potential anticipated subscription levels, and even combine this data with self-provided data in your lead scoring system.
Many marketers think in terms of cost per lead generated. While that has value in evaluating your marketing, your ultimate goal is sales — customer acquisition. So the ultimate litmus test is what you’re paying to secure each paying customer, not each lead.
Self-service leads commonly cost the least to convert, because they’re doing the decision-making work themselves, aided and guided by your automated lead nurturing process.
Conversely, every time you assign a lead to a salesperson, the cost of acquisition goes up because you have to factor in the cost of the salesperson. It is imperative to consider costs associated with all relevant resources as you decide where to set segmentation thresholds, to ensure your customer acquisition process is truly cost-effective in relation to the product levels those leads are subscribing to.
A well-considered lead nurturing program is your best friend here, because the more efficiently and touchlessly you convert leads to buyers, the lower your overall acquisition cost will be.
We noted earlier that many of the same techniques you use to educate and convince prospects to subscribe to your product are also effective when used to ensure those customers remain impressed enough to renew, upgrade, and tell their friends.
As you know, it costs much more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, and reduced churn is one of the top KPIs that you should be striving for. Taking good care of your subscribers inspires more renewals, which directly increases Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV). On the other hand, every time you lose a customer, you have to replace them, and it can have huge impacts on the effectiveness of the investment you make in marketing, sales and service. An overly large churn percentage can greatly drop your CLTV and consequently become a huge drag on your CLTV/CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) ratio. If your CLTV/CAC ratio flatlines or even inverts, it could be game over for your company.
So let’s talk about customer success — the art and science of pleasing customers to the point where renewing (or upgrading) their subscription with you is a must-have for their business or personal life. Customers succeed when they know how to use your SaaS solution well enough to gain the benefits you promised. When your customers get exactly what they hoped for, and more, in a smooth and delightful experience, they will become brand advocates.
Obviously, if your product is less than stellar, you cannot expect to retain stellar customers, or build a brand reputation that brings you new interest. So it goes without saying that you must build your software correctly and make it work perfectly before you offer it up to the audience you seek. That way, customers have an excellent experience with your service right off the bat. This idea gets more into product design than marketing, so we’re only mentioning it briefly here, because of the ways in which product quality affects brand reputation and customer satisfaction.
Remember how we explained you can use in-app messaging and other tools to help trial users get to know (and love) your product more deeply? You can do the same thing with paid subscribers, helping them become “power users.” The easier to use and more versatile your software is, the more they will come to see it as indispensable. And, adding in tooltips and in-app messaging is a great way to nurture your customers as they use your solution.
Here’s an example from Slack:
Here again, segmented emails and targeted, automated workflows are some of your best tools to keep customers engaged with your SaaS solution as a tool in their daily lives, as well as your brand as a whole. As with in-app nurturing, you can supply messaging that further educates your customers about how to use your product, inform them of new product/functionality announcements, and links to relevant content and customer success stories on your blog — all based on the demographic, interest, and behavioral data you gather about each customer.
You can schedule emails to announce a new product feature or user tip, for example. You can also use individual data to trigger specific types of messages. Has a customer not logged on to their software in some time (say, a week)? You don’t want them to lose interest, so send an email that asks, “Are you unsure how to proceed? Our support team is here to help. Just call or click here and we’ll get you on your way.” Another message might also say, “We see you tried the XYZ feature. Here’s more information about that (or some other feature you may like, too).”
Your customer support team is there to delight your customers, and bolster this type of email effort with open communication and helpful availability. The key to customer retention is supporting customer success and keeping them interested in your app. All aspects of the inbound flywheel work together, including this customer delight phase.
Sharing case studies — how other customers have used your product to solve problems or make their lives easier — is a post-sales marketing tool that brings multiple benefits. There is nothing salesy about telling someone else’s story. It not only verifies the value of your product, it can also show current customers new ways to get the most from their own user experience.
Each case study is an opportunity to draw your current customers in, as much as it is a place to share your SaaS solution’s value to new leads. In either case, your customer success stories should always include:
It helps if you can use the customer’s real name or business name as well as a logo or photo. Even better if you can get their testimonial or use case on video.
We’ve already noted the importance of continuing to educate customers about your product and your company. This improves their experience but, even more importantly, it strengthens the customer’s view of your brand as a go-to resource. There are myriad ways to educate customers:
The goal is to make your SaaS product as useful as possible for your audience by presenting educational content on the platforms they use most.
Providing free educational content not only serves to strengthen your brand reputation, it also draws your users further into your solution. Knowing the intricacies of your software and being able to take advantage of all its unique features is something that can bring a sense of accomplishment and loyalty to your customers. Becoming a power user of a particular technology is a badge of honor for some, especially in a business context. One example of this is the HubSpot Academy. Our own staff competes to see how many current certifications they can achieve, and share them on their own personal LinkedIn profiles.
