A guide to SaaS marketing

MKT1's Emily Kramer explains how you can build a SaaS-specific website and marketing campaign that best serves your business.

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SaaS marketing is unique.

While others try to convince individuals, you focus on teams and companies. While others want customers to hand over cash first, you hand out free trials like candy (and it works!). While other company's websites are just one of many marketing assets, your website is the most important focus of your marketing team’s efforts.

One person who knows the field of SaaS marketing and its idiosyncrasies inside and out is MKT1 co-founder Emily Kramer. She has focused her professional career on building early marketing teams at high-growth companies and is now using that experience to advise SaaS marketers and founders. As a long-time Webflow user, she was kind enough to offer us some of her insight into what enables marketing to effectively grow a SaaS company.

Understand what makes SaaS marketing unique

At its simplest, SaaS marketing sells a product that fixes a problem for a group of people. SaaS marketing is unique because your product is a service rather than a tangible object, and your audience is a team or a company rather than a single independent consumer.

A key challenge in SaaS marketing is the need to get multiple people at a company to buy into the product before closing a sale. Not only that, but the decision-makers may not be the ones actually using the product. Often, the sales process will begin with one individual who then advocates for your product to the decision-makers at their company.

That means you need to target your marketing at that individual, perhaps offering a solution to a workplace problem or providing a free trial. You also have to target marketing toward the decision-maker who controls the budget to invest in your product but may have different priorities when purchasing a product company-wide.

Kramer explains, “I think it comes down to deeply understanding the audience and the individuals — what their behavior is, where they go for information, what do they value, what is it that they need, and what problems do they face in the workplace — and doing targeted marketing to each of the personas in the organization to get them on board.”

Marketing at a SaaS company is also going to be tightly connected with all of the other customer-facing teams. You’ll work closely with sales, customer success, product, and anyone else who is customer-facing to help with outreach, materials, and campaigns.

Choose a SaaS marketing strategy

Your marketing strategy is fundamentally going to mirror your sales strategy. Kramer notes that this is something startup founders often get very wrong from the beginning — choosing the option they’re most familiar or comfortable with instead of the one that’s best for their current product. Instead, it should be determined by the expectations of your audience and the type of product and pricing you’re offering.

The four main elements to consider are the tech-savviness of your audience, the cost of your product, the ease of onboarding, and the general familiarity people will have with your type of product. Here’s how those factors break down.

Top-down model

The top-down model is the more traditional approach, with sales driven through a conversation with an actual person. The website will convince the audience to get in contact with a salesperson, and the sales and onboarding process will be guided personally via phone or email.

The companies that can benefit from a top-down model include:

  • Companies with higher-cost products
  • Companies targeting more senior people in organizations
  • Companies targeting less tech-savvy people in organizations
  • More traditional industries, such as lawyers, schools, or governments who are going to expect to have a human in the process

Self-serve model

With a self-serve model, individuals, teams, or organizations can purchase the product themselves and get started using or trialing the software directly through the website. This could also be called product-led growth or freemium.

In this model, your website is taking on the role of the salesperson, making it a key area for your marketing team's efforts. Once the customer is in the product, the product will take on the role of sales and marketing as well, by promoting, continuing, or upgrading a subscription.

The companies that can benefit from a self-serve model include:

  • High volume, lower contract value (ACV) products
  • Products that are expensive but easy to get up and running on
  • Products targeting busy people who already know they want to buy something
  • Products people will already be very familiar with
  • Products with a simple onboarding process

Hybrid model

There are also companies that have hybrid approaches, which do a little bit of both. Sales might actively reach out to people who are considering using the product or are already using the product and might be open to upgrading. In this case, the product will be doing some of the work as well with the functionality convincing people to buy or upgrade.

How these model strategies affect your marketing approach

The role and structure of your marketing and website will change based on your sales model since you‘ll want to optimize for different things and focus your conversion flow in slightly different places.

In a top-down sales model, you’re trying to get your audience to have a discussion. You want to educate them and get them so excited about the product that they're willing to have a personal conversation. The role of the website is to guide them — give them well-targeted information, tell them what is coming next, and then give a clear handoff to a person.

In a self-serve model, you are trying to get your audience to try your software right now. Your website and product — including your landing pages, forms, and chat feature — is doing the work of making the product appealing rather than a salesperson.

If your product is something they can just dive into and begin playing with, you want that to happen rather than front-loading them with too much information. Your site will be a self-guided tour, and the call to action isn’t necessarily the end of that journey. Users may continue to go back and forth with your site and the product, looking at blog posts or tutorials.

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Craft your website specifically for SaaS marketing

Your website should be designed to meet your specific marketing needs as a SaaS company. “In my opinion, it is your most important marketing asset because it has that front door, that destination for all things,” Kramer says. It’s important to choose the right tools and build the right structure so your marketing team can actively engage with your site as a tool.

Target your website effectively

For a SaaS website, the homepage is less important than for a typical website. Instead, your focus should be on crafting specific, highly targeted pages for each audience and each need you’ve identified and making sure your audiences are being routed to those pages effectively.

