The swinging sixties wasn’t just the decade of rock and roll, it’s also when the earliest versions of software as a service (SaaS) were developed. In the early 1960s, computing technology and software development progressed rapidly and, as a result of the escalating costs of running mainframe computers, the MIT Computation Center developed the first Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS). It was the first form of SaaS, enabling businesses to access modern computer systems at more cost-effective, enterprise pricing levels.
Since then, SaaS has become a popular business model. It’s predicted that around 86% of companies will be running solely on SaaS services and that the sector will be worth $623 billion by 2023. SaaS products are attractive to potential customers because it makes software applications a lot more accessible and easier to manage. With regular recurring payments instead of a one-off capital expense, a SaaS product also makes it easier for companies to manage their cash flow.
Its current growth and market potential mean that more SaaS businesses continue to be founded. Marketing a SaaS product, therefore, is getting harder — and the competition is only going to increase. This SaaS marketing guide explains what is SaaS marketing and will take you through some tried-and-tested tactics that will help your SaaS business cut through the noise.
What is SaaS marketing?
SaaS marketing describes a type of marketing that specifically focuses on promoting and getting leads for SaaS products (which are intangible). Also known as Software-as-a-Service, this business model sells cloud-based software via subscriptions, which creates unique challenges and opportunities for SaaS marketers.
Why is SaaS marketing different?
So what makes SaaS marketing different from other types of B2C and B2B marketing? SaaS marketers face obstacles that no other marketing professional has to think about, like the absence of a physical product to show off. This means that most SaaS marketing takes place in a mostly digital space; through social media marketing, digital marketing, content marketing, online communities, and virtual events.
SaaS marketing also needs to account for the longer sales cycles that SaaS companies usually experience. Longer customer journeys mean a different approach to marketing is needed to keep people engaged throughout multiple sales stages. SaaS marketing efforts extend past a product being sold, to encourage long-term customer retention. All SaaS businesses are laser-focused on their churn rates because more churn equals less revenue. Increasing customer retention by just 5% can increase profitability by 95%. Most other marketers minimize their efforts once they’ve converted a customer but for a SaaS marketer, this is the time to double down.
There’s a lot more focus on educating potential customers in SaaS marketing too. SaaS products can come with a lot of unknown terminologies. It might be a completely new solution that a business doesn’t realize that it needs yet. SaaS marketers need to be ready to create marketing campaigns and content that positions their product as the answer to customer aspirations and painpoints.
The SaaS sales funnel
The SaaS sales funnel (also known as the SaaS marketing or conversion funnel) describes the multi-staged selling process we touched on earlier. Prospective customers go through different stages before they convert, and this requires a unique approach that builds product awareness, trust, and confidence in your brand over time.
It can be summarized in the following stages:
Awareness: educating prospects, answering their questions, helping them understand their problems (that you solve).
Engagement: this is when a prospect returns to your website, blog, community, or other digital space to consume more of your content. They may also sign-up for a newsletter, join your community, or provide lead generation details to download free content.
Exploration: this is when you highlight the benefits and value of your product through customer testimonials, case studies, comparisons, reviews, and success stories. You may also wish to offer a free trial at this stage or adopt a freemium model (that eventually encourages users to upgrade).
Conversion: at this point, your prospect trusts your product enough to convert and hopefully be retained long-term. Remember, customer acquisition is only half a SaaS marketer’s job — retention is critical as well.
Top SaaS marketing channels
Because the majority of SaaS marketing occurs online, its most successful channels are digital. These may include:
- Digital marketing: marketing campaigns that appear on computers, phones, tablets, and other smart devices.
- Product marketing: bringing a product to market, including defining its positioning, messaging, and launch.
- Social media marketing: using social media platforms to reach potential customers.
- Account-based marketing: a targeted marketing campaign that creates a personalized buying experience for high-value accounts (mutually identified by sales and marketing).
- Content marketing: creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content via social media, whitepapers, blog posts, videos, infographics, and other formats, to attract and retain customers.
- Event marketing (online and in-person): planning, organizing, and executing an event to promote your SaaS brand and products.
- Public relations (PR): increasing brand awareness and thought leadership by getting comments, interviews, product and company profiles, and contributed articles into publications (both print and online).
- Online communities: building and maintaining an online space where prospects, customers, partners, and employees with common interests and goals can meet, share knowledge, and collaborate.
SaaS marketing tactics to consider
We’re going to delve deeper into some focused marketing activities that are used by the best B2B SaaS brands.
Assess and improve your digital presence
Prospective customers will find you in many ways. Some may stumble on a blog post, another through social media, and another may attend one of your webinars. Having a strong brand presence across multiple digital channels will increase the likelihood of someone discovering you and also give prospects a lot of different options to engage with and learn more about your product.
Increase your website traffic
Increasing the number of people visiting your website will increase the number of potential leads discovering your product. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a must, making your website and your content discoverable on search engines like Google and Bing. SEO can be tricky to get right, so it’s worth investing in a specialist marketing agency to audit your current state and provide recommendations for on-page and off-page SEO. Another option to consider, with the right budget, is paid search and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to drive more leads to your web pages.
Show off your expertise through content marketing
Content is a valuable asset that showcases your expertise and continues to generate leads over time. It builds authority in your sector and among your target audience. Take Hubspot, for example. The inbound marketing company has a well-known blog in the sector that covers most questions that a marketer or sales professional has ever asked. It also releases its own research and, based on this, infographics and whitepapers.
The best thing about content marketing is that well-written and carefully created pieces increase in value over time, and it can be repurposed for other channels like social media and community marketing.
Generate word-of-mouth referrals
This involves getting a current SaaS customer to recommend your product to their peers. It can be done privately via email or networking, or publicly via a forum, review website, community, social media, or event. Referrals are one of the most effective types of leads. It gives your product a stamp of approval and can increase trust among B2B buyers.
Boost your expert reputation
Cement your reputation as an authority in your sector and customers will keep coming through your (digital) doors. You can achieve this through thought leadership that’s featured in publications, guest blogs, and community posts. Your content marketing can also showcase your expertise. Think about what makes your brand unique. What valuable insights can you bring to the sector and your target customers? Who, in your company, should be the spokespeople for your brand?
Consider your pricing
Pricing strategy is an essential part of SaaS marketing. Many SaaS companies, including Buffer, Marketo, and Salesforce used tiered pricing to target B2B customers of different sizes. Meanwhile, others like Canva, use a freemium model that gives limited features for free and encourages customers to upgrade. Whatever your pricing strategy, provide easy-to-understand information about it to potential customers.
Communities are the anchor
Developing an online expert community ties all of these SaaS marketing tactics together in a seamless experience for prospects and customers. Through an online community, your customers get a trusted space to network and learn from their peers, discover more about your product, and ask questions. You can share your expert content, build brand authority, get product referrals from community members, and gather feedback from the community.
Branded communities help your company stand out from other SaaS vendors. It maximizes your brand’s value to your customer base by providing unique content, insights, and access to experts that your customers cannot get anywhere else. It can also help you nurture prospects over the long selling cycle, providing organic interactions with them that consistently remind them of your brand. Sova Assessment, a SaaS talent assessment company, took this approach to continue engaging with leads who were tied into multi-year contracts.
Now you have a good foundation in what your SaaS marketing needs to achieve, some tactics, and how it differs from traditional marketing, the next thing to do is put your knowledge into action. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so start by identifying your target market and the marketing channels they engage with regularly. Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from what other SaaS vendors are doing, but remember to differentiate your brand with unique experiences and insights they cannot get anywhere else.