Key terms and concepts
What does B2B mean?
B2B (business-to-business) stands for a company that sells its products or services to other businesses (instead of individual consumers).
What are SaaS startups?
SaaS stands for software-as-a-service and these types of businesses sell the access to their cloud-based software solution for a fixed monthly fee that you get charged automatically at the end of each billing cycle. Typically, once you stop the payments, you lose access to the software solution and to your data.
What is inbound content marketing?
Inbound content marketing stands for all the original content that you create for your own channels – blog, web page, social media, etc – with a goal to generate more interest in your products or services. This content can be in many different formats (videos, podcasts, infographics, etc), but text-based content for blogs makes up the majority of it.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization and it’s a digital marketing technique that aims to manipulate web content in a way that results in better rankings on search engine results.
What does KPI stand for?
KPI stands for key performance indicators and it’s used by B2B SaaS marketing teams for setting goals that would keep the work focused on the right things. KPIs are a very powerful work management tool and they are often used by teams who follow OKR (objectives and key results) methodology.
What does ARR stand for?
ARR stands for annual recurring revenue and it’s the most important business metric for any SaaS business. MRR (monthly recurring revenue) x 12 = ARR
What does Skyscraper methodology mean?
Skyscraper technique or methodology is a link building strategy where you find a relevant piece of content with lots of backlinks, improve the content by creating something even more valuable and ask those linking to the original piece to link to your superior content instead.
B2B SaaS growth
How is B2B SaaS marketing different from any other type of marketing?
B2B SaaS marketing is different from other types of marketing by having to focus on funneling potential business customers into self-service signup. This means that you have to communicate your value proposition in a really compelling way and make sure that your marketing funnel is as frictionless as possible.
Compared to B2C, B2B marketing focuses on practical process-driven informed buying decisions, instead of emotion-driven buying decisions.
Standard B2B usually means longer marketing and sales cycles (up to 12 months) but if you are dealing with a B2B SaaS business, then the sales cycle is very short (from a few minutes to a few days) and ideally involves a totally frictionless signup and onboarding process for the customer. As a result, B2B SaaS marketing teams have to provide lots of valuable information in order to educate potential customers, gain trust, and to facilitate the seamless signup and onboarding process.
B2B SaaS growth rates
B2B SaaS growth rates year-over-year can be all over the place, but usually, the question is what growth rate do you want to achieve for your business? The answer depends on your goals.
If you want to be attractive to venture capital, you should grow at least 60% a year after the $10 million ARR (annual recurring revenue) mark and considerably more before reaching that target.
“For a best-in-class SaaS company, the growth rate for any given year is between 80 percent and 85 percent of the growth rate of that same company in the prior year.”
Having that type of aggressive growth rate is valued by venture investors but in real life, it’s more of an exception than a rule and comes with its own set of unique problems.
Successful B2B SaaS companies that set their goals on achieving sustainable growth that wouldn’t break their business usually show very different growth rates and there isn’t one right answer for what to aim for. As a benchmark though, one SaaS study from 2015 showed that the median yearly revenue growth rate of SaaS businesses was 44% (with smaller companies showing the biggest growth rate). When excluding the companies that did less than $2.5 million ARR, the median growth rate was just 35%.
B2B SaaS growth metrics
The ultimate bottom-line growth metric for any B2B SaaS business is the net MRR (monthly recurring revenue) growth rate. This will show you the position of a company in the most basic and practical way.
If you want to see how healthy a B2B SaaS business’s growth is, you should look at the net MRR churn rate.
“MRR churn sucks the blood out of your business. That’s why I think that SaaS companies should work very hard to get MRR churn down, as close to zero as possible, or even better achieve negative MRR churn.”
— Christoph Janz
In terms of B2B SaaS marketing, the growth metrics to look at should be connected to the processes that are influenced by the marketing team. During the early stages, you would want to look at the signups growth per marketing channel (or lead velocity rate) as a success measure.
B2B SaaS growth stages
Building and growing a B2B SaaS business consists of different distinct stages. Not everyone agrees on what the exact stages are, but here’s one way of looking at it.
