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SaaS Marketing Strategy

25. 07. 2016

Outsourcing Your SaaS Marketing: How to Choose an Agency That Digs Your Business

Introduction

As a SaaS vendor, you should be familiar with how competitive the environment in this field is. Behavioral patterns change at a turbo rate when it comes to usage of various devices, and it affects the concepts of where the data is stored and where the processing is performed. Vendors like you react at the same rate and come up with helpful applications for the cloud paradigm. Eventually, Software-as-a-Service market is starting to outsource the processes and procedures of going out to their clients.

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SaaS needs a hand in marketing

A report commissioned by Cisco predicts that by 2019 a whopping 59% of all the cloud workloads would be attributed to SaaS activity. For the enormous amount of small and medium-sized businesses, incapable to support their software solutions on premise, SaaS becomes a lifebuoy in the sea of software infrastructure. Hubble mentions Gartner’s estimation of average company’s loss per minute during downtime - $5600.

Software-as-a-Service as a model is taking care of it. Analysts agree that SaaS is growing and the markets for various SaaS solutions are becoming saturated and even cluttered with offerings. SaaS marketing is becoming a critical issue.

Choosing an outsourcing partner is just as important as hiring your own employees. When it comes to marketing, the stakes are high: your entire pipeline relies on it. Today, when a lot of marketing practices rely on industry tools and are very specific for a type of product or service, the choice of a partner becomes a cornerstone in managing your marketing.

We’re about to distill the agency selection process that would help you identify a suitable partner to manage your SaaS marketing. And firstly, we will ask a few very important questions.

Questions you will need answered

1. Does the company have experience with SaaS companies?
Sales and marketing strategies, approaches and practices vary across various industries, and Software as a Service is not an exception. John McTigue from HubSpot talks about a few of the many marketing strategies that work great for SaaS businesses. In his blog post he doesn’t really go deep into specifics of marketing strategies, but rather recommends SaaS companies to hire great people. Experience is really what enables marketers to select the most appropriate strategies and tactics. Make sure you choose an agency that has a track record of success, particularly in marketing for SaaS companies.

2. Does the agency have all the necessary technologies and services you need?
Not surprisingly, many tools and applications often used to market SaaS are actually SaaS. Pierre Lechelle lists over 30 various services from categories like analytics, email marketing, SEO, and many others. Since there are no particular physical resources required to do the job, you need to be assured that the agency you choose does have the human resources to assign your tasks to, and that the team has the appropriate qualification to do the job.

3. Are their services affordable for you?
Venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz shares an insight that in the first three years, the most successful SaaS companies spend 80% to 120% of their revenue on marketing. After year five, however, their marketing spendings tends to drop to 50% of their revenue. These numbers refer specifically to superstar companies with exponential growth patterns.

An infographic by Vital depicts a higher scatter of marketing spending percentage: from 11% for Manhattan Associates to 66% for Marketo. The most obvious move here would be to find a spot somewhere in the range, and select a partner with the corresponding price tag for the package of marketing services you demand. A more advanced approach, however, would incorporate calculating a realistic ROI and allocating marketing budget accordingly.

4. What would be your ROI?
Return On Investment is a useful metric to follow when executing a marketing strategy. There are, however, many controversies among digital marketers about ROI being an overrated performance indicator. Vic Drabicky of Marketing Land argues that ROI as a metric eliminates the value of the customer from the equation.

Many SaaS businesses charge their customers on a monthly or annual basis, thus making it easier to estimate revenue for at least a year ahead, and ROI correspondingly. Recurring revenue in the essence of most SaaS offerings, be it a freemium or a pure subscription-based service, makes calculating return on marketing investment a safe and reliable measure of success in marketing strategy execution, according to Xander Marketing.

Hausman Marketing Letter mentions average ROI for digital marketing at 2.79%. Of course, this metric relies a lot on the precision of positioning and targeting, content quality, the pace of your SaaS marketing agency, and many more intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

5. Does the company have necessary quantitative and qualitative resources for me?
The more you want to be done, the more team members should be included in your work.

Marketing, especially when it comes to content generation, is a labor-intensive field. More people will do more work quicker. The same applies to managing social media interactions. Sproutsocial names such jobs as content creator, community manager, and also suggests roles like brand advocate and product expert.

A good agency may offer cross-functional team members, capable of covering several tasks at once. In this case, you have to make sure that they not only have enough qualification to deal with each aspect of your marketing strategy, but are also mature and able to prioritize, manage their time and meet the deadlines.

The more ROI you are expecting from their work, the more qualified the team members should be.

As we have already figured out, the certificates held by assigned team members can tell you about their qualification and talk about the efficiency of the team. Matthew Woodward has compiled the ultimate list of certifications available to marketers. Virtually every single one of these 30 credentials possessed by your outsourced SaaS marketing team will boost the ROI of your marketing strategy execution. We will make it easier and decompose the list, breaking it down in 4 most important categories:

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Analytics

You want your marketer to deliver measurable results. Dialogtech warns, that only 29% of marketing professionals fully succeed in proving their accomplishments with numbers. The good news is that, SaaS has digital marketing flowing in its veins, and the most difficult channels to measure tend to be offline.

