What makes junk mail junky?


The junk email I get about replacement windows, oil change coupons, and life insurance doesn’t really bother me.

Somehow I got on a list of millions of people who own a house, own a car, and can still fog a mirror. 

These emails go out in bulk and luckily my spam filter traps most of them. 
 
Are you talking to me?  Really?

What does bother me though is the inappropriate email I get that isn't sent out by the millions.  It's the ones that come out from a real person who somehow thinks I'd really be interested.

I get several of these every week from PR people who want me to talk with their client who’s been named “something or other of the year,” or who thinks I ought to do a blog post on “Promotional Products Work! Week,” whatever that is. 

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a press announcement about changes to tax law in Idaho.  Huh?

These emails are friendly enough, and I’m certain that a new tax law in Idaho is very interesting to someone… but not to me.

Anyone who's spent any time trying to figure out what I would really be interested in would know that.

I’m not asking folks to do a lot of work here.  Thirty seconds on my website or LinkedIn profile will tell you everything you need to know.

Junk email is bad for SaaS marketing

So other than a rant about junk email that finds its way to my inbox, what does this have to do with software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing?

For one thing, this kind of inaccurate marketing costs time and money.

Some marketing or PR person spent at least a little bit of time putting together the note... though obviously not enough time to figure out whether I’d really care about whatever it is they're promoting.

And if they follow up the note with a phone call, it’s even more time-consuming and more expensive.

If you're using poorly targeted email to market a SaaS solution, you're wasting time and money.  And the SaaS business model doesn’t leave much room for that. (See "SaaS customer acquisition: Feed it or starve it?")


Junk mail costs trust

The bigger cost though is credibility and trust.  And for SaaS businesses, that means a lot.  

Remember, SaaS marketers are selling a promise, not a product.  They are promising to deliver some benefit over the life of the subscription. 

Before they buy anything, the prospective customer needs to trust that the vendor will deliver on that promise.  (See "Winning customer trust.")

Establishing that kind of trust first requires that the vendor spend a little bit of time finding out about the prospective customer.
  • What kind of tasks are they responsible for?  
  • What challenges do they face?  
  • What kind of solution might help them succeed? 
How do you find that out?  Ask.  (See "Listen to your SaaS customers," March 2014)

Wrong mail to the wrong person = wrong result

When a SaaS marketer sends out an email to a prospect before they know anything about the prospect, they’re off to a bad start.  It’s tough to start a relationship with someone when you haven’t bothered to find out anything about them.

All you’re likely to do is waste time and money and annoy the prospective customer. 

Rather than respond to your email, the prospect is likely to wonder:  “What in the world was this person thinking?!”

Another task for 2014 planning: review your messages

I'll start by apologizing.

I know you’re up to your eyeballs already with your 2014 planning, but I’m going to add another chore to your “to do” list.  Sorry.

Besides working through your budget, marketing programs, headcount, and whatever else you need to have in place when the new year rolls around, I’d suggest you add another item:   

Review your value proposition and messages.

Here’s why.

Most of your marketing plans are meant to deliver your messages to your target audience.   That’s what email campaigns, presentations, webinars, press campaigns, website overhauls, white papers, data sheets, events, customer conferences, and search engine marketing are all about. 

So before you do any of this stuff, you should think about the messages themselves.


  • Do they mean anything to the people you’re trying to reach?  
  • Do they address their problems?  
  • Do they distinguish your solution from alternatives?  
  • Do they compel the prospective customer to act?

In other words, is your value proposition still valid and effective?

Things do change

A value proposition and messages aren’t things I recommend you tinker with very often.  Consistency and repetition are good.

But they are worth revisiting from time to time.  After all, things do change. 

The things customers care about might change.  For example, for some buyers, mobile is much more important now than it was a few years ago, so you’ll need to address that.

Or new competitors may be have come into the market.  That may mean you’ll need to update the way you talk about the unique advantages of your solution.

