So you’re looking to start marketing your B2B SaaS Start-up, but you’re unsure where to start. You have some traction, a couple of customers, maybe a decent product-market fit, and you’re keen to start telling the world about it. That’s awesome.
But wait! Before you run out and spend your hard-earned revenues on online ads, you should take the time to consider who you’re targeting, what channels you’ll use and whether you should bring in in-house expertise.
As a general rule, marketing follows 3 stages: Diagnosis, Strategy and Tactics. Marketers should begin by diagnosing the market to identify an underserved niche. Then, develop a strategy that outlines who you will target and how you will show up in the market (A.K.A. your positioning), and outline strategic objectives to measure your activity. Finally, consider which tactics you will execute to achieve your objectives.
So let’s dive in.
Should you start marketing?
Should you start marketing? The short answer is yes. 100% absolutely! And the good news is that you probably already are. Networking, having happy clients, and having a website is a good start. But you’re probably here to start ramping up activities and generating consistent pipeline.
The challenge I often see is start-ups that rush out to start investing in online ads, doing some social media and expecting it to go viral and generate a million new leads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen like that. Especially not in B2B SaaS.
Yes, you can start implementing some tactics – some of which I recommend starting from day 1. And I have articles on this site explaining how to get started with each of these. For example, this one on Content Marketing.
But for these tactics to be effective and drive revenues, there are 2 steps to do first.
- Market Diagnosis: Analysing the market to identify who your target audience is and what they want and need.
- Strategy: Deciding which segment(s) to target, how you will position your company to attract them, and set measurable objectives for you to achieve with your marketing.
Once you have these in place, your tactical execution with a limited budget will be much more effective.
Let’s start by considering the role of marketing in your organisation.
The role of marketing in your organisation.
Marketing is a set of activities that organises your business offering around your customers.
That sounds complicated, so let’s unpack this.
Every company conducts business slightly differently. Your strategies could be focused on customers, products, production efficiency, sales, or societal marketing. And, how a business approaches success is referred to as “business orientation”.
There are 5 types of business orientation:
- Production orientation: Your business prioritises production efficiency as business success.
- Product orientation: You define success as having the best and most innovative products.
- Sales orientation: You define success by the number of sales and revenues you generate.
- Market orientation: You define success as customer satisfaction and meeting customer needs.
- Societal marketing orientation: You define success as making a societal impact through your business. Or being a drive for change.
This is only a brief summary, but instinctively, you probably lean towards one of these. And the below image shows how your business orientation suggests whether your business is more internally or externally focused.
Personally, I believe that all businesses should have Market Orientation and some Product Orientation – except in some unique cases. And that’s because any business could have the most creative invention in the world, but if no one needs it, then quite honestly, what’s the point?
And that creates a real challenge when you look to scale a business.
If you’re too internally focused, you will eventually reach a point where you have invested millions of pounds in developing a product and throw money at sales and marketing to try to sell that product. And that’s often how start-ups get into trouble. You raise investment around your invention but can’t sell it. So, investors are demanding sales, you’re throwing money at it, but you can’t deliver.
A much better approach is to consider what the market needs and develop a product that solves the problem of the customer and the market.
Therefore, the question “should you start marketing?” becomes “what does the market want and need, and can you solve their problems?”
And this is a significantly different question.
How to start marketing your business?
Ideally, you start this process before starting your business. You understand your ideal customers, the potential size of the market and the industry, and have developed a product that solves a real need of that industry.
In case you haven’t, you’re looking to follow this structure:
- Conduct market segmentation
- Strategic Objectives
And often, you know this information. But it’s important to take the time to critically evaluate it and communicate to others in the business. Or write it down as a guiding direction for your marketing.
Having these 5 points clearly defined and outlined will help you stay focused on what will move your business forward, and not get distracted by shiny opportunities.
Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning
Through Segmentation, Targeting and positioning, you’re essentially identifying how to best deploy your available resources to generate business.
Segmentation and Targeting for B2B Start-ups
During the segmentation phase, you would usually conduct a quantitative analysis where you conduct a thorough market analysis. Then you can use that information to categorise companies into segments. Then you identify which segments to target.
