No blog post will cover everything you need to know about SaaS marketing.
Just not going to happen.
The best you can hope for is an article that gives you a top-level view of the best approach, marketing channels to use, and problems to avoid. You also want tips from people who’ve walked in your shoes—preferably great marketers with knowledge bombs to share.
Finally, you want links to great resources. Lots of links because the blog post is just the starting point of your journey. You need to educate yourself to avoid costly mistakes.
If that sounds like what you’re after then read on. This guide to SaaS marketing will leave you feeling more enlightened than a meeting with the Dalai Lama.
What Is SaaS Marketing
SaaS marketing is the plans you make and the actions you take to promote and acquire customers for a software business across the entire sales funnel. The goal is to generate awareness and get potential customers to whip out their credit cards and purchase your service. Common SaaS marketing channels include PPC, social media, content, video, and events.
Essentially, SaaS marketing has a lot of similarities with business marketing.
There are some differences with SaaS marketing.
For example, you’re asking potential customers to sign up for a service with a recurring payment. That lengthens the buying cycle because people and businesses don’t want to spend money every month on something.
As you’re offering a SaaS service, you need your customers to stick around. You will need to work on customer retention and customer success. Both will be critical elements of your overall marketing strategy.
4 Factors That Impact Your SaaS Marketing Strategy
Every business takes a slightly different marketing approach. The SaaS marketing strategy you develop will draw on your staff’s strengths and be based on your niche and your service. It will also draw on the strength of the agencies you work with.
Here are some important factors to consider.
1. The Competition
As a consumer, competition is great. You’ll find companies fighting to outdo each other by offering more features for less money. You’re also more likely to come across specialist solutions that cater to your specific needs.
For a business, competition sucks.
On the product side, you have to create a solution that’s at least as good as the competition. Customers are less forgiving because they have alternatives. Plus, the competition is constantly adding new features to its offering.
That makes catching up with the market leader, who has more cash than you, really tough.
If your product sucks, you’ll suffer customer churn. That can kill your business.
On the marketing side, customer acquisition in a saturated niche is hard.
The first obstacle you have to overcome is brand recognition.
Here’s the issue; most people know and trust the market leaders. People will consider the need – for example, a CRM – and then look at the market leaders when making a purchasing decision. If you’re not one of the top choices, you won’t even be in consideration.
Generating brand recognition in a crowded market is expensive. Companies like Monday have done it, but it costs a lot of money. Plus, there’s no guarantee of success.
There are three ways to get customers who are open to considering different companies. Firstly, you could target new entrants who have a need but haven’t picked a software solution. Secondly, you can try to find people looking to change platforms.
The final approach is category creation. You’ll remove your competition if you can change how people think about your business. Two great books on category creation are “Blue Ocean Strategy” and “Play Bigger: How Rebels and Innovators Create New Categories and Dominate Markets”. I’ll share some resources around this topic later in the guide.
2. Your Unique Selling Point
Most products and marketing campaigns are unremarkable. The products have similar features, the branding is safe, and the marketing campaigns are safe. It’s just a bit “vanilla”.
Check out these great logos to see what I mean.
In one word; unremarkable.
Don’t leave people that encounter your brand with that impression. You want to be remarkable.
The best way to do that is to figure out what makes you special. Then, highlight your Unique Selling Point through every marketing campaign you run.
If you can’t figure out what makes you special, you can always play around with the branding. For example, producing copy or using imagery that stands out from the run-of-the-mill corporate talk. Mailchimp, an email marketing firm, is a great example of a memorable brand.
The company uses bright colors and an offhand writing style for its digital marketing content. That makes them memorable. And you want to be memorable.
3. Cost of Your Service
Money. It’s a pretty important thing.
People love to make money, but most people don’t like spending money, especially on boring things like software. It’s just a lot less exciting than buying a car or spending cash on your next holiday.
