Any marketing campaign should start with a solid plan that sets out what you’re aiming to achieve, how you’re going to do it, the deadline for doing it, and how you’ll measure its success.
SaaS marketing is no exception. But when you’re selling digital products and services, you need to approach your planning in a SaaS-specific way. Only then can you fulfill the goal of developing lasting relationships with customers—and keeping yourself in business through their subscriptions.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about creating and implementing a SaaS marketing plan: what it means, why it’s important, how it differs from a SaaS marketing strategy, and (most importantly) how to do it well.
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Before we dive into SaaS marketing plans, let’s pause for a SaaS marketing definition: this is a specific form of software marketing for promoting Software as a Service products to businesses. It’s different from traditional marketing, which is used to sell physical products, usually to individual customers.
While traditional marketing aims to get customers to make an immediate purchase, SaaS marketing is all about nurturing long-term relationships. That’s why a traditional all-purpose marketing plan won’t work—a software marketing plan has to focus on continuously proving the worth of your subscription-based services.
A marketing plan for SaaS companies is basically a roadmap that outlines exactly how you’re going to do that. It covers all the tactics you’ll use to make your product stand out from the competition, convert customers into paying users, and keep them engaged throughout the customer journey.
SaaS marketing planning includes identifying your target audience, performing competitor analysis, setting goals, choosing the best channels, and fixing a SaaS marketing budget.
As mentioned above, SaaS marketing differs from traditional marketing due to the subscription-based nature of SaaS services. In SaaS, you’re not trying to attract customers just for a one-time or occasional purchase. Your business relies on getting regular payments, so it’s vital that you retain your customers for the long haul.
SaaS businesses have a completely different sales funnel, which puts much more emphasis on what happens after the initial sign-up or purchase.
By creating a specific SaaS marketing plan, you’ll be able to keep a sharp focus on maintaining relationships across the customer lifecycle, instead of concentrating largely on acquisition.
A marketing plan for a software company helps you gain a clearer picture and a deeper understanding of your target audience, and shows you the best ways to connect with them.
What are their business challenges? What would make their lives easier? Where do they typically look for information? What keywords are they searching for?
Once you know who you’re selling to, you can position your product as the ideal solution to their pain points, and explain how it will enhance their daily lives. This will enable you to create content and messaging based on their needs, and even adjust your offering to be a better fit.
Plus, a marketing plan helps you to identify the best channels for reaching your audience, so that you can make efficient use of your resources.
After careful analysis of customers and competitors, you won’t end up spending precious marketing dollars on a campaign that you only think might work.
A “marketing plan” and a “marketing strategy” sound pretty similar. Sometimes these phrases are used interchangeably, for SaaS as well as other types of marketing. But in reality, there’s a big difference between the two.
In basic terms, a strategy outlines the purpose behind your marketing efforts, while a plan shows how you’re going to implement that strategy to achieve the desired results. A SaaS marketing strategy is owned by your CMO, and the plan is owned by a marketing manager.
A strategy is the starting point for any marketing campaign. As well as describing your offering and how you intend to deliver it, your strategy sets out the reasons for choosing these tactics and how they’ll help the company to meet its wider business objectives. From this, you’ll be able to develop an effective marketing plan.
Your marketing plan provides a detailed roadmap for what you’re going to do, where you’ll do it, the timeframe for implementing it, and how you’ll measure success. It will include specific initiatives and tactics, covering the plans for your outreach, PR, social media, email, content, and more.
SaaS marketing strategies and plans both start with an executive summary, but after that they diverge. A strategy contains information on the company background, market analysis, target audience, competitive analysis, channels, product pricing, and customer communications.
SaaS marketing plans typically include a situation analysis (goals, strengths, weaknesses, environmental factors, and market analysis), a list of the KPIs you’re going to use, and details about your website and branding, content strategy, and social media plan.
There’ll also be a timeline and a breakdown of responsibilities, as well as the required resources and estimated budget.
Creating a strong marketing plan takes time and effort, but it will pay off in the long run if you get it right.
Here are the steps you need to take:
Before you go any further, take time to identify and create your buyer personas. If you already did this for a previous campaign, you still might need to revise them to make sure they’re aligned with your current market research and customer activity.
