Marketing for SaaS companies has always involved some unique challenges to other industries, and arguably it’s even more challenging in the post-pandemic world of 2022.
With that being said, any SaaS business looking to survive in this digital post-pandemic business climate must strive to have a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy, especially to be able to generate more leads in a sustainable way.
It’s no secret that traditional outbound marketing strategies like advertising and PR are no longer very effective in today’s social media age. Thus, without a robust inbound marketing strategy to improve your SaaS business’s online presence across the web and attract your ideal audience, you’ll find it hard to generate qualified prospects and stand out from your competitors.
In this ultimate guide to SaaS inbound marketing strategy, we’ll discuss how inbound marketing can help your SaaS business grow and how to properly integrate inbound marketing into your overall SaaS marketing strategy.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What is inbound marketing?
- Why inbound marketing for SaaS businesses?
- A step-by-step guide to inbound marketing implementation for SaaS business
- Best practices of implementing inbound marketing strategy in SaaS
Let us begin this guide with the basics: what actually is inbound marketing?
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing was a marketing jargon first coined by HubSpot back in 2006. However, it didn’t really gain popularity until around 2012. Since then, however, inbound marketing has become one of the most important buzzwords in the last decade’s digital marketing.
So, what actually is inbound marketing?
We have briefly discussed that the main idea of inbound marketing is about attracting our target customers inwards. So, what exactly are we going to use to attract these customers?
As you might have guessed, the answer is content. Inbound marketing is essentially about putting valuable, relevant content out there so our target audience can find it.
How Inbound Marketing Works
The most common form of inbound marketing is as follows:
- A target audience is aware of their need or problem.
- They are looking for information or a solution for this problem by making a Google search
- They stumbled upon your content since it appeared as a search result due to SEO optimization
- This target audience clicked on the result and consumed the content, turning this into a website visitor
- They learned about your brand and are now interested in your product or service
- They signed up for your email newsletter or downloaded a gated content while submitting their contact information (email address) turning them into a lead.
- This lead is nurtured via email marketing and other lead nurturing campaigns until they are convinced and ready to make their purchase.
- They make their purchase and are finally converted into actual customers.
As you can see, this target audience is successfully converted into a qualified lead and then into customers, while initially, they are the ones being proactive in looking for information before they stumbled upon your content.
To summarize, an inbound marketing strategy involves four key phases:
- Attract: attracting target audience (initially strangers) to visit your website, application, or other platforms. This is mainly done via content marketing enhanced with SEO and assisted by other marketing channels like social media, influencer marketing, email marketing, etc.
- Convert: converting website visitors into prospects/leads by capturing their contact information. This is mainly done by offering something interesting/valuable for free (i.e., gated content, free trial, newsletter sign-up)
- Close: nurturing leads until they are convinced and ready to purchase your product or service. This is mainly done via email marketing, but other lead nurturing campaigns/channels can help.
- Delight: maintaining healthy and sustainable relationships with converted customers, so they become happy, loyal customers and advocates who’ll help promote your SaaS business.
Why Inbound Marketing for SaaS Companies?
Despite its effectiveness, it can be difficult to measure the value of an inbound marketing campaign, especially because it is naturally a long-term strategy.
It can take months or even years before you can attract a sizable quantity of website visitors and potential leads via inbound marketing, while traditional/outbound strategies like advertising tend to generate quick results.
Yet, in the long-run, inbound marketing can offer many important benefits for SaaS businesses:
- Building sustainable credibility and awareness
Since SaaS businesses are not selling physical products, proving the business’s and the product’s value to prospective customers can be quite challenging.
On the other hand, consumers simply won’t purchase things or services from brands they don’t trust or perceive as credible.
This is where inbound marketing comes in as the most effective method to build credibility.
The core of inbound marketing is the regular and consistent publication of high-quality and valuable content, which is very effective in establishing the business’s thought leadership and credibility.