- Problem/Solution Fit
- Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
- Product/Market Fit
- Language/Market Fit
- Funnel Optimization
- Channel/Product Fit
B2B SaaS marketing strategies based on goals
The exact B2B SaaS marketing strategies depend on the growth goals you have and what stage is your startup in. Some examples include:
Goal: getting the first early adopters to try out your new SaaS solution
- Producthunt and Betalist launch
- Founder’s personal story about the startup journey shared in all the social media channels (original post as a LinkedIn/Facebook/Medium post or in your domain’s blog if it’s already set up) and asking for beta testers to try it out and give feedback
Goal: identifying the ideal target customer group
- Creating a landing page with a unique value proposition for every potential target group
- Using pay-per-click advertising to target niche audiences with these unique landing pages
- Measuring the conversion rate and LTV (lifetime value) of each of these target groups to figure out the best-performing ones.
Goal: getting more qualified leads into your sales funnel
- Researching typical workflow problems of the target customers and writing content pieces that offer solutions
- Promoting each problem-solution content piece in Quora, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, etc
- Offering lead magnets or demo signup option within the content pieces
Goal: getting more self-service signups through your website
- Create a keyword list that includes relevant high-buying-intent keyword groups
- Start writing valuable content that matches the search intent for each of these keywords
- Promote the content pieces on your social media and through a newsletter
Goal: scaling marketing efforts and aggressively increasing traffic through new markets and channels
- Hire or outsource a team of content creators, editors, and link builders
- Create a list of keywords and topics that would bring only high-quality traffic
- Pick targets and goals and create an aggressive content publishing calendar that would focus on each target group and market segment separately
- Use ad budget to get your content in front of the right target groups
Goal: building thought leadership and increasing brand awareness
- Hire or outsource journalists, content creators, PR specialists, and editors for different mediums (writing, videos, podcasts, infographics)
- Pick specific goals for each medium and create a strategy for the key messages and value you aim to offer
- Create processes and allocate funds for the heavy promotion around the new content
- Cultivate your personal brand as a founder
Goal: beating your main competitors and becoming one of the de facto leaders in your industry
- Audit your competitors’ position on the market and make sure that your product has some competitive advantage
- Analyze your competitors’ domain authority, search engine rankings, and current SEO/content processes
- Hire or outsource specialists with SEO-driven content marketing experience and create a multi-year strategy with a keywords list and link profile goals that would help you dominate the market.
- Hire or outsource a team of content creators, SEO specialists, editors, data analysts, marketing designers, link builders, journalists and start creating world-class content that would dominate all of the search rankings that are relevant in your industry
- Keep going with an aggressive content publishing schedule for at least 1-2 years and course-correct the tactics when needed.
B2B SaaS growth marketing channels
Picking the right marketing channels for your B2B SaaS business depends on your industry and where your target customers are spending time online. Universally though, focusing on being visible on search engine results is valuable for the majority of SaaS companies. Here are some commonly used B2B SaaS marketing channels:
- organic Google search traffic – the focus is on link building, SEO optimization, and strategic content marketing through your own blog and landing pages.
- pay-per-click advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Quora Ads, Reddit Ads, etc) – the focus is on optimizing the CAC (customer acquisition cost) of each channel, evaluating the relation of it to LTV (customer lifetime value), and then trying to scale the efforts to increase the number of signups from these channels.
- social media marketing – creating and sharing valuable content that matches the intended use of the social media channel and trying to engage potential new customers through these channels.
- email marketing – trying to engage users through the clever use of different email campaigns. You usually need a high-quality email list to get any success with this channel.
- affiliate marketing – paying affiliates a commission to promote your product. Lots of companies try this but very few actually see meaningful results from it. It makes sense to consider this marketing channel if your product cost is fairly high and you’re able to offer a pretty generous commission to the affiliates.
