Go-to-Market B2B SaaS Superpowers that Drive Positioning Strategy
Here's how to find your superpowers to drive go-to-market B2B SaaS positioning strategy. Take these simple steps to get your company started.
Wondering how to get started with your B2B SaaS content strategy as a startup? Learn how to get results fast, what to measure and when to worry about SEO.
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Content is king. Content is needed for everything you do in marketing, from funnel optimization, demand generation, and driving awareness to earning a credible reputation and being liked by analysts and influencers.
In this article, I’ll focus on the specific content areas that I’ve seen SaaS startups struggle with and how to drive results fast.
While content comes in many forms, from the written word to visuals, audio, and video, I’ll focus mostly on the written form, as the topics I will discuss can be applied to other media as well.
Good content first and foremost needs to add value. Of course, your content needs to be organized, have good structure, and in general be written at a high-quality level. Spelling, grammar, and style all matter. So does readability. But it’s all meaningless unless your content adds value.
If you don’t know whom you are trying to serve, and what questions are critical as they go through their journey, you will not be able to provide any answers. And that will make it hard for your team to create great content, no matter the quality of the writers you hire.
After years of trying out many formulas for successful content marketing, I’m convinced that you need to keep things very simple. While SEO, content strategy, and a multi-media, multi-channel content marketing effort can help you at some point, it’s not the best place to start. Things will just get too complicated too fast.
Content marketing has so many purposes that it’s important to align on the right KPIs. Everyone has an opinion about content marketing, which makes it difficult to focus. How do you define success? Let’s start with “Why?”, and list a couple of reasons to do content marketing:
The principles described next apply to most of the above outcomes of doing content marketing.
You have a product or service. Your prospects have a need, though they may not know it. Messaging, or storytelling, is what connects your product with your prospects. My definition of marketing is that you’re trying to change someone’s behavior or change someone’s mind. Given that definition, how do you make people believe in you and your product? How do you elicit them to change their behavior and engage with you? The answer is storytelling. And it’s not hard to do. It just takes discipline and practice.
Some of you may be familiar with frameworks like the hero’s journey or a brand’s story arc. Almost every book or movie follows something similar: hero, challenge, guide, solution. For B2B SaaS companies, it helps to think of your prospect or customer as the hero of the story. They have a problem and need a trusted guide to help them find a solution to realize their full potential. That’s where your content comes in.
As the trusted guide, you need to call the hero to action. You need to call attention to a problem the hero must address. To become a trusted guide you must earn the hero’s trust. They must know that you have their best interests at heart. They must be comfortable that you speak their language. They must know that you feel their pain and share their worry. You’ve been there. You’re like them.
To do this, you must meet them where they are. This brings us to the three questions that you need to answer to change your prospects’ behavior. Why should the prospect or hero change? Why with you? And why now?
All too often, CEOs and marketers of B2B SaaS companies focus their content and messaging on what their products can do. Of what their solution can provide. True, those claims are part of the answer. Just not the most important part, and definitely not the first thing to say as you meet your audience for the first time.
The following picture shows the typical story arc. It’s important that the start and end of the story get your focus. This is where the magic happens. And these parts are not about you. These are about your hero’s pain, and what they stand to gain.
I challenge you to go to your own website, or the website of many Software solutions, and you’ll find that most of the content and emphasis on the homepage is about the claims of the company or your own solution. Does your website talk mostly about yourself?
Apart from an approach like this being a bit self-centric, starting with your claims also destroys the flow of the story. It’s as if you'd open a book in the middle of the story. When you start talking about yourself, you miss the opportunity to make your reader care. You need to flip the script and start with the Pain. Start with talking about them. This also applies to any other writing, from landing pages to emails and sales materials. Try to always follow the Pain-Claim-Gain model and you’ll find it lead to more engagement and conversions.
How do you start? How to blog? Where do you put your content marketing energy?
Just write. Don’t plan and analyze just yet. That comes later.