However, as a start-up, you don’t have the time or the money for all that. So, essentially, you reverse that. Instead, list the segments you are considering targeting or think you will be a good fit for based on your knowledge as a founder and leadership team. And then select which 1 or 2 segments to focus on in the next 12 months.
Segmentation for startups.
To start you segmentation, you could list your top 10 potential target segments and conduct the usual firmographic segmentation to analyse which ones you want to focus on.
Firmographic segmentation will involve the following analysis:
- Industry: which industries or verticals each segment serves.
- Location: where are they based – this could be by country, continent or region based on your available resources.
- Status/Structure: Are they in a group structure, partnership, Plc. or limited company?
- Size: this could be in terms of employee numbers, revenues, or size of target users in the organisation
- Performance: you might want to define companies by their performance.
Additionally, you will want to consider the following when defining your segments:
- Criteria size: The market must be large enough to justify segmenting. If the market is small, it may make it smaller. This depends on your team size to know how large to make these.
- Difference:Measurable differences must exist between segments.
- Money: Anticipated profits must exceed the costs of additional marketing plans and other changes. They must also be able to afford your solutions.
- Accessible: Each segment must be accessible to your team, and the segment must be able to receive your marketing messages
- Focus on different benefits: Different segments must need different benefits.
Once you have this information, you should consider these segments as a team and prioritise the top 1 to 2 segments to target. This doesn’t mean that you won’t go after the other 8 segments; we can look at those later. But this helps you to focus your resources and your brand around a specific niche industry.
Defining your position
The next step is to define how you will position your brand around your target segments.
You essentially have 3 things to consider here:
- What will customers think about your brand?
- How will they differentiate you from your competitors?
So, there are 2 things to include at this stage:
- Brand values, and
- Brand assets
For this stage, you need to add a competitor analysis and understand how your competitors position themselves in the market. Importantly, this isn’t a technical feature analysis. You’re instead analysing how they present themselves to the market. What are they saying that they do better than anyone else? And how are they communicating that?
For your brand values, you are defining what you want customers to think about your brand – this should be tied very closely to what your customers think, feel and want in your product. By aligning you customer needs, with your brand values, you are working to connect an emotional connection between you and your customers.
The best way to explain this is that every one of us has our own values.
Me? I hold 3 core values:
- Actions speak louder than words,
- You achieve more through collaboration than conflict, and
- You should be able to have fun with whatever you’re doing.
When I meet people that share those values at a core level, I tend to get on better with those people. I can relate to them.
That’s what you’re trying to replicate with your brand values.
As a side note, you should conduct the same exercise for internal branding around what it means to work for your company – but more on that another time.
Meanwhile, your brand assets are how customers will recognise you. So, this includes your logo, colour scheme, design style (of products), brand tone of voice, maybe your tagline, and any other way that your customers could identify you.
The 2 important components of brand assets are:
- Differentiation: This is how your customers tell you apart from the competition.
- Distinctiveness: This is your messaging and how customers know it’s you.
An example of positioning
Let’s look at an example. If you were looking at cars, you might consider Jaguar, Ford and Audi.
- Jaguar is a luxury brand emphasising style, typically for wealthy men.
- Ford is more of an economy brand, with a range of entry-level and family cars.
- Audi sits somewhere in the middle. A premium brand that emphasises sportiness and the power of their cars. They have some affordable options that are cheaper than Jaguars but more expensive than Fords.
Each of these brands has a clearly defined target audience and a point of differentiation from each other. Of course, there are more car brands in each category, but each is slightly different.
Your competitor analysis must look beyond the features to understand who their ideal buyer is and what makes them perfect for that buyer.
You may want to target the same segment as competitors. And that’s ok. But you may want to come up with counter positioning.
So, say you wanted to approach the economy market alongside Ford. You may identify that young men want an affordable sports car and look to bring that to the market at a competitive price to Ford’s entry-level models. Then, you have a clear point of differentiation: “a premium sports car at an affordable price”. You are countering Audi’s premium sports cars that are more expensive. And you are countering Ford as you’re promising a higher quality vehicle for the same cost.
Additionally, you would ensure your logo and colour scheme are significantly different to other car manufacturers. Certainly for a period of time while you establish your positioning.
