SaaS startups are spending lots of time developing their product and little time building a community around it. Creating a new product may be exciting, but the growth phase is where success actually happens. Without a strong user base, even the greatest startups fail.
Building a supportive audience in 2020 can be quite a challenge. With thousands of new software products being created on a daily basis, competition and product availability are at an all-time high.
When it comes to overcrowded markets, the attention of consumers is increasingly shifting towards common values and relationships while moving away from product quality. Put simply, how you sell something is more important than what you sell.
In this article, we lay down the basics of SaaS inbound marketing, and help you create your first strategy. But before we get to specifics, let’s start with a definition.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is the process of attracting customers through value-packed content and personalized experiences. By using digital media platforms, like blogs, email, and social media, businesses aim to provide solutions to their customers’ most common questions.
Inbound vs outbound marketing - What’s the difference?
- Outbound marketing includes all “pushy” advertisement methods that interrupt the flow of the customer’s journey. Ads are placed strategically where it is assumed customers will be. A common example is the ads that interrupt most of your Youtube videos.
- Inbound marketing is more “empathetic”. It involves customers connecting with your brand in a more organic and less annoying way while providing tons of value. It’s about drawing people in. Common examples include blog posts, newsletters, and more.
Throughout the years, we got access to tools that allowed us to block outbound marketing (adblock, etc.). As a result, conversion rates of outbound marketing have massively decreased and users no longer have to be exposed to “annoying” advertising methods. Outbound is slowly getting replaced by inbound.
Importance of SaaS inbound marketing
Knowing how to make people click on things on the internet is a modern-day superpower. And knowing how to do this in an organic (free) manner makes it all the more important for a new business.
This is why inbound marketing strategies are important for the modern marketer. Instead of interruption-based messaging, where businesses had all the control, inbound is about empowering your buyers to make their own decisions. You align with the way buyers think, research, and purchase, which results in a stronger and longer relationship.
How to create an inbound marketing strategy for a SaaS company
Inbound strategies are broken down into different segments. Each part of the strategy is interrelated with the others and, together, they form your plan of action. Let’s break things down into a step by step process.
Step #1: Create a customer profile (buyer persona)
To create a successful inbound marketing strategy, you will first need to understand your target audience. The easiest way to do this is by creating one or more buyer personas (fictional characters that represent your ideal buyer). We have previously talked about the steps you need to follow to create customer profiles, as well as the methods you can use to segment them into different subgroups.
In short, you want to create an overview of:
- The customer’s background - This includes information related to their demographics, geographic location, age, interests, and family situation. While not everything may be relevant at a first glance, it can help help you further down the road.
- Professional role within their organization - This is especially important when promoting SaaS products. The tool or platform should help professionals in particular positions to do their job better. It is important to understand which functions and roles your ideal customer is responsible for and list as many as you can.
- Their most common questions - Inbound marketing is all about being helpful through offering value. And the best way to do this is by researching the most common questions of your audience. The answers to these will form the content you’ll create. Preliminary keyword research could be helpful at this stage.
This stage is all about understanding what type of value your potential customers are looking for. By understanding who you are trying to reach, you will narrow down your research and understand which inbound marketing methods you can use to attract a specific type of customer.
Step #2: Choose your inbound marketing techniques
After defining your buyer personas, it’s time to define the core of the strategy - a.k.a. how and where to connect with your audience.
For most people, the best and most convenient way to answer a question is to ask Google. In most cases, the popular search engine should be your number #1 source of traffic, with all the rest of your methods acting as supplementary to “push” your audience down the funnel. All in all, the 4 big categories you will need to focus on are the following:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
An SEO strategy is imperative for any SaaS Inbound Marketing strategy. Here are the points you need to look into when creating a plan for your software product:
- The Website structure should make the customer’s journey simple and convenient. This is about creating different categories for your post and understand which pages your website needs. Learn more.
- Content strategy with blog topics that answer common questions of your audience, found through keyword research. For this, you may want to explore keyword research tools like Ahrefs, KWFinder, or SEMRUSH.
- Link Building strategy to increase the authority of your website and thus your potential to rank on the SERPs. Learn more.
- Overview of supplementary channels that can improve referral traffic for your content and enrich your articles. This includes Youtube videos, Pinterest channels, and other channels that are not directly related to Social Media.
Watch this video to better understand how to create a winning SEO plan in 2020:
Paid ads (Google Ads, Social Media Ads, PPC)
When talking about paid ads, we refer primarily to Google ads (formerly Google Adwords). While this category is borderline “outbound”, you are still attracting traffic by providing value, and it is thus a great channel to explore.
- When it comes to SaaS companies, Google Ads is best used as a supplementary to your SEO efforts. We recommend splitting your effort end budget into 80% SEO and 20% paid ads. This way you can give a small boost to your organic traffic efforts while you keep on building your content.
- If you have no experience but wish to learn about paid ads on Google, make sure you check out this course.
- Other forms of digital advertisement can be explored as well, but should only be used if you believe they fit your buyer persona. For example, you might want to skip Facebook and Instagram promotions and choose LinkedIn instead.