It works. I’ve worked with 100+ software companies for the past 15 years on marketing, go-to-market, and growth strategy. The one correlation between content marketing and growth success that I’ve been able to draw from that dataset is that CEOs and Founders who start to publish early can have an exponential impact.
Set aside quality time to connect with your audience, listen to their needs and answer their questions, and ultimately turn that into reusable content like blogs or videos, and product improvements. I’ve seen founders who do this outperform most of the other startups I’ve worked with.
By starting fast and getting your content to be crawled, your website will also start building up google search authority credit. It usually takes some time before the Google Algorithm starts taking your site seriously, so the sooner you start to publish content that you genuinely believe your audience cares about the better.
What’s cool about Google and other search engines like YouTube, Bing, and LinkedIn, is that the audience and algorithms will filter out your best work, so you don’t even have to write perfect essays. Just be genuine and answer your audience’s questions, and you’ll be rewarded with traffic, engagement, and ultimately growth. Let the data do the talking. You can turn these insights into a perfect content calendar later.
So, what is the best way to get some great content produced quickly? It’s simple. Just answer the questions no one else has answered. An important rule for doing content marketing is that you must understand and answer the questions of your audience. Once you do, it will not only help you understand whom you are writing for, it will also increase the relevancy of your work.
Now that you have shed the need to write perfect posts, I suggest you end every day by writing down a question someone had for you (a customer, partner, investor, or team member). If it’s a question that others might also have, and that you could not answer by pointing to an existing online article, you might just have found your next piece of amazing content. You can type the question into Google and see if you get good answers. If not, it’s time for you to start typing.
Draft some notes about possible answers. Set time aside the next morning (or whenever you are most productive/creative) and dump the words on a sheet. Don’t worry about formatting, style, or structure. Just write as if you’re having a conversation with the person who asked you the question. If it helps, just record an audio file that you can use to get transcribed (check out rev.com) or have a professional writer turn it into publishable content.
Eric Hoffer, the philosopher longshoreman, had a great talent for writing short books, with a higher “density” of new ideas and insights than many others. He used to write one paragraph before going to bed, to capture the one idea or insight he had that day, and then he would finish the paragraph when he got up in the morning.
Hoffer: “There is not an idea that cannot be expressed in 200 words. But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say. If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.”
To encourage you to write here’s another great quote from Hoffer:
“To overestimate the originality of one's thoughts is perhaps a less serious defect than being unaware of their newness. There is a more pronounced lack of sensitivity in underestimating '(ourselves and others) than in overestimating.”
Of course, some SEO work can impact how your content drives session growth and becomes visible. The URL that you use to publish, the title of your article, and the metadata all help people find what they are looking for or describe to the search engine what your images and content are trying to say. Just don’t prioritize it before the actual answering of the question, writing that up, and publishing it.
In addition to looking at your blogs and your website copy, also review your emails, landing pages, and marketing materials. How much do you talk about yourself (your claim) vs. your customer’s pain and what they stand to gain? Is this the right balance? How do you optimize your B2B SaaS copywriting?
Look at some of the marketing emails your company sends out. Chances are, you’ll find that you start out by speaking about your company or product. It’s hard not to. After all, you’re proud of what you offer and want the world to share your enthusiasm. When you write your copy, do not start by writing about yourself. Start with your audience. Change “I” and “We” into “You” and “They.”
Admittedly, it’s difficult to not start with talking about yourself. The challenge is to address the needs that your audience is concerned about or the things they hope to accomplish. Do that in the opening sentence or paragraph. You’ll find that the readers of your blog or email recipients will be much more inclined to read on now that they know you understand their circumstances.
At this point, it’s fine to talk about what you have to offer. Be sure you couch it in terms of benefits to the reader and that you connect to the pain points you introduced. In closing, let the reader know that you have a plan to address their concerns. That by doing ABC you’ve helped others like them do XYZ. Call the reader to action to join you on the quest to answer their questions together.
