A buyer’s journey consists of the steps that a customer takes in order to purchase a product or a service. It’s everything from discovering the brand to comparing with competitors, checking the pricing page, chatting with sales, and so on.
B2C products/services typically need less consideration. Therefore, their buyer’s journey is relatively short.
B2B products/services typically need more careful decision-making. There are more decision-makers, and there’s a higher need for educational content. Therefore, the journey is longer and takes more time.
That’s the theory. But how does B2B SaaS marketing work in practice? In this article, we’re sharing our take on it.
How to do B2B SaaS marketing, the Ahrefs way
A little bit about Ahrefs. We’re a bootstrapped company founded in 2011, and we recently passed $100M in ARR. Our business is an all-in-one SEO SaaS solution, and our customers are mostly businesses (small and big). We run a relatively small marketing team.
Here’s what works in B2B marketing from our experience.
Take a stake in product development
It’s true that marketers bridge the gap between the company and the customers. They’re constantly balancing between business objectives and what the user wants.
But you can fulfill that role effectively only if you become a power user of the product, aka your own customer. This allows you to do four extremely important things:
- Find problems sooner than the customer
- Be a true user’s advocate in product development
- Help prioritize feature development
- Uncover new market segments
Obviously, the only way to achieve that is to spend a lot of time with the product. But having some kind of process in place helps. In the case of Ahrefs, that’s mainly two things:
- All marketers begin with one to two months in customer support. You can’t touch any marketing before you complete that.
- Most marketers take part in our product-led content strategy, which makes them essentially product marketers. And that leads us to the next section.
Create product-led, SEO content
Let’s unpack this.
Product-led content is a strategy where you prioritize topics where you can help people solve problems with the help of your product.
SEO content is content designed to rank in the search engines.
When you combine those two concepts, you get convincing messaging with a free distribution mechanism.
For example, there are tens of thousands of monthly searches for how to do keyword research, and our blog post featuring Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer ranks in the top five for many of them.
Thanks to that, the article generates thousands of visits each month.
This strategy allows you to leverage search demand on YouTube too. You can even repurpose the same content.
So a product-led content piece like that can do three things simultaneously:
- Create awareness – Searchers are introduced to the brand through content.
- Acquire new customers – After reading the content, our solution may be among the ones they’ll consider.
- Retain existing customers – Our customers may learn new keyword research processes, which keep them using the product.
And because of that trifecta, we’re not thinking in terms of mapping content to stages of the marketing funnel. Instead, we’re trying to prioritize topics that show a high business potential.
Publish original research
Original research is great for two things: backlinks and thought leadership.
Backlinks are links to your site from other sites. They are important because they help you rank in Google (one of the key ranking factors).
Original research, such as data studies, case studies, industry surveys, etc., attracts backlinks because other authors use them as sources. In turn, pages with a lot of backlinks accumulate authority, which you can guide to other valuable pages on your site to help them rank (see Middleman Method).
For example, our study on why most content on the web gets no organic traffic earned 5.9K backlinks from 2.8K referring domains and still keeps earning them without any effort from our side.
As for thought leadership, the more competitive your SaaS niche is, the more you need it.
When other sites mention your research, you start to be viewed as a trusted, highly regarded brand. You’re no longer a “stranger,” and that really helps with sales.
Here are some ways you can come up with ideas for your research:
- Study popular topics in your niche and see if you can add to the conversation
- Challenge the status quo with fresh data
- Look at others’ research and see if there are any blanks you can fill
To find popular topics in our niche, we often use our own Content Explorer (again, dogfooding). For example, to find relevant research about SEO, we can look for content that has “study” in the title and at least 200 referring domains (to weed out some less popular ones).
Retain users by educating them
In SaaS, one of the biggest challenges is churn—the proportion of customers who stop paying for your product or service.
We never believe in any marketing hacks that supposedly stop people from canceling their plans when they want to. Instead, we’re trying to educate users so that they know how to use Ahrefs and get the most value out of the product.
Product-led content is one example, but there are more.
For those customers who prefer live training, we host regular onboarding webinars on our community platform.
And if the user ever feels lost, they will find helpful content right inside the tool.
Ideas for educational content can come from different sources: keyword research, support, interviews with customers, competition, or just being a part of the process when introducing a new feature.
There’s nothing innovative in our approach, but it doesn’t need to be. Educational content is not about originality but the helpfulness and thoroughness of the context itself.
