I recently had the opportunity to chat with a number of leading SaaS marketers, CEOs, and investors around emerging trends SaaS marketers should take advantage of or keep their eye on in 2017.
We discussed everything from new software technologies, the emergence of account-based marketing, and the resurgence of traditional marketing channels—all marking large impacts on high-performing marketing programs across the country.
Now that Q1 is coming to a close and your marketing plans are starting to solidify, I thought it would be beneficial to share the insights and advice from these very gifted and talented SaaS leaders.
1. The Resurgence of Channel Distribution
I think channel distribution is one of the most promising and untapped acquisition channels for SaaS — especially for SMB SaaS startups. Channel distribution has historically been a major method of growth and scale for expensive enterprise software and hardware, but cloud software has not embraced channel distribution in the same way. Companies like Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and Cisco all generate more than 80% of their revenues through resellers and distributors, yet only 23% of SaaS revenues are through channel sales. As the SaaS industry continues to mature, we will see a shift toward more channel distribution models.
As Thomas Hansen, former Worldwide Vice President of SMB at Microsoft and currently the Global Vice President of Revenue for Dropbox, puts it:
“And while turning to channel resellers may seem decidedly old-school, working with partners will give cloud companies the agility they need to spread the word about their services on a broader scale, and gain new customers in new markets and new industries, and importantly at unit economics that scale positively fast.”
2. Account-Based Marketing Strategies
InsightSquared’s marketing model centers on account-based techniques. We certainly have an active, growing blog, and our blog plays a vital role in sourcing new leads. Collaborating with BDRs, though, to “warm” up accounts so they are more likely to be receptive to that initial call and engaging open opportunities to accelerate deal velocity — these are the building blocks of our marketing program. We’ve spent the past seven months figuring out how we can increase ACV through account-based techniques targeted at open opportunities, and we’ve found that creative mailers — like 3D models of our reports that help sales executives actually experience a digital product and InsightSquared-branded energy drinks (below) that, when sent at the end of a quarter, spread quickly throughout the sales floors of our highest value accounts — produce outsized returns. In one evaluation, we found that companies who received a $65 case of energy drinks were nearly 40% more likely to buy our software than were those who didn’t.
Another early win is treating closed:lost accounts as our most valuable cohort. We’ve discovered that companies are twice as likely to buy when they enter our funnel a second time than they were the first time, and four times as likely to buy on their third time around. ABM is about investing in the largest and most-likely-to-close accounts. We’ve ratcheted up our ACV steadily since we began this technique.
3. Targeted and Personal Marketing Communications
Today’s B2B marketing leader has one of the most challenging—yet rewarding—jobs in the business. From the investor seat, it’s exciting to watch the latest trends in martech, because technology is allowing marketers to reach customers in a more targeted and personal way than ever before. This is game-changing for CMOs. Here are two tangible examples of this:
Account-based marketing (ABM)
Less than 1% of leads turn into customers, resulting in massive waste in the marketing funnel. ABM enables B2B marketers to target best-fit accounts, engage decision makers on their terms, and accelerate sales and marketing pipeline velocity at scale. I truly believe ABM is the future of marketing, as sales and marketing become more aligned. Rather than starting broad and getting narrow, account-based marketing starts by selecting your named accounts and targeting not only specific companies, but even specific buyers within companies. Full disclosure, we are an investor in Terminus, who is leading the ABM movement. The FlipMyFunnel conference is evidence of this rapidly-growing category.
Content marketing automation
Continued innovation within martech has created nearly an infinite number of targeting options. However, while technology allows this, content has often become the bottleneck in truly making the promise of 1:1 marketing a reality. Marketers can now dynamically serve content that powers the buyer’s journey in real-time with more targeted, relevant content. Instead of using drip campaigns which can take weeks or months, it engages buyers when they’re ready to buy with content relevant to their decision making. We closed an investment in August of 2016 in Toronto’s LookBookHQ, who is pioneering this technology. It’s amazing to see the personalization and automation all in one.
In short, both of these trends are examples of personally engaging with an audience on a 1:1 level. It’s clear the worlds of B2B and B2C are converging quickly. ABM and content marketing automation are at the center of this trend, and they validate why it’s the most exciting time in history to be a marketer.
4. Baking Marketing Into the Product
Product design will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the marketing of SaaS products. As more and more products pursue a bottoms-up approach to sales and distribution, the product itself will be called upon to shoulder much of the burden of marketing. The key is to be intentional about baking marketing into the product itself. This is certainly true when it comes to driving expansion revenue, as new users and departments are exposed to the product and choose to adopt it for themselves. Additionally, products that touch users (prospects, customers, partners, etc.) outside of the enterprise itself, such as Narvar, Evernote, DropBox, Doxly, Sigstr, etc. will rely on the product experience itself to drive new prospects into the pipeline.
