SaaS marketing is different from any other type of marketing because of the scalability of SaaS, the value that SaaS products provide, and the extreme importance of customer retention.
Developing a quality SaaS product with a real market need is only the beginning.
The most successful SaaS companies have marketing that’s so good, it’s living its own life, independent of the company’s product. Think of how Drift has owned “conversational marketing” or how Buffer’s blog is loved by social media managers and entrepreneurs around the world.
The importance of vetting your product and knowing your buyer before development begins
Before marketing comes development. It’s essential that you build something the market needs.
Learn how to vet your SaaS ideas. Conduct market research to find a problem worth solving, and ensure that your target customer is willing to pay for a solution.
Build a high-fidelity prototype before you actually begin development, so you can get feedback from your target audience. What’s their impression of the prototype? Do you they think it would solve their problems? What would they be willing to pay for it? Is there something else that could solve their problem better than your prototype?
SaaS isn’t an emotional or luxury purchase. It’s not a status symbol. You will be getting reviews on sites like Capterra, G2, and Trustpilot. What’s most important is that your product is high quality and solves a real market need.
That way, no matter what marketing strategy you’ll use, you’ll also have word of mouth on your side.
How SaaS marketing is unique
So, what is SaaS marketing and what makes it unique?
There are a few things that make SaaS marketing different:
- Retention is critical
- Free trials are common
- Competition is extraordinarily high
The number one thing that sets SaaS marketing apart is that if your product isn’t outstanding and doesn’t provide real value, your business will fail.
With cosmetics and fashion and even online infoproducts, marketing can make up where product lacks, and a company can still be profitable.
The median cost for a SaaS company to acquire $1 of revenue from a new customer is $1.18.
Most SaaS companies spend more to acquire a customer than they make from that customer in the first month of service. Increasing LTV is essential.
Self-service versus inside sales
We can’t lump all SaaS products together. Some cost $60,000 a year. Others cost $200 a year. There’s a really big difference in how SaaS products are sold too.
Most SaaS companies with an annual cost over $1500 employ salespeople.
- Self-service: Customers decide to sign up and enter their own credit card information. There are no long term contracts, and customers can downgrade or cancel at any time.
- Inside sales: Salespeople work with leads from marketing and use outbound to generate their own leads. They close deals in in-person or online meetings. There might be long term contracts.
While many of the SaaS marketing strategies we’re going to mention can work for both of the above sales models, the fact is that the price point and sales model in part dictates which tactics to use.
Too many SaaS entrepreneurs make the mistake of not considering how their sales model and pricing model affects marketing. That’s why each strategy below comes with recommendations for the type of SaaS company that should utilize it.
Tried-and-true SaaS marketing strategies
Let’s take a look at the top SaaS marketing strategies.
Content marketing is the creation and distribution of strategic content in order to attract an audience of target customers.
Example: Social media scheduling app Buffer totally rocks at content marketing. Here’s a post that is highly valuable to their audience of social media marketers and entrepreneurs. The content format they utilize most frequently is blogging and podcasting.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service and inside sales. With self-service, you can build an audience and get email signups or immediate product signups. With inside sales, you can drive leads, and salespeople can also use content for sales enablement.
Content marketing tips:
- Create a consistent brand voice. Every piece of content you create should feel like it’s being shared by the same person, with the same voice.
- Know your audience’s pain points and interests. Be sure to use content to address their pain points, so that your content is valuable and shareable regardless of when they ultimately convert.
- To start, prioritize one or two content channels (such as a blog or podcast) and one or two distribution channels (such as Twitter or Pinterest).
- Whenever possible, SEO-optimize your content.
- Boost your top performing pieces of content with paid ads.
*Important note* Social media advertising for direct conversions isn’t recommended for most early stage SaaS companies, but it can be used to drive ads to content, especially gated content like ebooks and webinars in order to capture email addresses.
While choosing to offer a freemium version or a free trial does impact SaaS pricing, at the end of the day, this strategy is ultimately an acquisition channel.
Product marketing is when you give away your product for free (forever or temporarily) to increase word of mouth and virality, and acquire more customers than you would if you were keeping your product completely behind a paywall.
Web analytics and marketing automation platform GoSquared offers two of its core features (web analytics and live chat) for free up to a certain volume of usage. The best freemium products ensure that smaller businesses can get value from the free version.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service and (to a lesser extent) inside sales. For most companies with a high-enough price point to employ sales people, it isn’t a fit for them to try and attract very small businesses and solopreneurs with a free version. However, free trials can be offered by businesses at any price point, as a lead generation strategy.
Product marketing tips:
- Only offer a free version of your product if your addressable market is huge, and your product could potentially be used by businesses in nearly any industry.
- For companies with inside sales, make sure to collect company size or other qualifying factors in your free trial sign up form, so that sales can follow up with qualified leads.
- Whenever possible, build virality into your product: something that is shared with others that don’t have an account (a report, a design, etc.). This sharing will bring in free leads.
