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Archive for the category: SaaS Marketing

Eleven Secrets of SaaS Product Design

saas product secretsSaaS product management professionals should always remember that there are four P’s in marketing, one being product. Unfortunately, software companies have a bad habit of thinking about product in isolation from the rest of the marketing mix. This is a particularly costly mistake in SaaS and is the root cause of many a SaaS Don’t. Unlike other businesses, SaaS creates a real-time, always-on connection between the customer and the company through the SaaS product. Smart SaaS product managers look to establish this connection as early as possible and to leverage it throughout the entire SaaS customer lifecycle.

This is the fifth and final post in a series that explores SaaS marketing strategies that drive growth throughout the customer lifecycle using the three fundamental SaaS growth levers: customer acquisition, customer lifetime value and customer network effects. In the course of this exploration, we’ve encountered numerous examples where the SaaS product itself is the instrument of growth. This final installment explores the product P in more detail providing Eleven Secrets of SaaS Product Design that drive growth at each stage of the customer lifecycle.

The Boundless SaaS Product

What are the boundaries of your SaaS product? Login? Purchase? Mobile? From a SaaS customer’s point of view, there is little distinction between your SaaS product, website, mobile app, support, service and community. It is a seamless online experience…if you design it that way! Great SaaS product management professionals don’t simply specify features and functions, they create online experiences that satisfy business, professional and personal needs. And in the course of satisfying those needs, they drive revenue growth by pushing the three fundamental SaaS growth levers.

Below are eleven SaaS product management secrets for creating SaaS products that sell themselves, one secret for each stage of the SaaS customer lifecycle. Underscoring each secret are two enduring economic themes: Read more »

Breaking Through The SaaS Ceiling

saas growth marketingIt’s the dream of every Internet entrepreneur to build a business that goes viral. Yet the sad truth is that most do not. It’s hard to think of any other industry with such a winner-take-all mentality as Internet software. The volatile combination of small market entry costs and big network effects creates wave after wave of disruption and consolidation, and quite a few millionaires along the way. Alas, virality is an elusive goal, particularly in SaaS. For this reason, SaaS Don’t #10 insists that you should not depend on network effects. Instead you should focus first and foremost on satisfying each and every single customer. But, if you’ve done that…bring on the hockey stick!

This is the fourth post in a series that paves the path to sustainable SaaS growth. The first post in this SaaS growth series introduced the concept of the SaaS growth ceiling, as well as the three fundamental SaaS marketing levers for breaking through it: customer acquisition, customer lifetime value and viral customer network effects. This installment explores the third, final and most funnest SaaS marketing lever: network effects, offering three proven SaaS marketing strategies to drive SaaS growth by getting your customers to sell themselves.

The Roof is On Fire!

saas growth marketingYou don’t need a PhD in economics to understand network effects; you just need to know how to throw a party. No one wants to go to a lame party. The more people that are going to a party, the more other people want to go. And, the more they are willing to pay to get in. If you’ve ever tried to get people to move from one party to the other, say from dinner to dancing, then you know that you have to get them ALL to move at once, or nobody moves. Finally, if your party gets big, crowded and mainstream, the hipsters start leaving to find the next big thing. So, let’s party!

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SaaS Marketing | Maximizing Customer Lifetime Value

saas marketingWhat’s the stronger driver of SaaS company growth: customer acquisition or customer lifetime value? The answer is yes. Rapid, sustainable SaaS growth is equal parts customer acquisition and customer lifetime value. Simply multiply these two numbers and you get your SaaS growth ceiling, the most revenue your SaaS business can ever achieve. Period. The end. If you want to change your future, you have to change one of these numbers. However, most SaaS marketing professionals think their job ends at purchase. In SaaS, the intital purchase is only the first of many. Keeping each and every customer around longer and making the most of the business relationship along the way has as much impact on SaaS company growth as acquiring more customers. Therefore, good SaaS marketing lasts a customer lifetime.

