Companies providing software as service face many unique challenges when it comes to sales and marketing. These challenges are more pronounced for SaaS companies who sell Business to Business. B2B SaaS marketing is different from marketing other types of products for many reasons. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through all the phases of developing an inbound marketing strategy for your B2B SaaS company or startup.
In this guide, we’re going to walk you through all the phases of developing an inbound marketing strategy for your B2B SaaS company or startup. We’ll then expand upon the “closing” aspect of your inbound marketing plan to show you how to align your sales and marketing by applying the inbound methodology to the sales side of your business.
- We will discuss topics and answer questions such as:
- How do you sell something as ethereal as software?
- How do you build a marketing strategy around something as non-static and evolving as a software service?
- How do you decide where to put your marketing budget today, when the entire industry may shift tomorrow?
- How do you keep your marketing messages relevant when the needs of your business customers are changing constantly?
While traditional marketing techniques can be part of the equation, alone they are not up to the challenge. This is where the inbound marketing methodology can make the difference.
OUTLINE: Click On Any Title to skip to topic
- Goals and Objectives
- Marketing Budget
- Traffic Generation
- Understanding the Buyer’s Journey
- Buyer Personas
- Buyer Focused Content Strategy
- Lead Generation
- Customer Acquisition
- Inbound Sales Methodology
- Customer Retention
- Competitive Advantage
- Aligning Sales and Marketing
1 – Goals and Objectives
Before you can start doing something you need to know what your destination or goal is. A goal in marketing is a long-term view of where you would like to have your marketing take your company. Many times a goal is not a cut and dry metric. You can have a marketing goal that says you want your company to be a thought leader in your industry. Maybe your goal is to reach a worldwide audience or to have a sales team that gets all its leads from marketing and referrals. Goals are many times abstract and far away, but they serve as a guide to point you in the right direction.
Marketing Objectives, on the other hand, are quite a bit different. Objectives are measurable and realistic targets that you accomplish on the way to meeting your goal. A model that’s really helpful here is the SMART objectives model. If you haven’t heard of it a SMART goal stands
An example of a SMART objective would be: we want to be consistently generating 25 inbound leads a month from our content marketing efforts within one year. The goals that your company has will evolve over time and your objectives will change right along with them. One of the most important factors that determine what your objectives are is your budget and level of funding. While your long-term goals may remain the same after a new round of funding your objectives will most certainly change. For more on this check out our post: How marketing objectives change after series A funding. So, let’s say you have the funding. The obvious question then becomes: How do you spend it?
2 – Marketing Budget
Calculating the marketing budget for any product can be tricky. You need to find that ideal number that gives you the most marketing ROI for your money. Any marking plan you come up with will be an amalgamation of different marketing strategies, some with higher ROI than others. The great thing about including inbound marketing into your SaaS marketing plan is that it has one of the best marketing ROIs in the business.
46% of the businesses who responded to this question said that inbound marketing gave them the greatest ROI. While inbound is certainly not the end all marketing solution for your company, it can help to offset some of the necessary lower ROI marketing activities. Like the graph below shows, most companies will spend less the $25,000 on marketing next year, that’s really not that much. If a company put all $25,000 into outbound campaigns much of that money would be simply spent instead of invested.
For SaaS companies, marketing budgets should be set according to the amount of Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) that they receive each year. A marketing budget is usually somewhere between 10% and 40% of a given companies ARR. Of course, the specific number will depend on your own marketing and promotional mixes. The important thing is that you have the correct marketing budget to support the marketing objectives that you have outlined for yourself.
3 – Traffic Generation
The old marketing playbook is no longer relevant:
- 94% skip TV ads
- 91% unsubscribe from email
- 27% of direct mail is never opened
- 200M on the Do Not Call list
Before the internet, buyers were relatively uninformed. A buyer saw an ad on TV and bought the product the next time they were at the store. The buyer’s journey was a linear path triggered when a buyer recognized a need that was not being met. Today the buyer’s journey is much more complicated. Anything from a Facebook post to a YouTube video, to an image on Instagram can trigger a buyer’s journey. While it may seem like something impossible to predict, the modern buyer’s journey is something that can be quantified.
