Common Marketing Mistakes at SaaS Companies
Working with SaaS clients is one of the most rewarding gigs our digital agency can do. Why?
- SaaS companies are naturally receptive to self-improvement.
- SaaS leadership are digitally literate and take a scientific approach to systems and processes.
- SaaS employees embody this same combination of receptivity and scientific curiosity, reducing barriers to change management.
Here are the most common issues uncovered when we engage with SaaS clients in digital marketing and business consulting.
1. Product definition sprawls like Yellowstone
The show, Yellowstone, has grown huge and become a sprawling universe. Your SaaS business is not Yellowstone, not yet.
Ideally, your SaaS company was a lemonade stand perched on a shady corner within a warm, sunny village. Most startups found success by being at the right place at the right time with their lemonade stand. Scaling your lemonade stand into Jamba Juice is an entirely different playbook.
Common among many SaaS products is that they can do a lot of things for a lot of people. They ideally they can serve many industries and use cases. However, listicles of features and benefits tempt the product managers or leadership to jump at every shiny thing. More about why you do a business case to cross over into new markets later.
Defining the product begins with identifying the ICP, ideal customer profile. This is a data-driven exercise, not an off-site meeting where drinking is involved. While many have opinions and strong beliefs, past sales data and customer propensity to buy is a fact-based exercise.
Once you can clearly say in a few words where your highest quality ARR has taken root, you may be ready to pivot into new spaces with your product. But first things first: know who is paying the bills and who keeps the lights on. That is your ICP, here and now. Not the 12 other personas you think are promising.
Have you fully exploited the ICP with the product as-is? Avoid technology debt by sticking to your knitting.
The decision-maker is the person who matters. They opened the purse.
2. Who is the Target Market?
We just talked about the ICP, whom you identify by looking at customers in your database and finding the most profitable profiles. That can be by job titles, geography, industry, use case. More likely, it is a profile reflecting multiple variables from those kinds of demographic tags.
From there, you might need to do customer interviews or a customer advisory board to engage first-hand with people who write checks and buy the product. The buyers may be users—but the buyers also may be the executive champion who sent folks out to find and source a product like yours. That decision-maker is the person who matters. They opened the purse.
Later, you can get into advanced user needs, so you can reduce support tickets and address churn or win-loss reports from sales. But once again: first things first. The one who pays the bill is the most important voice at the table.
3. Establish Brand Credibility
Many continue to think of branding as a logo, colors, or the website. Branding is the entire experience of the brand. That means your SDRs, BDRs, and support walk and talk from the same playbook in a unified voice.
Your people are the brand. To establish credibility, you need a great logo and website. But you also need cultural alignment and product knowledge down to each individual employee. The experience after sign-up should be special, efficient, and perhaps have touches of flair as to who you are.
The experience along with some sparklers that delight or surprise establish credibility and differentiate the SaaS product. Digital stuff feels human, and people today yearn for human interaction in a world of bots and flat design look-alikes.
Social proof is integral, which means not only testimonials, but customer stories. The case studies are done methodically, picking use cases, industries, and job titles that speak to your ICP. While many may be willing to be featured in case studies, it is often the busiest, least available customer who is most valuable to your social proof.
4. Generating Leads
Demand generation is a major sore point, and often an organization becomes hyperventilated on dips in MQLs.
The trust is, if the first 3 points above are not in order, all the SEM and SEO in the world is not going to profitably grow the business. Lead generation also entails day-to-day study and management of your paid ads and monthly enhancements of SEO to remain leading edge.
Also note, SEO has changed dramatically. It is about usability, and Google’s Helpful Content Update in2022 was a major shift. The days of churning out blogs are not enough. Try searching some of your keywords on Google or Bing. Do you see blogs showing up?
Probably not. So, think again about what SEO entails today. The cheese has moved.
Directly address the patterns of objections not being satisfied in the mid-to late-stages of the funnel.
5. So-so Sales Support & Onboarding
Struggling SaaS companies may have a beautiful product. So, if they struggle with bookings or churn, it is usually a kind of over-confidence in the product. They fail to invest in the journey of the customer—and what sales and support need to make that a well-oiled machine.
Also, salespeople get impatient if they can’t make their numbers. So, listen to them and tweak or produce materials that directly address the patterns of objections not being satisfied in the mid-to late-stages of the funnel.