This is the third post in a series that paves the path to sustainable SaaS growth. The first post in this series introduced the three fundamental levers of SaaS growth: customer acquisition, customer lifetime value and viral customer network effects. This installment explores the second lever and provides three proven SaaS marketing strategies to drive SaaS growth by maximizing customer lifetime value.

Two Views of Customer Lifetime Value

There are two sides to every purchase: buyer and seller. Maximizing customer lifetime value isn’t something you do to a customer, it’s something you do for a customer. In SaaS, customer lifetime value is often expressed as average recurring revenue times the average customer lifetime (one divided by percentage churn rate), however, this is only the sellers side of the coin. When thinking about what you can do to maximize customer lifetime value, it is a good habit to think about it from your customer’s point-of-view. For example, reducing churn means giving your customer a reason to stick around, while upselling and cross-selling mean solving more problems, incresing satisfaction, and providing greater ROI. Getting paid is just an end to the means.

SaaS Marketing Strategy #5 | Reduce Churn

There is only one SaaS marketing strategy to reduce churn: Read more »

SaaS Marketing | Accelerating Customer Acquisition

saas marketing acceleration SaaS marketing professionals know that customer acquisition is the name of the game. What they generally don’t know is that sustainable SaaS growth requires accelerating customer acquisition. In the long run, acquiring more customers is not enough. Your SaaS marketing strategy must aim to acquire more customers, faster. Otherwise, churn wins and you stop growing.

This is the second post in a series that paves the path to sustainable SaaS growth. The first post in this series introduced the three fundamental levers of SaaS growth: customer acquisition, customer lifetime value and viral customer network effects. This installment explores the first lever and provides four proven SaaS marketing strategies to drive SaaS growth by accelerating customer acquisition.

The SaaS Marketing Mandate: Remove Buyer Roadblocks

While shopping can be fun, buying a SaaS product is hard work. As the buyer, you have to figure out your problem, research and evaluate solutions, negotiate a purchase, and learn how to use yet another piece of software. Unfortunately, most SaaS vendors make it even harder than it has to be. Without world-class SaaS marketing, the typical SaaS product is hard to find, hard to understand, hard to buy and hard to use. And, every ounce of work creates a roadblock for the would-be buyer.

saas marketing roadblocks

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The fundamental goal of SaaS marketing is Read more »

Driving SaaS Growth Through The Customer Lifecycle

saas growth SaaS growth isn’t a goal; it’s an obsession. The good news is that SaaS growth can be very smooth and predictable, because of the SaaS recurring revenue subscription model. The bad news is that SaaS growth can also be predictably slow the bigger you get. After a few years of rapid SaaS startup growth, it’s easy to find yourself on the short end of the hockey stick if you don’t know the right levers to push.

The Three Levers to Break Through the SaaS Growth Ceiling

At any given time, you can calculate the SaaS growth ceiling for your SaaS business with a simple formula: customer acquisition rate divided by percentage churn rate. For example, if you acquire 200 new customers each year and your percentage annual churn rate is 20%, then at 1,000 customers ( 200 / 20% ) your growth will slow to zero, because customer churn will equal new customer acquisition of 200 customers per year. New customers come in the front door, while old customers leave out the back. Moreover, you will begin to hit the SaaS growth ceiling in exactly one average customer lifetime of 5 years, equal to 1 divided by your 20% churn rate. Finally, your SaaS growth revenue ceiling will equal 1,000 customers times your average customer subscription, e.g., $10M per year for an average subscription of $10,000 in annual recurring revenue. Without a fundamental change to your business, that’s all the SaaS growth you get.

