You know them. And I’m willing to bet you’ve used at least one of them before.
Did you know there’s an industry name for them too? They’re called software as a service (SaaS).
And these aren’t the only ones. There are actually thousands (and thousands and thousands) of different SaaS organizations out there—most are geared to B2B, but as consumers we’re used to seeing them as well.
In fact, the industry is so big (“Hooow biiig isss iiit?”) that the SaaS market is estimated to reach $197.29 billion by the end of 2023 and $232.3 billion by 2024.
Karine Bengualid is a freelance content writer over at Brought To You By the Letter K with a teensy penchant for Sesame Street. She writes audience-specific stories to connect brands with their ideal customers. When she’s not saving the world from un-fun marketing or researching everything about the science of fun, she’s building her animal rescue, Maison Misha.
What is SaaS marketing and how is it different from traditional marketing?
SaaS marketing is, well, marketing your SaaS products, which are often subscription-based. It is building brand and product awareness, promoting the software, differentiating between the different price tiers (if you have multiple tiers available), bringing your SaaS to market, and positioning it against the competition.
A SaaS can sometimes offer a freemium or a free trial—that’s when you either have a free tier (which customers can use for no charge, but usually with fewer bells and whistles), or a specified amount of time (often 14- or 30-day trials) where users can test out the service to see if they like it before upgrading to the paid version.
First, because SaaS is usually sold through a subscription model, it brings along the added challenge of keeping your existing customers in order to avoid churn. So while gaining new users is critical, maintaining existing customers is even more so as it brings your LTV:CAC ratio down—which is a good thing. (Not familiar with some of these terms? Don’t worry, we’ve got definitions at the bottom of this page.)
Next, because you’re selling software—something that customers can be using day or night, anywhere in the world—your customer service and responsiveness are also very important. We all know (and don’t love) that tech has a tendency to glitch, but what’s more important is supporting your customers when they help. If your customer service isn’t tops, this will affect how users view your product.
Marketing SaaS means being able to clearly explain what your product does and how it will improve your customers’ lives (whether at home or at work). Sometimes these benefits and features can be more challenging to explain when you’re fighting against a character limit (hello Google Ads!).
And while there are some SaaS products on the market for a B2C audience, the majority are B2B so the customer journey looks a little different and could take a little longer. You also have to be able to market to your main audience (who are going to be using your product regularly) as well as speak to the decision makers (who might not ever use your product directly).
Every marketer faces challenges when it comes to promoting their product or service, and SaaS is no different. Here are a few of the most common challenges and how to address them.
With a saturated market, how do you make your SaaS stand out from the competition? That’s where your marketing comes in (more on that below). Your focus should be on understanding and targeting your ideal customers, and creating unique content that is educational and informational.
SaaS is a subscription-based product so ensuring your existing customers are happy and satisfied will, in turn, ensure their loyalty to your product. This can be achieved with a great customer onboarding sequence to make sure they know the ins and outs of your product. Releasing new features or fixing common bugs is also another way to ensure customers feel seen and heard.
Not everyone who uses your product will be tech-savvy, so it’s essential to have a customer service team that can help with support requests. Having 24/7 support available is nice but expensive, and it’s not always necessary as long as your customers get the answers they need within a quick and reasonable timeframe. It’s also a good idea to have several communication options available such as live chat, email, and phone support.
Listen, cutting-edge technology might be all around us but it isn’t foolproof and neither is your SaaS. Glitches and bugs happen but what matters most is how quickly they’re fixed and how well you’re communicating. Offering customers open communication and solid support can spell the difference between customers sticking with you or jumping ship.
How to create an effective SaaS marketing strategy
As with any business, your software as a service needs a marketing plan. This will help ensure you get the word out about your SaaS, find and target your ideal customers, and help you retain customers once they’re paid subscribers.
As with any business or marketing plan, it’s important to start by establishing your goals. Your marketing can serve many purposes, so what is your end objective? What do you want to achieve and how will you achieve it? (We’ll talk later about how to know if or when you’ve achieved said goals in the metrics section below).
Here are just a few example goals your marketing can help you achieve:
Develop brand awareness
Increase free trial signups
Gain social media followers
Grow lead generation
Improve customer retention and satisfaction
Communicate product features and benefits
Understand and identify your target audience
You may have heard of the terms “customer personas” or “modalities.” In the simplest form, these are the types of humans who are most likely to buy your product. Since not every product is for everyone (no matter what you might wish—sigh), it’s important to understand who will get the most out of using your SaaS and how to find them.