Early-stage projects can benefit from referral marketing. In short, what you want to do here is attract people to promote your products on their websites by incentivizing their efforts to do so. If a new customer comes from a partner website, you could reward the webmaster with a % of the sale. While you may need to actively seek out your first few partners, you will notice that the process gets much easier down the road:
- Learn how to find affiliates to promote your SaaS product here.
- Learn how to pitch SaaS affiliates here.
- Track your referrals use GetRewardful.
- You can also consider incentivizing influencers in your niche by offering higher % cuts per sale.
- Finally, you could turn existing customers into affiliates.
Social Media Marketing
Consumers spend the majority of their internet time scrolling through Social Media platforms. These channels can also be utilized for additional traffic and data collection:
- First off, find out which channels are most popular with your target audience.
- Establish your presence on these platforms by bringing together potential visitors and become an authority in your niche. For example, you could create Facebook groups, subreddits, etc.
- Post valuable content frequently, to generate top-of-mind awareness, and remain relevant.
- Experiment with several channels at first, adding UTM parameters to your links, and see which social media channels drive the most traffic to your blog content.
Step #3: Turn visitors into leads (potential buyers)
As soon as you start to build up a respectable amount of traffic month over month, say 1000 visitors, you can start turning them into leads (a.k.a. potential customers). In this stage of your SaaS inbound marketing strategy, you will create an email list.
Capturing emails and growing your list is extremely important for long-term business success. Social media platforms can delete your channel at any moment (better hope they don’t), Google can de-index your content if it goes against their guidelines, but your email list will always be yours.
Here are some common methods to tackle this challenge:
- Offer premium content to your visitors (a.k.a. Lead Magnets). A lead magnet is a longer-form piece of content that offers a lot of value to the reader. Usually, it can be something simple, like a checklist, an eBook, or access to an excel sheet that can help your audience perform their task better. You can also host a free webinar, or give them a free demo of your product.
- Add opt-in (subscription) boxes throughout your website. To indicate the importance of your lead magnet, you can place opt-in boxes throughout your website, asking readers to offer their email address. You can even make those boxes pop-up while your visitor is reading content (not recommended) or before they leave your website.
- Create landing pages - Landing pages are written pieces of content that aim to capture the reader’s email. They will usually discuss the features and benefits of your product while touching upon the audience’s pain points. These pieces of content are very actionable and contain one or more CTA buttons which result in some type of offer.
Step #4: Create automated nurturing campaigns
Nurturing campaigns aim to lead your lead from top-funnel (awareness stage) to bottom-funnel (purchase) by continuously providing value and building a meaningful relationship.
As a lead consumes your content via blog posts, emails, ebooks, and more, they gradually become more accustomed to your brand. An association between brand and niche starts to build up, and you slowly become an authority figure in your industry. And with this comes more trust from potential buyers and thus more leads reaching the “decision” stage.
The best part is that this whole process can be fully automated with the help of drip campaigns. Email marketing tools like Hubspot, Mailerlite, or Mailchimp, allow you to schedule a large number of emails that are triggered either by certain actions or at a certain point in time. Here is a helpful video that explains how drip campaigns work:
Step #5: Offer a great customer experience
After a lead buys a subscription to your SaaS product, the customer journey is far from finished. In fact, the experience is just getting started. This is what separates good companies from great companies. Ideally, you want to keep your customers in the loop and continue investing in your relationship. This happens for several reasons:
- If you offer a freemium or tiered subscription model, offering a great experience can lead to upgrades.
- Great customer experience can lead to repeat purchases (if applicable) or longer subscription times. Thus, the customer lifetime value (CLV) increases, and so does your revenue.
- When customers have a good experience with your brand and are able to engage with you, they will eventually choose you over your competitors. It is also more likely that they will refer you to their social circle (Word-of-Mouth advertisement).
So, how can you do this? There are different paths you can take and for many SaaS companies, this will require some more creativity. Consider building loyalty programs, premium social media groups, email marketing strategies, and even community events. Large SaaS products may even sponsor industry-related conferences.
Bonus: Build a scalable and sustainable system
The SaaS marketing plan you create should be relatively simple to execute and easy to repeat. It is also important that you can measure your progress based on several KPIs that you will need to decide on before you get started. But don’t overdo it with the details. Try to keep the system simple and with the least amount of variables.
Another point to keep in mind is the importance of feedback. As soon as you build your email list, consider sending surveys and forms on an occasional basis to ask for feedback. You can easily do this using Google Forms. Based on the responses, you will be able to:
- Engage with your audience, further strengthening your relationship
- Accelerate the growth and success rate of your strategy
Saas Inbound marketing is a powerful way to attract and convert people. By synchronizing the points shared above and taking enough time to set them up properly, you will be able to see long-term success.
Here’s a shortlist of the steps you need to follow to create a winning strategy:
- Understand your audience (create a buyer persona)
- Choose your inbound marketing techniques
- Turn website visitors into leads
- Nurture the leads through email marketing campaigns
- Offer a great customer experience
- Build a scalable and sustainable system