20 Jul 2016

The Best Paid Acquisition Channels For B2B SaaS

The Best Paid Acquisition Channels For B2B SaaS

Traffic sources and acquisition channels are one of a marketer’s best kept secrets.

There are many tools out there to uncover your competitor’s PPC channels and advertisements, but they are not 100% accurate and they don’t tell you which ad was a success and which wasn’t.

Of course for every industry the exact advertising mediums might vary, but below I will list some channels that usually work for B2B SaaS.

In the last section, I will also share some best practices that distinguish experienced performance marketers from their less experienced counterparts.

Let’s start!

SaaS Directories

SaaS directories are some of the best paid acquisition channels that every SaaS should utilize.

Each directory is different, each one has more focus on specific software categories (i.e. Inventory Management, LMS, CRM etc) and they have different advertising plans and traffic quality.

Some of them are selling leads, so they are good for lead generation, others drive high quality traffic to your site and some of them act as the Yelp of SaaS businesses.

That is, when people search for reviews of your company, they are very close to the buying decision and they land on some of these directories to read reviews about your software.

So, it’s imperative to first get 5 or more high quality reviews and then engage in a directory’s advertising plan.

As you can see in my header, I am giving out a doc with more than 20 SaaS directories that I currently use, have used or explored in the past. This is a good place to start, but not all of them have good advertising plans.

With the recent acquisition of GetApp, Capterra and Software Advice by Gartner, things are bound to change in the future for better or worse.

Insider’s Knowledge: It’s important to build a relationship with your account manager in those directories.

Do not take everything at face value; negotiations play a role.

It’s important to understand which directories bring new business and which ones act as the last point of touch before a sale/signup is made and act/bid accordingly.

Your marketing attribution model matters a lot in B2B. This awesome article by Avinash will get you up to speed. My favorites are Time Decay and Position Based.

If the directories talk about you in their blog, reviews or wherever, it’s very important how they frame you. More on that in the “Best Practices” near the end of the article.

Email Sponsorships

Email sponsorships are mainly used for demand generation and they tend to be an expensive sport.

These work by usually either buying a placement in a site’s weekly newsletter or taking over the whole newsletter and talking about a lead magnet or your product.

Depending on the size of the list, accuracy, reputation of the site and other factors the price can vary, but it’s usually $1K+ for a single email sponsorship.

In 99% of the cases the sponsorship promotes a lead form to download a whitepaper or a blog post in the form of a native ad (meaning it subtly promotes the advertiser’s software).

However, I have also seen success with directly advertising your software and asking them to sign up.

It’s important to have compelling copy and good positioning, but it can work.

Of course for enterprise software you are better off promoting a lead magnet and then have marketing automation do all the heavy lifting.

Generally speaking, this channel can work when you have everything optimized and/or your software is mid to high end in terms of cost.

Insider’s Knowledge: Most sophisticated media sites have segmented their subscribers. Ask if you can target a specific segment for better results and lower cost.

Every site will share with you their average CTR, open rates and number of subscribers. Use those and assign a % conversion rate on your site to calculate in advance the cost per lead and if there is a chance of success.

Use this spreadsheet for your calculations.

Ask if they give any discounts and under which terms. Usually if you prepay a few insertions you can get a discount or some banner ads as a gift. Gifts are always welcome, but sometimes they must be requested 🙂

Avoid bad timing (summer vacation period, Christmas, etc).

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is simply paying a media site to feature your article by following a minimal editorial process.

This means that you bypass the normal selection process and the article might be about a topic and casually mention your company or about solely your company.

Usually it has a slightly more promotional tone than the normal articles of the site. It can also be used to get a strategic link for SEO purposes.

Now, most people say that making it all about your company won’t work. This is not always true.

It really depends on the level of marketing the industry has received and the marketing sophistication of the market…

If you write a heavily promotional post targeted to marketers we will tune it out and it probably won’t work very well.

If you write a similar piece for an audience that is not in marketing, doesn’t know what sponsored posts are and/or is not used to this kind of advertisement it might work pretty well!

