As digital transformation continues to accelerate in 2021, adopting cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) products and services has been a top priority for most B2B brands (and discerning CFOs). The B2B SaaS business model allows customers to access web-based software, meaning that SaaS products and services are not location-dependent, churn out in-depth analytics, and are far more cost-effective, flexible, and scalable than on-premise options. They’re a win-win-win for a work-from-home workforce.
According to stats by 99firms, 73% of organizations indicated nearly all their apps will be SaaS by 2021, and 93% of CIOs are adopting or planning to adopt cloud SaaS. Garner is forecasting that worldwide end-user spending on SaaS will grow 16.1% in 2021 to total $117.7 billion, up from $101.4 billion in 2020.
As SaaS services continue to grow, B2B SaaS marketers face a unique challenge—they need to find a way to differentiate themselves from a growing sea of competition. Below, we share 10 things that brands must consider when developing a B2B SaaS marketing strategy, with examples from SaaS brands doing it right.
- Be purpose driven
When it comes to SaaS, Salesforce leads the way. As one of the largest SaaS providers worldwide, and the largest publicly traded one in the US, there’s a lot to learn from the CRM pioneer’s success. The thing that ultimately separated the 21-year-old brand from its competition wasn’t its product, it was its commitment to purpose.
As CMO Stephanie Buscemi shared before she left her position at Salesforce this January, the company is wholly committed to business as a platform for change, and always has been. Not only has it garnered a great reputation for its products, but the brand has also rooted itself in its core values—establishing a 1-1-1 model on Day 1 to give back 1% of time, 1% of equity, and 1% of product every year. The brand has also made great strides to close the gender pay gap.
The power of purpose for B2B SaaS brands is only going to become even more important in the future. Explains Buscemi, “Millennials are not going to work for nor are they going to buy from companies that don’t have a higher purpose. This next generation expects it, so it’s not a luxury and it’s not optional.”
- Have a personality & humor
B2B does not stand for business-to-boring. A dry list of your SaaS product’s speeds and feeds likely won’t catch a prospect’s attention. It won’t build a sense of brand loyalty in current customers either, so it’s up to B2B SaaS marketers to grow and retain new business by growing customer awareness.
One of the most effective ways to do this is through humor. As Case Paper CMO Simon Schaffer explained in a Renegade Thinkers Unite interview, “In our space, everybody is doing the same thing, so we looked for areas where we could have fun doing something different.” With this in mind, Case Paper became pun masters, changing everything from spec sheets to truck wraps to email footers to include things like “We give a sheet” and “Sheet happens here.” Adding humor to brand takes a bit more than some clever puns, though. It also should also support the brand’s overarching purpose. In Case Paper’s case, all of the humor pointed to the larger picture for the company—they are “On the Case” and wholly committed to going out of their way for customers.
Ping Identity CMO Kevin Sellers shared that they recruited Terry Crews as the identity security brand’s ambassador, launching a seriously funny and effective awareness campaign. Now, how can humor lead to ROI, the rest of the C-Suite may ask? Kevin filled us in on a not-so-little secret: “Awareness investments are like the R&D arm of marketing. They tend to pay off, but over a longer period of time.” Patience is key here.
- Aim for uniqueness
Sometimes SaaS brands have a unique opportunity to not only separate themselves from the pack, but to lead the way by creating a category. CMO Scott Brazina, who helped create PLM category at PTC and worked on bringing the partnership automation category to life at Impact, explained the value of category creation: “If we’re able to legitimately start a category, to be considered a major player, and the category is real, those are huge ways to create value in both directions.”
Now, creating a category isn’t easy. One of Brazina’s tips for anyone looking to create a category? “Don’t even get started if you’re not convinced that the customer value is broad enough, real enough, and demonstrable.”
In an illuminating interview with Anthony Kennada, he detailed how Gainsight became a leader in customer success during his time there as founding CMO. The start-up noticed that there was a lack of support for the emerging customer success manager role, so they litmus tested the need through a 300-person event. The results were unexpectedly staggering: “That single event turned into an entire 6 to 7-year marketing strategy for how we were going to grow the company.”
From here, the brand went on to deliver immense value, ultimately creating showing up as a reference for a category they hadn’t set out to create. With one category under his belt, Kennada is now working to do the same thing at Front—with customer communication.
- Give away your product for free
Abundant generosity is a key strategic component of most SaaS brands—and for good reason. Giving prospective users free access to a product allows them to experiment with it, learn to love it, and will ideally convert them to a paid plan. The goal is to get the end-user to champion the product as something they can’t live without—after all, the end-user is often not the buyer in the enterprise world. Whether you choose to provide free access for a limited time or free access with limited capabilities, the trick here is to ensure that the process is seamless.
Sprout Social’s free trial, for example, allows anyone interested in taking their tool for a test drive to sign up for a free, 30-day trial, no credit card necessary. In a livestream show about marketing to marketers, CMO Jamie Gilpin gives a compelling reason the free trial model works for them: “To have a truly intuitive tool across all the different plans that we have, where a user can jump in and start getting immediate value, that is absolutely invaluable to us at Sprout, to our customers and, yes, the big reason why the Sprout marketing team drives over 90% of our new business acquisition.”
- Up your content game
As RingDNA CMO William Tyree stated in his podcast interview, “In marketing, you can’t do anything without great content. that’s how you position your company, as an authority and expert so that you’re more than a brand, you’re really a resource that’s helping people overcome their challenges.”
For Tyree and RingDNA, it’s all about “remarkable content”—premium, edutaining, and deeply persona-focused, and true to brand. It’s even better when this content comes from creative awareness campaigns and bold strategic decisions. That’s why the sales enablement platform took a bold move and acquired the Andy Paul Sales Enablement podcast, which can with a vast library of episodes and a massive, tight-knit community of potential leads.
