We talked about how SaaS business involves a tight integration of product and support in our previous article. In the SaaS environment, both business aspects become the product, literally the two Ss in “SaaS.” But there’s another aspect that should stick like glue to both product and support: marketing. In an ideal world, support elicits raw data about customer behavior and market trends, which customer relationship marketing (CRM) processes into insights that are then useful to product engineering and marketing.
I have reviewed dozens of CRM products and other SaaS software and, the irony is, many CRM companies fail to adopt solid marketing strategies, CRM included, to promote their software. It sounds incredulous, but I realized many of these companies are technology-driven and headed by business analysts with more engineering background than solid marketing experience. A lot of them don’t realize the huge value of marketing strategies such as popular B2B review platfroms or building user communities around your product. Well, at the end of the day, marketing drives the business and the CEO that wears this cap has a better shot at success.
Even if your new to the world of B2B and B2B marketing this guide can be incredibly useful in making your product marketing strategy more effective. Let me share with you 10 methods that marketing experts use to successfully promote SaaS and CRM products.
10 Marketing Methods To Grow Your CRM Company:
1. Publish user reviews on B2B review sites and utilize their marketing offers
The Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 by BrightLocal.com revealed that consumers read up to ten user reviews before they buy from a business. Likewise, consumers draw the line of an acceptable product at 3 stars in product ratings. The takeaway is you cannot ignore user reviews. And you don’t just need ten user reviews, but ten times more positive reviews than negative ones. How do you do this? There’s no exact science, but you can significantly improve your chances of getting favorable reviews with these tips.
First, understand how B2B review platforms work. Most B2B review sites have three content streams: in-house expert opinion, user reviews, and paid listing. Although we talk about user reviews, you need to pay attention to these three streams to leverage a positive exposure. First, make sure your product site has all the key messages highlighted to help expert reviewers spot your USP and advantages. They will still write according to their experience, but it pays to guide them where to assess your product best. You can also send them product specs to ensure they get to review your software’s details, and even give them a fully featured free trial during the review. You should make sure your product is present in all popular B2B/SaaS review platforms to make it visible to as many potential clients as possible. Adding your product review is usually very simple and quick. For example, with FinancesOnline you can request your review here.
Second, make it a standard procedure for support to ask for reviews from your new users. Don’t force them to say the good things, rather, ask for their experience based on specific areas, such as: ease-of-use and setup; specific tools you want to highlight; business match; payment terms; and integration. These topics are the common issues that users discuss in review sites. To encourage reviews, you can give tokens or small ex-deals like a month of free software access or a backlink in your social channels. It isn’t bribery, it’s recognizing their effort. You’ll be surprised how a small appreciation creates goodwill and, yes, a favorable response.
Third, ask for permission to post their reviews, not in your website, but on third-party review platforms to get more exposure on sites that are not directly connected to you and give you more credibility. You can quote a line in their reviews and post it as a testimonial callout in your website, but the whole review should stay on the review site, where prospects and the competition’s users are more likely to read it.
Many online review platforms, such as FinancesOnline, offer extended marketing opportunities. Of course, is worth the money spent as you get a good position on sites your potential customers are already visitng and making them aware of your product at this stage can often secure a sale. Such sites can also highlight your product’s unique features with quality certificates that will significantly improve sales. Make sure you ask about the marketing opportunities offered by each review site. For example, FinancesOnline provides a wide range of ways to promote your product and improve your lead generation. You can request a lead generation campaign for your product here.
2. Identify your niche and dominate that category
In my other article I mentioned about SaaS wars being fought not in wide open plains but in small strategic nooks and crannies. That’s because jobs are being specialized and markets are further segmented. Tools that address specific issues rather than general problems will have an advantage in attracting loyal customers.
There are four benefits to going small:
- You get to avoid a head-on collision with giants and leverage your competitive advantage
- You can attain a celebrity status in a small group faster and earn a leadership position
- You can improve your core features faster and more seamlessly and become more specialized than bigger vendors
- It’s easier to establish personal relationships with a small but high value band of customers and nurture a long-term revenue stream
If you think your niche is too small, marketing guru Seth Godin said it isn’t. “You might not need a bigger niche. You might only need to produce more value for those you already serve.”