B2B SaaS growth tools and resources
Some great resources that help you improve your B2B SaaS marketing skills (please let me know what other resources should be added here):
- Ahrefs Blog – great if you want to learn the basics of SEO-driven content marketing and especially valuable if you want to learn how to do keyword research
- Ubersuggest – a free web tool that helps to check the popularity and competition of different keywords (great if you want to avoid the costs of more comprehensive tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs)
- HARO – (HARO stands for “help a reporter out”) great for getting valuable press mentions and backlinks in an organic way. Sign up for the email list as a potential source and start getting daily emails about journalists looking for sources for their upcoming articles.
- SEMrush – a great tool for advanced competitor research, keyword research and has tons of extra features that help to create a good SEO-driven content marketing strategy.
- Ahrefs – a great tool that’s similar to SEMrush, but more focused on the link building aspect of SEO-driven content marketing.
- Paul Graham Essays – some articles are a bit outdated, but there are some great reads that help founders to gain better insights about startup growth stages.
SaaS marketing team management
Best practices for managing a B2B SaaS marketing team
- Focus on setting the right goals and KPIs. Measure the impact of everything you do and measure what really matters to the bottom line of the business. Setting the right goals and KPIs is the cornerstone of any successful SaaS business. Avoid setting goals and objectives that are very hard to measure – like “brand awareness” or “thought leadership” and don’t fall into the trap of looking at vanity metrics – for example “page views” or “Twitter followers”. Great book to read about it – Measure What Matters by John Doerr
- Set measurable quarterly goals for each person in your team and ask them to report the progress every Monday morning.
- Encourage autonomous decision making and try to be as lean as possible with your processes. Make sure that you are not the bottleneck in your team that needs to approve every marketing decision. Make it part of the team culture to “ask forgiveness instead of permission”.
- Help your marketing team with knowledge and resources but ultimately the CMO’s job is to encourage them to experiment, fail, learn, try again, and ultimately succeed on their own. No-blame culture and risk-taking should be the norm in an ambitious SaaS marketing team.
- Work closely with the product team. This will help your marketing team to understand the value proposition better, where the product is evolving and also offers a unique chance to guide the product development to the direction the target group seems to desire. Good relationship with the product team will also help you to launch add-on products that serve specific marketing purposes – for example Chrome extensions, mini-tools on landing pages, interactive games, etc.
B2B SaaS marketing budgets
Marketing budgets can go from 0 to infinity. There’s a lot you can do with any size marketing budget. Here are some ideas to consider if you are looking to increase your organic search traffic:
With zero marketing budget you can:
- Make all of your team members write and publish content for your blog: developers can write case studies about the approaches they took while building some features, founders can write about their journey with starting the business and the mental challenges they faced, marketers can write compelling blog posts about the common problems that the ideal target customers might have and how your product solves them and support specialists can write knowledge base articles about specific product features and how to make the most of them.
- Use HARO to get media exposure and valuable links. Make sure that every team member signs up for it and makes an effort to offer themselves as sources
- Every team member should share your business updates in their personal social media channels and also find valuable curated materials for your business’s social media.
- Encourage your team members to take part in relevant conferences and seminars as a speaker or mentors and to get backlinks and press mentions and original social media content through that.
- Be active in a valuable way in different subreddits, Slack and Facebook groups, etc that are relevant to your industry and have lots of followers that could be your potential customers. Don’t be overly salesy in these groups, but try to engage in different topics over a longer period of time to gain everyone’s trust.
With a shoestring budget (pre-seed or seed round)
- Use a more comprehensive paid tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs to do proper keyword research and competitor audits to figure out your content strategy and start tracking your weekly progress there as well.
- Create a content strategy and outline content briefs and then hire some freelance writers in order to increase the amount of content that you can put out each month
- Use some budget to promote your content on social media channels to get new visitors. Create content with a specific target audience in mind and then promote specific content pieces only to them.
With a comfortable budget
- Make a plan to experiment with all the marketing channels and tactics you can think of, but keep the main focus on creating valuable and unique content.
- Hire or outsource higher quality content creators for different mediums – podcasts, videos, infographics, comic strips, etc.
