Software as a service (SaaS) businesses have their work cut out for them. SaaS marketing is unlike any other type of marketing. After all, how do you market something that has no physical presence and is constantly changing? Or, reach an audience which might only consist of two dozen B2B companies? Or, explain your brilliant service to a public who might have a hard time understanding exactly what you offer?
There are several challenges that are unique to the SaaS sector. In this article we will outline what makes SaaS marketing so unique, and how you can choose the right strategy to bolster your marketing efforts!
WHAT MAKES SAAS MARKETING UNIQUE?
At the start of this article we outlined a few of the reasons that SaaS businesses have a harder time than most in marketing their products. Software as a service (SaaS) sales have grown markedly over the past decade; and it is now expected, according to Finance Online, that 73% of all businesses will rely solely on SaaS for their apps as of 2020.
SaaS is any software licensing or delivery model in which is licensed on a subscription basis to its customers. Some of the unique considerations involved in SaaS marketing are:
- SaaS software exists on the cloud, and is has no physical presence;
- SaaS is constantly adapting and changing to the needs of its clientele;
- SaaS is typically offering an innovative service, trying to get audiences to understand its value can be difficult.
For all the reasons above and more, SaaS can be very difficult to market. Trying to get your audience to understand the value your software represents can be hard to manage. Below are five ways a SaaS strategy may differ from that of other regular B2B businesses.
1. GIVING AWAY YOUR PRODUCT FOR FREE
For most businesses, free giveaways might be a small part of their overall marketing plan; for SaaS it should be at the heart of your strategy. Whatever form you wish to give away your product – whether it will be a free trial period, or a limited free version – offering your product with no strings attached is what will bring in dedicated users.
If your product is useful, your customers will become accustomed to the convenience and will soon forget how they ever lived without it.
2. POTENTIALLY SHORTER SALES CYCLES
SaaS is primarily designed for other businesses. However, unlike B2B marketing, which is defined by long sales cycles – SaaS marketing cycles are remarkably short. Whereas a year may be short period of time in B2B, in SaaS that same amount of time may seem like an eternity.
As Neil Patel said recently in a guest blog for Kissmetrics, “You won’t find schmoozing, expensive sports events, fancy wine tastings, or teeing off at an expensive golf club. The process of buying SaaS is quick, transactional, and done.”
This is largely due to SaaS businesses relying on a lower average-selling price, and therefore relying on higher volume and a shorter sales cycle to meet their revenue goals.
If you are one of these SaaS businesses, don’t be afraid to lose customers who aren’t ready to purchase. There will always be more customers who are ready to purchase and make that quick decision.
3. POSITIONING YOURSELF AS A THOUGHT LEADER
Adopting a strong content marketing based strategy will help position your business and brand as a thought leader. Given how complex SaaS products can be, informing your audience is crucial.
By positioning your brand as a thought leader, companies are more likely to look to your business for solutions to their problems. As Neil Patel says, “the main job of the SaaS marketer should be to provide information that leads to the source of greater information — the SaaS product.”
4. FOCUS ON CUSTOMER SERVICE AND RETENTION
According to the American research and advisory firm Gartner, 80% of your future revenue is likely to come from 20% of your existing customer base. By investing only an extra 5% in customer retention, you can expect a 75% increase in your business’ profitability over the customer lifetime cycle.
You must also think of your SaaS business as more than code. Often SaaS businesses bow down to their developers; and, although they are undoubtedly important to your company, so too are your service providers (help desk, support, sales, marketing, bloggers etc.).
5. OFFER A QUALITY PRODUCT WITH EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SUPPORT
We are sure you are sick of hearing the old saying, ‘let the product speak for itself’. Of course, when it comes to software, you need to make your product shine. After all, marketing will do little in the long run if your product doesn’t end up doing the talking for you.
However, the truth of the matter is that there are only two things that will truly lift your SaaS business, and that is having a quality product with exceptional customer support.
As Garrett Moon, founder of Todaymade, says, “Great products, with a strong team behind them, sell themselves. It’s the only SaaS sales strategy you really need.”
CHOOSING THE RIGHT STRATEGY FOR YOUR SAAS ENTERPRISE
So far we have discussed how SaaS is potentially unique in many ways from that of other B2B businesses. However, even within the SaaS sector, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy. As Jeff Kaplan of THINKStrategies says, ‘the SaaS and cloud computing industry is rapidly evolving to offer a broad array of solutions targeting everyone from end-users to executives.’
Although the five suggestions made earlier in the article are great general strategies to employ within SaaS, if you really want to grow, you need to know what kind of SaaS business you are.
WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS ARE YOU?
Within the SaaS sector, your sales model depends on the type of product you have and the average selling price (ASP) of that product. ASP is is the average price at which your product or service is sold across channels or markets. Before deciding on a strategy you first determine the following questions:
- Does your product have a high or low ASP across your markets?
- How complex is your product to understand, explain or use?
If you have a low ASP, you will need to compensate in your strategy by targeting a larger market, developing your pipeline, and focusing on improving your conversion rates. Low ASP often requires a high volume of sales to reach your revenue goals. High volume often means a focus on automation, customer self-service, and encouraging a shorter sales cycle.
