9 Lean Marketing Tactics for Growing a SaaS Business
“Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before.”
– Shigeo Shingo, the Godfather of lean manufacturing
Real growth happens when you wade out a little deeper into the water. When you go a little past where you’re comfortable and allow yourself to learn from the experience. For you, doing any amount of marketing might feel like wading out a little deeper than you are comfortable with. That’s perfectly normal and I hear it all the time. The good news is you’ve downloaded the right eBook. I’ll help demystify the marketing process and give you a system you can follow to launch an MVP (minimum viable product) marketing campaign that you can be proud of. More importantly, you can use it to drive more leads and grow your business.
A sincere thank you for your interest in the Lean Marketing Playbook for SaaS
By reading this eBook, you’re agreeing to wade out a little deeper with me and I am grateful to you for taking that step. This is only the first step of many (nine, in fact) to get a foundational content marketing campaign live and begin growing your SaaS. By taking the process step-by-step, we can build a completely operational and scalable marketing funnel. A sincere thank you for your interest in the Lean Marketing Playbook for SaaS.
When I go on 100km+ bike rides, it’s always the last 10km that are the hardest. My legs start to feel like jelly. To push me through to finish, I like to think of that jelly feeling like steel in a forge — sure it’s molten and gooey right now, but wait until it cools off. It will harden, stronger, and in better shape. Follow the simple tips in this eBook and you will emerge a stronger, more effective growth marketer. None of this is rocket science and I have made it exceedingly simple.
The point of this book
This book has two primary goals:
- To give you value and knowledge about content marketing for SaaS companies, such that you have exactly what you need to build the marketing systems you need to grow your business predictably.
- To convince you to hire my agency to build those campaigns with you. In the pages of this eBook, I’m giving you a peek into our process and laying out the exact steps my agency uses to build SaaS campaigns for our clients.
Even with all of the advice and templates and tools at your disposal, you still might prefer to have us take care of the content for you. Every so often in these pages, I’ll drop in a reminder that all of this can be taken care of for you — that you can hire my team to coach you and produce the content for you. For now, though, keep reading and I’ll teach you the entire system we follow with all of our SaaS clients, to build them an operational, scalable marketing and sales funnel. And we do it with an assembly-line efficiency that would make even Shigeo Shingo proud
A COMPLETE CAMPAIGN AND MARKETING SYSTEM
Our goal is to take you from a lack of traction to predictable growth, where it is easier for you to land new customers and to repeat that process over and over, to lower your costs of acquisition and to drive up your lifetime value. Our tactic in order to achieve this is to create a complete marketing and sales funnel. What we want to do is take prospects and convert them to leads and then of course convert them to customers. To do that we need content that will support them along that customer journey.
This is what I’m describing when I say a sales funnel. You can see at the top of our funnel, at the widest part, we have prospects. We’re not talking about the general public here, these are people who could do business with you. This is your “addressable market,” if you like. In order for us to convert these prospects to sales, what we need to first establish is a micro-conversion towards the top of this funnel, to bring them into our awareness phase. A subscription. We’re going to go into greater detail as to how we do that as we go, but for now, as a visual, this is our challenge. It is to take prospects from the top of our funnel down to the bottom — the purchase stage.
Turning subscribers into qualified leads or trials
We do that by breaking it down into a couple of different conversions. The first is the subscription. The next is the demo or the trial. I say demo or trial because depending on your business model it might not make sense for you to have a sales call with every lead.
Converting them to a do-it yourself trial might be the move. What we need to do is think systematically about how we have to convince our prospects at each one of these stages, and the things that we need to do to convince them. With the right content, we can help them move along that journey a little faster.
Converting leads to customers
The final conversion in our funnel is the purchase. That’s what you really want to see. It’s the bottom-line metric that matters most here: revenue. Later in this book, we delve deeper into how we use content to have better sales demos with leads. For now, I wanted you to have an idea of what a sales funnel looks like, visualized. It’s a series of conversions — and we’re going to use content to help make each of them happen. Here’s another way of visualizing that in a more linear fashion, where we see that at the start, we have prospects that may be at our awareness stage. They know about us; they know that they have a problem that perhaps technology can solve.
Only later can we groom them and move them along to the consideration stage. That’s where they might actually be thinking of taking a look at different software tools, for example. It’s only now that they begin to consider our solution as something that might be able to solve the problem they are experiencing. Then of course we try to move them along to the decision stage, which is where they make that buying decision and become a customer. To do that, we need a way of closing sales. My top suggestion is to actually have conversations. Call them sales demos, customer interviews, discovery calls… call them whatever you want but the way to grow your business is by responding to the questions and feedback of your existing and potential customers
I have included a visual here that will let you know what the journey looks like in terms of the content we will be preparing as we go. On the left is our awareness content. This could be an e-book, a webinar, or some kind of offer that initially gets them to subscribe to our list.
Now we can actually start marketing to them because we have that permission component. It’s only once we have their attention and they understand who we are as a company that we can start to introduce our product content.