3. Craft a unique selling point that will define your product
Unique selling proposition (USP) is the message that defines your niche. You may need a copywriter to craft this message. Empathizing with the user in my software reviews, the first thing I ask is: how’s this software different from others to make me want to buy it? Many times, I’m surprised at the lengths I have to scour product sites just to dig up their USP. Many vendors will say they have the best CRM, but fail to pinpoint why and overwhelm you with great features. Remember, customers first want to know why (do I need you?) before they ask what (are the features?). Take a hard look at your niche and ask yourself, why will my customers love my software? Here are a few vendors whose USP was clear and easy to spot:
- Method CRM = “CRM for QuickBooks” (integration)
- CutomerICare = “Sell faster, help better, stay in touch with customers!” (live chat for immediate communications)
- Highrise = “A secret weapon to track tasks, contacts, and notes” (organized customer data)
- Teamgate = “It’s not just Sales CRM. It’s confidence, performance, team spirit.” (competitive sales team collaboration)
- Uservoice = “Join the 160,000+ organizations in over 170 countries that have found a better way to listen to their users’ voices” (leveraging feedback)
Remember: USP is not about creating a unique product, but creating a unique perspective.
4. Make sure you profile your target audience right
I’ve already discussed the importance of profiling customers for the broader SaaS business. I gave a few questions to help you visualize the Ideal Customer:
- What is his or her work or position?
- What’s the least and best thing he or she likes about work?
- Specify a few of his or her habits and routine at the office
- What are his or her hobbies and passions?
- What does she or he like to wear everyday?
- What does he or she like to talk about often?
Let me add that when you profile customers, don’t just imagine them. Base the profile on raw data, such as, feedback from sales and support, customers’ social media signals, user reviews, and, if any, survey results. The Ideal Customer should be someone that you can see in your mind, so you can craft and tone marketing messages that resonate to this person and place promotions where this guy likes to hang out. Actually, you’re already doing this practice when you talk to an investor, your employee, or your kid; you use different tones and messages for each one, right?
5. Build communities around your niche
After identifying your Ideal Customer, don’t just look for them. Group them! Like-minded people love to stay together and talk about the same things. Building user communities can happen in two fronts: internal and external communities. You can build your internal community by setting up self-help portals, wikis, blogs, forum, and social media channels, where users can hang out to find answers, tips, or best practices from fellow users. I’m surprised that many CRM focus on support, but forget about building an internal community or, if any, it’s buried at the bottom of the website or protected by a passcode. I suggest you reserve an open community for non-users to give prospects a glimpse of real users and their experience with your software. If you’re worried about negative comments, welcome to the millenium where you cannot avoid customers’ angst (but you can manage it). You might as well be transparent rather than take the futile road of censorship. Sage CRM or Microsotd Dynamics are good examples of companies with engaged communities:
External communities are harder to predict. You have to search for brand ambassadors, those who love your software, in social media or fan sites. You cannot fake a community, but you can encourage fans to group themselves. For instance, give incentives to your top users to start a LinkedIn professional group based on their interest (not yours). It’s tempting to drop a company spy into this group, but don’t, it defeats the external group’s objectivity. Instead, when you find a negative post, issue an official statement to the group. By doing so, you achieve two things: address the issue; and elevate the group into a more credible community that merits corporate attention and, likely, more members. Likewise, go for quality members not just sheer numbers. The more specific the discussions the more chances it will attract like-minded users and the better source of feedback for you.
6. Sell to old customers instead of just focusing on new one
Marketers know that it’s cheaper to sell more to existing customers than get new customers. But first, do you know your customer acquisition cost (CAC)? The formula is simple: just add all expenses you’ve incurred for campaigns, lead generation, ads, and other promotions of a given period and divide that by the number of new customers you’ve earned for the same period. You can see that a new customer’s CAC is many times more than selling to old customers who are already on your mailing list.
But don’t just resell to them. Upsell them a better feature or cross-sell a valuable add-on. You have to match the new feature with their present situation (check your sales and support data). Maybe it’s time they get a mobile add-on or a dedicated support after growing their business for three months. Perhaps a higher storage is appropriate in time for a peak season. Maybe the user, convinced of your software’s value, can be encouraged to get an annual subscription. Whatever the reason, always offer a free trial to move old customers to the upgraded product. A free trial should not just happen at the start of the sales funnel, but all throughout the upsell/cross-sell pipeline. Paul Brown, a serial Forbes contributor and best-seller marketing author, gave an equilibrial insight why you should pay attention to existing customers: if you gain a new customer but lose an existing one because you’re not paying enough attention to the latter, you end up with the same number of customers but at lower margins. Sell more to old customers.
7. Constantly keep upgrading the features of your product
Congruent to selling to old customers is developing new features, add-ons, or even a new product. Because online marketing for SaaS is tightly integrated with product development in SaaS (and B2B and B2C technologies in general)–you can only keep selling as you build more upgrades–you must plan a development strategy along marketing lines. Here’s the catch: don’t be disruptive, but be intuitive. Being disruptive is for engineers, being intuitive is the marketer’s magic.