- Hire a PR agency that’s up-and-coming and willing to take more risks and already has some great results to show from previous works.
- Pump up your content publishing schedule and make it your goal to start ranking for every valuable keyword with meaningful traffic volume within your industry. Hire or outsource SEO and strategic content marketing expertise for this.
B2B SaaS marketing team KPI examples
The best KPIs for a B2B SaaS marketing team are connected to the actual bottom-line results of the company – revenue, paying customers, and new signups. Since content marketing and SEO are generating top-of-the-funnel traffic and can’t influence the user journey past the signup intent, it makes sense to pick signup growth as the general KPI for a marketing team. Depending on the size of your marketing team and the focus you have, you should be using many different KPI variations for different team members.
Some examples of good SEO-focused content marketing KPIs for your SaaS marketing team:
- new weekly signups from new search traffic increasing by x amount by the end of the quarter
- the bottom-line metric is increasing actual weekly signups because that’s directly connected to the success of your business and it won’t leave room for any vanity metrics that could incentivize your marketing team to work on the content that brings in new traffic but won’t convert into actual users.
- you can easily track this KPI with Google Analytics if you have the signup event set up there as well.
- filter the organic search traffic to show only “new” first-time visitors because using all of the organic search visitors as a KPI will also count in returning users who use the Google search engine to navigate to your page.
- since SEO and content marketing success lies in the compound effect over time and is slow to show meaningful results, don’t pick overly aggressive quarterly goals (unless you already have great resources and processes in place and have worked on the same KPI during the previous quarters as well and are expecting to start seeing more results based on that work).
- new weekly signups from new referral traffic (quality link-building focus)
- the clear sign of a super high-quality link is if it generates actual referral traffic and the visitors coming from it also sign up
- expect these signups metric to be much lower compared to the search traffic signup KPI because it’s very hard to get these types of quality mentions about your product from other sites.
- this KPI keeps the focus on the bottom line and encourages generating very high-quality links. The biggest impact of this KPI is in improving your domain authority and helping more content rank highly in search engines.
- you can track this KPI in Google Analytics if you have the signup event tracking set up there as well
- domain ranking for x number of keywords in the top 10 results
- ultimately you only get traffic from the keywords that are visible on the first page of Google results, so this KPI forces you to focus on getting more keywords there
- you can track this KPI with SEMrush or Ahrefs
- don’t pick this KPI for your team members before you have the previous two covered because this KPI is not specifically focused on the conversion potential of the keywords, but just increasing the volume of traffic you get from Google.
B2B SaaS marketing team structure
Depending on your resources, business goals, and management style, there are countless options for structuring your SaaS marketing team. Also, you can take advantage of outsourcing a lot of marketing skills and postpone hiring an in-house team for a while. Here are just some common team structures that you could consider:
- solo marketing manager + outsourced freelancers + automation tools (early-stage startups, bootstrappers)
- pick a specific goal and milestones for getting your startup marketing to the next level and use outsourced freelancers and different marketing automation tools until you get there
- typically you would outsource content creation from freelancers and use automation tools for social media, email marketing, etc
- if you lack any skills that are necessary to get to the next level, you can hire consultants or get coaching (btw that’s exactly where I can be very helpful, so schedule a call here).
- marketing manager + marketing specialists for each traffic source
- marketing manager oversees everyone’s goals and keeps them accountable for the progress in their individual path
- each marketing specialist has a specific metric to improve for a channel they are working on. For example, there could be one person working on increasing referral traffic, the other on search traffic, and the third one is focused on social media impact. With a bigger team, you can assign team members to work on more specific traffic channels. Within a social media team, there could be a person for Quora, another one for Facebook, and one for LinkedIn. While they’re all under the referral traffic umbrella there could be a specific team member who’s focused on guest posting, another one on PR, and the third one for software review sites.
- each team member should be responsible for creating or outsourcing content for their channel and make sure that it has a positive impact on their KPIs and also that it aligns with the efforts of other team members. The marketing manager or a CMO should act as the coordinator for all these different content strategies and keep everyone accountable for reaching their individual goals.