Understanding the Buyer’s Journey
Let’s say for example that an HR manager in a small company is using a combination of a bookkeeping software and a time clock software to manage payroll. Let’s call her Sally. The current way that she does it is time-consuming and very prone to errors. The problem in her mind is that she has to manually enter data from the time clock software into the bookkeeping software so that she can calculate payroll. She begins to search on Google for things like “automatically update bookkeeping” and “auto-populate from one program to another” until she stumbles upon an AdWords ad for Zapier which she clicks.
Sally feels like a Zapier integration between her two pieces of software might be the answer to her problems, but she is not quite confident that she can make it work on her own. She goes to YouTube and searches for “How to Zapier for bookkeeping”. The influencer in one of the videos she sees makes an offhanded remark after he explains how to make the zap to link the programs that it would be a lot easier to just use something like the SaaS from SolutionsHR. After conducting some research about SolutionsHR and visiting the site several times she decides to sign up for a free trial. She is impressed and discovers that the software meets all of her needs. After talking with her boss she is given the go-ahead to move forward with a subscription. This whole process took about 6wks, and though she was contacted by SolutionsHR during her trial, she didn’t speak to a salesman before making her buying decision.
This is how complicated the modern buyer’s journey can be. While it may seem like a combination random events and chance that led Sally to SolutionsHR, it was anything but. Not only can a journey like this be mapped, it can be predicted. By understanding how and where a buyer like Sally searches for the information you can anticipate her location along with her buyer’s journey.
If the modern buyer has a need for a product or service, they can get all of the answers to their questions online. They can research competitor information, reviews and easily find and interact with others who have already made the purchase. They could reach the decision stage of their buyer’s journey, all without ever speaking to a salesperson.
The modern buyer expects personalization. Why do you think companies like Netflix and Amazon suggest products and content that the user might like? These companies are actively customizing the experience of their sites to match the behaviors of their customers. While this level of automatic customization will be inaccessible to most companies, it serves as a great lesson to take into the sales processes.
What’s true for the individual modern buyer is also true for businesses. The business modern buyer expects an even higher level of personalization than the individual. When you’re selling Saas business to business (B2B) you need to have a strong understanding of who your ideal buyer is and what they need.
So, What kind of companies are you trying to attract? Are those types of accounts profitable and sustainable?
A good place to start by creating customer personas for the best types of accounts you already have, or would like to have. A customer persona is simply a fictional representation of your ideal customer that is based on some type of market research. As the owner or founder of a Saas startup, you may only need to look as far as the mirror. Chances are high that you developed your software because it solved a problem that you were encountering in your own life. If your service had been available when you were experiencing your problem would you have used it? Hopefully, the answer is yes if it’s no then all you have to do is restructure your entire company until it’s a yes.
Developing customer personas is a very similar process to what I just described, just instead of yourself, you would look at a group of your best customers. First, discover what they have in common with each other, then trace back the steps taken on their buyer’s journey that led them to sign up for your service.
Now that you know who your customers are you need to figure out what they’re challenges are. If you did your job right making your personas one of the things they need is your service, but more often than not they are not ready for a relationship with your company. Sometimes they are already searching for solutions, or they might not realize they have a problem. These are customers at different stages of their buyer’s journey and the process of placing them into groups is called segmentation.
There are tons of factors that you can segment your audience based on. The fact remains that these people need help and you’re going to give it to them for free.
Free? Well in terms of money, yes, but there is still an economic exchange going here. These days the exchange of information is treated very similarly to the exchange of currency. As an expert in your field who has created an excellent B2B Saas solution, you have extremely valuable information regarding the problems that your target audience is facing. Share this information genuinely and fully with your audience in exchange for their email.
