The advent of SaaS has meant the end of the tried-and-true 12-to-18 month release on which software companies have relied for nearly forty years. As we have seen in chapter one of SaaS Entrepreneur, the rapid pace of SaaS development and innovation means that your first SaaS product launch will usually be your last. This means you must rethink your fundamental approach to marketing a SaaS product.
To do this, SaaS companies need to think in terms of their marketing programs as an ongoing narrative with both current and prospective subscribers. The current buzzword surrounding this concept is ‘content marketing.’ What is meant by this is that SaaS marketing becomes heavily dedicated to creating a steady stream of interesting and valuable content that encourages potential customers to interact with your product. In the words of Ken Rutsky, a SaaS marketing consultant who has worked with a number of SaaS companies, “An on-premise product is evaluated, a SaaS product is experienced.” Another way to think of the difference between the two marketing models is that on-premise marketing most resembles skywriting. It is very compelling, many people see it for a short time, and it is not very persistent. By contrast, SaaS marketing most closely resembles the world-famous Time Square news ticker, which is persistent (it debuted in 1928), never turns off, and constantly provides fresh information on current events with the expectation that you will engage with another news source to learn more.
Another key aspect of SaaS marketing is that your prospects will tend to be very knowledgeable about your product before they contact you about a prospective subscription. They will have spent considerable time on the Internet researching your products and the competition. They may have talked to members of your community about the product. They may have used an alias to sign up for trial or freemium subscription. Expect that if your marketing has done its job, you will close sales more quickly.
It is beyond the scope of this book to deep dive into the details of how to successfully launch E-mail marketing campaigns, setup inbound links to your site, discuss the details of how to write a successful press release, etc. For assistance in this area, consider purchasing a copy of The Product Marketing Handbook for Software, 5th Edition, which is due for release in the summer of 2012; at over six hundred pages, it is a comprehensive guide on the topic of the tactical marketing of software. Instead, we will focus on where the SaaS model changes key aspects of how you use the various marketing tools and techniques available to you.
The areas of greatest change include:
Press relationships. This is still an effective way of developing awareness of your system, but the nature of your relationships changes from a transactional to an educational model. Previously, the primary ‘coinage’ software companies provided the press was information on new releases, a valuable commodity as press organizations rely on fresh news to sell their services. The availability of this particular medium of exchange is limited in SaaS. You can, however, supply new information about developments in the industry you service.
Identifying and working with domain experts. This is particularly important for companies in niche and vertical markets and a very under-used marketing approach. In practically any industry there will be individuals and/or organizations that are acknowledged experts in their field and have widespread credibility. Smart SaaS companies in vertical and niche markets will reach out to the extent possible to these experts to educate them on your product. Nothing establishes thought leadership more quickly than having thought leaders endorse you as a thought leader yourself. We know of one smart SaaS company in the project management market who engaged the author of a well-received book on the history of project management. That association helped the company’s marketing efforts considerably.
Creating and leveraging the information created by the capture, aggregation and analysis of data created by the interaction of your subscribers with your system. The information developed may be monetizable but in all cases will provide you with a steady stream of valuable information you can provide the press, analysts and your customers. We discuss this topic in greater detail later in this chapter. Do not neglect to continually survey your subscribers on industry trends and best practices and provide the results back to the community.