You can take a couple of different approaches when pricing your product that will impact your marketing strategy. I’ve created a table below that covers the pros and cons of different pricing models.
|Low Cost Service||Medium Cost Service||Expensive Service|
|Customer acquisition is easier.||Meh.||Customer acquisition is harder.|
|Harder to provide great customer service.||Meh.||Can provide a better customer experience.|
|Less money to spend on product development.||Meh.||More money to spend on product development.|
|Less money to spend on customer acquisition.||Meh.||More money to spend on customer acquisition.|
I’ve oversimplified things.
Pricing your service at about the same rate is the easiest pricing strategy. You’re playing it safe, and there are fewer risks or rewards. Things get more interesting when you’re cheaper or more expensive than the competition.
Your pricing strategy plays a huge role in your marketing campaigns.
More affordable companies always highlight how they are cheaper than the competition. Often their SaaS sales process is easier. Your sales teams will appreciate that.
Being expensive has its advantages. You can spend more money on customer acquisition than your competitors. Obviously, your sales teams will need to work harder to convert a lead.
Expensive solutions generally focus on community and features.
Systeme.io, a Clickfunnels alternative, is a great example. They market themselves as cheaper and simpler to use than the market leader. It’s an effective message for SaaS marketing campaigns.
One of the case studies at the end will discuss Systeme.
4. Your Target Audience: B2C, B2B, or Enterprise
It sounds obvious, but…
You should focus your marketing efforts on people who are likely to use your service. Companies that do this have a lower customer acquisition cost than those that don’t.
So, spend time getting to know your current customers. If you don’t have any, determine your ideal customers instead. Figure out which are the most popular marketing channels for your ideal customers, research how they talk, and if you get the chance, interview people and discover their pain points.
One critical decision you need to make is which customer base you’re going to focus on. Most SaaS companies have three audiences. You have Business-to-Consumer (B2C), Business-To-Business (B2B), and enterprise.
These are very different customer demographics. They have different needs. You have to implement different marketing strategies to target these audiences. For example:
- Enterprise SaaS customers might have software requirements that the long-tail SME clients don’t.
- Channels like SEO are great for B2C and the SME audience. Meanwhile, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is more effective for closing those enterprise customers. You’ll also need enterprise SaaS SEO strategies like thought-leadership content marketing and building topical authority.
Check out this podcast with Sujan Patel. He co-founded Mailshake, a sales outreach tool.
Sujan is trying to move Mailshake upstream from SME to enterprise. They’ve had to change their development timeline and implement different marketing strategies to get traction with this audience.
You need to decide which demographic to target. Especially if you have a tight marketing budget.
You might want to create a customer persona that reflects your ideal customer.
The insights you gain from your audience research should form the foundation of your SaaS marketing strategy. It should inform the sales strategy too.
For example, the sales cycle for a business can be quite long. On the other hand, individuals spend less time going over the pros and cons of a purchase.
How to Create Your SaaS Marketing Strategy
I will try and make this part of the article top-level and practical. It will be a tick list of things you need to cover before launching your marketing strategy or sharing your approach with the board or your boss.
Check out the details in the table below.
|Task||What You’ll Need to Do|
|Set your goals.||You want a single target for the company. Break this overarching goal down into mini objectives.|
|Agree on your marketing budget.||Figure out how much you can and/ or are willing to spend on your customers.|
|Define your customer persona.||Figure out exactly who you are targeting, what channels they use, and what pain points prospective customers have.|
|Nail your product market fit.||Ensure the service you are offering is good enough to sell. The best way to judge success is by getting people to pay for your service.|
|Sort out your website.||You need a good website with nice landing pages. The site needs to offer a great user experience.|
|Decide on your approach.||Figure out what channels you’ll use. Spend time designing your marketing funnel and your content marketing strategy.|
|Create a plan with KPI.||Sort out a rough marketing strategy for the first two quarters. Figure out who will be responsible for the work.|
That is a very basic framework for SaaS marketing teams. Regardless of your niche, you’ll need to complete those tasks before running a campaign.
Proven SaaS Marketing Strategies to Follow
There’s no one way to grow a business. You’ve got a lot of choices. You need to sift through the different options and design a strategy that plays to your strengths. Then, you double down on whatever type of marketing generates results.
Freedom creates a whole set of problems.
You will waste money experimenting with different marketing channels. That’s inevitable.
