SaaS marketing strategy

It wasn’t too long ago that you didn’t really need a SaaS marketing strategy as long as you had a good enough product and put in some hustle. Nowadays however, SaaS is already a crowded space, and the competition is only getting more and more fierce. 

It’s not enough to do some keyword research, publish a couple hundred blog posts, and sprinkle in some link building outreach. Paid ads are getting prohibitively expensive if you’re not either venture-funded or have a genius-level performance marketer on your team. (And most likely, you won’t find that kind of person, because they’d be able to earn a very cushy 6-figure income working for someone else, or just do their own thing.)

So how do you go about creating your SaaS marketing strategy?

Start with your ideal customer

You need absolute clarity on who you’re marketing to, who you’re building your product for. This requires a lot of mental and emotional discipline, because as a member of an early-stage SaaS company, you probably are able to see so many different ways how your product could benefit all kinds of people. But you need what I call ruthless focus until you’ve reached product market fit.

Your sales and marketing efforts have to be focused on the customers who are most likely to buy from you. Your positioning needs to clearly identify who those folks are. And simply put, they are the customers who care the most about the value your product delivers. You need to identify what sets these folks apart. What is it about these customers that makes them love your product more than others? How can we identify them?

Your target market is the customers who buy quickly, rarely ask for discounts and tell their friends about your offerings.

April Dunford, Obviously Awesome

In her must-read book for any serious SaaS marketer Obviously Awesome, she also shares this great thought experiment:

Suppose your company was running out of cash and if the team didn’t close a certain amount of business by the end of the month, very bad things were going to happen. What types of customers would you focus on and why? What are the characteristics of those customers that make them more likely to buy?

Who specifically would you market and sell to if you had a very limited amount of time and resources to get revenue if the survival of your company depended on it?

That’s the level of focus you want to have in the early stages of your SaaS business.

Begin […] with the smallest viable market. What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?

Godin, Seth. This Is Marketing

A common trap is to try to appeal to too big of an audience in the early stages of your startup.

The challenge for most people who seek to make an impact isn’t winning over the mass market. It’s the micro market. They bend themselves into a pretzel trying to please the anonymous masses before they have fifty or one hundred people who would miss them if they were gone.

Seth Godin

Hyper-focus is the big, unfair advantage you have when you enter the market as a tiny startup with large established players. It’s what the sling was to David when he faced Goliath.

SaaS distribution channels

Once you know who your ideal customer is, you got to figure out how to reach them. How can you get your message in front of the person that’s most likely to give your product a shot, and then actually gain enough value out of it to become a paying customer?

There are many ways to do that:

  • content marketing
  • paid ads
  • social media marketing
  • community engagement
  • cold outreach referrals
  • podcast guest tour
  • podcast sponsorships
  • email sponsorships
  • partnership marketing
  • integration marketing
  • events
  • and many more

It also very much depends on how you turn website visitors into customers. Most likely, you’ll offer a free trial or have a freemium product. If you have freemium offer that’s actually generating value for prospective customers, it’s a lot easier to actually gain some traction in your space—but you need to make sure that your freemium product won’t be too much of a distraction at your early-stage SaaS company from the main product you’re actually building.

Whatever distribution channels you choose, again, be very clear who your audience is, how you’re gonna get their attention, and how you’re going to earn their interest and trust.

Goals and KPIs

It’s also important that you have clearly defined goals and KPIs when you’re developing your SaaS marketing strategy. 

Some common KPIs:

  • website visitors
  • time on page
  • social shares
  • email subscribers
  • leads trial signups
  • trial-to-paid conversion rate
  • paying customers
  • revenue generated
  • MRR
  • ARR
  • CLTV
  • CAC
  • churn
  • expansion revenue growth %

Some of these are much substantial and meaningful for a business than others. E.g. social shares, time on page, website visitors—these are mostly vanity metrics. In the early days, this might be all you can go with, but you want to evolve to keeping track of more meaningful metrics as soon as possible.

Email subscribers and trial signups for example are a much better indicator of how your marketing is performing.

And ultimately, the number of paying customers, the amount of revenue you generate, the average customer lifetime value, etc are much more crucial for your business.

Pick one main KPI!

You can easily end up with an overwhelming spreadsheet that keeps track of all kinds of metrics. And in general, the closer you monitor your metrics, the better. But it can also create a lot of confusion and lead your efforts in different directions.

So it’s best to focus on ONE METRIC THAT TRULY MATTERS, and make sure that everyone who works with you knows what that one metric is at all times. 

Your goals and KPIs can change.

They aren’t set in stone, and you should re-evaluate and question them on a quarterly basis. Are these still the right goals? Are we still tracking the right KPIs? Is this really the most meaningful think for us to be focused on as far as marketing is concerned?