Your engineers love milestone products, but as a marketer, you know history hasn’t been kind to companies that introduced a first-of-a-kind product. It’s the innovators that came later that reap the rewards. Let’s count the cases: Friendster before Facebook in social media; Yahoo! before Google in search; IBM before Microsoft in personal computers; Wii before Xbox in gaming; and so on. I know there are exceptions like iPhone for smartphones and Freshbooks for mass-market cloud computing, but they’re rare, and even they were based on other earlier products.
Your customers are not looking for a new product, but a more intuitive one to improve productivity. So make sure the upgrade won’t stifle usability or user experience. Also make sure the upgrade is really an upgrade, not just a dress up to a feature that is already working fine.
8. Invest in mobile app development
This one requires special attention because it’s a major growth area of SaaS, CRM included. In IDC’s Mobile Enterprise Applications Survey in February 2014, enhancing worker productivity topped the reasons for getting a mobile enterprise software. This was followed by: increasing sales; improving customer service; improving competitive advantage; and providing ease of information access. Mobile provides better context by location and real-time data that aids sales and support can to give immediate, meaningful responses to customers.
If you want to stay relevant in 2-3 years, your CRM must have a mobile platform if it hasn’t one yet. But don’t just copy all functions of your web interface into the mobile platform; focus on core features that users need while in the field. Mobile adoption is still in its early stages and functionality is limited by screen size, battery, and processing power. You can make a scalable migration of features to mobile by closely watching mobile technological trends.
Likewise, don’t forget Windows Phone; while Android and iOS have a wider reach, Windows Phone is popular among business and corporate users, which is your primary market. As with user reviews in web-based third-party sites, pay close attention to user reviews in mobile app stores like Google Play, Apple Store, and, yes, Windows Phone Apps+Games.
9. Your qualified leads should stay on top of your sales
Jason Lemkin popularized this metric in 2012 as the most important metric to gauge your business growth. He threw a curveball at using monthly recurring revenue for lead sales forecast indicator because of one flaw: it uses past and present data. For example, if your MRR shows you earned $100,000 this month with a 6% increase over the previous month, you can predict about $2M annual sales by end of fiscal year as long as you maintain the momentum. However, Lemkin reminded us that monthly sales talk about the past. When you consider monthly and quarterly sales variances, MRR cannot give you an adequate forecast.
Rather, you should focus on lead velocity, how many leads you’re making month over month. As long as your lead velocity is 10% to 20% more than your monthly sales, your business is on a steady growth. Lower than that and you can expect a stagnation sooner than later. Let’s draw a scenario why leads are more important than sales in forecasting: if you’ve sold 20% more this year but with a lead velocity of, say, 5%, your next month is likely to reflect a lower sales growth, perhaps around 10% to 15%. If your lead rate stays at 5% again, your next monthly sales growth will be even less, about 5% to 10%. You’ll have zero growth within a month or two if this trend continues.
Here are three ways to speed up your lead velocity:
- acquire more market share in your niche
- explore sub-niches
- upsell or cross-sell to old customers
Remember, don’t let your lead velocity close in to your MRR.
10. Give case studies, webinars andtrade talks
Vinay Bhagat, writing for Content Marketing Institute, predicted that case studies, long a B2B marketer’s staple, will soon be replaced by user-generated reviews. Insights from the 2013 State of Demand Generation by Pardot supported Bhagat’s opinion: prospects begin their product discovery via search, and as user review sites become popular, they’re likely to rank higher than case studies in SERPs. Bhagay even made a cost-benefit comparison between user reviews and case studies and, clearly, case studies lag in development turnaround, reach, cost, and credibility. User reviews have overtaken case studies in importance as resource for prospects.
However, it doesn’t mean white papers aren’t useful now. They can complement the weak points of user reviews, which can come in different temperaments, at times conflicting testaments (depends on one’s perspective), and out-of-context experiences (doesn’t match your situation). Case studies bring structure and a formal outline to gauge user reviews and shortlist the most important customer inputs.
Moreover, you should keep on creating webinars and offer to talk in trade events. These tactics make you a thought leader in your niche and promote your software or company as an incidental. When you make webinars make sure to focus on topics and not your brand to appeal to a wider audience other than your users.
These marketing strategies have been proven time and again and they’re worth repeating and following even for B2B companies like CRM vendors. There are many more marketing techniques for specific situations, but you can start with these ten best ways to grow the business.
Best of luck!