It is an exciting time to be in the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry. IDC estimates that:
‘SaaS delivery will significantly outpace traditional software product delivery, growing nearly five times faster than the traditional software market and becoming a significant growth driver to all functional software markets. By 2019, the cloud software model will account for $1 of every $4.59 spent on software.’
While these numbers look promising, it doesn’t mean success should be taken for granted. Marketing in this space is notoriously difficult. As Kissmetrics explains there’s no physical product, and given the speed with which services and products develop, the goal posts are continually shifting. Yet marketing SaaS can be mastered – and not only by the bigger players, such as Amazon, IBM and Cisco. So what can marketers do to make sure their activity is making the most of the current opportunities?
What is the difference between SaaS and cloud?
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that there is a distinction between cloud and SaaS, though you may see the two terms used interchangeably. For marketers, this distinction is important because the two are fulfilling different needs to different users.
Cloud computing is ‘the delivery of on-demand services’ (such as applications or data centre), whereas SaaS is the actual application that a user can access via the cloud - and therefore as a service. Instead of downloading the software onto your device or having an on-premise solution, users pay a subscription fee to access those services online. Unlike other types of technology or b2b marketing, Kissmetrics points out that the sales cycle for SaaS is much faster suggesting that, rather than taking 12 months, the whole process might only take a few days, or even a few hours. So you’ve got to make sure you’re grabbing attention and explaining your service simply and effectively in a small space of time.
Start a conversation: A Game of Social Thrones: Hootsuite
Content marketing is used effectively today to make a complex product much easier to understand. It capitalises on techniques such as customer insight and lifecycle to ensure that the kind of information a buyer needs at each stage of their buying journey is delivered in a compelling and engaging way, thus providing an awesome experience, at the same time as moving the buyer along their journey.
Persona profiling is usually done via workshopping with stakeholders, deep dive phone interviews with real-life customers, and ongoing social monitoring, demographic and behavioural data analysis to deepen persona insights. It is then that companies see patterns in their buyers, their interests, their motivations and their personalities.
SaaS buyers also go through what we call a buyer’s journey, where they pass through several stages that marketers like to break down as follows:
- Awareness: where the buyer may feel they have a problem, but be uncertain of exactly what the problem is or how they can solve it
- Consideration: where buyers know what the problem is and are considering various solutions to that problem; and
- Purchase: where they are in contract negotiations with one vendor, pulled over the line and successfully onboarded.
SaaS providers can use these typical buying stages to produce content that gives momentum to their sales cycles.
For example, attention-grabbing and effective pieces of content for a buyer awareness stage came from HootSuite, a social media management business. The Hootsuite dashboard allows companies to track and measure results from all of their social media accounts in one central location. To commemorate the start of the new season of Game of Thrones, they launched this video:
The video applied its social listening insights with a clever and attention-grabbing piece of creative to engage with its audience. At the time of release, the video was shared by several big media outlets, shared by their own network over 60,000 times, and has been viewed nearly one million times to date. In a blog post written about the video, HootSuite owed the success of the video to wanting to connect with their customers in an real way:
An important part of our content marketing strategy is authenticity. That word gets tossed around a lot, but to me it means connecting with your audience as you would your friend... This requires you to know your audience, and because we’re always actively engaging with our customers, advocates, and influencers on social media, we’ve known since the first season that we’re among many thousands of GoT fans. By recognizing that we have an audience full of fellow fans, we were able to identify an opportunity. A principle we follow is “be the conversation; don’t interrupt the conversation” and we knew on April 4th the social web was going to be talking about Game of Thrones.
The video provided Hootsuite with an ideal opportunity to engage in discussion with prospective customers (fellow fans), get great exposure and show that their were real people working at HootSuite, making the company seem savvy, fresh and fun. Buyers in consideration or purchase stages who were fans of GoT would also have built stronger brand associations with HootSuite too, a neat side-effect of the campaign.
