Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Good content marketing requires good content

Content marketing isn't just a good idea.  It actually works.

I've seen it work for my clients and I've seen it work for my own business.  Most folks find me by
way of my blog or my newsletter.

When it's done well, content marketing can boost visibility, enhance credibility, and generate inbound leads.  There's a reason it's sometimes called "inbound marketing."

It can be especially effective for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, where keeping the cost of customer acquisition is critical.

But here's the thing about content marketing:  It requires good content.

Seems obvious, but lots of SaaS companies have a hard time getting this right.

First explain the problem

Too often, companies think "content" means a product brochure, a demo, a data sheet, or something else that's all about the solution.


But most prospects are not yet ready to hear about the solution.  They first need to learn more about the problem.

  • What's wrong with their existing process or product?  
  • Who exactly has this problem?  
  • How costly is it?
Until prospective customers acknowledge that they have a costly problem and recognize that there's a better approach, they're not yet ready to pay attention to any vendor's particular solution.

Many of my blog posts and newsletter put the problem right in the headline, e.g. "Most demos are useless," or "Avoid random acts of marketing."

Once prospects recognize that they have an urgent project, then - and only then - should you start talking about how your product works.

Educate and earn the right to promote

At the beginning of the evaluation process, content that helps educate the prospect will be more effective than promotional product brochures.

The vendor has two tasks at this early stage of the process.

For one, they need to educate the prospect.  Besides helping them to understand the scope of the problem, the vendor can help explain to the prospective customer how to evaluate solutions.
  • What criteria should be used?
  • Who should be involved?
  • What are good sources of information?
The second goal for the solution vendor is to establish credibility.  The prospect must have confidence that they are working with a knowledgeable expert, a company that truly understands the needs of customers.

This is especially important for SaaS as the prospects will be relying on the vendor to deliver reliably over the life of the subscription.  (See "SaaS marketing is about promises, not products.")

Of course at some point in the prospective customer's evaluation process, they'll need to see material specifically about the product and how it works: data sheets, technical specs, etc.  But first the vendor needs to show they're knowledgeable and credible.  They need to earn the right to show their product to the prospect.









Saturday, June 13, 2015

Where Up-Selling Goes Wrong

Up-selling can be a very good thing for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. It’s a winner on two counts:
  1. It boosts revenue per customer
  2. It usually lowers the cost of customer acquisition. 
According to one critical SaaS metric - Customer Lifetime Value/Cost of Customer Acquisition - up-selling is a formula for success.

But selling to existing customers isn’t always easy and there are few ways it could go wrong.

Unhappy customers

Before you can sell new services to an existing customer, they need to be happy with the old services.  That sounds obvious, but it’s easy to see how companies can get it wrong. 

Imagine a sales team that’s not connected to the support team.  In that instance, the sales person may have no idea that a customer is in the midst of a long unresolved support issue.  When the sales person calls on that account to sell add-on services, that might not go so well.

Bad timing 

Sometimes the up-sell effort is simply mistimed.  There's both a good time and a bad time to try sell new services.

I purchase services from one particular SaaS company that insists on pitching me new services every time I call in to their support people about a problem I'm having with their service.  I’ve just called with a complaint, and you want me to buy more stuff?!  Not right now, thank you.

Hidden cost

Customers don’t react well when the additional service you’re offering really ought to be part of the standard subscription fee.  If it's something that’s fundamentally necessary to make the solution function effectively, the customer rightly expects it to be included... not an add-on that they need to pay extra for.

I’ve even seen SaaS companies that charge extra for an add-on service... and then require the customer to buy it. That doesn't sound like the way you want to treat new customers.

Wrong offer

Offering to provide an add-on service to an existing customer is usually most effective if it’s targeted to their particular needs.  If the add-on is best-suited to your larger customers, for example, focus the up-sell effort on your larger customers.  Offer something else to your smaller customers.

This is one of the advantages of offering a SaaS solution.  You actually do know quite a bit about your customers and how they use the solution.   You should be able to target precisely those that might be most interested in particular add-on services.

In fact, trying to up-sell everything to everyone can backfire on you.  When you present them services that aren't appropriate for them, your customers get the impression that you really don’t know much about them.  That's not good for a long-term relationship.





Saturday, May 2, 2015

FIve mistakes with free trials

It’s common for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies to offer free trials.  That’s because a lot of times they work.  Done well, free trials can be a very effective way to attract new customers. 

But done poorly, they can be an expensive failure. 

I’ve seen SaaS companies make several common mistakes with their free trials.

1.  “Free” isn’t really “free”

Sure, it’s called a “free trial.”  But to the SaaS vendor, it’s not really free.  They’ve paid to build and host the solution, and attract and support the trialer.

And it’s not really free to the trialer either.  They’ll invest a fair amount of time learning and evaluating the solution.

So if you’re going to offer a “free trial,” recognize that it actually will cost something. 