Some of the most vital materials for SaaS sales include:
- A clean, differentiated web site, where you have invested tons of hours on the H1, the pricing page, product walkthroughs, and use cases per persona.
- Next, sales need a battlecard per product and per segment. If you do not know what a battlecard is, Google it or ask an agency like ours.
- From there, organize the content to the buyer journey. Deliver content via emails or the salesperson to address the buyer’s expectations—from liking and preference into conviction and close.
Customer journey mapping is nice. Going back to map and stage how and when specific content gets delivered along that journey is what changes good SaaS marketing from stellar SaaS marketing.
Competitors just as smart as you are already in the market. Respect them, or they’ll crush you.
6. Poorly Planned New Market Launches
According to Gartner, a key step is to understand your target market and what it needs from a SaaS solution—that is not already being delivered by competitors. That sounds kinda,“Well, duh,” doesn’t it?
The next steps are not: write a press release, put up a new web page, do a webinar. Nope.
Instead, you form a small team to research and write a business case. Treat the new market like it was a new company.
- Who is the ICP?
- How are we different to this ICP?
- What will be the costs to get to the beachhead?
- What do we define as a beachhead?
- Can we put that into a proforma or forecast?
- Did we research and put into sprints features to fill gaps?
- Will we need additional services for successful onboarding?
- Do we have the right people dedicated to this “business”?
- What one person owns this market entry—who is the “CEO” of that new market or business line?
Failures are too many to count, in our experience—and they always thought they would crush it. When we are called into fix a SaaS company, few if any answered the above bullet points. They tried to sneak into a new market, and they drank a wee too much of their own Kool-Aid.
You cannot sneak into a market. Ever. People just as smart as you are already in that market. Respect them, or they’ll crush you.
7. Lack of Real Differentiation
Not only are their tons of SaaS products out there—there are tons of substitutes and workarounds for what you think is so special.
Differentiation—or “positioning”—is a real thing. It is not the founder saying, “No one else is doing this.” Let’s be frank, your opinion while interesting is irrelevant.
All that matters in the end are people seeing the website, watching a demo, and getting you. They either get you or they don’t. So, what exactly is so special, so different? Having a patented feature or being really cool—well, once upon a time, MySpace was cool, AOL was cool. Today, no one cares.
Positioning is a time-honored process that product managers or experienced software executives have learned hands-on. It is not from a book you read and foist upon your staff. It is not your opinion or the co-founder’s opinion. A executive with EQ will know if and when they have moved into an operating role, twice-removed from direct customer knowledge. It is a process taking a few weeks or months, and it involves specific tasks and tests.
Seek a third-party expert. Do not fallin' love with your own cooking.
8. CLV and the nuts and bolts
When we first engage with clients, we do an audit of the marketing and sales that is very grueling and painful. The client quickly either loves us or hates us or both.
Part of that is sitting with management to look at their agreement (and disagreements) about the most important metrics or KPIs in SaaS.
- MQL to bookings ratio
- SQL to booking ratio
- Advertising cost of sale(ACOS)
There are a handful of others. We focus on these because, frankly, if you are telling yourselves the truth about how you derive those metrics, you’re well on your way to success.
If you have complex workarounds to report those numbers, that is a yellow flag.
If you do not track them monthly, or you take a long time to explain how they are calculated, reflect on that. When time comes for the sale or acquisition of your SaaS company, PE and strategic buyers are really smart—smart or smarter than any three of us put together.
If they sense any watering down or diluting of how you track those core SaaS business metrics—that’s a major yellow flag.
Keep it simple. Then, ensure you have methodologies marketing and sales to do:
- Upselling: introduce customers to new services or add-on that increase CLV and stickiness.
- Cross-selling: mature your partnerships and affiliates, so you create a community that wraps its arms around customers—and enables cross-selling that creates loyalty and conveys value.
- Customer loyalty: offer rewards or discounts, or introduce gamifications that award badges, so customers feel like you care and notice they are part of your brand.
How to improve SaaS marketing
You spend a lot of sweat and likely pay a lot of employees to run and build your SaaS company. But sometimes, every patient owes themselves a second opinion.
We have never had a client regret the initial discovery conversation. We have never seen a client look at our audits and do not want to burn down the list of ideas and things to fix.
Consider getting an outsider’s opinion on your SaaS marketing and sales. Give us a shout at mertonway.com.