Search engine optimization is utilized to drive traffic from organic search. SaaS companies spend big money to show up in the first 10 search results on Google. (Preferably the first 3.)
Example: FreshBooks’ Resource Hub is a great example of highly SEO-driven content. So as to not slam their blog with too much boring SEO topics, they’ve split out answers to basic questions and definitions in a separate place.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service and inside sales. Any company can benefit from getting SEO traffic, which is costly to ramp up initially, but then provides free leads for years to come.
- Use longform content for high-competition keyphrases. Craft blog posts or design longform content web pages.
- Use a keyphrase research tool like Mangools or Ahrefs to find low-competition opportunities with reasonable search traffic.
- Add secondary keyphrases in your content to rank for variations of longtail keyphrases.
- Increase your chances of ranking with backlinking for SEO.
PPC ads in search engines are a great way for SaaS companies to collect signups and leads, especially when they run ads for bottom-of-the-funnel keyphrases like “CRM for real estate agents” or “Instagram scheduling software.”
Example: In this example, three companies are running ads on “travel management.”
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service and inside sales. If people are looking for your solution, this strategy can work for you, but it might be cost-prohibitive for very low-cost products.
Search PPC tips:
- Run ads to a dedicated landing page that is tailored for the keyphrase or ad group, not to your homepage. Remove the menu from the landing page.
- Test different headlines and CTAs in your landing page.
- Include as many text variations as Google allows for each ad group.
- Continually conduct keyphrase research, monitor the keyphrases your ads are showing for, and add negative keywords.
Email marketing is the practice of sending emails to a warm list of subscribers. We’re not talking about cold email here (see that discussed in direct marketing below).
InVision is very successful with email marketing. They send a round-up of recent content shared on their site and they have a separate newsletter for subscribers to their content site DesignBetter.co.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service and inside sales. Because self-service companies don’t have salespeople to manually email leads, they are usually more incentivized to win with email marketing sooner, but companies with inside sales can utilize this strategy too.
Email marketing tips:
- Create very high-quality, helpful content to inspire newsletter subscriptions.
- Utilize gated assets like ebooks and webinars to gain even more subscribers.
- Maintain a consistent email schedule.
- Experiment with the format of your emails: HTML or plain text.
Want to get influencers and affiliate marketers to do the selling for you? Create a unique affiliate link for all of your affiliate partners, and provide them with resources and sample copy to help sell your solution via email, social media, and their blog.
Example: In this example from SaaS product Infinity, they’re reaching out with an invitation to become an affiliate.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Self-service. Because companies with inside sales tend to have larger sales cycles, affiliates can get frustrated. With self-service, the rewards are more immediate.
Affiliate marketing tips:
- Bring in the right affiliate marketing partners whose target audience overlaps with yours.
- Invite affiliates with both large and small audiences. (Think: micro-influencers.)
- Support your affiliates with sample copy and resources. Be available to answer their questions.
- Set the affiliate commission somewhere between 20% and 50%.
Direct marketing and events
Direct marketing is all about making direct connections. This can include:
- Direct mail
- Cold email
- Cold calling
- Attending events
Example: In this example, Sendoso is combining cold email with an upcoming event in order to target prospects.
This SaaS marketing strategy works best for: Inside sales. With higher-priced products, the effort of direct marketing is more worthwhile. While salespeople usually attend events to make direct connections with leads, events can be utilized to a lesser extent self-service SaaS companies too.
Direct marketing tips:
- Direct mail can typically work for targeting small, local businesses where the person opening the mail is also the business owner.
- Customize cold emails as much as possible. For your top target accounts, customize one or two lines in your email to show that you’ve done your research and understand their needs.
- Research prospects’ needs before cold calling to increase the chances of catching their attention.
- Utilize conference technology to capture leads at events, and consider offering swag or relevant resources to attendees.
Where to focus your marketing budget?
With all of these different SaaS marketing strategies, it’s tough to know where to spend your money.
Let’s start off with some hard-won advice learned from working with profitable SaaS companies all over the world.
If you have an inside-sales team, you should get a strong foundation of outbound, direct marketing working before you add inbound methods. If your price point can support the effort of outbound, then do it. Because when you’ve got that up and running, it’s a consistent stream of leads.
Another thing to consider is this: one channel, one market, one niche. Meaning one marketing strategy, one region, one industry. You should nail one of each before moving on. If you’re struggling with one of them, then try something new. But if things are working, don’t move on until you’ve done everything you could to double down on it.
Don’t just randomly try things. Be very strategic about what lever you’re turning. Do you need to try a new marketing strategy, or the same marketing strategy but targeting a different industry or persona?
Do an audit of what SaaS companies with the same price point and target audience as you are doing, and see what strategies you’re missing out on.
And remember—when it comes to SaaS, no amount of marketing can save you if you don’t have a quality product from the start.