In the very early stages focusing on paying customers might not be the best choice. Instead, you want to focus on generating learnings and insights.

Actually generating revenue can be a secondary goal, as long as you have enough runway to stay afloat.

But there’s a caveat here too: If you generate insights just based on people who aren’t willing to pay you money, you can go astray. Ultimately, the person you should care about more than anyone else is the type of user that would get so much value out of using your product that they’d be happy to pay you money.

WhatRuns – Technographic research tool to reveal the software stack of a company

Tools like BuiltWith, Whappalizer, and Datanyze have been around for a long time and are great for identifying technologies that companies are using.

Now, there’s also WhatRuns, a free browser extension (supporting Chrome and Firefox), that tells you at the click of a button which technologies a website is running:

  • What apps are they paying for?
  • What CDN are they hosted on?
  • What analytics tools are they using?
  • Which WordPress plugins?
  • Which ad networks run on the site?
  • Which developer tools are used?
  • Which fonts?
  • It also tracks much smaller tools which aren’t on the radar of BuiltWith, Whappalizer, etc. which can be beneficial if you’re a smaller startup.
  • And more!

What’s more, you can even subscribe to a website and then you’ll get notified when they adapt a new tool, or stop using a tool.

What’s more, you don’t even need to register to use it. The only downside is really that it’s yet another browser extension you install, and if you’re anything like me, you already are suffering from browser extension overload. But for this, it’s definitely worth it!

Content marketing costs: How much should a blog post cost?

When it comes to content marketing, there’s really this huge range of offerings that you’re dealing with. So let’s say you are an actual company and not just a solopreneur, you have paying customers or solid funding, and a working business model.

Then the cost of a great blog post should be in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. He explains why in the following video:


Email marketing swipefile: Marketing conference invite from Unbounce

marketing email for marketing conference from unbounce

What I do like is the single-track approach. They don’t put together an event where you have to pick and choose, but instead thoughtfully get the right speakers talk about the right things. It’s like the difference between going to a restaurant and having a huge menu to choose from, versus going to a restaurant with a set menu, where the chef can focus on creating ONE great experience. I’d rather go to a place where I trust the chef enough to put together a great meal than one who has a menu featuring Italian, French, Spanish, Indian, Thai and Japanese cuisine. Wouldn’t you?

Overall the email feels a bit cluttered at times, and I’m really not getting it visually. The big banner takes up a lot of attention-space, without really compelling me to learn more or take the next step, I’d either come up with something stronger here or just get rid of it.

The copy itself is also not my favorite: “Experience digital marketing in ways you never thought of”. Where’s the benefit in that for me? I’m not interested in “experiencing” digital marketing. What I am interested in is: will reading this email (instead of hitting the delete button), and eventually going to the conference help me become a better marketer, hit my numbers, achieve my desired outcome?

I do like however that they highlight the opportunity to network with 1500 marketers.

Why the Google Keyword Planner isn’t that useful for SEO research anymore

Google Keyword Planner used to be the go-to-tool for SEO 10 years ago. But they’ve been removing more and more data from the tool. It’s still a great tool, just not for SEO folks anymore. Now, it’s mostly of value to advertisers who want to run AdWords ads.

YouTube marketing case study: Full-time Mountain Biking YouTuber in 3 years

Noah Kagan just released a cool video of a guy who used to be a web developer, was bored with his job, started doing a YouTube channel on mountain biking… and is now making a (very solid) full-time income form it. Here’s it is:

Here’s the cheat-sheet:

  • initially these videos were just a fun hobby, and he thought he might make a few extra bucks from it
  • but soon (about 10-15 videos in) he realized this could be much more
  • timeline:
    • 4 months: 100 subscribers
    • 6 months: 500 subscribers
    • first year: not making any money from the channel, while still publishing 2 videos per week (this was still a side-hustle; he was running his web dev biz)
    • couple months later: 10,000 subscribers! big spike
  • videos were always concise. “every second of video is a chance to lose the viewer”
  • making videos is a ton of work:
  • sometimes takes a whole day just to write a script
  • “these thoughts don’t come out completely organized. they don’t. i have to write it out and read it over a bunch of times to get it right.”
  • “after i’m done with the voiceover, i edit all the clips to the voiceover”
  • “when i go out and ride and I create 8 minutes of riding footage, that’s a couple of days of riding, and i have to go through all that and pick out the parts that are relevant”
  • story telling formula:
  • 1: always start with a premise (establish a scene; explain what the rest of the video is going to be about)
  • 2: main details of the story
  • 3: conclusion
  • 4: include all details everyone needs to know for the story to make sense
  • 5: remove everything that’s non-essential
  • how long it takes to do 1 video:
  • a 10-minutes mountain biking gear hacks video takes about 1 day to 1,5 days of filming + 1,5 days of editing. BUT the long part is coming up with the hacks—that takes months.
  • a 10-minute video with riding footage: go out in the woods, spend a couple of days on the bike, and hope a story develops. takes about 1 work-week to do 1 video
  • thing that worked surprisingly well:
  • 10 mountain bike hacks. “I was almost embarrassed to post it, but I couldn’t produce the type of video I normally produced.” […] “was instantly most popular video”
  • how you monetize:
  • YouTube ads (Google Adsense)
  • affiliate marketing
  • Patreon (exclusive content for monthly fee, currently $2)
  • merchandise sales
  • 1-time sponsorship (Squarespice, Dollarshave, Skillshare, etc)
  • channel sponsors
  • tourism (getting invited to events and getting paid for it, e.g. by state tourism agencies)

