Did You Ask for a Beginner’s Guide to SaaS Startup Marketing? Here It Is!

Marketing is that special force that cha-ching! Brings you more customers, fills your pockets with money from sales, yada yada. But does SaaS startup marketing ring you a bell? And do you know that SaaS startups might need it more than others?

If you’re at home, here’s a challenge: Look around you and list the consumer brands whose logo you can see. Quite a few, huh?

Well, every brand you see — or every company — started small, as a startup. Some matured, some others didn’t. But I bet you have a couple of products from those that didn’t fall by the wayside.

Let’s say that you’re into the SaaS business. If you’re still a startup, you’re gonna need SaaS startup marketing. Let us explain to you why and how exactly, but first, some definitions.

What Is a SaaS Startup?

Not a long time ago, software as a service (SaaS) revolutionized the delivery of software applications. Before that, you would download them as a set of files that you had to install on your computer. And because they were local, you needed a laptop or a PC with specific requirements to run them.

When SaaS came into the scene, you started accessing software applications remotely. This doesn’t mean that installable applications were over — because they weren’t. It means that some applications are a service put on the Internet for you to use there. Okay, the service has a cost, but how convenient it is!

As with any other ground-breaking and money-making business idea, a lot of companies were born because of it. So, in a few years, we started watching a lot of SaaS startups emerging. And some of them even started providing platforms for others to develop and deliver their own SaaS applications.

When I say “startup”, I mean young companies founded to

  • Develop a unique product — good or service — that fixes an existing problem in disruptive ways
  • Bring it to market and sell it as crazy

Curious to find out the business ideas of some pretty interesting startup SaaS companies? I can’t wait to tell you some findings I gathered for you! But before I move on to that, keep in mind that if you hear or read the terms “Web-based software”, “on-demand software”, or “hosted software”, those are SaaS applications they’re talking about.

Some Eye-Popping SaaS Startup Ideas

Below, you’ll find a few amazing startups whose goal is to give the market an online software service it needs.

1. Wunderkind

This SaaS startup created one smashing marketing platform as a service. Its mission is to drive conversions for online retail businesses, and that should generate digital revenue.

Wunderkind knew that online retailers often don’t know the identity of their website visitors. And somehow — appropriately, of course — the startup implemented a strategy to identify those visitors.

With prospects’ email addresses, online retailers get on a highway to reach out to their target audience directly. Most importantly, they can write those emails especially for each recipient and appeal to their needs.

2. StackAdapt

Apart from changing the world a bit, this SaaS startup came up with an advertising solution for brands and agencies. The goal? Generate brand awareness and traffic at a nice cost.

At first, if you think of other SaaS startup ideas, this one might sound like another fish in the ocean. But then, if you investigate the startup further, you’ll discover that their ways are quite unique.

They get you the most accurate conversion data, and you can do real-time audience targeting. In other words, you can select the characteristics of the audience to whom you want to display online ads.

For instance, if you choose prospects in New Zealand’s shoe industry, StackAdapt will show your ads to them. That’s possible because StackAdapt places your ads on the websites those prospects visit the most.

3. Influential

Here’s a SaaS startup that helps marketers deploy campaigns directly through their platform. This may not sound creative but wait for it.

Their software service consists of an AI-based influencer marketplace. So, if you’re wondering where and how you can find the right influencers for your business, Influential knows it.

You just go to their platform — online — and define your target audience. In return, you get qualified and promising personalities for your influencer marketing campaigns.

Now, step one to determine the marketing approach for your SaaS startup is to answer the following question.

How Competitive Is Your SaaS Startup?

The question is kind of tricky because the more competitive a company is — any company — the better for its business. Plus, there’s no company — including SaaS startups — that doesn’t compete with other companies on the market.

However, one thing is to create a brand new product category, and another is to compete in an existing one.

The first feels more ground zero, thus less competitive than the latter. Yet, even if you’re creating a new software category, you’ll have indirect competitors that offer a different product to satisfy the same need from the same target market.

And the scenario within which you fall determines your marketing strategy. Based on that, you should use a specific tone in every marketing action you do. From content creation to outreach, here’s how you should communicate:

  • If your startup is a brand new software category, then you need to educate on the topic — or problem — and how to solve it.
  • On the other hand, if you’re competing in an existing software category — such as project management — then, you should focus on
    • Your product’s unique features
    • Branding
    • A specific target audience

What now? First, keep in mind your narrative, whether it’s the problem you’re addressing or your product’s uniqueness and niche needs.

