May 17, 2019

How SaaS Marketing Has Evolved to Enhance the User Experience

Technology has changed significantly over the past 50 years, and communication channels have too.

That’s part of the premise of the inbound methodology — buyers have the ability to be more informed than ever before due to the availability of information through the internet.

This development of technology and communication methods has changed not only the kind of SaaS products available but also how those products can and should be marketed.

The foundations for SaaS were laid in the 1960s, and SaaS products began to emerge during the 1980s. Since the ‘80s, technology has changed the way consumers approach purchasing decisions and changed what customers expect to gain from products. To account for this, SaaS marketing has had to evolve as well.

Where Inbound Meets Outbound: The Adoption of the Allbound Marketing Approach

SaaS marketing started out with a lot of cold-calling and email blasts. Marketers would purchase lists, send out email blasts to those people and then call as a follow-up to those emails.

Those early marketers understood who were good fits for their product, how their product benefited their prospects but didn’t have a way their products could find them — so they had to reach out.

“Years ago, it was almost exclusively outbound, and then inbound started to take over and there was a back and forth between the two,” Guido Bartolacci, New Breed’s Head of Demand Generation Marketing says. “But there’s a place for both inbound and outbound methods, which has helped a lot of companies move toward the ‘allbound’ approach to growing your business.”

This involves sales teams using both inbound and outbound tactics, and often features sales teams being split into two sections:

  • An inbound team responsible for fielding incoming requests spurred by educational content, appearances in search results and conversion strategies
  • An outbound team that focuses on account-based marketing and targeted outreach

The Allbound approach allows marketers to use the strongest aspects of both marketing styles. Inbound provides better long term value and attracts better-fit customers, but attraction tactics won’t bring in every prospect you’d want to work with and sell to.

“It’s still important to know who those target accounts are and to go after them,” Guido says.

Combining inbound tactics with account-based marketing expands the number of people you can draw in. Additionally, target accounts can help inform your inbound buyer personas and ground those personas by providing concrete examples.

Shifting the Focus: Let Your Product Sell Itself

Product-led growth (PLG) takes the sales adage “Features tell, benefits sell” one step further by not only informing customers of how a product will provide value for them but also allowing them to experience it for themselves.

“Instead of pushing a message out there, product-led growth is essentially the fact that your product sells itself, and people experience the value of that product naturally,” Guido says. “Your job is to help people understand and find that value more easily.”

This fits naturally with the inbound methodology where the marketers and sales reps work to help prospects solve for specific challenges and pain points.

“The nuance between inbound and product-led growth is that rather than having gated pieces of content to help people through [the buyer’s journey] it’s now just try it out, get in the product and see how it works for yourself,” Guido explains.

Product-led growth does require confidence in your product since it relies on creating such a positive user experience that users want to continue using the product.

Then viral and networking aspects can come into play.

Take Slack for example. To use the communication tool, you need people who can join the platform to communicate with you. So, people invite their co-workers to join them and as more and more people start using it, Slack becomes a more efficient communication method than face-to-face or email.

Once a large enough portion of people adopt a product like Slack, everyone is basically forced on board as well. For example at New Breed, if someone decided not to use Slack, they’d basically be ostracizing themselves by making it difficult to communicate with them.

Freemium models make it easy for users to get first-hand experience with the awesomeness of a product early on without risking much.  

The Decline of Gated Content

Providing users with helpful resources about a product is one of the best ways to help them gain the most value out of that product.

Traditionally, marketers exchange value for information using gated content. In exchange for a resource like a webinar, guide or template, a prospect would give information about themselves through a “gate” like a form, lead flow or chatbot.

However, the Freemium and PLG models have changed this process. Prospects can now gain more value by actually using the product than they can by filling out a form for gated content. In response to this shift, many SaaS marketers have begun to move away from gating their content.

“As far as friction is concerned for the end user, filling out a form to download a piece of content and signing up for the product are the same,” Guido says. “So now, what’s the better value for the organization? Signing up for the product is obviously the higher valued tool for the organization.”

This has led to marketers ungating their content to bring more people to their website and convert them into freemium users. Additionally, you can provide ungated content to help users get the most out of the product when they start using it.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other types of conversions you want to incorporate into your website,” Guido says.

Tactics like conversational marketing, newsletters and blog subscriptions are still useful for starting conversations and engaging with prospects before they’re ready to dive into your product.