When executed right, inbound marketing can be a great way for SaaS businesses to build awareness, establish credibility, and leverage social proof to convince more people to purchase from them.
2.Cost-effective lead generation method
Inbound marketing can be a cost-effective solution for SaaS businesses looking to generate more leads. Content marketing and SEO, the two pillars of inbound marketing, are arguably two of the most affordable marketing channels we can leverage.
If done in-house, content marketing and SEO can be very affordable and even almost free.
This is especially important for SaaS startups, which typically struggle with limited capital and marketing budgets. Inbound marketing can help this business quickly achieve growth, even with its limited marketing budget.
3.Source of high-quality traffic and qualified prospects
As discussed, a big aspect of inbound marketing is about building awareness and establishing credibility. However, by publishing high-quality and relevant content, inbound marketing can also help your SaaS business attract the right kind of website traffic, which will translate into qualified prospects that are the right fit for your SaaS business.
The nature of inbound marketing as a precise, highly-targeted channel will ultimately translate into better cost-efficiency and higher ROI by ensuring highly relevant and qualified leads with a high likelihood of conversion.
4.Long-term, sustainable results
Inbound marketing is a long-term game, and you might need to invest months before you gain noticeable results from the campaign.
However, once you’ve finally gained these results, the benefits you’ll get are also long-term and sustainable. Once your blog post is ranked on the first page of Google’s search results (or, even better, the top 3 spots), then it can generate organic traffic for months or even years, even after you’ve stopped investing any money in the blog post.
Again, this will translate into a higher ROI for your marketing efforts.
Step-by-Step Guide to Inbound Marketing for SaaS
Now that we’ve learned about the inbound marketing methodology and its benefits for SaaS businesses, here we’ll enjoy the main dish: how to implement an inbound marketing strategy for your SaaS business.
As discussed above, a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy should cover four key phases:
- Attracting visitors to visit your content
- Converting strangers into leads/prospects
- Closing leads and converting them into paying customers
- Delighting existing customers into advocates
We can further breakdown these key phases into the following steps:
Step 1: Defining Your Inbound Marketing Goal
The first and arguably the most important step in developing an inbound marketing strategy is identifying your marketing objective(s.)
On the surface, the main objective of inbound marketing is fairly obvious: attracting strangers to the SaaS business’s website and then converting them into leads.
Yet, it’s important to also identify what other objectives you’d like to pursue via this inbound marketing campaign.
To start, your inbound marketing goal or goals should align well with your business’s overarching goals. For example, if your business is looking to tap into a new market, then you can have the generation of 1,000 leads from this new target market as your inbound marketing objective.
Your inbound marketing objectives should follow the SMART goal principles:
- Specific: narrow and focused, should be clear and only target a specific area.
- Measurable: you should be able to assign KPIs and measure the inbound marketing campaign’s progress against this objective
- Attainable: or achieveable. The objective should be realistic so you can maintain your team’s motivation in achieving this objective.
- Relevant: relevant to our business’s overall objective
- Time-bound: you can set a timeline for each objective and measure progress according to this timeline
Here are some examples of SMART goals for inbound marketing:
- Generating 100 more leads per month
- Improving conversion rate by 20% within six months
- Reducing churn by 30% within a year
Define your inbound marketing objectives as early as possible when planning the campaign. Also, plan how you are going to monitor progress. You should be able to measure the progress of your inbound marketing campaign in achieving these objectives in real-time.
Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience
Once you’ve identified your inbound marketing objectives, you can continue by identifying the target audience that is the most ideal for helping you achieve these objectives.
The target audience here refers to a specific group (or groups) of consumers that are most likely to want your SaaS product and can be dictated by demographic data (age, gender, etc.), geographical location, interests, and other factors.
There are many different approaches you can take to determine your inbound marketing campaign’s target audience, but here are a few pointers:
- Market research: leverage the market research for the SaaS industry to determine whether there are opportunities you can tap.
