Takeoff Academy: Best Practices in B2B SaaS Marketing
SaaS marketers should first understand the customer’s problem, and only then consider the variety of marketing approaches. 13 companies took part in the Takeoff Academy workshop on “Best Practices in SaaS Marketing”. We summarize the workshop discussions below.
October 5 marked another ‘Takeoff Academy’ workshop, this
time under the topic of SaaS (Software as a Service) marketing. Overall,
Finnish companies are not particularly well known for doing stellar marketing,
yet there are many ambitious companies that aim to change that. We also have
companies and individuals who have lots of SaaS marketing experience worth
Towards the end of the morning workshop, we also heard brief
vendor presentations from four marketing companies, Sales Communications, Advance
B2B, Loyalistic, and San Francisco, under the theme of “How
we could help market your SaaS business with EUR 10k”. The informative presentations
were appreciated by the audience, and we’ll also share the highlights from those
What problem are we solving?
Let’s start at the business core. The process of buying
software is quite standard these days: Customers tend to follow rather similar
paths when researching the options, finding alternative solutions, looking for
the pros and cons and finally contacting the vendors.
The exact path of the customer naturally varies depending on
the nature of the customer’s problem and a number of other things – and that’s
the part that the vendor needs to understand inside and out.
What are the customers struggling with? How do they put
their struggle in words; what are they searching online? “Do your keyword
research and repeat it regularly to learn about the customer and the
competitive landscape”, reminded Pia-Maria Halttunen.
Doing one’s homework sounds simple, yet this is
the area where many companies cut corners. Both Pia-Maria Halttunen and Paul
Palojärvi emphasized the need to actually talk
to the customers in addition to relying of quantitative data obtained from
their digital footprint.
We now understand the customer’s problem (we think, anyway). How to make the customer find our solution?
So, at the heart of the vendor’s marketing is the customer
and their problem that needs solving. How do we get to match the problem and (our)
perfect solution in the SaaS environment? This is where the marketing organization,
tools, content and channels come to play.
From the vendor’s point of view, marketing is about building
a hypothesis (of the customer’s problem), coming up with a strategy to solve
the problem, testing a variety of marketing activities, and iterating based on
data, experiences and feedback.
In practice, the vendor’s website plays a central role;
we’re in online business, after all. The vendor’s marketing challenge divides
roughly into four parts:
Building a team that makes marketing happen
Understanding the channels that work best for us
in bringing customers to the website
Understanding how the website performs in
converting visitors into paying customers
Not forgetting the customers once they are
‘hooked’ but making sure they are happy with our solution and stay that way, to
the point of recommending it to others
We will list below a number of points and observations from
Silvadata’s and Miradore’s presentations, grouped according to the above graph.
The grouping is to help structure the discussion, yet it’s clear that the lines
between activities are often lines drawn in the sand. For practical reasons, we
also use bullet points (a lot of them!)
For a brief
background about the case companies:
(now a Trimble company), founded in 1985 in Finland, specializes in the
information systems and services related to private forestry. The Silvadata
systems have 1,200 users in more than 150 organizations in different parts of
Finland. Trimble Forestry, part of the global positioning solutions company
Trimble, is revolutionizing the forestry industry, helping businesses transform
data and processes into strategic actions.
helps companies manage their IT devices since 2006. The company now sells
subscription-based licenses online for SME customers. The average deal size is
EUR 2,400 per year. Annual revenue today is EUR 4 million, of which 40% comes
from the US, 15% from the UK and the rest is split among several countries
SaaS marketing organization and leadership
Startups should manage the following areas of
marketing from the beginning:
Professional website and that includes relevant
content for buyers and presents product plans properly
Search engine optimization (SEO) and google AdWords
Social Media channels: Choosing the right
balance with LinkedIn, FB, Twitter etc.
Other means of marketing: Customer events, other
In SaaS business, heavy focus on first 3 but
especially in early stages will need other means as well
Recognize marketing opportunities: The key is to
be visible and make noise every time there is something to say: New product
release, new customer win, geographical expansion, new Board of Directors,
everything is worth marketing
Always market the benefits and ROI of your
In-house, outsourced or both?
