Inbound Marketing for SaaS: A Perfect Mutual Fit

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Remember the days before the Internet? Well if you were born in the pre-Internet era, you might have blurred memories wrapped into your collective psyche on how marketing was back then. Those were the fanciful days before Google, websites, and social media.

As marketing evolved, brands found themselves in a dire need for a low-cost customer acquisition engine. Inbound marketing is that digital marketing model that specializes in attracting website visitors, turning them into leads and nurturing them well enough to convert them into happy customers and further into brand promoters or evangelists.

Setting up your SaaS company for success would call for your attention to both quick wins and long-haul strategies. As a SaaS marketer, you need to implement targeted marketing strategies for highest online conversions.

The SaaS Challenge

Gartner report forecasts SaaS to be at $75.7bn by 2020. This gigantic increase equates to massive competition for SaaS startups, and that adds to the need for your brand to edge out the competition and acquire new customers, while reducing the churn and attaining long-term profits. Further, a Compass study shows that SaaS is growing nearly 3X as fast as software as a whole, and that 72% of all SaaS startups are at least partially funded.

The success of your SaaS company would depend on:

  • Whether you’re able to adopt a low-cost customer acquisition model effectively from the early stages
  • Ability to retain customers over a long span
  • Ability to upsell to customers over time

Now, let’s get to the heart of the SaaS challenge. Most SaaS CEOs cite “cash flow gap” as a grave challenge. Inbound marketing works well to combat this challenge for the SaaS startups. The good news is that inbound marketing has quickly emerged as the right playbook for SaaS companies that rely on a user’s relationship with the software for success (or failure).

A good number of brands like ShopifyBufferKissmetricsAnswerDashZenDesk, to name a few, have attained success with it. However apart from the previously mentioned challenge, I also see some other challenges that obstruct SaaS companies to do marketing right.

  • Not believing in what they’re doing
  • Hiring mediocre talent
  • Being too self-promotional and brand centric
  • Directly targeting the BoFU with free trials/demos, etc.
  • Insufficient time and effort investment into analytics

The Secret Sauce for SaaS Companies

The answer is plain simple – complete focus on customer happiness right from the first touch point until the last to fetch both – revenues and profitability. And, inbound marketing just does that. It helps you find qualified leads, patch them with the sales rep-cum-consultants, convert them into customers and retain them over a long term – a challenge inherent in the SaaS business model. As a result, close rates go up and cost per lead comes down.

The SaaS long game and Inbound Fit

Life Time Value (LTV) = ARPA (Average Revenue Per Account)*% Gross Margin / % Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)

The SaaS industry is often abuzz with the discussions around customer lifetime value (LTV).

The longer the customer stays with you, the more is the LTV. It’s a long game, indeed. And, the same holds true for inbound marketing too.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

The best SaaS marketers do, indeed, love to play a good long game. Even when they get off to a sluggish start, they do not retreat. In fact, they multiply their efforts. In fact, Sebastian Gutierrez (a member of HubSpot’s nonprofit team) says, “Becoming a trusted authority doesn’t happen with one banner ad or annual report. Succeeding with inbound marketing takes consistent effort over the long haul. Inbound really is the only marketing that’s proven to be cost-effective, yet it takes time to see results.”

The SaaS Inbound Journey

Clement Vouillon has remarkably captured a “typical” Inbound Marketing journey that an early stage SaaS company might experience.

Stage 1: Preparation / Beginning Phase

Most SaaS startups often kick start inbound marketing with limited resources, with founders as the blog authors, who love to talk about their babies (I mean products here!). That’s a classical mistake indeed. Your blog is out there to help your target audience and not for blowing your own trumpet (though it might sound tempting or obvious). Inbound marketing is all about being helpful through content. It ought to be customer centric.

Stage 2: Disappointment

You’ve pulled the content gear but you don’t yet see traffic increasing, and it’s natural to feel that your inbound marketing efforts are not working out. It’s time to actually chart out an effective plan to content distribution and then implement it efficiently.

Many marketers have been observed not investing efforts in content promotion. They seem to harbor a misconception that only writing remarkable content will do the job and that they can relax after production. It’s to be remembered that distributing or promoting the content is equally important for your useful content assets to be discovered by your target audience on their preferred choice of platforms.

Stage 3: Growth

You’re thorough with all the best practices, tips and hacks on content production and distribution. It’s time to adapt to each of the platforms where you intend to promote your content and invest your efforts in getting more people to see your content. Slowly, you start getting to see the increasing number of views, likes, share or comments in response to your posts across different platforms. The key to magic is here to be creative and bold. Don’t fear from being experimental.

Stage 4: Stagnation

You will see increased traffic to your website, content assets and social media posts; however, the conversions might suck and do not seem to improve over time. That’s when fatigue might set in your team to see what strategy worked for you some time ago is no longer effective now. Your inspiration well also might start to dry up. This is a signal to take a step back, deliberate before you burn out and tweak your inbound marketing strategy

Stage 5: Strategy reboot

By the time you reach this stage, you would have acquired good amount of knowledge about your customers and industry as a whole, and you’d be infusing all your knowledge into your marketing game but still not seeing the desired results. It’s time to reboot your marketing strategy and consider:

  • Sending your corporate newsletter
  • Collect more feedback through emails/blogs
  • Investing more on the SEO front for the long-term gains
  • Devising and implementing more customer-centric campaigns
  • Repurpose your most valuable content assets in different digestible formats
  • Participate and add value on different social media groups and forums
  • Nurture your leads with value-added content
  • Hire skilled and adaptable generalists and specialists

Stage 6: Growth

If by now you have learned from your past mistakes, organized your affairs again and pulled the inbound gears again in the right direction, you will again witness the spur in growth. Enjoy the success!

With this, it’s time to look at these two SaaS inbound marketing myths that I feel the need to bust here:

Myth 1: Inbound marketing is free

Agreed. You can produce and publish content, optimize content to boost traffic and conversions with little investment. However, creating a long-term, solid inbound marketing strategy and roadmap is NOT free. You need to manage and maintain your website, you need resources (team and tools) to connect and engage with your target audience. All this won’t be free.

Myth 2: One person can do all inbound marketing

It’s not uncommon to see many CEOs getting pumped up about inbound marketing to grow their businesses. But here’s the shocker! One marketing hire to do it all. Inbound marketing is basically a culmination of different skill sets – content writing, SEO, social media, website design and development, analytics, video marketing, etc., – all rolled into one. It’s practically impossible to find one person adept at all of these skill sets. You need a team. A real good one to rock the inbound marketing stage.

What other tips or feedback would you add to this post? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

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