SaaS Marketing isn’t all about talking; It’s more about listening

If you’ve ever sat through a marketing agency’s pitch or seen an episode of Mad Men, you’d think that marketing is all about talking – pushing out clever messages so that people will buy whatever it is that you’re selling.

Not exactly.

You’re right that there’s plenty of delivering messages through email, blog posts, paid adwords, Twitter, TV, radio, or print ads or whatever media reaches the buyer.

But there’s more to it than catchy taglines, ads, or social media campaigns.

For any of that talking to work, there needs to a lot of listening, too.

What should you be listening for?

When you’re marketing and selling, you’re obviously keenly alert to a few magic phrases, along the lines of “Yes, I’ll buy it!”

But there are a few other things to listen for as well:

  • Who’s making the buying decision?
  • What problem are they trying to solve?
  • How painful is that problem?
  • Why is their existing solution failing?

Asking these questions, you’ll hear a lot about who’s buying and why.

But you can also listen for how they’re buying:

  • Where are they looking for solutions?
  • What are the selection criteria?
  • What other solutions are they considering?

How should you be listening?

There are plenty of ways to listen to prospects and customers, from broad-based surveys to small, focus groups.  Vendors selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution have the particular advantage of gathering input from customers directly within the product.

I’ve found that monthly, one-on-one interviews with several new customers are one particularly effective way of listening.  The evaluation process is still fresh in their minds, and an open-ended conversation can reveal useful insights that might not surface in a survey. 

Companies can conduct these interviews themselves, though there are certain advantages of having an outside party handle them.  Customers don’t think you’re trying to sell them anything, and they might be more candid about what they liked or didn’t like when evaluating your solution.  (I’d be happy to talk with you more about my experience with these one-on-one interviews.)

Listening isn’t a one-and-done process

Don’t confine your listening to an annual event.  Relying on a periodic snapshot or using a single mechanism to learn what’s on the minds of prospects and customers means you’ll probably miss a lot.  Markets change: different buyers emerge, new competitors come to market, evaluation criteria change, and new channels to reach buyers become important. 

Whatever techniques you use, you should always be listening. 

What do you do with all this listening?

The insights you glean from this listening should factor into what you say and where you say it.  It should guide your messages and how you explain your value, and it should inform what channels and media you use to get in front of buyers.

In fact, a marketing plan that isn’t built on this kind of solid foundation – without a firm grasp on who’s buying, why, and how – is likely to fail.  Marketing without listening is a big mistake.   

 

 

 

Bad customers can kill your SaaS business

Everybody’s got a story about bad customers.  In case you can’t get your fill, a Google search on “customers from hell” fetched 33,100,000 results.

These customers can be infuriating, frustrating, and just plain rude.

But if you’re a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, bad customers can be much worse than that.  They can be downright dangerous.

No way to recover your costs

For one thing, these bad customers are likely to cost you money, not make you money. 

They may be more difficult right from the start, so they’ll cost you a lot of extra sales time and resources to close them.  They’ll ask for yet another demo, another extension on the free trial, another presentation, another reference, another something or other that will tie up your team.

But soon after the extra effort to finally close the deal, many of these difficult customers will find they’re really not satisfied with the solution.  For whatever reason – functionality, support, price, etc. – they’ll drop their subscription.

And they’ll drop it way too soon for you to recover your higher acquisition costs.  If you paid $1000 to win them, and they only stuck around to pay $100 in subscription fees… well, that’s not a formula for SaaS success. 

Drag you away from a standard product

The other dangerous thing bad customers will do is to drag you away from a single, standard SaaS solution.

  • They’ll ask for additional features that may not be on your product development roadmap.
  • They’ll ask for special support terms.
  • They’ll ask for non-standard deployment efforts.

That’s not how SaaS works… or at least not how it works successfully.  You need to develop, market, sell, and support a relatively standard solution.

There’s no problem configuring the solution to fit a particular customer.  But “customization,” altering the core product and practices, is a bad word in the SaaS world.

Deviating from the standard means problems and extra costs for development, marketing, sales, deployment, training, and support.

Avoiding bad customers

 I wish could provide a surefire way to avoid bad customers entirely.  Sorry, no can do.

But I will offer a couple recommendations that should help.

Be clear in your message.  You should make it as plain as possible who your solution is for and what problem it solves.  Prospects should have a crystal-clear understanding of how you can help… or not. 

And the more consistently and plainly you can convey this, the less likely the “wrong” prospect will want to engage with you.      

Identify the outliers early on.  The earlier in the sales process you’re able to identify people that won’t be a good fit for your solution, the better.  However it is that you assess prospects – web forms, phone calls, in-person meetings, etc. – have your radar tuned to those that fall outside your target market. 

Of course, you’re most eager to find areas where you can help the prospect and eventually sell them something.  But it’s just as important to quickly recognize those you can’t help. 

Those that aren’t a good fit just aren’t worth pursuing.

3 ways to fail at lead generation

When the lead gen effort is failing and we’re trying to fix it, we marketing pros usually head right into the weeds.

  • Are there too many characters in the subject lines?
  • Should we add more long-tail keywords?
  • Is the call-to-action button the wrong shade of green?

It’s not that those details don’t matter at all.  At high volumes, they could matter a lot.

But for many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, focusing on those details is a distraction.  When lead generation is failing, it’s usually other reasons that are to blame.

It’s unclear who should buy the solution

Too often, it’s not at all clear who should be buying the solution.  The people who visit the website, receive an email, or find their way to our blog are left wondering, “Is this solution meant for me?” 

It should be crystal clear in all communications WHO should be using the product.  Don’t expect the reader to work hard to figure that out on their own. 

And the more specific the better.  Identifying the target user as “B2B companies” or “financial services firms” includes a broad audience. 

But if we narrow the description to something more specific – e.g. “life insurance carriers,” or “independent financial planning professionals with more than 100 clients” – prospective customers are much more likely to respond.  It's easy for them to see that the solution is designed just for them. (See "Let Your Prospective Customers Know 'This Solution is for You.'")

It’s unclear what problem we solve

Sometimes the audience has no idea what problem we solve for them.  We’re over-eager to talk about features, features, and more features, but it’s not at all clear why any of them matter to the prospective customer. 

In most organizations, the people evaluating the SaaS solution care about growing revenues, cutting costs, increasing productivity, reducing risk, or some other essential business goal.  We need to make a case that that is precisely what the solution can do for them.  Our marketing messages should clearly identify the problem and explain how our solution eliminates it.

Even better if we make the case that the solution solves an urgent problem, one that cannot be ignored or put off while they deal with more important priorities.  The audience we’re trying to reach are busy people; they only have time to focus on urgent problems.    

We’re not where the prospects are looking

While we may be fixated on optimizing our Facebook ads or tweaking our Twitter promotions, that may not matter at all to our target audience.  It just may be that they’re not looking for solutions on Facebook or Twitter. 

