While IT, and SaaS specifically, are booming industries right now, it is easy to get dazzled by the possibilities and miss out on the important building blocks of an effective marketing strategy.
Many companies put themselves in a bind when they choose to undergo expensive marketing campaigns too early in their business's life because they don't have the necessary support and backing to prove that they can deliver.
Fortunately, using a small network to build a client base first is an effective, and cost efficient, way for you to reach your target audience without overextending yourself.
It is more than likely that the SaaS products you are providing have been designed with a specific customer in mind.
Before you began development of your software you probably got to know a specific business that was in desperate need of a tool that would make their operations run smoother. Start your network by reaching out to the people closest to you who inspired you to design the software in the first place.
Very few developers set out to design a program with no idea of who it will serve, so you probably have at least a few close contacts. Reach out to them and show them what you have to offer. Sometimes a presentation or even a free trial period may be in order to convince them that your software has promise.
It is only pertinent to stop for a moment and recognize that it may take a few tries to find the right niche for your product. Even if you have designed your startup SaaS for one specific purpose, other people in the industry may fail to see the value of your product at first glance, or they simply aren't ready to adopt a new software platform because they don't know that their old one is flawed.
The biggest skeptics you meet will be the ones who are blind to the flaws in their current system. The best way to win them is word of mouth from your satisfied customers.
If this is the case, you may have to reach out to a different niche group. This could be as easy as focusing on a different location, or finding companies that are in a different phase of their business development. Even if it takes a few tries to find the right niche, you will still be better off than if you invested too much in empty marketing at the beginning.
Once you have made your first solid contact, make sure you do everything you can to give them the absolute best in customer service and support. Customers who feel that they are valued and acknowledged will be more likely to return and refer you to their friends, even if there are a few bumps in the product itself at first.
Locating and bonding with a highly targeted and communicative tribe is crucial to you winning market share from your competitors.
Use your customer service interactions to gather valuable information about the social circles and professional groups that they are active in. This will be your niche market to network from. Ideally, you should be able to find a closely knit community of people who engage in sharing ideas and promoting their industry, which should include between 1,000 and 10,000 individually operated businesses. The closer those businesses are in proximity to one another, the better off you will be.
Once you have identified the "tribe" of businesses that could benefit from your SaaS, it is time to start making new networking connections. Contact your first customers and ask them for referrals or other contact information that will help you get into their group. Put together promotional materials that use their businesses as a case study. This will allow you to show potential buyers what you have already accomplished in their field, and how the company has benefited from your service.
This is often one of the biggest hurdles for start-ups because business customers want to know that the products they are investing in have been proven with positive results. Your first case studies will be invaluable in overcoming any objections and providing solid data upon which your claims can be substantiated.
It cannot be stated enough that building trust and loyalty with your customers should be a primary concern throughout your marketing campaign. If you begin to lose sight of what your customers need, you will begin to lose the support you spent so much time building up in the beginning.
Once you have a few happy customers and a couple of case studies to share with interested parties, you will hopefully have an advocate or two who is willing to share the good news about your company.
Having a brand ambassador who really goes out and promotes you loudly to their friends based on their own experiences is a major event in any marketing campaign. It is just the beginning of a domino effect that will allow more and more people to hear about you without you investing anything extra in marketing or sales. It will take on a life of its own and carry itself in unpredictable new directions as more and more people jump on board.
In addition to your faithful few, now is a good time to turn your focus to a more direct marketing approach. At this point a marketing and sales team will have the tools and numbers to back up their pitch, and they will be better able to accomplish the sales you need. You are more likely to see positive returns now that you have established yourself in a meaningful way and can prove your worth with real evidence. Plus, potential buyers will still be able to reach out to your earliest adopters and get more information about how you have served their goals.
Another important point to make here is that you should structure your new marketing in phases that target specific groups of people within your niche. Take some time to identify who's who and focus on the people that are most likely to take a small risk today rather than the ones that are going to hold out for more evidence.
As always there will be companies who are always looking for the absolute latest tools to make their operations run smoother. On the other hand, there will also be the hesitant ones who hang back and voice objections and concerns toward any major changes affecting their industry.
A well designed marketing strategy can include a variety of different mediums and techniques. The best chances for success include a combination of "cold calling", or blind outreach, as well as content marketing and search engine optimization. You may also find it worthwhile to pay for ad space or other media placement. The most important thing is to keep in mind the target audience and how they are most likely to use technology to hear about your product. Focus on building a suite of marketing approaches that is likely to reach the largest number of people in a way that makes you easily identifiable.
Over time you will begin to see scalable growth as a result of the strong connections you built in the beginning. Without building an effective network, you are more likely to waste time and money trying to sell yourself to people who have no reason to believe in your brand.
As your business begins to take off, continue to watch the progress you are making within the original niche. There will eventually be a turning point when enough companies have adopted your service as a new standard that even the most resistant and cautious potential customers will be open to learning more. Reaching these companies is a matter of proper timing more than constant pressure, and they will likely be watching to see how your company handles the increased demands placed on you as you expand and grow.
Once they believe that you have the infrastructure and means to support all of your customers with equally satisfactory customer service and true results, then they join you.
Naturally, there is more than one way to approach this networking strategy. Your SaaS model is a technological advancement, but it may not be limited to the technology sector. The type of businesses you service will change how you identify your target niche, and present a specific set of parameters for how you should conduct your marketing.
Keep in mind that having a high quantity of buyers in a very small area will produce different results than having many buyers spread around the world. In some cases you could be spreading yourself too thin if you try to roll your service out in too great of a market.
Plan on starting small and focusing on the areas where you have the most direct control and access until you have worked out all the kinks. As you gain notoriety within the small market you can begin to branch out a little at a time and expand your support to match. As always, providing support and great customer service is the number one highest priority to making the network strategy turn profits.