- pick the channels and goals based on what works best for your target group and value proposition. It usually doesn’t make sense to be active in every major marketing channel.
- marketing manager + x marketing specialist working on ad hoc projects
- depending on the size of your team and the specific skills of each marketing specialist, they would work on various marketing campaigns, covering multiple channels and taking advantage of these skill sets. For example, if you have a good videographer and a Facebook ads specialist in your team, you would then focus on a strategy that involves promoting bite-sized video clips on Facebook.
- In order for this setup to work well, it needs a team that inspires each other and has exceptional synergy.
- to make the most of it, don’t curb the creativity of these project teams, but do set specific KPIs for measuring impact. Otherwise, you could find your team doing great marketing campaigns that win awards and gain the respect of other marketers but the business is not getting new customers.
When to hire a B2B SaaS marketing agency/consultant?
Hire a consultant (like me), if you have an in-house marketing team working on your SaaS growth but they lack confidence in the skills or tactics that they are using. Or if you are just starting out with marketing, have hired your first marketing person, and want to make sure that you are setting up the right processes, channels, and KPIs.
Use niche marketing agencies when you need to outsource very specific expertise along with quality content and media exposure. If you want to experiment with a new niche marketing channel or tactic, before hiring someone in-house for it, try it out with an agency and see if the results are worth pursuing further.
SEO and content marketing
Why use SEO and content marketing to grow a Saas business?
People trust Google and the businesses that show up at the top get the majority of the visitors, and gain trust. Ranking well in search engines will immediately validate you as a leader in your industry and it will continue to drive your growth year after year.
SEO is not a silver bullet, it’s a long-term value investment and it’s the best place to see the effects of compounding within marketing. It usually takes about 2 years for a new SaaS business to start seeing meaningful results for their SEO efforts, but the positive effects of it keep growing year after year and even after you have stopped working on this channel.
““Without compounding there will be no triple digit growth in a few years time. The best hope for anyone that ignores SEO is that their competitors ignore it too because like in the financial markets, it’s very hard to catch up to those that started earlier and smarter unless… you are just lucky.””
— Eli Schwartz
For most SaaS businesses, the visitors with the highest signup conversion rate come from organic search traffic. The reason why these customers are so valuable is that their intent for buying your product or service is already very high, even before finding out your business even exists and they make an effort to look out for a solution similar to what you are offering.
Is SEO important for B2B startups (compared to B2C)?
Yes, SEO-focused content marketing is one of the most important growth strategies for both B2C and B2B SaaS startups. Even though you are not selling your product directly to the consumers, the businesses that need your product still have regular people working for it and they use Google to find the best solutions for their companies.
Ranking high in Google is also considered a trust signal for B2B companies.
What specific SEO tactics will work well in 2021?
- Aligning your content with search intent
- Improving domain and page authority through relevant high-quality backlinks
- Skyscraper technique (a link-building strategy where you find a relevant piece of content with lots of backlinks, improve the content by creating something even more valuable and ask those linking to the original piece to link to your superior content instead)
- 10x content methodology (creating content that is 10 times better than the highest ranking result for a given keyword).
- Shorter URLs tend to work better than longer ones
- Keywords in title tags and h1 titles and page copy
- Images optimized with topical keywords via alt text and captions.
- Freshly updated content (update certain types of content once every 12 months or so)
- Smart outbound linking (linking to authoritative pages sends trust signals to Google, but use them in moderation)
- Internal linking on your own domain
- Mobile optimized site
- Domain age (Google considers domains registered for longer than a year as more trustworthy)
Examples of B2B SaaS content types
You can create different types of content for your B2B SaaS business, here are some of examples based on some typical marketing goals:
Articles and blog posts
- in-depth blog articles for your own blog with the goal to get more leads through search engine results
- infographics that offer new data or a better representation of old data
- interviews with founders or other top executives about specific industry insights as guest posts in other blogs with the goal to gain valuable backlinks
- mini-tools that have the potential to solve a really specific problem that’s close to your product as well and could act as a stepping stone for people discovering your SaaS solution.
