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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. Some customers may place high value on pretty charts, while others may not value them all. The customer of a helpdesk SaaS product may value the first ten support rep users considerably more than the next fifty sales users. The first month’s use of a tax computation SaaS product may be significantly more valuable than use for the rest of the year. Competition may drive the margin for email features to zero, while unique social media capabilities may garner a premium.

The goal of any SaaS product pricing and packaging strategy is to maximize total profit by dividing it up into separate profit streams that add up to more than the profit of a single SaaS product offered at a single price. This is accomplished by segmenting the market into purchase scenarios of various customer groups and then further segmenting the stream of purchases of a single customer over time (upselling and upgrades!). More simply, you should bundle purchase scenarios, not features. OK, enough of the pricing 101. Let’s talk about how to drive upgrades and upsells.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #3 | Open The Front Door Wide

You can’t upgrade or upsell if you don’t have a customer, so it is critical to make it as easy as possible to adopt your SaaS product. Customer’s will come to you with varying degrees of sophistication and immediate need, so make sure you have an entry level offering that services the lowest, most common rung on the ladder. You may not wish to spend a lot of time and money on these customers in the beginning, especially if you have a freemium strategy. But, trial and purchase are merely the first steps to a long and profitable customer relationship when upgrades and upsells drive customer lifetime value well above that of the initial purchase.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #4 | Grow With Your Customers

If your customer only has ten salespeople, you will have a hard time upgrading your sales automation SaaS product to twenty users. If your customer has just launched it’s new website using your content management SaaS product, then advanced BI of usage statistics might be a tough sell. However, as your customer expands both its business and its understanding of your SaaS product, its need for greater usage and greater capability will expand as well. Therefore, you should map out the growth path your customer’s needs and align it with increasing SaaS product value. When your SaaS product value bundles and prices align with your customers’ growth trajectory, they will upgrade naturally, painlessly and frequently of their own accord, feeling that you have served them well and delivered what they need in return for a fair price.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #5 | Design For Discovery

Aligning value with need is a two way street. Your customer must have the need, but it must also see the value, and not necessarily in that order. You should design your SaaS product so that your customer naturally discovers and digests new capabilities just-in-time as its needs grow. Done well, this not only maximizes upgrades and upsells, it streamlines usability and simplifies adoption. There is nothing worse than being clobbered over the head with hundreds of features and options, when you only need and understand one. Or, being charged for stuff that you simply don’t need.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #6 | Track Penetration Against Potential

If you’ve done a good job segmenting your customers and their growth paths over time, then tying these standards back to actual data closes the loop and enables you to drive upgrades and upsells by personalizing your SaaS product experience, your marketing communications, and your sales interactions to the immediate needs of individual customers. Moreover, you can estimate potential customer lifetime value by type of customer and measure your upgrade and upsell penetration against it. One of the great advantages of SaaS is the ability to measure and understand in great detail exactly how your SaaS product is used, and then personalize the experience for the customer. Intelligent and considered application of customer profile and usage information can transform the discovery process from poking around a static user interface to an ongoing dialog between you and your customer. For example, the content management system above might automatically recommend checking out your BI module and offer a free trial once site traffic and back end reporting usage reaches a certain level. But, this can only be done if potential customer value is known and compared to the actual penetration in the form of customer use.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #7 | Enable Self-Service

This idea is an extension of SaaS Do #3 – Accelerate Organic Growth that claims that you should build your SaaS product such that customers can buy from you even if you don’t show up for work. If your customer has the need, and your upgrade offers the value, and your customer sees that value because you’ve pointed it out just-in-time, then you certainly don’t want your customer to fumble around because it can’t figure out how to buy it. Great self-service should allow your customer to see current subscription status and usage, evaluate the cost and terms of new capabilities, see what other customers have to say about them, try them out, buy them, and receive help getting them up and running.

SaaS Product Marketing Tip #8 | Don’t Farm When You Should Hunt

Just because your customers can upgrade and upsell themselves even if you don’t show up for work doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t show up for work! When the gap between upgrade and upsell potential and penetration is limited by external customer constraints, you should farm. If you waste your time trying to sell customers stuff they don’t need in SaaS, all you will accomplish in the end is high acquisition costs, high churn and low profitability. On the other hand, when a significant value gap exists between potential and penetration simply due to a lack of understanding of either the need or the solution, you should hunt. For example, if you sell an event management system and your customer only has three events per year, your wasting your time trying to upgrade it from 5 events to 10 events. But, your customer might benefit from the social media add-on module if you can demonstrate the value. IMHO, this is the fundamental dividing line between hunting and farming. 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. And, you should compensate sales reps for the incremental recurring revenue. If upgrades and upselling are constrained by your customer’s current state of growth such that no value gap exists, then you should farm a low churn rate by focusing on service. But, don’t farm when you should hunt, or you’ll miss out on the full potential of upgrades and upsells.

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