The B2B SaaS industry is a very competitive space, and is still expected to continue growing. However, it’s also no secret that the failure rate for SaaS companies is relatively high, and so proper marketing is highly essential for a B2B Saas business.
In this guide, we will discuss the key areas to focus on when planning a B2B SaaS marketing strategy, as well as the most effective tactics you should implement.
Before we begin, however, we should understand that marketing for SaaS companies are fairly unique compared to other industries.
Key Challenges in B2B SaaS Marketing
Before we can properly plan a B2B SaaS marketing strategy, we should first discuss the common—yet sometimes unique—challenges in the B2B SaaS space.
- Communicating product benefits and overall value
It is generally harder for B2B SaaS companies to communicate whether their product is well worth the money—which, in the common recurring revenue model is the ongoing subscription fee—. This is commonly tackled by inbound marketing: offering content to educate your audience, especially through case studies. We can also use social proofs (testimonies, reviews from existing users, etc.).
- User retention
In the B2B SaaS space, selling your product is just the first step of the long journey. On one hand, SaaS has the benefit of nimbleness in product development and marketing—as we’ll learn together further below—. On the other hand, the nimbleness extend to the users: an existing customer can cancel their subscription anytime, which can happen before you even recover the CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost).
What will this mean? In B2B SaaS marketing, your efforts don’t stop when a prospect converted into a purchasing customer, but should extend to optimize user retention.
- The short sales cycle
In B2B businesses, the sales cycle is usually long: it can take a long time until an organization decide to make a new purchase from a new vendor. With that being said, the B2B SaaS niche has an extremely short sales cycle, which can either be a good thing or a significant challenge.
The typical buying process for B2B SaaS product is: an employee of the company—probably an IT manager— is looking for a solution for a specific problem.This employee do some online research, as around to their colleagues, try the free-trial version or probably watch a demo, and will finally buy.
However, this will mean that you have only a very short time frame to convince the purchase. If your marketing is not on point, you can easily lose a prospect.
- The “service” in Software as a Service
In the SaaS space, you are not only selling the software as a product, but there’s also a huge emphasis on the “service” aspect.
First, the customers will expect a frequent update/patch and new additional features from time to time. This is the first aspect of the service, and if your software can’t stay relevant, remember that they can always cancel the subscription.
Second, is obviously your customer service: your customers will expect fast, responsive technical support that can provide solution. This fact will also impact our marketing efforts: we have to sell our SaaS product by promoting our service.
- The art of giving freebies
Giving free stuff is generally avoided in any businesses, because, obviously, our objective is to generate as much profit as possible.
However, giving free-trial demos and even giving the full software for free (in the freemium business model) are very common practice in the SaaS industry. Meaning, we should be very careful with managing our cash flow, among other implications.
Giving away your product, valuable content, and other things for free should be an integral part of your B2B SaaS marketing.
Key Principles Effective B2B SaaS Marketing Tactics
With those points being said, we can see that marketing for B2B SaaS businesses is relatively unique due to the unique challenges. However, marketing strategies for B2B SaaS can also be very nimble and versatile, and here are some key principles we should consider:
1. Understanding Your Ideal Audience
Every marketing plan should be rooted in the proper understanding of your audience. However, we can’t understand our audience without first identifying our ideal customers.
In a B2B SaaS space, this can be complicated because remember, we are targeting companies/organizations. There can be several different roles in a single organization that are involved in the purchase decision; each of them with different behaviors, preferences, and needs. Meaning, we should create different buyer personas for each of these roles.
We should especially ask these questions:
- What is the job desc of this person/role?
- How can they be involved in the purchase decision? (a key decision maker or someone who suggested a product to his/her bosses, etc.)
- What is the typical problems this role face?
- Any specific needs for this role?
To answer these questions, there are several methods you can use:
- Conducting surveys, both online and offline
- Interviewing existing customers and prospects
- Brainstorming with your team members, especially those with experiences in companies similar to your target
- Analyze available data in your CRM, past purchases data, and so on
- Analyze user reviews, social mentions, feedbacks, frequently asked questions, etc.