According to Kramer, “One hallmark of success of your web efforts is seeing fewer and fewer visits to the homepage because that means you're getting people to more specific pages that are more relevant.” You want to get individuals to pages that are more custom-built for them at that moment.

Structure

Decide on a structure that suits your product and strategy. Your basic unit of organization could be by product, by audience and persona, or by something more specific. Zapier organizes its structure by “zap” integration, allowing them to make very targeted use-cases for their product.

The hub and spoke model is an effective approach for SaaS websites. You can craft hub pages for each persona or product and then spokes that explain each facet of the product or how it can address their needs more specifically. When you have many targeted landing pages, having a clear structure will help keep your site cleanly organized.

Landing Pages

When creating landing pages, you want to think of all the ways people might get to your website and make sure they’re getting the right targeted pages for them. Visitors might come to the landing pages through search, email, or via your homepage. Make sure they’re getting the right information from each of these pathways.

When you optimize for search, make sure the information you provide is hyper-relevant for the keyword they’re coming in from. When you link from an email, make sure the page you’re linking to is thoughtfully targeted. Give visitors to your homepage specific pathways that funnel them into more relevant marketing channels.

You may end up making hundreds of pages for your website based on the user research you do and the specifics of your product. You can even have many landing pages that aren’t in your navigation.

Design for repeatability

In order to effectively create all the targeted landing pages you need, your site design needs easily repeatable structures. “Let's not reinvent the wheel for every single page,” says Kramer.

Building with dynamic content supported by clear brand guidelines is key to making your website elements repeatable and scalable. You want to choose a website platform that supports both. That will allow you to create an effectively targeted marketing strategy without exhausting your marketing or engineering teams.

Design Systems

A brand design system will be a helpful feature. Take the time to craft a clear guide with usable elements. Marketing teams can use that system to collaborate more effectively with your design and engineering teams, create more consistent user experiences, and design many pages more efficiently.

CSS and repeatable elements

You want to be able to input information from your CMS and create fifty or more specific pages in the same layout without having to craft each one by hand. Create your website using CSS structures or a no-code interface with Symbols and classes that allow your team to create pages and make changes quickly and dynamically.

Use a system that makes it easy to quickly spin out new pages to allow your marketing team to be reactive to user needs and agile in their approach. The more specific, targeted pages you have, the more work it is to update them if you change your approach or branding — so being able to apply a change across all your pages simultaneously is essential.

Build with metric tracking in mind

Marketing is more effective when it’s based on real data. Your website should be designed to easily integrate metric tracking and testing. Kramer has noticed “the ability to make sure that you're tracking what's going on is often an afterthought when building websites. Technical considerations need to be thought of alongside the brand considerations and the design considerations from the start. ”

Make sure the website platform you’re building on allows you to use custom code and integrate it with the tools you’ll need to use to analyze user behavior. You want to be able to easily track conversion rates and every step in the funnel in order to target your marketing efforts.

Find an agency with SaaS experience

A SaaS website is a specific tool, and not every agency will have the understanding and experience to create an effective SaaS-specific site. “A huge problem I see when building websites is just straight-up going to the wrong person to help you,” Kramer says.

You want to avoid getting something that's high-concept but doesn't actually perform and function. Don't choose an agency just because they did your brand design or make impressive flashy websites. You want an agency that understands the importance of conversion flows and metric tracking. The right agency will create a site that can scale, that is templatized, and that loads quickly instead of being weighed down with too much animation or non-optimized features.

To assess an agency, ask to look at examples of their work and get specific with their references. You should ask to see examples from the individual developers working on your project specifically. You want to know who will be working on what pieces of your project and what work they’ve done that’s similar to what you need from them.

Empower marketing to contribute directly to the website

Your website will be more effective if marketing is able to actively build pages and make changes. Your website is a living, breathing thing — and you want marketing to be able to engage with it without having to go back and forth with engineering. This is going to depend on the website platform and CMS you choose from the very beginning.

Kramer says, “Oftentimes I see companies, especially early on, and their website is custom code or built on a headless CMS where marketers can't actually update it. They're building more for engineers than for marketers, who are really going to be the daily users.”

No-code tools are more accessible for people without coding experience. They make it easier to duplicate sections and pages, so engineering and design can create a structure for the site which marketing teams can use to craft as many pages as they need quickly and without the fear of breaking your design. When marketing is able to make their own changes to your site, they can work faster and respond to customer needs more directly.

Build a strong foundation for your SaaS marketing

When you’re making a SaaS website, you’re laying the foundation for effective SaaS marketing that will grow your company. The more thoughtful you are about how you choose and structure the tools that’ll support your marketing efforts, the more easily your marketing team will be able to get your software into the hands of the people who can benefit from it.

For more insight into SaaS marketing strategies, MKT1’s newsletter is chock-full of practical information, especially for those at fast-growing companies looking to build their marketing approach. Or you can browse Webflow Experts to get started building a site that will support your marketing teams in their efforts. 

Published

December 13, 2021

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