Speaking to your ideal customers directly in your marketing will help ensure that you are sending the right message for them to make the purchasing decision. And by knowing your customers, you know where to find them, how they approach purchasing decisions, what information they need to make these decisions, and much more.
Ask yourself: Who will benefit from my product? If you’re building accounting software for small businesses, then CFOs at enterprise companies aren’t your core audience. On the flip side, the owners of small businesses like plumbing services, freelance graphic design, or local restaurants are right up your alley.
Now that you have some idea of the types of people who will use your software, dig a little deeper into them and pretend you’re watching a movie about their life. (It’s like The Truman Show but less weird.)
Demographics: What is their gender, age, education, and location?
Business type: What industry do they work in, what kinds of titles do they have, do they own the business or work for someone else?
Challenges: What do they struggle with, what challenges do they face, what motivates them to succeed at work?
Habits: Where do they get their news, what social media channels do they use, what kind of shows do they watch?
The customer journey in SaaS marketing is longer than the typical B2C funnel. After all, it’s much easier to convert a customer purchasing a one-time product they already know they want versus convincing a business to sign up for a monthly subscription.
However, this entire process is much easier when your value-centric marketing starts with understanding your target audience’s needs, challenges, and pain points. By putting your customers at the center of your strategy, you can create solutions that genuinely address their problems.
Providing value also builds trust and credibility with your audience. When customers perceive that your SaaS product or content genuinely helps them, they are more likely to trust your brand, seek out more content, and eventually become a customer.
Oh, and don’t forget the F-word. (No, not that F-word—we’re trying to keep it family-friendly around here.) You can also increase the value of your product by giving something away for Free.
Offering free resources, like ebooks, templates, freemiums, or free trials allows potential customers to experience the value of your product first-hand prior to committing to a monthly or annual subscription. (It’s like taking the product out for a test drive but without the smarmy salesperson beside you trying to become your new best friend.)
When value is at the core of your marketing efforts, it’s easier to attract and retain customers. It also lays the foundation for sustained growth.
Choose the best inbound marketing channels
Once you’ve dug deep to learn who your ideal customers are, it’s time to discover where they hang out online and are most likely to engage with your brand. With this information in hand, you can design SaaS digital marketing campaigns around each channel.
A paid advertising campaign will look very different from a SaaS influencer marketing campaign. And the way you promote your brand on TikTok will vary greatly from how you address your audience in email marketing.
However, before you get excited and whiteboard your way into a matrix you can’t decipher, let’s take a look at some of the more popular channels for SaaS product marketing. Chances are you won’t use all of these, but it’s still good to understand each channel so you can choose the right ones for your product and audience.
For example, you might be promoting a SaaS product to help non-tech-savvy small business owners use your tech to make their lives easier without breaking their brains trying to learn a new tool. If so, you’ll most likely find these people on the least techy platform—think Facebook rather than Substack.
While it can be daunting to think about budgeting for multiple SaaS digital marketing campaigns, especially if you’re a small startup, the good news is some of these channels are free. (Whew!)
SaaS content marketing
SaaS content marketing can take on various forms, from search engine optimization (SEO) to blogging. It’s the most accessible and cost-effective option to engage with your audience and drive traffic to your website. Here are four content marketing avenues considered highly influential for SaaS businesses.
Bonus tip If your team is lean and you don’t have any dedicated copywriters, try using a tool like Smart Copy to craft the perfect blog, email, or ad copy for you with the click of a button.
Publishing educational blog posts that are relevant (and useful) to your audience provides multiple benefits. First, it sets you up as a thought leader in your industry and can bring credibility to your SaaS. You can use your blog to write about industry trends specific to your niche, present forward-thinking ideas, and offer solution-based articles (like, ahem, this one).
Blog posts are great tools for driving traffic to your website since the more you publish, the greater the chances they’ll get found in a Google search—especially if you’ve got a solid keyword search strategy in place.
You can also use a blog as a lead generation tool simply by inserting a call to action and maybe a form. The bottom line is: If you aren’t building out your blog, what are you waiting for?
Honeybook is a great example of a SaaS marketed to freelancers publishing blog posts centered around, well, freelancing. As you can see they provide solution-based blogs on how to customize brochures or how to price their services (often a sticky and tricky subject for freelancers!).
Here are just a few of the things Honeybook does to make good use of their blog resources:
A list of categories is placed on the left side, making it easy to jump directly to the type of content the reader is interested in.
