Every successful global SaaS company has a B2B marketing plan.
The reason is straightforward; businesses spend a lot of money on software. On top of that, the Return On Investment of landing an enterprise client can be huge. Getting a large client to sign on the dotted can result in you landing 1,000+ accounts.
If this is your first attempt at promoting B2B SaaS you need to unlearn everything you know about marketing. This definitive guide to B2B SaaS Marketing will help you get started!
What is B2B SaaS marketing?
B2B SaaS marketing refers to the practice of generating awareness and interest in marketing software applications that businesses use in their daily operations. It could be marketing software, a project management tool, a website accessibility widget, or an HR management suite.
B2B SaaS is big business. Over the past six years, annual contract values have increased by over 500%. While it’s hard to compete with Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and Google, you can learn a few lessons from the top B2B SaaS organizations and B2B marketing agencies.
Marketing a B2B SaaS product is different from marketing consumer goods or software for personal use. Let’s explore those differences in the next section.
What are the differences between B2B SaaS marketing and other types of marketing?
While a product can be both B2B or B2C (business-to-customer) at the same time, companies take different approaches when marketing their products to different customer groups. For instance, Microsoft markets its Office 365 software suit differently to companies than it does to individual users. You’d often computer stores bundle Microsoft Office 365 with laptops, then sell the same product in bulk to corporate users.
Here are five differences between B2B SaaS marketing and other types of marketing, such as B2C and D2C (direct-to-customer).
The most significant difference between B2B and B2C SaaS marketing is their target audiences. B2C SaaS marketing campaigns almost always target the end user. This is particularly true for games and entertainment platforms such as Netflix. It could also involve business software for individual users, such as Gmail:
The email above is a good example of B2C marketing. Google’s marketing strategy behaves as a B2C when it’s reaching out to individual users. In this case, it seeks to offer a way to stop email alerts by purchasing more storage.
In contrast, B2B SaaS marketing campaigns are aimed at small to large businesses and go after the decision-makers. While many marketing campaigns might emphasize convenience, accuracy, or training needs, they don’t focus on end-users. Rather, they frame the product in terms of how it could make your business more efficient:
The newsletter above illustrates how Monday.com’s new features can help agencies. It is targeted at a specific audience. This discussion on value brings us to our second point.
Emphasis on value vs. cost
Most B2C SaaS marketing campaigns focus on the cost of the product as the main selling point. They use potential customers’ impulses to buy a product they can afford. This approach is not very applicable to a B2B audience as a competitor will inevitably offer lower prices.
Because a B2B SaaS target audience consists of decision-makers, they often focus on what the product brings to the company. It could be the quick turnaround time for business processes, fewer manufacturing defects, or higher collaboration levels between colleagues. It could also be a unique value proposition that cannot be found anywhere else in the market.
Your B2B SaaS clients will also likely consider the long-term costs and benefits of operating your product. These factors include return on maintenance, scalability, and potential upgrades they might use in the future. In other words, they look for long-term return on investment (ROI). Thus, are more than willing to spend more for something that will add value to their business for a longer time.
Many B2B SaaS companies have trouble finding a competitive pricing strategy. This is most likely due to these companies pricing their products to attract individual users. One example is the tendency of many companies to offer freemium models. However, this approach is effective only for individual users to small businesses, but highly impractical for larger organizations.
We cannot talk about a B2B SaaS product’s ROI without discussing pricing. While B2B decision-makers emphasize value, the cost of the product over time could also influence purchasing decisions. They also don’t mind paying more for features they find useful.
B2B software customers are more comfortable with higher-tier pricing plans because they allow more people to use more features and access advanced customer support. This approach effectively spreads the cost across the organization.
Here is Adobe’s pricing model for individual Creative Cloud users:
You’ll notice that the pricing model above offers a substantial discount. However, there is a catch: To get the discount, you need to lock yourself into a yearly contract with Adobe. If you want to use Adobe Creative Cloud for just one month, you’ll pay a higher subscription fee.