We can make the same mistake with events, mailing lists, or publications that don’t get us in front of real prospects.  The problem isn’t with the message, the copy, or the call-to-action.  The problem is that those channels aren’t where our prospects are looking. 

One way to know where prospects are looking for solutions like yours:  ask them.  New customers will usually tell you where they went looking and how they found you.  (See "Listen to your customers.")

It’s certainly appropriate to sweat the details of SEO, pay-per-click, PR, social media campaigns, or any other technique to build visibility and generate leads.  But before you get too deep into the weeds, don’t miss the big issues.

Have your prospects gone missing, or just hibernating?

Here’s a sorry fact:  most of your prospective customers won’t end up buying your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. 

Lots of folks who should buy it, won’t buy it.  They have problem you can solve.  But instead of fixing it, they’ll stick with the poor system they already have.

Others won’t buy your solution because they’ve never heard of you.  Or they’ve found another option that fits their needs, and they feel there’s no need to look any further.

There are even some prospects that do know you and they do see that your solution would help them… but they just won’t get around to buying. 

These people have visited your website, opened your emails, read your white papers, sat through a demo, even talked with your sales people about pricing.  They’ve been in your pipeline for 90 days, 180 days, maybe a full year, but they’ve still not converted into paying customers.

You might figure that these prospects have gone missing.  Despite all you’ve been through with them, no way, no how will they ever buy.

But you may be wrong about that.  Perhaps they’re not truly gone; they’re just hibernating.

Reviving the hibernating prospects

Which is to say that with a bit of effort, some of them can be revived. 

For some of these hibernating prospects, other priorities interrupted them.  While they may have been eagerly evaluating your solution six months ago, more important issues got in the way.  (See “Your prospect has a day job.”)

At some point, whatever it is that prompted them to look at your solution in the first place may make its way to the top of their to-do list once again.

Your job as marketers is to be sure that you and your solution are still in front of that prospect when that time comes.  When they get around to focusing again on the problem, and they start to think about a solution, you want to be top-of-mind. 

Even better, you can do your part to push your solution higher up on the priorities list.  Make it clear to the prospect that the problem they’re living with deserves urgent attention and there’s a cost to ignoring it or pushing it to the back-burner.

Every day they put off solving it is costly to their organization: wasted money, lost time, added risk, lost opportunities, and other bad outcomes.  (See “Your toughest competitor…inertia.”)

Be smart about the cost

Of course, you want to be careful about the costs of these efforts to revive hibernating prospects.  Using sales professionals to stay in touch can be expensive.

But offering them educational papers, inviting them to webinars, or showing them customer success stories can keep you on the prospect’s radar screen.  And the cost of keeping them on an email list is very low.

These communications should provide an easy way for the prospects to tell you they’re ready to re-engage.  And of course, you should also offer them an easy way to unsubscribe if they’re truly done with you.

Bottom line:  Don’t assume that prospects that you’ve not heard from in weeks, even months have gone completely cold.  They may just need a bit of attention and some heat to warm them up.

Before you talk about the solution, point out the problem

Lots of people who you think should be interested in your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, couldn’t care less.

It doesn’t matter that they perfectly fit your “ideal customer” persona.

It doesn’t matter that your solution is full of features built especially for them.

It doesn’t even matter that you’re sure it’ll be a huge help to their business.

Despite all that, they’ll still ignore you.

They don’t care about your features, your user interface, your expert training and support, your attractive price, or anything else you’re just dying to show them.

At least they’re not interested yet.  

Identify the pain

Before prospective customers will pay any attention at all to your solution, they first need to recognize that they have a problem.  So first it’s your job to show them that problem. 

You need to make them see that the way they’re doing something right now is the wrong way.  The tool or process they’re using is hurting their organization. 

  • It’s costing money.
  • It’s losing customers.
  • It’s wasting time.
  • It’s risking penalties.
  • It’s losing them good candidates.
  • It’s costing market share.
  • It’s keeping them from control.
  • It’s blinding them to opportunities.

Show it's an urgent problem

In fact, you not only need to show them that there’s a problem.  You need to point out that it’s an urgent problem and it needs immediate attention. 

A reminder: most prospects for SaaS solutions have a lot of other things on their plates.  They are not assigned the full-time job of evaluating technology. They spend most of their time managing HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, or whatever function they’re responsible for. (See “Your prospect has a day job.”) 

In other words, they’re always looking at a long list of problems to be dealt with.  And only the two or three at the top of the list get any attention.  If the problem you solve is way down on that list, the prospect just doesn’t have the time.

When do we get to talk about our product?

I can hear you whining right now (I worked in tech marketing for a long time before I started this blog.): 

If I need to spend so much time talking about the prospects’ urgent problems, when do I get to talk about my wonderful product?!

After all, when a prospective customer visits your website, watches your video, looks at your email, stops in your trade show booth, or picks up your phone call, all you’ve got is maybe a minute or two of their time.  How much of that can you give to hearing about the prospect’s problems?

My advice:  give most of that time to talking about problems– maybe all of it.  

Because until the prospect recognizes that they have an urgent problem – until they’re nodding their head thinking “this is something I need to fix ASAP” – they won’t be paying attention to anything you’re saying about your solution.

 

 

 

 

Demo? Not so fast.

For lots of us software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketers, the first thing we want to do with a new prospect is show them a demo.

They visit our website: invite them to a demo

They walk into our tradeshow booth:  show them a demo

They download a white paper, open an email, attend a webinar, whatever: schedule a demo.

My advice:  Stop doing that.

If we rush into a demo before the prospective customer is ready for one, a few bad things may happen:

  • We miss an opportunity to learn more about the prospect
  • We spend time preparing and delivering a demo that doesn’t fit what the prospect is looking for
  • We don’t move the prospect any closer to a purchase.

First listen

If the very first time we have to talk with a prospective customer we push them to sit through a demo, we often don’t give them a chance to talk.  It’s too much “show & tell” and not enough “ask & listen.”

We don’t have a chance to find out who they are, what problem they’re looking to fix, and why they got in touch with us.   

 In fact, we sometimes skip right over the “Sales 101” questions and don’t find out about their budget, time-frame, and the people making the decision.  We may not know if this prospect is even worth spending time with.

Stop spraying & praying

Without knowing much about the prospect and the problem they’re trying to solve, it’s tough to do an effective demo.  (See "Most demos are useless.")

Instead of focusing on how our solution addresses the particular challenge they’re struggling with, we’re just marching them features, features, and more features. 

Eventually we might hit on the issue that they really care about, but maybe not.  And the prospect might be so “demo-dizzy” by the time we get there, they miss it.

(See "Most demos are useless.")

 Launching right into a demo often short-circuits any chance to build credibility and trust.  The meeting is all about the product… not about our company, our expertise, or our understanding of the prospect’s industry and their challenges. 

We’re asking the prospect (and maybe a few of their colleagues) to give up a chunk of their time, and they hardly know us.

