Inbound Marketing for SaaS Companies: Your Ultimate Guide
by Mike Khorev
Inbound marketing has been the buzzword of the digital marketing world during the past couple of years if not longer. In the SaaS environment, where content marketing is deemed integral, inbound marketing methodology is not a luxury, but a necessity.
However, how can we actually implement the inbound marketing methodology to our SaaS business? While we can be all technical and answer it with complex techniques, SaaS inbound marketing is actually quite simple. Here, we will learn all about it.
Before we begin, however, let us discuss a bit about the inbound marketing concept so that we will start on the same page.
What Is Inbound Marketing?
There are two main ways to attract anyone: push or pull. You can “push” out information about your business, product, and/or service to as many people as you can, or, you can create something attractive and “pull” people towards you.
This idea of push-pull marketing is probably as old as the history of marketing itself, and in this modern digital era, we have new jargons that are technically replacing the term “push” and “pull”: outbound and inbound.
Inbound marketing, in its purest sense, is about creating attractive content to pull your audience inwards. While some might argue that inbound marketing is not exactly pull marketing, the basic idea remains the same, it’s about attracting your audience inbound.
Most of us are more familiar with traditional—pull or outbound— marketing: TV advertising, billboards, or even more recently, ads when we are watching YouTube. However, in this age of modern internet and social media, traditional marketing is now facing various challenges:
- The costs to place your advertising are continually increasing. Even if online ads are generally more affordable than, say, TV ads, they are getting more expensive.]
- On the other hand, people are getting more resistant to advertising. Even if the are not using Ad-blockers (which now comes built-in in some smartphones), there’s a thing we call banner-blindness, where users actively ignore advertising all the time.
- People trust their peers on social media more than advertising. Even when you spend billions on advertisement, when a major influencer spoke badly about your SaaS product, it’s going to be a tough battle.
- Influencer marketing, a relatively new outbound marketing tactic that was once thought to be the next holy grail, is also getting more expensive and the effectiveness reduces. People nowadays understood when an influencer is paid to promote, and thus resist the message.
- Nowadays, if you overspent on traditional advertising, it can be counterproductive. Ever stumbled upon an unskippable ad on YouTube over and over again? Did the brand annoy you? Would you buy from the brand? If the viewer is not already loyal to your brand in the first place, most likely the answer is no.
This is where inbound marketing fills in: since you are “pulling” customers with attractive things—and especially content—, there will be less resistance.
The focus of inbound marketing is to provide value with each interaction, establishing relationships and trusts, and in the end, converting the audience into actual customers.
There are four pillars of inbound marketing:
- Your Website
- Third-party platforms where you can publish your content: blogs, YouTube, Spotify for podcasts, etc.
- Google and other search engines, which will be the main way to promote your content through SEO
- Social media platforms
The Marketing Funnel
To truly understand how inbound marketing works, we must understand the concept of marketing funnel.
The idea of the marketing or sales funnel, is that the buyer’s journey the process every audience went through until they become your customers will resemble a funnel shape: there will be more people in the previous steps, and fewer people will actually buy the product/service.
Typically there are three, or four, major stages in a marketing funnel, especially for the SaaS industry.
- Awareness: the prospect becomes aware of a product/service, or becomes aware that they have a specific problem, and in need of a solution.
- Research/consideration: the prospect considers the different options available on the market. The prospect might also research for possible solutions for their problems.
- Decision: self-explanatory, the prospect finally decides on a solution and purchase a product or service.
- Delight: technically, the purchase decisions happened in the third stage and the marketing funnel is done. However, there can be a fourth stage where the customer is delighted with your brand and is converted into an advocate.
Inbound marketing is based on this funnel, where the inbound marketing methodology is designed to attract customers at each stage.
Inbound Marketing Methodology for SaaS
One of the uniqueness of SaaS marketing is the relatively short sales cycle. For SaaS products priced below $2,000 annually, the buyer’s journey from where they are aware of your SaaS product until they made the purchase typically lasts only 14 days.
This is why inbound marketing and SaaS are like a match made in heaven. With inbound methodology, we can effectively engage prospects during each stage of the funnel.
For example, let’s say we are a SaaS company selling productivity software. In this case, these are the inbound marketing efforts we can try for each stage of the customer’s journey:
- Awareness stage: we provide content about productivity, so when people realizes that they have productivity issues, they might stumble upon your content. You can also offer content on how your service can help solve their productivity problems.
- Consideration stage: content like “what to consider when looking for SaaS productivity software”, content comparing your software with your competitors’, etc. The idea is to inform users of the unique benefits of your product.
- Decision stage: case studies, facts-rich content can help convince your prospects to make the purchase.
- Delight stage: how to use your software better, various tips on productivity, etc. The idea here is to offer continuous support and service excellence to encourage loyalty.
As you can see, implementing inbound marketing for SaaS doesn’t need to be complex with a simple basic idea: provide content pieces that are going to be valuable for your audience. Below, we will discuss how to effectively plan and execute an inbound marketing strategy for your SaaS business.