We also have to convince them of the value of attending a demo or attempting a trial. In other words, we actually dedicate an entire email just talking about the value of attending a demo with us or attempting a trial. We are not selling the product yet, we are selling the demo, and I hope you can understand the power of that.
We are strictly trying to get them on the phone so that we can have that initial sales call.
Content that helps fuel buying decisions
As they progress along we can begin to give them some decision-making content. The most effective way to do this is with case studies of customers who look similar to them. Other forms of decision-making content are ROI (Return on Investment) documents, or maybe a competitor comparison matrix.
A book-a-demo button on your homepage is terrific as a call to action and I love seeing them, but there’s a lot of trust that needs to be gained before somebody will take that step. What we’re doing instead is going for a micro-conversion first, and telling our story through a series of emails, so that it becomes that much easier to get that demo booked and ultimately to make that sale.
Nine steps to a complete marketing system
Here are the nine lean marketing tactics we use — call it our nine-step process, to build a completely operational, automated marketing program. Follow these steps to create an inbound sales funnel of your own and start promoting it on all of your channels.
01 CLARIFY BRAND
Start with brand clarity so your prospects will know you’re right for them. Who are you? What do you stand for?
Conduct a survey of your key stakeholders and find some alignment around your brand. Decide on the messaging that will define your company’s brand. Are you part of a current technology trend? Are there causes or values that you feel passionately about? Choose your main talking points and stick to them. Engage in some workshop exercises that will allow you to very quickly come into alignment around what your branding and your message will be. The decisions you make in this step form the basis for the remaining eight. Start with brand clarity so your prospects will know you’re right for them. Who are you? What do you stand for?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can skip this step. Before you go too deep into anything else, get clear on who you are, what you do, and where you want to go. Find some branding exercises you can do to help you begin to establish a brand identity.
02 DEFINE CUSTOMER
Establish your ideal client profile and start making your marketing decisions with them in mind.
Having a specific avatar of your ideal client profile (ICP), their specific characteristics AND mindset will help you create messaging that will resonate with them. The more you specialize here, the more you can connect with them, their specific needs and pain points. The narrower your focus, the better.
Who are you trying to sell to? In the second step, identify your personas; the characteristics that your ideal customers share that make them ideal for you. What kind of customer are you able to help the most now? What kind of customer is the readiest to pay for what you have? The more you focus on a specific type of customer the easier it becomes for your message to resonate with them — for them to feel as though we are indeed the solution to their problem. Establish your ideal client profile and start making your marketing decisions with them in mind.
The homework here is to commit to one persona that you will use for this campaign. List the characteristics and mindset that make them ideal. Find a niche! Focus on a specific job title in a specific market for the best results. Here’s an example… is this YOU?
Technical Founder, CEO of early-stage SaaS company (post-revenue)
- Storytelling and content matter
- Marketing systems have value
- Traction takes time and investment
- Follow the lean or agile methodology
- Move quickly, obsessed with growth
- Some revenue but no plan
- No VP-level marketing
- No serious traction yet
- No sales scripts
- No traffic
03 PLAN STORIES
At the top of the funnel, we are raising our prospect’s awareness and converting them as a lead. To do that, you’ll create a high-value ebook that your prospect will WANT. The working title we often use is:
How [CLIENT PERSONA] can [ACHIEVE TRANSFORMATION] using [TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION]
E.g. How Early-stage SaaS Companies can Grow Faster Using Marketing Automation
In one of the emails in our email automation, you’re going to talk about product features and how they solve a customer’s problem. You’ll also provide some social proof and some business proof in the form of a case study in order to help them make that buying decision.
Make a six email (minimum) automation. When a prospect downloads your ebook, the first email is received instantly and contains a link to the free download. That is email one.
You’ll follow that up with an email I call “more like that.” Another interesting fact, story or trend that they will find relevant. In the next email, send a product guide. That guide can also be a downloadable PDF. People have asked me why I suggest making your product document a PDF and the reason is simple: It makes it a more high-value piece that our prospect can share with their boss or department to help you make the sale, along with the ebook and a case study. Make sense?
The next email is one that actually promotes your demo or trial, whichever it is that you’re trying to get as your next conversion. It’s an email that simply talks about the benefits of the demo itself. What they’ll be missing if they don’t act.
Why an email about your demo (or trial)?
I hope you recognize the power of having the opportunity to focus an email on the specific benefits of your trial or demo. This is the story that you previously didn’t have a chance to tell. You were probably leaving all of that work to a single button on your site. Now when you invite them to take the next step, they have considerable more context for why they might be compelled to.
04 QUALIFY PROSPECTS
Decide what you want to ask in your first lead form, in order to determine if prospects are a good fit.
When a visitor opts-in to your list (because you were promoting content specifically to them, as instructed above) what one thing would you most like to know from them to determine if they are a good lead? Too many fields can negatively affect conversions. Ask only what is necessary to ensure quality leads and a clean list. You now have a customer persona, but now we’re getting into some of the specific logistics around what is a qualified prospect. Company size, willingness to buy, whether they have the budget, maybe even certain belief systems. It’s also a good idea at this stage to establish some marketing KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) that you want to track in order to measure performance.
