Understanding marketing for SAAS companies
While every industry can claim that marketing is different for them, SAAS does have a unique position within the online space. When looking at the behavior of purchasing and the buyer journey involved, you will likely not find any other marketing roadmap that includes as many touch points. This is often why the sales cycle is so long when you cost average it to its purchase price.
The reason being is that often these Software As A Service products are integrated into workflows of companies and rely on numerous departments to be a part of the decision making process. Because of this, one sales opportunity may have multiple people conducting independent research on features and benefits relating directly to their departments.
The list of different ways that people seek out and evaluate them are nearly endless.
- What software do they integrate with
- Industry specific use case studies
- Brand comparisons
- Customer reviews
- Feature lists
Within the demand gen sales funnel, you will hear people talk about Top of Funnel (TOFU) and Bottom of Funnel (BOFU). This is common terminology in Marcom which essentially means, at the top of the marketing funnel, people are conducting research and the further down that funnel they get, the closer they are to being ready to take action which can be in the form of trying out a free trial or even making the decision to buy.
Here I will break down the ways that software companies utilize marketing channels for demand generation of their their offerings and clarify some of the complexity and how they are used in this industry.
Branding for B2B software service companies
When you have something good, you want the world to know who you are.
Most SAAS companies focus heavily on building their brand. This is because word of mouth drives quite a bit of their marketing efforts. For the established names, you will far less often hear someone lead with labeling their product by what it does so much as assuming everyone knows the name and what function it performs. In fact, they usually will compare themselves to another well known brand to quantify its usage. Salesforce is automatically known as a CRM while Canva requires no explanation as an easy to use design platform.
This is why these companies spend heavily on everything from protecting their trademarks to getting exact match domains of their name. When someone is seeking out their brand, they want to be front and center and leave no ambiguity that they have found the right company. That is why you will often find that a higher percentage of their their Google search traffic is derived from brand related searches. But we will delve into that later on below.
Search engine marketing
PPC is often utilized to guarantee top placement on the search engines in front of these BOFU visitors and craft their strategy around terms related to high intent. Keyword phrases that include “[Service]+ free trial“, “[Service]+ cost” or even include “alternative to [Brand Name Competitor]” are terms that signify someone that has at least already started their research. By no means should this be limited to these terms.
SAAS companies with smaller budgets will often focus their dollars as close to the bottom of the funnel as possible while those that have more marketing capital will increase their keyword campaigns to encompass those searches higher in the buying cycle.
With the effectiveness of paid ads at this point in the process, it is also a good thing to keep in mind that many of these visitors are not always in the stage of the process you expect them to be and not everyone likes to utilize paid ads to get their desired information.
Here is a statistic from Ahrefs referencing the search term “saas marketing.” As you can see, paid ads have a very low CTR in Google while most people do not end up clicking on any of the results because they likely found the information they were looking for on the SERP itself or refined their search query to provide a better set of results.
Even looking at a high intent search term like “salesforce pricing,” we see that a far higher percentage click on paid ads, but the same goes for organic search results thereby still outpacing PPC.
One of the key elements to keep in mind are that being lower in the funnel, the prospect has likely already done other research and for PPC to be effective, there needs to be a compelling offer to enhance the likelihood of them clicking on your ad. The other part of the success at this point is to not see your SEM as competition to your SEO.
A well developed digital strategy encompasses multiple channels and if your two strategies are work in synchronicity, you will often find more effective targeting for paid and far better qualified organic visitors which in the long run make marketing investments that result in a higher ROI.
SEO for SAAS
As mentioned earlier, if marketing is performing correctly, people will be searching out your brand in high numbers. That is why ranking for your company name and any branded products is the first step to success for any organic strategy. That being said, not all names can be uniquely original.
If you have branded names from other industries that are outranking your name, then the immediate and temporary fallback solution is to rank for any search terms related to your industry that would include your name.
If a customer, for example, Google’s your name and finds a plumbing parts manufacturer, they may end up refining the search query to include both your brand name and your service [Brand name + modifier]. But in the long term, you really do need to strive for that coveted top result. Once there, the next step is to look at non-branded terms.
These are searches for services related to your product that do not include your brand name or branded products. This is often where marketers make the mistake of confusing organic traffic with actual SEO marketing. At a certain point, it is expected that you should rank for your company name and that branding campaigns should cause consumers to seek you out.
Many of your existing customers will in fact google your name just to easily got to your login. (And yes, you probably do this too.)
It is when companies start doing research for what you offer and do not yet know who you are. Or may know who you are are, but conducted a search without realizing you offer this service in addition to what they already know you for. At this point, you are now driving inbound marketing from people who may not have considered you before.
A proper SEO strategy need lots of content based on research in the form of copywriting, images, videos, white papers, online tools and much more. In addition, the search engines need signals from other websites in the form of backlinks to build authority in the search engine algorithms. In doing so you increase your placement in the search results and expand the number of keywords that your website will rank for.
Account based marketing
While this is not an article to fully define ABM, I would be remiss not to mention this B2B strategy and provide an oversimplification of what it is.
Identifying specific accounts utilizing firmographics and being sure to get in front of them in specific channels along the buying cycle along with crafting relevant campaigns for each of the specific stakeholders. This one-to-one marketing solution has been done in different forms even before the internet, but now there are many more tools available and the ability to track exact results.
It really comes down to the targeting. When conducting marketing, the rule of thumb is when you more clearly define exactly who you market to, your success rate increases and you do not waste your spend by marketing to everyone else. In the same instance, the per individual lead cost increases because the targeting tools and data will add to the overall cost. But when executed properly, it is highly effective.
SAAS marketing research has been conducted over the years and additionally in my own experience, ABM has a much higher success rate for B2B and keeps the cost of qualifying numerous leads down to a manageable level which increases ROI.
Directories & review websites
If anyone is going to research a software product, you will definitely run into websites that specialize in this. Major repositories of every SAAS brand you can think of and they are almost always at the top of the search engines. Buyers like them because they get what they consider to be unbiased comparisons and Google gives them preference not only because they have good SEO and run paid ads, but because people find them to be very useful.
If you do not have a marketing strategy for the likes of G2 or Capterra and others, you are definitely missing out on an opportunity. If you are having trouble getting your website to the top of search results, you can at least be at the top of their pages because these sites will likely be at the top of the SERP’s.
These providers offer paid placement opportunities and their customers reviews are a trusted resource. Determine which of them is most important to your target market and get to know how to utilize them.
Most effective social media platforms
Far and away, especially for B2B, LinkedIn is the most effective social media platform for SAAS because of their targeting. In comparison, from a firmographics standpoint for example, Twitter is not even a contender. Facebook and Instagram on their own have great demographic targeting, but since most SAAS is B2B, you really need to know about worklife titles and company information to target properly.
There are data tools on the market that provide this bridge in targeting and can even increase the effectiveness of LinkedIn as well, but ends up adding extra cost to marketing campaigns. It comes down to running an ROI cost analysis and at a certain point in spend, the numbers make sense.
Every company should have an organic and paid strategy for both LinkedIn and YouTube. That is right, YouTube is the second largest search engine and consumers utilize it for research on both B2B and B2C SAAS platforms.