SaaS Inbound Marketing Strategy
SaaS inbound marketing can be very complex with all the technical jargon involved. However, it is actually relatively simple, and will only involve three key areas: content development, content promotion, and conversion rate optimization of your content. Below, we will discuss them one by one.
1. SaaS Content Creation
Content in SaaS inbound marketing must be customer-centric. Meaning, they are developed according to the customer’s—or prospect’s— needs, problems, and behaviors.
To do this, the first essential step is to understand your audience.
SaaS User Research
The most common—and effective approach— here is to develop a buyer persona(s). A buyer persona is a hypothetical model of your ideal audience, and there are two key questions to answer:
- Who do you think is your ideal audience?
- What are their problems that my SaaS product can solve?
For example, let’s use the example that you are a SaaS company selling a keyword research tool. Then:
- Who do you think is your ideal audience? SEO marketers, digital marketers, marketing manager
- What are their problems that my SaaS product can solve? Keyword research, topic suggestions, SEO tactics, etc.
With only these two questions, you already have a basic buyer persona. Then, ask more questions, conduct more research using various tools, and confirm the validity of your buyer persona based on your existing customer database (whether your hypothesis is correct). You can use this guide by Search Engine Journal for more about this aspect.
There are two main ways we might stumble upon a content: via Google (or other search engines) search, or when someone else shared the content via social media. Here, we will address the first.
To make sure our content is discoverable, we have to target the right keywords so people can find the content on the search engine.
There are only three key principles to a proper keyword research:
- Find keywords that are relevant and valuable for both your business and your audience.
- Find keywords with high enough monthly search volume, yet manageable competition (some keyword research tools might display this as “keyword difficulty”)
- Find keywords that you can expand into a topic, and thus an actual content.
Social Media Trends Research
By developing content according to topics that are trending in social media, you can improve its shareability. Tools like BuzzSumo can help with this aspect, and the basic principles remain similar to that of keyword research above:
- Find trending topics that are also relevant for your business. You can combine this with keyword research above. For example, you can check whether a target keyword has enough buzz on social media.
- Make sure you are able to develop relevant, valuable content out of the topic.
- Always check whether the competition is manageable. If it’s too saturated, it’s probably not worth pursuing
Developing High-Conversion Content
First, we have to make sure our content is discoverable by the audience, and the easiest way to answer this is to observe the market. That is, what’s currently ranking on the search engines.
Check how the content was developed: it’s structure, it’s content, keyword optimization, etc. This content is your competition, and there are two different approaches you can try:
- Making a better content: bigger, more in-depth, updated with newer information, better user experience, and so on.
- Taking a different angle and be unique: you can approach the keyword from a different angle, and be unique.
In most cases, being unique is the easier approach (but it’s not saying it’s easy). For example, if your target keyword is “digital marketing strategy” and you can provide a totally unique (and working) strategy that has not been covered anywhere else, you have a better chance to rank and get more readers.
Getting your content discovered is one thing, but your content must also be able to deliver value, engage the audience, and persuade them to convert. To do this, there are three different approaches:
- Appeal to the audience’s logic
By providing solid facts and evidences, you can provide value for your audience and establish trust. The challenge with this approach is that your content might get boring, but when done right, can be very effective. This is especially useful for B2B SaaS companies where technical content is expected.
- Appeal to the audience’s emotions
By relating to the audience’s problems, you can effectively persuade them to trust you. For example, if you are selling a productivity SaaS tool, you can address common productivity issues and provide actionable tips. Generally, more effective for B2C SaaS products, but not always.
- Using our credibility
If we are already a trustworthy brand, it’s easier to engage and persuade our audience. However, even newer brands can use this approach, for example by using user testimonials and case studies.
You can combine all of the approaches above within one content, or focus on just one or two.
Utilizing Various Mediums
Content is not only limited to textual form, as there are also images, infographics, videos, and even podcasts.
There are two ways you can utilize various forms in approaching your content marketing game:
- Combining various forms within one content: can be effective, depending on the type of content. For example, images like charts and infographics can help explain facts and data. Videos can also be effective for certain content.
- Releasing various content forms in various channels. You can, for example, re-use a textual content as a video. This approach can be effective to address various stages on the buyer’s journey. For example, a short video about your product might help in the awareness stage, while a more in-depth textual content about the topic can be more effective in the consideration stage.
2. Content Promotion
How you promote the content is just as important as the quality of the content. Remember that no matter how good—or unique— the content is, there’s no use if no one is actually reading it.
Above in the content creation section, we have briefly discussed the importance of SEO. Indeed, SEO will be the primary content promotion method in inbound marketing.
SEO by itself is a pretty broad subject, and you might want to check out our previous guide on SEO here.
However, there are several key areas to focus on when optimizing your content for SEO:
- Make sure the page is mobile-responsive and is fast enough to load (3 seconds on standard 4G connection is your upper limit)
- Use your keywords naturally, and combine semantically-related words. Don’t overthink this and focus on developing content that is natural to read for human audience.
- Make sure your content is well-structured and free of typos and grammatical errors.