Honeybook displays thumbnail images for each blog post, creating a visual layout that pleases the eye and engages curiosity.
The “Our editor’s picks” section highlights specific blog posts and implies that these particular posts have a lot of value to provide.
For those who prefer watching videos to reading, Honeybook helpfully provides an easily-browsable playlist of video content.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your content and website to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). (Want to learn more about SEO? We’ve got you covered.)
SEO is crucial for SaaS content marketing because it helps your SaaS content rank higher in search results. And when your content appears on page one of Google, there’s a better chance people will click on it, increasing your organic (read: non-paid) traffic.
SEO typically includes optimizing on-page features like meta titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and image alt tags to make your content more search engine-friendly. But It’s also about publishing content that people want to read (oops, there’s those blogs again). Google itself says high-quality, informative, and valuable content has the most influence over ranking factors.
Other things to consider when SEO-optimizing your content:
Incorporating SEO into your SaaS content marketing strategy requires a combination of research, content creation, technical optimization, and ongoing monitoring. However, it can pay off in the form of increased organic traffic and improved brand visibility. Win-win!
A webinar, short for “web seminar,” is a live or pre-recorded online presentation or workshop that allows you to interact with your audience in real-time (their real-time, not yours, if it’s pre-recorded).
Although it can take some time and work to create a webinar—as it should with every piece of content you produce—crafting a visually appealing slide deck or finding an industry leader to guest-host is worth the effort.
Mailchimp does a marvelous job promoting their free webinars. Here’s what they do well:
On a dedicated page just for workshops, you can see all the topics with a one-liner description for each.
They offer the webinars in different time zones (the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Australia and Asia) knowing their audience is based around the world.
They introduce the workshop host so you know who to expect going in.
There’s an FAQ section at the bottom of the page, including how to contact support.
Webinars are an excellent platform for educating your audience about your SaaS product, industry trends, best practices, and related topics. You can provide in-depth knowledge and insights, positioning your company as a trusted source of information.
On top of this, webinars are an opportunity to engage directly with your audience. Leaving time at the end for Q&A where participants can ask questions is essentially free research. The questions your attendees ask can provide direct insights into their pain points and help you gain even deeper insights into your target audience.
A podcast is another opportunity to connect with your audience in a more personal way. It’s not a live webinar, but it’s still a chance for your audience to hear you share your industry expertise on a regular basis—like a weekly news column or a radio show segment.
And similar to blogs, it doesn’t always need to be centered around your SaaS product. Discuss topics that are related to your industry and provide undeniable value to your listeners.
Jobber demonstrates this beautifully with their podcast. They offer a SaaS solution to local service-based businesses like landscaping companies, HVAC, and cleaning services.
They bring guests on the podcast who share their successes in a particular area of their business (customer service, new services, HR, etc.), how they got there, and the lessons they learned.
They include hyperlinked icons for all the major podcast hubs for quick access: Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube.
You can sign up to get podcast updates straight to your email.
They spread the love by promoting other industry-relevant podcasts.
While we’re on the topic of podcasts, we have one of our own that we think you’ll get a lot out of. In each episode of Unprompted you’ll join renowned marketing experts as they explore the rapidly-changing world of AI marketing and share insights into how AI can help you market your SaaS product.
Paid advertising is like the travelator (y’know, those moving sidewalks in airports) of digital marketing. You could make it to your gate just by hoofin’ it normally but the travelator will get you there faster. It’s the same with the coveted number one spot in SERPs—getting there organically would just take you longer. And ain’t nobody got time for that.
Hopping on the travelator—er, we mean, allocating budget for pay-per-click ads can give you a quick boost in traffic and even help to push your organic content closer to the top of search results.
The other great thing about paid ads is that you have control over your budget. You can set daily or campaign budgets to avoid overspending and easily adjust your spending based on campaign performance and goals.
While paid advertising offers many advantages, it’s essential to have a well-defined strategy, set clear goals, and continually monitor and optimize your campaigns to maximize your ROAS.
Example: Abyss Scuba Diving
Sometimes, when you’re trying to achieve your goals, you just have to dive right in. That’s exactly what Australian business Abyss Scuba Diving demonstrated when they dove into an advertising campaign strategy that boosted their average conversion rate to 35%—almost seven times the industry standard.
Here’s how they did it:
Through PPC campaigns they targeted people in specific situations, such as international visitors applying for long-term visas to visit Australia.
By signing up for Unbounce’s Smart Builder tool they were easily able to create effective, high-converting landing pages.