Network at industry events
At the startup/small company level, what’s important for SaaS companies at industry events is networking rather than sales. You can learn a lot from other SaaS companies and people who use their products. You may even meet your own users.
Thing is, you don’t really need a large budget to attend industry events because you don’t really need to be an exhibitor or a sponsor.
- You can come up with an interesting topic and pitch as a speaker. Zero cost.
- You can just go there as a regular attendee. Minimal cost.
Partner up with content creators in your niche
Bloggers, YouTubers, TikTokers, and podcast hosts are often open to different forms of partnerships. These can include being featured as a sponsor, sponsored articles, or a shoutout during an interview on a podcast.
The reach and influence of content creators are a great opportunity for brands. Chances are, some creators are already attracting your target audience.
But should you expect instant sales from this channel? In our experience, that’s a definitive no. Remember about the buyer’s journey—businesses need more time.
What you effectively can do with partnerships is generate brand awareness in a way that your audience can appreciate (you’re supporting their favorite creators).
Furthermore, you can try promoting something that needs less consideration than your core product. For instance, a free tool or a free course. Think of it as a faster route to your brand. In our case, we usually promote the free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools instead of our premium toolkit.
I also asked our partnership manager, Igor Gorbenko, for a few tips, and here’s what he said:
You’ll only get the hang of this tactic by diving in and doing it. I mean, your best prospects will probably come through references, which will come to you as you go. Also, a good content creator won’t necessarily make a good partner. You need to do due diligence and invest in those who are willing to invest their time in you.
By the way, want to see what we learned after spending over $50K on sponsored podcasts?
Don’t sleep on sales enablement
We’re talking about resources that help the sales department engage with bigger accounts and close deals: pitch decks, articles, landing pages, battle cards, brochures for different types of accounts, etc.
The sales team is going to get a ton of uncomfortable questions related to your competitors, use cases, and every aspect of the product’s functionality. Marketing is usually the best place to answer these questions.
But to be really helpful to sales, it’s best to answer those questions before they come.
No need for a complex system here. To start off on the right foot, you need only a few things. These are to:
- Make a list of strengths and weaknesses of your solution. Strengths will help the sales reps guide the conversation, and knowing the weaknesses will help them address those beforehand.
- Ask sales reps what kind of materials were helpful to them before.
- Make a commitment to revisit the materials to see if anything needs regular updates.
- Create a place where sales reps can be notified of product updates. A good idea is something like a channel on Slack because people often have questions and comments about new releases.
Use local marketing to penetrate key markets
Promoting your product in English is the best bet to get customers all over the world. But if you’re starting to see non-English-speaking countries becoming regular customers or competitors showing interest in those markets, you may need to invest in local marketing.
For example, increasing our brand’s awareness in Spanish-speaking countries required dedicating one person to just that. My colleague, Erik Sarissky, spends most of his time being physically present in those countries and networking with local communities and influencers.
The reason why this approach works probably won’t surprise you. As Erik puts it:
This is a market where people prefer to make deals in the local language, despite the fact English is usually not a problem. People also appreciate that we’re making an effort to be closer to them. It really helps to show our commitment.
The takeaway here is that you may need to take local marketing into consideration while building a global marketing strategy. Think about it next time you’re preparing your budget. Maybe there’s already someone on your team who already has the necessary skills or is native to a key market?
Things we don’t do (but may work for you)
Marketing is not about pouring everything into one pot. It’s about finding the right mix.
To find the right mix, you need to experiment. We’ve done our fair share of that, and we still do. Here are some things we tried or seriously considered. It’s possible you’ll find something that might work for your business:
Here are a few more tactics that tend to work in B2B SaaS:
- Account-based marketing – It’s about a close alignment of marketing and sales with the goal of targeting a narrow selection of potential customers. Learn more about ABM.
- Growth loops – A system where actions of existing users attract new users. For example, referral programs or a marketplace for third-party apps. Learn more about growth loops.
- Lead-nurturing workflows – It’s about gradually converting leads to customers through a set of automated messages using various channels like email or in-app messages. Learn more about lead-nurturing workflows.
- Advertising – We’re not too big on online ads, but some SaaS businesses treat them as one of the main customer acquisition channels. It’s relatively easy to measure, and you can scale it fast. Each platform is different but definitely have a look at Google Ads and Quora.
There are many tricks in the book, but it’s not about how many you use. Small teams should focus on the true value drivers and then allocate some resources for experimentation.
So experiment and scale what works.