How to choose and work with a SaaS Marketing Agency

Selecting a SaaS marketing agency or marketing partner is a big decision! For many SaaS businesses, marketing services are pivotal to plans for growth and continuing success. Marketing isn’t just another service. It is often a meeting of minds. You need to look at marketing as you would any other professional service. It’s valuable; a good marketing agency is as essential as a good legal firm.

Read on to find out:

  • Why marketing is critical for your SaaS business
  • How should you resource your SaaS marketing?
  • The benefits of a dedicated SaaS marketing agency
  • The buyer’s guide and key questions to ask when selecting an agency
  • How to select a SaaS marketing agency

The growth of SaaS

Ever since Salesforce ripped up the rulebooks in 2009 declaring the end of software with its cloud-based CRM, how we search for, buy, pay for and use software has changed forever.

There are now 10s of thousands of SaaS products, with more starting every day. From having a Micro SaaS as a lifestyle business to the growing number of SaaS decacorn (a company valued at over $10bn) SaaS is bigger, bolder and more competitive than it’s ever been, and it’s only going in one direction.

The good news is SaaS has really just become what we call old-fashioned software these days, and in most (but not all) industries we are long past the arguments of ‘is my data safe in the cloud’. Covid has accelerated the adoption of SaaS and there is no sign of slowing down. Who would have thought we’d be talking to granny on a Zoom call pre-Covid?

SaaS Marketing Strategy

Build it and they will come

…or so they said.

We’ll start with the good news. In most cases the hard work from a development perspective is up front – building the software, testing it, creating a good UI. Unlike a service business like a marketing agency, adding extra customers usually comes with little extra cost, and therefore in many cases the sky is the limit for your product.

Which means you need people to know about your SaaS product, they need to want to use your product, and ultimately want to buy your product.

Enter marketing. Because build it and they will come does not hold true. You may have a unique spin on a common application (like expenses software), or you may have something completely new. Either way you need to get the word out there. You need great messaging, branding and a website that sells the product. And then inbound marketing, outbound marketing, content marketing, PR and a lot more to build awareness, generate leads and ultimately win customers. And you need to keep doing this, and more and more and bigger and bigger as you grow and compete with even more companies copying your features or entering the market.

We’re not finished yet! As SaaS is typically sold with a monthly subscription, marketing is not done when someone pays some money for month 1. No! You have to keep marketing, keep promoting new products, build communities for your customers and keep them happy so they keep renewing month-on-month and year-on year.

SaaS Marketing Reports

How do you resource your SaaS marketing?

We know we need marketing. How do you resource it? There are 3 main options:

Hire in-house

Hire in-house

Keep control, most expensive

Hire freelancers

Hire freelancers

Expertise as required, mixed results

Partner with an agency

Partner with an agency

Best of both worlds?

Pros and cons of each option

  • Hire in-house: Given the wide range of skills required in marketing these days if you want to keep it all in-house you could hire a team of people. Budget aside, this is of course the best option, but budget isn’t an aside, so may be something to aspire to in the future. If a full team is not an option hiring a marketing lead may give you a good in-between option
  • Hire specialist freelancers: Hiring specialist freelancers as and when you need them is another approach. This lets you bring in expertise to look after separate parts of your marketing such as design, copy and SEO as required. This way you get access to a full skill set but may end up spending a lot of time managing marketing activity, educating freelance staff about the business and co-ordinating their efforts to get them to work together as a team. Furthermore, would you know what to look for when hiring freelancers to work on marketing projects? Can you evaluate the relative merits of SEO consultants or easily identify the best copywriter or designer for your business?
  • Partner with a marketing agency: Partnering with a marketing agency provides access to the full skill set of a well drilled team; frequently the team has strengths that come from working together on many projects. A ready-made team with a deep understanding of the technical and creative facets of marketing, and whose members are on the same wavelength, is readily put to work for your business straightaway through outsourcing.

For a quick overview of the pros and cons or outsourcing vs hiring in-house see our infographic. Or for a deeper dive, download our free white paper on this topic: Should You Outsource Your SaaS Marketing?

The benefits of a dedicated SaaS Marketing Agency

There are 10s of thousands of agencies to choose from, probably hundreds of thousands (what, you thought SaaS was competitive?). So where do you start? How do you find your ideal partner? There are many agencies that specialise in non-SaaS niches so you can quickly rule them out.