Name a project owner
Create content marketing strategy together with
people from all departments
Have in-house resources
Engage an agency for consultation and special
tasks (SEO etc. where you’ll not be on the edge as things change very rapidly.
What in-house resources?
Community manager (social media)
Editor / content creator / content creator
Concretize your understanding of the customer
into buyer personas
Create a marketing communications concept (look
and feel, tone of voice, localization, etc). One size (.com website, all
English) doesn’t necessarily fit all. Use local agencies where needed.
Calculate a customer lifetime value to know how
much it pays to invest in getting a customer!
Always calculate a ROMI (Return on Marketing
Marketing is all about helping the customers and,
as a result, selling your business.
Remember nurturing: Is your plan consistent across
channels and the website? How do you upsell and cross-sell?
Know the standard industry language: MQL’s and
SQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads, respectively) are commonly
used, and investors expect potential target companies to know these figures for
their own businesses. Not part of the everyday vocabulary in Finland quite yet
but should be.
The 40-40-20 rule
40% of your efforts should be generating traffic
40%: address bottlenecks
20% (or more): TEST and analyze, do it again in
a better way
What’s the role of CSM (Customer Success
Management)? Should be embedded as part of the marketing effort and organization.
Often in the early stages the challenge is, you
have few data points and if you’re trying to make decisions based on those as
to why your succeeding or failing
The freemium model can actually work! Converting
freemium: If there are customers that are actually using the product, it’s
possible to find a way to convert them into paying customers
Define the marketing and sales funnel and
measure it à
It’s easy to talk about but requires that you get your hands dirty
Keep an open mind – what’s going to work and
what not is rarely clear at the start, so try things out (fast), fail fast,
move on. One needs good resources; people in the team who can react fast
Measure (there are readily available metrics but
it may also make sense to create one’s own), Share, Learn
Don’t reinvent the wheel: Check other SaaS
companies and utilize ideas for yourself. For instance, “ten best landing
pages” through Google are easily found; it’s just about taking the time and
Steal with pride
Team: Look for the local language natives
Use agile methods from software development,
apply two week sprints in marketing! Build two week plans, including stunts and
hacks alongside overall awareness building.
Be careful with ‘marketing best practices’; only
use them with a strategic mindset, or you’ll just end up using a bunch of
tactics that everyone else uses, too
Channels of traffic
Do digital marketing research: Does your
terminology match that of the customers? Who are you up against (competition,
market shares)? Repeat research once a year or so; the terminology and search
behavior evolves over time.
Examples of channels
Social media advertising
Content on LI, FB, Twitter (plus other SoMe
channels if relevant for B2B)
Put your marketing investment in channels where
your customers are! If you don’t know, find out before investing. Do not
Your media mix consists of paid (ads), owned
(what you put out there yourself), earned (media coverage, articles), and
social media, right balance depends on resources and targets
Email marketing is good but only for valid
leads, no spamming.
Content is king, but what kind of content?
Create (inbound) content that’s helpful, inspiring, and relevant considering
what your customer deals with on a daily basis. Remember, great content is
great service, and even though producing it costs something, according to
research content marketing costs 62% less than traditional outbound marketing.
Make marketing visual by using videos and visual
Understand the productivity of each channel that brings traffic to website
Common metrics for the Channels performance: brand
awareness, engagement with content, lead generation
Be credible with content. There’s a big
difference between native and non-native language (relates to localization)
There are no readily available ‘right’ answers
to the selection of marketing content, channels and tools but it’s a lot of
work to find the ones that are best for you
Advertise before product launch, landing page
(Google AdWords worked for Miradore). Before the launch, already got 2000-3000
email addresses, which served as a market validation as well
Press releases can also work, although only the
first two releases were valuable for Miradore, those thereafter were not.
Get logos, quotes and success cases. Add the company
and product profile to all relevant review and referral sites.