Now, let’s look at the pricing model for teams:
While the monthly fees for individual and team licenses are almost equal and offer access to the same applications, the team license offers 1 TB of cloud storage (compared to 100 GB for the individual plan). Team subscriptions also offer features exclusive to business clients. These include 24/7 support, integration with Slack and Microsoft Teams, and access to Adobe’s talent portal.
These added features won’t make sense for individual customers, but for enterprise customers, they are worth the extra cost.
Length of campaigns
You can compare B2C and B2B campaigns to sprints and marathons, respectively. Many B2C customers make purchase decisions on the fly. It just takes a couple of social media or Google ads to convince them to click on “Subscribe Now”. Many B2C ads are designed to get the reader to send a message to the sales team right away. For example, Grammarly’s ads use CTAs heavily:
The ad above also illustrates another common B2C marketing tactic: the limited-time offer. This approach harnesses the user’s fear of missing out to convince them to make the purchase. However, this method rarely works in a B2B context. B2B organizations take their time evaluating each solution and have a specific line item for it in their yearly budget.
On the other hand, B2B SaaS marketing campaigns run for a longer period of time. B2B buyers will compare your SaaS products with the competition. This means that your sales team needs to keep reminding decision-makers that you offer the best value among all the competing providers.
The product event invitation email above shows how a B2B company nurtures its leads. OptiMonk knows that a B2B sales campaign requires more time on the part of the potential client for them to consider their options. As a result, their emails contain updates about the product, demonstrate the product’s capabilities, and gives them time to ask questions about the product.
When you’re running a B2B SaaS campaign, your marketing team will need to be more persistent with its approach throughout sales cycles. You don’t want the client to forget all about you after you’ve made your initial presentation.
Types of marketing content
While B2C and B2B marketers use similar channels to reach potential customers, they publish different kinds of marketing content. You can tell between the two types of SaaS companies just by looking at their content marketing methods.
B2C SaaS content tends to focus on creating engaging content and social media marketing, while B2B SaaS content consists mostly of webinars, white papers, and case studies.
For example, here is a Facebook ad for Duolingo:
The ad above uses gamification to encourage Duolingo users to learn the fictional language Valyrian from Game of Thrones. By engaging their users directly, Duolingo appeals to their sense of accomplishment. It also attracts people looking for their next great challenge – in this case, learning the language of the Targaryens.
On the other hand, B2B SaaS marketing strategies provide information, educate prospects, and convince them to try your product. At times, they might ask a question to get a response from readers, then add relevant content to keep the discussion going:
In this example, HubSpot’s social media marketing team asks: Where do you start if your company wants to double its revenue in just three years? In the comments, HubSpot posted a link to a case study about how one of its clients achieved that goal.
While one case study isn’t enough to convince a CTO to sign up for HubSpot, it’s enough to convince the CTO to look through the rest of the case studies, client testimonials, and blog content on the HubSpot site and mention the brand in conversations with his fellow decision-makers.
B2B SaaS marketing channels you should know
Now that we’ve discussed the differences between marketing models, we need to discuss the most common marketing channels B2B SaaS companies use. According to Mike Sonders, the marketing departments at the top 50 public B2B SaaS companies use the following channels most often, regardless of the funnel stage:
- Direct and organic search: Direct and organic search combined contribute up to 80% of traffic to the companies websites.
- Referrals: Affiliate and referral marketing yield 10.7% of total traffic.
- Email marketing: Email marketing, whether it’s cold emails, drip email campaigns, or triggered emails, makes up 4.8% of traffic.
- Social media: While some of the examples above come from social media ads, this channel only yields 2.2% of traffic.
