Tuesday, November 8, 2011

SaaS Marketing Lessons from ShamWow!

I've never bought a ShamWow!, but I love their TV ads. The hyper-enthusiastic pitchman, Vince, tells me precisely who should buy the product, what it does, why I desperately need it, and how to buy it... all in 60 seconds!

And what's true for super-absorbent towels is often true for software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Sixty seconds may be all the attention you're likely to get from a prospective customer in your first encounter.

If a prospect finds their way to your website, blog, booth, Twitter feed, Facebook page, press announcement, outbound call, or whatever other form of marketing communication you use, figure that they'll give you about a minute to introduce yourself.

Use that time wisely.

Who should buy the solution?

First make it clear who should be using your solution. Explain, for example, that it's for" K-12 school administrators in Michigan," "property managers with less than 1000 properties" or "auto loan processors." The more specific, the better.

I know companies hate to narrow their market, but something that claims it's "useful to everyone," usually isn't appealing to anyone in particular. (See "Please don't sell me stuff I don't need")

What is the solution?

Give the prospective customer a "handle" to quickly grasp what the solution is. Put it into a recognizable category, for example, "it's a document back-up system," or "it's an inventory management solution." Of course, your solution is better than everybody else's in the category, but first you need to get the prospect thinking about the right category.

Once you get them in the right ballpark, then you can differentiate, as in "we're like Groupon, but much less expensive for merchants to participate,"or "we're a marketing advisory firm that specializes in SaaS for enterprises."

Why do you need this solution?

In classic marketing-speak, this refers to the axiom: "Talk about benefits, not features." Pitchman Vince tells me that ShamWow! will save me time and money cleaning my car, my boat, or my house. There's no mention of how it works or what it's made of, except to say that it's engineered to soak up lots of liquid.

Technology companies, SaaS companies included, often fall into the trap of rambling on about their technology - lots of talk about architecture, platforms, development languages, etc. that describe how the product works. Better to focus on the problems it fixes. At least in their first exposure to a product, most customers care about what it does, not how it works.

Why do you need to buy it from me?

Tell the prospect why they need to buy the solution from you. Explain why yours is better than alternatives. For SaaS solutions, the advantages are often that they're less expensive, easier to maintain, lower risk, easier to use, and faster to deploy. (See "SaaS advantages in a volatile market")

Don't focus only on product advantages, narrowly defined. In subscribing to a SaaS solution, the customer is buying into a long-term relationship, a promise that you'll reliably deliver a service over the life of the subscription. So talk about your reliability, security, and customer service. (See "Winning customer trust.")

And don't forget that the alternatives aren't always other automated solutions. The competition may well be home-grown Excel- or paper-based solutions.

How do you buy it?

Provide a clear path to action. ShamWow's directions - "Call now. Operators are standing by"- may not work for most business-to-business solutions. But your website should make it crystal clear what you want the visitor to do: "Download this paper," "Sign up for a free trial," "Contact us for a demo."

Selling an enterprise SaaS solution is usually a multi-step process. During the first engagement with a prospective customer, you want them to take the next step forward in the process. Make it very obvious where you want them to step.

Other ShamWow! techniques have already been adopted

Though you may not have thought much about lessons from ShamWow! for marketing a SaaS solution before now, some techniques have already been embraced. "Sign up now. Get two months free. No credit card required," isn't much different than "Buy now and we'll give you two mini-ShamWows at no extra charge!"

Creative Commons License

This work by Peter Cohen, SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.