SaaS Marketing is different from every other type of marketing.
Whenever I speak at a conference with SaaS marketers and product owners present, the Q&A session usually includes a variation on this question: “How do I do marketing for my SaaS product?” The answer usually consists of platitudes like “be direct and to the point,” or “use video,” or “make sure your website looks good.”
Successfully marketing SaaS products can be hard, and platitudes don’t cut it.
While those items are all important, they’re not the parts that make SaaS marketing different from all other types of products. For years, when asked that question, I couldn’t articulate what makes SaaS marketing unique. I’ve always recognized that there were important differences, but I could never explain what they were.
Then one day this week, all of the sudden it was clear to me. What makes SaaS marketing different from every other type of product is the customer journey.
I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “Wait! That’s not right! Everyone knows that the customer journey is my #1 most important thing! And you’re supposed to pay attention to your customers not just when they sign up and start using your product, but also in between each and every interaction with your brand.”
I agree with all those things. They’re true.
But here’s why that’s not what makes SaaS marketing different.
Here are the differences I see between SaaS marketing and every other type of product:
- Customers aren’t hitting new features during the signup process. If they like your product, they usually want to try all of the new features you have in mind for the next version. Since a new version isn’t always available at signup time, this means we need to make sure our customers don’t hit that feature or two when it is released (which might be months or years later).
- Customers don’t always realize that our product is a subscription. They might think they’re buying a one-off license, or even that it has a fixed number of users. We need to educate them on the pricing model.
- Customers are more likely to be IT-savvy than non-techies. They are also more likely to do research before starting with your product, in order to decide if your product is right for them at all. (It’s not always obvious that they need your product.) We need to make sure their research includes both information about what our product offers and about how our pricing model works.
- Customers are more likely to be professional than freaks, geeks, and gurus. So they’re more conservative in their adoption habits, and don’t like to live on the bleeding edge. They are typically more conservative in their overall technology purchasing patterns. (Note: I’m not saying that our customers are all professionals or that only professionals buy our products.)
- Customers have a lot of choices, even for freaks, geeks, and gurus. For example, every developer can download Git for free. This is great for the customer, but it means we have to work extra-hard to make our product stand out from the crowd.
- The sales and marketing process is somewhat different than with other products. As you might know, SaaS products are sold on the basis of their benefits to customers, not their features (since no one needs features that aren’t valuable). This means we must be good at educating customers on our product’s value before they sign up for a free trial or start a paid plan.
- We often have multiple sales stages and touchpoints during the customer journey that differ from other products. For example, we might have multiple demos, multiple free trial signups, multiple upgrade paths, and multiple payment options (subscriptions and one-off payments). Any one of these extra steps is a potential drop-off point.
- We often need to do customer success work. This means we need to “hold their hands” in between the signup point and when they get value from the product. That’s often why we provide video demos, email addresses for support queries, and other features that help customers immediately after they’ve signed up for a free trial or paid plan. Some other products don’t require this level of customer handholding (especially physical goods).
- We need to handle all the customer support responsibilities. Customers might not always have the right information about how to use our product, or they might not have the right idea about what their needs are. We must be prepared to answer their questions, and coach them on how to maximize value from the product as quickly as possible.
- The customer support channel is not always obvious. And we can’t rely on self-service (a paid feature in some products). If a customer has a question or an issue, we need to be ready to answer it immediately, sometimes in real time. In rare cases, we may even need that customer’s help personally.