Over the last three years at Inturact we have worked with many SaaS companies. In this time, we have managed to map out the complete SaaS Marketing Journey through our experiences with companies ranging in size from startup to expansion. We found that when it comes to SaaS, while the inbound process is still relevant and important, there’s quite a bit more to the story. This new SaaS Marketing Journey outlines everything that is needed to strategically market a SaaS product within each stage of the subscription customer’s journey.
We will focus on six main areas to showcase the details of this process:
For any newcomers to the SaaS world, let’s start with:
As search engines transition into thinking as humans, old SEO practices are no longer as relevant for gaining customer interest. Old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, have been on a decline. These methods of marketing are being replaced by a proven practice that works and is far more cost effective, inbound marketing. It focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.
SaaS stands for Software as a Service. It is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted on the cloud and are primarily provided in a subscription model vs. the traditional one-time fee software license.
The SaaS business model is now becoming the norm within the software industry. However, with this change in strategy comes the need to adapt the right marketing methodologies, and so we created what we have called the SaaS Marketing Journey.
In SaaS, the traditional inbound marketing methodologies are simply not enough. In order to best explain this we created a visualization based off a modified version of the original HubSpot graphic and gave it a centralized SaaS focus which adds the needed areas of concentration.
Let’s first have a look at the original Inbound Methodology graphic:
This graphic helped outline the beginning of the Inbound Marketing revolution. This methodology continues to be the best way to build organic traffic and get higher quality acquisitions, bottom line.
Hubspot’s inbound methodologies are something we still follow closely at Inturact. We have merely added upon the model to better adapt to the needs of SaaS marketing.
I must start by saying that marketing is not always the best option depending upon the growth stage of your SaaS business. If you want to make sure you are ready for scaling your marketing efforts you should first understand if you have reached Product-Market Fit. Here is a great read on determining if you have reached Product-Market Fit.
If you have determined you have reached Product-Market fit then, congrats, you are ready to start marketing! Let's get started by having a deeper look at the SaaS Marketing Journey:
This graphic outlines the journey that you will expect your customers to go through. Within each stage of the journey it is important to concentrate on the right marketing tactics. Outlining your marketing strategies around each section of this graphic will help you to see the big picture on your current marketing efforts, and work toward a more fully developed marketing journey for your customers lifecycle. We will start by spelling out the journey within the six primary components and their sub-components:
It will be most effective to explain these components by breaking them down within the Stages of the Journey and including each of the other five components within them (Customer Lifecycle, Buyer’s Journey, Customer’s Journey, Goals, Strategies, Primary KPIs).
Attracting visitors is where it all starts. We want to make sure our visitors are the right visitors, that they have come to your site looking for the right information, and that they are as qualified as possible. This is the first stage in moving visitors through our journey and we want to attract our ideal customers right here at the beginning so as to optimize the other stages going forward.
If you are unsure about who your ideal customer is you will want to start there. This is a very important discussion for another time but be sure to check out these resources to identify the correct buyer’s personas, identify your ideal customer, and map out your value proposition.
Attract is the stage everyone is most familiar with, believes they understand most, and is the first thing most people think of when talking about marketing in general. Naturally, it is also the stage that is most often executed incorrectly. If this stage is not setup to perform properly and drive targeted traffic, your visitors will never make it through the complete journey, or worse the wrong ones will. Let’s take a look at what is involved:
Once you have attracted the visitors you want to turn them into leads through proper messaging, conversion materials, CTAs (Call-To-Actions), and landing pages, this is where the Convert stage comes in.
The primary difference in SaaS is knowing what a lead looks like and understanding the sales stages within your company. You will want to define your stages, Lead, MQL and SQL as they can be defined differently depending upon your business. For the Convert stage you will need to properly implement lead nurturing to be able to move the new contact through the funnel and to the next stage. In SaaS, the next action for this lead could be to get a free trial, request a demo, or sign up for a plan (free or paid).