- Current customer base: one of the best approaches to identifying your target audience is to analyze your current customer base. You can conduct surveys and interviews to learn more about them, as well as to engage them on social media.
- Competitive analysis: Look at other similar SaaS products and assess their target audience. You can either imitate them and target the same audience or take a different approach:
- Negative target audience: identify who your target audience s not. Identifying them can help you in narrowing down your focus and eliminate unnecessary marketing approaches targeting the wrong audience.
Develop a buyer persona, and try to learn as much as you can about your target audience. Don’t be afraid to continuously revise and refine your buyer persona as you interact with more clients/customers and gather more data.
Step 3: Keyword Research
In this step, we begin executing the first phase of inbound marketing: attract, and more specifically, attract our target audience via content marketing and SEO.
At the foundation of any SEO strategy is identifying the right target keywords to target, so we can develop the right content that is optimized for this target keyword while also considering the search intent.
In inbound marketing, all pieces of content should be developed based on proper keyword research, and there are three main principles to follow in identifying your target keywords:
- The target keyword should be popular amongst your target audience. This is mainly measured via monthly search volume. The higher the search volume of the target keyword, the higher the potential for success.
- The target keyword should be relevant to your SaaS business and, specifically, your inbound marketing objectives. Not all keywords that are popular for your target audience would be relevant to your business.
- Manageable competition. Depending on your available budget and timeline, assess whether the competition of this keyword is manageable. If a popular keyword is heavily targeted by many competitors, it might not be worth your effort.
Create a comprehensive list of your target keywords
Based on the keyword research we’ve performed above, we can design an editorial calendar as a foundation of our content marketing plan.
The editorial calendar should include:
- What the content is: target keyword, topic idea, rough draft, etc.
- Where the content will be published: which platforms you are going to publish the content and with which type
- When the content will be published: the timeline when you’re going to publish the content
Also, in developing your content calendar, here are the important factors to consider:
- How frequently are you going to publish your content? Decide on how often you are going to publish your content: daily, once a week, three times a week, etc. Deciding on this factor would help in how you will design your content calendar.
- How many people will use this calendar? If you have more than one team member working on your content, then you should use a platform that allows multiple people to collaborate and brainstorm on the platform. This is especially important if some/all of your team members are working remotely.
- The types of content you are going to upload. Decide whether you are going to focus on only one type of content (i.e. a blog post) or on several different types of content (i.e. videos, podcasts, etc. )
- The process of content development. Define the different stages your content goes through before it’s published, including required approval process within your startup. You should accommodate your calendar so it can differentiate between two similar projects that are in different process stages.
Last but not least, choose the right platform and/or format that you will use to create your calendar. You can use basic Excel (or Google Sheets) for this purpose, but you can also use platforms like Trello or CoSchedule if you want collaboration features.
Planning Your SEO Implementation
Implementing SEO on your website would cover two different aspects:
- On-site SEO: SEO optimizations performed on your site, which can be further divided into two:
- Non-technical: keyword optimization and all other optimizations related to the content (layout, word count, etc.)
- Technical: optimizing the technical factors of your site including but not limited to site speed, mobile responsiveness, META description, etc.
- Off-site SEO: especially about generating backlinks to the content but would also include maintaining social media presence, responding to reviews, etc.
SEO optimization can be a pretty deep subject and you can check out our guide for technical SEO checklist here. However, here are some important things to consider when implementing SEO for inbound marketing:
- Content quality remains the most important factor of SEO success. If your content is high-quality and relevant, sooner or later you are going to get those valuable backlinks, and as a result, it will boost your SERP ranking. On the other hand, no amount of strategies can help low-quality content to rank higher.
- Backlinks remain the most important ranking factor in SEO. However, it’s important to note that the quality of the backlinks is now more important than quantity. Obviously, however, getting high-quality backlinks from famous, authoritative sites is easier said than done. However, while there can be countless link-building tactics we can use, in the end, they will boil down to just two:
- Link hook: essentially, giving them a reason to link your content. Include things like
- Unique data or information, for example, research report, user testimonials, etc. Information that only you possess.
