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Selling software for a living – why SaaS marketers need to think differently

How many softwares do you use on a daily basis?

As a marketer it is probably a lot right? Statistics suggest that an average company uses more than 30 cloud based and 40 marketing softwares everyday. If it wasn’t for our browsers remembering and saving our passwords, we would be lost.

Demand for high quality software is growing tremendously, but so is the competition. In the UK alone, a new company is registered every minute and a large  number of those are software companies.

Now that the business is booming, I want to discuss what we can  do to ensure our voice is heard amongst all the other screaming marketers and salespeople in this global software bazaar?

Speaking out of years of experience and personal hit and trials, I have noticed that one needs creative thinking, a fresh perspective and perseverance to be successful in the software industry. Following I will elaborate more on that.

Before we get into the details, let’s get our basics right. What’s SaaS?

SaaS stands for software as a service. It is allowing the user of your software instant data access from any device and any location via an internet connection.

You must have noticed that as the software business evolves and people become more tech savvy, most of the latest programs and softwares are SaaS. It is essential to understand how to market SaaS in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Compared to traditional software, this system of web-based software is maintained and hosted by the vendors themselves. This approach has tremendous benefits for the buyer. Neither do companies have to invest into hardware infrastructure anymore, nor do they have to maintain a big IT force, as the entire software maintenance is taken care of by the software vendor.

The pricing model differs as well. In traditional on-premise software the buyer purchases a licence to the software itself and on top usually pays a fee for maintenance and support. SaaS models, in contrast, are usually based on monthly or annual subscription fees.

The SaaS approach makes software significantly more affordable and lowers the barrier of entry. Companies are now purchasing multiple softwares at the same time, but also cut out some of them much quicker if their experience wasn’t satisfying.

So what does that mean for us marketers? Let’s dive in and take a closer look at SaaS marketing and the challenges that come with it.

To understand the impacts and changes of SaaS on marketing, let’s look a bit back in time and see how traditional on-premise software got sold. On-premise software comes with higher entrance costs, which also means that you need to convince the buyer a lot more to actually sell the software.

Due to the nature of this sales process, direct in person contact is needed most of the times. Selling on-premise software usually requires a large in field sales force and hence requires a bigger amount of capital. Besides the need for experienced sales personnel, the approach to marketing is also more direct and cost intensive. I’d call it heavy outbound marketing.

As SaaS is a web based software and doesn’t require any local on premise installment and hosting, it is also the easiest sold via the internet itself. Choosing the internet as the main marketing and sales channel, does have some implications that need to be understood.

#1 Competing globally

As the internet is not limited to country borders, physical presence is no longer required to sell software online. This means that no matter where your target group is located you are always competing with the entire world.

#2 The challenge of multinational environments

When you have the whole world to sell your software to, it might seem promising at first because the market is huge. However, you will soon realize that such a huge market comes with its own set of challenges. Not only do the languages differ from country to country but also the business environments, laws, people’s mindsets etc… An ad that might perform outstandingly in the US might not be that celebrated in India. And these are  just some of the challenges that one might face in a global marketplace.

#3 Variety of offers and freedom of choice

The subscription based SaaS model makes the entry barrier much lower, which inevitably makes the exit much easier. In a global marketplace, the potential customer is able to choose from a sea of products. Buyers are likely to test multiple solutions at the same time before making a final decision which makes it a little more challenging for marketers like us to convince the buyer.

#4 The informed buyer

With more than 50% of all jobs requiring computer skills, the average person is much more technology savvy than 5 years ago. This means that the online behavior of potential customers has developed and changed. Before making buying decisions, 88% compare product reviews and research on multiple different solutions.
As marketers, we have to recognize these facts and adapt our strategies to a new, better informed, diverse and empowered customer.

In today’s online world, a potential buyer is only a click away from tons of distractions whether it be social media, flashy advertisements or random pop ups. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to grab attention of a customer and have them give you enough time to explain your product, convince them and close the sale. Therefore, as marketers we need  a little shift in our understanding of what marketing traditionally used to be, to a new, more flexible marketing.

Most softwares are used to solve a specific problem and every problem solving starts with a thorough research. This is great for us, as we are able to directly associate our product with the solution the potential customer is looking for.

