The SaaS space has experienced turbulent times in recent years.
In less than ten years, global spending on SaaS products has increased by over five times to approximately $176.62 billion and is expected to reach $208.08 billion by 2023.
And driven by the explosion in AI technologies this growth is set to continue. In this busy and complex environment, it’s not always the best products that win.
Fortunately, there are proven strategies that will help your SaaS organisation reach the right audience, with the right message and the right offering.
In this blog we explore these winning SaaS marketing approaches and shine a light on some businesses, including G2, HubSpot and Mimecast, that are running with them and succeeding.
What is B2B SaaS Marketing?
B2B SaaS marketing is about exploring, creating and promoting subscription-based software solutions.
And it isn't easy!
The array of solutions on offer has created a crowded and noisy marketplace with many competing or overlapping solutions. The potential customer has so many options that the buyer journey can become confused. As a result, creating awareness and driving demand in this environment can be a huge challenge.
Like all good marketing, SaaS marketing is about building brand, generating demand, and converting and engaging customers.
But it’s the aspects that make SaaS marketing unique that we’re going to consider in this blog. These include:
Let's look at a few stats:
In 2023, it's fair to say that SaaS marketers are facing headwinds. VC funding is harder to get than in 2022 and there’s an increased focus on profitability. To survive and succeed, SaaS businesses must double down on driving growth from existing customers, whilst keeping costs down.
B2B SaaS marketers must adopt strategies to engage customers. They need to be willing to adapt, change and evolve to succeed in a fast-paced market. Furthermore, they must be prepared to meet new demands and new competitors.
Agility is key to success, proven by key industry players such as HubSpot, Salesforce and Slack, who increased their revenues by $1.5 billion, $21.2 billion and $872 million respectively, within a seven-year period (2015-2022).
Let’s look at some of the approaches driving success for the leading SaaS providers.
A customer-led growth (CLG) strategy puts the needs, preferences and expectations of customers at the forefront of business development.
B2B SaaS providers must deliver outstanding customer experiences. This includes customer-specific content, active user engagement, a feedback loop, customer education and peer-to-peer networking or community engagement.
For G2, the world’s largest and most trusted software marketplace, marketing 'to and with' its customer base is a key element of its marketing strategy, driving high levels of growth in recent years. And that success has not happened by chance. The company has invested significant resources in customer lifecycle marketing and customer advocacy programs to drive customer-led growth.
"G2 was founded on the power of harnessing the authentic voice of real software users and we approach our customer marketing programs that same way,” says Katlin Hess, Director of Customer Marketing at G2. “The key to our success has been strong internal alignment, keeping customers at the centre of everything we do, and connecting with marketing and sales leaders to capture and share their feedback, knowledge and expertise.”
Product-led growth (PLG) allows product usage to drive customer acquisition, retention and expansion. It works well for B2B SaaS businesses with killer products – think Dropbox, Slack and Drift – that are easy for customers to adopt.
PLG leverages the inherent benefits and usability of your product to develop a direct relationship with your customers. Once you've created a pipeline of active users, why not offer them a free trial? The buyer can experience the value of your product with no or low cost and this self-service environment makes it easy for them to decide to become a paid customer. A positive customer experience will not only convert into paid subscriptions but will also lead to lifelong loyalty.
SaaS companies are in a unique position when it comes to using free trials and by the end of a trial period get the opportunity to gain valuable insights into likes and dislikes. When executed well, this approach can generate very fast growth – Dropbox reached $1 billion in revenue in only ten years!
Slack is another great example of a company that leverages PLG in its go-to-market strategy. In an overcrowded market, including giants such as Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts Chat, it continually used product feedback to improve its product and become one of the fastest growing SaaS businesses of all time.
Its approach includes free versions of its product, integration with other tools such as Google Drive, Trello and Asana, in-app marketing of paid plans, a strong community of users and viral growth. Slack has attracted a large user base, growing from 100,000 to over a million daily users within its first year.
Kelly Watkins, former Vice President of Global Marketing at Slack, describes the company’s product-led approach: “It starts with the product first - and the product experience first - and by the nature of that product experience itself having substance and providing value to people, that is where the benefit comes in of it selling itself, or of it being the mechanism that propels the success forward with other aspects of the company assisting in that.”
As customers look for convenient, whole solutions, ecosystems comprising multiple vendors offering complementary solutions become increasingly important.
Ecosystem-led growth is a strategy that requires the development of relationships. This network should include partners, customers, influencers and other stakeholders. The goal is to drive growth and create mutual value.