The podcast was a jumping-off point for some really interesting, multi-channel content programs. First, they ran a Top Sales Coach competition, having competitors upload videos where they reacted to dramatized sales calls. Then they organized a March Madness-style bracket of the top 64 sales books of all time and had people vote. With such compelling campaigns, ringDNA amassed a wealth of timely content from real people in their target demographic—ideal for any SaaS brand trying to stand out.
- Hire better
A business is only as strong as its team, and it should be a priority for SaaS brands to acquire top talent across all of its organizational functions. What may be surprising is, about 9 out of 10 CMOs told us that, apart from including keywords to filter resumes, hiring practices haven’t really changed in the last decade.
It’s time for an update, and as is the case in targeting and ABM, a focus on behavioral match is a key performance indicator of success. According to Aptology CMO Caroline Tien-Spalding, marketers need to become students of behavior at work: “We can’t all be psychologists, but we can try to educate ourselves the way we did in MarTech. We’ve learned all this incredible stack of 5,000 options and counting. […] If we’re able to learn all of that, we can definitely invest in learning about people and finding people not just based on the usual keywords.”
Applying this way of thinking to hiring and to coaching employees should be no different than nurturing prospects and customers, and for marketers, it can really help close the gap when it comes to marketing and sales alignment. Aptology found that roughly 60% of salespeople are not making quota right now—and that could be due to a misunderstanding of what behaviors are really important in the sales function.
In one particular case study Tien-Spalding shared, a company found that salespeople who balanced listening and talking did 30% better than those who were the outgoing person that is typically hired in sales roles. This scientific understanding of behavior at work unveiled exactly what the company was missing in how it hired and trained its salespeople.
- Create news via new products
To transform one’s services from nice-to-have to need-to-have, SaaS brands need to ensure that their tools directly address customer’s current problems. It’s up to B2B marketing teams to survey customers and really listen to what they’re saying, then to deliver that feedback to product teams and release it to the market with a drumroll of rolling thunder.
This strategy proved especially useful for at least two brands we’ve spoken to in the last year or so as companies were forced to adapt to a complete digital transformation. In 2020, HackerRank shifted its focus to its remote interviewing solution, a product that had been pretty hard to sell pre-COVID. Even though the solution was undoubtedly useful for customers and prospects, CMO Jennifer Stagnaro shared that they opted to give free access to the tool for 3 months, promoting it via meaningful content strategy.
In her interview, CMO Katie Risch of Centro said that one of the first things they did when the pandemic struck was survey customers to figure out what they needed. From these surveys, Centro ended up developing and launching a companion product to help customers collaborate remotely. So far, the new product has been a success: “We were nimble, flexible, got it out the door, and now we’re getting really great user feedback.”
- Farm your customers
Since the economic downturn, most B2B SaaS brands have shifted focus to their existing customer base. In a recent interview, Sendoso CMO Daniel Frohnen discussed how important it is for marketers to enhance and enable customer experience: “Customers matter more than new business. Don’t take your customers for granted and make sure that you’re enabling the people that are working with them as well.”
Now is the time to make sure that your current customers know about the full array of tools and services you provide, specifically those that directly help them solve for a current challenge, or at the very least deliver a significant speed-to-value.
With over 12,000 customers, one of Precisely’s main goals is to increase the number of products per customer, to introduce extremely powerful, beneficial cross-sell motions.
CMO Kevin Ruane of Precisely explained how the data integrity brand significantly simplified its 150-product portfolio: “We put out this concept of gateways that would serve as ways to guide visitors to the right portion of the portfolio for the challenges that they have.”
- Build community
SaaS brands should aspire to build and facilitate customer and prospect communities. There’s nothing quite as valuable as helping people in your category come together to share challenges and solutions with one another. Done right, a great community can establish a SaaS brand as a thought leader, and careful social listening can inform everything from product development to messaging. It builds brand awareness, engendering a sense of brand love among customers, convincing prospects to close.
When 6sense’s promotional CMO breakfast roadshow was sidelined by the pandemic in March, CMO Latané Conant and her team scrapped its original plans. Instead of discussing its project findings with the CMO guests, the subject switched instead to what was happening in that moment and how to solve for it.
The sense of community here worked especially well in the world where SaaS brands are marketing to marketers. Conant explained, “Marketers can sniff bull. They know bull because they’re spinning their own stuff, so one of the things that we’ve also been very, very thoughtful about is being very practical, less theory.”
- Test more
Marketing campaigns are useless if marketers don’t use them to test and inform their marketing strategy. There’s a lot to be learned from every social post, every blog, and every email sent out. According to Litmus CMO Melissa Sargeant, the biggest email marketing mistake that B2B marketers make is that they don’t test every email every single time.
Sargeant shared that testing everything does more than just optimize email efforts: “If something’s working in email, you can apply it to your paid channels. If there’s a certain topic or certain asset or content that’s working well, you can actually harvest those analytics to empower your entire marketing mix.”
Frequently Asked Questions about SaaS
What is SaaS?
Software as a service, or SaaS, is a web-based software service. Instead of having to download on-premise software to a computer or business network, users can access the application via an internet browser hosted by the SaaS vendor. SaaS systems are generally subscription-based.
What is B2B SaaS?
B2B SaaS is when a company sells access to its software to another business following the cloud-based distribution model.
What is SaaS Marketing?
SaaS marketing is all about marketing a cloud-based, subscription-based product. It focuses especially on the “service” part of “software-as-a-service,” typically offering a low barrier to entry, freemium product for its customers and prospects. A successful SaaS marketing strategy will help to position the SaaS brand as a thought leader and effectively build a strong user community.