2.  A free trail doesn’t always make sense


Free trials make sense for certain solutions and markets, but not all of them.  For example, customers might not be eager to deploy a critical enterprise application throughout the entire organization as a free trial.  There’s just too much at stake.

Talk with your prospective customers to see if they’d consider taking on a free trial.  You might find that they’re not as eager as you might expect. 

3.  Free trialers need guidance

If you want free trialers to see the value in your solution, you need to take them by the hand and show them.  If you let them just wander around, don’t expect they’ll see what you want them to see. 

Whether through a phone call, email, video, sign-posts in the trial, or some other way, walk the free trialers to the handful of awesome features and benefits that you think will cinch the deal.  And try to get them there in less than a few minutes.

4.  Free trialers don’t convert automatically

Just because someone signed up for the free trialer doesn’t mean the marketing and sales job is done.  It takes some work to convert them into a paying customer.  They need to be shown the value in the solution (see item 3, above), push it to the top of their to-do list, allocate budget, and trust the vendor. 

All that might not happen by itself.  It requires some effort.

5.  “Lost trialers” aren’t really “lost”

Just because a free trialer didn’t convert to a paying customer at the end of the trial doesn’t necessarily mean they’re no longer a prospective customer.  It doesn't always mean that they've purchased another vendor’s solution or changed their mind.  They simply got distracted by other priorities and the trial period expired.

Stay in touch with these “lost" trialers.  At some point, whatever problem they had that caused them to sign up for the trial in the first place will probably bubble back up to the top of their priority list.

When that happens, you want to be top-of-mind and give yourself a second chance.

 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

SaaS Marketing is About Promises, Not Products


If you’re a software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketer and you think you’re marketing a product, think again.

What you’re really marketing are promises.  You’re promising to customers that you’ll deliver value over the life of the subscription. 

Though part of that value includes making available a certain set of functionality on day one - features to track a sales pipeline, manage inventory, handle HR, etc. - it goes way beyond that. 

You are also promising that you’ll deliver:
  • Hassle-free deployment
  • Reliable performance and instant access
  • Security for the customer’s data
  • Expert customer support
  • An ongoing stream of enhancements

Earning trust means more than showing features

That’s a lot of promises, and marketing them requires that you win the prospective customer’s trust.  They need to believe that you'll make good on them.  There's a lot more to it than just showing that the features work.

You need to show customers that you’re committed to a long term relationship… something that extends beyond a one-time transaction.

You need to show them other customers that you’ve kept satisfied over a long period. 

You need to show proof of reliability and security, and a track record of enhancements.   

In short,  you need to show them you’re a company they can trust.

There are several critical differences between marketing SaaS and traditional on-premises software:  different buyers, different messages, and different processes.  Marketing SaaS requires a different strategy, something fit for selling promises, not just a product. 


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Customers Don't Really Care About SaaS

It wasn’t that long ago that just describing your application as a "software-as-a-service (SaaS),"  or saying that it ran “in the cloud” was enough to get attention.

Companies like salesforce.com and a few other pioneers could differentiate themselves largely by saying they weren’t traditional on-premises software.  'Why buy applications built on old technology when you can buy solutions built on new technology?'

Not anymore.

SaaS just isn't so new and different anymore.  In almost any market these days, people are well-aware of SaaS, and they have a decent choice of cloud-based solutions for HR, CRM, ERP and a whole range of other acronymed applications. 

"SaaS" doesn't make you different anymore

If your goal as a marketer is to differentiate yourself, simply highlighting the fact that your solution is "SaaS,""runs in the cloud" or is “web-based”  really doesn’t do much for you anymore. 

In your marketing messages, there’s no point in putting your “SaaS-ness” or “cloudiness (?)” front & center anymore.  

For customers, it’s just not the most important thing.

Instead, focus on what customers really care about.  Explain what SaaS really means for them:

  • They can deploy the solution quickly without adding lots of new hardware
  • They can access the application from any device connected to the internet
  • They can rely on regular updates
  • They can avoid a large up-front license fee
  • They can let experts worry about uptime and security.

SaaS buyers aren't techies

Highlighting benefits, not the technology itself, is an especially good idea for most prospective SaaS solution buyers.  Usually they're professionals in HR, sales, marketing, or finance.  They're not technologists. 

Of course they care about security, access, performance and other benefits that depend on the platform.  And sometimes a SaaS primer can help. (Call me if you need help with a primer.)  But most SaaS solutions are not a technical sell.

Talk so the customer will listen

Of course you’re proud of the solution you’ve built and how you’ve built it, and you'd love to tell everybody about your clever technology.

But if you want to get the attention of prospective customers, don’t talk about what you want to say.  Talk about what your customers want to hear.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Avoid random acts of marketing

After months or years of development, your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution is finally ready.  Now you just need to find customers.

So you put up a website, attend a tradeshow, and produce a video.  Then you host a webinar and
post to a blog.  On top of that, you toss in a bit of search engine marketing and prepare a couple of press announcements.