There’s not much opportunity to establish a relationship, something that’s essential to selling SaaS solutions.  The customer isn’t buying a box of software; they’re buying into a long-term relationship.  (See "SaaS Marketing is about Promises, Not Products.")

Don’t get me wrong: demos are usually an important part of marketing and selling the solution.  At some point, the prospective customer wants to see it in action. 

But don’t rush into the demo until both you and the customer are ready. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

​​​​​​​Beware:  Too many leads!

I know this may be heresy to almost every marketer and sales person on the planet, but I’ll just say it:  it’s possible to have too many leads.

Lots of the effort to generate new leads – those programs, events, campaigns and incentives we’ve got in place to build more visibility, drive more traffic, and gather more names - might just be a waste of time and money.

How can that be? 

Suspects, not prospects

One explanation: some of our lead generation efforts are attracting suspects, not prospects.  The people who find their way to our website, visit our booth, or open our emails aren’t the people our solution is built for.  They mistakenly think we can help them… but we can’t.

So, we spend more time and money following up with these folks – even having a sales rep call them - only to find out they’re a bad fit.  Chasing these bad leads doesn’t make us money; it costs us money. (See “Bad leads cost you money”)

The wrong kind of follow up

Another source of waste:  the leads get squandered.

A prospective customer finds out about our solution, and they raise their hand to indicate they’re interested.  But we respond in all the wrong ways.

Sometimes, the prospect never hears from us.  We’re so swamped with inbound inquiries, we can’t get back to them. 

Or we get back to them six weeks later, by which time they’ve forgotten why they ever contacted us.

Almost as bad, the prospect hears back from us, but we say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Often, they’re just beginning their evaluation, gathering basic information, and looking to educate themselves, but we’re chasing them to do a demo and close a deal. 

In either case – whether we ignore them or say the wrong thing - the prospect goes away.

Clarify the messages

When the wrong people find us - leads that will never turn into customers - often it’s because the prospect doesn’t understand our solution.  They can’t decipher our basic value proposition, and they’re confused about what we sell, who should buy it, and what problems we solve.  (See “Do your customers know what you sell?”)

If we describe our solution in techno-speak and blather on about “our unique, robust, industry-leading, real-time, AI-enabled, something, something platform,” it’s no wonder that the wrong people find us. 

Even worse, if our message is unclear, not only do the wrong people find us, but the right people don’t. Those who really could use our solution won’t figure that out.

It’s a double whammy:  Bad leads find us, and good leads don’t.

Look at the entire journey

By fixating on collecting leads, leads, and more leads, we might overlook what happens next in the process.  Once we’ve captured a lead, then what? 

When prospects evaluate most enterprise solutions, they move through several steps from lead to qualified prospect to paying customer.  And for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, there are renewal and retention steps too.

Our customer acquisition process needs to follow along with each step.  If not, leads get stuck: 

  • We drive traffic to the website with SEO and PPC campaigns, but we don’t collect contact information, or,
  • We collect contact information, but have no mechanism to follow up, or,
  • We do follow up, but not with the kind of material the person is looking for, or,
  • We sign up a customer, but we don’t market to them to ensure they renew or buy more.

We need to build a customer acquisition process that spans the entire journey.  Generating leads is only the first step. 

Don't undersell your SaaS solution

No matter how long the list of amazing features you offer, if you’re marketing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, that’s not all you’ve got to sell.  You should be talking about the “non-feature” pieces as well.  If not, you’re underselling your solution.

That’s because prospects are usually thinking about more than just features when they’re evaluating a solution.  They’ve got other questions that you need to address: 

  • Can the solution be implemented successfully?
  • Will the implementation disrupt our business?
  • Will employees use it?
  • Will sensitive data be protected?
  • Will competent support be available to help us out when we get stuck? 

Of course, prospects need to see a certain level of functionality.  You need to show that your solution has the features they need to handle the problem they’re trying to solve.  But once you’ve cleared that bar, prospects tend to focus on other issues. 

Fear of implementation failure

Why do those other issues matter?  Because prospects know there’s a difference between the demo and real life.

In the demo, prospects will usually recognize that your solution is far better than the one they’re living with now.  Once deployed, their lives will be easier. 

But they also know that getting from where they are now to what you’ve shown in the demo isn’t easy.  Navigating that transition can be risky.    

The last thing the prospect – perhaps an HR manager, sales executive, or finance person - wants is to gobble up lots of hours importing data, training users, setting up a new system, and disrupting the normal course of business… especially if it really isn’t worth the hassle.  That’s not a risk they’re willing to take.

It’s not all about the features

If your marketing efforts are only about touting features, features, and more features, you’re not addressing these other critical concerns.

Talking incessantly about “our solution does this, and our solution does that” or begging a prospect to sit through yet another demo probably won’t help push them toward a purchase.

Before they buy, prospects need to be satisfied that you can manage the “non-feature” issues.  That means you need to discuss implementation, training, and support in your marketing material.  You need to address their concerns about security, performance, and reliability.  And you need to give prospects lots of opportunity to see that the solution is easy to use. 

You can show prospects the proven, well-structured process you follow in importing existing data.  You can introduce them to the experts responsible for training and support.  You can present them with the security protocols you follow.  You can let them see proof of success through customer testimonials. 

All of this is required to address their “non-feature” concerns and reduce their risk of failure.  The lower the risk, the more likely they are to buy.

Earning customer trust

If you think your customers subscribe to your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution only because they love the features or the price, think again.

Of course, customers look at the solution’s features, the fact that it’s easy to use, or the attractive price… but that’s not all they look at. 

They’re also figuring out if they can trust you.

The fact is that if they don’t trust you and they don’t believe they can rely on you to deliver your service as promised, none of that other stuff really matters.

SaaS is a promise, not a product

After all, with SaaS you’re not really marketing a product.  You’re marketing a promise. (See "SaaS Marketing is About Promises, Not Products.")

Over the course of the subscription, your customers are expecting you to reliably deliver a valuable service that performs as advertised, is well-supported and consistently available, and is upgraded regularly. 

That’s very different from traditional on-premises software. SaaS customers are not simply buying whatever’s “in the box” on the day they purchase the license.

When they pay you every month, every quarter, or every year, they expect that you’ll to hold up your end of the agreement.

Earning trust

 So how is it you can earn the trust of prospective customers?  How do you convince them that they can rely on you?

Hint:  It has nothing to do with features.

You could demo features and functions until you’re blue in the face.  If the prospect doesn’t trust you, it really won’t matter.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work for my clients:

  • Share other customers’ experiences.  SaaS vendors should let prospects see what existing customers have experienced.  Besides customer success stories, prospects should be able to hear directly from other customers about your support, training, performance, reliability, and enhancements. 
  • Show a record of reliability.  Some large SaaS providers, such as salesforce.com, show a history of outages.  Prospects can see exactly how often the system has been unavailable. 
  • Show history of enhancements.  A SaaS company can show a timeline illustrating a record of regularly delivering new features and functions.  Prospects should see that the company has delivered as promised.
  • Tell your story.  Prospective customers are more likely to trust you if they know who you are.  Share your background, explain why you developed the solution, reveal something about your goals or values. 