- landing pages that showcase your solution in different ways with the goal to promote them to specific target groups and generating new leads through very targeted funnels
- pillar pages that offer an in-depth overview of specific topics that are connected to your value proposition and target market.
Social media posts
- bite-sized videos for Facebook that help with brand awareness and gain new potential customers
- in-depth market insights posts on LinkedIn by one of the executives of your company
- original comic strips or memes for all social media channels
- inspirational quotes by the founders shared on all the social media channels
Video & audio content
- Youtube channel that offers practical tutorial videos showcasing your product
- Podcasts that do a deep-dive into your niche industry with expert interviews every week or month
Who should create content in a B2B SaaS startup?
Depending on your resources and goals, you have lots of options for creating valuable content for your startup. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Every team member creates content. From developers to support crew. Create a content calendar and assign specific dates and topics to each team member.
- Hiring an in-house content creator or marketing specialist
- Outsourcing content writing to contract-based freelance writers (Upwork, Fiverr, Reddit)
- Outsourcing via content writing platforms
B2B SaaS content writing tips and best practices
Content marketing best practices have changed a lot over the years, but the trend is always towards giving more value to the readers. Here’s what the latest best practices recommend:
- offer value with new data, better overviews of old data/knowledge, or entertain your readers. The content has to be considerably different in scope and in detail from other articles that are serving the same search intent.
- well-researched in-depth posts with a minimum of 1500-2000 words
- create topic clusters around pillar pages
- Skyscraper technique – see what the top articles are writing about your desired topic and see how you can offer 10x more value with your content piece. Then try to get other sites to link to your content.
- prefer topics and keywords that offer a clear funnel for your ideal customers to sign up.
- use organic in-text links to your product with a subtle upsell that actually adds value to the reader and matches their search intent.
- check “related searches” in Google for the topic you plan to cover and incorporate those into the article
Common B2B SaaS content marketing mistakes
Experimenting and making mistakes is the essence of marketing but there are some common mistakes that (especially early-stage) SaaS startups seem to make that create lots of costly problems for them in the future and would be best avoided. Here are some of them:
- Mistake #1 – having your company blog on Medium (your SEO efforts will benefit Medium and not your own domain)
- Mistake #2 – putting your company blog or knowledge base on a subdomain instead of a subdirectory (subdomain is treated as a separate site by Google and you would usually want your content to help you bring new visitors to the main home page)
- Mistake #3 – creating thin content in your blog about random topics that seem connected to your industry with a goal to become a “thought leader” (companies are not thought leaders and even attempting to become that would mean that you have to have proper journalists, essayists, and editors working on your blog for years and even then it could turn out that the traffic isn’t converting to actual users)
- Mistake #4 – not optimizing the title tags and h1 titles of your home page and product pages with relevant keywords (putting a 55-character title tag with keywords that describe your product should take you only a few minutes and it has the biggest effect in terms of on-page optimization for an early stage startup)
- Mistake #5 – not considering the search intent of the keywords and topics that you’re targeting with your content.
SEO-focused content marketing tools and resources for B2B SaaS businesses
There are countless free and paid tools available that specifically help B2B SaaS businesses to excel at SEO-driven content marketing. Here are just some of them:
- Google Analytics – for tracking the progress of your KPIs and for gaining insights about your visitors’ behavior
- Google Search Console – for seeing the exact keywords that bring new visitors to your site and learning about your site’s technical problems.
- SEMrush – for keyword research, competitor analysis, content analysis, position tracking and so much more.
- Ahrefs – same as SEMrush but different UX and slightly more focused on the link building aspect of SEO
- Grammarly – for quick grammar checks without leaving the browser
- Answer The Public – for learning what people are searching for and using this knowledge to come up with new content ideas
- HARO (help a reporter out) – for getting quality backlinks and free press mentions
- Canva – for creating original infographics and other visual elements that help to enhance your content
- Unsplash – for finding beautiful free stock images