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Can marketers change? Are we nonmillennials doomed to fade from the scene, our old ways weighing us down like a boat anchor? While it may be true that a leopard can’t change its spots, I don’t think it’s true that old-hand marketers are immutable. Old salts, perhaps, but not old dogs. Anyone can change course and become a successful SaaS marketer.
I know this, because I made the switch. After a good ten years of marketing enterprise software, I had to change my stripes. I was happily marketing a portfolio of on-premise software products when, thanks to an acquisition, my portfolio grew to include two SaaS products. It was OJT time. I had to learn the difference between marketing software with a perpetual license model and marketing software with an annual subscription license model.
Looking back, it was not all smooth sailing. There were four key changes I had to make in my approach to the job. I’ve listed them below in the order they became evident to me. Hopefully, this list will help you old salts out there set a new tack.
Mindset – if you are going to change your marketing ways, having an open mind is essential. Easy to say, but harder in practice. When do you rely on your years of marketing nous, and when do you decide that it’s dated or even irrelevant? Being a life learner is, I think, the most important thing. I’ve learned volumes since making the switch to being a SaaS marketer, and I have loved every minute of it. For example, I now think of our blog not as a corporate newsletter (a hodgepodge of items we want to communicate) but rather as a key means to grow web traffic by appealing to the specific needs of our target buyer. Of course, I’m not afraid to call someone out if I think the emperor is not wearing any clothes, as I’ve done before on growth hacking gone overboard and startups who claim they do no marketing. SaaS has not changed everything in marketing.
Skills – in my estimation, the biggest difference with SaaS is that numbers become even more important. SaaS companies live or die by metrics (as we’ll discuss below), so you have got to be adept with numbers. No more faking your way through; you have got to prove things. Take, for example, the trial signup page on your website (a genetic marker of SaaS applications). Your signup page is both the first place someone experiences your application and the first step toward closing the deal. The marketing team needs to be on top of conversion rate and abandonment rate on a cohort basis (see below) and must report out to the rest of the organization. Related to math skills are development skills (you are building the front door to your SaaS application) and a scientist’s bent toward experimentation (conversion rate optimization is a series of hypotheses proven or disproven by experiments).
Tactics – depending on your product, you may never meet the people who sign up to use your SaaS application. Quite a change from manning a trade show booth or putting on a seminar. So you need to emphasize tactics like search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO). As I like to say, every SaaS sale starts with a Google search. Your buyer’s journey is quite different, so your marketing mix is going to be different. Said another way, your focus will be more on inbound marketing rather than on the conventional outbound marketing techniques.
Metrics – I have come to love metrics. I wish I had learned the importance of metrics first in my conversion to a SaaS marketer. I recommend you do. As I said, SaaS companies live and die by metrics. The first three you need to learn are churn rate, CAC ratio and cohort analysis. David Skok, whose For Entrepreneurs blog helped me climb the learning curve, has an in-depth guide to SaaS metrics. I highly recommend it. If you don’t love metrics and your math skills are limited, you may have a hard time making the switch.
Remember: It’s still marketing. Not everything you know has gone out the window. Many of the tactics are the same, but you need to split from the dying “marcom faction” that ruled in days gone by. That style of marketing just won’t get it done anymore.
So turn over a new leaf. SaaS is here to stay. I’m personally addicted to recurring revenue. I think you will be, too.
If you are ready to start your education, take a look at The SaaS Marketing Handbook, written by yours truly.