SaaS marketing, baseball and the batting order

I recently read "Three Nights in August," a wonderful book about the "game inside the game" of baseball. The author, Buzz Bissinger, shadowed St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa through a three game series against the Chicago Cubs. Bissinger chronicles in detail the manager's thought processes and decision making through 27 innings.

It's not a story about dramatic home runs, sparkling pitching, or spectacular defensive plays. It's more about how La Russa decides when to put on a hit-and-run, who to intentionally walk, and when to go to the bullpen.

Which players and in which order?

A portion of the book describes La Russa putting together the line-up for each game. He analyzes who's hit well against the opposing pitcher, who's injured and needs rest, and which pitch hitters he wants to match up against certain relief pitchers late in the game.

Among these decisions, La Russa gives a great deal of thought to the batting order- who bats where in the line-up. It's a complicated process: who can take a lot of pitches and work a walk, who can steal a base, who can bunt, who can hit for power, who's right-handed, left-handed, a switch hitter, etc.

The challenge for the manager is more than just putting guys up at the plate who can hit. The goal is to construct a complete line-up, in the right order, that produces runs. It's runs, not hits, that win games.

Don't get lost in individual tactics

I hope I haven't lost the non-baseball fans among you, because there's a lesson in here for software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketers. It's about the customer acquisition and retention process.

What matters isn't just the performance of individual marketing programs or campaigns. What matters is whether the overall process produces long-term customers.

There's a tendency to focus too narrowly on individual pieces of the customer acquisition funnel or even more tightly on particular tactics:
  • Does this individual keyword draw more traffic?
  • Does this particular white paper attract more leads?
  • Does this version of the email convert more trialers into buyers?
Given all the sophisticated marketing analytics tools available, it's easy to see how marketers can sometimes get buried in the numbers.

Yes, you need to know which tactics are working and which are not. I encourage SaaS companies to try different things, measure their performance and make adjustments. Marketers trying to do their job without metrics will struggle.

Certain tactics fit certain roles

But it's also important to know the particular role of each tactic and each campaign. Some programs, for example, are designed to build visibility early in the buying process. Others are designed to retain existing customers. These are two different objectives calling for two different kinds of campaigns. If your goal is to reduce attrition, implementing a pay-per-click campaign, no matter how well-executed, probably won't help you.

It matters what happens before and what happens after

It's also important to know what activity precedes each individual marketing tactic and what follows it. Understand the entire customer acquisition and retention process from building initial visibility and attracting leads, through to converting leads into opportunities and into customers, and then retaining and up-selling existing customers. There's not much value in generating lots of leads from prospects if you have no process in place to convert those leads into buyers.

To go back to the baseball analogy (sorry I can't resist), there's no point in stealing a base and getting a runner into scoring position, if the batters behind him can't drive in the run.

Creative Commons License

This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.