Second, follow the steps of SaaS startup marketing described next.

From Baby To Grown-up SaaS Startup Marketing

As your SaaS startup matures, you’ll have to dedicate effort to different marketing actions. Have a look at the outline below, and jump to the section that corresponds to the stage you’re at.

1. Early Stage

If you’re at the early stage of your SaaS business, it depends on how much you can spend on marketing. I know: This is a bit of a paradox because marketing gets you moving up the ladder of sales. And when you have sales, you have the money to spend on marketing, which drives you more sales.

Nevertheless, you might have some money or got some funding that you can apply to market your product. That’s definitely a way to spend wisely, plus it’s cost-efficient. Let’s dig deeper into the alternatives.

You have a budget or funding

Spend it on paid ads. An ad campaign is a planned endeavor to bring more customers to your offering.

Notice that I wrote “more customers” instead of “customers” only. It was on purpose as paid ads magnify your growth rather than initiating it. Now, you might be thinking, “This doesn’t make any sense — it doesn’t apply to the early stage.”

And you’re right to wonder! At the early stage, it’s common that startups don’t have expressive sales, which is when they usually run ads. Nonetheless, if your goal is to raise brand awareness, you can also use ads. And if there’s already a product-market fit — meaning the market needs your product — they should work.

Another thing you can do at the early stage is ad testing. You expose a sample of your target audience to different ads and ask for feedback on them. You should be able to conclude on the strong parts of each ad and how persuasive each ad is.

From there, you either tweak your ads until you’re ready to run them or you run them at this point.

Ad testing is the perfect opportunity to test your language and offering. You can experiment with different tones and narratives and anticipate the effectiveness of your ads.

You have the will, but a lean pocket

If you don’t have much money to invest in paid ads, you can invest in

  • Digital PR

Very much like traditional PR, the goal of digital PR is to increase brand awareness. However, digital PR does it through online visibility such as SEO, content marketing, social media, and influencer marketing.

Specific activities to get recognition online through digital PR involve

  • Giving interviews to online publications.
  • Issuing online press releases optimized for search engines with SEO techniques.
  • Connecting with online journalists and bloggers to obtain their mentions of your product and website.
  • Publishing your company profile statement to persuade your target audience into wanting to know details about your product. Tell the story of your business and introduce your product, mission, vision, and values. Focus on your uniqueness and strengths.
  • Publishing online content to build a reputation.
  • Dark social

This means sharing content through private channels. It’s social media sharing, yet it’s done via email and apps that support private messaging.

You too can reach out to your prospects by disseminating your message on dark social channels. You might be amazed by the spreading power it has.

  • Online communities

Search for the online communities to which your prospects belong.

An online community gathers members around common interests, ideas, experiences, goals, and values. And that’s why they’re the place where you can build meaningful connections with those who can become your customers.

But remember: Play it cool and act naturally to win their trust. If you get too obtrusive, you’ll appear salesy, and that’ll chase your prospects away.

  • Product Hunt

Product Hunt is an online community where entrepreneurs launch their tech products to an audience of techies. These geeky product enthusiasts are a receptive audience as they love to discover new products all the time.

On the other hand, Product Hunt is an awesome platform to bring attention to your brand new product. You might get as much business traction as you can, in the least amount of time possible, with little money. And that’s just perfect for the early stage of a SaaS product!

Techies are interested in testing your product even if it’s still an MVP or it has bugs. In the end, they might vote and review your product, so you get early feedback and visibility.

Tech enthusiasts might also want to engage with you directly, so be ready to nurture that relationship.

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you that Product Hunt is free.

  • Influencer marketing

This type of marketing — which is a form of social media marketing really — is totally set up on trust.

You work with influencers — individuals with a lot of followers on social media and perceived as experts in their niche. And those influencers will mention and recommend your product to their followers.

Influence marketing works because influencers previously built a trust relationship with their followers. Therefore, a recommendation from an influencer is proof enough for their followers to trust your product’s value.

2. First Customers

If you’re past the early stage of your SaaS business, you already have an online presence and some traction. This means that your target audience knows your brand exists and you already have some sales.

It also means that it’s time to nourish your relationship with your current customers and gradually expand your customer base.

To grow your customer base, these are the steps:

  • Business development

First of all, this entails building a lead database. A lead is someone who expressed interest in your product.