Hold on? You mean to say that you’re going spend hours upon hours:
- Developing a content strategy
- Writing blogs
- Making infographics
- Writing ebooks
- Building guides
- Creating instructional youtube videos
- Curating content on social media
- just to name a few…
Then you’re going spend a bunch more time on marketing all that stuff and you’re not going to ask anyone for any money? Just their email? Doesn’t really seem fair right? Wrong. All of that effort is paid in full once someone who needs your service gives you permission to contact them.
By showing your audience that you honestly want to help them and genuinely have their best interests in mind, regardless of if they are paying for your service, you build trust. The relationship with your audience is everything and if done correctly it will increase your leads, sales, and customer retention.
The trick to this is that there’s no trick. All you have to do is actually care and help as much as you can while asking for as little as you need in return. You’re building a win-win scenario, if you provide value they will give you their business.
Buyer Focused Content Strategy
So, how do you actually go about developing a content strategy for your business? If you’ve been in business for awhile then you’ve probably already created a ton of content. The challenge becomes organizing and distributing this content so that it will generate the right kind of traffic for your site.
The first order of business is to find out exactly how much content you have by conducting a content audit. Hubspot has a great tool that you can download here which walks you through conducting a content audit of your own. Once you understand what you have, you can see the gaps in your content library and start to fill them. Check out this post for some tips on how to create your content more efficiently.
One of the better strategies to help you rank for keywords better and organize your content is something called topic clustering. Let’s say for example your company sells an employee well-being saas product for small businesses. One of the primary keywords you’re trying to rank for is “employee well-being software”. You would put that keyword at the center of a topic cluster as a pillar and link back to it from other more specific blog posts on related subtopics.
The topic clustering method is great for your SEO as well. By continuously backlinking new blogs to a central pillar blog they all share in SEO gains. The strategy optimizes the PageRank of more established pages to boost that of new pages. Google sees the cluster and understands that your pillar blog is more important than the ones that point to it, as a result, it will rank this page higher. While you can build content clusters on your own and track them using Google Analytics. The only way to get a real understanding of how your content is performing and interacting is with content marketing software.
4 – Lead Generation
Traditionally, most of a company’s leads will be generated from their sales team and referrals. The inbound marketing methodology is not here to replace all your lead generation activities, it’s here it increase the quality of leads that come from marketing.
Inbound marketing makes sure that the leads coming out of marketing are highly qualified and ready to be taken through an inbound sales funnel.
An inbound lead conversion occurs when a person on your site hits a Call To Action (CTA) button. CTAs come in all different shapes and sizes, but their purpose remains the same: offer the customer something that they must enter their information to receive. This offer can be anything from a more in-depth guide, to an ebook, or a report. In SAAS many times it’s a free trial of the software. Check out how to create awesome landing pages for your content offers in this post: Six tips to improve landing page experience.
If you have been in the saas business for any period of time then providing a free trial of the service should not be a new concept to you.
Always build a trial experience that is for the benefit of the customer using it. You don’t want to push anyone away by making them feel tricked, scammed, or not in control. Keep everything
How do you prove that you will be a good match for a B2B client?
This is a great question with a simple answer: Treat them like a paying customer. If your service is valuable and they like working with you they might just sign up. Obviously, there are many different strategies for how to structure your trial. The most important part of the trial is the opportunity for direct communication with your customers. This conversation is primarily started through email automation.
Basically, you use automated email for two main reasons:
- Let your customers know what’s going on.
- Try and spark up a conversation.
The second after a prospect has activated a trial account with you they need to receive an onboarding email that explains how everything works. If you notice that they may be struggling with something, or have stopped using the service during the trial they need to receive an email offering help. You don’t want to get too spammy with these emails, but they are absolutely necessary if you want to convert trial members into paying customers.
There are lots and lots of email automation tools out there like MailChimp and Hubspot. Honestly, it doesn’t matter which one you use, what matters is that you are using them correctly as a part of your marketing and sales funnels.
