Traditional marketing channels such as Google, social and email have become so crowded with mediocre content that buyers have changed their behavior around them. They’ve learned what to pay attention to and what to avoid. They delete emails, avoid sales calls, and think twice about downloading key assets. Instead of Googling solutions, they’re getting referrals from peers, asking questions in communities that didn’t previously exist, and checking out review sites (like G2) for third party validation.
The result is that yesterday’s inbound lead generation strategies have declined in effectiveness so much that today it’s not economically attractive for many organizations.
When it’s clear that your current agency and in-house resources won’t get you where you want to go, it’s time to make a change. That process can be challenging, especially when most agencies are used to the same (now antiquated) strategies and tactics. To ensure that your new agency partner has the expertise and experience to grow your SaaS, here’s what we recommend you add to your evaluation process.
Does the agency have a broad range of experience with B2B SaaS verticals?
It’s common to approach agencies that have experience in your vertical. Where that might add some value in terms of connections and channel selection for campaigns, it’s more important to choose a partner that has a broad range of verticals.
In our experience, exposure to different SaaS verticals is a plus because we base recommendations on best practices gleaned from a multitude of situations, strategies and outcomes. Buyers have changed the way they interact with vendor marketing and sales in every vertical, and it’s more important that your agency partner understands how to target today’s buyer, not yesterday’s.
Also, we would expect you to have enough industry knowledge in-house where the agency can provide an outside perspective and not succumb to groupthink.
Your agency must help you implement a go-to-market strategy that’s in-line with today’s customer behavior
Should you focus on Account Based Marketing? Product-Led Growth? Demand Generation? Thought Leadership?
These motions have risen to prominence over the past five years, coinciding and inversely correlated with the decline in effectiveness of lead generation tactics such as SEO, PPC, and inbound marketing.
Understanding of the proper fit for Product-Led Growth (aka Freemium).
Executives at many companies envy the growth and exits achieved by their Product Led Growth peers, where the product itself becomes the major source of content. “All you have to do is give them a taste and upsell,” they initially believe.
But it doesn’t quite work that way in practice. For one, there’s significant organizational change that must happen around the sales strategy—it must be 100% focused on the customer. In many cases, customer success is conducting the demos (instead of a salesperson) so they can ensure product fit first and identify opportunities for upgrade second. A PLG product must also be engineered to provide real value for free while also demonstrating a clear rationale and mechanism to move to paid versions.
And what generally happens when a company moves from the predictable revenue model to a product-led growth motion is that leads drop off the map. Sales must be retrained to handle the motion and will starve in the meantime.
Understanding of the proper fit for Account-Based Marketing.
ABM works primarily for companies marketing to the enterprise, with Annual Contract Value (ACV) of at least $50K, sales cycles that average 6 months or more, and are selling to buying committees. If you don’t check all those boxes, by concentrating solely on ABM you’ll lose out on a big portion of your total addressable market.
Able to re-engineer and enable sales strategy.
In short, the buyer has way more control. They’re not going to talk to you unless your communications are relevant and contextual. Spray and pray is over. And so is the SDR pushing for demos to an audience they can’t relate with.
Much in the consultative sales process is true today as it was previously—if you’re dealing with someone that is interested in demoing the product. And when they’re interested, hitting them with BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) questions could kill the deal flat. Everyone knows a decision maker that has recently taken a demo and got frustrated with the low level of expertise on the other side to answer their questions.
Today’s agency needs to understand how to drive people to the point where they’re “sales ready” and how to fix problems in the sales process that prevent moving towards closed/won.
Understand the difference between demand creation and demand capture.
Just five years ago, content for lead generation was the predominant go-to-market strategy. Build content, drive them to key downloadable assets and then set the hounds loose to follow up, qualify and drive meetings.
These are all demand capture strategies, designed to identify and convert those that have moved into a buying window. Because that’s only three percent of your total addressable market at any given time, focusing primarily here is equivalent to ignoring 97 percent.
For agency evaluation, it’s a red flag when they only want to pitch a singular tactic (such as SEO, PPC, or inbound).
The companies that are winning in any given marketplace are always the ones that create customers, especially in markets where they may not have problem awareness or solution awareness.
For our clients, we recommend tightening up their demand capture strategies to make them as efficient as possible while simultaneously creating initiatives that allow you to evolve alongside the buyer needs.
Overtime, demand creation will make the selling process much easier because they’ll come to you ready to buy and with minimal competition in the mix.
Need to have access to skill sets that are hard to find, too expensive to hire.
The buy versus build proposition is as old as company time, and many companies do well building in-house agencies. In-house works well for larger organizations that can reduce the margins granted to service providers for quotidien work. But the creative spark can be snuffed out at an internal agency as politics and cost-cutting pressures force out the best and brightest.
For smaller companies the right agency is paramount because for the cost of one, two or three FTEs, they’re gaining flexible access to a larger and more effective team that can be reconfigured as the company grows and needs evolve.
In 2022, we’re facing the distinct possibility of a recession, with budgets likely to be squeezed. An effective in-house team isn’t inexpensive and will most likely need outside support from an agency in nearly every small company scenario. This means that outsourcing could be more cost effective than building an in-house agency for many smaller SaaS firms.
The best relationships are a hybrid, where internal staff leverages the agency for strategy validation and direction and helps to execute on campaigns where they are deficient.
You’ll want to ask about the seniority and experience of the one who’s leading your account and what resources they can pull in at a moment’s notice.
Seek agencies that can demonstrate longevity with clients (except for successful exits--that's a plus).
We’ve found that our best relationships with clients tend to last three to five years on average. In that amount of time, the company grows to a point where they want to handle more internally or move on as the result of an exit.
Must have the ability to find the big idea.
We’ve saved the most important for last. The winner in any vertical is the one that creates demand. Everyone else will fight over those in buying windows.
Developing the big idea, the concept that moves a market toward you, comes from an intimate knowledge of your capabilities and aspirations, the wants and needs of your potential customers and of the marketplace itself.
It takes some time to accumulate and integrate the experience of working with you and your prospects before we can build the creative platform from which we’ll build the big idea. But, once we have it, we can leverage the idea to make your SaaS a truly magnetic brand that leaders in your industry want to be associated with, learn from, aspire to be like and most importantly, buy from. We’ve got some great examples we’d be happy to share.
If you need a new SaaS marketing agency, give us a shout!
We’d be pleased to discuss your current situation and help you explore your options. Sometimes we’re a great fit, sometimes not–we’ve even advised prospects to stay with their current agency albeit with a new strategy.
Let’s explore together. Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation.