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Software is a Commodity: How to Cut Through The Clutter With SaaS Marketing


Software is a Commodity: How to Cut Through The Clutter With SaaS Marketing

Software is a Commodity. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the latest Martech Landscape graphic. There are over 8,000 tools on that list. Let that sink in…

8,000 Tools. But who’s counting?

Each sub-section of this landscape is more crowded than the grocery store cereal aisle. That’s what you call a commodity. All of these software companies are vying for mindshare and budget share in a more and more crowded marketplace. 

If you are a SaaS marketer, and you haven’t adjusted your strategy yet, it’s time to start. Here are the main marketing issues that SaaS companies have and what to do about them.

1.) Focusing on growth at the expense of building relationships

Over-reliance on automation

The value of SaaS is that it is meant to be low-maintenance and scalable for the buyer. Unfortunately, many SaaS companies are trying too hard to make their marketing and sales low-maintenance, and that causes issues for the buyer! They focus on automation to drive scalable outreach and nurture instead of focusing on the customer’s mindset and needs at any given point in time.

Before we go any further, I am not suggesting that automation is bad. We need to maximize our use of technology to be more effective, but there is a time and place for technology, as well as for real human interaction. So let’s take a look at a few recent examples of SaaS purchasing that I went through.

Let’s start with the good ones:

Based on how this email was written, it very much seems like an automated one. However, it uses a number of personalized touches, and its main purpose is to ensure that I am off and running with the platform and allows for me to easily get in touch with a real person! And in this case, the real person is the CEO and co-founder. 

I have since connected with the CEO and we are chatting later this week. In addition to the intro email, I also received a separate invite to join their Slack community. So again, the email was most likely automated, but the call-to-action was to connect with real people.

This one was short and sweet, but I know for a fact it wasn’t automated because there is no automation system in the world that would have connected Gaby and me, especially since I was the only one with the account set up. This was another email from the CEO/founder and in this case, he personally took the time to research who I was and made the assumption that my business partner would also be using the platform (he was right).

I exchanged a few emails with him, and here was his response:

A personal touch really does go a long way ?

Now here is a bad example:

To keep things short and sweet, here is a list of things wrong with this automated email:

  • My name isn’t “User.” Thanks for making me feel welcome.
  • I do not have a remote sales team. Thanks for getting to know about my needs.

And from this same company, here is another one. The thing to note here is that this automated email was sent after I had submitted a fairly serious support ticket because a number of things weren’t working with the platform:

Here is the list of things that are wrong with this automation:

  • Again, my name isn’t “User,” but I am glad you are so excited to reach out to me.
  • It actually isn’t working all that well for me at the moment. You would have known that had your automation platform been connected to your support platform.

I am still hopeful this company can turn things around because I do like the product. But if they can’t fix the bug, I won’t hesitate to switch to a competitor because their onboarding and communication have not inspired any loyalty, as compared to the other two examples

Little training and education

Another major issue with SaaS platforms is that the feature sets often grow exponentially, often making beautifully simple platforms overly complex. All the while, the sales and onboarding process often focuses on the single-use case the client had at the time, not quite evolving with the platform.

This creates a problem usually later on in the engagement when the use case that was initially a pain point is no longer a pain point and the annual renewal comes up. The customer is then reviewing the cost/benefit of the platform under a different premise than when the initial purchase was made and if there hasn’t been enough training and education on how the other features are a major benefit, then the value is really diminished. 

You also have to consider that the decision-makers who made the initial deal, may not be there when the renewal comes up. This is another point where training and education are critical.

Let’s stick with the same examples from earlier and review some ways to do this well:

These are the self-onboarding videos mentioned in the email above. They are short, sweet and to the point, and do a great job explaining the various features. However, notice something important. The description of the playlist, along with each individual video contains a link to schedule a support session with a real person.

There is also the Slack channel where they are continuously posting updates about new and upcoming features, as well as soliciting feedback from their users.

I gave these guys some flack earlier, but they are somewhat redeeming themselves with the onboarding here. I am still listed as the anonymous “User” but this was the email I received virtually as soon as my first video was recorded. It’s a simple way to get me back into the platform and ensure I’m making the most use of the editing features. A link to related training guides or videos would have been a nice addition to this, but they make up for it with the Minions meme, because who doesn’t love the Minions?

Now here is another great email from them. It highlights a new and valuable feature that I had no idea about prior to this email, and will now be trying out. Yay!

Spammy outbound sales

Nothing… I repeat, nothing is as off-putting as a spammy SDR. If your idea of outreach is spamming LinkedIn with automated messages then I urge you to reconsider your outbound strategy.

Here are a few examples of what not to do:

Clearly this person didn’t qualify me or my company whatsoever. We don’t manufacture anything and we mainly focus on B2B technology companies.

What exactly do you do, and what company do you work for?

We just connected and the first thing you send me is a pitch? You don’t even know if I am the right type of customer for you, or whether I need your services. Maybe I already have a sales team (I don’t yet, but that’s not the point).

What could you possibly find out about me in 2 minutes?

2.) Focusing on features instead of the core value proposition

Convoluted website messaging

Many SaaS products fall into the trap of describing all the bells and whistles they have without really describing the main value proposition. In the grand scheme of things, your platform needs to do one of the following:

  • Save time
  • Save money
  • Make money

This is, of course, a very simplified way to look at it, but if you can’t simply and succinctly tell me how you are going to do one of those three things, why do I care about your features?

Let’s look at an example:

It’s going to save you money by replacing a bunch of your other apps and time by simplifying your workflow. Simple, clear, to-the-point.

Reinforces the simplified workflow value prop and then goes into features, but in a way that supports the main message (it replaces XYZ apps).

And you can do the platform transition for me?!? Where do I sign?

No seriously, this is probably the quickest website content sale I have ever experienced. We are going to be testing this out and potentially transitioning from Asana.

The dreaded demo

Sure, at some point in the sales process you are going to need to show the product to your prospect. But do you really want to lead with that as your CTA? It’s ok to have self-serve product demos that focus on the features that support your core value proposition, but pushing people right into a product demo before they have had a chance to really understand what your platform does and why it has value for them, just doesn’t make much sense. 

From there, I often see demos go one of two ways:

  1. The “let me show you all the 1,001 things that this platform can do in 30 minutes.” End the call with, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. Awesome, I don’t remember 95% of what you told me, and likely don’t know what the main value is for me.
  2. The “let me know what you would like to see.” Well, I am not sure… what can the platform do? “Well… let me show you the 1,001 things that this platform can do in 30 minutes.”

Generally, the problem isn’t the demo. It’s the point in the buyer journey that the demo happens, in which the sales executive isn’t armed with enough knowledge about the customer and/or the customer isn’t really ready to review features.

Let’s get to the Point:

So let’s review. Here is how your SaaS company can stand out in an over-crowded field.

  1. Use automation to scale your ability to physically talk to prospects and customers. Don’t try to use automation to self-serve a prospect all the way from initial contact to onboarding. You wouldn’t hire a new employee without ever talking to them during the onboarding process, would you?

  2. Ensure you have a solid process for onboarding and ongoing training. Much of this can be automated, but be sure to create opportunities for your customers to interact with real people, even if it’s just through a Slack channel.

  3. Don’t allow your SDRs to spray and pray. ‘Nuff said.

  4. Your messaging should focus on your customers’ main problem and your value proposition should be all about how you can solve it. Keep it simple.

  5. Don’t rush into the demo. There is a time and a place for it, but if you do it too soon, you are likely setting yourself up for failure.