They employed Unbounce’s AI-powered Smart Copy and Smart Traffic tools to optimize the pages and further increase conversion rates.
Social media and SaaS influencer marketing
If you’ve logged onto Instagram or TikTok lately, you’ll notice that social media and influencer marketing kind of go hand in hand these days. From user-generated content to influencers promoting brands, it’s a 21.1 billion-dollar industry. And yet 37% of SaaS companies allocate less than $10k of their annual marketing budget to influencer marketing.
And if you think influencer marketing is only for B2C, think again. B2B influencers can have either an ongoing relationship with brands or just do one-time collaborations. Either way, there’s gold to be found in them hills influencer relationships.
Notion sponsored Ali Abdaal’s video on his favorite note-taking app for students. Smart. Since Ali is the world’s most followed productivity expert (4.82M YouTube subscribers), that exposes Notion’s product to a whole lotta eyeballs.
They don’t hide the sponsorship opportunity—in fact, they promote it at the top of the video and offer 1,000 viewers a free personal plan for Notion.
Their logo is included when Notion is brought up, and screenshots are shared even in the intro so viewers can know what’s expected.
To leverage social media and influencer marketing effectively in your SaaS marketing strategy, it’s essential to have a clear plan and a deep understanding of your target audience. Identify the right social media platforms for your audience and select influencers whose values and audience align with your brand.
Beyond influencers, social media is still a great place to promote blog posts, product launches, and webinars. In fact, considering the average person spends 2.5 hours each day scrolling on their phone to catch up on the latest social media updates (ahem!), you’d be remiss to skip it as part of your marketing plan.
Consistency in posting, engagement with your audience, and a strategic approach to influencer partnerships can maximize the impact of these strategies on your marketing efforts.
A $36 ROI for every $1 spent is a solid reason to start sending emails to your followers, if you don’t already. Find an email marketing service (a SaaS for a SaaS!) that works for you and get started with the following email flows:
New free trial series
Product update campaign
When designing and writing your emails, check out these email marketing tips to capitalize on that gargantuan ROI.
Here at Unbounce we’ve put a lot of work into creating an effective and welcoming email experience. After signing up for Unbounce’s free trial, you get an email like this:
The email is nicely designed (if we do say so ourselves) with just enough white space to keep it uncluttered.
It has a nice welcoming hello that includes my name 🤩.
It’s clear what the email is about—my 14-day free trial that they want to help me get the most out of.
If I want to dig deeper, there’s a video on how to use the page builders so I can jump right in.
Now that you’ve got the traffic, what’s next?
Most marketing strategies deal with how to get inbound leads to your website, but your “to do list” items (and opportunities) don’t stop there. How do you ensure they convert—sign up for your newsletter, request a demo, try your freemium tier, etc.?
Landing pages are standalone web pages—so, part of your website, but not really—designed with a specific goal in mind, such as capturing leads, promoting a product or service, or encouraging a particular action from visitors.
Unlike your website’s homepage or product page, which often has a myriad of distractions and menu options, landing pages are laser-focused on a single goal.
They’re designed to convert visitors into leads or customers by presenting them with an irresistible offer like an e-book, free trial, or invite to a webinar. Yep, you should totally build a landing page for your webinar so you don’t miss out on all those valuable leads!
This hyper-focus makes it crystal clear to your audience what you want them to do, increasing the likelihood that they’ll take that action.
Let’s say someone is looking for a guide to onboarding new employees. They click on an ad in Google and are directed to a landing page where they can provide their contact information, such as their name and email address, in exchange for the ultimate guide to onboarding new employees (of course, your SaaS is the ultimate answer).
Bonus tip Unbounce offers customers the use of both Classic Builder and Smart Builder. Classic Builder lets you design landing pages with an easy drag-and-drop interface for pixel-perfect precision. Smart Builder helps you create high-converting landing pages in minutes using AI and millions of data points from successful landing pages.
How to measure the effectiveness of SaaS marketing strategies
Here’s the thing. You could have the most bedazzled (yes, this is a thing) SaaS marketing plan in all of SaaS-land and still fall flat with your marketing efforts. The only way to make informed decisions about what’s working and what’s not is data.
SaaS marketing metrics are the only way to measure what strategies are working and how to double-down on them.
Here’s a quick look at some of the most common SaaS marketing metrics. (For more details about each of these, have a gander at the bottom of this page.)
Website traffic: Measure the number of visitors, pageviews, and unique visitors to your website.