Freemium to paid discount offer email from Evernote

Here’s an email Evernote sent out to users of their free app to get them to upgrade to their premium app. Leading with a 40% discount offer, and the ability to “take evernote anywhere”, which is compelling because you can use the app on unlimited devices as a paying user.

The button copy is also straightforward and compelling. Instead of “SIGN UP FOR PREMIUM” they again focused on “SAVE 40% ON PREMIUM”.

The graphic and overall feel is very on-brand, and they still add value to this email by linking to advice on how to stay productive and how to use their product when traveling.

Facebook advert optimization option: Optimise for link clicks until there is enough data to optimise for conversions.

Among the (relatively) new options to optimise the delivery of your ads, there’s this: Optimise for link clicks until there is enough data to optimise for conversions.

In a recent episode of the Perpetual Traffic podcast, Molly Pitman shared the results of testing this option enabled vs disabled.

The results?

When targeting cold traffic, when this option was

  • disabled, the cost per lead was $7.91
  • enabled, the cost per lead was $10.30

This test has only been running one week, so it’s possible that once this campaign runs longer, this could change. But that’s almost a three dollar difference right out of the gate.

When they ran the same test with warm traffic, the pattern held up though:

  • disabled, cost per lead was $7.21 per registration
  • enabled, cost per lead was $12.22 per registration

This was for webinar registration.

So the takeaway here is to NOT enable Optimise for link clicks until there is enough data to optimise for conversions by default, and if you do, to test it.

50 examples of real B2B cold emails

B2B companies are making heavy use of cold emails nowadays, and there are plenty of sites that offer cold email templates which are ready to use.

The people from Polymail have collected all the cold emails and follow-up emails they’ve received, anonymized them and made them public in this blog post:

50+ Cold Email Templates & Follow Up Cadence Examples

A great resource to look at if you want to see what B2B companies are actually doing to drum up new business via cold emails.

They’ve broken these email templates down by categories:

So if you’re in any of these industries, it’s particularly useful to check out what some of your competitors are doing.

To be honest—many of these emails aren’t particularly creative, but there’s still value in going through them to get a feel for what’s common practices, what you DON’T want to do, and in some cases you’ll discover a great idea you just want to use for your own cold email campaigns.

More cold email examples

Another great post that has a collection of actual cold emails is this post:

26 Cold Email Examples Broken Down To Help You Write Your Own

The author of the post has gone through the trouble of giving you a breakdown of what makes these emails work, what’s good about them and what not, and he’s got a good way of thinking about these things. So there are some really valuable lessons in there, plus it’s just recently been updated (September 2017).

A cold email example from Aaron Ross

Aaron Ross, Jason Lemkin, and Heather Morgan have written this blog post about one specific cold email example that has generated 16 new B2B deals:

The Sales Email Template That Won 16 New B2B Customers

Worth reading this as well—all three of these people are killers when it comes to B2B sales.

It’s a very, very short and succinct email that’s just super-well crafted.

The results of the email?

  • 57% open rate
  • 21% response rate
  • Outcome: 16 new customers

That’s really impressive. Now whenever you read about open and response rates, you need to keep one thing in mind: in and of itself, that tells you very little about how good the email actually was.

A lot of these factors depend on the quality of the leads the emails have been sent to, and the sample size.

For example, someone might claim “this email got a 73% open rate and a 19% open rate”, and that’s great. But how many prospects did they send this email to? If it’s been 100 prospects, will these numbers still hold up when they use the same email on 10,000 prospects? And how did they source them? Can they scale that approach, and keep the quality of the leads consistent? In many cases you’l find that it’s not just the cold email that determines the open and response rates, but the selection of leads you’re reaching out to.