Add “trust-building” to your marketing messages

Your marketing messages already probably include descriptions of the solution’s features and functions.  Even better, you may be showing how those features solve an urgent problem.

But these messages can’t stand alone.  Your customer acquisition process should also include elements that build trust.

Besides hearing what you’re promising, prospects need to be sure that you’ll actually deliver.

Use customer data to add value to your SaaS solution

If you’re a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution provider, you’ve got something that your customers want… but you may not even know it.

Data.

Namely, data that you can see because you’re hosting an application for lots of users.  In aggregate, this information can be very useful. 

For example, if you host an HR solution, you could see the average number of vacation days used by employees, or the average number of candidates reviewed for each open position.

If you host a marketing solution, you could see the ratio of leads to wins or the most effective source of leads.

Of if you host a customer support solution, you could see the average number of agents per support call or the split between support phones calls, emails, and chats.

You get the idea.  Every SaaS solution provider can access this aggregate information.

This information is very tough for on-premises application providers to get.  They really don’t have an easy way to see what their customers are doing.

Why do customers care?

Companies like to know how they’re doing relative to others.  Comparing their performance against benchmarks lets them know if they’re out in front on key metrics, or lagging behind.  

Comparing information over time also lets companies see important trends.  They may detect changes in the market that can be useful to them.   For example, they may see that customers seeking support are relying more heavily on chat and less on the telephone.  

Not just for customers

You may also find that the information you collect is useful not just to your own customers.  Publishing it on your website, in blog posts, white papers, or by-lined articles can help you gain broader visibility.

That kind of information could be effective material to send along to prospective customers who you’re trying to convert into buyers.  They’ll get a sense that you’re a credible expert, and someone they really want to work with.

Add analysis, segment, automate, and keep it simple

If you do decide to collect and publish information derived from your customers, a few tips:

  • Make it clear that you’re only publishing aggregate data.  Obviously customers want to know that you won’t reveal their individual data.
  • Accompany the data with analysis.  Highlighting a trend or uncovering an unexpected finding makes the information much more useful.
  • Compile and report data over time.  You may identify significant trends or anomalies.
  • Segment the data.  If your customer base and data set are large enough, it’s useful to segment the data by industry, company size, or other categories.
  • Automate the process.  Try to set up a process that generates the reports automatically.  You don’t want to go through a major hassle every month or quarter pulling the data together.
  • Keep it simple.  Even a few relatively simple metrics can be immensely valuable.  No need for higher-order mathematics here.


Access to aggregate customer data is one of the unique benefits of providing a SaaS solution.  It adds value to your solution and it can help you attract and retain customers.  Use it to your advantage.    

    

 

 

 

 

Listen to what your competitors say, not just what they do

I assume that somebody in your company pays attention to what your competitors are doing.

You might even have prepared a comprehensive grid that shows every feature and function the competitors offer in their solution vs. every feature and function you offer.  If it’s something you show on your website, the idea is to show off: “My list is longer than their list.”

I have nothing against bragging per se.  Hey if you’ve got it, flaunt it

But sometimes this narrow focus on features and functions – our list is longer than their list – isn’t helpful. 

Customers care about more than features

Prospective customers are often paying more attention to other things, such as:

  • Is this solution a good fit for my business?
  • Does this vendor know anything about my business and my market?
  • Do they understand the problem we're trying to solve?
  • Can I work with this vendor and trust them to help with a critical responsibility?

Your most effective competitors are addressing these bigger concerns.  They're not just talking about their features.

They make it crystal clear who their solution is built for and what business problems it’s meant to solve.  They convey a deep understanding of the prospect’s challenges, and they establish themselves as a trustworthy partner.

Competitors try to label you

In fact, if they’re really good at this, a competitor will try to position you as falling short on these issues, and they’ll try to stick a label on you.  When they're talking to prospects, they may say things like this:

  • “XYZ (your company) builds a good solution, but it’s really not built for companies like yours.”
  • “XYZ’s product was built by people with strong technology skills, but they don’t really understand this industry.”
  • “XYZ is too small and doesn’t have the resources to meet your needs,” or “XYZ is too large to pay attention to your needs.”

Features matter less in SaaS

How a competitor positions you matters, especially in the world of software-as-a-service (SaaS). 

For one, the label they try to stick on you will probably persist longer than any feature advantage or disadvantage.  Remember that in the SaaS model, vendors can be rolling out enhancements all the time, so holding on to a particular feature advantage for any amount of time is tough. 

But if a competitor can label you “too small,” “too big,” “not knowledgeable,” or “a bad fit,” that has more staying power, and you’ll find it’s a tougher perception to shed.

Second, customers evaluating SaaS solutions are probably paying special attention to you as a trusted vendor.  After all, they’re buying into a long-term relationship.  They need to trust that you'll deliver as promised over the life of the subscription.  If they don’t trust you – and if a competitor is able to sow doubts – your feature set won’t really matter.

Getting beat… before your features get a chance

I do know the adage, “Pay attention to what they do, not what they say,” and sometimes it makes sense.  But when it comes to tracking your SaaS competitors, it’s doesn’t. 

If all you’re looking at is your feature set vs. their feature set, you’re missing a lot.  Your competitors may have stuck an unfavorable label on you.  Or they’ve build a more favorable perception of themselves. 

And you're getting bounced out of consideration before the prospect even sees your long list of features.

Sometimes Prospects Just Aren't Ready to Buy

I get it:  For marketers, it’s all about “conversion.”  

The marketer’s job is to convert visitors into leads, convert leads into a qualified opportunities, and convert qualified opportunities into paying customers.  The job is to shepherd as many prospective customers through this process as possible cost-effectively, and quickly.

But what the marketer needs to do and the prospective customer wants to do aren’t always in sync.

Just because a prospect attended a webinar or downloaded a paper this morning, does not mean they’re ready to buy this afternoon.  

No matter how many follow-up emails you send or phone messages you leave, they’re just not ready - not ready to buy and maybe not even ready to talk.

Delays and interruptions are to be expected

Sometimes these prospects are just at the beginning of the evaluation process.  They’re not sure what a SaaS solution could do for them, or they’re not sure how to evaluate a solution. 

In fact, they may not even be sure that they need to replace their existing system at all. 

It’s also possible that these prospects have been interrupted by other priorities.  Remember, most of the time these people have day jobs (See "Your prospect has a day job."). 

They run HR or Finance or Marketing or some other vital function in the company; they’re not assigned full-time to evaluate SaaS solutions.  When more urgent issues pop-up, they put the evaluation on hold.