In your marketing automation tool, build a lead capture form that you will use as your first top-of-funnel conversion. Stick with name and email for the forms, unless you expect that the volume of leads will be very high and you want to add another qualifying question to help you prioritize your leads.
05 CAPTURE LEADS
On a dedicated landing page, seek a micro-conversion first: Leads subscribe to claim an offer (e.g. ebook).
Rather than trying to convert traffic to a software demo, seek a smaller conversion first. You are currently reading an example of this: a document that is for a very specific persona that promises some value in exchange for a subscription. Remember to use things like job titles or specific industries in your copy to remove any ambiguity.
In this step, create a landing page that talks about the value of downloading your lead generation ebook. This is where your form will live. Prospects will see your landing page, be compelled to subscribe and convert to your list. On the landing page, list the key things the reader can learn in the pages of the ebook.
06 AUTOMATE MARKETING
Once leads convert to your list, send them automated emails that add more value and build trust.
If you’ve correctly targeted your ICP and offered a piece of content that speaks specifically to them, you can continue to give them value with a series of automated emails. Here, you can also begin to promote the value of trying your software or seeing a demo. Build trust before you ask and always communicate the value to them. This is where the magic (there’s no magic!) happens. When someone subscribes, we want an automated way to nurture them along their customer journey and educate them about the value we can offer them. You’re already way ahead of me here. In step six, build out an email nurture sequence in your marketing automation tool.
Use the six aforementioned emails, at intervals of a day or two between each, so that they span the two-week period following the time that they subscribed.
07 PUBLISH CAMPAIGNS
Make some noise about your campaign — add forms to your site, tell your partners, tell your list, share on social.
From your case studies and ebook “big rocks,” chisel off many smaller pieces of content for use in blogs, videos, and social media. Always link back to the place where the full content can be downloaded. Think about the places where your ideal clients gather. Do you have any partners that will let you promote your new content to their lists?
To get everything “live,” you should have:
- Your landing page published, containing your form
- Your email automation sequence ready to go, including personalization and immediate delivery of your lead generation ebook
- Many “snippets” of the content in each of your docs, for use on your social media channels, in newsletters, and anywhere else it makes sense to distribute it (groups, forums, email lists?)
08 DRIVE TRAFFIC
When the above fundamentals are in place, you can confidently invest in the right traffic sources.
What’s the ideal traffic source for finding more of your ideal client profile? It could be SEO, video, social media, partner co-marketing, or ads. Once you have these fundamentals in place, you can more confidently invest in driving results and establishing your cost per acquisition (CPA) of new customers. Imagine the power of knowing that when you send traffic to your landing page, that there are mechanisms in place to capture that traffic. And to groom them towards the next conversion that you’re trying to accomplish. This is the fun stage, where you can start driving traffic. There are plenty of organic traffic-generating activities and now that you have a sales funnel you can also try paid acquisition. You can approach all of these activities with more confidence (and massively improved return on investment) because you have a conversion system in place.
Here is a good rule of thumb: Post to your social media channels every day. Keep it highly relevant. You can link to your landing page and ebook offer often, but also mix it up with awareness content and curated articles that are relevant to your audience and aligned with your brand message. Want to establish some SEO juice early? Splice your lead generation ebook up into several excerpts for your blog. Publish your product document and case study as blog posts too. When you can, use keywords that searchers who have a buying intent will use. For example, the category of software your product falls under, or the industry trend that it’s a part of. This part can take some research, but if your content is good and comprehensive, over time you can establish some organic traffic.
09 TEST AND ITERATE
Add more relevant case studies, test your messaging, measure and constantly seek to improve.
Your goal now is to define and then improve your customer acquisition cost (CAC). When you have a formulaic system for acquiring customers, you become an attractive investment. More exit strategies or funding will become a possibility. And now that you have a playbook, you can iterate it for new niches, markets, and ICPs on your path to becoming a unicorn. Sometimes people ask me what this system has to do with the lean methodology. Our definition of lean marketing is exactly as you probably interpret it to mean: we start with a minimum viable product, we measure and test obsessively, and we seek to eliminate waste. Now that your campaign is live, start analyzing your results. Pay attention to the conversion rate of your landing page, the open rate and click-through rate of your emails, and your conversion rate from subscriber to demo or trial. Once you start consistently driving leads to demos on your calendar, start working on how you qualify those leads so you can convert more of them to sales. If you’re doing the selling yourself, identify any objections you come across often and address them in additional emails in your automation. If you’re handing the leads off to a sales team, check in with them often to find out how you can add value in the process and help to qualify your leads. Use the data to inform where you need to improve. Continue to improve and obsess over your growth. Keep in mind that the most valuable data you can collect is qualitative feedback from your customers and prospects. Your marketing should make every attempt to start conversations with your prospects — it’s the best way to learn what you need to know about them, to meet their needs, and to sell to them.