B2B SaaS Marketing – Getting started with paid acquisition

So let’s start with the basics. First off, B2B SaaS Marketing is a different beast than anything else you may have encountered in the paid media world. If you’re used to selling DTC products via Instagram, you’re in for a bit of a shock.

SaaS paid marketing is usually focused on B2B. Any consumer, personal users, or students that join as users are usually just added to the bottom line. Rarely will you see startups tackling those demographics.

They’re just as expensive as other demographics and tend to have a lower LTV. Even startups like Grammarly that leverage a browser extension as part of their software stack tend to market towards white-collar workers even though they have a student user base in the millions.

Overview

B2B SaaS marketing, specifically paid marketing, also usually focuses on a few digital channels:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Google Search
  • YouTube
  • Google Display
  • Capterra (occasionally)

Note: There are plenty of other options out there besides digital. Billboards, tv and even targeted direct mail can all produce ROI but we’re focusing just on digital channels for this article.

If you’re just starting to dig into paid marketing, you have probably heard someone mention “try everything and see what works, then scale in that channel”. That’s not bad advice, but it’s also a great way to waste a ton of money.

If you’re brand new, here’s where you should focus. I’ve spent millions in these channels so you don’t have to, but it’s still worth doing your own research. If you’re interested in going down the rabbit hole a bit more, I’m writing a series on each of these acquisition channels.

Facebook for B2B SaaS Marketing

tldr: Try it. Create some video and image creative using Biteable and Canva, then create a retargeting audience of people that clicked your pricing or plans page and didn’t subscribe.

If things start working, creating a prospecting audience out of your purchases with the highest LTV by uploading a CSV to Facebook, or using Facebook’s Value-Driven Audience tool to automatically create one.

Facebook is consistently undervalued in the B2B SaaS platform. Since it’s not surrounded by your professional digital presence like LinkedIn, people tend to think it’s a place for DTC coffee brands and not much else.

In the past, they might not have been too far off, but now the targeting is really good. Facebook’s algorithms have gotten so good, that you can basically turn on a conversion campaign to a general audience and if your creative, landing page, and product are half-decent, you can begin generating sales. The algorithm will continue to refine on your behalf and convert users programmatically as you scale.

A couple of things to keep in mind on Facebook that I constantly see people missing on:

  • Don’t spend a ton of money on creative. Make a ton of different basic ads and test copy. Get a feel for what the audience responds to, then when you understand it, you can leverage that understanding into a more expensive ad campaign.
  • The learning phase will kill you. Get out of learning, any way you can. The learning phase is the period that Facebook uses to see if it can develop a strategy to spend your budget effectively.
  • Speaking of learning, if you don’t generate a certain amount of conversions in a 7 day period, your ads will be stuck in the learning phase forever and consistently deliver unpredictable results.
  • You can fix this by combining ad sets or choosing a conversion further up in the user journey that has a higher volume of fires.
  • Awareness campaigns. Don’t run them and don’t trust anyone that recommends them. Direct response marketing is where you live on Facebook. If you can’t demonstrate that the ads are generating revenue, then it’s not where you should be spending your time. Every campaign should be intent-driven and focus on driving a sale.
  • Set up ROAS. Make sure your pixel is sending back the conversion value so that Facebook can calculate your ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) for you. It’s only the first month of revenue since the following months aren’t reported to Facebook, but if you can get above 1.0 in ROAS on a SaaS product, you will be in good shape, especially if have a LTV that’s 3x – 10x your CPA (Cost Per Acquisition).

LinkedIn – The proven choice for enterprise SaaS acquisition

This is the chosen one right? Everyone will recommend Linkedin for B2B SaaS marketing at the drop of a hat. They’re not totally wrong, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  • It can be incredibly expensive. The companies you’re bidding against aren’t just the artisanal coffee company on Facebook with a modest ad budget. You’re now bidding against Fortune 500 companies for the same audience. You’re also competing head to head with Atlassian, Adobe, and DocuSign. These are behemoths with massive ad budget and you’re fighting to win auctions from them. That means you need to really have a lock on strategy.
  • So how do you win? Better messaging, better creative, and a better offer. Ideally, also a better product. A few ways to offer value is to offer something for free like an e-book or even better, something that will save them money today.

