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Archive for the category: SaaS Marketing

SaaS Marketing Tips | Metrics that Make a Difference

Most marketers are obsessed with metrics, and this is particularly the case for online marketers. Metrics not only demonstrate performance, they often form the basis for decision making, creating buy-in and defusing politics. But, for the life of me I can’t recall ever seeing a decent presentation on metrics in any marketing book or course. In this post, I’m going to present a simple, process-centric approach to metrics that will help you develop the specific metrics that are right for your particular business and provide insight on where and when each metric makes a difference. This approach to metrics owes more to statistical process control (total quality) and activity-based costing than to marketing, but the the concepts are considerably (over)simplified. The goal is to achieve a comprehensive, integrated, insightful process view with as little math as possible.

Three simple concepts to master for developing great metrics

A process is a stable, repeatable set of dependent activities
Process = Activity 1 > Activity 2 > Activity 3 > … > Activity N

Activities consistently turn inputs into outputs at a certain efficiency and speed
Output = Input > Activity
Efficiency = Output Volume / Input Volume
Speed = 1 / Cycle Time

Activities are produced by resources that have a certain cost and capacity.
The bottleneck resource constrains overall output, therefore maximizing output
and minimizing costs amounts to improving throughput at bottleneck resources.
Total Cost of Output N = Resource1 Cost +…+ ResourceX Cost + … + ResourceN Cost
Unit Cost = Total Cost / Output Volume
Max Output N == Max Activity X == Capacity of Bottleneck ResouceX

Kinda theoretical right? OK, so here is a concrete example that I think will be useful to many readers. Below is an inbound new purchase process model for a typical B2B SaaS company.

saas metrics

General process metric model applied to a top-level B2B purchase process.
For a lower level process example, click here to see the model applied to email marketing metrics.

Chances are you’ve heard or seen most of these metrics before, but they were probably jumbled around on a spreadsheet in random order with a few critical metrics missing and few irrelevant ones thrown in for…uh…good measure. However, when you see them laid out as they relate to the purchase process, their meaning and inter-relationships become much clearer.

Tips for Defining and Using Great Metrics

Keep it simple

So, the reality is that since we are talking about sales and marketing, and not manufacturing nuts and bolts, our processes are never as clean and predictable as this little model appears. It will at best be an approximation to reality. But, you have control over that approximation. Read more »

SaaS Marketing Tips | Don’t Be CRUD on the Cloud

In this post, I will offer up two SaaS marketing tips to help you achieve Do #3 Accelerate Organic Growth of the Top Ten Dos and Don’ts of SaaS Success where organic growth is defined as revenue generated with zero marginal acquisition cost. In other words, customer self-service. The first marketing tip is to map out the purchase experience from the customer’s point of view from beginning to end: awareness to trial to purchase to use. The second is to let go of any pre-conceptions you may have about the separateness of your SaaS product from other Internet content, yours or otherwise. It’s a mashup world! My reason for combining these two SaaS marketing tips into a single post is that much, if not most of your customers’ online experience related to your product happens outside your product, and even off your website.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Map Out the Purchase Process from Your Customer’s Point of View
In most online businesses, marketers focus on impressions, click-through rates, registrations and leads, while the sales team organizes itself around a pipeline. Each of these metrics provides an important snapshot at a particular stage in the customer lifecycle. However, functional divisions within the company often prevent a integrated view of the entire process. And, metrics are often seen as a measure of business efficiency as opposed to customer success, i.e., marketing converts a visitor to a registered user as opposed to a customer consciously decides that in order to get closer to solving a problem it is worth giving up personal information in exchange for the value received on the other side of the registration form. Create a table that depicts the detailed stages your customers go through before, during and after purchase with particular attention paid to their likely online location and intent at each stage. Then, map out the information they require to progress successfully to the next stage and get closer to achieving their intended goals. Finally, put in place metrics to track end-to-end progress that can be portrayed in a single, integrated view.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Create a Seamless Internet-Product Experience
At its core, the Internet doesn’t really care if you are distributing a Google Ad or an ERP application, it is all just information. Read more »