Now that you understand the market, the competition, and your position in the Market, you need to consider what you will do to achieve growth in your business. We do this by creating our strategic objectives.
Our strategic objectives are the guiding principles of what we will achieve with our marketing over the next 12 months. These objectives should be SMART objectives. That means they should be Specific, Time-bound, Achievable, Realistic, and Measurable.
When starting out, one of your key marketing objectives will be to establish your position in the market. You will also have more revenue-based objectives, but in terms of your long-term marketing activity, you need to establish yourself and your business as an expert in your area.
Using the example above, establishing your position will ensure that young men who are looking for a low-cost premium sports car think of you.
Tips for creating strategic objectives.
I’ll cover Strategic Objectives in more detail in another post, but for now, here are some key things to keep in mind when creating them:
- Tie your strategic objectives to your business objectives. There should be a clear path to understand that by completing each objective, it will help your business get to where it’s going.
- Focus on a maximum of 1-3. You will have plenty of time to do more in the future.
- Focus on outputs, not inputs. Don’t say you’re going to establish 3 partnerships. Say you want your partnerships to generate x revenues. You can break them down into smaller milestones later.
- Delegate the creation of objectives to your marketing director if you have one, and hold them accountable.
- In the early years, focus on new business and capturing market share rather than customer retention.
- Really be as specific as possible, and link them to a single target segment.
- Do not tie them to a specific tactic unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Here are a couple of examples of strategic objectives:
- Increase market penetration by 20% in the domestic buyer’s segment over the next 12 months
- Become recognised as a leader in low-cost premium sports cars by 80% of segment B over the next 6 months.
- Increase revenues by 10% from channel partners in segment B over the next 12 months
This step is critical to get right because whichever you choose here will inform the tactics you deploy and what you work towards. Undoubtedly though, by taking deliberate actions over 12 months to achieve 3 specific goals, even if they are the wrong goals, they will get you somewhere better. It’s much better to do this than to change your monthly objective.
Tactical Execution: The 4 Ps of Marketing
Finally, we come to the tactical execution. This is where you finally start executing your marketing for your B2B SaaS Start-up. With a robust diagnosis and strategy behind you, your tactical execution will determine the products to develop, your distribution channels, your pricing and your promotional methods (or communications). Together these are known as the 4Ps of marketing.
Tactical execution covers everything across the 4 Ps of marketing: Price, Product, Place and Promotion. Most people get caught up with the “Promotion” or “Communications” piece, but the other Ps are equally important to helping you achieve your strategic objectives and grow your start-up.
This is a significant topic, so I’ll cover this in more detail in another article.
For now, though, it’s important to understand that you need to consider your Product, Place and Pricing as much as your tactical execution.
Here are some examples that demonstrate why it’s critical to consider the mix and not just communications:
- If you identify that your target segment requires a specific feature to be able to sell to them, and your objective is to generate new clients, you’ll need to develop it to ensure it can meet your objective
- If your target segment is more price-conscious but requires fewer product features, you may decide to introduce an introductory product tier at a lower price to gain traction.
- You may identify that your target segment has higher conversion rates through personalised demos than self-serve e-commerce. So you will need to build out that channel internally or work with resale partners with a proven robust sales operation. If the opposite is true, you may need to allocate more budget to your web development and conversion optimisation.
Communication is the final piece of the puzzle. You could do all of the previous steps really well, but if you don’t communicate it, who will know?
The old adage of “build it and they will come” simply doesn’t work. Projecting your message to the right people so it resonates with them and makes them want to buy from you is where most of your marketing budget will be spent.
Like all the previous points, your tactical execution should link to your market diagnosis and strategy. You should be advertising where your customers are. And, by conducting thorough consumer research, you will have a good idea of where your customers “hang out”.
If they are on LinkedIn, be on LinkedIn. If they are on TikTok, be on TikTok.
Your target audience will use multiple different channels for different types of information. And you need to have those set up too.
For example, your customer may spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. So this is a good place to reach them initially. However, when they understand the concept and want to learn more, they might turn to search. So you’ll need a different type of content to show up there too. Finally, when they speak to you, they will need a product demonstration and pricing information.
Here’s how you can map out what to communicate to your customer and when.
