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.
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.
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.