Then the question you need to ask is do I want an agency that has worked with similar businesses and got repeatable results? Or do I want an agency that works with lots of different client types? In most cases it would make sense to start with an agency that has industry experience. Your general doctor may be a good all-rounder, but would you want them performing heart surgery on you, or would you want a specialist heart surgeon?

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The buyer’s guide to choosing a SaaS Marketing Agency

Given you’re still reading we are assuming you are sold on a SaaS Marketing Agency. So, the next question is which one do you choose?

What marketing do you actually need?

Do you need a full outsourced marketing partner? A one off project? Or just one service, like SEO for example.

If you just want one service, you may be best to find an agency that specialises just in that service. For some services, a lack of SaaS experience isn’t that crucial (SEO for example) whereas copywriting could benefit from experienced SaaS copywriters.

Different agencies offer different services and have different ways of working. Xander Marketing for example offers a full service and an outsourced marketing solution so is a good fit for a company that wants to get on with product development and sales and leave the marketing to an experienced partner.

Are you looking for an outsourced marketing partner or a one-off project?

Agencies like us offer outsourced marketing and typically on an ongoing, retainer basis. Other agencies specialise in projects. 

What type of business are you?

Are you small, medium, large? Do you sell to B2C, B2B? And do you sell to small businesses or enterprise? Is it a low cost zero touch SaaS or an 18-month enterprise sale?

What resource do you have in house? Are you a marketing director looking for a team, just one service, or a founder looking for a marketing partner?

Different agencies specialise in working with different types of clients. Whilst Xander Marketing is a SaaS marketing agency, this can be drilled down further – we typically work with smaller or SME businesses that have a B2B SaaS product. Other SaaS marketing agencies may work for bigger companies, the Unicorns of this world just on B2C products. Two SaaS marketing agencies, two different focuses. 

What experience does the agency have?

The barriers to entry for a marketing agency are low. There are no regulations so any agency can call itself a SaaS marketing agency. Therefore, you have to look deeper behind words. Ask questions like:

  • How many SaaS businesses have you worked with?
  • How long have you been working with SaaS?
  • Can you share case studies?
  • Can you share examples of work?
  • Do you just work with SaaS or are there other industries you work in too?

Look for agencies that have worked with many SaaS businesses over a number of years and have case studies, testimonials and work examples to back this up.

Where are you based? Is location important?

Some clients like working with a local agency, one they can meet up with regularly. Others are happy an agency is in their same country, or time zone, and for others they’d rather not be restricted by location and just want the best agency in the world for them.

Do you want to break into a new country or region and want the support of a local agency to do that?

We’ve been remote since we started in 2009. Whilst we’d get some funny looks at the start of the last decade, in a post-Covid world remote is normal.

This blog post explores local vs remote agencies in more detail. Ultimately it comes down to do you want to meet up face-to-face or can that be scarified for opening up your search to a global audience.

What’s your budget? How much does an agency charge?

Time to talk money! Agencies will typically have an average project or monthly budget they work too, and typical ways of working/monthly commitments. You will likely have a budget, or at least an idea of a budget. You need to find an agency that’s a good fit for your budget and where you are in your journey. If you’re a bootstrapped startup you won’t be a good fit for an agency that only works with high end SaaS companies who have £100k a year to spend with them.

Some agencies provide indicative pricing on their website, others you may need to ask. However, you should get an idea by case studies and the types of clients they typically work with.

How to select a SaaS Marketing Agency

Write a brief

A brief is essentially all the information you know. It’s a top-level document that helps to focus you on key points. It should include (but not be restricted to):

  • Objectives – what are you trying to achieve and how will you know if the marketing has been a success?
  • Scope – The boundaries of your requirements for example email, SEO or content or maybe it’s full service
  • Timelines & deadlines – Any known time driven priorities such as a forthcoming trade show or event
  • Budget – Set the budget so you know straight away if agency services costs are realistic for you

Understand what you want from a SaaS marketing agency

Part of selecting the right agency is developing an understanding of what you want. Think through what you are really looking for. Some of the key elements include:

  • Skills – Do you need a complete set of marketing skills or do you need to append skills you have in-house? Do you need to support a marketing manager operating alone? Or do you need to support a small team with design?
  • Location – Do you want to focus on a local agency, marketing to local businesses, or do you want to cast the net wider in search of the right agency and customers?
  • Services – Are you looking for a full-service agency to plan a strategy and deliver tactical execution or do you need a specific element like content, a website or email marketing?
  • Experience – Is knowledge of your industry important or not? Is it important the agency you work with has worked with other SaaS businesses?

