How do B2B SaaS companies improve their performance marketing?

I was recently talking to a founder of a B2B SaaS platform who asked me how B2B SaaS companies like theirs can improve their performance marketing. The person whom I spoke to was having a really hard time justifying the expense of spending money in Facebook and even Google because the time between lead to sale are very, very long and they weren’t seeing a lot of success with their digital marketing. However, they were seeing a lot of success with their inbound organic marketing, and were growing almost exclusively based on that traffic.

When I pressed on the marketing approach I learned that the marketing team was doing 2 things: 1. Prospecting using “Buy now” type language in their ads and 2. Remarketing using “Buy now” type language in ads targeted to prospects that had visited their website.

I saw some pretty big gaps here, which I explained to the person I talked to and have summarized in this post.

I explained it to the person that I was talking to that you have to look at marketing from a longer term perspective, especially when it comes to B2B SaaS and paid channels in particular. As a B2B company, you can’t assume that your potential buyer yet understands that your product can solve a particular pain point that they have. And even if they do realize that they’ve got a pain point that a product like yours can solve, it’s likely that they’re gonna start looking around platforms that they’re already familiar with.

For example, if your platform is a newer type of content management system and you’re charging a monthly subscription fee because you’ve got some great new features, your potential buyers are likely going to be folks that are going search for WordPress or some of the other enterprise level content management systems. They’ll probably ask around, do some searching, and they’re going to first seek out those more familiar brands. They probably already have a sense of what options are on the market already, and that’s where they’re going to start their searches.

So you as a newcomer into the space need to think about marketing in three stages:

Stage One – Awareness Marketing

The first stage is that you have a cohort of users who doesn’t yet know that they have a problem that you can solve, but sometime down the road might. Using our content management product as our example, sometime down the road a cohort of users will be looking for content management systems. During this stagey, you want to take a very long view and start your digital advertising with brand awareness level marketing. It might sound crazy, but you need to start getting your brand out there and in front of people.

Take a small budget and just put your logo out into the wild, and maybe your tagline or value prop. If you’ve got a tagline or a value prop that is four or five words long and you’ve got your logo or other product associated imagery ready, spend some money and put it out in the wild and start exposing potential buyers to your brand. At this point there’s no real goal with this level of marketing. This is just pure digital brand awareness marketing, and you’re not trying to get anything more than brand awareness. Why? Because these users don’t even really know that they’ve got this pain point yet, so what you’re doing is seeding the market with your product. You’re putting it out there and you’re getting it in front of people who – once they realize they’ve got this pain point – maybe they start to think about associating with your brand.

Stage two – Acquisition Marketing

The second stage in our funnel is your traditional prospecting marketing – and at this point that your potential buyer has transitioned to a point where they know that they’ve got a pain point, and they need somebody or something to help them solve it. At this point it’s likely that they’re going to start doing some investigation on the topic of content management systems.

Now you need some actual content and value points to get people interested and engaged with your brand. When you’re working on prospecting at this stage, you are going to leverage that content to get people in the door. It’s unlikely your prospects are ready to buy at this point, but by now they’re [hopefully] somewhat aware of your brand because they’ve been seeing you for a little while out in the digital world, and it’s now that you’re attempting to either get them to try your product (if you have a freemium model or a free tier) or bring them to a blog post, white paper, list of product values/benefits or other content so you can provide some value to them.

The type of ads you’ll run here are more direct, but they are not going to be pushing yet on sales. Whatever you are doing at this point has to add value. If you’ve got your stage one awareness campaigns live with your logo and maybe your tagline, your stage two prospecting ads are going to perhaps have a value statement and the ability for somebody to click a button that says something like “learn more” or “free trial.” If you don’t have a direct way to get people into your product at this level, maybe you’ve got some kind of teaser video that talks about the benefits of your product, shows it off, and is aimed at educating your potential buyer.

Stage three – Conversion Marketing

This next stage is a much more direct sales based approach, done via performance marketing, product led growth, and possibly a sales or account team. The third group of advertisements that you’re going to run is going to help move the buyer along the journey where they now realize that not only do they have a problem, but it’s a big enough pain point that they’re seeking a solution for right now. Your prospects at this point are probably now searching again for your type of product. At this point, some of your prospects may have visited your website already. If so, that’s great – you can remarket to them and save yourself some money on ads that are highly targeted. For the rest of your prospects, you are still running prospecting ads, but they can be much more direct in nature. Now you’re actually trying to convert prospects into leads, leads into sales, eetc. And it’s not until this third phase of performance marketing that you’re really explicit about trying to convert them and drive the action that you want them to take.

Your ads here may have calls to action like “Buy now” or “Show for deals” or “Get started now.” This level of marketing is direct, to the point, and is likely being tracked by both your marketing and sales teams (if you have both) in terms of lead velocity and quality.

In summary

What I’ve seen in the field doing this for awhile is that if you’re patient with this process and you go through these three phases of performance marketing, you’re going to have much more brand visibility out there. Your lead to close rate should go up, and your lead to close time may shorten. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll gain your prospects’ trust since you put in the work to educate them along the buyer journey.

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