The traditional marketing approach would dictate us to look for a couple of websites or magazines related to the problem our customers have and place some ads. For eg: if your software is a dating program, you might want to advertise it in some teen magazines. Collect those very first leads, hand them over to sales and job done, right?

Wrong. Buyers are changing the way they are purchasing services and are not only well informed about a product they are considering but are also testing multiple tools at the same time. For eg. if you type into the Google Keyword tool: “Google Analytics alternative”, you will be presented with a number of average monthly search queries.

This leads to a significant increase in self testing and research at the buyers end before he|she is interested in talking to a salesperson. Companies that have not recognized this trend are taking the risk of spooking prospects with aggressive follow ups. However understanding this, leaves a great opportunity for companies to restructure their marketing and sales funnels.

#1 Marketing needs to cover the funnel more than before

We need to change our thinking and turn away from the idea, of seeing the marketer’s job as only generating leads. The new role of marketing is to actually guide the user throughout the entire software experience.

Keep in mind, that with a variety of choices, the user is in the end not necessarily buying your product, but he is buying an experience only your brand can offer. This means you have to consistently market and sell your brand and service until the user is ready to talk price. That is  the point where a lead becomes fully marketing qualified and sales takes over.

#2 Marketing is the sparring partner of the user

Traditionally, marketing was a discipline that needed direct contact with potential customers the most but didn’t have the privilege. Once you somehow managed, based on assumptions, massive market research and some intel from your sales and support teams, you would get the lead and be done.

But in today’s software industry, this approach doesn’t work anymore. Marketing has evolved into the discipline that has the most contact with a user, even in the post-sale period. Realizing this, makes the job of marketing more complex but also more interesting. Users want to be constantly convinced, that they made the right choice going with your company even after purchase, which means you are constantly marketing your brand to them. In other words the line between marketing and customer service is fading away. It is our job as marketers to use all available resources to help users whenever they are stuck.

#3 Increase internal communication between Marketing, Sales and Support

Unfortunately, lack of communication is a major challenge in most workplaces. Many companies fail to establish a clear line of communication between their marketing, sales and customer support departments. The truth of the matter is, in the software business, the three aforementioned departments should be working together like one unit.

In SaaS, users expect a flawless and smooth experience. Users have multiple points of contact with your brand. The first one might be discovering some of your content, the second seeing one of your special offers, the third can be a support ticket and the last one can be an inquiry with your salespeople. In all those instances, users expect or at least wish for you to know exactly what ad they have seen and what question they have asked support.

It is essential that every team knows exactly what kind of content has been produced, what ads are running and what issues support has dealt with. Giving users the feeling that you always know exactly what is going on in his account can bring you the trophy.

Understanding the advanced role of marketing is essential in order to build a successful SaaS company. Equally important is also to understand if you are either selling a service or a product. Or maybe both? How to sell a product and service at the same time[/title][fusion_text]As I have mentioned above, SaaS stands for Software as a Service. The complication lies in the term itself: a software is not a service, is it?

No. However in SaaS you are renting the software out to your customer for a monthly subscription. This is where the service part comes in. It includes tasks such as maintenance and hosting.

As marketers, we need to understand this concept and the implications that come along with it. Traditionally, sales and customer service are two different disciplines, but in SaaS we need to find a combination of both. You are selling a product, which is your software and you are selling a service, which is your brand and all the maintenance, support and help that comes along with it.

When you are building a product, it is essentially a one size fits all. You concentrate more on differentiating yourself from your competition, with catchy features, specially crafted design or a more robust hardware. It is marketing’s job to make the product look desirable and get the customer to buy it.

When you are in the service industry, your customers have various questions. They are interested to know the team that provides the service. They want to know how closely the team works with the clients, how long will they provide the service for and all sorts of other things. As marketers we need to make sure, that all questions are answered before even having a direct call. In the service industry prospects will buy, when they trust you.

Doing this requires a strong combination of multiple marketing disciplines. You need to dig deep into software product marketing and be able to give each and every user an amazing experience, from the first point of contact throughout the entire lifespan. In a nutshell we have learnt that in order to be a successful SaaS marketer, we need to shift our focus away from the traditional marketing approach and move it towards a new way of thinking. Marketers need to be involved deeper in the entire customer journey.

Concentrate on building trust and an amazing customer experience to form long lasting relationships.

What are some key points you are focusing on in your SaaS marketing strategy?

  • January 27, 2016