Don’t limit yourself, go against the norm and try things that make sense.

Insider’s knowledge: One very potent use of this method is finding articles that already rank for keywords you want to target and offering them $$ in exchange for a short promotional mention of your company in their article.

This can work wonders if done right.

Be careful of the quality of your sponsored posts. Bypassing the normal editorial process also means that the quality can be lower. Pay extra attention.

Adwords and Bing (SEM)

Adwords and Bing are 2 PPC channels that are very important to most established SaaS companies.

Whether people are actively searching for a software like yours (i.e. NPS software) or you need to target long tail keywords and educate them will play a major role in your potential success (or lack of it).

If they are actively searching for a CRM they are considering solutions and they are prone to demos and closer to the buying stage.

If they are searching for longtail keywords, they are not necessarily looking for a solution like yours and the search volume might be limited…

Lastly, in some industries the CPC can be insanely high, so it might make sense to tackle it at a later stage or not at all.

Insider’s knowledge: If you have enough volume and competition, use single keyword ad groups.

Test between sending your traffic to your homepage and specific landing pages.

Google and Bing except from the difference in volume, they also have different searchers. They are simply not the same people and you won’t see the same conversions between them.

In most cases it’s better to have a reputable freelancer or agency managing your Adwords/Bing campaigns.

Best Practices

In this section I want to talk a little bit about some key philosophies and practices that I learned with time and I believe distinguish a junior paid acquisition marketer from a more senior.

First of all, we need to understand that these are not clicks and numbers, but actual people. There is another human being on the other end reading whatever message you paid to put in front of them.

This sounds simple, but it is often overlooked.

Once you start seeing activities under this light, you will start understanding why some channels work better than others, how to improve them and how to do unconventional ads that might perform better than average!

In short, you will start paying attention to the creative and the preframing of the potential customer.

For example, you might read an industry report that says “26% of LMS owners are not happy with their LMS”.

Now, it might make sense running an ad saying “Not happy with your LMS? Go to the leader and try TalentLMS for free”.

Your competitors won’t have an idea what you are doing, but you will.

An other important activity is running the numbers before running a campaign.

It’s not rocket science, you simply use the spreadsheet above and put in any numbers you have.

Then you assign an average number (based on your experience) on the data that you don’t have and calculate your CAC.

Then evaluate: does it make sense under these assumptions to run the campaign?

If not, how much tweaking do the numbers need to make it work? Are the new numbers feasible or far fetched?

Of course nothing is set in stone, but it’s better going in prepared than trying to get lucky!

Conclusion

Many people compare PPC channels to content marketing and support either of them, but this is not fair. It’s like comparing apples and oranges on which one is the best fruit for a fruit salad. You simply need both.

I have talked before on which one to do first based on your stageYou need paid acquisition for consistent, scalable top of the funnel growth and you need content for conversions, branding, middle of the funnel marketing and thought leadership.

Do you have any other favorite channels, tactics or a case study of something you did?

Share it in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Best Paid Acquisition Channels For B2B SaaS

  1. Nice article Alex. Loved it!!

    Would really like a way to initiate a “Sponsored Content” strategy. How do you approach people/influencers in this way? I assume nobody says, if you gimme X amount of money, I will give u a mention. So how do you carry on with that?

    Do you think introduction mails with offer inside? Or is it a more long term strategy where you have to build a relationship first?

    From my experience, it is very rare for an influencer/blog owner to answer an email without knowing you first.

    1. Thanks Nasos!

      You have to find bloggers that are interested in advertising and making money. Usually, I start by asking them to include me in their article. If they don’t reply, I follow up and include in PS that I am happy to compenate them for that, or something like that.

      If they are an influencer bribing them won’t work, you need another approach.

      In my experience, building relationships short of happens. It can’t be forced or started with an end goal in mind. Especially in marketing, everyone can sniff that out from miles away.

      Depends on the actual outreach email and a few other things. Check this article, it might help you:

      http://weeklygrowth.com/the-cold-email-outreach-guide-to-become-pro/

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