Conversion rate: Track the percentage of visitors who take a desired action, such as signing up for a trial or subscribing to a newsletter.
Customer acquisition cost (CAC): Calculate how much it costs to acquire a new customer, including marketing expenses.
Customer lifetime value (CLTV or LTV): Determine the total revenue a customer generates over their lifetime as a subscriber.
Churn rate: Measure the percentage of customers who cancel their subscriptions.
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR): Track the predictable monthly revenue generated from subscriptions.
Customer retention rate: Measure the percentage of customers retained over a specific period.
Return on investment (ROI): Calculate the return on marketing investment for specific campaigns.
Use tools like Google Analytics, Smart Traffic, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems to collect and track these metrics. You can also gather feedback from customers through surveys and interviews.
Most importantly, remember that measuring the effectiveness of your SaaS marketing strategies is an ongoing process. Take the time to regularly review your performance data, adapt to changes in the market, and refine your strategies to ensure that you are maximizing your marketing budget.
Achieve SaaS-tainable success with your SaaS marketing
In the ever-expanding SaaS realm, effective marketing is the linchpin to success. With the SaaS market projected to reach staggering figures, it’s crucial to differentiate your product and maintain a competitive edge.
Embarking on a SaaS marketing journey requires more than just a well-thought-out strategy. Success hinges on data-driven decision-making and the effective use of tools.
Regularly assessing performance data, staying attuned to market shifts, and refining strategies are the keys to not only maximizing your marketing budget but also ensuring longevity and growth.
Definitions of some commonly-used SaaS terms
The world of SaaS also comes with its own terms that are important to know when it comes to SaaS marketing benchmarks and best practices.
Simply put, your conversion rate measures how effective your page is at getting visitors to do what you want them to do.
You can calculate your conversion rate by taking the total number of visitors and dividing it by the number of conversions your campaign has gotten. Then, multiply the result by 100 to get a percentage. (For a deeeep dive into all things related to conversion rates, check out our AI guide to conversion rate optimization.)
Formula (total number of visitors) / (number of conversions) x 100 = conversion rate
Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
Customers don’t grow on trees which means each new customer actually eats away at your profit. (See what I did there?)
So for every dollar (or euro, or yen, or peso) you spend on getting a paying customer, that’s one less dollar (or euro, or yen, or peso) in your pocket.
Formula (cost spent on marketing) / (# of paying customers) = CAC
Customer churn rate
The percentage of paying SaaS customers who cancel during a specific time period is your churn rate. Keep in mind that this does not include new customers. And in order to calculate this, you have to keep that period of time the same in order to compare apples to apples—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
Formula (users that left during X period of time) / (total existing users) x 100 = (customer churn rate)
Customer lifetime value (CLV or LTV)
As a subscription model, SaaS customers tend to stick around for several billing cycles (read: months or years).
Formula (average subscription price) x (average length of subscription) / (# of customers) = (CLV)
Because your customers are signing up to use your product on a recurring basis, it’s important to walk them through everything they need to know. This will help ensure they have a better experience with your product. And the more successful a customer is with your software, the longer they’ll stay a loyal customer.
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
SaaS businesses have a predictable revenue model from subscriptions. As the name suggests, it’s how much money you can expect every month from paying customers.
Net promoter score (NPS)
How likely is a customer to say good things about your product or service (on a scale from 1 to 10)? You’ve probably seen this one single question asked by many companies.
This question segments users into three buckets:
Promoter (score of 9 or 10): customers will probably tell others about how awesome your product is
Neutral (score 7 or 8): customers like your product but won’t go out of their way to tell others about it
Detractor (score <7): these customers are more likely to share negative experiences with your product
Formula (% promoters) — (% detractors) = (NPS)
Knowing how much customers are worth to your business means knowing how much they’re worth spending on to get them through the door. If the CAC (customer acquisition cost) is $30 to get one paying customer but their CLV (customer lifetime value) is $20, then the math doesn’t math.
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This is the percentage of paying customers who continue to use your product (the opposite of your churn rate).
Return on ad spend (ROAS)
Similar to return on investment (ROI) but specific to the cost of a company’s advertising campaigns.
Return on investment (ROI)
This determines how well your investment is performing compared to how much money you’ve pumped into it.
Formula (net income) / (cost of investment) x 100 = (ROI)
User engagement metrics
How much do your customers use (a.k.a. engage, interact, involve with) your product? This is an important question that can help you predict long-term customers. After all, the more someone uses your product, the longer they stay loyal and happy customers.