When it comes to marketing a SaaS company, your strategy needs to be rooted in solid data and specific to the problem you’re solving. Vertical SaaS leaders know, with a finite number of potential clients within the vertical, your marketing effort needs to be surgical in its approach. To drive maximum impact, you have to choose the right tactics.
There is no such thing as effective “spray and pray” marketing in industry specific SaaS. What I mean is, no one wakes up in the morning with a wild hair to buy Daycare Accounting Software.
Most SaaS companies start with a founder focusing on creating software that solves the pain points of their industry. The hope is that your new company will stand out from the competition, generate a roster of happy and satisfied customers, and continue to grow and evolve to meet the ever-changing challenges and opportunities of your market.
Success relies on solid strategy:
- Knowing the needs of your market
- Understanding what you need to create to solve those needs
- Getting your marketing message in front of people who are qualified to buy
- Getting them to take action and become a paying, happy, customer
When a SaaS founder finds a solid product market fit, it’s as if the product grows all on its own. This is product led growth. For a while. Until it stops, it hits a plateau, and the founder is left wondering why the growth stopped and wishing they’d invested in marketing before they actually needed it.
Why Don’t More SaaS Businesses Start Marketing Before They Need To?
With the right marketing strategy, a company can reach the rest of their target audience, retain their current customers, and boost their bottom line.
So why don’t more vertical SaaS businesses invest in marketing?
Because it’s hard, confusing, and expensive.
Good marketing strategy is the exception to the rule in vertical SaaS. The majority of founder led businesses don’t have an effective strategic marketing plan in place, it’s mostly just run and gun.
They try a few things, they’ll post some company news to their blog, they’ll throw up some Google Ads myopically focused on how awesome their business is, and they’ll try to do some “SEO.”
There’s no cohesion to these random acts of marketing, the results are poor, and the founder resigns themselves to the very popular belief that “marketing doesn’t work for us.” It ain’t easy, being cheesy.
If You Aren’t Currently Marketing, Your Competitors Are on Your Heels
In the past, your customers may have had only one (maybe two) choices when choosing a vertical SaaS. In the new more saturated software world, strategic and effective marketing will be the deciding factor on which companies fail and which businesses grow and thrive.
With the increasing competition, SaaS companies need to step up their marketing games to:
- Find the incremental conversions you’re missing now
- Draw clients away from your competitors
- Retain the customers you already have
The business that does these three things best, wins.
How Vertical SaaS Marketing Strategy is Different
Marketing strategies for a SaaS business differ from traditional B2C models. Businesses selling a tangible product follow a fairly standard route that includes digital advertising, brand, and sales.
SEM, SEO, and social marketing are the by rote tactics companies deploy to increase sales. Typically, the buying cycle is straightforward: the customer does a Google search, lands on the website, clicks around, purchases the product, the company receives payment, and delivers that product.
Voilà. Marketing works!
Vertical SaaS is different. Sales cycles are measured in months, often years. Total addressable markets (TAM) are tiny. A marketer can throw their “drive significant traffic and optimize” strategy out the window for the most part.
Given your very small addressable market, the problem becomes quite acute for the vertical SaaS marketer, “how do I get the right message in front of the right person at the right moment?” As well as, “how can I accelerate the customers’ interest in what I’m selling, build awareness for my brand, and wade through months of nurturing to ultimately drive a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) that converts to a paying closed/won account for my business?”
Sheeesh, no problem, let me part the sea while we’re at it.
SaaS Marketing Strategies You Can Use Today
Solid marketing starts with a solid strategy.
That means actually understanding:
- Who your current customer is (yes you can and should figure this out)
- Who your ideal customer is (no, this is not necessarily the same thing as your current customers)
- Developing a razor-sharp competitive analysis to understand what’s happening in your industry and your competitors.
Now you can laser focus on driving impact.
Then it’s time to start marketing!!!! Right?!?!
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s probably a few things to do before you start blowing your marketing allowance like an 8 year old in a $.01 candy store.
5 Things Your Business Needs to Do BEFORE Launch
1. Spend More Time Figuring Out WHO You’re Talking To
Abraham Lincoln is famously given credit for the saying, “If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first 4 sharpening my ax.” While I think it’s been proven that Lincoln never actually made this statement, the truth of the words can’t be denied.
Here’s a better quote: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein
The big misconception about marketing is that it doesn’t take time or effort to come up with a marketing message that works. The reason people underestimate this effort is because they don’t see the amount of dead ends, crumpled notes, and late nights that go into understanding what the right message is for an audience.
Once you figure out the right message, the other things fall into place.
2. Sharpen Your Ax
How can I put a marketing message in front of my prospects while building intrigue and value for my product, and make it feel like they’re getting solid value? You have to get them to believe they’re choosing software that will help their organization save time, money, and frustration, ultimately helping their business earn more money and keep employees happier.
Ax sharpening tips to get you started:
- Spend more time documenting prospect meetings in your CRM. There’s magic in developing processes.