This SaaS growth ceiling depicted in this example is calculated generally by the following basic formulas from the SaaS metrics series.

max SaaS company # customers = acquisition rate ÷ % churn rate

max SaaS company revenue = acquisition rate x average subscription value ÷ % churn rate

Alternatively…

max SaaS company revenue = acquisition rate x average customer lifetime value

This last formula highlights two of the three fundamental SaaS growth levers: acquire customers faster and increase customer lifetime value. If you double your customer acquisition rate, the SaaS growth ceiling doubles with it. Double customer lifetime value by doubling average subscription value or halving your churn rate and again the SaaS growth ceiling doubles.

In the end, however, churn always wins. Churn scales with the size of your customer base. Churn is negatively viral and can only be countered completely by a positively viral growth lever: network effects. Adding more sales reps and increasing your marketing spend are not enough. These strategies may increase your acquisition rate, but to outpace churn you must increase your acquisition rate again and again and again.

The SaaS Growth Levers Follow the Customer Lifecycle

The three fundamental SaaS growth levers: customer acquisition rate, customer lifetime value and viral customer network effects arise naturally and sequentially as a SaaS business matures. Read more »

SaaS Branding | 6 Challenges of Killer Cloud Brands

SaaS branding has some unique challenges that aren’t covered in the average MBA program. As a new communication channel, the Internet has altered the rules of branding for almost every category of product. However, cloud brands that owe their very existence to the Internet often find that the message, the medium and the merchandise are a confusing tangle of clicks, words, sounds, images and experiences that is difficult to describe.

I’m not going to re-hash branding 101, there are plenty of resources available for that. I’m also not going to provide a fool proof recipe for creating killer cloud brands. Anyone who says they have that is lying. What I will do is provide some SaaS branding food for thought by exploring 6 key questions you need to ask before committing to your SaaS branding strategy. Because once you commit, it’s not easy to change. All brands, not just cloud brands, are ultimately owned by their buyers, not their sellers. Once you put yourself out there, the evolution and results of your SaaS branding strategy are no longer your own. Your first impression may also be your last, so you should strive to get it right.

Are You in a Category unto Yourself?

saas branding categoryWith respect to cloud brands, everyone wants to own the category. It’s where the big, BIG money is. Moreover, the combination of network effects and switching costs common on the Internet often demand that you attempt to own the category, as everyone else is destined to be an “also ran.” Consider the status of the direct competitors of Salesforce.com, Google, and Facebook.

I like Al and Laura Ries description of the relationship between categories and brands.

“The mind is like a sorting rack at the post office, which has a slot or ‘pigeonhole’ for every name on the letter carrier’s route. Every piece of mail is put into the hole corresponding to the name on the mail. If there’s no hole for a new piece of mail, it’s set aside in a pile called ‘undeliverables.’ So too with brands. The mind has a slot or pigeon hole for every category. If the pigeonhole is named ‘safe cars,’ this is the hole for a brand called Volvo.”

When you are creating a new brand, your challenge is to shove your way to the top of the slot by focusing on your unique and valued qualities over the competition. Building a new category is 3X more difficult, as you must first clarify and create a new pigeonhole where none currently exists, second promote the unique and valued qualities of the fuzzy new category relative to unclear alternatives, and third hold on to the top of the slot by outpacing the competition (which will come eventually if the category is real).

If you find yourself in the enviable position of being a BIG category unto yourself and the nature of that category demands that you own it, then your SaaS branding strategy should focus on crystallizing that confusing tangle into a simple, easily describable position that is unlike any other. No easy task as we all have very big, complex post office racks. Fail and your brand becomes “undeliverable.” If you find yourself in a crowded category where you must fight your way to the top, then focus on your unique differentiation to pull away from the crowd. In either case, realize that positioning alone will not win the battle of the cloud brands; you must also deliver.

Are You Experienced?

saas branding experiencedCloud brands are the most experiential of service brands. What you see and hear isn’t always what you get. You can’t taste them. You can’t smell them. You can’t touch them. You can only do them. Cloud brands must be experienced to be truly understood. In addition, most cloud brands follow a recurring revenue subscription model which precludes any ongoing discrepancy between your message and your service. Your SaaS branding strategy must be tempered by reality, such that your service absolutely delivers on the promises made in the name of your brand.