Create a shortlist

Shortlist potential agencies. Research the market, and of course as much as possible, make sure they fit with your brief and the understanding of your wants. If an agency has caught your eye in your Inbox, or you’ve seen effective marketing you like, find out which agency did it. Search the web and ask your peers or trusted contacts who they would recommend. 

Filter the list down to 2 or 3

Screen the agencies by undertaking a short engagement campaign. This phase is not a long project, it’s information gathering. Meetings are not necessary at this stage, so emails and Zoom or phone calls will suffice. Be open; share everything, including your brief and wants, and aim not to waste your time or anyone else’s. You should boil the shortlist down to 2 or perhaps 3 likely candidates. 

Final selection

Once you have got it down to the final few, it’s time to fully engage to see which one is the best choice.

Set up further in-depth conversations to exchange information, view credentials and past work. Find out about their track records; naturally, expertise in the services you want is highly desirable. Experience in SaaS is of course of interest, and sector, niche or competitor experience are also of significant interest.

Invite proposals but avoid a process which involves agencies spending too much unpaid time on pitches. Beware of being persuaded by sales people against your better instincts and judgement. If agencies clearly aren’t suitable, bow out and disengage as soon as you know.

Don’t treat marketing like paper clips!

Marketing agencies are not ordinary suppliers like stationery companies, so don’t treat marketing like paper clips!

Avoid asking for creative deliverables as samples of work or as gestures of goodwill. A stationers might provide a sample ream of paper but it is unrealistic to expect the marketing equivalent from an agency.

The best marketing comes when you engage with an agency in a partnership. To help cultivate this relationship, be respectful in negotiation, if you feel it’s necessary. When you buy marketing you are buying intangibles such as ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’. It’s not like a traditional product and nailing an agency to the floor on pricing is likely to be counter-productive to building an enduring partnership.

Avoid breaking confidences by sharing costs or proposals from other agencies in an effort to get the price down. Trust is a delicate and essential business mechanism. If you break a confidence by sharing a proposal it sends the wrong type of message to the third-party.

The key questions to ask a SaaS marketing agency

So you’ve got your shortlist and started discussions with agency. Here’s some questions to consider asking:

How will you know what tactics will work for me?

Before you make your decision you must find out what processes the agency uses to get a good understanding of your business, target market, business objectives, any industry research and expected outcomes from activity. Do they have a strategic process in place? Ask to see examples of that process and the outputs provided?

Who will be working on my marketing?

Who is the key person in the agency that you will be dealing with consistently day to day? What skills and experience do they have?

 How good is the agency’s marketing?

How did you find the agency? If it was from a Google search or an email campaign caught your eye you know the agency’s marketing works. When evaluating an agency, you should look at its website and social media presence. Check what content the agency uses.

What results can I expect?

Ask the agency to give realistic estimates of results and ask them to provide evidence of results achieved for similar business campaigns.

What will I have to do?

Get clear on exactly what part you are expected to play. How much input will be required on a month-by-month basis. How much time will you be expected to devote?

How locked in am I?

Is there a minimum term in your contract? What processes will be in place for reviewing the work completed and how does this relate back to your contract?

Do you offer all the services I require?

Many marketing agencies provide a full service. Alternatively, if you already have some suppliers on board, how flexible can the agency be if you want to continue working with them on some elements of your marketing?

Do you offer a fixed price?

Does the agency offer fixed cost pricing and what do they deliver for that fixed fee? What additional charges are there and how are you made aware of these up front?

What experiences and results has the agency already achieved?

The best way to find out if an agency can deliver on their promise is from their recent client case studies. Agency case studies should extend beyond their own results using inbound marketing; they should be able to point to very specific instances of success with client case studies, too. Don’t be afraid of requesting a recent client reference from within your industry.

Xander Marketing

Next steps with choosing your SaaS Marketing Agency

Xander Marketing has worked with and looked after and performed the marketing function for over 200 B2B SaaS companies.

We are the outsourced marketing partner of choice for SaaS businesses that need more customers, leads, website traffic and to build their brands. We work in partnership with SaaS businesses around the world to deliver fully integrated online and offline marketing services that help you grow and:

Win new customers
Increase and improve leads
Generate more website traffic
Build brands and become industry leaders
Reduce churn rate

It’s this experience, and experience with SaaS businesses that makes Xander Marketing a great choice for businesses that value marketing but don’t have the time, resource or know-how to do it themselves.

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