Create a customer journey
A good place to start is to create a customer journey. This funnel maps the journey of your target buyer from awareness to consideration and conversion and highlights the types of questions they ask, the type of information they will likely need to consume and the channels they will use.
Once you have this information, it decides your communications strategy for you.
Here’s an example of one for promoting a trade show to marketing managers:
You can see that I’ve segmented the journey into 3 stages: Awareness, Evaluation and Conversion along the top.
And for each stage, I’ve mapped out 4 things:
- User Behaviour: At the awareness stage, these are high-level questions, goals or challenges they face in their job. Further stages are follow-up questions based on the information you provided in the previous stage.
- Research & info needs: These are questions that your target buyer will be asking based on their job. Similarly, later stage questions will be driven by the information you provided in early stages.
- Content-Type: What type of content will people want to receive this information in? In the awareness stage, it will always be an advert or social media, because you need to make them aware of the problem.
- Channels: Which channels will they look to in order to answer their questions and research needs.
How do you find the information for your customer journey?
This is great, but your discovery phase may not have provided you this granular level of detail to build out your customer journey. If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then a great way to find this out is to ask your customers this question:
“Where do you go to find information to help you with your job?”
We all need to learn new things about our job sometimes, but we do it in different ways. You probably rely on YouTube and Search if you work in digital marketing. Meanwhile, if you’re a coder, you probably rely on Reddit, Github, and Google. Additionally, if they respond with “search”, ask for any specific sites they use, trust or like. Do they follow specific content creators.
The answer might not be to create your own content but rather to work with existing influencers or sponsor podcasts.
And they might even break it down into specific topics or different channels that could help you identify where they are engaging at different points.
If your brand can appear where your customers are looking for answers, you will go a long way to becoming recognised in the market. Even better if your can position your content to answer their questions.
Which channels should you use?
As a start-up, your choice of channels is extremely limited by your budget. And while you’re still honing your message-customer fit, you won’t want to invest too much in advertising. You still need to invest enough to generate new business, but you don’t want to buy a £1 million TV spot.
For more information, check out my article on Message-Customer fit.
Again, this decision links to your objectives. In marketing, there are 2 “speeds” of marketing:
- Long-lasting brand-building advertising.
- Short-form sales activation.
Both have their place, but as the names suggest, short-form sales activation will typically boost sales while you run it, but as soon as you stop, so will the result. Meanwhile, brand building is longer lasting. It may take a while to kick in, but it will make your future sales activation campaigns be more effective.
The difference partially relates to your choice of the channel but also to the type of creative your run in your campaign.
And you need a mix of both for it to work. As a start-up, you want ratio of about 70:30 in relation to Sales activation:Brand Building. After about 5 years, you will probably tilt closer to 60:40 in favour of brand building.
I explore tactics you could use in this article and explain why content marketing is great for B2B startups.
How much should you budget for?
Based on your business objectives and strategic objectives, you should have clear revenue targets for the business. A good rule of thumb is that your marketing budget should be between 10-20% of your expected new revenues during the period.
So, if you aim to increase revenues by £100k, you should invest £10k-£20k in marketing. If you have a high customer lifetime value (LTV), then it’s easier to justify this spend on acquiring new customers. However, remember that you are essentially borrowing money against future earnings – which is why it’s critical to have a plan in place and get it right.
Of course, the more you invest, the more you expect to achieve, but if you are investing £5k and hoping to achieve £100k in new revenues, then I recommend you re-evaluate your business objectives because you are unlikely to achieve them.
Budgeting is its own topic, so I’ll explore this in more detail in another article.
When you’re just starting out, many of these activities happen in unison. For example, you will want to test your messaging and brand identity to develop message-customer fit. But you won’t be able to run “focus groups”. So, you will want to test your messaging through your tactical execution. Create a series of ads, landing pages and funnels targeting your audience. Then run a different quarterly campaign to identify which is most effective.
You won’t get everything 100% perfect, but if you get each of these to around 60%, you’ll be in a much stronger position than if you jump straight to running paid ads.
If you would like to support developing a marketing strategy that helps you grow sustainably, or if you’d just like to bounce ideas around with someone, drop me a message and let’s chat.