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2019 Silicon Valley SaaS Marketing & Customer Acquisition Trends

Inspire your 2019 growth strategy with these 7 learnings from cutting-edge SaaS marketing teams in Silicon Valley.

At our agency Clutchgrowth, we focus on B2B SaaS growth. Our team is stationed in the heart of Silicon Valley, where we work with venture-funded software startups and agile teams operating within global brands.

These teams are often at the forefront of technology and change. So where are they finding growth? What’s coming in the next wave of demand generation, paid advertising, sales/marketing alignment, and account-based marketing?

Now that we’re a quarter into 2019, some trends are steadily emerging. Here’s what cutting-edge SaaS marketing teams in Silicon Valley are doing this year, and here’s hoping they inspire your growth strategy in 2019 and beyond.

1. Stepping away from “content for content’s sake”

Your content team is creating an ebook you think is going to be a big win. Why do you think so? Just a gut instinct. You haven’t done rounds of interviews with target personas or sent any drafts to customers for feedback. But it’s going to work! You have a great feeling about it!

So you create a landing page and auto-responder for promotion. You get your ads ready across LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google. You create a sizeable email automation drip campaign for downloaders.

You roll it out and guess what… that ebook you thought everyone would be falling over like a Black Friday rush at Walmart (it’s always Walmart isn’t it?) goes nowhere. Your cost per lead (CPL) is $200+. Less than 10% of people who visit your landing page through paid advertising want it. All that effort you put into the creation and promotion has been a dud. What gives?

Maybe certain audiences don’t want to read whitepapers and ebooks anymore. These days, cutting edge SaaS companies are using a data-driven approach to content. If they can’t prove content will move people through the funnel, they won’t develop it in the first place.

Data-driven companies leave room to experiment with different topics and content types and see which one catches fire with an audience. They don’t waste a ton of time creating content and campaigns that don’t resonate.

Mini Case Study

We were working with a SaaS startup. We had an existing piece of content that didn’t really stand out in their space. When we looked at our data, this content drove very few leads. Practically no one was downloading it, and the CPL was over $200.

So we decided to change course on lead generation. We put a webinar together on a trending topic and partnered with an influencer. It drove 700+ sign-ups, with an average CPL around $12. Data = proven ROI with content.

The Bottom Line

Don’t add to content saturation. Think beyond whitepapers and ebooks. It’s better to create one piece of amazing content per year than create 12 low-quality content pieces that miss the mark.

If you’re not super in touch with your market, have a few pieces ready at the top of the funnel (TOFU) for distribution and advertising. Then you can test which content your audience really wants. Be flexible with your automated email workflows.

To make things easier, here’s a little checklist for useful content parameters:

  • Educational

  • Targeted to your personas

  • Highlighting the value of your product

  • Created with an end goal in mind (convert users? Gain email sign-ups?)

  • Test-able, with clear metrics to understand how it’s performing

  • Easy to access, and visually appealing

  • One of a few different pieces of content that can be swapped out if it’s not hitting the mark

  • Aligned with Sales metrics and goals

2. Using influencer marketing, even for B2B

The phenomenon of influencer marketing doesn’t start and end with Instagram models… especially not in the SaaS space.

An “influencer” is simply someone who can lend their credibility, and in doing so boost an organization’s reputation. In the B2C world, celebrities will often sell just about anything.

The audience for B2B influencers is different. Influencers have a reputation, so they won’t be promoting junk. They will seek to partner with superior products that align with their brand and are disrupting their space.

Taking our case study from earlier – why did our webinar attract so many of our target personas to sign up? One big reason was the speaker – she was a recognized expert in her field, and the audience found her insightful.

We are seeing a trend where digital marketing isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s very possible that an influencer and a community can drive more conversions than your ads and landing pages ever could. Especially if your brand is not well known.

The Bottom Line

Strategically align your brand with an influencer to 10x your credibility and borrow powerful networks and communities. If your brand isn’t one that people know, align with influencers who share your values.

3. Outsmarting sizeable competitors through key communities

In our webinar case study from earlier, the company we were promoting had HUGE competitors and were not well-known in their space.

I assumed that digital marketing and specific targeting would drive a lot of the registrations. My business partner focused instead on communities where our client’s personas engaged. In this case, I was wrong and my business partner was right.

Here are the results of digital marketing to drive webinar registrations vs. the sponsored marketing campaign to this relevant online community of professionals.

Digital marketing:

  • $75-100 average CPL: webinar registration targeting a new audience on LinkedIn (cold audience, not aware of our SaaS client).

  • $25-50 average CPL: webinar registration leveraging retargeting across LinkedIn / Facebook / Google (warm audience, having visited our clients website recently).

  • ~100 registrations driven through digital marketing

Community network sponsorship:

  • $12 average CPL: webinar registrations targeting a new audience via the online community network (cold audience, not aware of our SaaS client)

  • ~600 registrations driven through community network

As you can see, our online community marketing campaign promoting the webinar drove 5-6x the registrations vs. digital advertising.

The Bottom Line

Leverage the power of online communities and networks with a strong brand that promotes quality content. Just like when you work with an individual influencer, working with a trusted community helps you borrow some of that magical credibility.