You can reduce the risk of making mistakes by utilizing proven marketing channels. Below is a list of the best SaaS marketing channels.
1. Search Engine Optimization & Blogging
Securing search rankings needs to be part of your content strategy.
Start your SaaS SEO efforts by creating content for the keywords that will make you money. SEO-optimized sales pages are a logical starting point.
You’ll probably want to create bottom-of-the-funnel list posts and comparison posts. You might even decide to create some free tools.
From there, you’ll need to build out your content strategy to target the top and middle-of-the-funnel terms. Your goal is to create a content plan that generates leads and engages people across the sales funnel.
CoSchedule is a nice example of a company that took this approach. They identified an audience need – content creators wanted to create better headlines.
The company did the research and discovered around 10,000 people a month search the internet for a “headline analyzer.” So they made an awesome tool and released it online for free. Then they marketed it heavily.
That page gets an estimated 14,300 visitors a month.
The CEO of CoSchedule has repeatedly stated that this tool is one of their best customer acquisition channels. You can check out this podcast to get content insights from Garrett Moon, CEO of CoSchedule.
Writer, a company we support, also figured releasing free tools would be the fastest way to quickly grow an audience. They first identified a need; around 1.4 million people a month search for “grammar checker online.”
Then they developed and released a great tool.
We helped them rank for the target keyword through link building and on-site support.
Writer now gets 2.1 million visitors a month to its site.
That’s a lot of leads from a free tool.
Another effective strategy is turning your blog into a knowledge hub for potential customers. Atlassian has done a great job of this, for example, with their Github tutorials.
Over 696,000 visitors a month come to the site to read the Github tutorials. Those are great numbers. They’ve created a resource for people who are likely to use their paid project management tools.
We implemented a similar strategy with Right Inbox. It’s a tool for managing your Gmail inbox. They created a great content hub targeting Gmail-related search terms.
They are smashing it in the search rankings and getting lots of leads in the process. You want to create a great content hub for your business.
For example, our SaaS agency can help you climb Google’s rankings quickly.
2. Use Paid Advertising (Social & Search)
Paid is the next channel you should focus on. You can run paid ads on social media and search engines. Running paid search ads is a logical starting point. There are obvious buying keywords to target.
For example, you can run paid ads targeting your competitors. You can see a nice example of this in the screenshot below. Three companies are bidding on the brand name “process.st”.
Targeting branded keywords is a bit of an asshole thing to do. It does work, though.
The more successful you are, the higher the likelihood you’ll have to set aside part of your paid marketing budget to bid on your brand name. It’s one of those expenses you can’t avoid.
Another approach is to target relevant buying keywords.
Create custom landing pages for your paid advertising campaigns. It will boost your conversion rates and reduce your customer acquisition cost. Most software companies don’t bother doing this, but they should.
You’ll want to invest in search retargeting campaigns to maintain that engagement and drive people back to your site. You can use retargeting ads to get people on your email list. That way you can nurture them so they become qualified leads.
Explore paid social media ads as well.
One of the most effective SaaS channels for social media marketing at the moment is probably YouTube. It’s a great channel for generating brand awareness.
As you can see from this LinkedIn post, Scribe retargets people who visited the site’s blog on YouTube. They discovered self-reported attribution for YouTube spiked after running YouTube retargeting ads from blog post visitors.
That just means people forgot they visited the blog and remembered seeing the Youtube ad.
Scribe isn’t the only SaaS company to use the channel to raise brand awareness. Monday, for example, spends millions of dollars monthly on YouTube ads.
I see an ad from Monday after almost every other video about marketing. They also have a SaaS retargeting strategy for YouTube.
You can use retargeting YouTube ads to raise brand awareness. It’s one of the cheapest social channels because making great videos is a royal pain.
3. Invest in Account Based Marketing
Any SaaS company targeting enterprise customers needs to invest in ABM.
With ABM, you’re basically reaching out to the core decision-makers at a company and trying to develop a relationship with the company to generate a sale. The number of seats an enterprise customer can offer your business makes this approach worthwhile.
Effective SaaS ABM is underpinned by a strong sales team. You’ll need close coordination between your sales and marketing teams, though.