The chart below shows you just how much Google and other search engines dominate the B2B SaaS marketing landscape:
Let’s look at the top three B2B SaaS marketing channels in more detail and see how you can use them to boost your revenue:
Search engine marketing
If you’re already familiar with search engine optimization and search engine marketing, you’ll be relieved to know that you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. Your B2B SaaS website needs to be authoritative, indexable, and open to Google’s crawlers. This will allow your potential clients can find data about your software easily.
However, there are a few things that you’ll have to do differently to make SEO and SEM a more effective B2B SaaS marketing channel.
First, your content marketers need to emphasize long-tail keywords in your content marketing strategies. This is especially true when you’re marketing your software in a very competitive space.
For instance, searching for the keyword “CRM” pulls up the following top result:
It’s not surprising that the leading CRM in the world in terms of market share is also the top result when you search for “CRM”. However, let’s suppose you are a small business owner who cannot afford a Salesforce plan. This is where the keyword “CRM for small business” comes in handy:
The first few results are dominated by blog posts comparing different CRM platforms. These results show that you can benefit from just getting mentioned on a high-authority website. However, this can also push your website down the search rankings. In this example, you won’t find the first CRM software website unless you scroll down a bit:
The top two company-specific search results for “CRM for small business” are optimized for the keyword, as you can see above. Zoho and Freshworks, in particular, have been widely praised as the best CRM software for small businesses. They’ve updated their sales page titles and descriptions to include that long-term keyword.
Second, your content marketers should constantly create evergreen blog content for link-building and thought leadership purposes. While trending content should always be part of your SaaS inbound marketing toolkit, the longer customer acquisition cycle for B2B SaaS software means that what’s trending at an earlier funnel stage won’t always be relevant later.
Creating thought pieces, case studies, and white papers will assure you of steady traffic over a longer period. Publishing authoritative content can also result in more backlinks and higher search rankings. For example, Unbounce is at the top of the search rankings for the keyword “landing page”:
The result above is not a sales page or product page but an explainer post that was published a few years ago. What’s even more interesting are the number of backlinks and the domain rating of the websites that link back to it. Here’s what the Ahrefs backlink checker discovered about the article above:
Sometimes, all you need is that one powerful post to get your website over the hump. Having someone like Neil Patel link back to your site will bump up your traffic and SEO performance. The article also gets backlinks from websites that teach you how to sell online courses or build mobile apps.
Referral and affiliate programs
According to the Harvard Business Review, B2B businesses rely heavily on word of mouth and client referrals to drive sales. Around 84% of B2B sales actually start with a referral, and over 90% of B2B buying decisions are the result of peer influence.
However, very few B2B SaaS companies have a formal referral program. In fact, one study claims that as much as 63% of B2B businesses don’t track referrals. This number implies that only 1/3 of B2B organizations are seriously attempting to maximize their referral income.
Starting a referral or affiliate program helps your business expand its reach, build its credibility, and reward loyal clients. However, this B2B SaaS marketing channel is a bit more complicated than offering discounts or promo codes to new referrals.
Because you are targeting organizations instead of people, you need to take an approach based on one of the most powerful marketing metrics.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) allows you to identify customers who will promote your product on your behalf. NPS asks the question: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague?”
If the answer is 9 or 10, the customer is happy with your brand and will gladly recommend your product to their network If the score is 7 or 8, they are merely satisfied with your product but might promote it if you offer the right incentive. Finally, clients with a score of 6 or lower probably won’t make the best promoters.
How do you get someone’s NPS? You may send them a marketing email with a survey at the end of a sales call. Performing a deep dive into other marketing metrics such as the click-through and conversion rates and demographic data such as the customer’s niche, company size, or use case will help you create even more precise referral marketing campaigns.
Your referral marketing program doesn’t have to lead directly to a sale. You may use it to gather positive feedback and use it as social proof. Here’s how the head of marketing at B2B email marketing software Alyce does it:
You need to ensure that your incentive is enticing enough to get decision-makers to spend time referring your product to others. In the example above, Nick Bennet doesn’t offer Amazon gift cards as everybody does. Instead, he takes a more personal approach to incentives.
