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As more and more of us lead increasingly connected, digital lives (both personally and professionally), there is ever-expanding opportunity for new technology to deliver value. These opportunities to create new software and products have driven the SaaS (Software as a Service) market to grow exponentially in popularity.
You’d be forgiven for thinking running a SaaS business is just like any other. However, in reality, it varies wildly. Your product will never run out of stock, but it can’t be allowed to sit on the shelf, either. It’s not a one-off payment, it’s a subscription model that builds up a user-base. By necessity, it needs to evolve and change with the needs of its users. That’s a contrasting business model to that of most. And your marketing needs to reflect this — you need to be different, and you need to stand out.
Marketing makes all the difference to SaaS companies for one reason above all… the plethora of competition. There was a time when the cost of developing new software was prohibitively high. Today, however, the cost barrier has been lowered significantly, creating ample opportunities for gifted coders to identify prospective clients’ pain points and develop solutions to address them. That’s good news for businesses who want to improve their efficiency and productivity, but a potentially substantial challenge for you. In a climate of fierce competition, if you want to rise above the rest then your marketing needs to be precision-engineered to engage, intrigue (and perhaps most importantly) retain your clientele. That’s no mean feat if you’re a startup that’s unsure how to translate your confidence in your product into compelling digital marketing copy.
It goes without saying that a digitally-led approach to SaaS marketing is the best way to gain traction with your target market. But there’s more to marketing your product than building your website, setting up your social media site and hoping that prospective customers come knocking at your digital doors.
Let’s look at some guiding principles to a potent SaaS marketing strategy.
Adding value in your product should be your number one priority if you hope to stand out among your legions of competitors. After all, lots of companies have a product like yours. And if you’re to get their customers to notice you, you’ll need to show them all the ways in which your product can make their lives easier or more productive than their current solution. Your product’s features are your point of differentiation from your competitors… but it’s up to you to make them selling points.
Gone are the days when IT departments made decisions about software solutions in a vacuum. In today’s climate, you’ll need to shine a light on how your solution can benefit the entire operation rather than focusing on departmentally-specific benefits which might seem intangible to decision-makers outside of that department.
Your marketing will need to simplify the complicated, eliminate the esoteric and present your selling points in engaging and appealing ways that won’t alienate the less technically minded.
SaaS solutions don’t come cheap, and big money means big decisions, so anything you can do to make it easier for prospective users to make an informed decision, will likely be met with success.
Before we can talk about acquisitions, we need to talk about lead generation. It requires a pretty big leap of faith even to download a freemium version of an unfamiliar product. The content you post on your website can go a long way towards building that faith.
When you post useful content like blogs, videos, infographics, tutorials, white papers, and other content marketing staples, you increase your chances of engaging new acquisitions, thus earning more subscriptions. Content marketing allows you to showcase your knowledge and expertise, establishing you as an expert that is worth listening to. It also allows you to show your inherent understanding of the challenges and pain points commonly faced by the industry and your target audience, thereby building trust in your brand and your product.
Avoid self-aggrandisement at all costs. Your content strategy must always be built upon bringing value to your prospects. If your content is informative and useful to them, they’re much more likely to perceive your product as useful too.
In a fiercely competitive landscape, robust acquisition has never been more essential. In a climate of stiff competition from software vendors, however, the free trial period may not be enough to turn the heads of fickle decision-makers.
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This is why the freemium model has become so popular in recent years. Users can grow frustrated when a trial period ends just as they’re starting to get to grips with a platform’s capabilities. The freemium model, however, offers users a fit for purpose solution that’s available completely free of charge.
This helps to build brand recognition, drives acquisitions and goes a long way towards building value in your brand in the eyes of decision-makers. When they are already familiar with and well predisposed to your product, they’re likely to be much more amenable to upgrading to get the most out of it.