4. Being agile with paid advertising

Just like with content, Silicon Valley SaaS companies are agile in their approach to paid advertising. They want to test everything, from the content they promote to the type of ads they’re running to how lead nurturing is set up.

Mini Case Study

We ran LinkedIn ads to generate top-of-funnel leads for B2B SaaS company, aimed at specific companies and job titles they wanted to connect with. These were the results.

LinkedIn ads driving to a landing page:

  • $15 CPC

  • ~8% visitor-to-lead conversion rate

  • $200 CPL

LinkedIn ads driving to LinkedIn lead gen forms:

  • $10 CPC

  • 12.5% visitor-to-lead conversion rate

  • $80 CPL

By keeping the lead gen within LinkedIn, instead of sending the lead to a landing page, we drastically improved our CPL. Did you know that it can take 5-10 seconds for even a simple landing page to load on LinkedIn mobile?

An $80 CPL may still seem high, but in this scenario, it brought in people our client wanted to get in front of and prospect. We used LinkedIn to target a list of key accounts from the Sales team, and targeted specific job titles and functions of our buyer personas in specific companies.

The Bottom Line

Test lead gen forms within LinkedIn and Facebook, instead of always sending people to an external landing page. For multiple SaaS companies in 2019, lead gen forms have outperformed optimized, responsive, beautiful landing pages.

5. Prioritizing Account-Based Marketing

Marketing budgets should be allocating dollars towards webinars, podcasts, and videos - not just ebooks. Users are less inclined to fill out forms, email open-rates are declining, and CPLs for content advertising are going up. We’ve seen many successful SaaS companies get creative about hitting key targets on multiple fronts through the power of account-based marketing.

Video consumption is up 4x year-over-year, and it’s only growing. Webinars are popular. Podcasts are blowing up. You may not know what your favorite writer looks like, but you’ll recognize the people who habitually step in front of a camera at the next conference.

A real-life example? The Drift sales team has been consistently doing LinkedIn video and YouTube advertising. Is it teaching you about marketing and sales? Maybe, maybe not, but you’ve seen them and they stand out because others aren’t doing it.

This year, we saw one SaaS company spend $12k on a direct mail campaign to a targeted list of accounts in a specific vertical. Through these efforts, they generated $350k in their pipeline. No long-form content was needed.

The Bottom Line

Move along with the market. Get creative about hitting your key accounts on multiple fronts through the power of ABM. Be so good they can’t ignore you.

We’re not suggesting that you forsake written content completely. But embrace other avenues alongside it. Send your prospects a short video. Send a direct mail card and package to your top target accounts. Cut to the chase; not every funnel has to start with a long book.

6. Automating conversations

Silicon Valley SaaS startups are recognizing the power of automating conversations, where they can get away with it.

If a user is already on a website, it doesn’t make much sense to send them to a form, then have a salesperson follow up with them hours or days later. The time is now, and smart SaaS companies seize the opportunity to get conversational right away. They can quickly qualify prospects directly from their site, and route them to the appropriate salesperson through bots and smart automation workflows.

The Bottom Line

There’s no reason not to automate scheduling, demos, and conversations directly on your website. Let the robots help you qualify those leads, and bring those leads the answers they need - pronto!

If a prospect needs Sales, bots can direct them to the Sales team. If they need technical support, bots can route them to the appropriate channel. Bots and playbooks are increasingly sophisticated, and they can be employed to find out what a person needs and educate them, without the messiness of wait times, scheduling snafus, and form fills.

7. Building product-led growth into the marketing strategy (the flywheel)

Startup unicorns have built insanely good products that catch on faster than any marketer can sell them.

Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, stated: “I stopped thinking about our business like a traditional sales and marketing firm. It’s more like a flywheel where customers are the main driver that pulls new prospects in. The flywheel spins at the rate of our customers’ delight.”

What does a product-led growth campaign look like out in the wild? Take Expensify, for example. As part of their marketing efforts, they directly targeted people who submit expense reports. Their slogan was “Expense reports that don’t suck.” Instead of looking mainly at buyers, they tried to hone in on a more specific user pain point.

The Slack platform allows users to invite others into their workspace. Dropbox has a functionality where you can add a new user to unlock more space. The Ice Bucket Challenge raised $100 million in 30 days. All of these are examples of product-led growth.

The Bottom Line

Digital marketing tactics that have worked for years are now becoming increasingly saturated. Embrace product-led growth and promote it in your marketing strategy.

In Conclusion...

What happens in Silicon Valley today will be happening across the rest of the tech world tomorrow. SaaS marketing teams at the forefront of the digital landscape are busy automating and using data to zero in on the best marketing strategies to test and pursue. Now all you need to do is follow their lead!

In summary…the actionable steps that will give your SaaS marketing that zing! in 2019

  1. Don’t create content for the content landfill – offer value to your users in the medium they’re wanting it

  2. Let the data drive your content - test, refine, swap out, and track

  3. Leverage influencers and communities

  4. Paid advertising isn’t always the most effective advertising

  5. Pick up a camera / go into the recording studio / send some nice mail

  6. Be human and build opportunities for conversation (with both bots and people)

  7. Leverage ABM to ensure your marketing efforts aren’t wasted

  8. Product-led growth means your marketing team is probably doing a great job

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Published on Apr 17, 2019 by Zaki Hussain