Let’s be real: If game-planning for a startup is hard, game-planning for a SaaS startup is even harder—it comes with the territory.
Building and sustaining a highly-niche, online-only business has its own set of marketing challenges no matter how you look at it because anything universal can be pretty much thrown out the window, making good advice hard to come by.
But just because your product is intangible doesn’t mean your grasp of the market has to be. In fact, the more you know it, the more you can glean from it, and the more you can get a leg up on the competition.
So whether you’re fresh to the world of SaaS marketing, have already dipped your toes in, or found yourself knee-deep, here’s a list of 12 tips that can help you overcome some of the most common marketing challenges SaaS startups inevitably face.
1. Don’t Assume You Know Your Customers, Learn Who They Are
Far too many SaaS startups use basic data and assumptions to build their buyer personas, and worse yet, fail to re-examine them as their business and product develops.
Having a dynamic understanding and definition of your buyer personas goes a long way—in fact, according to Cintell survey, 64.7% of companies that exceeded both their lead and revenue goals updated their buyer personas within the last 6 months, while 47.1% who regularly exceed revenue goals consider themselves consistently effective at maintaining their personas.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to go about it, such as sending open-ended surveys, direct outreach to current customers or trial users, and even using data-gathering tools to round out demographic details. Just remember to engage your customers, test your theories, and drill down into the nitty gritty of why your product makes a good fit and for who.
2. Dial In To Your Niche
Even though some SaaS businesses don’t realize it, it’s not a disadvantage to be niche. Casting your net too wide is a three-fold failure. First, it wastes resources on those that aren’t a good fit. Second, it under-serves those who are. Third, it sets you up for potential detractors, which most lean startups can’t afford. With all three combined, it’s no wonder why most B2B marketers say that sales lead quality is the single most important metric to focus on.
Embracing the niche that you’re in by targeting realistic buyers is the best thing you can do for your customers, and therefore your business, as you’ll be able to give them the most helpful and meaningful experience possible, leading to better reviews, retention rates, and lifetime value.
3. Use Competitive Research
In oversaturated markets, competitive research can be one of the best ways to set yourself apart. Figuring out your competition’s strengths and weaknesses will give you a much clearer picture of where to aim your own efforts. Don’t try to compete on the same keywords with those who are firmly established—find appropriate long-tail keywords instead, as they’ll not only help you rank in search results, but are 2.5x more likely to convert. If your competition is bad at social media, make it a prime platform for thought leadership, customer engagement, and sharing your content. Find their gaps and wedge yourself in with purpose.
Tools like Answerthepublic [shown above] are a great way to find long-tail keywords appropriate to your offering, which you can then plug into your SEO and competitive analysis tools to compare search volume, competition, ranking, etc.
4. Use Tools to Stay Organized
Insert handclap emojis here: Or-gan-i-za-tion. Organization and consistency are key to gaining as much insight into the successes and failures of your operations as possible, so find and make a habit of using helpful tools for every facet of what you do: a CRM to track customer data, web analytics, and communication; a calendar to lay out content efforts; a social media dashboard to track and manage engagement and schedule promotion. Then find tools to help you sync it all together into one transparent and well-oiled machine.
Need any further proof? A variety of sources have confirmed that the simple use of a CRM alone has been proven to improve sales, productivity, ROI, customer retention, customer satisfaction, data accessibility, and even sales cycles.
5. Plan For The Long Term
While it’s always tempting to dump all your resources into efforts that provide early returns, they shouldn’t supercede (let alone replace) long-term efforts. It takes significant time to establish domain authority and ranking, so even though not every blog post or content offer promises an early payback, they’ll quietly establish a foothold for when you’re finally ready to start scaling—and when that time comes, you’ll be thankful they did.
6. Spread Your Content Across the Buyer's Journey
Similar to the example above, the allure of putting more prospects in the funnel is far too mouth-watering for its own good. While doing so can certainly prove to be a benefit, failing to provide insight and support with content throughout the buyer’s journey compromises every effort that comes before it.