The best way to figure out if your messages are still valid?   Ask your customers.  

There are a few ways to do that:  surveys, focus groups, interviews, A/B testing, monitor relevant conversations on social media, etc. 

Many companies I work with find it especially useful to have an outsider talk with customers.  (Contact me and I can tell you more.)

However you decide to do it, it’s worth going through the effort from time to time.  Why not now?







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



SaaS Marketing Requires Focus

There's a guy in my town who advertises himself as "The Bulkhead Man."  What he does is install the entryways that go from the outside of a house into a basement.  Most are heavy steel doors that are mounted onto the concrete foundation.  Here's a photo of mine, partially obscured by a very healthy holly bush.


I assume "The Bulkhead Man" could probably handle a lot of other construction projects around the house: build a deck, hang new cabinets, replace siding, whatever.  He could rightly call himself a "contractor" or "handyman." 

But that would be a bad idea.

Then he'd be just another guy in the long list of other "contractors" and "handymen" who advertise in my local paper.  His ad would be stuck in with about two dozen others, instead of being the one and only "bulkhead man."  

Companies want solutions for their particular problems

If I needed a new bulkhead, believe me, "The Bulkhead Man" is the guy I'd call.

And I'm probably like most people in that way.  Most of the time when we're looking to fix something, we're looking for someone with particular expertise, a specialist in delivering just exactly what we need.

This same logic applies to people searching for business solutions.  They're usually not looking for something that can "do anything for anybody."  They're looking for a solution to their particular problem.

How can software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies can take advantage of that logic?  One word:  Focus. 

Focus lets companies build visibility and a reputation as experts in their particular niche.  It lets them distinguish themselves from the pack.

When someone searches for solutions like theirs, they rank at the top of the list.  When someone sees them at a show or receives an email from the company, they pay attention.  "Hey, these folks have something that's exactly what I'm looking for!"

Focus on a problem, a customer, a geography, something

A SaaS company can focus on a particular problem or task.  For example, "our solution is specifically designed to help eCommerce companies more quickly and accurately update the inventory they present online."

Or it can claim that its solution is developed for a particular kind of customer, as in "this product is built for companies with teams of 5-40 customer support reps."

A company could even claim a specific geographic specialty.  For example, "our solution is designed to help public school administrators meet the unique reporting requirements of the State of Florida."

If you think about it carefully, you may find other ways to identify your particular market segment.  Contact me if you need help.

Focus isn't easy

Believe me, I know it's difficult to narrow in on a specialty and there's lots of temptation to present yourself as "we can do anything for anybody." 

I talk with a lot of companies that are rightly very proud of what they've built, all the things it can do, and all the markets it can serve.  "Yes, it solves that one problem well... but wait.  It does so much more."

My advice in most cases: focus.  Or at least take on a carefully selected handful of well-defined segments.

Focus is especially important if you're competing in an established market with a few 800-lb gorillas.  In the market for CRM solutions, for example, if you get head-to-head with companies like salesforce.com, they'll easily out-spend you with their vast marketing and sales budget.  You'll be buried.

Focus is essential to the SaaS business model

The key to survival in the SaaS world is getting your money's worth from what you spend on customer acquisition.  (See "Marketing Spend;  How Much is Enough?") Once you've spent money on developing your product, sales and marketing expenses are likely to be among your largest on-going expenses.   For your business to thrive, the return on that spending - the long-term customer value - must exceed the acquisition costs.

With focus, a company can distinguish itself from competitors, make itself easier to find, attract more leads, and close more business.

What does that means in terms of the "customer acquisition cost (CAC)/ long term customer value" (LCV) formula?  If the company spends $1 on sales and marketing, it's got a better chance at earning back much more than that in long-term customer value.


Don't just be another company that does everything that everybody else does.  Be the one and only "bulkhead man."