Then, you need to qualify leads, which is to determine whether they’re your ideal buyer persona or not. If they are, they would benefit from using your product and consider buying it.

To qualify a lead, you make a discovery call to that person and ask some questions. If the lead is good enough, a closed-won deal is likely achievable, and they’re your prospect.

Tip: Learn sales calling techniques to develop the conversation you should have with leads during the qualification process.

  • LinkedIn for lead generation

You can use LinkedIn ads to get high-quality leads. For instance, through a LinkedIn ad, you can promote a free webinar you’re holding and provide a sign-up CTA. And when someone signs up for it, LinkedIn sends you a summary of that person’s profile.

An alternative example to the webinar sign-up could be a downloadable ebook. In both cases, LinkedIn ads allow you to track cost per lead and the audiences you’re getting leads from. It also allows you to guide the leads down the sales funnel as LinkedIn shows them a thank-you page with a link that can point to your website.

  • Beta testing

Unlike Product Hunt, beta testing is a user acceptance testing phase of product development. So, you’re not giving your product for testing by an audience of techies — you’re giving it to end-users.

Again, unlike Product Hunt, you’re testing a nearly finished version of your product. Ideally, it doesn’t contain any bugs.

Beta testing is a way of validating your product with real users and obtaining feedback on its quality for improvement.

  • Events, webinar, and masterminds — which are online courses or live training sessions held by everyday people who share their knowledge
  • Podcasts, news websites, online magazines, and blogs

Here are the efforts you should develop with your existing customers:

  • Customer success

You should regularly incentivize your customers to share their feedback about your product with you. That’s how you anticipate the questions or problems that your customers will face. And that’s how you offer them timely answers and solutions, thus making them happy and stick with you for longer.

  • Upselling

Or getting your customers to spend more money on the product they already bought from you. This can be an upgraded or premium version of that product.

  • Referral marketing

This is a marketing technique that uses recommendations and word of mouth of existing customers to grow your customer base. Your most satisfied customers become your brand advocates.

3. Traffic Growth

At this stage, it’s as simple as this: You want to scale. You want more customers, more closed wons, and more revenue! There’s no shame in feeling the ambition because it’s actually more than that — it’s business growth. It’s your success on the line.

The key to scaling is growing traffic to multiple online channels. And this is my advice to you on that matter: Choose 1–2 traffic channels to focus on first, and don’t spread yourself too thin in the beginning.

Whether you focus on social media, digital PR, or blogs and other online publications, you need SEO. It’s a crucial component for many SaaS companies — SaaS startups are no exception.

SEO allows you to

  • Drive quality traffic

It’s inbound and organic, so you attract an audience who wants to hear about your product. You don’t disturb your target audience — rather you create useful content for them. Then, when they need your content, they can easily find it.

And you? You get more qualified leads.

  • Drive more traffic than paid ads

The majority of online searchers tend to visit organic results over paid results they get from search engines.

  • Get traffic from high-quality sources

SEO involves link building. Therefore, an SEO specialist knows how to place backlinks to your website on high-traffic and reputable blogs, news websites, and online magazines. By the way, that’s digital PR.

  • Invest for the long run without an ongoing cost

Hiring an SEO specialist or an SEO content writer means you’re thinking long-term. For instance, the cost per blog post drops dramatically over time. And that holds true even if you need to refresh its content from time to time to face higher rankers.

However, that’s not the case with a paid ad, whose cost is ongoing. Bottom line: Showing up first on search results with the help of SEO is cost-effective.

4. Expertise and Conversion

At the final stage, you moved one level up the scale of SaaS startup maturity. You’re ready to market yourself as an expert. Therefore, you should

  • Run your own podcast
  • Hold your own events, webinars, or masterminds

On top of that, once you have enough traffic, you should increase conversion from your SEO channels. That’s when conversion rate optimization really makes sense.

Aim High With SaaS Startup Marketing and Keep Going

Your SaaS startup won’t succeed unless you have a product-market fit. However, a market need is not going to cut it. You should aim for a higher level of product-market fit.

At that level, your audience starts advocating about your product’s value. And if you follow the SaaS startup marketing steps in this article, that’s exactly what you should get.

Also, as with any startup, an entrepreneur’s path demands a lot of persistence. For instance, in the early stage of your SaaS company, you might need to reiterate your message about your offering.

And that’s just an example of when you need to commit to your bottom-line goals and embrace unwearying improvement. Entrepreneurship is hard, but you should never forget what got you into it in the first place — your purpose.