Being able to monitor how all your different marketing efforts are performing is important so you can continuously improve on them. You should have some type of dashboard where you can see how all the different marketing activities, both inbound and outbound, are performing at a glance. For more on how to create such a dashboard check out this post: how to build a meaningful marketing dashboard.
If you can show to your prospective customers that they will not only be getting access to a wonderful software but also be receiving excellent customer service, your relationship will start off in the right direction.
5 – Customer Acquisition
After a prospect hit’s a CTA they begin their journey from the marketing funnel to the sales funnel. If you have a dedicated marketing team then it’s their job to qualify these converted prospects to make sure the leads they pass on to sales are good fits for the company. These are called Marketing Qualified Leads or (MQLs). MQLs start at the top of the sales funnel and their quality is a testament to the type of the marketing you’re performing.
Before we discuss the inbound way, let’s talk about your sales team’s current efforts for a minute.
- Cold calling: Even if your sales team has a great list of potential leads, the old tactics of calling and leaving voicemails out of the blue are no longer effective. The modern buyer needs to know about your company before your salespeople reach out.
- Mass emailing: Does anyone still believe that sending as many emails as possible is still effective? People get hundreds of random emails a day, why should they care about yours?
- Trade shows: How many potential customers can your sales team actually meet at these types of events? Sure the personal nature of these events can yield results, but shouldn’t your sales team be focused on selling and not lead generation?
- Generic presentations: How can you expect to gain the interest of an audience that demands personalization with a sales presentation that you’ve given 100 times? The modern buyer needs more than this.
These are the old way to sell. Legacy sales are centered around the way sales sell rather than how people buy.
The Inbound Sales Methodology accounts for all of the changing factors of the modern buyer and is all about transforming the way we sell to align with today’s empowered buyer. The buyer calls the shots and determines the pace, not the salesperson. It can be difficult at first, but once you integrate this type of thinking into your organization everyone can benefit. Sales and marketing need to work together to figure out who the buyer is, what they want, and HOW THEY CAN ADD VALUE to their buyer’s journey.
The goal of the inbound sales methodology is for the salesperson to become the buyer’s sensei. Their relationship should mirror that of Luke and Yoda from Star Wars. The salesperson becomes a teacher and an advisor just like Yoda was to Luke. They need to add value, become a leader in their space, and anticipate the buyer’s next move. If this is done correctly, the buyer will end up trusting and respecting the salesperson much like Luke trusted Yoda.
If you deeper into this reference you can see that Luke was an inbound referral from one of Yoda’s previous clients
6 – Inbound Sales Methodology
In order to truly become a trusted mentor of your prospective clients, you need to employ the Inbound Sales Methodology. The biggest difference between legacy sales and inbound sales is the customer and their needs. Inbound
Identifying who your ideal buyers are can be as simple as monitoring their activity on your website. Every time a new visitor clicks a
With inbound content is the conversion point. People have to pay for your content by giving you permission to contact them. While this shouldn’t replace your more outbound efforts, it should start to change the way you see how you actually generate leads.
Even though you might have generated a list of good potential buyers, you don’t want to just go right out and contact them. First, you need to conduct some research. The more you know about the people on your prospect list the better. A good place to start is their social media profiles. Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter can all provide you with different types of valuable information.
Some things to look for during your research on social media:
- What is the buyer’s role in the company?
- How long have they been at the company?
- Did they come up
throughmarketing or sales or product?
- Who is their boss?
- Do you know anyone at their company?
- What are their interests?
- Where did they go to school?
- What groups are they part of?
- What influencers are they following?
- What is their favorite quote, show, or movie?
- Do they have any children or pets?
- Where do they like to go on vacation?
Get to know this prospect as a person first not a company. The more you know about their personal interests and goals the better you can customize your sales language to appeal to them. Beyond all of that, this type of information will help you understand what is truly important to this person which will aid you in helping them more easily.