- Aesthetically pleasing content like photos or infographics
- Interesting story
- A collection of information (i.e. data roundup, reviews of various products, etc.)
- Relationship: obviously we are more likely to provide links to websites we know. Since we are a fairly new startup, building relationships is very important, since it’s unlikely that others will know us by reputation. Here are what you should do:
- Reach out to them. It can be as simple as sending them an email to introduce yourself
- Join their social media conversation, ask valuable questions, provide valuable answers, etc.
- Again, the best way to get yourself known is to consistently publish high-quality content
- Link hook: essentially, giving them a reason to link your content. Include things like
- Optimize the technical SEO factors of your site, as discussed above. Especially focus on three things:
- Site speed: According to Google’s research and other studies, people will bounce from your site if it loads in more than 3 seconds.
- Mobile responsiveness: It’s no secret that Google now prioritizes mobile-friendly sites to rank on its SERP. So, making sure that your website is mobile-responsive or mobile-friendly is very important.
- Indexable: Make sure your website can be properly indexed by Google (and the other search engines), and all the elements on your website are properly recognizable. Again, follow our technical SEO optimization checklist here.
- Keep your content fresh and up-to-date. Google’s algorithm now prefers newer or at least updated content. So, make sure to set a schedule in your editorial content to update your older content once every year (or if possible, every 6 months). Update older content with newer information, fresh images/infographics, and additional content if necessary.
Social Media Marketing
Social media is simply where our audience is nowadays, so it would only make sense to use social media in our inbound marketing effort to attract our audience. Regardless of who your target audience is, it’s likely that they are spending time on one or more social media platforms.
We can generally divide social media marketing into three different types:
- Organic: that is, growing your own follower and share your message
- Paid: using various paid options offered by the social media platform, like Facebook ads, LinkedIn Lead Gen Ad, etc.
- Influencer: although influencer marketing can be considered as a marketing channel on its own, it is actually a part of social media marketing.
Organic social media efforts are affordable (and can be 100% free), but it will take time before you can grow a substantial amount of followers and have sufficient organic reach. Paid efforts, on the other hand, can guarantee short-term results can be very expensive if you are not careful. Influencer marketing can be midway between the two (although if you work with famous influencers and celebrities, it can also be expensive).
Use social media effectively to promote your content and also to engage your audience.
Step 3: Convert Visitors Into Leads
Now that we’ve successfully attracted the target audience to our platform, the next step is to convert these strangers into prospects/leads.
First, a definition: we can say that a stranger has successfully been converted into a prospect when they’ve provided their contact information (mainly their email address), confirming their interest in our brand–or at least, what we are offering.
In encouraging conversions via inbound marketing, there are three key aspects to focus on:
- Lead magnet: something valuable (perceived as valuable by the user) that we offer for free in exchange for the audience’s contact information. A classic approach is to offer downloadable content (an ebook, white paper, etc.) that is related to your initial content.
- CTA: Call-to-Action, a link or button provided in your content offering the lead magnet. When a user clicks on this CTA, we can show an opt-in form or drive them to a landing page.
- Landing page: a specific page designed to convert users. The page will mainly include the description of your offer (the lead magnet), as attractive as possible, and a form where your potential prospect can submit their contact information.
Attractive Lead Magnet
The key to a successful lead magnet is the offer, or to be more specific, the value of your offer. For your lead magnet to be successful, your audience must perceive that your offer is valuable so they are willing to submit their contact information.
Another important factor to consider is whether the offer is a good fit for your brand. Think about it, if we offer $1,000 for anyone to submit their email address, we can quickly attract a lot of people. Yet, most likely it won’t bring any value for your business.
So, finding the right balance between the value of your offer, the cost (if any), and the relevance to your business is very important. If what you offer isn’t very valuable in the eyes of your audience, then you won’t get too many leads. On the other hand, if what you offer is too valuable, you might attract people that are only interested to the offer itself and not your actual product/service.
