The SaaS world has undergone a shift as businesses look for solutions that provide a blend of stability and technical excellence that wasn't always necessary in the past. In the early days of SaaS, many businesses were content to move between apps and services, doing whatever made sense for them at the moment. In many cases, IT wasn't even involved in the conversation, with business managers using their corporate credit cards to purchase subscriptions. As the cloud has become more mainstream, IT departments have become cloud brokers for the rest of the business, and the IT leaders have much higher standards than many business users when choosing a cloud service provider. This transition has fueled an evolution in the SaaS marketing landscape. Instead of simply getting attention based on features and capabilities, SaaS companies must build strong relationships with the IT decision-makers they interact with.
Marketing – from demand generation to relationship management – increasingly needs to be customer-focused. This has led to a rise in account-based marketing and similar SaaS marketing. Whether you have adopted ABM or are working with more conventional SaaS marketing plans, the goal remains the same: build a strong relationship with prospects and customers to drive them toward a sale or expand their use of your services over time.
SaaS businesses need strong marketing strategies to make this relational strategy work, and it's vital to take a holistic approach to the process if you want to find success. Here's some perspective on what that looks like, based on insights from our close partnerships with fast-growing SaaS companies.
Marketing Success Starts with Branding
What is your unique selling proposition? How do you define your product market fit? What do your customer demographics look like? Who is your target audience? How does your business model differentiate you from competition?
These are all questions you'll want to answer as you explore your brand identity. Branding isn't about creating a style guide and selecting fonts. Those are relevant issues on the practical side of marketing, but you can't do that until you have a strong mission and vision for your brand. This requires careful self-analysis, something we've seen many SaaS businesses wait too long to perform. It's common for fast-growing companies to focus on sustaining their growth and emphasize sales, neglecting brand-building until they hit a wall. But that's precisely the problem. Over time, your sales team will run into scaling limitations with leads that you generate organically or from demand gen efforts. Over time, you'll need to become more sophisticated in how you communicate your identity to the market and who you target with relevant messaging.
If you start to work on branding early, you can position yourself to maximize growth and sustain momentum as your business scales. In practice, focusing on branding early strengthens the foundation of your sales and marketing efforts, creating value over time.
Sales and Marketing Alignment is Key
Have you ever noticed a business that struggles to sustain growth because its sales and marketing teams are working toward separate goals? In a worst-case scenario, this could be something like marketing being heavily invested in lead generation while an understaffed sales department is trying to target high-value prospects and is stuck following up on poor leads. What's more common is simple gaps between teams. For example, sales and marketing may:
- Use different terminology to describe solutions.
- Focus on disparate customer pain points in their messaging.
- Struggle to define qualified leads and create a shared vision for lead generation.
These types of issues can erode trust between prospects. There are few things more deflating for a software search team than to have marketing imply that a certain capability is available only to have sales come back and say that feature is actually six months away from production. Clear, consistent messaging is key across teams, and this begins with branding. When you have a strong identity, it's easier for your sales and marketing teams to speak the same language. Once you have that consistent narrative in place, you'll want to get your sales and marketing teams to collaborate on everything from lead gen to nurture campaigns, ensuring they're on the same page and supporting each other effectively.
Poor sales and marketing alignment isn't just about getting the message right to avoid problems. When your teams are working toward separate goals, it can leave you unable to diagnose problems because both groups are claiming to be doing their job. Creating a cohesive strategy lets you measure performance benchmarks that are relevant, making it easier to pinpoint problems before they escalate.
Efforts Should Extend Beyond the Sale
As SaaS businesses look to sell a variety of their offerings, it's vital that marketing efforts continue throughout the customer relationship. It's essential that marketing teams maintain touch points with customers and partner with sales to grow relationships over time. It can also help to perform exit interviews as customers stop using your solution for visibility into why relationships end so you can strategize accordingly.
The importance of maintaining SaaS marketing beyond the point of sale puts the role of sales and marketing alignment under a spotlight. Sales workers are most likely to spend the most time sustaining relationships, but having marketing available to speak to that process – and identify the best features to promote in conjunction with sales – becomes invaluable in expanding a subscription.
Create a Culture of Constant Improvement
Every facet of this SaaS marketing conversation feeds into this last point. From your messaging to customer retention and growth strategies, it's vital to continually measure operations and campaigns, take a creative approach to reinforce your brand across channels, and seek opportunities to strengthen your teams and projects. Focusing on ongoing, consistent improvement is vital to sustaining growth to enterprise scale, and it's only achievable if your culture makes improvement a key value.
Ultimately, constant improvement starts at the top, with executives setting realistic goals and challenging the business to grow, but that same urgency to improve must trickle down to sales and marketing teams as they work to improve messaging and strengthen the business.
Advancing in SaaS Marketing
These tips focus on the strategic side of SaaS marketing. Tactically, you'll want to think about your digital marketing initiatives, employ content marketing to drive organic lead generation, and make sure you aren't too dependent on the conference scene to grow your business. There's a lot to consider, and we can help you ask the right questions. At Insight Venture Partners, we get on the ground with companies in our portfolio, helping their teams diagnose what's working and what isn't so they can get the most from the skills and talent they have to grow their business.