Sunday, July 1, 2018

How to get found when prospects aren’t really looking

I’m a long-time fan of inbound marketing, even before it got that nifty label. 

Why not attract prospective customers that are actively looking for a solution?  That’s got to be easier than hunting for them one at a time, or indiscriminately broadcasting your message to the whole planet. 
The idea makes perfect sense, except when one key piece is missing:  prospects that are actively

What if the people who should be searching for your solution just aren’t?

They’re not typing relevant keywords into Google, not asking their colleagues for recommendations, not downloading educational white papers, or doing anything else to actively search for a solution.

When inbound marketing isn’t enough

I’ve worked with a number of software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers that have faced this problem.  Inbound marketing would have been a cost-effective way to acquire customers, except that “prospects actively looking” weren’t in the equation.

There are a few reasons why they might not be looking.

The prospect might not see that they have a problem.  Sure, as a SaaS provider, you can see a problem, but the prospect doesn’t.  They don’t see that the way they’re doing things now may be hurting their organization.

More likely though, the prospect does see a problem, but they don’t see it as an urgent problem.  They know their existing process has its downsides, but they figure they can live with it.  (See “Your toughest competitor… inertia.”)

Or even if they do recognize an urgent problem, they may not know that there’s a better SaaS solution at hand, especially if it’s in a niche market.

Most prospective customers are aware that proven SaaS solutions are available for HR, sales, or marketing automation.  But what if they need a better way to report safety issues on oil & gas rigs, schedule home health care workers, or manage a chiropractor’s office?  (Yes, I’ve worked with SaaS providers selling these kinds of targeted solutions.)

In any of these instances, prospects are not actively looking for a solution.  Relying on inbound marketing to attract leads – that is, them finding you – won’t work very well.

Get in front of “non-active” prospects

If prospects are not actively looking and inbound marketing won’t work, SaaS marketers may need to revert to some of the more “traditional” marketing programs like broadcast advertising, outbound email or direct mail to carefully-sourced targets, or participation in events.

The goal of these programs isn’t to talk about the specifics of the solution; the prospects are not ready for that discussion yet.

Instead, the goal is to convince them that they do, in fact, have a problem, it’s a problem that they cannot ignore, and that there is a better solution readily available.

In other words, push them to become prospects actively looking for a solution.  Once there’s pool of active prospects, the inbound marketing tactics we know and love should move them forward from there.

Friday, June 1, 2018

SaaS Marketing Isn’t All About Talking; It’s More About Listening

If you’ve ever sat through a marketing agency’s pitch or seen an episode of Mad Men, you’d think that marketing is all about talking – pushing out clever messages so that people will buy whatever it is that you’re selling.

Not exactly.

You’re right that there’s plenty of delivering messages through email, blog posts, paid adwords, Twitter, TV, radio, or print ads or whatever media reaches the buyer.

But there’s more to it than catchy taglines, ads, or social media campaigns.

For any of that talking to work, there needs to a lot of listening, too.

What should you be listening for?

When you’re marketing and selling, you’re obviously keenly alert to a few magic phrases, along the lines of “Yes, I’ll buy it!”

But there are a few other things to listen for as well:
  •  Who’s making the buying decision?
  • What problem are they trying to solve?
  • How painful is that problem?
  • Why is their existing solution failing?

Asking these questions, you’ll hear a lot about who’s buying and why.

But you can also listen for how they’re buying: 
  • Where are they looking for solutions?
  • What are the selection criteria?
  • What other solutions are they considering?

How should you be listening?

There are plenty of ways to listen to prospects and customers, from broad-based surveys to small, focus groups.  Vendors selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution have the particular advantage of gathering input from customers directly within the product.

I’ve found that monthly, one-on-one interviews with several new customers are one particularly effective way of listening.  The evaluation process is still fresh in their minds, and an open-ended conversation can reveal useful insights that might not surface in a survey. 

Companies can conduct these interviews themselves, though there are certain advantages of having an outside party handle them.  Customers don’t think you’re trying to sell them anything, and they might be more candid about what they liked or didn’t like when evaluating your solution.  (I’d be happy to talk with you more about my experience with these one-on-one interviews.)

Listening isn’t a one-and-done process

Don’t confine your listening to an annual event.  Relying on a periodic snapshot or using a single mechanism to learn what’s on the minds of prospects and customers means you’ll probably miss a lot.  Markets change: different buyers emerge, new competitors come to market, evaluation criteria change, and new channels to reach buyers become important. 

Whatever techniques you use, you should always be listening. 

What do you do with all this listening?

The insights you glean from this listening should factor into what you say and where you say it.  It should guide your messages and how you explain your value, and it should inform what channels and media you use to get in front of buyers.

In fact, a marketing plan that isn’t built on this kind of solid foundation – without a firm grasp on who’s buying, why, and how – is likely to fail.  Marketing without listening is a big mistake.   