The experiential nature of cloud brands is one of the myriad reasons behind the free trial imperative of SaaS. If you are tired of explaining and explaining and explaining your cool new category or you can’t quite come up with the perfect words to describe your difference, any car salesperson will tell you that there is no better way to seal the deal with an uncertain buyer than a test drive. With cloud brands, doing is believing.

The cloud brand experience does not begin or end with your product. Read more »

Customer Self-Service | The Holy Grail of SaaS

self-service holy grailOne hundred percent customer self-service is the holy grail of SaaS. Everyone looks for it, but it is never found. Even if your product is simple enough to provide complete self-service purchase, you are unlikely to get away with complete self-service support, because you can’t hang unhappy customer’s out to dry or you will ruin your reputation. Nonetheless, the divine power of the Internet to help customers help themselves combined with the promised land of lower customer acquisition cost and lower cost of service will always enrapture the true SaaS believers and hasten them on their quest.

SaaS Top Ten Do #3 : Accelerate Organic Growth depicts the SaaS self-service holy grail as revenue generation with zero marginal costs, because your customers can find, try, buy and use your product even if no one shows up for work. But just because your customers can, doesn’t mean they will. It’s very hard to build a product that enables one hundred percent customer self-service. In some cases it is impossible. Imagine your frustration when you finally achieve it and those pesky customers simply refuse to do it.

The Self-Service Maturity Model

The closing post of my recent New Breed of B2B Buyer series introduced the concept of the self-service limit in B2B sales. The self-service limit is that point where a customer’s desire for instant gratification is thwarted by the complexity of purchasing and using your product. Purchase complexity comes in two flavors: informational and emotional. Informational complexity arises when the buyer requires education to consummate the purchase. Emotional complexity arises when the purchase entails a personal risk to the buyer. When either or both of these purchase barriers becomes high enough, the buyer simply will not make the purchase without the aid of a salesperson.

Complexity, however, is a subjective measure that is different for every single customer. In particular, and this is the point of this post, it is very different for the novice and the experienced buyer. An experienced buyer knows your company and trusts your brand. An experienced buyer knows your product and fully understands both its value and its use. As your customer base increases, so does the percentage of experienced buyers in your market, your knowledge share.

saas self-service

The percentage of experienced buyers in the market, knowledge share,
increases as a SaaS business matures.
Experienced buyers that trust and understand your brand,
are not only capable of one hundred percent self-service,
they usually prefer it, bringing you closer to this holy grail of SaaS.

Increasing knowledge share reduces both the emotional and the informational complexity of buying your product. A strong brand reputation reduces purchase risk and Read more »

SaaS Product Marketing | Upgrade and Upsell Strategy

I think it would be hard to overemphasize the importance of upgrades and upsells in SaaS product marketing. In an industry where free trials, freemium versions, bargain basement subscription prices and simply hoping to recover customer acquisition cost with first year revenue are the norm, few things are sweeter than a customer that actually wants to spend MORE money with you. Upgrades and upsells can lead to orders of magnitude difference in SaaS financial metrics. If you can acquire customers at $100/mo and rapidly upgrade them to $1,000/mo, then you may be able turn a profit in one year instead of ten years. And. if those $1,000/mo customers have a lifetime value of $100,000 instead of $10,000, then you may also turn a $50million SaaS company valuation into a $500million SaaS company valuation. ‘Nuff said.

Hunting is not just for acquiring new customers.
If an existing SaaS customer has a value gap
that can be closed by an upgrade or upsell,
then you should hunt it down and sell it.

Upgrade vs. Upsell in SaaS

Although the terms upsell and upgrade are often used interchangeable, I personally use them to distinguish between two very specific SaaS product marketing scenarios. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the following definitions:

  • Upgrade : Higher revenue from increased usage of current SaaS product capabilities.
  • Upsell : Higher revenue from new SaaS product capabilities.