Another approach you can take is to give qualified businesses a share of revenues from new subscribers that they referred to you. While many companies give a one-off incentive for each new subscriber, B2B digital accessibility tool UserWay chooses to pay their affiliate program members a share of the monthly subscription fee from referrals:
Whatever method you use, you need to do three things: sell a customer experience that your clients will gladly refer to their networks, build a referral program that’s easy to join and execute, and offer competitive referral incentives that paid out on time. Tick all three boxes, and you’ll find that a B2B referral program is one of the most powerful tools you’ll ever have at your disposal.
While most email marketing campaigns target end-users, B2B SaaS email campaigns target people at different stages of the marketing funnel. This means you’ll need to craft different types of email content for multiple recipients within the same potential client. It also means that one buyer persona isn’t enough when you design email marketing campaigns. Instead, you’ll also need to consider the following types of recipients at different points in the sales process:
You can set up your marketing automation tool to send the appropriate types of content to different people in your email list.
For example, if you’re trying to target a project manager who’s evaluating different solutions for a specific need, you can send a case study about a client in a similar industry. If you’re trying to reach somebody who works in the procurement or budgeting department of the same company, you can send cost analysis reports instead.
However, you’ll also need to identify when you will send these emails. The B2B SaaS marketing cycle consists of the following stages:
- Awareness: Your recipient has probably heard about your product, but does not know much about it. You can send an ebook about a common customer pain point and what they can do to solve it.
- Consideration: The lead is interested in your product but has not yet decided about subscribing to it at this point. They will want to know more about your product and what it can do for them, so sending case studies or product demo invitations is a good approach at this stage.
- Decision: The potential client likes your product and sees its value, but is considering their budget or the product’s possible ROI. At this stage, a free trial could help sway their decision. If they like what they see, you can offer a discount to encourage them to transition to a premium version of your product.
- Retention: Once you’ve converted the prospect into a customer, you need to help them get the most out of your product. You also need to encourage them to either renew their subscription or upgrade to a more advanced version. Product tutorials and exclusive content, such as newsletters, are quite useful for enhancing the customer experience.
- Advocacy: Your most loyal customers can also be your most active brand advocates. Remember the section on referral programs earlier in the article? Getting your current customers to promote your brand through referral and affiliate marketing can help expand your reach to new markets and industries.
Here is a good summary of the types of emails you can send at each part of the customer journey:
When you write B2B SaaS marketing emails, following these best practices will help you get results:
- Write clear, concise subject lines: You need to emphasize the value-add in the first few words of the subject line. This will attract views and click-throughs.
- Personalize the email content: This is largely related to the topic of email segmentation. If you’re targeting a prospective customer in one niche and send them an email containing a case study in another industry, they will leave it unread.
- Make your emails easy to read: If you’re crafting an email newsletter, start with a good visual followed by a short summary. You may include content previews instead of entire articles to encourage the reader to click through to your site. Finally, start and end with a CTA.
Here’s a good example of a marketing email from Monday.com in the retention stage of the sales funnel:
The marketing email contains one CTA button at the start and end of the email. It also has a short, inviting headline and a list of new features that will be discussed in the webinar.
A word of caution about email marketing: remember to clean your email list once in a while. If you send marketing emails to an inactive corporate email address, the chances of that domain marking your emails as “spam” will go up. By doing so, the domain reduces the probability of your emails getting read by your targets. Ensuring every email address in your list is correct will improve deliverability.
Even the most seasoned marketing professional will tell you that B2B SaaS marketing is different from B2C marketing. The differences in the target audience, emphasis, pricing models, campaign length, and marketing content types are so pronounced that success in one field won’t guarantee success in the other.
However, through this article, I hope that you are able to think of B2B marketing strategies for your SaaS product. By incorporating search engine marketing, referral and affiliate programs, and email marketing into your marketing plan, you can cover a large portion of your target audience and convey your message effectively.