SaaS marketing is a type of marketing that is tailored to software as a service solution.
Traditional marketing is often split into two halves – inbound (bringing customers organically or through different mediums to the site), or outbound (reaching out to prospects, clients, partners, advertising and so forth). Those could also be performed online, or offline.
SaaS marketing is the subset of traditional marketing that gains the best results for a SaaS solution.
For instance, a 100% online-driven SaaS for IT professionals would not focus on offline media and would combine different practices for connecting with those IT professionals depending on their browsing and buying habits.
Depending on the customer persona, those may be: programming forums, user groups, attending software events, writing technical tutorials, preparing API documentation that seems tempting for coders to play with.
An accounting software as a service may try with different channels – partnering with accounting firms with a large set of clients, creating a reseller/referral plan that makes sense for them, organic SEO or PPC for their target audience, and creating designated landing pages for each vertical, answering all of their questions.
A locator service like My Store Locator Plus that we’ve been building lately is oriented toward restaurant or coffee shop chains, but can also be utilized for listing team members in a distributed company, a list of user group events around the world, or a classifieds website.
We have different marketing strategies for each vertical and partner up with influencers in each of these, building demo sites and applications that showcase the product for various use cases, crafting tutorials solving specific business problems that our competitors can’t solve, engaging with customer development for our existing client base, working on mobile solutions integrating with existing websites without having to always jump between two different platforms.
Each aspect is unique, but SaaS marketing is tailored to SaaS needs and understands the specifics of a subscription-based business.
It’s different than promoting services, products, or a complete eCommerce, and relies on building long-term relationships with accounts for the sake of a higher CLV (customer lifetime value), lower churn rates, outstanding support, addressing customer requirements as they indicate a given need, decreasing the CAC (customer acquisition cost), building partnerships, increasing brand awareness and marketing different plans for various industries.
Building a successful business model around a SaaS application is contingent on tons of considerations, from the product-market fit through customer service, sales, identifying the right pricing model, conversion rate optimization, user experience, customer retention (to name a few).
Marketing alone won’t get the job done, but a product won’t sell itself. Here’s a list of common strategies SaaS marketers use for businesses.
1. Case Studies
Once you’ve successfully closed some leads, work on building success stories with them.
Case studies are integral to prove the business concept of your SaaS product. Real-world applications tell a different story than listing a bunch of features on your homepage.
It’s worth investing time and resources to ensure that your first customers are as happy as it gets. This includes collecting bug reports and any form of feedback toward the future improvement of the software.
You can sweeten the deal with additional exposure for your customers — paid ads, video promotion (or an interview with them), link building, press releases — anything that will make you look great AND help them generate some buzz as a positive side effect.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing in SaaS could be shaped in various forms.
From high-level top of the funnel articles for traffic purposes through how-to documents describing how the product works for different industries to whitepapers and industry surveys that showcase expertise in the industry.
This includes audio, video, creative content as well. Infographics, podcasts, video walkthroughs.
Producing content that sparks the right type of conversations. Stories that make it to press releases. Email newsletters. Sending a guide to a customer.
This opens up an opportunity to rank organically in Google (and promote a paid campaign) and generate leads.
3. Email Marketing
Building an email list is a valuable approach for successfully marketing your SaaS product.
Marketing a SaaS application should start as early as possible.
Organic ranking takes time (often 6–9 months for starters). Starting with your content strategy as early as possible will give you a head start, plus you’ll be able to mix some paid ads in for email list building purposes.
You’ve probably seen some SaaS applications that require an application before you proceed. This is commonly used before launching the first beta (and works effectively when you start your campaign early on).
However, remember not to start the marketing buzz far too late.
Our first SaaS products were outsourced work for marketing consultancies with tons of connections. They had a name for themselves, large email lists, joint ventures with bloggers and affiliate experts, and previous experience working with SaaS companies.
And yet, we spent over a year building a prototype… that nobody really asked for.
We had a small test group of people looking for the core software as a SaaS solution. But many of them didn’t make the leap, and we’ve launched with an incredibly scarce customer base.
This has delayed our promotion efforts for nearly a year until the ongoing server and maintenance expenses were covered and some profit margin was noted.
My co-founder and I have both read all of the traditional books and resources on launching products in a lean manner, building prototypes first, and everything in-between.
But it simply didn’t sound realistic to spend many, many months to warm up our target audience, craft educational content for list building, handling awareness and overcoming objections.
I was slightly fooled by the vision of my co-founder who had invested most of the initial capital. The launch date wasn’t entirely clear, and both of us are engineers by education, so focusing on a version as polished as possible prolonged the launch and didn’t help onboarding more customers as a result.
Even with a proven software product, building a SaaS version requires a lot of time in market analysis, validation, and building the initial list of beta users.
4. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is hard to nail down, but this doesn’t mean it’s fully inefficient.
Certain SaaS solutions are closely related to specific networks. Targeting your customers directly would make a ton of sense. Imagine an Instagram SaaS tool for measuring engagement or applying extra filters promoted on Instagram — this is the exact audience you’re after.
Generic SaaS applications can still benefit from social. Creating giveaways, running webinars live, shaping a Twitter chat with a designated hashtag worked well for various apps over the years.
5. Guest Posting
Link building is one of the key ingredients of successful SEO campaigns and guest posting is a highly effective way to approach it.
More importantly, publishing case studies or how-to tutorials for blogs and magazines may reach the right audience you’re after.
Plus, these guest posts may rank high for certain search terms, thus positioning your app across several channels.
6. Free Demo Calls
This won’t generate traffic on its own, but demos are integral for brand awareness.
Successful businesses offer consulting calls that showcase a simple integration of the product within their exact business model.