You could call this an "all of the above" customer acquisition plan.

But it might just be random acts of marketing.

Poor connections, poor results

Though the individual elements may be executed well, this shotgun approach to customer acquisition usually doesn't produce much in the way of results.

You end up with an attractive website, a beautifully-produced video, and well-written blog.  Unfortunately, you don't end up with lots of paying customers.

That's because the individual elements are not connected and don't fit into a logical process.  They don't move a buyer step-by-step toward a purchase.

You might generate lots of visibility and web visitors, for example, but unless there are elements in place to capture contact information from the visitors, all that web traffic doesn't mean much.  Unique visitors, by themselves, do not generate revenue.

Or maybe the website is, in fact, capturing contact information.  But there's nothing in the marketing plan to cultivate those leads and convert them into qualified opportunities and buyers.  In that case, you've collected an impressive list of contacts, but no revenue.

Or maybe the tactics in place are effectively leading prospects far enough through the process that they actually purchase your solution.  But there's nothing in place to retain these paying customers.  So you end up with lots of customers that go away after a few months.  

Why does this happen?

These kinds of gaps in the process happen all the time and it's very understandable.


By the time they're ready to go to market, companies have spent lots of time and money building their SaaS solution.  They're proud of what they've built and eager to tell the world about it.  And they're in a hurry to start selling it.

So they just starting "doing marketing stuff."  There's lots of scrambling to put up a website, get out emails, crank out press announcements, post videos, and do whatever else seems like it might be a good idea.

Some of these might actually be good ideas.  And I'm all in favor of trying different tactics to see what works and what doesn't.  (See "There is no marketing magic bullet.")

But companies really need a plan in place before they start executing on all these tactics.  Otherwise all that activity is a waste of money.

That's money no company can really afford to waste, especially SaaS companies.  The website, email, webinar, video, tradeshow and whatever else seems like a good idea costs money now that they need to earn back over time.   That's how the SaaS business model works.  

Step back and put together a plan

When it comes to marketing, resist the urgency to "just do something... anything, and let's do it
ASAP!!"

There's a better way.

Start with a plan.  Specifically, put together a plan that meets three criteria:

  • Make sure the individual elements fit together.  For example, if an email campaign is intended to drive visitors to the website, make sure there's a way to capture contact information from those visitors.

  • Cover all steps in the customer acquisition and retention process.  Don't focus exclusively on programs that generate leads, but neglect tactics to convert leads into customers.  Don't work hard to acquire paying customers, but forget about programs to retain them.

  • Match up with your prospects' behavior.  If your customers look for your kind of solution at tradeshows, for example, go to tradeshows.  If they don't use Facebook to evaluate solutions, don't spend time with Facebook.  To know how customers buy, it's best to ask them.  (Call me if you need help.)
For most SaaS companies, it shouldn't take more than a few weeks to put together a workable plan.  It's time well spent.










Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two essentials for SaaS marketing

If you're marketing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, where should you start?

It's obviously something SaaS companies about to bring their solution to market for the first time should be thinking about.

But established SaaS companies should be asking a similar question:  Do we have the basics in place?

Most companies should have two essential items in place as the foundation for their customer acquisition efforts:
  1. a value proposition & messages document
  2. a customer acquisition plan.
A compelling value proposition and messages document

Before you start promoting your solution, you need to have a clear message on what you’re
promoting and why anybody should care.  That's exactly what an effective value proposition and messages document can do.

It answers a few fundamental questions:
  • What is the solution?
  • Who should buy it?
  • What problem does it solve for them?
  • How costly is that problem?
  • Why should they buy it from you instead of someone else?
And it should answer these questions very succinctly.  A condensed version should be able to cover the basics in a few lines.

It's best to capture the value proposition and messages in a single document.  (Some people refer to it as their "messaging bible.)  That way you can “cut & paste” from it and be consistent.

A customer acquisition plan

The customer acquisition plan spells out who you intend to reach with your value proposition and how.  It specifies which tactics you’ll use to reach your audience at each point in the customer acquisition process. 

A plan is much more effective than random acts of marketing:  firing off an occasional press announcement, showing up at a trade show,  pushing out an email from time to time, etc.

A plan helps avoid gaps or bottlenecks in the process.  For example, you don’t end up generating lots of leads… with no means to follow up.  Or attracting lots of free trials… with no way to convert them to paying customers.

Putting a plan in place beforehand can save you lots of time and money.

Start sooner rather than later

Putting together a compelling value proposition and messages document and an effective customer acquisition plan takes a good amount of thought and time. 

If you’ve not yet made your solution widely available, you should try to put this material together well before you go live.  It will make the launch process much easier and more productive. 

But if your solution is already in the market and you’re actively promoting it, it’s still worthwhile to prepare a value proposition document and a customer acquisition plan.  You’ll fill in critical gaps and get a better return on the time and money you’re already investing in marketing and sales.

Of course feel free to contact me if you need help.