SaaS Marketing Tips | Search Is About People, Not Engines

You have to understand why and how your customer uses search if you want to be successful at search marketing. Unfortunately, ninety-nine percent of what you read about search are tips on how to work the system, attract the engines and increase rankings. Alot of it is good information, but it doesn’t provide solid direction to your marketing programs, because without your customer a search engine is simply a mindless algorithmic tool. You will often see this shortcoming with PPC firms that focus exclusively on trial and error to develop your programs, the proverbial throwing of the spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Experimentation is fundamental in exploring and optimizing alternate search strategies, but without a firm grounding in customer buying needs and behavior, this approach is simply garbage in, garbage out. The SaaS marketing tips below are designed to help you turn your thinking about search inside-out by considering the experience from customers’ perspective.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Honor Customer Intent
One of the most interesting descriptions of search fundamentals can be found in Jon Battelle’s book, Search. In it he describes the sum total of keywords and click streams captured on the Internet as the “Database of Intentions.” I really like this word: intent, and I recommend to every search marketer to stop thinking about keywords and start thinking about intent. Or, more specifically to think of keywords as a shorthand for intent. How do you use search? How do you select keywords? If you think about it,you’ll quickly see that the process goes something like this: I have a problem that I need information to resolve. To get that information, I need to clarify my intent in my own mind and distill it down to the simplest possible set of keywords, otherwise I don’t get the results I want. Your potential customers may sit down in front of a search engine with a wide range of problems and associated intentions: exploring entertainment options, looking for a job, or finding your product. If you don’t honor their intent and provide help with the specific problem they are trying to solve, then your ad is no better than a billboard. Sometimes they may very well be looking for exactly the product you offer, these are the highest value intentions(keywords) to capture, and identifying them should be your first order of business, i.e., your first set of keywords should always be those that prospects type into a search engine when they are specifically looking for your product category. To identify them, at a minimum you have to think like your customer and at a maximum do some market research. Throwing spaghetti is weak. Beyond this set of keywords, you cannot offer your product in your search ad. You must offer alternative content that is useful to solving the searchers problem at hand, but establishes a relationship that you can nurture to a future purchase.

SaaS Marketing Tip: Every Website Page is a Landing Page
In software, we like to create these things called use cases. A use case describes how a user will use a system to accomplish a specific task. Most people design their websites for the use case of someone arriving at their home page with the intent of learning about their product, and then navigating around to learn all they need to know before making a purchase decision. However, if you’re even remotely successful at SEO you will quickly find that many of your visitors are arriving at keyword optimized internal pages after finding them in their search results. Read more »

Transform your SaaS into a Web 2.0 business

Quiz: What is the most successful enterprise SaaS application to date?
Hint: It’s not

It is ironic, but the unfortunate fact is that most SaaS vendors see the Web as little more than the browser through which they deliver an enterprise software application. In fact, the phrase itself software-as-a-service, creates a subtle bias toward viewing the business as simply a piece of traditional software delivered on-demand over a network. Connecting an application to the Web unleashes disruptive economic forces that go far beyond multi-tenant architecture and reduced TCO. It enables viral organic growth, low cost customer acquisition, business productivity gains across-the-firewall, and new monetization models to augment simple license subscription. That is why the most creative SaaS vendors are realizing that the real opportunities for business innovation lie outside the firewall and are transforming their SaaS offerings into Web 2.0 businesses.

Below is a list of principles that can help you transform your low-cost, commodity SaaS into a high-value Web-based business.

Accelerate organic growth

  • Master “free” online marketing tactics
  • Streamline and automate the entire customer life-cycle

Reach out and become a hub on the Web

  • Links, links, links
  • Encourage community

Build the business into the product

  • Automate the customer lifecycle
  • Crowd-source new capabilities

Reach across the firewall to unleash disruptive economic forces

  • Re-engineer external processes
  • Integrate through the cloud

Monetize creatively

  • Leverage the network
  • Look beyond subscriptions

After I’ve had a chance to elaborate on each of these ideas in a separate post, I’ll provide the answer to my somewhat trick question above.  However, I’m hoping that the solution will emerge as obvious.

SaaS Success in Web 2.0 – Reach across the firewall

For better or for worse, I am old enough to remember the reengineering craze of the early nineties.  For those of you that are under 30, this was a monumental hype cycle throughout the technology consulting industry centered on redesigning business processes for order-of-magnitude gains in productivity by leveraging new client-server technology.  It was codified in the famous book:  Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy.

Brainstorming and out-of-the-box thinking were the order of the day, because creativity was the key ingredient to realizing the potential gains. However, creativity has not been the mantra of the SaaS revolution, the mantra of SaaS has been lowering TCO (total cost of ownership). Basically, take what you do now, make it multi-tenant, outsource it, and pay less.

While this is a great business proposition for customers, it places SaaS vendors squarely into highly-competitive, price-sensitive commodity businesses.  If you want to differentiate your offering, you must look beyond the client-server application you are replacing and ask yourself: How can I revolutionize the current business processes of my customer by connecting my SaaS offering to the larger Web? Or, more concretely by connecting it to users and applications outside the firewall. Read more »

SaaS Success in Web 2.0 – Become a hub on the Web

If you are a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider and deliver your product over the Web, then by definition you are Web publisher, so act like one. Web publishers, whether their business is news, games, e-commerce, or a simple blog, are obsessed with increasing site traffic and converting it to registered users. On the Web, there is one and only one source of site traffic: links.

Links from search results, links from search ads, links from banner ads, links from websites, links from blogs, links from feeds, links from widgets, links from bookmarks, links from toolbars–links, links, links.  Becoming a hub on the Web means creating a nexus of incoming, high quality links to your website from sources that are relevant to your business, and most importantly relevant to your prospects’ needs. There is nothing else online as cheap or as effective in generating demand.

Links come in two categories: paid/transient and free/permanent.  The more free links you have, the fewer paid links you need.  Most SaaS vendors immediately jump on the SEM bandwagon to get paid search traffic.  They also apply SEO techniques to optimize keywords on their websites, but only obscure keywords are useful without high PageRank, and high PageRank requires (that’s right, you guessed it!) links.