Moving the process along

OK, I realize that I can’t just tell you, “Be patient.”  I’ve spent most of my career in marketing, so I know that’s not so helpful.  You need to be doing something to push more prospects through the pipeline and to do it faster.

A few tactics may help:

Be helpful; don’t just sell.  For people still near the beginning of their evaluation, they’re trying to learn more about automated solutions.  Instead of just touting your solution’s features, you can help educate them.   

An offer to attend a webinar or read a white paper on “Five Keys to Effectively Deploying an [HR/Finance/Marketing/Sales] Automation Solution”  will probably be better received than another “Did you get my last email?” email.     

Establish your credibility as a trusted expert.  Before they entrust some vital function of their business to an outside vendor, prospects need to trust you.  Sharing examples of successful customers or talking about your experience in the market may overcome their reluctance to move ahead.   

Create a sense of urgency.  Prospective customers only have time to focus on a handful of priorities at any one time.  You can try to push one task - “evaluate my solution” - toward the top of their priority list.  (See "You're biggest competitor may be "doing nothing."

Point out that every quarter, every month, every week that the prospect tries to stumble along without a new system is costing them money, losing customers, adding risk, or otherwise hurting their business.

Stay on the radar screen.  Sometimes prospects do go “radio silent.”  It doesn’t mean they’re not going to buy at some point, but for now at least, other priorities have gotten in the way.  Sending along helpful educational material is a way to stay in front of them; when they are ready to move ahead, you’ll be top-of-mind.  

Check for gaps and bottlenecks.  For most enterprise solutions, your prospects are navigating a multi-step evaluation process.  It’s not an impulse buy.  You should be tracking prospects’ progress through the entire process: from visitor to lead to qualified opportunity to paying customer, measuring conversions and yields from one stage to the next.  You might find that prospects are getting stuck somewhere in the pipeline.

You can and you should try to accelerate the purchase process and boost conversions.  But do keep this thought in mind:  Prospects will act when they are ready to buy, not when you are ready to sell.

 

 

Don't hate your website

When they talk about their websites, I find that marketing people fall into two groups:  One group thinks their website is awful.  The other group is in the midst of re-doing it. 

They’re unhappy about a lot of things with their website:  the way it looks, the number of visitors it attracts, the volume and quality of the leads it collects, and sometimes the number of solutions it sells. 

They expect their website to play a big part in finding customers… but it’s not getting the job done. 

Don’t fixate on the wrong problem

But it may be that for all their moaning about their website, these folks are actually fixating on the wrong culprit.  If they’re falling short on marketing and sales goals, obsessing about what’s wrong with the website might not be the best fix. 

In fact, it may be distracting them from the real problems. After all, the website is just one piece of the marketing mix. 

For most B-to-B software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, vendors need to work with prospects through a long process with multiple steps.  Yes, nearly all prospects will spend some amount of time on the website.  But it’s really just one part of a comprehensive customer acquisition strategy.

Look upstream and downstream from the website

Certain things need to happen before and after prospects visit the website. 

At the front end of the process, there need to be programs that drive prospects people to the website.  Social media campaigns, blogs, PR, events, and direct mail might play a part in building visibility and driving traffic.

And then things need to be done after prospects leave the site.  Programs need to follow up with prospective customers and nurture the leads captured on the website.  Email, webinars, and white papers might be part of these efforts that nudge people forward with their evaluation.

For more expensive or complicated solutions, prospects will often want to talk to someone at the vendor’s company before they buy.  A trained sales team and even support engineers may need to be part of the effort to win the business.

Even after the solution’s been purchased, there’s still more marketing to be done.  SaaS companies need to get people to actually use the solution, renew their subscription, and upgrade. At each of these steps, the website often plays only a bit role.  It’s other marketing programs that need to do the heavy lifting.

The website can't do everything

I talk with a lot of SaaS companies that are eager to acquire more customers.  Often the first thing they say to me is something like:  “My website isn’t working.  I need to fix it.” 

The first thing they want to do is streamline navigation, add more effective “calls-to-action,” or post videos or a blog. 

All of those might be good ideas.  There’s almost always room for improvement.

But if all they do is some work on the website, they’ll probably be disappointed. 

Don't blame the website

To fix a broken customer acquisition process usually means more than just fixing the website. 
 
There are likely problems upstream from the website: a lack of visibility so that few people find their way to the site. 

And there are problems downstream as well: no follow up with the prospects after they visit the site and poor programs for retaining customers.  

Fixing those broader problems requires a hard look at the entire customer acquisition process from end to end.

Don’t blame the website.  It can’t do the job all by itself.   

 

 

When Marketing Automation Doesn’t Work

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a fan of marketing automation.

I can’t imagine handling my email newsletter, my website, or my blog without automation.  Managing subscribes & unsubscribes, tracking opens & clicks, and scheduling posts manually… that would bury me.

And for companies that send out emails and track responses from thousands of prospective customers, solutions that automate those and other marketing functions are indispensable.  

But here’s the thing:  Marketing automation solutions don’t work by themselves.

In my work with software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, I’ve seen marketing automation fail for a few reasons.

No “Bucket-o-Content”

Whether it’s referred to as “content marketing,” “inbound marketing,” or some other clever term, most marketing automation solutions rely on content: newsletters, blog posts, papers, infographics, videos, emails, presentations, press announcements, etc.  

Content is the fuel that makes the marketing machine run.  It’s used to generate visibility, attract leads, nurture qualified opportunities, win new customers, and retain and up-sell existing customers.  Without it, the machine grinds to a halt.

But the fact is that most small or mid-sized SaaS companies don’t have a supply of content stacked up on a hard-drive somewhere, ready to be published.

And I know for sure that the monthly subscription to a marketing automation solution does not include a built-in supply of content.  

Somebody actually needs to produce this material.  And in a smaller company, finding that “somebody” who can regularly do that isn’t always easy.

No clear and compelling message

Oh by the way,  when we’re talking about content, just any content won’t do.

To do the job, it needs to be useful and attractive to the audience and articulate a compelling and consistent message.  Bad content is worse than no content.  (See "Content:  More isn't always better.")

Of course, companies can contract out writing assignments or hire video producers.  There are plenty of skilled professionals available to develop content.

But those folks can’t work in a vacuum.  They need guidance.  They need to know the target audience, and the solution’s key features, benefits, and advantages. 

No matter how good they are at their craft, if they don’t know the basics - who should buy the product and why - they’ll have a tough time putting together effective messages.  

To produce effective marketing material, a company first needs to know what it wants to say.  Clear content requires clear thinking. 

And that’s another item not included in the marketing solution’s monthly subscription price.  

The system needs to be managed

Marketing automation solutions don’t run by themselves.

Someone within the company needs to drive the solution.  They need to structure the work flow, segment the prospective customers, set up the tests, queue up the content, collect and analyze the results, and do all the other work that’s needed to make automation work.  