- Competitive analysis: by analyzing how your competitors are approaching their audience, you can either learn from them or imitate their approach
The better you understand your audience, the better you can plan your marketing strategy. The main thing here is to figure out your audience’s behaviors, and use the data to implement the proper tactics.
2. The Importance of Lead Generation
Above, we have mentioned that the sales cycle for B2B SaaS companies is typically shorter than other B2B industries. Meaning, the better we can generate leads, the better we can take advantage of this short sales cycle.
Most B2B SaaS companies generate leads mainly from their website traffic. Meaning, again, the more traffic we can generate, the more leads—and customers— we can get. There are a lot of channels available to help you generate traffic, but some of the most common—and effective— ones are:
- Inbound/content marketing: attracting website visitors with our content, mainly by regularly publishing blog posts, podcasts, or using videos to direct traffic
- Paid advertising: driving traffic using various paid advertising options from Google AdWords, AdSense, Search Ads to social media advertising (Facebook Ads, etc.)
- Remarketing: a relatively new feature for paid advertising. You might want to check our previous guide to remarketing here (link)
- SEO: related to content marketing. If you can rank for relevant keywords/queries on the search engine result pages, you can get more traffic
However, lead generation doesn’t stop in simply gaining more traffic. You will need to convert these website visitors into actual prospects. This is mainly done by capturing this visitor’s email address so we can follow-up with email marketing, a term we know as lead magnet.
The key here is your offer: if your offer is valuable for your audience (back to step 1 above on understanding your audience’s needs), you can capture more email addresses. Here are some common (and effective) lead magnet tactics you can implement:
- Offering valuable content: you can offer in-depth ebooks, white papers, research reports, or other valuable content pieces in exchange of their contact information
- Free-trial registration: obviously a very effective lead magnet tactic for the SaaS niche. Free-trial registrants are generally your most qualified prospects
- Comparison content: being transparent about how your software fares against competitor’s is actually a pretty common practice in the B2B SaaS niche. You can publish a buyer’s guide as your lead magnet
Again, the better you can provide value for your audience, the better you can convert traffic into prospects.
3. Content/Inbound Marketing As Your Core
It’s no secret that for SaaS businesses, your content is just as important as your software product. We can see key industry leaders from HubSpot to Marketo to Moz are similar in one thing: a strong inbound marketing game.
Above, we have discussed that lead generation is a very important aspect of any SaaS businesses, and inbound marketing is one of, if not the most effective way to get more traffic.
There are two key aspects of inbound marketing: first, you have to regularly publish relevant, valuable content. With these content pieces, your focus shouldn’t be selling your products, but offering valuable information according to your niche. The idea here is to establish your position as the expert/thought leader of your niche: people/organization only purchase products from brands they can trust.
However, your content won’t bring any value to your business if no one is consuming it. Hence comes the second part: promoting your content. You can promote your content pieces through various channels such as:
- Social media channels
- Email marketing
- Paid advertising
- Using influencers through influencer marketing
However, arguably the best way to promote your content is to get this content rank on the first page of Google search results (for the relevant keywords) —or SEO—. With every content promotion channel mentioned above, you shouldn’t only aim to get more organic traffic, but also to get more backlinks.
To summarize, there are three key steps of implementing inbound marketing for B2B SaaS businesses:
- Content development: your content should target the keywords that are relevant to your niche, as well as bringing value for your audience.
- Content promotion: promoting your content to get more organic traffic and backlinks.
- Technical optimization: treating each of your content pieces as a landing page, and optimizing it according to SEO best practices.
Inbound marketing is extremely effective nowadays, not only for B2B SaaS businesses but also for any businesses today. Make sure inbound marketing is a core part of your overall marketing strategy.