Your Knowledge Base is a section of your website that serves as a self-help resource library. We live in a world of instant gratification, and your Knowledge Base can help your customers get answers they need and continue using your app. Most people today prefer to search for solutions on their own whenever possible and solve their technical issues without submitting a support ticket or calling a phone number. Knowing they can come straight to your website increases a customer’s engagement with you while feeding their need for information or assistance.
Your Knowledge Base should be:
It helps to involve your customer success and product teams in outlining your Knowledge Base, because you’ll be able to quickly focus on the most important topics to cover. They will be able to tell you the most common questions they receive, and you can write knowledge base articles answering each of those questions. Providing easy-to-digest information on popular help topics not only aids your customers in achieving success with their use of the solution, but also helps to ease the burden of individual customer service.
Once you’ve outlined a thorough list of offerings for your Knowledge Base, figure out the best ways in which you can present the information. Most SaaS companies use video for at least a portion of their educational content. Screen shares of exactly where to click, or video explanations of important configurations are very important audio visual additions to your Knowledge Base.
Whether or not you offer self-help options, traditional customer support is a crucial piece of customer retention. Make it easy and responsive, and you will be repaid with long-term customer loyalty. Create a formalized support ticket system that assures consistency as well as customer care, including a way to check the status of an inquiry. And give them options — live chat and/or an AI-driven app such as Intercom as well as a live support team available via phone or email.
Many SaaS companies use external partners like Zendesk to deliver customer support via email, chat, phone and your knowledge base. They call it “omni-channel support.” HubSpot also offers Service Hub, a robust ticketing system and support platform that is available alongside HubSpot Marketing and Sales, for 360° complete customer experience.
The bottom line is, when a customer has a problem, they get a quick solution. This can be in the form of self-serve education, chat support, a phone call, or an in-app support ticket, and it can be executed internally by your own teams, or via a partner.
Your job doesn’t stop at building a great SaaS solution, getting people to subscribe, and keeping them happy. You must measure your customer’s experience (CX), and use that information to keep improving it. These days, customer experience measurement goes far beyond the widely-used Net Promoter Score (NPS). In fact, if your analysis of the customer journey stops at NPS, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity to learn and improve.
Measuring NPS is only one piece of the customer satisfaction puzzle. It tells you how likely a particular respondent is to recommend your solution to another person, but it doesn’t tell you why. The NPS is a very limited view of your customer’s experience, because it assumes a one-time reaction to a macro customer journey. In reality, most of the time, customers have many micro journeys with your brand. Doing an in-depth customer journey analysis can provide insight into the phases of your customer’s experience.
Your detailed understanding of the customer journey allows you to choose the optimal time and channel for requesting feedback. Paired with data about average spend and demographics, you can even determine where to best focus your CX efforts, and can provide more robust statistics to guide your customer satisfaction efforts.
Word-of-mouth was and still is the best marketing channel that exists, only now, it’s usually mediated by online platforms and social media. We respect the word of the people we connect with online, in the same way we would a recommendation from someone in-person. The close the relationship, the more weight we give to that person’s recommendation.
Whether in a business or personal context, most people rely on reviews and ratings as they evaluate purchases. Encouraging positive word-of-mouth on software review sites as well as within offices or even on social media is an essential piece of the Delight stage of your inbound marketing methodology. Most SaaS companies have some form of campaign or messaging around leaving a review, or sharing your opinion. The message and medium changes based on your analysis of the customer journey.
Many SaaS companies use automated emails to thank customers for their subscription and ask for a review. There are a few key points to emphasize here:
Again, it’s crucial to understand how and when to trigger these requests, and to be very specific. Make the process simple with a clear CTA, like:
There is a myth about offering incentives for a review — that it’s a big no-no. That’s not true. What’s important is to offer them an incentive regardless of whether they leave you a good review or a bad review, and to be transparent about your rewards with your audience. In your profile settings on review sites, or when using your reviews in marketing, simply share what the benefit was for leaving a review. It might even be a subtle way your brand shines through to potential customers.
We’ve given you a lot to think about so far, on how to strategize your marketing, which tactics to choose, and how to put them into play. But there is one more vital component to any successful marketing effort: money. Marketing is not a luxury, nor is it merely just one more cost of doing business. It is a key investment — the most critical investment you will make beyond developing your product — in your company’s future.
In most industries, you could simply look to overall business spending trends to get an idea about smart and reasonable marketing budget allocation. Research reveals that most companies typically spend between 7% to 10% of their gross revenue on marketing.
However, SaaS is in a league of its own. Barriers to entry are dropping and competitors can spring up quicker than ever, whether they will directly compete with you or not, other SaaS companies add another sound to the noisy environment. Prospects must hear your voice before they can be intrigued enough to listen to you.
