Having helped to build 2 SaaS platforms, ramping up your sales and marketing processes is a vital component to success when it comes to surviving and thriving with a SaaS (software as a service) product. Everyone in your organization needs to adopt a hustle mindset when your business begins, but as time goes on, your focus needs to be on software improvement and customer retention. Are you ready to get from those early stages to a smooth-running, well-marketed product?
Marketing your SaaS product is a journey, not unlike the continual development and deployment of your product and its improvements. Working closely with your software developers, networking with the right content partners in the industry, and constantly engaging your customer base well: these are the strategies that will help you succeed where other SaaS tech startups have failed.
What is SaaS?
SaaS is an acronym for “Software as a Service.” Many tech startups adapt to the SaaS model. Generally, SaaS products run online (or the user may download them), and the user pays a monthly, quarterly, or yearly fee to access the service continually.
Social media scheduling programs like Sprout Social, Falcon.io, and CoSchedule employ this method, as do keyword research tools like Moz, SpyFu, and SEMrush. Many of the most popular video games do this as well, such as World of Warcraft. Even Microsoft Office products are now subscription-based services.
SaaS works well for a few reasons:
- The customer doesn’t have to make a large up-front investment to use the software at first.
- There usually isn’t a product to ship. Customers can access web-based software or download it online.
- SaaS pricing helps tech startups develop and scale at a natural pace. People aren’t making one-time purchases; rather, they steadily spend on the product.
- The continual influx of funds theoretically provides a better framework for product support and development.
- It’s easy to scale in other ways: you can start with a base product filling an important need, then add additional features and payment plans. With market changes and rapid advancements in technology and business needs, the SaaS model allows you to stay ahead of the game, providing your customers with the features they need.
1. Understand the Relationship Between Development, Marketing, Customer Service, and Sales Departments
In any business, there’s always the potential for departments to work in silos and feel disconnected from one another. With SaaS, that method can lead to fatal mistakes. The lean SaaS startup needs to be interconnected. What does that look like? Sales and marketing need advanced notice of bug fixes, new features, and deployments. Customer service must relay crucial customer feedback to all departments, so they know what to fix, further develop, and market appropriately.
Interdepartmental department head meetings can address many of the challenges of siloed departments. As a marketer, understanding what’s coming next in terms of development and deployment is essential. For example, before SEMrush (a keyword research tool, primarily) developed its social media mentions tool, its marketing department engaged social media influencers and topics heavily online. This way, the audience existed and was ready to receive the message about the new product. They already perceived the brand as trustworthy and adding value to the digital marketing world.
2. Provide Free Trial Offers
One of the easiest ways to win a customer over involves providing free trial offers. Free SaaS trials typically last a month. There are two ways to do this:
- Make the trial completely risk-free. Do not require a credit card number, but do ask for some information so you can contact them.
- Require credit card information at trial sign-up. Let the prospect know that if they fail to cancel after a certain date, the company will charge them. (If they’d like to subscribe, however, they will not have to take any action.)
Either way, make sure you get the prospect’s email address, which enables you to contact them in the future regarding a subscription to your software.
A few days into the trial, contact the prospect, and ask them how you can help. They might be confused with the software setup, and spending some time with them to go over the features of the software one-on-one can encourage a successful trial and result in a sign-up.
3. Selling the Value of the Subscription
A savvy prospect realizes that paying a flat fee for a piece of software may have greater value (like in earlier days of technology, when programs came on disks and CDs). In this type of transaction, the customer pays a flat fee for the software and doesn’t have to pay for it again. While a $10/month fee might seem initially low to this customer, if they plan on using their software for more than six months, they’ll realize that it will soon cost more than buying a static piece of software.
To combat this thinking, especially with older purchasers, you must sell the value in the SaaS model. Microsoft Office, for example, offers continual upgrades. Users don’t get ‘versioned out;’ instead, they get continual upgrades as part of the SaaS agreement.
Unless your SaaS has a contract term, you can reassure the customer that they may cancel at any time. (Most SaaS goes month-to-month.)
4. Create a Compelling Call to Action
Regardless of where you’re posting or talking about your SaaS product, learning how to include an effective call to action (CTA) is imperative. Once you talk to your audience, what do you want them to do? Your call to action lets them know. Consider adding a CTA to:
- Social media messages: Announcing a new feature? Posting a new blog? Make sure you invite readers to click to learn more.
- Website copy: When you list multiple features on your page, link to appropriate pages on your site. Make sure you link to your contact us (or message us) link, so people know how to contact you with questions.
- Email marketing messages: As with social media messages, your email messages should contain strong CTAs. Depending on the content of your message, your emails should instruct readers to do something, such as take advantage of an offer, follow you on social media, etc.
- Podcast and guest blog appearances: It’s generally understood that you’re permitted to mention your product when you appear on other channels. This is a great opportunity to offer a discount code or mention your free trial to entice users further to sign up.