Many people discount Twitter, but we at Orakee.com see it as an excellent person, market, and industry research tool. Unlike LinkedIn, which is heavily business focused, Twitter can give you insights into their personal interests, their hobbies, and what issues they’re they dealing with every day. Your prospects are not only asking questions on Twitter, many times they’re answering the questions of other users as well.
2 – Connect
In order to connect with your customers, you first need to know them. Your buyer personas are a great tool to help you start to understand your buyer’s needs and problems. Taking what you have learned from the
Through the study of your personas, you can infer how these leads might want to be contacted. Maybe it’s best to send an email first then a phone call or vis
Most of the MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) that come down your sales funnel will be in the awareness stage of their buyer’s journey. Awareness stage leads shouldn’t be sold too, your job is to educate them on the problem they are facing.
3 – Explore
Next is the EXPLORE phase. You have gathered a decent amount of information about your potential customer up until this point, now it’s time to use it. Pulling from that information you should be able to see what the potential problems of your prospect might be. During an exploratory call, you want to find out if your prospect recognizes these issues as challenges that need to be overcome.
This phase is designed to determine whether or not the client is a good fit for your company. Once you discover what the actual goals of the client are you can start to build a list of the services that you provide which might help them reach those goals.
Once you have both agreed on the buyer’s challenges the next step is to connect overcoming those challenges with accomplishing their goals. This is a great time to gauge how committed this client is to improving these areas of their business. Introduce your product and talk about how it can help them overcome these challenges.
You should have a good idea of what the prospects timeline is by this point, so only talk about your products that match with their timeline. The final stage of the call focuses on their budget for the project. Make sure that you include all factors in calculating how much an implementation of your product might cost. If everything looks good you can move to the Advise stage.
4 – Advise
This is what it’s all lead up to. At the advise stage and inbound salesperson is finally ready to recommend solutions for the buyer’s unique problems. An inbound sales person translates and personalizes company messaging to match the unique situation that the buyer finds themselves in.
This stage is where the communication skills of your salespeople really shine. The first step of this stage is for the salesperson to go back over what they have learned about what their client needs. Summarizing the conversation up until this point is a great way to prove that you have been listening and understand the nuances of the buyer’s unique situation.
The next step is for the salesperson to suggest potential solutions to the buyer’s problems. This stage is when all the trust that has been built up between the buyer and the salesperson starts to pay off. The salesperson should be able to show the buyer exactly how their service will benefit the buyer. If the buyer trusts them they will take this advice and the process can move on to its next stage.
Finally, the salesperson confirms the buyer’s budget, authority, and timeline. This is the final stage and is basically the close of the deal. In SaaS, however, this is just the beginning. SaaS is a business built on ongoing relationships with customers. Actually closing a deal is meaningless if your customers don’t stick around.
7 – Customer Retention
Saas is a unique business model because usually, the customer can cancel at any time without penalty. While this can make it tricky to calculate exactly what the lifetime value of your customers will be, it is also very necessary to have a successful relationship with your customers. They need to be driving the car, you need to be operating the GPS to help them get to where they want to go.
Customer retention is where most of the focus of your marketing strategy should be going. You need to delight your customers so much that they can’t help but hop on social media and brag about how cool your company was to them. The fastest way to become successful is to help your customers be successful.
The goal is to breed advocacy. The most valuable customers that you will ever have is one who advocates for you. This is a customer who is so happy with your service, that they can’t wait to tell everyone they know about it. Besides the free marketing boost you get from these types of customers, you can also take pride in the fact that your service truly helped someone overcome a challenge. Advocates are worth their weight in gold and can be utilized in future marketing campaigns as testimonials and showcases. Creating advocates should always be the number one goal of all your customer retention activities.
On a more practical level, customer retention can be as simple as great customer service. Always make yourself available to help your customers. By this time you should know enough about your customers that you might be able to anticipate a problem and intervene before they even notice the issue. Maybe their not using the software to it’s fullest potential, or maybe they are missing out on an opportunity to improve in other ways. Listen to your clients, pay attention to what they are doing with your product and on their own, and try to help whenever you can.
