Having a documented marketing strategy is beneficial in many ways, even for young and small startups…
When you get to write down what’s on your mind, issues might arise or potential ideas and tweaks that you hadn’t thought before.
More importantly, once it’s documented, you have something to be accountable for and your employees know what’s the goal.
In this post we will see some marketing strategies, which ones to use at which stage of your SaaS and which ones should be in the core of your master strategy.
Note: although there is a certain confusion between strategies and tactics, I believe deciding on which of the following activities you will place your bets on, should fall under the *strategies umbrella* and not tactics. Tactics can be things like how to distribute your content and not content marketing as a whole.
Anyway, let’s dive in!
Audit and Competitive Analysis
When you develop a marketing strategy for a company for the first time, the first thing you have to do is audit your company’s strong and weak points, as well as the competition.
It’s very important to know where you stand, who your competitors are and what they do.
The reason for that is you can see what they are doing that works and evaluate which of these activities you can also do and benefit as well.
One example is content marketing. If they are blogging you can see what they are not currently doing (i.e. thought leadership content) and you can start blogging by doing only a weekly or biweekly post that has tremendous value and depth (but not necessarily length).
Don’t go and write 2000+ word articles that nobody is reading! As Gary says find and play in the white space.
Although most marketers suggest to put out content asap and content definitely works, I believe that if you are a bootstrapped SaaS, it shouldn’t be your number 1 strategy.
The thing is, although it works pretty well, it doesn’t bring fast results… Rather, it lays the foundation for your startup’s solid success in the long run.
So, I’d suggest that *if* you know your space, write and heavily promote one blog post every 15 days. If you don’t know your space and need to hire a writer, wait until you have some revenue and leads coming in.
Stage: Early and mid stage (minimum after verifying there is a need for your product and 10+ customers). Don’t wait until you reach a late stage ($1M+ in Annual Recurring Revenue).
Note: As Richard said in his comment on GH, for early stage B2B SaaS, doing outbound sales is pretty standard for Growth. It falls mainly under the sales umbrella, but I believe it’s very important, so I included it here.
Paid Ads (PPC)
Paid ads on the other hand bring in fast results, but need a budget… A budget of $1,000 per month should be good to start, but even $300-$400 a month can get you started (if you are bootstrapped).
Side Note: the problem with most bootstrapped businesses is that they are trying only “free” promotional activities because they lack the budget. If you lack the budget, do some freelance work and use that money for PPC…
Although most people will start with Google Adwords, this is not the only channel!
It’s good because it targets people actively searching for a solution, but in some cases the cost might be too high or the search volume too low (as when you are defining a new category).
In these cases you’d want to go to other PPC routes, like the directories I give to my email subscribers or social media ads.
There are other PPC options as well, but I’d start with those.
Stage: Very early till late stage. PPC will be a core part of your B2B SaaS marketing activities from early on to late stages. The sooner you start and be able to make them profitable the better!
Authority Publications (guest posts)
Establishing relationships with authority publications in your industry should be a category of its own.
They can be tremendously valuable and they can be leveraged in many ways.
For example, if you have a good relationship with them, these publications can give you special promotional activities that are not available to your competitors.
You could start by pitching them to write a guest post. Then once approved, promote the heck out of it to show them you mean business.
Later, ask how it went and pitch them for another. Later ask them to contribute an article regularly (every 7-15 days) or pitch them to write a review of your product.
The results this can bring are truly tremendous, *if* you have a solid product and signup process. So, I’d suggest to do that in mid to late stages.
Stage: Mid to late stage ($500K+ Annual Recurring Revenue).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As you grow your startup with the above methods, especially when you start engaging in content marketing, naturally you will start attracting links and mentions from other sites.
These will add up over time and they will build your “profile” and authority on Google and other major search engines.
When you pass a certain threshold it makes sense to do some extra tweaks and optimization on your site to get more search traffic from your existing efforts.
You could start from targeting keywords tightly related to buy intent (i.e. cloud CRM for agencies) to more broad keywords (i.e. Benefits of CRM).
You can start doing some SEO from the first day you own a site, but it doesn’t make much sense dedicating too much time to it too early. Just optimize your homepage and that’s pretty much it…
When you have authority on Google though it makes sense to capitalize it.
Industries vary but I’d draw the line at having a Domain Authority (DA) of 35+. Once you reach that DA you can dive a little bit deeper into SEO.
You can find the basics you need to know (as a founder) about SEO here.
Stage: Middle stage (DA 35+).
Comarketing means partnering up with other complementary companies and usually promoting an ebook or another piece of content in exchange for an email address. Then both companies get that email address and each one promotes or nurtures each lead accordingly.
I have never done it before, so I can’t share any tips or experiences, but from what I know it is usually executed in either of these 2 ways:
1. Each company agrees to a number of leads that it will drive and they both help create and promote the content piece.
2. One company creates the content piece and promotes it both inside and outside of its network and users. The other company promotes it to its users and gets some extra leads from the promotional activities of the first company. This makes sense when the first company doesn’t have a big user base to offer and offers “sweat” in exchange for some awareness to the second company’s much bigger user base.
You can read further a case about it in this comment on Inbound. You can also see a live example of comarketing between Hubspot and Linkedin.
Stage: Mid to late stage (need to have at least some clients, case studies and other credibility indicators).
Growth Experiments and CRO
Growth experiments is the process of documenting hypothesis and structuring experiments to test those hypothesis. This is better understood via an example:
Hypothesis: I believe New Visitors won’t be interested in creating a free account right away, so I will change all the “above the fold” call to action buttons to “take the tour” instead of “create an account” for new visitors. It will be a success if I see a lift in the % of conversions for new visitors.
Of course this example is a time waste, because it will never have enough traffic volume to reach 99% statistical significance for such a small change, unless you are Google or Amazon. However, the above example helps illustrate the process of growth experiments.
The important aspect here is that you go through various hypothesis that get confirmed or rejected and in the long run they help you better understand your visitors.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is tightly related to those experiments, especially in B2B SaaS. For both of them though, you need significant amount of traffic *in the pages you are experimenting* (not generally on your site).
This is the evangelion of CRO from the former Director of Growth at KISSmetrics, Lars Lofgren.
Stage: Mid to late stages (at least 2,000-4,000 visitors per 28 days in the pages you want to test).
This post is already longer than I wanted to, so I will keep this short…
Demand generation, as the name implies, is giving content to potential leads (webinars, whitepapers, ebooks etc) in order to educate them about a topic closely related to your SaaS.
After they have been educated, they might ask for a solution to problems they didn’t know they existed. This solution can be your SaaS.
This strategy is often used at much later stages to achieve scale, but occasionally it will be used in early stages to educate potential customers before they pitch them.
Stage: Late stage (to achieve scale) and rarely early.
These are the most dominant marketing and growth hacking strategies for B2B SaaS. Make sure to know what your stage your company is at and use a strategy that is right for your current stage!
There is no need to rush things and do activities prematurely, because it will condition other stakeholders to block that marketing activity from happening again in the future…
Do you have a favorite marketing strategy that worked for your B2B SaaS and is not listed above?
Feel free to share it in the comments below!