Let’s quickly assess your SaaS company. You’re a SaaS founder; you have a great idea that you’ve built out of creativity, technical expertise, and hard work. Maybe your SaaS is a better version of an existing product or service. Maybe it applies an existing concept to a new vertical (you’ve probably heard businesses saying something like “We’re the Uber for the XYZ vertical”). You have scoped out the competition. And now you’re looking for paying customers.
You’ve heard that you must have SEO; some have advised that you need social media, and yet others have told you to offer a free trial. Marketing is not your area of expertise, but an effective marketing plan is something you know your SaaS business must have. So what should you do?
Separating Strategy from Tactics
The basics of any marketing plan are made up of strategies and tactics. In general, strategies are your business’ overall approach to achieving goals and objectives (with specific, concrete targets), and tactics are the actions that you take to achieve your goals (each with their own metrics).
Examples of common SaaS marketing tactics include content marketing, product trials, search engine optimization (SEO), referral programs, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising such as Google AdWords, retargeting website and social media visitors, and co-marketing with related businesses. Tactics are chosen for their ability to deliver the highest ROI toward specific strategies. Because we live in a digitally splintered world where it can be difficult to hold the attention of prospects, it’s common for a strategy to require multiple, interconnected tactics over time.
But today we’re not getting down into the weeds of comparing tactics; we’re talking about the strategies that make up your plan.
The First Step to Marketing Strategy
First let’s examine one absolutely critical component of a successful SaaS marketing strategy: product-market fit (PMF). You must understand how PMF applies to your product in order to be successful, so here’s a brief explanation.
Product-market fit refers to the point at which there is broad market acceptance for a new product or application. This is past the early research, evaluation, testing and tweaking phases. It’s the point where you have objective evidence of your solution serving the needs of actual customers and that there are enough potential customers to build a viable business.
If you are entering a market where you are not the first, then the PMF is already established. If you are first to market, or are creating a new segment, then you don’t know your PMF and have to objectively establish it.
Here’s why understanding your PMF is critical before planning a SaaS marketing strategy. A company that hasn’t established PMF can’t evaluate the market until they’ve done the work to create awareness of both the problem and the solution. On the other hand, a company that has either established PMF or is entering a market with established competition has to prioritize how they will differentiate themselves and where their ready-to-market prospects exist. Each of these scenarios requires the implementation of a different marketing strategy because the overall business goal is different.
Pre-PMF Marketing Priorities
If yours is an early-stage SaaS, here are some things your marketing strategy should focus on:
- Brand awareness: Your prospects need to know that your solution exists.
- Brand credibility: You must provide your prospects with a reason (or a series of reasons) to trust your business and your solution.
- Message positioning: This is simply ensuring you present your messages in a way that overcomes all barriers to understanding. For instance, is the problem that your solution solves well defined, or do you need to start with defining the problem? Is the market situation so amorphous that you need to build awareness that the problem even exists?
- Vertical and persona identification: The heart of effective marketing is getting really comfortable with all aspects of what used to be called your target markets – because not everyone in the whole marketplace is reasonably going to become your customer. So who exactly is going to be most open to learning about and using your solution? How can you define which narrow segment would be most likely to use it, and how can you target them first?
- KPIs: Finally, as mentioned above, successful marketing strategies must include measurables, and two of the most useful are cost per lead (CPL) and customer acquisition cost (CAC). This is where you determine exactly what it’s costing you to grow your business. These numbers can be compared to industry averages and will indicate how you should budget and plan for future growth.
Once you have established your responses to these priorities, implementing your marketing strategy and selecting tactics to gain sign-ups, site traffic, etc., becomes more self-explanatory.
Post-PMF Marketing Priorities
On the other hand, if you are an emerging SaaS company with a good grasp on your PMF, then your SaaS marketing strategy needs to address a completely different set of challenges:
- Scaling up of proven channels and tactics: You know combination of persona-message-solution works; now you must scale up activity within selected channels and tactics to reach an expanded audience more often.
- Expand into new channels: When adding new channels, you should explore to determine if additional or different tactics are more efficient within them.
- Expand into new verticals: Similarly, when expanding your reach into new verticals, you must analyze what tactics bring you the best results.
- Budget optimization: Extended analysis of CPL, CAC, and other metrics will be needed to establish the timing and efficiency of converting prospects from freemium or trial programs to premium sales.
- Brand amplification: Good marketers know this work is never done. In order to remain top of mind for your target audience(s), you must develop an ongoing schedule for accomplishing all of the above marketing tasks and keeping your brand in circulation.
Checking Down the List
As you can see, your company needs very different marketing strategies based on where you are in your SaaS journey. To assess this and to determine what aspects of marketing you should prioritize in your strategy, consider consulting with a SaaS marketing agency to get you started.