Here’s a quick overview of how to structure your sales team and where you’ll need input from marketing.
|Sales Support Function||Responsibilities of the Team|
|Sales Operations||The team optimizes your entire sales funnel for peak performance by fine-tuning your tech stack, including your CRM, and assisting with lead routing.|
|Sales Enablement||The team matches user content to prospective buyers. They create key sales assets like white papers and case studies and surfacing customer stories.|
|Customer Success||The team ensures that your customers stay successful and satisfied by providing customer support, fielding questions and feedback, and helping them get the most out of your product. The goal here is to reduce customer churn.|
You can see close coordination is needed between sales operations and sales enablement.
The marketing team will gain lots of insights by coordinating closely with the customer success team too. Your team should incorporate insights about customer pain points and successes into the marketing material they produce.
4. Nail Your Affiliate & Referral Marketing
Incentivizing people to promote your service is a great way to grow a business. Affiliates who make money will work hard promoting your services. And there are some amazing affiliates around with huge email lists that can generate consistent revenue for your business.
The “make money” bit is obviously important.
Successful affiliates will support a referral program that converts. You should only launch your program when you’ve nailed those conversion rates. Don’t launch a software referral marketing strategy before you do this.
You can launch your affiliate program easily by:
- Create a Joint Venture page. This is where you outline your affiliate program. You’ll get more affiliates by treating the Joint Venture page as a sales page (share conversion rates, ad social proof, etc.).
- Create a list of people you’d like to have as affiliates.
- Pitch them the offer, and provide them with all the marketing materials they might need to support you. That could mean creating email swipes affiliates can use, marketing graphics, and other resources.
Launching an affiliate program is straightforward. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.
You’ll need to put in a lot of work to make your affiliate program a success.
Longer-term, you’ll want to hire an affiliate manager to support your best affiliates. Your affiliate manager can come up with special deals for affiliates, campaign ideas, and more.
5. Try Video Marketing or Podcasting
Video marketing and podcasting, basically TV and radio, are great channels for connecting and growing an audience. You get to speak directly to people through these mediums, and they can see your face and hear your voice.
That allows you can to make a connection faster than almost any other marketing channel.
While setting up a YouTube channel and podcasting are good channels to explore, they do suck up a lot of time. You’ll spend ages preparing for each show, then there’s all the post-production work.
On the flip side, because they are such a big investment, competition is a little lower. That’s why a YouTube ad costs less than a Facebook ad to target the same audience.
There are plenty of examples of B2C and B2B SaaS companies that have made a success of podcasting or YouTubing. Ahrefs is a nice company to look at.
The Ahrefs YouTube channel has 326,000 subscribers.
The videos are mostly “how to” style guides. Most of the guides show you how to use Ahrefs to complete SEO tasks. Essentially, the content aligns with the interests of the buyer personas.
Figure out an interesting format if you’re going to invest in either podcasting or video marketing. You want to make relevant content that’s a little bit different from the competition.
6. Get Leads from Your Competitors
The simplest way to grow your software company is by targeting prospective customers. There are a few logical ways you can make your presence felt.
One thing you can do is focus your marketing efforts on software comparison sites. The two market leaders are G2 and Capterra. Get listed on these two sites, and incentivize your best customers to leave positive reviews.
The people using your platform daily are obvious candidates to reach out to. You’d almost certainly get good results by emailing these folk and offering a month of access for free in exchange for a review.
Get someone monitoring social media too.
Use alerts targeting your brand name and the names of competitors. People who are talking about your competitors on social media are the best kinds of leads. Engaging with these people can generate sales and help raise brand awareness with your target audience.
Logical channels to monitor include Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Slack. There are probably some other channels you can monitor. This is the most direct social media strategy.
7. Dominate Bottom of the Funnel SERPs
You need to create brand awareness during the consideration and transactional phases. One SaaS marketing strategy for achieving this is getting your company listed in roundup blog posts ranking on the first page of the search results.
You know, things like the “10 Best YOUR SOLUTION”. Or, “the”10 best alternatives to COMPETITOR” posts. We’ve done a lot of this kind of thing for companies like Writer, Beaconstac, and others.
