3 SaaS marketing challenges and how to overcome them

I’ve been in the business of spreading the word about SaaS solutions for years, and I love it.

I love the dynamic of it. As soon as the team has developed, tested, released, and, when relevant, communicated one improvement, everyone’s working on the next item on the roadmap.

Surprises turn up; bugs creep in, the competition puts on pressure with new features. The roadmap gets tweaked, certain features delayed others pushed forward.

There’s a feeling of constant movement to it – and that keeps it fresh. You never know if the plans of yesterday will live up to the demands of today.

But I’d be a liar if I’d say it’s not challenging at times.

You invest yourself in a carefully thought-through plan for your marketing efforts, then realize a big chunk of it will need revision, rescheduling, and rethinking.

It’s the name of the game if you’re a marketer in the booming SaaS industry. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a strategy to deal with what essentially is very predictable bumps on the road.

Based on my experience, I’d like to share a few of my techniques to overcome what I believe are three recurring challenges that the vast majority of SaaS marketers will face (every week).

1. Keep up with software sprints

SaaS solutions are literally in constant development. Since the 1990s, agile software development methods have been trending, and there’s a good chance that the principles of Scrum (or a similar methodology) guides your dev team.

That means bi-weekly iterations keep them busy. They basically have to deliver working software adaptations on a monthly, if not weekly basis.

They’re expected to stay open to last-minute changes while adhering to requirements of clean code, high-quality user experience, security requirements, and business goals.

Now you, as a marketer, need to plug yourself into this high-paced environment. And if you want a chance in hell to do a good job, you better start looking for friends amongst the developers (and general managers).

Because just like Scrum replaced an outdated, inflexible top-down approach to developing software with an agile, open approach, you need to do the same with your marketing mindset.

Your marketing cannot be top-down, defined beginning of the year and then executed accordingly regardless of what goes on with your solution. You need to adapt as frequently as everyone else in your company.

Frustration is a part of the game. And I’ll be the first to admit, it can be hard to handle gracefully when a last minute change puts a carefully planned, multilingual campaign on its head.

But you learn to roll with it. And then you do this:

Automate as much as possible.

Although it may seem chaotic at first, working as a SaaS marketer has a ton of low-hanging fruits on offer. Because SaaS solutions are purely digital, people discover, buy, and consume them digitally.

That means you’re free from the restrictions of a physical storefront, physical products that need to be stored and possibly have an expiry date.

Moreover, if there’s one thing digitalization has to offer, it’s automation. So start by setting up a relevant flow of:

  • automated emails
  • mobile and web notifications
  • in-app notifications

Use them to:

  • help newcomers understand your product.
  • make it easy for users to reach support when in trouble.
  • give context-based and personalized offers.

This information flow can be controlled mainly by the marketing team, independently of whichever release is up-and-coming.

These are activities that put you back behind the driver’s wheel – and that’s always an excellent place to be 😉

If you automate communication wherever meaningful, you’ll free up time for last-minute campaign adaptations and all the rest of it.

You’ll also support the growth of your user base, your brand trust, and overall user experience.

But be careful not to spam. Just don’t, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Keep users in the loop on bug fixes.

There are no two ways around it. Your software will suffer from bugs. Some will be mostly inconsequential to your users, and some will be a real pain in the butt.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming that ain’t your problem, Ms. Marketing.

There’s no excuse to sit back and watch support sweating away trying to carry the burden of frustrated users. You need to get up there next to them and offer your broad shoulders for a collaborative effort.

Use the tools you’ve already set up for automation to:

  • send out a push notification to let affected users know of the problem.
  • link to information on possible workarounds.
  • tell them you will message them when it’s fixed.
  • offer an apology (and -discount or other benefits).

If you haven’t got one, consider creating a status page for severe incidents, so users have a one-stop-page for all the information they need.

And make sure your app store activity is monitored too. When the s*** hits the fan, many users take to their keyboards to express their frustration. You’d probably do the same.

Please don’t leave them in the dark; write them a helpful reply. You’ll be amazed at how often an angry user upgrades a 1-star review if they get a valuable answer from the provider.

Decide when a release is newsworthy

With so many iterations, it’s clear that the dev team feels substantial pressure. So when they come out with one release after the others, it’s more than understandable that they feel proud.

And there’s always a good reason to celebrate the little victories. It keeps morale high and shows appreciation for a job well done.

But from a user perspective, a lot of what goes on with your solution is entirely irrelevant. That’s just the harsh reality of things.

That’s why you’ve got to hold back on communicating every single release, at least in a pushy way.

Sure, you’ll have some ’till-the-end followers, and they might delight in full insights into your every move. Treasure them; they’re not easy to come around.