Like any business, you want profitable growth, and the key to achieving this is subscriptions — recurring revenue is therefore critical to any SaaS business’ success. Whether you’re using the freemium model or offering free trials, securing that download is only half the battle. Monetisation via paid activations is the other half. Essentially, you have to get your prospects to convert twice.
Fortunately, if your free version delivers on its promises and hints at more value to come, you stand a better chance of getting that all-important conversion. But that doesn’t mean you can’t nudge them along the way.
Useful ways to drive activations might include in-app notifications that hint at capabilities that expand upon those available in your free version. Alternatively, automated emails can also be highly effective in driving activations, especially when they reflect actions that users have (or haven’t) taken.
Of course, just because you’ve got a user to upgrade doesn’t mean that you can always guarantee their loyalty. Which brings us to...
We all know that it’s more cost-effective to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. And in the SaaS space, retention is absolutely critical to growth and profitability. That doesn’t mean that acquisition isn’t important, of course, but retention is absolutely crucial if you’re to keep costs manageable, ensure healthy cash flow and achieve sustainable growth.
All businesses need to build value in their product. But because yours uses a subscription model, you need to keep adding value if you’re to minimise churn. That means adding more features and easier integrations to remind users why the money they spent on activation was wisely invested.
The moment they stop perceiving value in their subscription is the moment you risk them packing their bags and heading straight to one of your competitors. This is a common occurrence for SaaS businesses that attempt to ‘growth hack’. By focusing on ‘quick-win’ acquisitions, they find themselves with a lot of poor-fit customers who inevitably leave. Instead, the key is to hone in on your target audience, and consistently provide value to them.
Ultimately, if nobody knows who you are, it doesn’t matter how great your product is, how dedicated your support team is or how much value for money a subscription represents. Which is why it’s essential for SaaS businesses of all shapes and sizes to make Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) an essential component of their marketing strategy.
There are a wealth of technical and non-technical, on-page and off-page tactics that go into creating a potent SEO strategy, and few businesses have time to address them all. You may find that allying yourself with a local SEO or Marketing Agency to get the most out of your SEO.
However, some of the broad strokes include:
Whatever action you take, it’s important to remember that B2B clients have more demands on their time and attention than ever, and are unlikely to spend long scrolling through Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Making yourself visible and positioning yourself ahead of your competitors can give you the inside track you need to conquer your chosen market.
You’ve obviously invested time and effort in creating an intuitive and satisfying User Experience (UX) for your SaaS platform, but if this isn’t reflected in your website, prospects won’t be interested irrespective of just how great your product may be.
SaaS customers are, after all, busy professionals looking for solutions to make their jobs and their lives easier, not harder. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And you’ve got to make that first impression count.
If your website UX is clunky and hard to navigate, what does that say about your product? Although design can’t be neglected, functionality has to come first. There are tools such as Hotjar which allow you to analyse where users are clicking on your website, what they’re interested in and what they’re doing (or not doing). These insights can help you mould your website to deliver the perfect UX, and ultimately guide prospects towards converting.
Finally, it’s understandable that SaaS startups might be hesitant to use paid advertising to build brand awareness. While it’s certainly true that organic engagement is more indicative of genuine interest, it can take a long time to build from scratch.
As such, you should seriously consider using paid ads as a launching pad in the short-term as you build up your organic long-term marketing strategy. You can use platforms like LinkedIn Campaigns to target top of the funnel prospects with engaging content that educates them and builds brand awareness.
Google Ads is another useful tool which can be used to target potential customers at the decision-making stage of the buyer’s journey. Snappy and to-the-point ad copy can persuade prospects to find out more about your product and book a demo. You can also get clever with re-targeting and place display ads on competitor sites using custom-intent audiences. These are all effective ways to fill your sales funnel with motivated leads in the early stages as your organic efforts start to gain traction.
With a unique marketing strategy that’s built around the specifics of the SaaS business model, you can ensure that acquisitions, activations and retention are all optimal, charting a course for sustainable growth.