Start a conversation with those beyond your current reach
Working with industry influencers is a great way to expand your network. The term influencers isn’t just for fashion-minded millennials anymore, it’s evolved to encompass thought leaders and industry experts who have the capacity to amplify your company as well as building trust and authority.
A great example of this is when HubSpot, a SaaS company selling inbound marketing solutions reached out to David Meerman Scott, and invited him to join their advisory board prior to the launch of their sales enablement platform. Given that Meerman Scott is an expert in sales enablement and bestselling author with a substantial twitter following, he was an ideal match for the company. Even though this is a high-profile example, a great influencer doesn’t have to be unobtainable. Working with those in your local industry can have a powerful effect. And return the favour. Make sure your business is active in guest-blogging, networking and attending industry events.
Keep the conversation flowing
It is essential, once a SaaS business gets prospects to notice it, to continue the conversation, pushing them on to seriously consider the brand as a potential vendor. Various tactics work in this stage, including professional product pages, case studies, tech reviews and lead nurturing that is designed to help the prospect interact with each of these (and sometimes more) in a sequence.
HubSpot advises that seven of the best lead nurturing tactics include:
- Targeted content
- Multi-channel nurturing using marketing automation, social media, paid remarketing, personalised website content, social selling and direct outreach
- Multiple touches
- Timely follow-ups
- Personalised emails
- Lead scoring, and
- Sales and marketing alignment
SaaS company Booking Boss have exemplified personalised nurture workflows with their booking process self-assessment, that acts not only as a self-diagnosing tool for its prospects who are in consideration stage, but also as a way to gather information and personalise a timely follow-up.
Go in for the close
Getting customers onboarded onto your platform is no easy task, particularly in the early days of development. Developing and launching a SaaS application is by default an iterative process. The version that is first delivered to market will likely look very different six months down the track. While the product may not be perfect at this stage, the approach opens up interesting opportunities for marketing.
Jim Belosic, CEO of ShortStack, recommends, ‘starting with a beta period that is invite only access so you build a loyal core group of customers. You can then take those people and ask them to recommend your product to their friends and ideally they'd recommend good potential users.’
A beta launch doesn’t only allow your team to iron out any kinks, but also build trust between your business and your prospective customers who in turn will feel more invested in your company’s success.
There are many places to find prospective beta testers including BetaList, Reddit, Facebook groups and LinkedIn. It’s also a good idea to make an occasion of the beta launch (to make sure all systems are up!) Find a unique hook that will appeal to your target audience.
For example, blueleaf are a financial services company that offer an array of tools for financial advisors. Instead of desperately targeting every man and his dog, blueleaf cultivated an air of exclusivity. When they were testing, to be eligible for the test, prospective users had to ask the company via Facebook or Twitter permission to be able to participate in the testing:
The other way to be able to participate is to refer-a friend - with a twist. The company noted:
We’ve developed our own spin on refer-a-friend: rather than limit the number of invites someone has, there are an unlimited number of invites – but we’ve limited the time frames to invite a friend. We turn on the ability to invite a friend for just an hour or two so that people who want in have to beg everyone they know who’s on to let them in before the window closes.
This builds a frantic desire to get in before that window closes and was just one part of an enormously successful campaign. According to Business Insider, the buzz was such that they had signed 10,000 users before the platform had even launched.
One of the common themes in all of the above tactics is that it’s not enough for marketers to stay safe in a traditional marketing box or to only focus on one end of the marketing funnel. Marketing for cloud-based companies requires deep understanding of the buyer persona, and continuous focus on each stage of the buying process to attract, nurture and close new customers.
As with all things tech, this area is also constantly evolving. What works well today, might not be relevant tomorrow. If you would like to make sure that you are at the forefront of marketing and cloud trends, in addition to wanting to create valuable industry contacts from all over the world, then you should consider downloading the Cloud @ CeBIT 2017 program now.