Without careful thought and intelligent oversight, marketing tools will automate lots of functions, but not help the business.  They’ll just do dumb things a lot faster.

All that set-up and management is sometimes a lot tougher than many of the marketing automation vendors let on. 

Sure, the vendors will offer training and support.  But if you’re a small company, don’t underestimate that resources required. 

And to repeat myself, those are resources not included in the monthly subscription fee.  


I don’t mean to deter SaaS companies from adopting marketing automation solutions.  Used smartly, they can definitely improve efficiency and keep customer acquisition costs under control.  (See "Customer Acquisition Ain't Cheap.")  They can let smaller companies market more like big companies.  

But make the commitment with your eyes wide open.  To work well, marketing automation may cost more than you think.


 

3 Ways to Waste Your Marketing Budget

I’ll admit it. 

Over my long career marketing all kinds of technology solutions, I’ve run a few marketing campaigns that flopped: events that attracted no real prospects, email campaigns that generated no serious leads, promotions that drew no response from prospective customers.  

It happens.

And I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone among my marketing brethren.  In fact, if we're trying new ideas and taking a few chances, from time to time some program is bound to fail.

But these occasional duds usually won’t doom an entire marketing effort.  While they’re nothing to brag about,  a program or two that just fizzles won't sink a company.

What's really dangerous are the big mistakes. 

Three in particular can do serious damage to a company’s overall effort to attract customers:

Not measuring

If you’re not measuring the results of your marketing campaigns, you have no idea if they’re working or not.  

Your decisions on which programs to fund and which to cut need to be based on data:  how many leads, qualified prospects, and paying customers did a campaign yield.  

I know there are hazards to attributing a new customer to a particular campaign, but that doesn’t mean you just throw up your hands and give up on measuring entirely. (See "Marketing numbers can lie.")

Making funding decisions based only on a few anecdotes or seat-of-the-pants impressions - “it looked like steady traffic at our booth,” or “we got a few nice comments on our cool video” - is a mistake.  

Unless you’re carefully analyzing results, you could be wasting your marketing budget on one failed program after another.  

No end-to-end plan

SaaS buyers often follow a long evaluation and purchase process, interrupted by other priorities.   If your marketing plan doesn’t span that entire process, prospects will get stuck, or they’ll leak out of the pipeline. 

Spending lots of money on programs that build visibility and drive visitors to a website, for example, won’t work unless they’re followed up by efforts to convert those visitors into legitimate leads and paying customers.  

The same goes for marketing programs that convert leads into customers, but aren’t followed by efforts to bring those new customers on-board.  (Link “How to lose customers in the first 90 days.”)  

Any single program, no matter how matter how many “views,” or “opens” or “contacts” it generates, cannot stand on its own.  It needs to be connected to a well-structured, multi-step process - something that covers the entire customer evaluation journey.  Otherwise, it could simply be a waste of money.  

Remember, the goal of customer acquisition efforts isn’t “views,” “opens,” or “contacts.”  The goal is long-term paying customers.

Poor messages

SaaS buyers are usually busy people, and you don’t have a lot of time to make your case.  (See "Your prospect has a day job.")

There's precious little time to clearly and consistent present what they need to know about your solution:

  • Who should buy it?
  • What problem does it solve and how severe is the problem?
  • Why is it better than alternatives… including doing nothing?

If prospective customers can’t grasp the answers to these questions within a minute or two, then whatever time and money you’re spending on marketing is probably wasted.
 

  • You’re paying for SEO, adwords, or PR to drive people to a website… but visitors won’t wade through multiple pages to figure out why they should be there.  
  • You’re sending out emails and promotional offers, but prospects don’t know why they should learn more about your solution. 
  • Or you’re showing up a trade shows, but nobody walking by your booth has any idea why they should stop and ask for more information.

More than the marketing budget is at risk

Any marketer is bound to run programs or try new tactics that don’t deliver.  It goes with the territory.   

But a marketer that makes one the three big mistakes - inadequate measurement, lack of an end-to-end plan, and ineffective messages - risks wasting a big chunk of the marketing budget.  

And in SaaS companies, sales and marketing costs usually account for the largest single expense. 

That means that spending money on poor programs can do more than just waste your marketing budget.  It can bring down an entire company.

 

 

Don’t put your SaaS marketing plan on auto-pilot

Imagine that last year I had somehow managed to put together a perfect marketing plan: a perfect message and a perfect mix of tactics delivered perfect results.

If that actually happened (not likely, but use your imagination), this would be my first thought as I put together this year’s marketing plan:  Let’s do the same thing again.  

If it worked last year, it should work this year too.  Why do anything different?

That would probably be a mistake, and here’s why:  Things change.

New tactics

Like music or clothes, marketing tactics used to reach prospects come in and out of fashion.  What worked last year might not work this year.

I remember when clever dimensional mailers were in vogue.  For example, you’d send a single walkie-talkie to a prospect, and offer to send the second one if they called to schedule a demo.  I haven’t seen that kind of promotion for awhile.  

More recently, marketers have come to rely on webinars, white papers, blogs, and other content to attract leads.  Even if theconcept of content marketing still works, the particulars usually need to be tweaked over time.  The topics and formats that worked one year might not draw the same response the next year.

It’s often worth allocating a portion of the marketing budget just to try some new tactics.  It’s possible that something you’d never tried before - or never even heard of before - will somehow grab the attention of prospects.  A few years ago, who would have guessed podcasts would be so popular?

And, by the way, keep in mind that some marketing tactics that were once out of fashion can come back into fashion.  I’ve worked with companies that have had success recently with a well-done direct mail piece, sent via snail mail, to reach a well-defined audience.

New competitors

Marketing plans will often need to be adjusted when new competitors come into the market.  In particular, your messages may need to be tweaked to better highlight the advantages of your solution vs. the new competitor.

To respond to a new vendor competing on low price, for example, your website, collateral, and other marketing material might need to call out the advantages of your more complete feature set or your expert customer support team.

In general, I advise companies to stick with the same messages, telling the same story again and again and again.  It takes a long time for a message to sink in with your prospects, so repetition is a good thing. 

But it’s also a good idea to periodically review the message - perhaps once per year - and tweak it.

New concerns and new expectations

Over time, the things prospects care about are likely to change, and the marketing messages will need to change as well.  

In the earlier days of software-as-a-service (SaaS), for example, lots of prospective customers had concerns about SaaS and cloud computing, and they needed to become more familiar with the basics.  “SaaS primers” that included a glossary of terms like “ subscription pricing,” “multi-tenancy,” and “SSAE 16” were a necessary part of the marketing collateral library.  

Most folks are now familiar with SaaS and this material isn’t often needed. (See "Customers Don't Really Care About SaaS.")

Customers’ expectations also change over time.  Things like mobile capabilities, for example, that earlier buyers may have never thought about, may now be at the top of their priority list, and your marketing plans need to present them more prominently.