“You should still continue to have those conversion points that engage with people and get the conversation going, but gating content has become less prevalent because of this shift,” Guido says.

Download The Definitive Guide to SaaS Marketing to learn actionable ways to  grow your business.

Providing Value Through the Onboarding Experience

In addition to having a great product and content that helps people understand how and why to use it, your onboarding experience is another essential way people get value from your product.

Traditional tech onboarding requires the user to do all the work on their own. The user has to read the manual or follow specific steps by themselves, but this isn’t the most effective process because people will skip over parts of the process.

Take Microsoft Word for example. When you use it for the first time or update the software, a pop-up appears walking you through some of the functionality. People tend to skip through that information and consequently miss out on functions that could improve their experiences with Microsoft Word.

Now, companies are starting to see onboarding as part of the sales-to-service handoff and putting more effort into approaching it more hands-on.

For example, email client Superhuman rolls out the red carpet for new users and tailors their onboarding to address the challenges the individual is trying to solve.

Matt Bilotti, host of Drift’s #Growth podcast says Superhuman has “the most remarkable product onboarding I’ve ever seen.”

Superhuman describes themselves as the “fastest email experience ever made” and are currently very selective about who they let use their product since they’re still finding product-market fit.

Their onboarding process is very personal, very contextual and provides useful information about the product every step of the way — from initial onboarding and nurture emails to the renewal process.

“I’ve never gotten set up with a tool that has ever felt like mine so, so immediately,” Bilotti says.

Instead of requiring the user to work independently to learn how to use a product, Superhuman provided an onboarding experience tailored specifically to the users' needs.

“The first 30 days of someone using a product is one of the most critical periods of the customer journey,” Guido says. “If that onboarding and first 30 days go poorly, that customer is way more likely to churn.”

At New Breed, we received this style of personalized onboarding experience from conversational marketing solution Drift.

“The thing I loved about our onboarding with Drift was that it wasn’t ‘this is where you go to create playlists and this is where you go to create chatbots,’” Guido explains. “It was ‘here is an example of a chatbot that’s built out in your portal and here’s how you should use it.’”

We tweaked that initial chatbot a little but starting with a fully-formed chatbot that was custom-created for us helped make the product more tangible.

HubSpot provides a similar service through its HubSpot Academy courses.

Continued Customer Success, Support and Service

“If you’re putting so much value into the product, then having great customer service experience should just be table stakes at this point,” Guido says.

What’s the point of having invested time and money into creating a great product and getting people to use it if users can’t actually benefit from your product?

What is actually required for customer service and support depends on the complexity of your product. If your solution is simple and you’ve built it well and provided a comprehensive onboarding experience, you might not need to do much at this stage other than being available to users when they need help.

But if you have a more complex solution, like HubSpot for example, continuously delighting your customers will take more concentrated efforts.

That can be done through an external managed services channel partners, an internal customer success team and a self-service knowledge base.

A simple solution like Slack won’t need an agency like New Breed to help users gain value from Slack because there’s really only one way to use it — it’s a messaging tool. Slack does have multiple features that add to the customer experience, but due to the straightforwardness of its main value proposition, Slack enables users through messages in the product, with more extensive usage guides available on their website and through similar networking patterns to how they spread their platform to begin with.

For example, I’ve never read a formal guide on how to use Slack, but I can tag people and create polls and use app integrations. I learned those features from watching other users engage with the tool.

HubSpot, on the other hand, can be used in multiple ways. While the platform is customer-friendly, the number of features that can be utilized in different ways requires a more hands-on approach to customer support to ensure users are maximizing their use of the product.

HubSpot addresses this by having partner agencies like New Breed help service their users.

“If you’re going with a managed service channel partner, then your customer service is to enable those people to be successful in understanding the product and being helpful to other people using the product,” Guido says.

Regardless of whether you take a hands-on approach to customer care through a customer success team or partner agency or provide self-service resources like a knowledge base, users need to know where to go when they have questions about your product.

The Takeaway

All of these changes within SaaS marketing have moved toward a common goal: prioritizing your customer.

When marketing your product, keep the Marketing Flywheel in mind and try to continuously delight your users through the communications you have with them, the experience guiding them into your product and the adoption and usage of the product itself.

Marketing no longer stops with a handoff to sales but continues throughout the entire customer relationship.

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Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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