What is your link strategy?  Links opportunities abound and arise naturally from your online business, but you have to be conscious of their critical improtance to captialize on them. For example, who is part of your potential online community e.g., customers, partners, investors, employees, colleagues, expert blogs, social networks, events, associations, directories, etc. and have you engaged them in a manner that generates online content and discussion that results in links? Do your traditional online marketing and PR activities generate tons of effective links?

Clicking on a link is often the first step in the online sales cycle.  Understanding and improving your Web presence is as important as (more important if you are a startup) improving your sales pipeline close ratios, because you have to get the leads in order to close them. So, are you measuring your Web visibility as acurately as your pipeline? Can you identify a qualified link as effectively as you can identify a qualified lead? Do you have a concrete plan to get more links and increase your PageRank?  If not, it is almost certain that the ROI on spending your marketing dollars to increase your organic web presence will be much higher than increasing your budget for SEM or banner ads.

This is post number 3 in a series of 5 on transforming SaaS for Web 2.0 success.

Hey SaaS Vendors – What is your Web 2.0 IQ?

I spend about half my time working with SaaS companies and the other half working with Web 2.0 startups, and it disturbs me greatly when I see just how little interaction these two communities share.  The two things that I see again and again that disturb me the most are  a) most SaaS vendors are embarrasingly Web-unsavvy and b) most Web 2.0 vendors prefer to cobble together their own internal business systems out of open-source rather than sign up for really cheap, really good SaaS products and focus on their core business.

OK SaaS vendors, here is a Web-savvy self-test…

(questions in order of increasing difficulty)

a) Can your customers find you on the Web, learn about out on the Web, try you on the Web, and buy you on the Web without any help or physical intervention whatsover?  I’m not saying you shouldn’t sell or offer help if it speeds up your pipeline; I’m asking if you didn’t offer help, can they can buy without it.  If they can’t, you have inserted unnecessary offline obstacles into online your sales process.

b) All your qualified prospects are on the Web.  Are you an expert at online marketing?  Are you actively using your Web-based product to increase your organic Google juice?  Or, simply paying for SEM. Do you have a real blog and social media strategy?  Or, just a lame, uncomfortable attempt at a corporate blog.
Read more »

On-demand software marketing – What doesnt work?

In an earlier post, I listed my top three sure-fire marketing tactics for on demand software.
Here are my top three that don’t…

  1. Extensive offline marketing
  2. Chasing elephants
  3. Premature channel development

Offline marketing is almost always expensive, and as an on-demand service your revenue/user is usually far  too low to cover it.  Second, if a prospect is not online, he or she is missing a very fundamental qualification criterion for signing up for a Web application—they aren’t online!  I say extensive, because sometimes there are focused events or offline promotions that can provide a real return, or have ancillary benefits such as showing industry presence and credibility.  It really depends on your industry, product and target prospects.  But, they are few and far between.

Chasing elephants is by far the biggest mistake an on-demand business can make.  You find a prospect that has cash. But there are missing features, a long sales cycle and special legal requirements, etc.  When you need cash this direction is tempting.  But, one too many stumbles away from your core strategy and you wake up to find that you are a ten customer consulting business constrained by the special needs of a few powerful customers—not a rapidly growing web application.

Finally, no one wants to resell your product or service either as an affiliate or a full scale VAR, unless they can make money at it.  Until YOU are making money at it, you will have a hard time convincing a channel partner to invest precious time and resources building specific capacity to do so.  It may be that your ultimate distribution model is fundamentally channel-based, by you almost always need to kick-start revenue yourself to prove your potential.  And, you will need to share the unique aspects of marketing and selling your product with your channel partners—which you can’t do if you haven’t been through it yourself.

On-demand software marketing: what works, what doesn’t

What works?  Here are my top three…

  1. Search (SEO and SEM)
  2. Public relations
  3. Easy, online trial

IMHO, these three are the proven blocking and tackling marketing activities to get an on demand business off the ground.  These three are fundamental and should be done first, because they all have marketing leverage beyond the individual activity.  SEO/SEM works because your customers are already looking for you–online.  You are just facilitating the buying process.

PR works, because it is fundamentally viral and cheap.  And, I don’t mean just doing press releases or press relations, because the traditional online media world has blurred to such a degree with bloggers, social networks, etc.  I define PR as simply having a strong story to tell, and finding viral free ways to tell it.  Also, credibility is critical.  In the end, most marketers don’t really do most of the marketing of their products.  Ecstatic customers do it for them.  And, opinion leaders reinforce your trend to put you over the top.

Finally, there is trial.   Even if you don’t a have complete self-service on-demand offering up and running, trial will allow you to apply resources at the highest value stage of the purchase process—right before close.  If you get them to trial, don’t let them get away.  Then, use your experiences to learn what you need to do to automate the trial to close to deployment process.

In my next post on the topic, I’ll give my top three that don’t work.

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