Writer, for example, is listed in all the results for “Grammarly alternatives.”
The great thing about this approach is the results snowball over time.
People who want to rank on the first page of Google imitate what’s already ranking and try to improve on it. Essentially, they copy the existing articles and add a unique spin. That means you’re likely to get included in future posts.
8. Establish Topical Authority on Quora
Many marketers overlook Quora to focus on networking channels like LinkedIn. That’s fine, LinkedIn is a great sales and marketing channel. Especially for ABM.
Quora is a great source of leads too, though. You can use the platform to get content ranking on search engines and drive leads to your platform.
Here’s how to get exposure on Quora by following the golden rule of seven:
- First, make sure you bookmark all the topics that are relevant to your industry. This will help you stay on top of what’s happening in your space.
- Next, identify questions that have at least seven followers for every answer. These are the questions that are likely to get the most visibility and engagement.
- Finally, focus on improving the quality of your answers. The better your answers are, the more likely they are to get upvoted, shared, and seen by others.
You can start building your presence on Quora and leveraging the platform to grow your audience by following these steps. Results compound over time with Quora if you’re willing to put in the work.
9. Invest in Moonshot Projects & Reports
Set aside a portion for some wild and crazy moonshot projects. These are the kinds of campaigns that have the potential to pay off big time but could also result in zero gains.
An awesome example of a moonshot project that really paid off is the annual State of Remote Work Report by Buffer. This project probably started out as a total long-shot idea. However, that idea has paid dividends.
The first report was launched in 2018. Here’s a year-over-year overview of the results:
- 2018 Report: Links from 669 referring domains.
- 2019 Report: Links from 2,651 referring domains.
- 2020 Report: Links from 288 referring domains.
- 2021 Report: Links from 1,088 referring domains.
- 2022 Report: Links from 985 referring domains.
Hundreds of authority sites like the BBC, Atlassian, Fortune, and others have linked to these reports.
I gotta give props to the Buffer team for pulling off such an impressive feat. They took a chance doing something unique and ended up getting a ton of attention and a huge win.
10. Focus on Community Building
Community building is critical if you want to get more leads to fill up your marketing funnel and go along that customer journey. After all, most people aren’t ready to buy from you the moment they encounter your company. Rather, you need to build up that trust and show you have something awesome to offer.
If you can build that trust, you’ll be the first company a potential customer thinks about when they’re ready to make a purchase. Building a SaaS community also aids retention. It can help create that “us Vs. them” groupthink that binds people to your SaaS product offering.
Community building has been a key part of the marketing strategy for Notion. The Notion Subreddit has 268,000 members constantly posting things on the board.
You might notice that members are called “Notioners”.
Giving your audience a name linked to your company is something you’ll probably want to do.
You can create a focal point for your SaaS community on a social media or communication platform like Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Slack, or Discord. Creating the group is easy, but getting people active and involved takes time. You’ll want to hire a Community Manager to keep things on track if you’re serious about community building.
You can always take your online group offline. Hubspot, which runs INBOUND, one of the largest SaaS conferences, invests heavily in event marketing. It’s a great way to grow your community and raise brand awareness.
11. Give Your Audience Something Special
You want people to come to your site because it’s a great resource that fills a need. That means producing SaaS content your audience will find engaging.
The engaging content you create doesn’t need to align with keywords.
In fact, you don’t need to share this content on your blog. You might release this content exclusively to your email list. Let me give you an example of a site I think has done something special.
Marketing Examples is a site that publishes short-form content. Each post is short, generally fewer than 300 words. Once a fortnight, the site owner, sends a short email with three different marketing ideas.
The content will never rank on Google, but if you’re into marketing you’ll find the site interesting.
You’ll probably sign up for the email list to receive these emails (at least I did).
We’re investing in exactly this type of content at Crunch Marketing. We collect proven growth marketing strategies for SaaS owners that we share with our email list.
Awesome Case Studies
One of the best ways to get inspiration when creating a plan is by analyzing the marketing strategies used by successful companies. You won’t be able to copy the strategies outright. After all, the more people use the same strategy, the less effective it becomes.