Imagine a landing page service demonstrating how to build a landing page for a specific business, including the test copy and CTA examples. Products are important, but offering the full package at a low cost if you can afford it (and your product allows it) can be a solid win for closing sign-ups.
Also, it’s okay to contact a business regarding technical problems with their website as this can be an opportunity to market your SaaS solution. However, it’s important to consider the following three disclaimers:
- Make sure the problems are legitimate. We’ve received similar reports previously that were outright insignificant and we couldn’t really care (think of a broken link in a 4-year-old blog post or a missing image or a broken shortcode from a really dated plugin).
- Avoid pitching your services right off the bat. Any sort of direct pitch is usually ignored (if not marked as spam).
- Consider who is the best point of contact to connect with regarding the problem. A tech team will likely ignore or resolve without replying. Marketing or an “external” department may not be aware of what’s going on or freak out. The CEO is probably busy with hundreds of daily emails, some would review the email but others won’t.
In some cases, especially with non-technical companies working with third-parties, this may be beneficial for your business.
Don’t expect too much, though. It’s a numbers game.
7. Free Plans
Most SaaS marketers also opt for offering free plans without thinking about the repercussions that come with it. Several reasons for hiding a free plan that I’ve observed and discussed with other SaaS owners:
The fact that a free plan is available doesn’t mean that it should be accessible by the public in an obvious way.
The concept of Dark Patterns have been utilized in other areas such as SaaS applications as well. Providing a set of ingredients or showcasing multiple stores in a shopping center is indeed available, alas designed in a strategic way that maximizes the profits for the company behind the organization and all involved parties.
Sometimes free tiers may be unavailable due to A/B testing or special campaigns that aim for converting visitors to paying users right away. Additionally, free tiers may be showcased during holidays, industry events, or before investor meetings in order to bump the number of active installs or subscribers for marketing purposes.
VIP Club Freemium
Free plans are often utilized during meetings, conferences, with strategic verticals or handed over to influencers. Technically, they should be implemented in order to sign people on a free plan in the first place, even if it’s not available by default.
Another example are the closed beta launches – such as Gmail back in 2003–2004 and other services that are free – in theory – as long as you can land an invite in the first place.
Onboarding for SaaS users is usually initiated right after the sign up. However, some SaaS founders mask the free plan as a reward after enrolling for their email course that goes over the feature of the product before sending a link to the free plan.
While conversions may be lower, the engagement and investment from users are higher, and that matters for building the right community and utilizing resources.
Providing free plans for joint venture campaigns through other marketers sharing the free link to their audiences is another incentive to get some extra traffic, exposure, and sign-ups.
As abandoned carts have long been marked as a key problem for eCommerce stores, some SaaS businesses pitch the free plan to customers who aren’t ready to buy yet. This could be implemented through conversion pixels or email campaigns targeting hesitant customers who seem intrigued by one of the paid plans listed on the site.
If you are a low-cost funded SaaS startup, PPC is probably the main channel you’ll be abusing, or I meant, utilizing during the early days.
More expensive app businesses quickly build sales teams but lower-cost SaaS solutions tend to invest heavily in a paid advertisement.
Paid ads help for both conversions, remarketing, brand awareness, and positioning before the right audiences (including journalists and influencers).
At a later stage, PPC is really important once you know your numbers.
SaaS businesses care about the LTV (lifetime value) of a customer. Once you gather some statistical data, you know how much revenue a user generates and can afford to pay nearly as much to close them.
This is why optimizing for a lower CAC (customer acquisition cost) would be a solid growth plan as soon as you set your campaigns right.
In different stages, this ratio will evolve — your churn rates will go up or down and your expenses will fluctuate depending on the support manpower your business needs. In any case, PPC is a channel you need to explore early on.
9. Referral Marketing
Referral marketing can be structured in two ways:
- Top clients referring other businesses
- Affiliate marketing
Expensive SaaS solutions can benefit from working with top brands around the world. Or at least fancy funded startups with a strong network of peers that would benefit from the same service.
Additionally, affiliate marketing is a common way to attract bloggers and marketers with sufficiently large email lists. This is a legitimate business model on its own, and designing a lucrative partnership program may end up as a cheaper and easier alternative to hiring salespeople or bootstrapping your PPC efforts.
Partner up with other tangible services that happen to target the same audience.
A marketing SaaS may partner up with a marketing or creative agency. Or a small hosting provider. Or another SaaS that serves the same audience (without competing directly).
These partnerships may yield a solid ROI and reduce your advertisement costs. You generate double the volume of exposure for the same fee (or the same amount at half the price).
The Brief 8-Step Checklist for SaaS Products
It doesn’t matter if your SaaS solution is affordable or not. It all revolves around the ROI that your SaaS can provide to a business.
You can pay $5 for a bottled water in the supermarket, but it doesn’t mean that it’s your only option since most vendors charge only a fraction of that cost.
Evaluating a new SaaS product goes through a checklist including questions such as:
- How expensive is my current alternative when compared to a license?
- Are there more affordable alternatives on the market?
- Can I build something on my own that is free/cheaper and solves the same problem?
- Are there any particular key features that this product provides?
- How many users should be interacting with the SaaS on a monthly basis?
- Can I gain anything by switching over? (Saving time, increasing revenue, reducing errors, gathering valuable insights.)
- How long would the training/onboarding process take for my team?
- Is the problem worth testing alternatives anyway?
There are tons of affordable SaaS platforms on the market. Using yet another tool is tedious and one should have a pressing problem in mind in order to make a switch.
Usually, other alternatives are available. Or, people can just use Google, a simple spreadsheet, or even a business assistant dealing with those activities in the meantime.
If your product solves a pressing problem for a large audience better than the available market alternatives, sure, this cost would be feasible. This is also contingent on your marketing efforts and the initial adoption (the first round of paying customers).