Facebook didn’t work for Miradore; lots of
followers but ads didn’t perform well. Currently exploring LinkedIn
Conversion performance (website)
Traffic doesn’t help you if your website doesn’t
perform. Even a better conversion rate with the existing traffic may improve
Do A/B testing with the website but only test
one thing at a time
A lot of website pages are for viewing only; they miss clear CTA’s
(Call To Actions), which impacts the conversion rate
Have a lot of landing pages in different parts
of the website
Track the content: How much of a blog post the
audience generally reads? Can be analyzed with Google Analytics or HubSpot and
Common metrics for the website performance: Engagement
with content, conversion rate on landing pages, sales
Out of Miradore’s online customers, 50% still
need an invoice while the rest are paying by credit cards. Company policies
influence the credit card purchase sizes more than geography. Generally, the
smaller the deal size, the more people are willing to make credit card
Miradore found through research the three
features customers appreciated the most – ease of use, attractive pricing,
amazing support – and placed these messages all over the website and other
That the website looks pretty to the eye doesn’t
automatically translate into larger sales! The website’s performance may be
influenced a lot by other things than visual appearance.
In Miradore’s experience, website chat (now 30
to 50 chats per week) converts very well
Chat (now 30-50 per week); convert very well
Make it as easy as possible for the customer to
Miradore launched “MiradoreMan”, another
experiment. The cartoon figure on the website seems to work in the targeted SME
Support is critical for conversion, depending on
your business, make sure you have a proper support function to help convert
Customer journeys are not one clear path; they
are a bunch of very different paths
your day look like”; map out the customer’s journey
Financing your SaaS business: Understanding the
customer well is also important for the investors and may influence investment
decisions a lot
Common metrics for customer experience phase: Upselling
and cross-sell figures, customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty
If you want to really understand the customer’s
thinking, do research beyond online; talk to the customers, conduct in-depth
interviews. Spend time talking to the customers. Survey, interview, understand how
do they behave online and how they found you, not everyone is that digital
Miradore’s experiences from doing customer
How did you find us?
Why are you interested in MDM?
Why would you buy from us?
What type of companies are they?
Feedback about product?
Find patterns – Share findings with the team –
Critical for customers: Outstanding support (ammunition
for differentiating from the competition)
Customer Success Management (CSM): Organize as
part of the marketing and sales team
Marketing vendor presentations: Insights and resources for inbound marketing and PR
from Sales Communications stressed the
role of inbound marketing, as outbound marketing is nearly dead, especially
with the GDPR in place. Google and Facebook are the big channels, and this is
where the lion’s share of the marketing euros should go. Aaltonen stressed the
importance of getting attention with useful marketing content; When customers
are searching and your company gives them an answer, they are most likely to
buy. Plus, did you know:
One billion messages are sent annually to
companies through the Facebook messaging app
Traditional media is 4,5-5 times more expensive
than online media
8 out of 10 most visited websites in Finland are
not Finnish anymore
Edward Ford from Advance B2B presented the audience a
SaaS marketing framework, the ‘Mission
Matrix’ that has earned a nr 1 position on GrowthHackers. The framework is
useful for a SaaS company when choosing tools and inbound marketing methods based
on who they are targeting and what their sales strategy is. Like this:
Small and medium businesses
your product is going to be your best marketer
Enterprise customers: direct sales
Inbound marketing to serve as lead generator to
the sales team
Convert from free to paid
from the PR and marketing company San
Francisco pointed out how media coverage can help a SaaS business (that’s
often swimming in a red ocean) create a brand and win the trust of potential
customers, that way lowering the threshold to start using the company’s
product. In other words, why is the top part of the marketing and sales funnel
Outbound sales is NOT dead!
Backlinks (improves SEO)
from the inbound marketing software company Loyalistic advised SaaS companies to first nail their messaging,
targeting, processes etc. before getting busy scaling the activities abroad.
Scaling too early easily results in companies being in a ‘search game’ instead
of an ‘execution game’.
Finnish companies easily jump into the conclusion of
having discovered the perfect product-market fit or a scalable business model,
while in reality there’s still a lot of homework to be done. Which brings us
back to the ‘spend time talking to the customers’ point presented by the case
companies. ‘Nail it, then scale it’ like the famous book says – that’s the way
of getting the most value out of inbound software tools as well.