Successful SaaS marketers spend 40% up to more than 100% of their annual revenue on marketing programs, depending on the company’s life stage and goals. The newer you are, or the more aggressively you hope to grow, the more you need to invest in capturing attention and telling your story.
Some amount of customer churn may be inevitable, but well-targeted marketing spend will significantly reduce churn and increase customer lifetime value. If you’re a startup with venture capital backing, you can allocate 100% of revenue, or even more, to get your marketing up and running. If you’re self-funded, you likely should still budget 50% or more of expected revenue to build awareness and establish an initial customer base.
Traditional businesses that make physical products are limited in what they can spend on marketing, because they have high costs in other areas; notably the Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS), which can be as high as 80%. To serve new customers, they have to make more widgets, or shoes, or candy bars, or airplanes. You do not. Once your SaaS company has created the software solution or app you offer, you have your product in hand with near-unlimited inventory — all you have to do is sell it.
Yes, you will have some expense to maintain your cloud computing infrastructure, provide customer support, and for R&D as you continue to innovate and upgrade, but you will still be able to devote considerable spending toward marketing and revenue growth because your gross profit is much higher.
Consider the example of Salesforce, a pioneer powerhouse in the SaaS industry that has been in business for 20 years. Here’s what their numbers look like for FY 2020:
And here’s what HubSpot’s 2019 marketing spend vs. total revenue looks like:
Here are ZenDesk’s key stats for the 2019 fiscal year:
And here are ServiceNow’s 2019 key stats:
Note: these total revenue and gross profit numbers include these companies’ SaaS subscription revenue as well as their professional services revenue. Most companies run their professional services at a 0% margin as a means to quickly onboard customers in order to feed their subscription revenue. So when you look at the gross profit from SaaS subscriptions only, it is usually even higher than the company’s total consolidated gross profit.
These stats above are all from well-established, publicly traded SaaS companies, and we can see that they usually spend 40-50% of their revenue on sales and marketing. So why do startups need to spend a higher percentage? There are three reasons that SaaS startups need to spend more of their revenue on sales and marketing than more mature companies:
In order to make an impression in the SaaS world, you have to pull out all the stops. Gradual growth based only on word of mouth and referrals won’t cut it in SaaS. You have to establish yourself quickly, and to do that, you have to market your company and product broadly and deeply to reach as many prospects as possible. That takes money, and that’s why successful young companies keep up the spending pace throughout all of their early years, sometimes upwards of 120% of revenue.
You cannot just pick a dollar amount and assume all will be well. As you implement your marketing plan, you’ll need to continuously assess results. How many customers are you getting? What is your customer acquisition cost (number of customers divided by total sales/marketing budget)? Which sources and campaigns are bringing you the best return? Which types of customers are sticking with you the longest? By analyzing what’s working and what is not, you can eliminate weak activities and redirect that money toward doing more of the things that produce leads, sales, and renewals. After all, no matter what your budget, you want every dollar you spend to generate the strongest ROI.
Especially in your fiercely competitive SaaS marketing environment, taking timid marketing steps and hoping for the best will leave you in the dust. So plan your budget as if you mean to grow (we know you do!), then put that money to work increasing your customer base and profitability. Of course, that’s not so easy.
Partnering with an experienced, SaaS-savvy team such as ClearPivot can give you confidence knowing your marketing is being handled strategically and efficiently, so you can expect to see effective results. While we’re using our expertise to help build your business from the outside, you can stay focused on building it from the inside — building product innovations and long-term customer relationships.
Creating your SaaS marketing strategy is not simple, as demonstrated by the scope and length of this guide. On top of that, the marketplace and customers themselves are constantly changing, regardless of whether your SaaS is primarily B2B or B2C. It is imperative to understand your prospects and customers in depth so you can clearly explain to them how your software will solve their problems and make their lives better, at home or at work. When prospects know why they should choose you, they will.
Following the holistic inbound marketing process we’ve described in this guide works so well because it is customer-centric and uses data to segment and connect with specific audiences, serving them the right message at the right time on the right channel. With your website and every blog article, email campaign, social media post, paid ad, and landing page, you are telling prospects what’s in it for them when they choose to use your product. That attracts interest, transforms visitors into leads, leads into buyers, and builds long-term relationships that keep customers coming back for more.
Just as it takes skill and experience to develop must-have software, it takes skill and experience to design and implement a profitable marketing program. Just staying on top of the latest trends and best practices in SaaS marketing can be incredibly tough. Thankfully, you don’t have to do this yourself. ClearPivot is here to help. Our team comprises experts who know marketing and know the Saas and tech industry. So let’s talk about how we can work together to market your technology, so you can grow your business.
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