Contributors from members of the Copper team
Growth and demand? Absolutely.
The software-as-a-service industry has been trending up for years, and the demand for new and improved products is growing right along with it.
Consumers are increasingly turning to SaaS solutions for virtually everything in both their personal and professional lives. As the saying goes, “there’s an app for that.”
It’s a great time to be in the SaaS sphere:
- Growth and reliance on SaaS solutions is consistently trending upward. Roughly 73% of surveyed businesses say almost all of their apps will be SaaS by 2020, and that number will hit 86% by 2022.
- 80% of American users prefer SaaS and cloud-hosted solutions for communication and organization.
- The SaaS industry was worth about $72.2 billion in 2018
- The overall free trial conversion rate was 59.9% in 2017
- Free trials that don’t require a credit card generate twice as many paying customers as those that do
- Free trial users contacted by a rep are 70% more likely to become a paying customer
That said, it does present some unique challenges. Because you’re not selling a tangible product, you’ve got to constantly acquire, convert, and retain customers.
Good news, though: you can do it all with little more than an email account and a sales methodology that reflects you, your business, your product, and your customers. And it’s worth the investment: companies that spend a higher percentage of revenue on sales and marketing grow faster than those spending less.
You’ve got to spend money to make money. Spend that money on email marketing, and you’ve set yourself up for maximum impact and ROI (return on investment).
No matter your business age, number of employees, industry, or budget, you can level the playing field and compete with the big fish in your particular niche. Email is the great equalizer.
Combine email with a clearly-defined sales methodology, and you’ve got the power couple you need to make things happen with your SaaS acquisition strategy.
What is a sales methodology?
Before we break it down, let’s quickly make sure we’re all on the same page. According to Spotio, a sales methodology is:
“... an element in the sales process that refers to the framework, philosophy, or general tactic that guides how a salesperson approaches each step within the process.”
It’s the ‘how’ of selling: identifying goals and actionable steps to take, such as “ask this question at this point.”
There are many out there (like BANT and CHAMP), each with its own strengths and weaknesses. As a SaaS business owner, it’s your job to determine which one is the best fit for your prospects and users.
Maybe it’s the inbound sales methodology and its four main actions within the stages of the buyer journey. It relies heavily on providing the right content at the right time.
Perhaps it’s the SPIN methodology as described by Neil Rackham and his book SPIN Selling. SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff.
You might adhere to the “time is money” philosophy (yours and theirs) and work to cut the time required to make a decision with the SNAP methodology.
Introduced by Jill Konrath in her book SNAP Selling, this one is built for speed and conciseness: Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned, and Priority.
Then there’s the NOTE framework as advocated by Sean Burke. His guiding principles in order of importance are Need, Opportunity, Team, and Effect.
No matter the methodology, most demand that you focus on the lead/customer needs: being a partner rather than a (product) pusher, asking the right questions at the right time, and finding solutions with measurable results.
The old way was to determine whether they were a good fit for you. These new methodologies aim to engage in conversation to determine whether you’re a good fit for them.
And what better way to have that discussion, ask those questions, and provide those solutions (aka. you and your product) than with email?
When it comes to SaaS customer acquisition, a well-chosen sales methodology executed via email is the one tactic to rule them all.
How to acquire SaaS customers
The SaaS game is different than ecommerce and other models that involve selling a physical product.
If you’re trying to get Prospect A to purchase your latest product, it’s going to involve a lot less convincing—and once they’ve bought it, they’ve bought it.
The difficulty with SaaS is that you need to not only find a steady flow of new customers, but also convince them to remain a customer month after month, year after year.
Yes, they’ll go through the same stages of the buyer journey, but their decision to go with you is not going to be a quick one.
The labels may differ slightly, and you’ll sometimes see four or even five stages, but it’s ultimately the same roadmap.
Specifically for SaaS acquisition, we can adjust it to read Awareness > Engagement > Exploration > Conversion/Retention.
You can nurture and nudge through each level with something as simple as an email.
You need to start with strong, detailed customer personas and a quality, verified email list (more on that in a moment).
Next, use whatever methodology best reflects you and your audience to guide your email series creation. For example ...
As a rule of thumb, remember to focus on their needs. Put yourself in their shoes. Present yourself as a partner or consultant rather than a seller.
This is especially the case if your audience’s needs position your brand more favorably in comparison to your competitors, says Dennis Le of Peak Sales Recruiting.
In the awareness stage, you just want to reach out and connect with leads that match your customer criteria. Offer them something free but valuable to solve a common problem or scratch a common itch.
It could be as simple as a link to a recent blog post, a downloadable case study (here's how to create them), ebook, or white paper, or an invite to an upcoming webinar—anything high-quality, relevant, and valuable to them.