If your product is complex you will have a harder time closing sales, keeping costs low and increasing sales velocity. As a general rule, reducing complexity in your product and your marketing will give you more options as to what sales strategies you can employ; and facilitate a healthy sales pipeline.
According to Joel York of Chaotic Flow, your SaaS business can fall into one of three categories of business depending on pricing and the complexity of your service.
|Low ASP||High ASP|
|Low Complexity||Customer Self-Service Model||Transactional Model|
|High Complexity||–||Enterprise Model|
You might be wondering why we have avoided a low complexity high ASP business, and that it is because it is the trap that many SaaS businesses fall into. Their product is too difficult to understand, and there simply not enough demand for it, for people to bother learning about it. Joel York refers to this colloquially as the ‘SaaS Graveyard’.
The key to developing your SaaS marketing strategy is to identify what kind of business you are, and therefore what kind of model to choose and therefore what course of action to take. Below we have outlined what each model entails.
CUSTOMER SELF-SERVICE MODEL (LOW ASP/ LOW COMPLEXITY)
If you have a low priced product, and are lucky enough to be able to explain your product easily to your customer base. You are going to rely heavily on automation, and customer self-service to drive sales.
The key within a customer self-service model is to focus on automated tools to provide customer support and educational information to users. There will likely be very little opportunity or need for engaging customers through sales. Instead, you are focusing on an automated pipeline. The key to this sales model is focusing on content marketing initiatives to drive awareness and interest in your product or service.
TRANSACTIONAL MODEL (HIGH ASP/ LOW COMPLEXITY)
This is the best of both worlds. Having a simple product with a high price tag that people are willing to pay for, means you can increase sales velocity and still maintain high revenue. Businesses like Google AdWords are an excellent example of this, as buyers are willing to pay hundreds of thousands directly using the online system.
However, the caveat of a transactional sales model is that, although users can do everything themselves, they will expect a degree of support if necessary given the price they are paying.
This type of model requires significant lead nurturing, and well trained sales and support reps. Direct contact with customers will be less intensive, than say an Enterprise model which we are about to discuss, so you should be investing significantly in educational resources and automated support tools.
ENTERPRISE MODEL (HIGH ASP/ HIGH COMPLEXITY)
If you have a premium product that is marketable to a select audience who are willing to pay big for what you are offering, then you are likely an Enterprise based business. The complexity of your product (given how niche it is), comes with many challenges – however, the rewards can be big!
Focusing on a highly personalised, account-based marketing approach is likely to be best for your business. Investing heavily in your sales team. Your support team will also need to be highly trained and have several resources available to them to ensure that the customer’s experience is as good as possible.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE STUCK IN THE SAAS GRAVEYARD (LOW ASP/ HIGH COMPLEXITY)?
If you are caught in what Joel York terms the ‘SaaS Graveyard’ (Low ASP/ High Complexity) you should decide on a strategy to shift yourself into either a customer self-service, transactional or enterprise sales model.
- Increase velocity – Find ways to lower the price and complexity of the service you are offering. This will likely shorten your sales cycle and require significant investment in automation and educational tools. By increasing sales velocity, you are shifting towards a customer self-service model.
- Increase profit – Find ways to optimise efficiency and focus on your more profitable market segments. This allows you to lower operating costs and also reach an audience who are willing to pay more for your service. Focussing on increasing profit will assist in shifting towards a transactional model.
- Increase value – Focus on product innovation and restricting your target market to those who already recognise value in your services. This will allow you to reach out to customers who are willing to take the time to understand your service and spend the money to invest in it. By focussing on increasing value you are facilitating an enterprise model.
Of course, you don’t have to choose just one strategy, however, if you are a small business looking to grow, may wish to focus on one over the other.
HOW YOUR MARKETING STRATEGY WILL ADAPT AS YOU GROW
Most SaaS businesses naturally start out offering a simple product to a wide target audience; however, if you wish to grow, your business will need to either provide new products or services or reach new audiences.
As a business grows and innovates, they are likely to meet the challenge of introducing more complex products and purchase processes in near proximity to their original simple, self-service product. This will require careful planning so as not to disrupt your existing customer-base and lose customers.
We recommend you read this article on Writing Valuable B2B Value Propositions. A value proposition is one of the key tools you can use to simplify your customer’s understanding of your products and services.
SaaS marketing can be very different to many other forms of B2B marketing, given the typically shorter sales cycles and the other unique challenges associated with these often complex services.
SaaS businesses have blossomed over the past decade, and what works today may not be relevant two years from now. We recommend you read this article on the Changing Face of B2B Marketing, if you would like to learn more about the changes faced by B2B businesses as we all approach the next decade.
The Lead Agency is a dedicated B2B Marketing Agency. Our clients choose us because we solve their complex B2B marketing problems. We focus on the B2B buying journey by addressing digital, data, content, communications, technology, lead generation/nurturing to create more leads and better quality leads.
If you are interested in advice for your B2B business please contact The Lead Agency. Our speciality is generating leads and prospects for your business and building strong, resilient ties with them.