Friday, May 4, 2018

Bad Customers Can Kill Your SaaS Business

Everybody’s got a story about bad customers.  In case you can’t get your fill, a Google search on “customers from hell” fetched 33,100,000 results.

These customers can be infuriating, frustrating, and just plain rude.

But if you’re a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, bad customers can be much worse than that.  They can be downright dangerous.

No way to recover your costs

For one thing, these bad customers are likely to cost you money, not make you money. 

They may be more difficult right from the start, so they’ll cost you a lot of extra sales time and resources to close them.  They’ll ask for yet another demo, another extension on the free trial, another presentation, another reference, another something or other that will tie up your team.

But soon after the extra effort to finally close the deal, many of these difficult customers will find they’re really not satisfied with the solution.  For whatever reason – functionality, support, price, etc. – they’ll drop their subscription.

And they’ll drop it way too soon for you to recover your higher acquisition costs.  If you paid $1000 to win them, and they only stuck around to pay $100 in subscription fees… well, that’s not a formula for SaaS success. 

Drag you away from a standard product

The other dangerous thing bad customers will do is to drag you away from a single, standard SaaS solution.

They’ll ask for additional features that may not be on your product development roadmap.

They’ll ask for special support terms.

They’ll ask for non-standard deployment efforts.

That’s not how SaaS works… or at least not how it works successfully.  You need to develop, market, sell, and support a relatively standard solution.

There’s no problem configuring the solution to fit a particular customer.  But “customization,” altering the core product and practices, is a bad word in the SaaS world.

Deviating from the standard means problems and extra costs for development, marketing, sales, deployment, training, and support.

Avoiding bad customers

I wish could provide a surefire way to avoid bad customers entirely.  Sorry, no can do.

But I will offer a couple recommendations that should help.

Be clear in your message.  You should make it as plain as possible who your solution is for and what problem it solves.  Prospects should have a crystal-clear understanding of how you can help… or not. 

And the more consistently and plainly you can convey this, the less likely the “wrong” prospect will want to engage with you.      

Identify the outliers early on.  The earlier in the sales process you’re able to identify people that won’t be a good fit for your solution, the better.  However it is that you assess prospects – web forms, phone calls, in-person meetings, etc. – have your radar tuned to those that fall outside your target market. 

Of course, you’re most eager to find areas where you can help the prospect and eventually sell them something.  But it’s just as important to quickly recognize those you can’t help. 

Those that aren’t a good fit just aren’t worth pursuing. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

3 ways to fail at lead generation

When the lead generation effort is failing and we’re trying to fix it, we marketing pros usually head
right into the weeds.
  • Are there too many characters in the subject lines?
  • Should we add more long-tail keywords?
  • Is the call-to-action button the wrong shade of green? 

It’s not that those details don’t matter at all.  At high volumes, they could matter a lot.

But for many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, focusing on those details is a distraction.  We're looking in the wrong places.

When lead generation is failing, it’s usually other reasons that are to blame.

It’s unclear who should buy the solution

Too often, it’s not at all clear who should be buying the solution.  The people who visit the website,
receive an email, or find their way to our blog are left wondering, “Is this solution meant for me?”

It should be crystal clear in all communications WHO should be using the product.  Don’t expect the reader to work hard to figure that out on their own.

And the more specific the better.  Identifying the target user as “B2B companies” or “financial services firms” includes a broad audience.

But if we narrow the description to something more specific – e.g. “life insurance carriers,” or “independent financial planning professionals with more than 100 clients” – prospective customers are much more likely to respond.  It's easy for them to see that the solution is designed just for them. (See "Let Your Prospective Customers Know 'This Solution is for You.'")

It’s unclear what problem we solve

Sometimes the audience has no idea what problem we solve for them.  We’re over-eager to talk about features, features, and more features, but it’s not at all clear why any of them matter to the prospective customer.

In most organizations, the people evaluating the SaaS solution care about growing revenues, cutting costs, increasing productivity, reducing risk, or some other essential business goal.  We need to make a case that that is precisely what the solution can do for them.  Our marketing messages should clearly identify the problem and explain how our solution eliminates it.

Even better if we make the case that the solution solves an urgent problem, one that cannot be ignored or put off while they deal with more important priorities.  The audience we’re trying to reach are busy people; they only have time to focus on urgent problems.   

We’re not where the prospects are looking

While we may be fixated on optimizing our Facebook ads or tweaking our Twitter promotions, that may not matter at all to our target audience.  It just may be that they’re not looking for solutions on Facebook or Twitter.

We can make the same mistake with events, mailing lists, or publications that don’t get us in front of real prospects.  The problem isn’t with the message, the copy, or the call-to-action.  

The problem is that those channels aren’t where our prospects are looking.  They don't see us.

One way to know where prospects are looking for solutions like yours:  ask them.  New customers will usually tell you where they went looking and how they found you.  (See "Listen to your customers.")

I'm not saying don't sweat the details of SEO, pay-per-click, PR, social media campaigns, or any other technique you're using to build visibility and generate leads.  But before you get too deep into the weeds, don’t miss the big issues.