The Ultimate Guide to Software as a Service (SaaS)

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If you’ve been thinking about launching a SaaS product, now is the time to do it.

More and more companies are adopting the Software as a Service model. In fact, today, 51% of organizations run most of their operations using SaaS applications.

Currently, 38% of companies work almost entirely on SaaS.

Experts predict that in the next two years that number will go up to 73%, and the SaaS market will reach $76 billion.

Unfortunately, there’s bad news, too.

The SaaS market is becoming saturated fast. Many new entrants will face challenges winning against established brands. And even if a new company achieves a staggering 60% growth annually, according to McKinsey & Company, “Its chances of becoming a multibillion-dollar giant are no better than a coin flip.”

In short, the SaaS market offers an incredible opportunity, but to succeed in it, you’ll need at least some basic knowledge about its dynamics and intricacies.

Luckily, that’s what you’ll learn in this guide. We’ll help you understand how the SaaS industry works. You'll also discover what you need to know to launch and start growing a SaaS product.

Without a doubt, SaaS has revolutionized the software delivery model.

In the past, it was a hassle to introduce a new application to an organization. From the lengthy sales process to complex on-site installation to custom development to training, it could easily take weeks — if not longer — before employees could start using a new tool effectively.

With SaaS, this can happen in a matter of days or less.

As a result, SaaS is rapidly becoming the model for the delivery of core business applications. In fact, even traditional on-premises software vendors are building SaaS products, and often expand their offering by acquiring SaaS companies. A few examples include Microsoft Teams, Amazon Chime, or Oracle buying Opower for $532 million.

Although they often share the same name, SaaS companies aren’t synonymous with their products.

A typical SaaS company develops and maintains their product. A great deal of its operations, however, also revolves around sales, marketing, and customer success.

Types of SaaS Products

SaaS applications come in different sizes, shapes, and serve various purposes. Most, however, fall under one of the three categories:

1. Packaged SaaS are products that help manage a specific process in an organization — improving employee engagement, strengthening customer relations, or boosting marketing effectiveness, for example.

Hubspot is an example of a packaged solution. We offer tools companies use to manage sales, marketing, and customer relationships.

2. Collaborative SaaS applications help improve how teams work together. From messaging and video conferencing to collaboration on documents, these platforms support collaborative efforts.

Zoom, Paper, and Basecamp are some examples.

3. Technical SaaS applications offer tools to manage or improve development or technical processes.

Cloudsponge, for example, allows developers to include a contact importer in their products effortlessly. Algolia offers a search API that helps other apps improve the search experience.

Venture investor Tomasz Tunguz categorizes SaaS products by the value they deliver as well.

For him, some apps assist in increasing a company’s revenue. HubSpot helps companies to more effectively market, sell, and service prospects and customers. This, in turn, leads to higher growth and revenue.

Other apps reduce costs. Basecamp, for example, offers multiple tools in a single package, eliminating the need for using additional products.

The third group, productivity software, falls somewhere between the two. These products also help increase revenue or reduce cost. However, their effect is less obvious. For example, Zoom.us allows companies to run meetings over the Internet. While using the product will likely reduce costs and could provide a platform for new revenue-generating ideas, this result is not as evident as in the case of products in the other two categories.

SaaS Sales and Marketing: How Do SaaS Brands Attract Users?

For a new SaaS company to take off, it needs to find, attract, and convince new people to try their product.

Moreover, it needs to do so fast.

According to a McKinsey report, SaaS companies must achieve annual growth rates greater than 20% if they want to survive.

That speed of growth is hardly a small task when you consider how much SaaS marketing differs from other industries.

Here’s why.

In SaaS, you promote a product with nothing tangible to show for it. Your potential customers can’t hold it in their hands. As a result, your marketing efforts must convince them that your product works and can solve their problem.

Users decide whether to try out a SaaS product in a blink. They often conduct a quick online search, compare some solutions, and make their selection. It can all take no more than a couple of hours.

Your marketing, therefore, must target every stage of the buyer’s journey and offer relevant information that can convince someone to test your product.

So many consumers, however, commit little effort to discovering the new tool. Many new users log in to an app once, never to return to it again. Most don’t realize the full value of the app before moving on to another solution.

Your promotional efforts must also help customers realize your activation point — the true value your product delivers.

You also rely on different sales models. Buying a self-serve SaaS product, one which customers sign up to by themselves, can take hardly any time at all.

In a sales-driven approach, a customer goes through most of the process on their own. However, in the last stage, they typically engage with a sales team that helps guide and recommend the best plan. This process can naturally take longer and might require additional resources.

Finally, the enterprise cycle could easily take months, if not longer, before a contract is signed.

All in all, however, typically, SaaS companies have the following objectives for their marketing strategies:

Objective 1: Attract the right audience.

To kickstart its growth, a SaaS company must connect with potential users and bring them to their site first.

However, these shouldn’t be any visitors. Rather, people who already experience a specific problem your product aims to solve.