- The key to SEO, however, is backlink. It’s important to note that nowadays, the quality of the inbound link is more important than quantity. In fact, getting too many backlinks at one time—even if they are authoritative—, can get you penalized. Aim to get 2 to 3 high-quality backlinks each month.
Aiming for more backlinks will be the core of your content promotion strategy. That is, with every other content promotion effort, you should aim to get high-quality backlinks.
Social Media Promotion
There are two different aspects of content promotion in social media: organic and paid. Organic, is when you grow your own social media followers—and thus, your organic reach—, so when you share your content in your social media profiles, you’ll reach a lot of people.
Paid, as the name suggests, is when you invest on social media advertising. For example, you can use Facebook’s Boost Post feature to promote content you’ve posted on facebook.
This is the case of cost VS time: organic efforts are affordable—if not free—, but you will need to invest months or even years. On the other hand, paid options will guarantee quick results, but can be very expensive. The key is finding the balance.
Sending your new content to your email subscribers can be very effective, especially in the consideration stage for lead nurturing content. How do we build a growing email list in the first place? Also via content, and we will discuss this further below.
When an influencer—or a reputable site— recommends your content, you can reach their followers. The key here is finding the right influencer according to your SaaS niche, and find ways so you can get them to mention your content.
For example, you can mention (or even link) an influencer’s content within yours, and then reach out to the influencer that you’ve mentioned them. In some cases, they might be willing to share your content to their followers (assuming your content is high-quality).
Sometimes, however, an influencer outreach email is all it takes.
When done right, guest posting is still a very effective way to promote your brand, your content, and get those valuable backlinks. Reach out to reputable sites and blogs in your SaaS niche, and pitch a guest post idea.
The key here is building your credibility (through your content), and build relationships. Sometimes, you will need to pay some money to get these opportunities, but it can be worth it in the long run.
Content Syndication and Content Community
Content syndication is essentially re-publishing your content in third-party sites. So. it’s quite similar to guest posting but you don’t have to create a brand new content.
When a content is syndicated to another site, it can be published as it is or slightly edited (usually to a shorter piece). But, wouldn’t syndication get us penalized due to duplicate content? You might want to check out this article by Neil Patel on the truth about duplicate content penalty.
There are also content community sites where you can share and promote your own content. For example, Hacker News is a community to share tech-related content. This can be a good place to share your content, but don’t be too self-promoting. Engage with other users, promote other’s content, and build relationships.
3. Optimizing Conversions For Your Content
Now that you’ve got a lot of readers/viewers to your content, how can they bring value to you? The answer is conversion.
Let’s go back to the marketing funnel discussed at the beginning of this guide:
- Attraction: here, our aim is to convert content readers into leads
- Consideration: we filter out marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), nurture them, and convert them into prospects
- Decision: we convert prospects into customers
- Delight: we convert loyal customers into advocates
As you can see, it’s all about conversion.
However, your content readers won’t usually convert by themselves, and they will need a little push. More specifically, here are the common conversion steps in SaaS inbound marketing. Again, let’s use the example that you are a SaaS company selling productivity tools.
A user, Mr.X, realizes he had productivity issues, and went to Google to search for productivity tips. He stumbled upon your content “Top 10 Tips To Increase Productivity Without Willpower”. In the middle of the article, you offer him an ebook for more in-depth productivity tactics that he can download for free in exchange of his email address. He went on to download this ebook.
Let’s pause a bit. The ebook here is an offer we call a lead magnet, which essentially, something valuable that we give for free in exchange for their contact information. When they gave their contact info (mainly email address), we effectively converted them into a lead.
Now, we can follow-up with an email marketing campaign to nurture Mr.X as a lead. Email marketing is an important aspect of inbound marketing as a lead nurturing effort.
Let’s say that Mr.X continued to consume your content (which he became aware to via your email newsletter), and now he’s aware of your SaaS product. He researched for your product and stumbled upon your competitors’. After comparing his options, he decided to sign-up for your free-trial. Here, we effectively converted Mr.X from a lead into a prospect.
During the free-trial period, we continued to send email newsletters, but now we sent tutorials about our product, tips on how to use our product, and other product educational content. We also offer customer service excellence during this period, as an attempt to turn him into a purchasing customer. Finally, he decided to purchase the product, and now he is effectively converted as a customer.
However, our job is not yet finished. We continued our inbound marketing efforts by sending more content and continue to provide great service. We do this to prevent customer churn, so that Mr.X won’t cancel his subscription, and also to turn him into an advocate. Turns out he is very happy with our product (and service, remember that service is an important aspect of SaaS), and he started recommending our product to his peers. Finally, he is converted into an advocate.
As you can see, your content should be optimized for conversion according to the various stages of the buyer’s journey. The most important factor, however, is having strong lead magnets to convert readers into leads. You might want to check out this huge list by OptinMonster listing 60+ lead magnet ideas.
Inbound marketing for SaaS comprises on three key points: developing high-quality and relevant content, figuring out strategies to promote the content, and optimizing your content for conversions.
If you can do all three properly, you are set with your SaaS inbound marketing strategy, and start to build a long-lasting, sustainable source of leads. The key here is consistency in both quality and quantity.
July 10, 2019