SaaS marketing professionals know that customer acquisition is the name of the game. What they generally don’t know is that sustainable SaaS growth requires accelerating customer acquisition. In the long run, acquiring more customers is not enough. Your SaaS marketing strategy must aim to acquire more customers, faster. Otherwise, churn wins and you stop growing.
This is the second post in a series that paves the path to sustainable SaaS growth. The first post in this series introduced the three fundamental levers of SaaS growth: customer acquisition, customer lifetime value and viral customer network effects. This installment explores the first lever and provides four proven SaaS marketing strategies to drive SaaS growth by accelerating customer acquisition.
The SaaS Marketing Mandate: Remove Buyer Roadblocks
While shopping can be fun, buying a SaaS product is hard work. As the buyer, you have to figure out your problem, research and evaluate solutions, negotiate a purchase, and learn how to use yet another piece of software. Unfortunately, most SaaS vendors make it even harder than it has to be. Without world-class SaaS marketing, the typical SaaS product is hard to find, hard to understand, hard to buy and hard to use. And, every ounce of work creates a roadblock for the would-be buyer.
The fundamental goal of SaaS marketing is to remove buyer roadblocks to accelerate customer acquisition. Specifically, your SaaS marketing programs should focus on the roadblocks that are creating bottlenecks: the steps in the buying process where would-be buyers are getting stuck right now, because you are making their lives difficult. Every buyer bottleneck removed accelerates customer acquisition. Here are four proven SaaS marketing strategies for removing the most common buyer roadblocks.
SaaS Marketing Strategy #1 | Increase Awareness
If your would-be buyer can’t find your solution or doesn’t know he has a problem, that’s a real bottleneck. Your prospects must get past the awareness roadblock before they can even run into the others. There are some truly innovative SaaS marketing tactics for creating awareness when your product is not completely hidden behind a login (that I will cover in a future post), but for most SaaS businesses, increasing awareness boils down to B2B marketing basics. However, your SaaS marketing tactic of choice will depend heavily on your specific market and SaaS sales model.
If you’re selling something completely new at a high price point, then good old cold calling is the way to go (that’s right, cold calling), because your prospects won’t come looking for you and you can afford to go looking for them. If your price point is low and your product is easy to understand, then blogging, SEO and other inbound marketing techniques are likely to fit the bill. If your business has a strong industry focus and you’ve managed to acquire a few happy initial customers, then good old public relations based on customer stories is your best bet.
SaaS Marketing Strategy #2 | Facilitate Evaluation
After awareness, easy product evaluation is by far the most common SaaS buyer roadblock. Many executives think product marketing is something you do after you build a product—not so in SaaS. The best SaaS marketing is built into the product itself. Online trial is easy to build into your SaaS product in the beginning, and very difficult to add later, because it requires the right architecture. Online trial may prove inadequate though if your SaaS product is fundamentally new and complex (as opposed to artificially complex, which is just bad product design).
Your SaaS marketing strategy should facilitate evaluation by helping your prospects do things their way, and different prospects may have different ways of doing things. Even simple SaaS products can be confusing at first glance to busy buyers with short attention spans. Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to back up your online trial with sales, support and educational content.
SaaS Marketing Strategy #3 | Streamline Purchase
It’s just embarrassing to make it difficult for a prospect to purchase your product after she has done you the enormous favor of deciding to buy it. After all her hard work she has money in hand, but she can’t give you her credit card, finds your contract unfriendly, and doesn’t even know your price. When it’s time to buy, your SaaS marketing strategy should aspire to the example of the best consumer ecommerce sites and streamline purchase down to a single click.
Streamlining purchase is particularly important for low price SaaS products where the buyer may very well be acting on impulse. Picking up the phone or figuring out your complex pricing scheme may be more effort than the immediately perceived benefit of your product. For high price SaaS products, streamlining purchase may be quite difficult and is unlikely to accelerate customer acquisition. However, a SaaS product with a midrange price point and a transactional sales model can benefit greatly from streamlined purchase in the form of increased sales productivity.
SaaS Marketing Strategy #4 | Simplify Onboarding
You haven’t truly acquired a customer in SaaS until she starts using your product. Poor onboarding is such a common problem in the software industry that we even invented a special word for it: shelfware. Allowing your product to become shelfware is a huge SaaS marketing mistake, because SaaS is sold under a recurring revenue subscription model. In licensed software, shelfware is the buyer’s problem. In SaaS, it’s the vendor’s problem. Poor onboarding leads directly to churn, the arch enemy of SaaS growth.
There are many ways to simplify on-boarding in SaaS, the best ones are built into the product itself and enable customer self-service. In fact, online trial is the number one way to simplify onboarding, because the prospect starts onboarding early during the product evaluation stage. Getting new users up and running, setting up business processes, and integrating other solutions can all present significant onboarding challenges. Many of these challenges lie well outside what one would think of as traditional marketing, but SaaS marketing is not traditional marketing. SaaS marketing follows the mandate of removing buyer roadblocks whatever they are and wherever they occur, because SaaS marketing accelerates customer acquisition, not purchase transactions.