You don’t need to steal the ideas of these companies, though.
Just imitate the approaches that make the most sense and tweak it to fit your business goals. Do this and you’ll probably scale faster and make fewer costly mistakes.
With that in mind, here are some cool case studies to review.
1. Writer: Freemium Tools
Providing stuff for free is a great way to generate exposure and a good reputation with your target audience. Take Writer, one of our clients, who we talked about earlier.
They started out by creating a free grammar and punctuation checker, which makes sense. More than 800,000 people search online for a grammar checker every month. More search for variations of that keyword.
That’s a shitload of potential leads.
We helped Writer get the free tool ranking on Google. According to Ahrefs, 1,563,161 visitors check out the Grammar Checker tool. It’s a key part of the sales funnel. The tool is the primary source of new leads.
That’s pretty awesome.
You should always double down on your great ideas.
Writer now has four free tools. A plagiarism checker, punctuation checker, plagiarism checker, and a grammar checker. Those tools attract close to 1,700,000 people to the site. These are ideal target customers with a need and a pain point Writer solves.
Writer is not the first company to take this approach. It won’t be the last, either.
Figure out if there are any relevant free tools you could release to get people to your SaaS site.
2. ClickFunnels: Create a Niche
ClickFunnels is a niche creator. They own the “sales funnel software” niche.
The sales funnel software niche is relatively new.
ClickFunnels has the following functionality; it’s a sales page builder with a simple email marketing solution bolted on it. Russel Brunson, the founder of ClickFunnels, his new platform “sales funnel software”.
After a lot of marketing, people started to talk about sales funnel software. And when they talked about sales funnel software, they think of ClickFunnels.
If you’ve spent time around the startup scene, especially in Silicon Valley, you’ll have heard people talk about category creation. The basic idea is you try to change the way people think about your service and make the competition irrelevant.
Let me give you an example:
- Uber – changed the way people booked taxis
- Airbnb – created a new holiday rental market
- Tesla – the electric car company
Each of these brands is instantly recognizable, which nicely leads me to the second benefit of this strategy; you become the market leader.
Being the market leader is awesome. You will get most of the customers without even trying because people associate you with your sector. If you’re interested in learning more about this idea, I suggest you read “Play Bigger: How Rebels and Innovators Create New Categories and Dominate Markets“.
3. Systeme.io: Fight the Market Leader
People are price sensitive. If you’re entering a crowded niche where the incumbent is expensive, a simple but effective strategy is providing a cheaper service.
That’s exactly what Systeme.io did when they entered the “sales funnel software” space. They positioned themselves as the ClickFunnels killer.
Having an enemy is great for marketing.
They charged $27 a month for a starter plan. ClickFunnels charges a minimum of $97 a month. That’s a big saving and a nice differentiator.
Systeme.io then launched a marketing campaign targeting ClickFunnel branded search terms. You can see 466 pages on the Systeme.io domain reference ClickFunnels.
They even reference ClickFunnels on the homepage.
The strategy of targeting the incumbent in a profitable niche has paid off. Systeme is growing fast.
SaaS Marketing FAQ
SaaS marketing is the plans you make and the actions you take to promote and acquire customers for a software business across the entire sales funnel. The goal is to generate awareness and get potential customers to whip out their credit cards and purchase your service.
Important SaaS marketing channels include SEO, PPC, social media, email, content, video, podcasts, and events. This guide provides strategies and tactics to help you optimize your marketing efforts.
This guide covered some of the fundamentals of SaaS marketing. Hopefully, it’s given you some ideas about how to develop a marketing strategy for your SaaS business. Remember, this post is just a starting point for your research.
Crunch Marketing can provide you with support in developing your SaaS marketing strategy. We’ve helped companies like Writer, Mailshake, Shift4Shop, and many others scale customer acquisition through search and content marketing. Click here to learn more.
Nico is the founder of Crunch Marketing, a SaaS marketing agency. He works with enterprise SaaS clients like Writer, Right Inbox, and Surfer SEO, helping them scale lead generation globally across EMEA, APAC, and other regions.