5. Practice Transparency in Development
Your community loves hearing about what’s going on behind the scenes at your company. As you develop and update your SaaS technology, determine exactly how much you are at liberty to reveal. Let your community know what problems you’re working on solving, and that you value their feedback.
If you’re able, hop on a weekly live stream and talk to your community about relevant issues in your niche community. Let them know, consistently, that you want to be positioned to solve these pain points, and you’re open to feedback on improving.
6. Embrace Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is a crucial piece of success for many SaaS marketers. Since your product presumably produces metrics to prove success and ROI, it’s also the ideal storytelling tool. Specifically, case studies are some of the most important inbound marketing tools you can produce. Case studies outline:
- A brand with a need: Tell the story of a brand that needed help and decided your tool was an ideal way to address their pain points.
- The implementation process, including timeline: Discuss how the brand implemented your SaaS solution. Was it a long and involved process? Did they receive support? Did they have to make some adjustments along the way? Make sure you accurately represent the timeline and disclose whether the timeline is typical.
- The results: Reveal the glorious data that proves your SaaS tool helped a brand succeed. You’ll probably pull your case study title from this section. Consider something with a statistic, such as “[Brand] Increased Revenue 36% Year Over Year With [Tool].”
- The maintenance: Success requires maintenance, and your ideal brand needs to stick with the tool. Talk about it as well as the future of the brand featured in the case study.
This is only one type of inbound marketing content available to you. Consider blogs, podcasts, and more. Always rely on a call to action and present an opportunity to engage your audience, especially if they have questions or concerns.
7. Publicize Bug Fixes and New SaaS Features
When it comes to software people use on an ongoing basis, bug fixes, and new features are especially important for your existing community and new users to learn about. One benefit of the SaaS subscription model, for the customer, is this continual development and work on the SaaS solution. When new features and bug fixes come out, make sure to let your existing customer base know about it via email and forum announcements.
Your new features might capture a different segment, so make sure to engage the relevant audience in advance of the feature’s release.
8. Engagement Through Webinars
For many SaaS companies, webinars have been a particularly effective method of capturing leads, answering questions, and generally engaging with the community. Live webinars can take multiple formats and can allow regular, direct engagement. Consider the following with your SaaS related webinars:
- Invite guests: Know a content partner with an adjacent audience? This is a great opportunity to have them on your webinar to present a topic or to interview them. Your audiences will likely benefit each other immensely.
- Host 101 sessions: Providing a live, basic walkthrough of your tool is a great way to engage prospects towards the top of the sales funnel. It’s no obligation and gives you a prime opportunity to capture their interest and answer questions.
- Provide Q&A sessions: Intermediate and advanced users also have questions about your tool, and they need support. Team up with your customer service department to host regular Q&A sessions via live webinar.
Remember to promote your webinars with social media and email marketing support. Provide any content partners with email and social media copy so they can do the same. Don’t forget to give out free trials to webinar attendees.
9. Marketing at Live Events
If you’ve got a SaaS tool making moves in the market, you’ll need to be at industry-specific live events, especially if you’re active in the marketing world itself. Consider participating in panels, hosting live demos of your tool, and handing out demo codes.
Live events are also peak opportunities for relationship marketing, not just with existing customers and prospects, but with other businesses ready to share content and cross-promote. Make sure you frame and meet goals about content partnership networking in addition to your leads. Always bring back those business cards and get them into your database to make the most out of live marketing events.
Note that live events don’t always have the highest ROI, but you are expected to be present and budget for them.
In addition to case studies, brief video, audio, or text-only testimonials are assets you should pursue. Got a super-user? Try to capture some feedback from them. Testimonials are excellent materials for websites, brochures, and more. They’re genuine and convincing, and in some cases, those providing you with testimonials are also enthusiastic about being references for your business.
11. Community Building
Spending time on your community, and even having someone devoted specifically to community management and growth, is a vital part of keeping your community engaged when you’re marketing a SaaS tool. Once you have a regular and engaged enough audience, you can begin an affiliate program, allowing your strongest and most visible supporters to provide an affiliate code to their audience to get them to sign up. They’ll get a financial kickback, and you’ll have the ability to reach a wider audience.
12. Customer Retention is Cheaper Than Customer Acquisition
For most SaaS companies, retaining existing customers is less expensive than getting new ones. By all means, you should do both—but don’t forget about your loyal subscribers. Reward them on their subscription anniversaries, regularly solicit their feedback, and continue to provide exemplary support. Keep them happy, and you’ll retain revenue and have fewer people out there with negative experiences.
In case it hasn’t been obvious, marketing SaaS successfully is all about continual improvement and audience engagement. As a marketer, you’re obliged to keep a pulse on how people see, use, and view your SaaS tool—and working with other departments, communicating effectively about your latest developments.