So, the first objective is to understand what challenge you’re solving for your users. Then, devise a strategy to entice them to learn more about the product.

Objective 2: Build a relationship with leads.

Marketers are responsible for nurturing leads. Using a combination of content, emails and other channels, a new SaaS company should position themselves as an authority, and convince leads to test their product.

Objective 3: Remove roadblocks to sign up.

In SaaS, marketers often optimize conversions around various website goals — from trial sign up to on-boarding to converting free users into paying customers.

Objective 4: Engaging users.

For most SaaS apps, users sign up for a trial, free, or demo version of the product first. It’s often a marketer’s job to ensure they convert into paying customers.

Typically, marketers accomplish this by optimizing the free or trial plan to help a person get to the activation point, where they realize the true value of the product.

Objective 5: Increase customer lifetime value.

Since most SaaS companies charge customers on a subscription model, it’s imperative that a person remains a user for as long as possible.

SaaS marketing strategies are often aimed at increasing customer lifetime value by reducing churn and moving customers to higher priced plans.

SaaS Marketing in Practice: The Most Effective SaaS Marketing Channels

SaaS companies have a plethora of opportunities to introduce their products to potential users and achieve initial traction. Below, we’ve listed the most effective SaaS marketing channels that can help spark initial growth.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing strategies aim to attract strangers to your product and convert them into new customers. And it all starts with content. Blog posts, guides, resources, and other content types help attract new visitors and then convert them by adding value at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Today, almost everyone turns to search engines for answers. It doesn’t matter whether a person is looking for a product recommendation or guidance on solving a problem, they know that they can find it on Google.

SEO is a practice that helps position your site and content in front of potential users at every stage of the buying cycle.

Content Marketing

Publishing engaging content helps you position your brand or product as a credible authority and helpful resource in the industry. And, in turn, you’ll build meaningful relationships that can convert prospects into paying customers.

Online Advertising

SaaS companies place online ads to attract and entice potential users to sign up.

Many also use paid ads, from pay-per-click (PPC) channels like Adwords to social media ads to display or banner advertising to drive potential users to lead generating assets or a product sign up.

PR

These days, PR is more than just publishing and distributing press releases. Modern public relations focuses on improving almost every aspect of a brand’s online visibility. From search results to brand mentions, online reviews, and much more, PR strengthens brand awareness and recognition.

Viral Marketing

Viral strategies focus on getting existing customers to refer and promote your product to others. These programs focus on getting your users to invite their friends, family, and connections to sign up and try out the product as well. Common types of viral marketing strategies in the SaaS space include referral, or affiliate, programs or viral loops.

User Actions

For some apps, users can naturally expand a customer base by introducing the product to their clients. For example, Xero discovered that, on average, a single accountant using their product introduces anywhere from 6 to 31 new users to the platform.

App Stores, Resellers, and Affiliates

Some SaaS companies can also take advantage of app marketplaces like Intuit, Apple Appstore, or Google Play to promote their products to new audiences.

Many others launch affiliate or reseller programs that reward anyone willing to promote their products with cash or other rewards.

SaaS Pricing Models

Before attracting any visitors, a new SaaS company must decide how it is going to charge for their product. This is important for two reasons:

A pricing model will affect a potential user’s willingness to consider their solution.

And it could affect a company’s rate of growth. As PwC reported, it takes two years for a typical SaaS company to break even.

So, let’s review various pricing models you could use in your product.

1. Freemium

The freemium model offers a significant number of features for free, along with additional paid packages. Slack, Dropbox, or Airstory are examples of freemium-based SaaS products. Most users can use them at no cost. But when they need more than the basic feature-set, they must upgrade to a premium package.

2. Flat-Rate Pricing

In this pricing model, a company offers a single product with a standard feature set for a flat rate.

Basecamp, for example, charges a flat fee of $99 per month for which a person can use all its features.

3. Tiered Pricing

By far, the most common pricing practice among SaaS brands is to offer multiple packages. Each package includes a different feature set, designed to suit various user needs.

This is the model we use here at Hubspot. 

4. Per-User Pricing

Some SaaS companies offer a different option depending on the number of users. Instead of paying a flat fee or choosing a feature-set, they can pay per user. Asana, for example, charges companies a flat rate for every person they sign up to the app. 

5. Usage-Based Pricing

Finally, some products charge for usage, rather than feature sets or users. Companies using Stripe, for example, pay for every transaction processed.

SaaS Learning Resources

Want to learn more? We’ve pulled together some of the top online resources that cover everything SaaS to help you expand your knowledge.

SaaS offers an incredible business opportunity. Adoption of the software as a service model continues to grow rapidly. However, with high demand and competition, founders must understand the intricate dynamics of the market and work to stand out by providing unique solutions and immense value to users.

As you continue to explore SaaS and make your introduction into this multi-billion dollar industry, remember to keep these goals at the core of your offering.

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