You can be as creative as possible with your lead magnet offers, and this list can be a good source for inspiration.
CTA Design and Placement
What and where your CTA is can make or break the lead conversion rate.
The purpose of your CTA is very simple: tell your audience about your lead magnet or to direct them somewhere else (your landing page). It can be a hyperlink with an engaging copy or a designed button, but the purpose remains the same.
Here are some tips in creating a high-converting CTA:
- Make them as obvious as possible
You want your audience to notice your CTA, so make them as visible as possible without disrupting the user experience. Yes, everybody hates those pop-up, screen-blocking CTAs, but hiding your CTAs below the fold won’t help your conversion rate either.
Again, finding the right balance is very important: it should be higher on the page but not too high, and it should stand out enough.
Also, make sure that the message of the CTA is clear. Be straight and to the point with an attractive message. If you are going to use a button, make sure it’s also well-placed and eye-catching.
- Easy to understand
Don’t use confusing or too technical jargon, and use languages that they can easily understand. A good approach is to target the problem your audience is trying to solve and communicate that you can provide a solution. For example, “are you ready to lose 20lbs in a week? Click here”. As usual, don’t forget that it should be as attractive as possible.
- Command the action
Remember that the CTAs are designed to gently push visitors towards the next action. So, gently command them to take this action whether it’s “click”, “buy”, “subscribe”, ”download”, and others. Use active verbs and an exclamation mark if you can.
- Be consistent
If you repeat your CTAs (you should, as many times as it’s appropriate), make sure to be consistent in your messages. Also, if you use a button, be consistent with your designs.
- Create a sense of urgency
A very effective approach is to leverage on your audience’s fear of missing out (FOMO). Use words like “for a limited time only” or use a counter showing that only a limited number of offers is left.
- Keep it short
As a general rule of thumb, your CTA shouldn’t be more than 120 characters in length (around 90 characters is ideal). Again, our goal is to be as clear as possible in this limited number of characters. Be straight and to the point, and be as attractive as possible.
Conversion-optimized Landing Page
Landing page optimization can be a very deep subject on its own, and the goal is to optimize every element on the landing page to improve conversion rate using data and evidence.
However, here are some best practices to follow:
- Make your offer clear
Use all the principles of optimizing a CTA above on your landing page. The goal is to communicate your offer as clear as possible and focus on how the customer can understand its benefits and experience positive emotions.
- Less is more
On a landing page, ensuring it is as simple as possible, and getting rid of as many visual clutters as possible is very important. Your audience should focus on your offer (the CTA), and the benefits they will get.
Use contrast effectively to emphasize your message. A common practice is to use a contrasting, attractive color for your CTA button so it stands out. Also, use negative space effectively between your elements and emphasize your logo and CTA.
- Make it as easy as possible
It’s already difficult enough to convince them to convert, so don’t add to the difficulty. Make the conversion process as easy as possible. If you use an opt-in form, include as few fields as possible. Also, make sure your landing page is mobile-responsive and loads quickly.
- Make it easy to find you
Provide contact information in various different ways (but don’t add to the clutter). You can include a link to the help center or put your email address on the landing page so they’ll know where to find you. This can help create a sense of trust, which can help with the conversion rate.
Step 4: Closing Leads Into Customers
This one is about how we can nurture the qualified leads until they are ready to purchase, and finally give them that little push so they convert into customers.
The most common (and effective approach) to launch a lead nurturing campaign via automated email marketing. We’ve successfully captured the audience’s contact information, and in this step, we are going to leverage it via a process we call drip marketing.