The reason for my distinction is that the buying dynamic is very different for the two scenarios. Upgrade potential of a SaaS product depends on the customer’s need to increase consumption of a known solution to a known problem, and deepens commitment to a particular capability. Whereas upsell potential of a SaaS product depends on the customer’s need to find new solutions to new problems, and widens your SaaS product footprint. This is not to say that upgrades and upsells are completely independent, because the need for increased usage can be highly correlated to the need for new capabilities as a growing customer’s business often entails greater volume as well as greater complexity.

Now that we’ve got the housekeeping out of the way, here are 8 SaaS product marketing tips to help your maximize the potential of upsells and upgrades in your SaaS business.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #1 | Measure Value, Not Use

When SaaS product marketers think of upgrades and upsells, their minds immediately turn to pricing and packaging. Pricing and packaging are important, but you should always keep in mind that they are just a means to an end: purchase. The most important principle to follow in designing your SaaS product offering is to align pricing and packaging with customer value, or in B2B sales lingo “customer pain,” because the more a customer values a particular capability of your SaaS product, the more a customer will pay for it. In order to price what the market will bear, you must package your SaaS product into value bundles and price them using the measures that most closely correlate to customer value. You can use features, users, usage, performance, or any measure you like to price and package your SaaS product into bundles, but never forget that these measures serve as surrogates for customer value. A hundred bucks might buy you one feature or one hundred, but if that bundle of features doesn’t equate to value, your customers won’t pay it, or worse they might pay for it and still feel cheated or manipulated in the process.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #2 | Bundle Purchase Scenarios, Not Features

While customer value is the proper measure of your SaaS product bundles, it won’t tell you where to draw the pricing and packaging lines between your subscription plans. Read more »

SaaS Marketing Tips | The Truth Shall Set You Free

In SaaS, it’s virtually impossible to sell someone a lemon, because SaaS customers typically get to try before they buy, and they can walk at any time simply by canceling their subscription. In contrast, traditional enterprise software vendors are notorious for obscure product capabilities and pricing, because up-front purchase creates a short term financial incentive to avoid disclosing any more information than the minimum necessary to close the deal. The enterprise customer thus enters a long and intricate dance with the enterprise sales rep in order to develop the trust required to overcome the risk of signing that fat license check. When combined with the uncertainty of buying a business critical application over the Web, most SaaS startups quickly find themselves between a rock and a hard place by the need to engender an even higher level of trust than their enterprise competitor, while simultaneously having nowhere to hide their shortcomings.

saas marketing open
A SaaS marketing strategy of complete and total business transparency
removes constraints to unleash the volume and deal size of online transactions.

So don’t! The best SaaS marketing strategy for building trust is complete and total transparency. With the right attitude, this apparent weakness can be deftly turned into a competitive strength that accelerates growth by streamlining SaaS adoption costs and risks. When you apply the SaaS marketing tactic of public online disclosure of your product capabilities, pricing, terms, service level agreements, support process, performance metrics, platform security, privacy policy, company history, customer satisfaction ratings, etc., you remove constraints to unleash the volume and deal size of online transactions by simplifying the buying process, preempting risk-related objections, and building a reputation of the highest integrity.   Moreover, you ensure high rates of customer satisfaction and success by avoiding the project failures that have historically characterized enterprise software by only signing customers that are a good fit for your service.

Ask yourself how much you spend right now on Google AdWords without ever having spoken to a sales rep. How does this compare to your own average selling price for online transactions?  Now, ask yourself why.  The answer is transparency, from company reputation to cost-per-click.

PS Trish Bertuzzi from Bridgegroup asked for specific examples, so please see the comments if you are interested in the response. And, feel free to add your own examples of SaaS vendors that are doing a good job at transparency.

More posts in the SaaS Marketing Tips Series:

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