This tactic also works extremely well for collecting email addresses in the first place. A lead magnet like Clearbit's Data-Driven Marketing ebook is a great example.
Want the ebook? All you need to fill out is your email address. No tedious 10-field forms.
People are happy to provide their contact details in exchange for something valuable and relevant to them.
And who doesn't love a little social proof?
You want leads to a) be aware of you and your product, and b) begin to trust and see you as an asset.
Inform them you’d love to periodically share other resources with them (that will resonate with their needs and pain points) and include an easy opt-out.
Those that don’t opt out have moved through to engagement. Keep providing resources to them without asking for anything in return.
The goal is to guide them through to exploration—which for a SaaS company usually means signing up for a demo or free trial—by asking the right questions to identify need and opportunity.
Your chosen methodology can provide insight on what to ask and when. The customer-centric approach, for example, dictates that you engage in situational conversations while asking relevant questions.
What are they working on? What obstacles are they encountering? What tool or solution do they wish they had to help?
No presentations. No opinions. At least not yet.
Just get them to try, sign up, and use.
During the free trial period, keep the email conversation going:
- Provide high-quality, valuable content, how-tos, tutorials, and feature intros
- Share reviews and testimonials from happy customers
- Increase your value to them
Become the asset and cheerleader they need in their corner.
Of course, no business can succeed on acquisition alone. Any SaaS business needs to focus on acquisition, monetization, and retention to succeed.
To assist the transition from acquisition to monetization, identify your “Eureka!” moments.
Then, highlight it and design your email series to push free users to that pivotal moment.
Autopilot, for example, saw an overall conversion rate of 9%, but noticed that 35% of free users converted when they’d installed their tracking code.
That’s their “Eureka!” moment. What’s yours?
Nudging from exploration to conversion/retention often hinges on identifying and emphasizing it. And email is how you get that message out.
Build your list.
There are plenty of ways to build a massive email list.
When it comes to cold email, though, you want to pre-qualify as much as possible so as not to waste your time or theirs. Here’s how to craft the perfect message, so you’re connecting with your recipients at the highest level.
As mentioned, your customer personas are crucial. Who are your ideal customers?
Then, look for them using the traits they have in common like job title, location, industry, or niche. You can search by keyword on most social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn or search engines like Google and Bing.
You might also try a dedicated prospecting tool like Dux-Soup, Voila Norbert, or LeadFuze to help you find names and email addresses, enrich those profiles, and verify that information.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What are the biggest challenges they’re facing as it applies to your offering?
- How can you create a free lead magnet, small free feature, or light version of your product to help those ideal customers begin solving their biggest challenges?
- What can you learn from your existing customers about their journey to signing up?
Get into their mindset. Cultivate a ‘help first’ mentality. Connect, engage, and nurture by providing the right content and asking the right questions via email.
Choose your methodology—SPIN, NOTE, SNAP, or otherwise—and let it guide you.
SPIN? You need to focus on their situation to start. Ask questions about what and why they’re doing something currently, and how it might be improved. That leads into their problems. Dig deeper and ask for clarification and more detail, which should get them thinking about the implications of maintaining the status quo. What happens if they do nothing? What happens if they do something about it (the need-payoff)?
NOTE? Your approach will change accordingly. You’ll start the conversation discussing and assessing their need for your solution. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not. So ask questions about current work processes and existing obstacles. This leads the discussion into what would happen if the obstacles were eliminated, and that uncovers the opportunity you’re looking for if it outweighs the cost or hassle of trying. Then you can collectively assemble the necessary team, and discuss the overall effect.
SNAP? Address prospects at their level—as modern-day buyers who are busy, deadline-driven, and informed. Aim to provide valuable knowledge, connect your solution with their most pressing needs, and make the whole process as easy as possible. Prospects are trying to decide if your product is worth learning about, trying, and purchasing, while weighing up whether it’s actually the best solution available. By understanding that there are multiple decisions involved on the prospect’s end, you’ll be better able to keep the process on track.
Your chosen methodology provides a step-by-step blueprint on how to take them from lead to customer.
Use emails to get your message out to them in the prescribed order.
Automate your outreach to maximize your efficiency and never miss an opportunity. Automate your follow-ups—you are following up when you don’t get a reply, right?—to generate more opens, clicks, and replies.
Track, measure, and tweak to get incrementally better over time. And study the craft of cold email to become a master at it. Nothing will serve you (or your business) better.
Yes, paid ads, attending conferences, content marketing, and networking are all worthy channels for acquisition.
But pound for pound, email outreach and nurturing—built on a solid sales methodology foundation—is going to outperform them all, through every stage of the journey.
From acquisition to monetization and retention, email delivers. Try it.
About the author:
Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures, makers of Mailshake, Pick, VoilaNorbert, and Right Inbox. He has over 14 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.