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 plan you come up with 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, the 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 the 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 marketing campaigns.
One of the case studies section at the end will cover how Systeme runs marketing campaigns.
4. Your Target Audience
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.
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.|
|Have an MVP.||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 you’re going to do. 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 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. 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 name’s of competitors. People who are talking about your competitors on social media are the best kinds of leads. It’s easy to start a conversation with these people, which helps 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.
Finally, try and get your company listed on comparison blog posts. You know, things like the “10 Best YOUR SOLUTION”. We’ve done a lot of this kind of thing for companies like Writer, Beaconstac, and other companies.
2. 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 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.
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 SEO agency can help you climb Google’s rankings quickly.
3. 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 can experiment with providing a resource to prospects instead of hoping they’ll directly sign up for your service. You’ll generate more leads this way. You can convince potential customers your solution is the best through a follow-up campaign.
Explore paid social media ads as well.
One of the most effective SaaS channels for social media marketing at the moment is probably YouTube. You can use retargeting YouTube ads to raise brand awareness. It’s a relatively cheap channel because making great videos is a royal pain.
Video ads grab the attention of your audience. People have to press that skip button, which is more effort than strolling through a Facebook feed where every fourth post is an ad.
Monday is a great example of a SaaS company that’s doubled down on YouTube ads.
It’s one of the few paid marketing channels the company invests heavily in. The fact they’ve been spending millions of dollars a year on the platform indicates they’re getting a good Return On Investment from these ads.
4. Inbound Marketing Strategies & Conversion Rate Optimization
So, I’ve just made up a term.
I classify lead management as any activities you take to engage prospects and turn them into customers. That covers the content you create on your site, not necessarily SEO content, and things like email marketing and retargeting via social media posts.
For B2B SaaS marketing, a lot of these activities will be handled through a CRM.
Lead management 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 do that, you’ll be the first company a potential customer thinks about.
That’s how you blast the competition out of the water.
You’ll notice that I mentioned great content, but not necessarily SEO content earlier. The thing is, SEO content is generally pretty boring. Not because it’s BOORRRING. Rather, you’re targeting search terms.
People do a search to answer a question. SEO content is great for generating brand awareness.
You don’t use a search engine all the time.
You want people to come to your site because it’s a great resource that fills a need. Marketing Examples is a great example of what I mean. Each post is short, generally fewer than 300 words.
The content will never rank on Google, but if you’re into marketing you’ll find it interesting.
You’ll come back to the site for new content. At least I do.
You need to create the kind of content your audience will find engaging. As I mentioned, the content doesn’t need to align with keywords.
You’ll want to invest in SaaS email marketing and retargeting campaigns to maintain that engagement and drive people back to your site. If you can do this, you’ll end up with plenty of qualified leads.
Obviously, you want to convert as many of those leads as possible. That’s why conversion rate optimization is so important. By optimizing your sales and landing pages, you’ll get more customers.
5. 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 and can provide social proof.
That’s why I put inbound marketing strategies, where I’m including conversion rate optimization, first.
Create a list of potential affiliates once you have everything in place. 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.
You might also want to publish a Joint Venture (JV) page on your site. Your JV page is the place where you sell your product to affiliates. You might have a video where you explain the product offering, plus share conversion data.
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.
6. 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.
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 shit load 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.
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.