New kinds of buyers

In some cases, marketing plans need to be adjusted to suit new kinds of buyers.  As markets mature and solutions become more widely adopted, a company may find it’s selling to more mainstream buyers. 

Unlike early adopters, these buyers may have more concerns about support or ease-of-use.  They may also follow a longer evaluation and purchase process, which a revised marketing plan needs to fit. (See "Pivoting from early adopters to mainstream buyers.")

 

Look, if there are pieces of your existing marketing plan that are working well, keep doing them.  But don’t revert to the same plan year after year by default.  Always ask yourself, “Does this still fit?”  

Chances are there have been changes - new tactics, new competitors, new concerns and expectation, and new kinds of buyers - that you’ll want to adjust for.  You can’t afford to put your marketing plan on auto-pilot.  


    

 

Pivoting from early adopters to mainstream buyers

If your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution is relatively new to the market and you’ve already managed to bring on a group of early customers, congratulations. 

That’s usually solid proof that your product works, somebody’s getting value from it, and people will pay for it.  No small feat.  

But before you go overboard celebrating, I’ve got a bit of bad news:  It gets more difficult from here.

Sure, signing on that first group of paying customers probably was tough.  But signing on 10, 20, or 50 times that number... that's even tougher.

A new kind of buyer

Why does customer acquisition get more difficult?  

Here's why:  you’re now selling to a different kind of buyer.  You’re not just selling to early adopters anymore.  You’re now marketing and selling to mainstream buyers.  

Yes, these mainstream buyers may be in the same industry and they may need a solution to solve the same set of problems.  

But they follow a different evaluation and purchase process.  And your marketing and sales plans need to adjust.

A longer sales cycle

When they evaluate new solutions, particularly those that are critical to their business, mainstream buyers tend to proceed more deliberately.  Unlike many early adopters, who are usually eager to try something new, these folks won’t jump right in. They move forward step-by-step.  

Your marketing plan needs to follow this more deliberate process.  Plan to stay in touch with these prospects over an extended time, and implement programs to carefully nurture them along, one step at a time.    

Trying to rush things along is a bad idea.  For example, don’t expect prospects to jump from their first visit to your website and go directly to a one-on-one demo.  Not many will get your first email and immediately contact your sales rep.

They need more time to get more comfortable with you and your solution before they’re ready to talk with you directly.     

Need more proof

Mainstream buyers need to see more proof that your solution works as advertised.  They want to know that organizations similar to theirs have had success.  Unlike early adopters, they’re not interested in being the first of their colleagues to try something.  

To satisfy their need to see proof, your marketing programs should include a healthy dose of customer success stories, references, and other ways to show that your solution really does deliver the benefits it promises.

Not interested in tech wizardry

Mainstream buyers usually aren’t wowed by cool technology.  They just want a solution that helps them run their business, and they don’t care a lot about what’s under the hood.  (See “Don’t talk techie to SaaS buyers.”)  

They’re especially interested in how easy your solution is to learn and to use.  No matter how sophisticated the underlying technology or how long your list of features, these prospects know that if they can’t figure out how to use your solution - or train their employees to use it - it’s worthless to them.

Talking on and on about your platform, your proprietary algorithms, and your impressive feature list is more likely to distract, overwhelm, or confuse them than it is to impress them.

Rely more on support

Unlike the more adventurous early adopters, the next round of buyers tend to need more help to implement the solution.  Your ability to get them up & running quickly factors heavily in their evaluation.  

Show them your on-boarding and training process and highlight your customer support capabilities.  Show them they’ll be working with a company that understands their business and won’t just leave them on their own to figure stuff out.   

Marketing pivot

Many of the companies I work with gotten themselves through the first stage of growth.   By word-of-mouth or direct contacts, they’ve managed to attract a cadre of early customers.  

But to ramp up beyond that, they need a “marketing pivot.”  They need to adjust their initial messages and tactics to fit a different kind of buyer. 

You may find yourself in a similar spot.  You need to reach beyond the early adopters to attract the broader pool of mainstream buyers.  That’s where you'll find the opportunity to accelerate growth and build a sustainable SaaS business.

 

Winning new customers may be easier than keeping them

I talk with a lot of new customers about how and why they bought a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Here are the kinds of things I hear:

  • “We didn’t spend a lot of time with the free trial.  We just subscribed.”
  • “With such a low monthly cost and no long-term commitment, we figured if we didn’t like the product, we’d just drop it.”
  • “We didn’t spend weeks looking at demos and trials; we just bought it.  Once we used the solution for a couple of months, we figured we’d know whether we wanted to keep paying for it.”

It’s not that these companies didn’t evaluate the SaaS solution seriously.  In fact, often they were considering it to manage a critical part of their business.  

But they didn’t want to spend time looking at slick demos or inputting lots of data into a free trial - data that they’d lose when the trial expired.  

Just do it

They took a different approach:  Just buy it and try it.

After all, subscription pricing is one of the great advantages of SaaS solutions over traditional on-premises software.  Monthly fees are much lower than up-front license costs, deployment expenses are lower, and often there’s no long-term commitment. 

For customers, it’s just easier to evaluate and buy SaaS solutions.

That’s good news for SaaS solution vendors, too.  

Solutions that are easier for customers to buy are also easier for vendors to sell.  Converting prospective customers from “opportunities” into “paying customers” is faster and simpler.

But there’s a catch

But it’s not all good news for vendors.

For most SaaS companies, they need a customer to stay for at least several months, even 2-3 years, to recover the cost of acquiring that customer.  If the customer leaves too early, the vendor will actually lose money, not make money.   (See “Acquiring Customers Ain’t Cheap.”)

For the SaaS sales and marketing team, this means even when they’ve brought in a new customer win, their work’s not done.

Now they need to convert those new customers into committed users.  Success requires more than converting prospects into paying customers.  It also means converting new customers into long-term customers.

Their responsibilities now include helping with on-boarding, training, expert guidance, or whatever else it takes to convert a new buyer into a committed user.  To fill that role, I’ve seen marketing teams add all kinds of “post-sales” activities to their programs:

  • Host webinars for existing customers to pass along advice on using the solution more effectively  
  • Publish customer success stories that share best practices
  • Support online forums where customers can share ideas with their peers
  • Communicate with customers on new features that they should be taking advantage of
  • Establish a “VP of Customer Success” role with responsibility for keeping existing customers happy.

(For more thoughts on effective on-boarding, see “Get SaaS customers off to a healthy start.”)

Another step in the customer acquisition process

I know this isn't the best news for sales and marketing folks - adding more work to the customer acquisition process.  As if it wasn’t tough enough already to build visibility, capture leads, convert them into qualified opportunities, and finally into paying customers.  Now you need another step: retaining new users.

Sorry, but that’s the cost of SaaS.  It may be easier to win new customers, but it’s tougher to keep them.