5. Doing Away With Lead Forms
One thing that we did at Drift that goes against the grain of what most SaaS companies are doing is we decided to get rid of all of our gated content and lead forms. We think that the way most traditional B2B businesses do marketing and sales today is broken. Think about it: as people, we avoid filling out forms, and we hate talking to sales reps on the phone — but then we go to our jobs in marketing and sales in SaaS and do all of the things we hate. Forms and gated content just don’t match the way that people actually buy things today — we can find out just about everything we need to know before making a purchase, and many times, we can buy things or get the information we need without ever having to talk to sales at all.
“Forms and gated content just don’t match the way that people actually buy things today.” —David Cancel
So we made the decision to make all of our marketing content free — un-gated — so we can spread Drift as wide as possible, and then people consume it (and buy from us) how they want.
6. The Understated Importance of “Human Email”
Marketers today pour their hearts (and budgets) into producing quality content to educate their audience members. Often times, this content goes unused and doesn’t live up to the potential it has to generate leads or progress deals. Marketing teams are now needing new channels to creatively distribute this valuable content and get it in front of the right audience.
Think about the thousands of emails your employees are sending everyday — interacting with thousands of valuable individuals who are right in the palm of your hand. “Human email” (think Gmail or Outlook) presents an opportunity to drive brand impressions and marketing ROI. Marketers are unlocking this owned channel with simple, central control over the company’s email signature. Using this untapped digital real estate to place more content in more places.
7. Empowering Customers to Speak on Your Behalf
Sophisticated and successful B2B marketers are engaging with their audiences earlier than ever and more directly in more unique and transparent ways. Recent data tells us that many buyers are making purchase decisions prior to even speaking to a salesperson. Prospects are turning to alternative sources — reviews, blogs, etc.—for product information. In short, buyers are telling us that they trust aggregated sources for information more than the brand. Marketers who are succeeding in this new reality are the ones that are finding ways to work with these channels and provide trustworthy and transparent information.
B2B marketers are quickly embracing the product review industry and learning how to very openly engage with buyers. This is creating a new layer of interaction between brands and their customers. Leading B2B companies are employing a review strategy and empowering their customers to speak on behalf of the brand.
8. Storytelling and the Value of In-Person Connections
In-person events and conferences
I have a renewed appreciation, value, and understanding for what in-person events can do for companies. And it doesn’t need to be on the scale of Dreamforce — companies should be doing their own events whether there are 20 attendees, 200 attendees, or 20,000 attendees. At Terminus, we have put on the FlipMyFunnel roadshow conference almost 10 times and created a massive conference with over 25 sponsors and 35 speakers in Atlanta last December. We focused entirely on thought leadership and the concept of FlipMyFunnel and account-based marketing (ABM), not on pitching Terminus products. We focus on the problem and attendees know where to find a solution.
We were able to do all of this with a small marketing team and when Terminus was still very young. I can’t stress enough the importance of being in-person with your customers and the people you want to be your customers.
Every 5 years, we have seen a major shift in the marketing landscape. 2000 was the year of email marketing and marketing automation became the new shiny object around 2005. In 2010, we started to have lead overload, so predictive lead scoring became the new thing. Now in 2017, you look at all of this innovation and we’re still engaging with people over email and phone calls. ABM has become the new marketing technology and strategy because we now know what accounts to go after and we are being smart about engaging people “on their terms” through traditional and emerging channels.
I believe in the future, though, we will go back to the Mad Men era of marketing that focused on storytelling. Your marketing is not going to work if you’re not putting the right message in front of the right person with the right story.
Storytelling will become the main job of the marketer.
9. Proprietary Trend Data and Joint Events
Trend data for prospects’ industries
In content marketing, our area of focus in marketing, companies have a need to understand what topics they should be covering. Typically there is a seasonal aspect of recurring activity, as well as trends that pop up unexpectedly. We have a proprietary source of data that illuminates these content trends, and we started offering reports to our prospects in order to help get them in the door from this data.
For example, we can show a “chocolate trends report” for a candy manufacturer, which is almost impossible to say “no” to when a sales director offers it up. We have since published these reports on our website, such as this Home Decor report (left) which generates a good number of leads. And now we’re even selling more in-depth reports as part of our core business.
Joint events with other SaaS companies
One of the challenges of going to big events like SXSW or CES is that companies must pay high prices to participate. Last year we turned this model on its head and began teaming up with other companies in our space that touch on a similar market but with complimentary, non-competitive solutions. This allows us to split the cost of events without the for-profit mark-up that big event organizers take AND we agree to share our client and prospect lists. This significantly reduces costs and brings in more friendly clients/prospects who are happy to meet another trusted company in the space. We are now regularly planning our upcoming marketing activities in tandem with other friendly partners.
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