4. Optimizing The Service Aspect of SaaS
As we have mentioned further above, we shouldn’t neglect the importance of the “service” aspect of SaaS. First, before we go further, let us discuss the definition of “service” within the SaaS scope. In general, there are three main ways where your SaaS business can perform its service:
- Providing continuous, ongoing service as a software solution provider: improving your software with patches and updates, introducing new features to stay relevant, and so on
- Addressing customers’ questions efficiently: providing technical supports, fast troubleshootings, and great customer service in general
- Probably the most important, providing valuable information consistently for the benefit of your audience. Content marketing is a part of your position as a service provider, and you should establish your position as the expert of your niche.
The idea is, you should aim to be the leading source of information for your prospects and customers. You can do a simple research to achieve this, such as:
- Listing the frequently-asked questions that are asked via live chat, email, or phone calls. You can create a dedicated F.A.Q. section on your site to address these questions, or even develop a content based on a question
- Using keyword analytics tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or others to figure out relevant keywords in your industry that are frequently searched for. Chances are, your ideal prospects are the ones searching these queries
- Conducting interviews and surveys of existing customers to better figure out their needs and common issues
Why should you focus on your service aspect? Because, the common business model for B2B SaaS businesses is recurring-revenue, most commonly the subscription-based model. If you are not providing a good service, your customers can cancel their subscription anytime, often before you recover your costs.
In short, maintaining an excellent service is essential to achieve profitability and growth.
5. Optimizing for Conversions
There are three main stages of conversions you should aim for:
- The conversion of a website visitor into actual prospects, mainly by capturing their contact information
- The conversion from prospects into free-trial registrants
- The conversion from free-trial participants into actual customers, or from prospects directly into customers
Your website, content, email newsletter, and all other marketing channels should be optimized to encourage those conversions. However, we should avoid being too hard-selling, so the key here is finding that delicate balance.
Here are some key areas you can optimize:
- Many people, even in the B2B space, are now browsing and purchasing exclusively from their mobile devices. Make sure your site is mobile-responsive: your forms should be optimized for mobile devices without too many fields, and all buttons should be clickable on mobile
- Optimize your homepage for conversions: show your best offer whether it’s a free-trial, a valuable content, or other offers on your homepage, as soon as they visit the site
- Each of your marketing efforts should have an optimized landing page
- Include CTAs in your content. For example, you can present a CTA at the conclusion of a blog post, as well as using internal links within the content
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a pretty deep subject on its own, and we won’t give it much justice discussing it here. Check out our previous guide on CRO to learn further. (link)
6. Leveraging Social Proofs
Recent studies have suggested that people are more likely to purchase things recommended by their peers (including online reviews) and are more resistant to advertisements. This is even more true in the B2B SaaS space, where organizations are more likely to purchase a software that are used by their competitors; recommended by trustworthy partners or colleagues; or those with positive reviews.
So, encouraging positive reviews is very important to establish your credibility as a brand, and here are some common practices you can implement:
- You can display a showcase of existing clients’ logos on your home page. Make sure it’s well-designed and optimized according to your branding.
- Maintain Online Reputation Management (ORM) best practices at all costs (link). Maintain social media mentions, answer complaints politely and engage your audience
- Encourage existing clients to leave a positive reviews, probably by offering an incentive. For example, if you have a well-known organization as your client, you can ask them to leave a review or even write a guest post about your brand in exchange for a discount
- Build relationships with the influencers of your niche and ask them to promote your product. This can be a very expensive asset for your brand.
Keep in mind however, that the biggest factors that will decide positive social proofs are the quality of your product and your service excellence. You can’t encourage positive reviews when there’s a huge flaw in your software, or when your customer service isn’t performing well.
While marketing for a B2B SaaS company might seem complicated at first glance, in truth the key principles remain the same: a thorough understanding of your audience, a good product and service as a package, and maintaining your reputation as the thought leader of your niche.
Inbound/content marketing is undoubtedly an integral part if you want to achieve success. If you have a strong inbound marketing, you can establish credibility which can lead to exponential growth.