You can be a bit grey hat here as well. LinkedIn is still prioritizing engagement and connections on its network over user experience. Growth over experience isn’t a winning bet as a platform, but it’s a gap some marketers are taking advantage of.

There are two tactics you can use. If you’re in a low volume industry or just getting started, you can use LinkedIn Sales Navigator and something like Dux Soup to automate the process of adding users in your target demographic to your network with a message.

After they connect, Dux Soup automatically sends a follow up message with a light pitch and an invitation to book a call.

If you’re interested in retargeting users on LinkedIn, this makes it incredibly easy and cheap. Load your list of trial, churned, and demo accounts into the platform and use Dux Soup to run wingback campaigns.

The average customer acquisition cost on LinkedIn can be in the thousands for most brands, so automating the approach with a Chrome extension using the method above is one way to pay a fraction of the cost. Again, it’s a bit grey and probably won’t be around forever.

Twitter – Outdated platform, full of bots

I haven’t had a lot of luck with Twitter Ads, even in B2C. The ad platform is awful and Twitter is filled to brim with bots. If you’re going to give it a go, there are a few methods you can pursue.

  • Target competitor’s followers. As simple as it sounds, load up a list of competitors’ followers, and make that your audience.
  • Timely ads. If you’re doing a launch with a bit of PR or making a push somewhere like Product Hunt, you can add some fuel to the fire by amplifying it the day of a bit on Twitter. Target journalists if you’re feeling lucky or VC’s if you want to signal you’re ready to burn money on ads. 😉
  • If you have an app, you could consider using their “Install App” creative, but in B2B the acquisition process rarely starts with an app.
  • If you’re looking for engagement, the poll creative isn’t too bad. Leverage a surprising statistic and have users try to guess what the result is.
  • Install their pixel and retarget. Always an option and you will probably see some view conversions. There are probably better places to spend your money though.

If paid marketing is your goal here, I would give Twitter a pass till the ad platform matures. Which could be quite a while.

Google Search – the best place to start

It’s Google, get in there! This one should be top of your list.

  • There are a million ways of managing account structure and otherwise professional people will throw things at you if you engage in this. In general, you want to split brand keywords “company name” out from the rest of your campaigns.
  • I like to use an Alpha/Beta structure, which loosely means the top-performing queries get put into a campaign while the lesser performing queries are in the beta campaign. I workshop the Beta ads till they perform at the level of the Alpha campaigns then graduate them to the Alpha tier. There’s a ton more to this strategy and it’s a deep, deep well of conflicting information, so make sure to test everything.
  • SKAG’s are a bit less effective in 2020. SKAG’s (Single Keyword Ad Groups) were the hippest way of managing ad groups for a while and also the most painful.
  • Google has made some changes recently that affect the performance of SKAGs, so if you’re still running them, I recommend testing some alternative strategies.
  • Competitor bidding continues to be effective. Bidding on your competitor’s brand and linking to a comparison page is the source of angst for many brands that don’t have the paid search chops or budget to compete.
  • Competitor bidding is also a decent way of getting some new users for your young B2B SaaS. These are high intent searches and if you can put together a strong comparison against an industry leader then combine that with bidding on queries like “industry leader alternative” you may be able to snag a few leads from the big players.
  • Keep an eye on your costs, try to use some automated rules, and don’t FOMO into a campaign because Google’s Insights convince you that you need to spend more money.

Instagram – don’t overlook this opportunity

Oh yeah, get in there. People still tend to think B2B only converts on desktop. That’s your opportunity.

  • Launch some creative targeting just Instagram stories. Make them thumb-stopping, ad a poll, get creative. Be amazed at the results.
  • Test your new ad creative in retargeting first. Use the higher volume to prove out a path for prospecting.
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate. Create a ton of creatives and copy, in wildly different directions before you drill down on one. Creative tends to burn out quickly.

    Your days of spending 6 figures on a huge creative campaign are gone. You can film something on your iPhone and outperform that campaign if your messaging is right.

Summary

There’s a ton of space out there to flex in the B2B SaaS marketing space and you should hopefully be able to afford a higher CAC since your customer’s LTV will be higher. Don’t be afraid to approach traditional channels like FB and “newer” channels like Instagram. If the creative and messaging works, most channels will be effective.

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