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
- 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
- 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.