content marketing for saas

If you are a SaaS company priding itself on tech proficiency, it is likely that you scoff at the notion of content marketing. Most Software as a Service ventures, at least preliminarily, believe that features make or break a product, and that the potential benefits their product offers alone can get them into the lives and enterprises of their prospects.

However, that particular myth busts fast. Content marketing is a necessity in 2016 and beyond because savvy buyers are almost completely immune to abrasive promotional messages that indulge in hype and deliver little to no value.

What is Content Marketing?

There is a lot of confusion around what qualifies as content marketing. Content marketing is NOT publishing that sporadic blog post and waiting for the Google bot to award brownie points to your site and brand. It is not making halfhearted attempts on social by regurgitating latest trends and curated articles.

Then what is it, really? Let’s borrow a definition from the Content Marketing Institute:

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A few key terms to note are:

Consistency: It is important to follow a schedule with content marketing efforts. Content marketing is not a sprint. It should be treated as a marathon because it has to account for each and every phase of the buyer’s journey. Focusing on “attraction” without offering follow up advice on making the right decision (that is choosing your SaaS product) is akin to handing an aware and willing lead over to competitors. HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2014 study found that brands that blog consistently and cover a broad range of topics are 13X times more likely to see a positive ROI on their investment.

Value: Writing about office antics is quirky. But at the end of the day establishing authority depends on providing insights and wisdom that few others can. Even if the basic premise of content is tried and tested, how it is presented and made actionable largely determines “value” of an asset. B2C companies allocate 32% of their total marketing budget to content creation and promotion. The corresponding figure for B2B is 28% but rises to 42% for the most effective of the lot.

Profitable customer action: Content marketing can’t proceed without a game plan. Each asset that is pushed out has to solve a problem. For example, if your content is targeted at the “awareness” stage of the buyer’s journey, it should address the most rampant issues plaguing them, in order to highlight the root cause of inefficiencies. Similarly, content at the “desire” phase should bring into focus the need for more advanced features and showcase the successes of your existing clients. Nearly half of all effective content marketing campaigns have a documented editorial mission, specific KPIs and identified publishing channels associated with all assets intended for publication. The post and pray approach is not content marketing.

Why Should SaaS Companies Care?

With these clarifications in place, the challenges faced by SaaS companies in their promotional efforts bring into perspective the true need of content marketing. According to expert consensus:

SaaS companies have to compete with myriad peers more than any other kind of venture in the tech market. In order to stand out in this overcrowded landscape, they have to offer real value and they must offer it consistently so that they stay at the top of prospects’ minds. Imagine accomplishing this feat with intrusive YouTube or banner ads. They fail miserably as they are neither valuable nor engaging. Content marketing on the other hand hits both criteria.

SaaS companies have to deal with the monster of attrition or churn. And churn partly comes from empowered buyers having options to flit to. Clients come in with high expectations – perhaps even unrealistic expectations. And when a SaaS solution can’t deliver miracles within the first month, they switch their loyalties. Some never get around to being properly onboarded and thus do not realize the value of the software. Content marketing not only tells them exactly what they can expect in the Attraction stage, it gives them the tools (personalized demos and walk throughs) to explore the various features and enjoy instant gratification with easy wins during Onboarding and finally offers them after sales nurturing in the form of summit invitations and webinars to Delight and Retain.

SaaS companies do not have a tangible product. Thus they have to literally set up camp in the pockets of prospects to have any chance of converting them. Content marketing provides this opportunity and leverage. Be it through emails or on social channels, visual, engaging and information-rich updates establish an ongoing relationship with prospective buyers, and consequently, the vendor becomes a welcome guest instead of an annoying pest.

How to Nail Content Marketing Throughout the Sales Funnel

A typical SaaS sales funnel attracts a prospect, converts him, onboards him and retains him for eventual high Lifetime Value (LTV). Content marketing can add a hook to each and every stage to improve the probability of success. The thing to keep in mind before you embark on this journey is that help is always available in the form of top notch content marketing services for SaaS products that make your job easier.

During Attraction

HubSpot is a SaaS product and the world of online marketing would be dull without it. Any noteworthy piece of content that has to do with marketing, sales, automation or conversions is probably from this giant. Its blog is divided into three categories to help cut down reader overwhelm.

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And it does a wonderful job of using the concept of Logic of Escalation. HubSpot doesn’t restrict itself to obvious topics like “How to Excel at Inbound Marketing?” It has a succinct guidebook of HTML hacks for marketers. It gives away cold calling templates and religiously publishes infographics. It even provides cheat sheets on Excel shortcuts and the steps to inspect elements in various browsers.

In fact, it is difficult to search for anything marketing centric and not stumble upon HubSpot’s content in one format or the other. While being this prolific is not in every SaaS venture’s budget, HubSpot’s example can definitely be used as a benchmark to guide efforts.

During Conversion

When a lead has been properly primed, conversion is often just a matter of flipping the believability switch. And trust comes from celebrating past successes with new potentials. Most SaaS ventures do have a few case studies and testimonials tucked away in an obscure corner of the website. But that is not enough. The assets must be given center-stage.

NetSuite does this remarkably well with its customer success portal where it not only features hundreds of accounts of challenges solved for global brands, it also offers a convenient set of filters to help prospects read up about companies that resonate with them and thus competently judge the viability and fit of NetSuite for circumstances that are very similar to theirs.

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During Onboarding

Clients want to be assisted when they explicitly call for it, and self-service is fast trumping handholding. This has led to more intuitive interfaces in a bid to eliminate frustration. But what most SaaS ventures do not pay heed to is onboarding content. Forget about blog posts and emails. This phase calls for FAQs and customized demonstrations to aid mastering particular features and modules.

Using platforms like WalkMe, cloud vendors can create demos that are specific to industries. These demos are automatically triggered when clients use certain functionalities for the first time, respecting the desire to learn the ropes independently, yet offering competent guidance if needed.

During Retention

Customer Success Representatives (CSRs) alone can’t really guarantee churn reduction. The SaaS company must prove to be a source of useful information and actionable advice, thus morphing into a trusted partner to give buyers enough reason to stick around. And this is done with the help of webinars and podcasts that dive deeply into areas tackled and facilitated by the software.

Talent Management suite HRSoft has created a series of “Talent Takeaway” podcasts that talk about everything from the rationale of stay interviews to best practices of compensation planning automation.

These monthly events attract HR heads from the client base in record numbers; even if something more advanced (or cheaper) hits the market, HRSoft evangelists who are used to hearing the voice of and communicating with CMO Brian Sharp on a regular basis would not think of embracing a different brand.

Parting Thoughts

At the end of the day we are living in an experience economy – one in which price and tech are gradually taking the backseat. A new technology is ripped and replicated within a few weeks. And features are no longer the main draw for SaaS buyers. It is the belief that their business is in good hands and that the vendors have the knowledge needed to train and support users. Content marketing goes a long way in inspiring this trust. Have you started your preparations yet?