Consider this: according to Salesforce, consumers engage with around 11 pieces of content before actually making a purchase. If your content doesn’t guide them through each stage with insight on how your offering can help, chances are they’ll have nowhere near enough information to convert into a customer, making all your content efforts nearly fruitless.
A successful strategy should aim at creating a series of seamless transitions as your prospects become aware, educated, consider their options, explore your trial, and become experienced users. If you don’t, those acquisition rates will be nothing in comparison to your churn rates.
7. Learn To Think Like Your Customers
Plenty of SaaS businesses are solutions to problems that previously had none or were simply done manually. That means keyword research targeted around your solution might be highly-ineffective if it’s not something your prospects will be looking for. Learn to think like your customers by focusing your content and keywords on solving their pain points, especially in the awareness stage. After all, who’s going to find a supersonic jetpack when they’re still looking at which car will get them to work the fastest?
8. Be Bold
The title of this says it all. Too many SaaS businesses think they need to slowly build their presence to establish trust when in fact, a compelling solution is all potential customers need to know to understand you have something to offer. Thought leadership and industry authority have less to do with experience and more to do with being clever, creative, and helpful. If you have something powerful to say or offer, no length of establishment will change that—so don’t hold back!
9. Make Sure Your Audience Understands Your Offering
Making your offering known isn’t enough. SaaS products are often complex, so the level of interest and adoption they achieve largely hinges on your audience’s understanding of how, and more importantly why they work. Give prospects and customers the easiest possible route to understanding your offering, even if it takes multiple forms like blog posts, explainer videos, infographics, etc. Use this as a standard: If someone outside of your business that was recently introduced to your solution can easily explain it to someone else without your help, you’re on the right track.
Dropbox, known industry-wide for gaining 10 million customers from a simple explainer video, continues to make getting to know their product easy from exemplary website graphics and text blurbs to full-scale how-to’s and case studies.
10. Get Creative With Your Networking
Often times, the person delivering the statement is more important than the words themselves. In terms of marketing, think about the difference between how you weigh finding a potential solution through a PPC link compared to hearing it mentioned by a journalist, expert, influencer, or even a friend or colleague. Social proof is a powerful tool; don’t be afraid to get creative with who you reach out to.
Consider different publications, platforms, and people who cover your industry or niche. Go network in-person at industry-related events or reach out to potential integration partners. You might be surprised who is willing to help you or form a mutually beneficial relationship that may exist outside the standard market channels.
Better yet, leverage word of mouth or provide incentive—referred parties are 4x more likely to buy!
Industry pioneer Airbnb has one of the most robust referral programs around. Their high-value, dual-incentive offer provides a hefty kickback for those who refer friends, and a discount for those referred. That’s what we call a win-win-win.
11. Listen to The Feedback
Remember in the first tip when we said engaging, listening, and learning is one of the best ways to find a best-fit audience?
You can’t nail everything all the time, so keeping an open mind to what your customers feel you do and don’t do well is one of the most powerful ways you can align with their needs and provide a solution that suits them.
12. Find A Successful Threshold With Your Offering
Improving your conversion and churn rates doesn’t always mean just packing more people into the funnel, but rather figuring out how to provide the best value for both your customers and your business—that means finding the threshold of your offering’s value proposition.
If you’re offering a freemium version or trial, you need to find the perfect place to separate free from paid. For the prior, figure out what features truly elevate the user experience and make things easy and convenient, then set the bar for the paid version just below it. For trial periods, track and analyze usage and see what actions lead to conversions. Is it figuring out or using a certain feature? Is it a length of time or familiarity? Is it related to supplemental support you’ve provided? Finding the right threshold proves you’re willing to provide a solution for free, but know how valuable its full potential truly is.
Hopefully these insights have you on your way to a great start, but implementation can be difficult and mistakes can be expensive. If you need a hand on the marketing side of things for your SaaS startup, don't hesitate to contact us!