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

How not to waste $30,000 on marketing

An entrepreneur who's just been accepted into a start-up accelerator that provides cash for young companies asks:

"How would you spend a $30,000 budget for marketing an SMB software-as-a-service (SaaS) application?" 

He's selling into "a huge but highly competitive market."  Based on feedback from about 10 active users, he explains, "I feel confident my application is ready to go to market."

Now it's just a matter of where to spend the $30,000.

Don't spend a dime yet

My advice:  Put the checkbook away.

Sure, the company could try several marketing tactics that might be helpful and reasonably cost-effective:  search engine optimization (SEO), Google adwords, PR, and others.

But in a highly competitive market, $30,000 won't go far.  The company could easily spend that amount on adwords in a single month, and good SEO or PR professionals need to get paid.

Before it spends any money on specific lead generation activities, the company should first figure out why anyone would buy its product.  And in a highly competitive market, why would they buy it from them?

If the company is facing well-established and well-funded competitors, it'll need to articulate a significant advantage over these other solutions.  A few extra features aren't nearly enough.

A new solution can't just be better; it needs to be a lot better.   

Don't promote before you know what you're promoting 

There's a lesson in here for all SaaS companies:

Don't spend money on search engine marketing, PR, or any other channel, until you have a
compelling message to promote.

Once the solution is built is not the time to start marketing.  Companies should think through these messages and their value proposition much earlier in the process.

If you're interested in building a viable business, developing a compelling value proposition is just as important as developing a sound technology solution.  Marketing and messaging are not after-thoughts. 

If you don't know who should buy your solution, what problem it solves, and why it's better than anything else out in the market, no amount of money - not $30,000, not $300,000, not $3 million - will help much.

Customers don't care about you

Sorry to break this news to you, but customers don't really care about you.

Even when they ask about you, it's really about them:

  • "What problems can you solve for me?" 
  • "What experience do you have with companies like mine?" 
  • "What do you know about my business, my market, my product?" 
  • "How can you help me?"

You may have a broad range of expertise.  You might have solved problems for all kinds of different companies in all kinds of different industries.  You might know a lot about a lot of different markets.

It doesn't matter. 

Prospective customers really only care about themselves. What do you know about their market?  What can you do for their business.

There's no problem with that.  After all, it's their business and their money.

Present yourself as an expert

So what does that mean for software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketers?  What does it mean for your messages and how you present yourselves?

Look at it from the prospective customer's point of view.  They'll be relying on your SaaS solution to support a key part of their business - customer management, finance, ERP, HR, whatever. 

They need to trust you.  They need to feel confident that you understand their particular needs. 

You need to present yourselves as experts at solving their unique challenges.  You need to focus, to specialize. (See "Don't market to the wrong people," Practical Advice Newsletter, April 2013.)  

For example:

  • "Our billing management system is focused on the meeting the special needs of veterinarians in the US"
  • "We deliver an HR recruiting solution built specifically for K-12 public school administrators"
  • "We've built an inventory management system based on our deep understanding of the food service industry."

You can specialize by industry, by geography, or by company size.  Those are fairly common. 

Or the focus could be on a particular kind of problem.  For example:

  • "We've built a solution for companies that need to coordinate long sales cycles that include multiple decision makers throughout a large enterprise"
  • "We're ideal for small companies struggling to attract software developers"
  • "Our solution eliminates the paperwork from tracking warranties and processing claims."  
That is, you could stake a claim to having the perfect solution to one special need which may be common to multiple industries.

SaaS is about a relationship, not a transaction

Of course your company probably knows a lot about other industries and other markets.  And it might be easy to configure your SaaS solution to work in a variety of environments to solve a whole slew of problems. 

But your prospective customer usually doesn't care about what you can do for other companies in other industries with different challenges.  They care about themselves.

Remember, SaaS means a relationship, not a transaction.  And customers want a relationship with someone that they are convinced knows their market, their business, their problems.  Someone they can trust.


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