However, let them read up on release 621 on your product blog, don’t push an email or notification to let all users know you’ve fixed a minor bug they didn’t know existed.

If you stop over-communicating your releases, you free up time to thoroughly execute new feature introductions in a cool way. You also avoid exhausting users goodwill.

2. Joggling the world

Digitalisation has made the world a lot smaller and a lot of things a lot simpler. And then again.

Ask SaaS companies about their main markets and I’ll bet you most will have a long list of countries or even regions on that list.

Some of them will just say: “We didn’t really define that yet”.

And guess who has to find a nice, compelling way to communicate with users based anywhere from Helsinki to Peru?

That would be your job, Ms Marketing.

If you’re more of a creative mind that a true stickler for numbers, like me, then that can be a daunting affair.

It’s not so much the issue of making your message relevant and timely that pose a challenge. If you’ve got a good automation set up, you’ll also have a lot of data on different user groups.

Most likely app signups and activity plus website traffic and interactions with automated marketing will give you a good idea of which user groups are your most engaged.

What I found the hardest was budgeting and language management.

If you’re anything like me, this is what I’d recommend you do:

Define the worth of a free user based on geography

This sounds like a no brainer, but it is highly dependent on the amount of data you’ve been able to collect.

If you’re working in a startup setup, that might be very limited. Nothing to do but come with your best guess.

First of all, you need a good amount of data that’s been creating over more than a year to really tell how many free users you acquire on average, how many of them convert and what average value they have.

Then you need to break that down on a geographical level.

Calculate life time value of users based on geography

The reason you should do the same exercise twice, first with the free and then with the overall user value, is that it’s important for you to know where you’re creating the most value for the company.

Is it in user acquisition or in user retention? And does that picture change from one region to the other?

Now, if you’ve got a limited marketing budget, you may simply want to find your most profitable market and put most, if not all, of your eggs in that basket.

However, if you’ve got a bit more wiggle room, you can look into playing on several horses simultaneously.

Make strategic decisions on language

With the global world of SaaS comes a lot of decision on language. How many will be supported in the SaaS itself? And consequently, how many will be central for marketing?

If you’re part of the decision process, your calculations on geographical user value represent a really valuable input.

But what’s also worth taking into account is that if you’ve not been offering your solution in the local language of a region, you may be looking at unlocked potential for further growth.

3. Convincing the crowd

There as literally millions of apps in the app stores with thousands being introduced every single day.

Furthermore, since content production and distribution has taken over as a defining marketing strategy, the competition for attention has not softened.

When you’re marketing a SaaS, this holds more than true.

Again, the challenge for SaaS solution marketeers is that everything is so fast-paced: the product, the competition, the technology, the users and their expectations.

Sounds complex and hopeless?

Not if you have a really solid core message. One problem, one edge.

Once you’ve got that, you’ve got your anchor and you’re ready to go sailing in stormy weathers.

Getting people hooked

It usually takes less than a minute to sign up for a SaaS solution. And most providers will offer a free version to test.

A recent study suggest that people download an app because:

  1. they got a specific issue they think the app can solve
  2. the app was recommended to them by a friend or colleague

So most users have an issue, search for an solution either it in Google or one of the app stores, then make a decision.

What makes the difference between a hero and a zero here?

My money’s on these horses: Ranking high for relevant keywords in Google and the app store(s) along with a no-brainer video.

Climbing the search results listings

In order to rank well for keywords, you’ll need to invest in well-researched, well written texts that are better than the competitions.

That means the content you produce needs to be more helpful, more liked, more recent, with more comments than that of the top 3 webpages ranking for a relevant keyword in your field.

But that’s not enough. Your website also needs to have some muscle in the form of backlinks, traffic, recent and steady flow of content.

So it’s a full time job to rank high for good keywords and as soon as you do, you’ve become the alpha lion. Which is to say, you’ll have a bunch of younger, smarter looking lions at your throat any chance they get.

So forget it, if you just want a quick fix. They come in the form of AdWords or Search Ads. In other words, they come in the form of paid advertising.

Being found in the app stores

If you’re offering a mobile app, you’re eligible to join the App Store optimisation crowd.

To me, App Store optimisation is very much about tending to user reviews and ratings.

You do need to write a sharp title and precise description text for your App Store page, include high quality images and one or more videos.

But once that’s done and been optimised to its fullest potential, you’ll not be adding more content on a regular basis. You’ll review and optimise, yes. But it’s not a full-time job such as SEO can be.

What is essential is that you:

  1. drive traffic and get your total #downloads as high as possible.
  2. have a daily look at your app review and ratings and respond to people with input or problems.

#of downloads and a high rating score are some of the most important ranking factors used by Google and Apple to determine which apps to showcase in a user search.

As with SEO, you can also supplement your ASO efforts with paid ads.

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