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B2B, B2C, SaaS, PaaS, human to human….
Whatever. It's all marketing, right?
Acronyms aside, not all marketing is created equal — and that's especially true for software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing strategies.
Think about it: The general idea behind 99% of all business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing campaigns is to generate sales. Sure, the products can be anything from a $20 T-shirt to a $2 billion construction contract. The steps to get to those sales will be vastly different but in the end, it's a concrete sale that's the goal.
With SaaS companies, that just isn’t the case.
Your goal in SaaS marketing should be to get free trial sign-ups. Period. That's it.
Why? Because the product you're selling isn't a real thing. It's digital, intangible. Your customers will never put their hands on it or see it as a 3D object in real life. You've got to show them how that intangible product can change their life before you can sell it. And you do that by offering a taste, with a feature-limited or time-limited free trial. Only then can you ask for the actual sale (a monthly or an annual subscription).
So what works to move a prospect from visitor to free trial sign up to paid subscriber?
The following 6 SaaS marketing strategies are proven ways to make that happen.
Automation is your friend. It doesn't matter if you get 1 lead or 3,000 leads a day: You need to automate that process.
The most popular automation for SaaS marketing is for sending digital content. Asking for someone's email address in exchange for a free ebook, webinar or other content is pretty standard practice these days. A few years ago, finding an email marketing software that could automate this process wasn't common. These days, most of the major marketing platforms do this.
This can increase conversions by acting when the user is interested. By automating the delivery of the ebook or item to their email within seconds, you are striking while the iron is hot, so to speak.
But that's a basic automation and one I hope you're already using.
It's time to go beyond that to stand out. Automation is your friend, but it should only be a starting point for interacting with prospects.
Have your sales team review incoming leads manually. Sure, your prospects will move through your automated email funnel too, but by reviewing details such as where the person works, the size of their company (if known) and other details, your sales team can identify who would be the best fit for your product.
Then, have your salespeople reach out to those prospects personally and offer a demo, sales call or special promotion to get started. You can't offer this personal approach with everyone, but by taking a bit of extra time to identify your most likely prospects and personally connect with them, you can dramatically increase your user base, conversions and sales.
We all know free trials are the bee’s knees. It's a great strategy, right? Opt in --> free trial --> paid subscriber. It's a neat, tidy and streamlined SaaS funnel.
But don't overlook the power of the freemium model.
Freemium means that instead of a time-limited free trial of your software, you offer a totally free type of account. Instead of a time limit, it relies on limiting features to encourage users to upgrade. But the important distinction is: they don't have to. If the free version contains all the features a user needs, they could theoretically continue using it for free, forever.
Take AND.CO, which offers a limited version of its business-management software for free.
Why would you offer that?
Because it is a conversion powerhouse. Signing up for a freemium account is no-risk for the user. If they don't like it, it's free — so no harm, no foul. And without a high-pressure time limit, people are more likely to sign up and try it out.
And, without that time limit, it's a lot easier for your product to become ingrained in their lives, especially for B2B customers.
Dropbox is a classic example of this. They offer 2 gigabytes of storage for free and many business collaboration tools, including a slick Slack integration. However, once a user incorporates this into their business, they' aren’t likely wanting to go out and find something else to replace it once they hit that 2GB limit. They're much more likely to continue doing things the way that was working for them and simply upgrading to a paid plan with more storage.
That's the beauty of freemium.
This one is quick and easy, but worth saying. Don't expect people to fill out lengthy profiles with lots of personal information or specifics. Keep your free trial or freemium sign-up page simple and with as few fields as possible.
There is no magic number of form fields to maximize conversions, despite older studies that said, "smaller forms are always better." More recent studies by Unbounce have shown it isn’t about how many actual fields there are, it's about:
For example, if you're applying for a $25,000 loan from your bank, you fully expect to sit there and fill out a 45 question form with a lot of personal questions in order for them to entrust you with a lump sum of cash on nothing but your word (and credit history).
But to download an ebook? Or try out a piece of software? Not the same at all. You aren’t as motivated for the result as when you applied for that $25,000 loan. Too much time spent on a form or too intrusive of questions and you might decide it isn’t worth it and bounce outta there.
You're reading this, aren't you? So content marketing works.
Don't take my word for it. ProfitWell studied the effectiveness of content marketing specifically for SaaS companies and found companies that invested in content grew 30% faster and retained customers 10% better than those who didn't.
What are the most effective SaaS content marketing formats?
Whatever formats you choose, make sure to follow the number 1 rule of content marketing: be consistent.
It works for pizzas and coffee rewards and it works for SaaS marketing, too.
Everyone loves a good rewards program. Some companies offer more of an affiliate model by financially compensating customers who bring in other customers.
Others choose to give additional capacity or enhanced features in exchange for users referring others.
Perhaps the best-known referral program in the SaaS world is Dropbox's successful launch campaign. The online storage service provider offered 2GB of free storage to new users, but if they referred someone else, they got 500 megabytes per user, up to a max of 16GB of totally free cloud storage. In 2008, that was a lot. It was the same amount of storage available in the top-of-the-line iPhone 3G released that year, in fact.
The result? Dropbox's user base grew by 3,900% in 15 months, according to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. I'd call that a successful referral program.
Launch a campaign with your competitor? Hard pass, you may be thinking. But listen: A strategic SaaS marketing partnership can be a win-win.
The toughest part about marketing your SaaS is targeting the right audience. Unlike selling sunglasses, which billions of people are interested in, your entire market could be a mere few million people, or even smaller depending how niche your software is.
Oh, a project management platform for screen printing shops? Yeah, that's a pretty small market.
But profitable, if you can find the right people: print shop owners.
This is why teaming up with another company can be so powerful: you already know their audience is a great fit for your product, too.
Email marketing platform ConvertKit saw partnerships as a good way to grow on a low, startup budget. The company was 3 years old earning about $100,000 monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
12 months later, the company completed 150 live webinars with various affiliates and corporate partners and were sitting at $625,000 MRR, as reported by Leadfeeder.
As we head into 2021, webinar and event partnerships will become even bigger as business events continue to be held only online because of the coronavirus pandemic. More people are used to virtual learning and online business networking thanks to 2020's lockdowns, so there's never been a better time to team up with others for virtual presentations.
Yes, marketing your SaaS company is different than the standard B2B or B2C out there, but as you can see from these strategies, it doesn't need to be complicated or expensive.
Like any marketing strategy, you first need a crystal clear picture of your target market before you can launch anything.
You need to know who they are, where to find them and how to speak to them so they realize your product is the answer to their SaaS-iest dreams.
Once you've got that locked down, you can explore the strategies above, such as:
One piece of advice? Don't do all those things at the same time.
You need to pick 1 or 2 strategies and focus on them for at least 6 months. Evaluate what worked, what didn't. If it works, all you need to do is keep doing that and scaling it up. No need to jump into something else crazy for the fun of it until you have the bandwidth or team availability to take on more campaigns.
Remember: You don't need to do every SaaS marketing strategy well. But you better do at least one really, really well.
Need help choosing the right SaaS marketing strategy, or need a team to execute your content marketing dreams? Kantaloupe can help.