- Spend more time triaging why you lost business to a competitor
- Read more customer service tickets, find out why people are churning
- Integrate a chatbot to interact with prospects in real time
- Establish basic product and website analytics to measure who and how people are interacting with your site and product
- Survey your customers regularly, Csat and NPS scores can tell you a ton about what your customers like and don’t like
As a marketer it’s not your job to have all the answers at your fingertips, but it is your job to know the numbers, have a laser focus on who your customer is, and put a marketing message in front of them that resonates. This all starts with who you’re talking to first, then we can get into the whats.
3. Drop the Ego and Take a Hard Look at Your Homepage
Look, I’m the last person to go around shooting fish in barrels, but let’s be honest, most vertical SaaS homepages stink.
To start, the tech is old, the design is outdated, there’s 8 colors, 5 font types, 4 more font sizes, and the headline doesn’t make sense. The copy is focused on telling you how great their business is, and how many years they’ve been “crushing it.” And that’s just what you can see above the fold.
It’s 2020, enough already with the terrible homepages.
If you can’t deliver a solid problem/solution based homepage with copy that’s well written from the perspective of a business that’s helping a customer make a choice to purchase your SaaS (which can cost upwards of $10K per year), then we’re all sunk. Nothing says “you probably shouldn’t trust us with your business” more than a janky homepage selling software.
Figuring out how to express how your software addresses the needs of your target market, and wrapping it in a decent design, is critical. If you don’t have a team then read some books on copywriting, or even better, stimulate the economy and hire a freelance copywriter to help extract the richness of why you went into business in the first place, the problems your software solves, and the amazing offer you’re extending.
4. Your Product Feature Page is Not a TJ Maxx
Most product feature pages, if they exist, manage to be both nonsensical and self-aggrandizing at the same time.
They don’t make sense, they don’t position your product as a solution to your customers’ problems, and there’s so much fluff that your prospective customer has no idea where to look. It’s almost as if the writer goes into a fugue state as soon as they sit down to explain the product that they’ve poured their life savings, blood, sweat, and tears into.
While we have them working on the homepage anyways, why not use your copywriter to help tease out the features, benefits, and price of your product offering?
Even in enterprise B2B SaaS, we’re still writing to communicate with real humans. It’s said we purchase with emotion and justify with logic.
If you can ramp up both emotion and logic on your offer page, AND give your prospect a clear path forward to become a lead for your sales team, you can rebuild even the worst offer page in the world.
If you want a phenomenal resource on writing for your customer, Sean D’Souza’s The Brain Audit is worth its weight in gold.
5. Invest In Your Site Ecosystem
Look, there are lots and lots of marketing technology solutions in the world (heck ASG owns a bunch of them), but when you’re just getting started marketing you want to drive results with a minimum amount of money, complication, and time.
When you’re getting started thinking about marketing, people want to move immediately to Expert Level Marketing 501. But they haven’t built the processes, analytics systems, or feedback loops that will allow them to measure the outputs of their actual marketing efforts. GIGO - garbage in, garbage out.
There are 5 Keys to establishing a beautiful nutrient rich marketing ecosystem:
- Input - this is the stimulus you feed into your system. The traffic coming to your website, your current customer retention data, a landing page’s conversion rate.
- Process - This is how you ingest and translate the data that’s flying at you all the time. Great businesses are constantly refining how they pick up their data and look at it. Good examples of this would be auditing your on site conversion goals, building marketing dashboards to track your organic search presence, or looking at the ROI of paid acquisition efforts.
- Output - This is the product of the first two bullets. This is where you see the fruit of your labor. This is the strategy you define as a result of the first two bullets, how the data guides tactics and strategies.
- Feedback - This is how you take your outputs and feed them back into the system, this is how you decipher what drove results, what are the things you’ve heard, and changes you can make in order to improve and optimize the system.
- Environment - The factors you often have very little control over. The TAM of your market. Relevant search volume for keywords that could translate to sales. How many competitors are in your market? What are your prospective customers’ buying and contract cycles? These create the environment your marketing system plays within.
Minimum Viable Marketing System:
- Google Analytics - you’d be amazed to know how many businesses haven’t even done the bare minimum here. Bonus points if you’ve set up conversion goals, so you know which channels convert to new leads.
- Basic Marketing Automation - You don’t need to get crazy here. Use a solution like Mailchimp or (my preference) Drip. You can set up workflows, capture prospects email addresses, send emails. Bonus points if you are using UTM parameters to feed to Google Analytics. Double bonus points if you have two way communication from Marketing Automation to your CRM.
- CRM/Salesforce - Having a way to store and enrich your prospects and current customers is essential to understanding the entire system. I’ve often referred to Salesforce as the amygdala of a vertical SaaS business, it ingests the inputs from the system and allows us to process the outputs.
Final Takeaway – Marketing is Essential to SaaS Growth and Success, but New Strategies are Needed
An effective marketing strategy is essential for the growth, success, and ultimate value of your SaaS company. Understanding the stages of SaaS marketing and tools available will allow you to set goals and meet expectations. Regardless of the current stage of your business, marketing can help you optimize your current offerings while also setting the stage for an even more successful future.
If you want to talk to someone about your SaaS marketing strategy, reach out to Jesse Boland. He can provide tips to analyze the effectiveness of your current marketing strategies and ideas to revamp your current marketing approach.