The SaaS Marketing journey starts to differ from the traditional inbound model with the next stages. Experience is a new section based off the Freemium and Premium offer that is included in all SaaS products. This is the stage where leads become MQLs and are able to experience the product in some fashion. This could be with a free trial, a product demo, or a free tier of the product with a limited feature set.
The goal is to create an experience that leads them to becoming a SQL and ultimately a paying customer. It’s important to note that this is a stage beyond convert because they did have a conversion with the product. They are in it experiencing it for themselves - which means there’s a whole new can of worms to consider as far as how to get them to the next stage.
In SaaS there are only two experience options, Freemium or Premium.
Lincoln Murphy created a great post describing these details here. Freemium refers to offering a tier of your product that is free forever. The goal is to have them successfully use the product, find that they can’t live without it, become brand advocates, influence others to sign up, and eventually move to a paid plan. Premium refers to free-trials and demos. If you don’t offer a free plan, then you are offering a Premium product.
Within your Freemium or Premium offering one of the most vital things to get right is the customer onboarding experience. You will want to do your best to analyze and optimize your onboarding strategies so that your user finds what they define as success within your product as soon as possible. This relates directly to an undervalued term called time-to-value (TtV). Ideally you want your customers to find full value within minutes, if not seconds, and this can be achieved by really digging into your onboarding process and almost treating it as a product within itself.
Let’s take a look at how the Experience stage breaks down:
Customer success has become one of the most vital parts of any SaaS company. Marketing strategies and customer success content are used within the Success stage to help customers achieve their desired outcome with your product, sooner. Customer Success is not necessarily about making happy customers (we’ll talk about that more in Delight). Success is about helping SaaS customers effectively use a product to solve a problem.
The Success stage has the potential to be the most powerful of all stages if it is executed correctly. In the end, a successful customer is what SaaS business is all about - so you can retain your best customers and reduce churn. If you aren’t putting the customer first and communicating with them often, you are losing sight of creating a successful product.
The Success stage is heavily focused on creating customer success content and communicating with your customers. Customer success content marketing is often overlooked and usually is created without any strategy involved, a big mistake.
The Close stage is a bit different in SaaS since it is much more active than a one-and-done sales model. An important component to the Close stage is the addition of the “Expansion Customers” lifecycle stage. This is a new stage that we have included within the lifecycle stages that represents the need to continuously close in a subscription environment.
There is a need to always be selling in SaaS since these companies operate on a subscription model with recurring revenue. This requires a focus on retention as well as upselling or cross-selling opportunities for expansion revenue. In other words, the “close” period never really ends.
It’s important for SaaS companies to build strategies and sales enablement materials to help the sales team to better execute these expansion revenue opportunities. This will ultimately help lead to negative churn, which is the golden goose of a successful SaaS.
Delight is key component of marketing that is too often overlooked. It is widely talked about but not so widely implemented. We believe that Delight should be a feature that encompasses all stages of the marketing journey (which is why it’s now featured at the top of the graphic).
Our goal here is very simple, brand advocacy. If we delight the customer throughout the entire SaaS marketing journey and they find success in your product solving their problem then it is almost inevitable that they will become brand advocates and help to spread the word about your product.
A primary KPI within the Delight stage is the NPS score. This is a very simple question: "What is the likelihood that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?"
NPS really helps to demonstrate how much success your customers are finding within your product and their level of satisfaction. The result of the NPS score is usually influenced throughout the early stages of the buyer’s journey - well before a prospect becomes a customer. But it is currently only measured within the Success and Experience stages. This is why it is important to Delight throughout all stages of the journey - especially in SaaS.
Ready to get your hands dirty? Start by mapping out all of your current marketing efforts. Use the Saas Marketing graphic as a guide to input your current efforts within each stage. Start looking at any areas you are currently not focusing on, prioritize them, and see when might be the best time to start executing them within your company. This will also help you understand where you might need to fill in gaps with additional talent or contractors.
If this whole thing seems a bit overwhelming and you think you need helping mapping out your journey, don’t worry - we have an eBook for that! Strategic Marketing Tactics for SaaS Companies will guide you through all of the stages of the SaaS marketing journey and help you get started with other key strategic SaaS marketing tactics.