Buyer personas are hypothetical representations of your customers—or the customers you’d have in an ideal world.
You assign them characteristics, including demographic information such as age, gender, and income. But you should also think about how they might behave. What are their pain points and goals? How do they like to communicate? Are they a decision-maker for their company?
This approach is crucial because the personas act as a microcosm of your wider target audience. It helps you think more deeply about what they need and the best methods for attracting and retaining them. This means you can ensure all your marketing messaging and content resonates with the right people.
How do you make sure your product stands out from the competition and that your company isn’t falling behind and losing its advantage?
You need to find out what your competitors are up to, and compare their product and marketing approach with your own.
Ideally, you’ll spot gaps in a competitor’s approach, which your product is able to fill. For example, let’s say your video conferencing solution comes with real-time transcription, and theirs doesn’t. You can produce new content that highlights this feature, or a comparison article where you come out on top.
On the flipside, you might discover that a competitor is doing something better than you—which gives you the chance to improve. If their website gets more organic traffic, look at the keywords they use and focus on your own SEO. You’ll also discover which channels work best for your niche.
Although the business’s overarching goals are described in the marketing strategy, your SaaS marketing plan needs to include specific marketing objectives. It needs to state how you’ll measure them, and the date by which you aim to achieve them.
It’s always good practice to use the SMART method (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) for setting your goals, as it helps you focus on what’s important and choose objectives that you could realistically achieve in a given timeframe.
Don’t be vague with your goals. Instead of: “Avoid customer churn”, the goal might be “A 25% reduction in churn by the end of Q4.”
You can also use the OKR (objectives and key results) methodology. For example, if the objective is to improve search engine rankings, the KR is to achieve a top-five position within a year.
One of the most important aspects of the SaaS marketing plan is the budget. This will be an estimated figure, factoring in all the resources you’ll need to achieve your goals.
For example, paying for digital or physical advertising space, SEO services, and content creation.
The budget will be affected by the number of channels you use, the amount of customer outreach you intend to do, and the time it takes to carry out marketing tasks. Think about areas where you can minimize costs, such as repurposing existing content or focusing on organic traffic.
Remember that you may need extra software tools to help you deliver on the plan—such as email automation, social media scheduling, task management, internal communications, and customer support tools like chatbots. Use your research to see which tools will bring the best ROI.
Okay, you know you’ve got a great product, now you must figure out how to spread the word to your target audience, capture their attention, and keep them engaged.
Thanks to your buyer personas and competitor analysis, you’ll have a good idea of the tactics that will work best.
A robust content marketing strategy is key. It’s important to create content that audiences can relate to, and personalize it where possible.
The idea is to establish your brand as a trusted thought leader in your niche, so keep them engaged with helpful insights—not just tips on how to maximize your product, but with blogs and webinars on wider industry topics.
Many SaaS companies entice new or lapsed customers with freemium versions of their product, or free demos and trials. Or you might set up a loyalty program with rewards for long-standing customers or those who refer you to their friends.
You could upsell things like extra features, special training, or support packages. Stellar customer service is a marketing tactic in itself.
Other popular marketing tactics in the SaaS industry include email, SEO, video content, outbound calling, and hosting webinars or physical events.
Once you’ve created and implemented your SaaS marketing plan, there’s still work to do.
It’s crucial that you track and analyze the results at each stage to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Then, you can investigate the reasons why, and adjust your tactics where necessary.
For example, you should measure the number of unique visitors to your website and landing pages, and whether they arrive there from organic traffic or paid ads.
If this number is lower than it should be, you can look at ways to boost your SEO. A high bounce rate could show that you need to improve page loading speed and make your content more relevant.
Two other key metrics are lead generation and conversion rates. Are you generating enough marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs)? How many website visitors turn into leads, and how many of these become paying customers?
Pay attention to activation rates, too. Of the website visitors who sign up for a free trial or freemium version of your product, how many of them activate it?
Other important KPIs include:
A/B testing is a great way to compare different marketing tactics or content ideas, and find out how different customer segments respond to them.
For instance, you might create two versions of your landing page, and determine which one is more appealing to visitors by measuring bounce rate and signup rate.
You could try out two different headlines for your blog articles, two different images for social media posts, or two different offers in your email marketing.
