Thursday, November 1, 2018

Are your partnerships useless?


Partnerships can be a good thing for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. 

They can deliver more value to customers, without requiring lots more work from your internal development team.

For marketers, a partner could provide credibility, broaden exposure, find leads, and even win deals.

That’s if they’re done well.

Too often though, partnerships don’t deliver as promised.  The only thing the company gets from it is a press announcement and a logo for the website.  No visibility, no leads, no customers.

This is especially true when it’s a smaller company partnering with a larger company.  Think partnerships with IBM, salesforce.com, or Oracle.

Sure, these large companies run well-managed partner programs that offer a full menu of joint marketing opportunities.  These programs have attracted thousands of partners. 

And that’s the problem for small companies.  Among the thousands of partners, it’s very tough to get attention. 

When you’re just one small vendor among thousands, their marketing folks can’t afford to spend much time with you.  And their sales folks may not pay much attention either.

Partnerships require work

I don’t mean to say that all partnerships are useless and not worth pursuing.  Done well, in fact, they can be very useful.

To work well, your smaller company needs to actively market itself to the larger partner.  A signed agreement won’t work all by itself. 

Marketing to the partner has a few key objectives:

  • Make it crystal clear to the partner who your product is for.  When they’re pursuing an opportunity, it should be easy for them to recognize when they should bring your solution into the discussion. 


  • Distinguish your product from alternatives.  It should be obvious why they should pitch yours and not someone else’s.

  • Be available as an expert to support the sale.  The partner should be able to rely on you to provide specialized expertise, understand the prospect’s business, and speak their language.

  • Make it easy to sell your product.  The partner wants to know that your solution can help them sell more of their own product.  Don’t get in the way of that goal.


Think about it.  If one of the partner’s sales executives is working with a prospect, their number one goal is to win the account.  If they need to reach into the portfolio of thousands of partners’ solutions to help them win, you want to be sure they reach for your solution, not somebody else’s.

They should have full confidence that by bringing you into the opportunity, they’ll have a much better chance of winning the business. 

Don’t rely on “paper partnerships”

I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here.  Partnerships do have the potential to be helpful to smaller companies. 

But recognize that a signed partnership agreement doesn’t work all by itself.  The signatures and the press announcement are really just the start of the process. 

To be effective, companies need to actively market themselves to the partner.  Along with other prospects, the partners are another important target audience that needs care and attention. 




Monday, October 1, 2018

SaaS Marketing for Start-ups: Don’t just start doing stuff!


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I get it.  You’ve finally built a working product and now you’re ready to get it out into the market.

You want to crank out a press release, put up a website, offer a free trial, execute an email
campaign, buy adwords, or do whatever else you can think of or afford.

Don’t do it.  Or at least don’t do it yet.

If you rush headlong into programs and deliverables, you’ll end up spending a lot of time and maybe a lot of money… but not necessarily winning a lot of paying customers. 

And finding and keeping paying customers -either directly or indirectly – is what marketing is usually all about. 

But getting that done requires two essentials:  a story and a plan.  To be effective, you need both in place before you launch into any programs or create any deliverables. 

You need a story

Your audience needs to know:

1.  who your solution is for
2.  what problem it solves, and
3.  why they should buy it from you.

You need to be able to concisely and consistently convey this in every communication you have with prospective customers. 

Without a compelling story (or “value proposition” if you want to get formal about it), everything you say about your solution on the website, in sales presentations, in emails, in papers and videos, or wherever else you’re pushing out your message will have little impact.

You need a roadmap

You need to have a roadmap to lead prospects through the entire evaluation and purchase process.

For many B2B solutions, the process will involve multiple steps and multiple decision-makers.  And it will probably be interrupted along the way and may not always go into a straight-line.

You’ll need a roadmap that provides deliverables and programs at each step of the process from attracting initial visibility and leads through to winning paying customers.  And don’t forget the “keeping customers” part of the process.  It’s vital to SaaS success.  (See "Your Existing Customers are Prospects Too.")

Without a well-structured plan, you’ll probably end up with gaps and bottlenecks where prospects get stuck and you end up generating lots of visibility, but not collecting many qualified leads, or you collect lots of leads but don’t convert them into paying customers. 

Slow down

I know you’re eager to get out there and do stuff.

But before you launch headlong with a bunch of marketing tactics, first put two essentials in place:  a story and a roadmap.



Saturday, September 1, 2018

Your value proposition: Don’t set it and forget it


If you’re marketing your SaaS solution without a compelling and consistent value proposition and messages, you’re doing something wrong. 


Without a value proposition – a crystal clear explanation of who should buy your solution, what problem it solves for them, and why they should buy it from you – you’re missing an essential foundation for all your marketing efforts.

You may be cranking out papers, email campaigns, adword buys, videos, or whatever.  But without a compelling value proposition, told consistently through all of these programs, it’s hard to have any real impact.  You may well be wasting your marketing budget.  (See “To deliver a consistent message, you need a script.”)

An effective value proposition and messages should have a fairly long shelf-life – a few years wouldn’t be unusual.

After all, it’s tough enough to get the attention of your target buyers.  Revamping your messages every few weeks, trying something different in every marketing deliverable, would make that job impossible.


 Value propositions are not cast in stone

But don’t read that as the 11th commandment: “Though shall not change your value proposition…ever!” 

As the market changes over time, your value proposition and messages may need to be adjusted as well.

As markets mature, new buyers are likely to come into the market.  “Mainstream buyers” or “laggards” may displace the initial cadre of more adventurous buyers.  They may be less enamored of cool technology, and care more about support, training, security, and stability. (See “Pivoting from early adopters to mainstream buyers.”)

As solutions become more widely adopted, or new competitors come into the market, it may be that buyers’ expectations change.  A feature that you once touted as new and novel, may no longer be so new or novel.

Over time, it may be that more people are involved in evaluating your solution.  Purchase decisions are no longer made by a progressive sales branch manager or a technical head in development, acting on their own.  Now they involve corporate IT and senior executives.

Keep your finger on the pulse

OK then, how do you know when changes to your value proposition are needed?

Stay in touch with your customers, that’s how.

And not just through training or the customer support team.  Dedicate someone to talk regularly with customers, especially new customers.  Ask them why they’re buying, who’s involved in the decision, and why they chose your solution.

Don't worry.  No giant, multi-page survey is required here.  A few open-ended conversations over the phone, done every month or every quarter, will reveal a lot of information – enough to detect important shifts in the market.  (If you don’t want to allocate an internal person to this task, get in touch with me.  I’ve done them on behalf of several clients.)

You don’t want to be constantly fiddling with your value proposition, but you cannot simply set it and forget it forever.  You don't want to find yourself talking to the wrong people with the wrong message.