There are various web-analytics platforms out there, offering different level of complexity and integration. The most popular is Google Analytics and the corresponding Google Analytics Certificate that is highly sought after. The certification is free of charge, so virtually every digital marketing professional should bear this certificate. This would become your first prerequisite for the agency you are about to trust your SaaS marketing.

Pay-Per-Click

Many marketing campaigns use this kind of advertising to direct traffic to the website. While some agencies (like Pathways Digital) claim that PPC can be inefficient in highly competitive SaaS markets, they still admit this marketing channel has its place and may become a backbone of your sales funnel if used properly.

Again, when choosing a partner to handle your PPC campaigns, make sure the team is qualified enough to deliver great results with the top industry tools. Google AdWords is one of the most popular platforms for pay-per-click ads and it offers certification as well. You might as well look for Bing Ads Accreditation, that would indicate that your partner is using a broad range of communication channels.

Inbound Marketing

HubSpot, a vendor of inbound marketing platform, offers a variety of course certificates. Inbound marketing, for a second, is a comprehensive approach designed to overcome the natural tendency of today’s tech audience to filter out promotional messages. Pay attention to your future partners holding Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certificate. The course covers topics like SEO, blogging, landing pages, conversion analysis and reporting.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization certificates are another indicator of professionalism. The technological landscape is constantly evolving and SEO specialists have to keep up with the advancements, so it is a good idea to pay attention to the dates of the certificates.

Courses and accreditation are offered by many businesses, including HubSpot and SEOcertification.org. The ROI of your SaaS marketing strategy would rely on the agency’s skills. There is no rocket science in SEO, however identifying the right focus to tweak wording on your website or writing appealing search snippets is going to make all the difference.

Finding the right company

Marketing professionals know how to place themselves on the shelf, so finding a digital marketing agency on the internet could not be easier. However, you should remember to ask the questions above to make sure that you are making the right choice. Let’s recap the questions and build our expectations towards our new SaaS marketing partner.

1. Experience

As we have agreed, your future marketing partners should have experience with SaaS companies. The reason behind this choice is a particular toolset that has proven efficiency and effectiveness when marketing this type of product.

In addition to the abovementioned HubSpot, many agencies use an array of apps like Crowdfire, Marketo,  Kissmetrics and many other. Take a close look at your shortlist of agencies and pay attention to the clients they mention on their websites. If you can recall some of them from the top of your head, you may give a credit for that to the agency. But don’t be shy to talk about these projects to double check whether they have actually done significant parts of marketing strategy execution.

What you expect here is  solid expertise, precisely where you need it. When having a more detailed conversation with your future partner, pay attention to the KPIs that they mention as the baseline of their offering. Kissmetrics lists the basic 5: Monthly recurring revenue, churn, cost per acquisition, average revenue per customer and lifetime value. Even at your initial conversation, the new agency should be able to effortlessly translate your goals into these metrics.

2. Reliability

It is always a challenge when selecting a new partner. Would the expected results be delivered as agreed? Would the outcomes exceed expectations? Or would you regret your choice and start seeking for another agency? Ask for a track record of projects implemented. Request to share some detailed success stories. There should be plenty. Finally, ask for references.

3. References

This is often a moment when you get to know more about an agency. Clearly, you are not going to hear about any epic pratfalls – no agency would give out contacts of unhappy customers. But you can expect to hear some truthful details on how the agency communicates, manages change, approaches problems and so on. If these small criticisms are irrelevant to your goals and objectives, you are fine with the agency.

4. Delivery time

Marketing is an ongoing process. Though, if you are outsourcing your marketing to an agency, you are expecting certain KPIs be delivered in a specified period of time: reach a specific audience, generate an agreed amount of leads or attract a certain amount of customers, etc. Regardless of the essence of your metrics, you want to agree on the period of time before you are ready to set some new goals and plot new accomplishments. Also, you should expect a good reliable agency to be strict and concise in this regard.

5. Communication

Communication issues are one of the most common reasons of partnership failures. Outsourced SaaS marketing is not an exception, so pay attention to how well you get along with the agency right from the first email. Many agencies offer a free initial consultation, just like a lot of SaaS companies offer free trial of their solutions.

This might be a great opportunity to evaluate the tone of communication, and figure out if you get along well together. You should expect your communication plan to be crystal clear, with precise contact points and a reasonable escalation ladder.

Wrapping up

We have decomposed the SaaS marketing agency selection process and come up with the key questions to ask your future partner. These questions should help you come up with a short list of candidates for execution of your marketing strategy. We have also outlined some of the expectations you might have towards your agency, however, you are strongly advised to extend this list before going out and evaluating different options.

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Pavel Aramyan
Content manager at Incredo. I am a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and generates content for an inbound agency. I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if its everything at once
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