If you make them feel like purchased a new business ally instead of just another SaaS product, then the likelihood they will remain a customer is increased exponentially.
8 – Competitive Advantage
All the inbound marketing and sales in the world would be useless without a great team. Hiring, developing, and retaining excellent employees should be one of your top business priorities. Every software company in the world knows that it needs to hire great talent, but not all of them come up with a strategy to retain and grow their talent. At the end of the day, your company is just a collection of people contributing to a shared vision. The quality of the vision and the ways in which your employees contribute to it is determined by your culture.
Your SaaS company’s culture can become your competitive advantage in the marketplace. There’s a very specific type of environment that you must create in your company in order to build and retain great teams.
- Space to fail: Mistakes happen, especially in software development. It needs to be okay for your employees to make mistakes and learn from them. This is the only way that you can breed creativity and get people trying things that could one day turn out to be great.
- Autonomy of teams: The number one thing that undercuts creativity and happiness in the workplace is micromanagement. You need to make sure that you trust your specific teams enough to give them a project and then let them figure out how to complete it. This will reduce stress in the workplace and allow your teams to take more ownership of their work.
- A place to grow: Good hires are not looking to find their niche at your company and then do the same thing for 20 years. These kinds of employees want to learn and grow as professionals. Make sure that you’re always providing these types of people with the resources they need to develop their skills. If you don’t, be sure they’ll find a company that will.
Think of your hiring process as a type of inbound as well. The happier your employees and the more enriching the work environment you create for them, the more likely they are to recommend working with you to their network. You’re in control of the reputation you build for yourself in the job market. Just look at companies like Google and Facebook. They’ve gone so far out of their way to accommodate their employees that they’ve earned media coverage about how good of a place it is to work.
9 – Aligning Sales and Marketing
What do you mean align sales and marketing? They both work for the same company, isn’t that enough alignment for you? Unfortunately no.
It can be easy to overlook marketing and sales alignment in your organization, especially if you’ve been getting results. The problems that stem from a disjointed sales and marketing team might not be apparent right away. It’s a small issue when you only have two or three people on each team, but as your company grows, the problems will be accentuated. If your marketing and sales teams are not working together like they should, you could lose leads and miss sales opportunities.
As you can see from the graph above, there’s a direct relationship between sales and marketing alignment and having an effective marketing strategy. The graph below shows that as alignment increase so does the amount of inbound leads.
So how do you fix this problem?
Sales and marketing should first be looked at as two branches of the same department, a
- Agree on what to call everything: By simply agreeing on what terminology to use related to these specific departments, you can increase communication levels and decrease errors.
- Create an agreement between Marketing and Sales: An agreement made between these two groups ensures that everyone is held accountable. It helps the marketing team understand what they need to be doing to ensure that the sales team is successful and vis
- Marketing learns Sales, Sales learns Marketing: By having sales take the time to understand what generating a lead requires, and by having marketing understand what it takes to close that lead you build understanding. Knowing exactly what the customer will go through in the sales process is important for the marketing team to be their best. Knowing what a customer has been through during the marketing process can help sales relate to that prospect even further.
The sooner you start to see sales and marketing as part of the same department the sooner change can occur. Having aligned sales and marketing teams will also lead to a better experience for your customers, which should always be a goal you strive for.
We hope you’ve found this dive into inbound marketing and sales for B2B SaaS companies helpful. Integrating inbound into your sales and marketing strategy is a must if you want to compete for the modern buyer’s attention. People don’t want to be sold to anymore. The buyer of today wants to call the shots and expects you to know what they need.
So take some time to make buyer personas. Create a content marketing strategy that will speak to their needs. Segment your leads effectively so that you’re not wasting your time or that of your customers. Reach out to a prospect when they’re ready to listen. Speak on the channels that your clients are already using. Shepherd your MQLs through your inbound sales process. And finally, if they choose to go with your service, retain them as customers with excellent service and information.
We know it’s not that easy, we’re happy to answer questions if have them.