According to Jay McBain, Chief Analyst at Canalys, “B2B channels are in transition, from a tiered, resale and fulfilment function to a more fluid indirect ecosystem of affiliates, advocates, alliances and referral partners.”
This approach often means partnering with technology, strategic and channel partnerships. The first is when two companies come together to create an integration or share data to support customers. Strategic alliances might include the creation of new products or marketing strategy to reach specific goals. Channel partnerships, including affiliate, referral and reseller programs, are formed when companies work together to distribute products or services.
Buyers benefit from a wider knowledge base, extended product options, more flexible sales channels and a stronger support network.
One company adopting a strong ecosystem-led growth approach is cyber security email specialist Mimecast.
Mimecast's partner marketing strategy prioritises collaborating with technology partners, resellers and industry organisations to create joint marketing campaigns, co-branded content and co-hosted events that promote Mimecast's products and services. Through its partner channel marketing strategy, Mimecast has been able to expand its customer base, increase brand awareness and drive revenue growth.
“Forming relationships and developing go-to-market strategies with other like-minded security vendors that provide genuine measurable benefits for our joint customers is crucial. It offers greater protection for them and an increased customer loyalty for us all,” says Julian Martin, Vice President Technology Alliances at Mimecast.
The goal of a content marketing strategy is to attract, engage and retain potential buyers with high quality content including articles, videos, podcasts and other media. It serves to establish expertise and authority, educate your audience, promote brand awareness and drive traffic to your website.
For the B2B SaaS business, content marketing enables you to promote your solution as an answer to your audience's pain points.
Buyers get their problems solved with easy access to up-to-date product information, insight and advice.
You only have to run a quick Google search on content creation and marketing to know that inbound marketing and sales platform HubSpot is the golden child of content marketing. The company’s marketing strategy revolves around creating valuable content that educates and inspires its target audience.
As an established, trusted source of information, HubSpot delivers everything from in-depth B2B content marketing guides and state of marketing reports, to podcasts and bite-sized videos. HubSpot's content marketing strategy has helped it establish a strong brand presence, attract a large audience and generate leads and sales.
“Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just the marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans,” says Dharmesh Shah, CTO & Co-Founder, HubSpot.
“What separates good content from great content is a willingness to take risks and push the envelope," says Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-founder of HubSpot.
Account based marketing (ABM) is about being laser focused on the customer accounts you are targeting. The strategy involves deep dive research into the account and aligning sales and marketing resources to work together.
It’s a great way for B2B SaaS companies to increase leads, personalise marketing materials and close bigger accounts. It also provides SaaS marketers with valuable insights into what is working and what isn’t, so you can make necessary adjustments to your campaigns and enjoy greater ROI and customer loyalty.
In fact, a recent survey shows that 76% of marketers achieved a better return on investment with ABM than any other marketing strategy.
In turn, buyers benefit from stronger relationships with their vendors and a more personalised, tailored experience.
Sitecore, a business that helps brands connect with their customers using an end-to-end composable digital experience platform, has successfully implemented an ABM strategy to gain deeper insights about what its customers and prospects want, on a global scale.
“ABM has really helped us to develop deeper insights about what customers and prospects want from us, and then understand when and how they are ready to benefit from our solutions. This in turn helps us to really focus our sales and marketing assets on where we can provide the most value to the prospects and customers that we're that we're trying to reach.”
In reality, most SaaS businesses will operate several of these strategies as part of their marketing efforts. The ‘right’ combination depends on your product, lifecycle stage and business goals.
In all cases, we recommend taking a close look at your marketing activities at all stages of the buyers’ journey and across every channel to understand the impact of those activities against business goals.
Is your customer churn rate too high? Are your channel partners not fully activated? Does your content fail to engage your target audience? Are your website visitors failing to convert? This way, you will start to see what is working and what is not performing as hoped.
Refinements to marketing strategy don’t mean throwing everything away. Far from it. We see time and time again how incremental changes in approach result in a positive impact to the business.
Keep in mind that you are testing and learning at every stage and refinement will be continuous. If it feels overwhelming, focus on doing a few things consistently and doing them well.
At Marketing Fusion, we start by understanding our clients’ business strategy before developing the marketing strategy. Marketing cannot work in isolation and needs to be accountable for its contribution to business growth.
Find out which strategy combination is right for you. Our free discovery workshop can help guide your B2B SaaS business along the quickest path to growth.