SaaS marketing is simply the process of marketing SaaS (software as a service) products - any software product that you use online rather than downloading onto your own machine. The SaaS market is booming - sales are expected to reach over $112.8 billion by next year, reports TechRadar - and as a result, SaaS marketing has become a school of marketing in its own right.
SaaS marketers fulfill the same role as every other marketer - “getting consumers interested in your company’s product or service,” as Caroline Forsey at HubSpot puts it. That said, SaaS marketing has a unique set of challenges - and advantages - that make it very different from many other forms of marketing.
1. There’s no physical product.
It can be tough to sell something that has no physical presence, that can’t be touched or even downloaded onto a computer. As Peter Cohen, CEO of SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors, comments, “With SaaS you’re not really marketing a product. You’re marketing a promise.” That kind of marketing involves building high levels of trust with your potential customers - trust that you’ll keep your promise, that your software will deliver what you’ve promised throughout the subscription, that you’ll deliver regular updates, that you’ll offer them support when they need it.
Building trust can be challenging - but the fact that you have no physical product gives you a significant advantage over product marketers. You can offer the full product for free - as a free trial or a freemium software product. In terms of building trust, this is gold-dust - the customer can take your product, use it in their day-to-day tasks, and hopefully be so dazzled by the experience that they’re clamoring to buy your software.
2. There’s a short buying cycle.
Unlike other forms of B2B marketing, SaaS marketers have to deal with a very quick buying decision process. Leads find you online, maybe read a few articles, go to your website, try a demo, read a few testimonials, and decide whether or not to buy. The whole process can take days or even a couple of hours, rather than the months (or years!) more common in the traditional B2B sales cycle. As Neil Patel points out, this can be a challenge: “A short sales cycle might make some buyers skittish, especially if they’re used to the sluggishly slow pace of non-software purchases.”
That said, managed correctly, a short buying cycle can be great for your business - and not only for the obvious reason of being easier on your cash flow.
From a marketing point of view, being able to easily track leads from their first point of engagement to their final purchase gives you a wealth of useful data about what’s working and what’s not in your marketing strategy.
And you can overcome any potential nervousness by offering relevant content at each stage of their interaction with your website - such as a simple explainer video, glowing testimonials, a free demo, a free trial, a money-back guarantee, relevant certifications or media coverage of your product, and so on.
You must ensure that your website is designed to convert visitors into customers at every step of the way. Click here for more tips on creating a highly effective website.
3. SaaS businesses tend to be product-led.
As Sprout Social puts it, “SaaS companies begin with a product and then build their teams around it.” This can be a challenge for marketers. You must ensure that marketing isn’t simply tacked on at the end of product development. There is a pervasive industry cliché that SaaS products sell themselves. Of course, a great product will generate positive word of mouth - and referrals are always a vital part of any marketing strategy.
But marketing remains a key part of a successful SaaS business, and it must be integrated throughout the product development cycle.
Forsey writes, “Marketing pertains to all aspects of a business, including product development, distribution methods, sales, and advertising”. After all, the marketing team knows most about the customer, what they want, where they go to find product information, what products appeal to them and why. Sprout Social argues that “A smooth workflow, seamless integration, and easy cross-team communication are all important attributes for making SaaS marketing work.” Click here for some suggestions on how to align your marketing and software development teams.
4. You’re selling software - but also a service.
Neil Patel sums it up perfectly:
“The acronym SaaS stands for “Software as a Service.” I propose that we place the emphasis on service. Yes, the software must be important, flawless, powerful, and awesome. But service needs to be upheld as the paragon of virtues.”
SaaS businesses may be product-led - but they must also be customer-led. In order to win - and more importantly, keep - customers, significant marketing attention must be invested on creating an optimal customer experience.
That means listening attentively to your customers. And there, SaaS marketers have the upper hand on other marketers. Peter Cohen points out that “Vendors selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have the particular advantage of gathering input from customers directly within the product.”
You can gather extensive user data to find out which features are getting the most use and ensure you promote them heavily in your marketing. You can recommend the removal of features that aren’t being used to give a simplified customer experience. You can identify any friction points in your software and ensure that they are addressed promptly.
Other ways of listening to your customers might include closely aligning customer support with development, or even rotating support amongst the development team so that the people who receive the complaints are actually in a position to fix the bugs. In addition, you might want to consider social listening - integrating feedback from social media channels into your development process. For instance, Trello, a productivity app with 25 million users, uses social listening to get “a more holistic picture of what people are doing with the app.”
SaaS marketing can certainly be challenging - but by creating an integrated company which listens attentively and offers exceptional customer service, you should be able to create long-term, valuable relationships with existing customers, attract new leads – and keep them.
At Spot On, we specialize in helping SaaS businesses build highly effective marketing strategies that deliver serious results. If you’d like to discuss how we could help you out, please schedule a free call here.