Identifying lead lifecycle stages
Creating lead lifecycle stages according to the prospect’s position in the funnel/buyer’s journey can significantly help us in preparing a lead nurturing campaign. While the stages might vary depending on your product’s sales cycle, here are the common lifecycle stages you can use as a template:
- Unknown lead: a website visitor that has visited your site more than once and has been tracked by your solution (i.e. cookies) but they haven’t provided their contact information
- Known lead: pretty self-explanatory, someone who has given their email address but hasn’t yet engaged much with your brand
- Marketing-qualified lead (MQL): a prospect who has engaged enough (i.e. consumed several pieces of content, browsed the product pages several times, etc. )
- Sales-qualified lead (SQL): a prospect who has been validated by your sales time and is determined as very likely to buy the prospect. Ready to be approached by your salesperson and discuss their options.
- Customer: a prospect who has been converted into a new customer
The idea of using drip marketing/automated email marketing to nurture leads is to send a continuous stream of email messages to the prospect based on their actions and/or their position in the buyer’s journey.
For example, when they just abandoned a cart, we can send an email about the product they’ve just abandoned to remind them and convince them to purchase.
The idea is, if we can send the right message, to the right people, at the right time, it can slowly but surely improve the chance of conversions.
So, there are two key aspects of an effective drip marketing in lead nurturing: personalization and automation.
- Personalization: not only about using the recipient’s first name in the subject line, but to actually send the right email address based on the actions they are doing
- Automation: using a marketing automation solution to schedule your emails automatically and/or to automatically send an email based on the triggered action
A key consideration in this lead nurturing stage is to ensure your sales and marketing teams can work hand-in-hand with the same objective: converting sales-qualified leads into actual customers.
The basic principle is about information sharing: the marketing team (who has previously interacted with the prospect) should provide the information about the prospect to the sales team, so the sales team is now better equipped for the sales call.
A proper CRM software can significantly help in this aspect, so both marketing and sales can easily input and share data of different prospects/leads.
Step 5: Delighting and Retaining Customers
The last stage of the inbound marketing campaign is where we delight existing customers, turning them into advocates.
Converting customers into advocates that essentially promote your brand/product/service for free is the ultimate goal of inbound marketing, and the key here is relationships.
The best possible advocates of your product/service that will potentially generate a lot of referrals are those with actual experience and are happy with what you offer. In this stage, inbound marketing should focus on campaigns like implementing loyalty/referral programs, post-purchase support, further product education, and drip/email marketing that is focused on maximizing retention.
Although we are already in the last stage of the inbound marketing process, content marketing is still the core strategy.
The idea here is to segment existing customers into their own list and then we can implement drip marketing to push content pieces that are focused on continued education. We can also pursue cross-sell and upsell opportunities, for example by offering additional products that might cover the needs they may have.
However, focus on education/information in how they should maximize the benefit of the purchased product/service. Treat this as an ongoing post-purchase customer service to delight this customer. Remember that you have two focus: maximizing retention and converting them into advocates.
You should still send a segmented email newsletter to encourage repeat purchase, push upsell/cross-sell opportunities, or simply to provide information related to the product/service or your niche in general.
Maintain your position as the thought-leader of your niche, so you remain their first option if they need to make another purchase. Doing this effectively can also remind them every now and then to recommend your product/service to their peers, simply because they are happy with your content.
A loyalty program can be a cost-effective campaign to minimize churn. Depending on your product or service, you can implement a referral program that rewards customers that refer your product to others.
The secret to a successful referral marketing is your incentive: offering something too valuable, and you might generate low-quality referrals that are not a good fit for your business. Offering too little of value, and you might not generate any interest. Finding the right balance is very important.
End Words: Evaluation and Re-Optimization
Since inbound marketing is a long-term game, always monitoring your progress based on the inbound marketing objectives and KPIs is very important. You should especially focus on lowering lead acquisition and customer acquisition costs.
You can do this by monitoring the whole aspects of your website traffic thoroughly: keyword ranking, click-through rate, organic traffic, conversion rate, and other metrics while also considering your overall online presence (social media engagements, etc.)
Keep track of your inbound marketing objectives, and your startup business goals in general. While implementing an inbound marketing strategy can take a significant amount of time at first, it will also provide a long-term, sustainable result.