Divide your customers into groups and send version A to the first group, and version B to the second. You could group them randomly to measure general appeal, or by a particular demographic.
A/B testing is also useful for running pricing experiments, such as offering either a free month or 10% off the renewal price to see which encourages more users to switch to an annual plan.
Whatever aspect you use it for, A/B testing gives you data that helps you to create more targeted and effective campaigns.
As you can tell from our guide so far, creating a SaaS marketing plan is not a five-minute task. It’s an investment in terms of time, as well as money. And not every business has the resources to create a plan from scratch for every campaign.
That’s where SaaS marketing plan templates come in. If you make the effort to build the basic foundation, you can then use it again and again—just by editing the variables each time. You might also produce a shortened version to show to stakeholders by trimming down the sections.
This way, your marketing teams can spend more time on ideas and analysis than on the admin of making a step-by-step plan.
So, what do you need to include in the template? Here’s a quick checklist, and then we’ll look at the sections in more detail:
Cover: The cover should include your company name and logo, a short description of the objective, and the authors of the document.
Business summary: Also called the Executive summary, this serves as a reminder that your marketing activities should always be aligned with overall business goals, and ensures that everyone understands their role.
Include a one-sentence description of the firm, the mission statement, and a brief company analysis. List the marketing leaders, and their roles and responsibilities in the plan.
Marketing objectives: Outline the goals you aim to achieve with the marketing plan. There’s no need to include wider business initiatives here—just stick to those that are specific to marketing, such as improving your conversion rate.
Explain each of the goals briefly, and add the metrics, OKRs, or KPIs you’re going to use for measuring the success of each one.
Customer analysis: This is where you’ll describe your target audience and go into detail about your buyer personas. Who are you aiming to attract with your marketing tactics, and why do you think these particular customers will be receptive to your offering?
Include detailed customer data such as demographic data, geographic data, psychographic data, technographic data, and behavioral insights. Identify trends that you could tap into, and also list the industries and sub-industries you want to target.
Competitor analysis: As we discussed earlier, your marketing plan should include a section on who your competitors are, and the opportunities you have to outshine them. Provide a SWOT analysis with a list of competitors and their value propositions, such as features, pricing models, and USPs.
What can you offer that your competitors aren’t doing already? Highlight the gaps your product can fill, and describe how your company will position itself in the market. Outline your own product features and USPs, prices, promotional offers, and activities.
Marketing channels: Now you need to describe all the marketing channels you plan to use. This might include organic or paid social media, email, paid search, display ads, or traditional channels like TV and billboards).
State how you intend to use them (timeframe, type of content, resources required), provide evidence to support the use of these channels, and the KPIs you’ll use to measure the success of each one.
Marketing technology: List all the tools, platforms, and software solutions you’re going to use for marketing activities. This might include marketing automation software, content optimization tools, SaaS email marketing, social media management, CRM tools, and video creation software.
Explain what you’ll use them for (such as email for sending out newsletters, social media for audience engagement), and attach KPIs to each one.
Budget: The final section will describe how much the marketing plans are going to cost your business. Set out the money that’s been allocated to the marketing team for this campaign, and create an itemized list of what you’re going to spend it on.
Provide details of all your marketing expenses with costs, and the date when the expense will occur. Include salaries and technology costs as well as things like ad spend.
You can also use this section to include financial projections for the coming year, based on the expected ROI for each channel or tactic.
In SaaS marketing, your ultimate aim is to get customers to sign up for a paid plan, and to renew it over and over again.
Your SaaS marketing plan will outline who your target audience is and how to reach them through the right channels and the right tactics. It’ll also help you identify ways to beat your competitors, and show customers why you’re the better option.
If you get the planning right, and if you continue to track and analyze your progress, your marketing activities will have the desired result.
Not only will your customers stick around, but they’ll also be more receptive to upselling opportunities, and they’ll become brand advocates who recommend you to their friends. All of which drives extra sales!
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate agency, a SaaS SEO agency. Nick has launched several successful online businesses, writes for Forbes, published a book and has grown accelerate from a UK agency to a company that now operates across US, APAC and EMEA and employs 160 people. He was also once charged at by a mountain gorilla