5 ways your SaaS marketing plan could go wrong

Sorry, but I've got bad news:  No matter how hard you’ve been working on your marketing plan, it still might go wrong.

That’s usually not for lack of effort.  It’s just that software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing is difficult.  It’s different than marketing traditional on-premises software and it’s easy to make mistakes.

I review the marketing programs of lots of SaaS companies and I see the same kind of mistakes over and over.  

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are 5 errors that are especially common.

Ineffective message

Sometimes it’s not at all clear to the prospective customer what you sell, who should buy it, and why.  Most SaaS buyers are too busy already, and they won’t spend lots of time trying to figure out that stuff by themselves. Most won’t wade through lots of technical jargon about your platform, your patented algorithms, or whatever other sophisticated technology you have under the hood.  (See "Don't talk techie to SaaS buyers.")

Most SaaS customers care about what your solution does, not how it works.  Focus on your benefits and advantages, not just your features, and spell out the costs of “doing nothing.”  Explain that putting off fixing the problem comes at a significant cost.

If you can’t clearly and consistently explain your value to the prospect, all the time and money spent on attracting leads is wasted.

Distracted buyers

Most SaaS buyers are busy people.  Besides trying to carve out a few minutes to evaluate your solution, they’re handling HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, or whatever other function they’re responsible for during their day job.   They’re often distracted by other, more pressing priorities.  (See "Your prospect has a day job.")

Getting over this challenge means an effective marketing plan needs to do at least two things:

Make it easy for the prospect to see the value in your solution very quickly.  When you do get a few moments of their attention, make the most of it.  Whether it’s a free trial, a demo or a video, don’t make them travel down a long and lonely road before they get to an “AHA! moment.”

And second, stay in front of the prospect for a long time.  Eventually many of them will regain their focus and they’ll resume their search for a solution…and you want to be on their radar screen when they do.

Promoting in the wrong places

Some marketing plans promote the solution in the wrong places.  The prospective customers are looking in one place… and the solution is being promoted somewhere else.

As intriguing and popular as Facebook, Pinterest, twitter, or Instagram are, they might not be the place where your prospective customers are looking for solutions.  (See "Looking for customers in all the wrong places.")

Many of the B2B SaaS vendors I work with find a much more valuable audience at “old school” venues, like local business groups or trade publications - maybe not as cool, but much more effective.

Gaps and bottlenecks

Most B2B SaaS purchases aren’t impulse buys.  The buyer usually travels along a multi-step evaluation and purchase process, and marketing needs to be right alongside them.   

The marketing activity needs to cover the entire journey, from first getting attention and capturing a lead, to cultivating it into a qualified opportunity, closing, on-boarding, and retaining a paying customer.    

A plan with gaps means prospects get lost or stuck somewhere along the journey.  (See "Why drive-by marketing doesn't work.")

I’ve seen companies that do wonderful work attracting attention and generating traffic…but then have no efficient mechanism to convert “traffic” into leads.  Other companies sign up lots of new customers… but then lose them after a few months.

Gaps and bottlenecks in the process waste money and slow down the process of winning and keeping paying customers.

No attention to existing customers

When I marketed on-premises software, I only paid attention to existing customers on two occasions:  When I saw them at a user conference or when I needed a customer success story.  That’s it.  

That won’t work for SaaS.  If your marketing plan stops at the point when a prospect becomes a paying customer, you’re going to have a problem.  (See "Your existing customers are prospects too.")

The SaaS business model requires that customers stay around for awhile, at least long enough to recover your customer acquisition costs.  Renewals are essential.  To put it another way, churn kills.

Which means that you need to keep marketing to existing customers.  They need to be reminded regularly of the value your solution brings to them.  That’s marketing’s job, and it should be part of your plan. 

Out of date with customer concerns

Buyers change over time and your marketing plan should change as well.  You can’t automatically use the same messages and tactics year after year.

Over the course of three years, one of my clients has seen their market rapidly mature.  Instead of the adventurous buyers they used to attract - people willing to fearlessly try new technology - they are seeing mostly “mainstream” buyers - people that need more hand-holding and reassurances that they’re doing the right thing.

The only way to detect a change like this is to stay in touch with your customers.  That way you can make the appropriate adjustments.  

You can’t put the marketing plan on auto-pilot.

 

There are plenty of other hazards that SaaS companies run into in promoting their solution - lack of focus, inconsistency, under-funding, and others - but if you can avoid these 5 big problems, you're off to a good start. 

 

Don't talk techie to SaaS buyers

No matter how wonderful your proprietary algorithms, the priceless virtues of your state-of-the-art platform, or the brilliance of whatever other sophisticated technologies you’ve got under the hood of your software-as-a service (SaaS) solution, here’s an unpleasant truth:  Lots of your customers don’t really care.

Most of your them only want to know what your solution does, not how it works.

In fact, sometimes all that techie talk just goes right over their heads.  They're experts in whatever field they're in, but they don’t necessarily have a technical background. 

Limited IT input

After all, one of the key attractions of SaaS is that it usually requires no technical background.  The buyer isn't responsible for on-premises hosting, deployment, on-going maintenance, or periodic upgrades, so the folks in IT with a technical background play only a limited role in evaluating solutions.

When IT does have a role in evaluating SaaS solutions, it’s usually in a secondary, review capacity, not in the lead.  They need to ensure that the solution adheres to certain standards for security, reliability, and performance, and that it can be integrated with other applications. 

And if those issues are likely to come up at some point in the purchase process, you’ll certainly need some marketing material that addresses them.

But that kind of technical detail usually won’t have much impact on the people who take the lead in the evaluation and purchase process.  These folks typically have responsibility for a particular business function:

  • It’s a sales manager that needs to manage deals in the pipeline
  • It's a recruiter that needs to track applicants
  • It's an accounts payable manager that needs to process invoices, and so on.

Speak in the decision-makers' language

Don’t talk techie to your buyers.  Instead, you need to talk to them in the language of a sales manager, a recruiter, or an AP manager.  (See "Your customer has a day job.")

If they’re in a particular industry, you need to speak the language of their industry.  Hospital administrators talk about patients, real estate managers talk about properties, and commercial bankers talk about borrowers. 

You need to show that you understand the unique needs of their particular industry.  They’re the ones buying and using your solution.

Talking techie to them is a waste of time.  In fact, it may get you routed to IT, a place you don’t want to be.  An executive selling SaaS solutions to healthcare companies told me recently that when their sales people get passed to IT, he knows the opportunity is heading toward a dead-end.

Focus on business goals

Instead of hearing about your super fantastic technology, the people buying your solution want to hear about how you can help them reach their business goals.  What can it do to:

  • Boost revenues
  • Cut costs
  • Satisfy customers
  • Retain employees
  • Or attain other business goals.  

Of course, your technology is behind all of that.  It’s what makes your solution go.

But the primary evaluators and decision-makers don’t always need to look under the hood.  Talk to them about what your solution does, not how it works.