Here’s a template for emails that follows our pain, claim, gain format. In general, the same approach can work for landing pages.
You/your industry/customers may find/be experiencing… fears/dreams/challenges/missed opportunities.
Our customers/users/people like you have found that by using ABC, doing XYZ, they’ve been able to reach/create/achieve… benefits/outcomes/quotes/examples (create “Fear of missing out” and show how “others have gone before.” with quotes or examples)
Start here…low barrier…easy first step, simple, low friction follow-up (lead magnet).
Close by sharing what your audience stands to gain from taking the next step. Better yet, make it clear what they will be missing out on if they don’t. This is not about making more claims but sharing stories from what your customers who went before them gained. Use real numbers, quotes, and testimonials.
Make sure to always end your writing with a compelling CTA (i.e., NOT “click here”). The hero’s journey is never over. There is always something else you can mean to each other as they educate themselves, research options, purchase a solution, use your product, or are willing to help others with what they’ve learned so far.
Here are 10 rules to review and improve your messaging:
Here is a great example from an email campaign that was published on Quora, stressing flow and rhythm in the writing style:
Enter a short headline summarizing why this email is important
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. Also, I use sentences of medium length.
And sometimes, when I am certain that the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbal sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
After you’ve exhausted your daily routine to answer a question from your audience that has not been answered before, here are some other ideas building relevant content and complete your Content Marketing Strategy:
Two great sources for content topics are your sales team and your customer service team.
Ask your salespeople what prospects or customers are asking for. Record the answers they typically provide. What are questions that they struggle with? What are creative ways our product or service is providing value to customers?
Participate in customer service calls. Listen to how customers use the product. Look for surprising use cases. Use the calls to really understand how using the product is helping customers to get their job done, solve their challenges, or provide new opportunities.
Keep your content topics simple and don’t overthink things.
Another common framework to think about content topics is Wow-How-Now. The idea is to drive awareness, and ‘hook’ your audience with topics that grab their attention (Wow), then create informative, educational content to drive your audience through the consideration stage of the funnel (How), to top it off with conversion-focused content driving the close (Now). Here are a couple more content ideas mapping to the journey and marketing funnel following these three steps:
I love to just have casual conversations with employees, customers, partners, influencers, and the owners of a company to get great content. Make sure to record these (ask the person being interviewed for permission). My team, customers, and peers know me as the guy who often puts his phone on record mode on the table to capture some great insights or content ideas. You can turn them into blogs, transcribing the complete interview, or use pieces to create other forms of content. Consider transcribing your recordings with a service like rev.com to make it easier to write the content later.
Organizing webinars and asking your customers and team members to participate is a great forcing function to generate high-value content. Many of the blogs on this site, and the chapters in my books started as webinars that forced me to organize the content, and validate its value. You can turn webinars into blogs and on-demand videos.
Make videos—the more, the better. Casual videos interviewing users or members of your product team are a great place to start. After that, you can do customer onboarding videos with your customer service team. Or demo videos as discussed before. Every feature page on your website should have a video to support it.
Once you begin generating the content, you need to determine if it resonates with your audience. To see how well your content is being received, here are some KPIs that you can measure your content against.
The above can help measure the ongoing performance of your content marketing and help hold your marketing team and agencies accountable for results. They also allow you to test what’s working and optimize your content and messaging.
While understanding how Google and other search engines interpret what you write, and help others find it, is a just and valid cause, I’ve concluded that it’s not worth a serious startup founder or CEO to spend time, or even money on.
I’ve seen examples where an SEO investment by an early-stage company was a fraud mostly, provided by Marketing Agencies to use the elusiveness of the acronym to buy time without having to be accountable for results. Do some agencies and SEO professionals talk early-stage founders into a retainer that allows them to just go do a bunch of random optimizations and create noisy content? Well…while I don’t believe the intentions are that malicious, the results sometimes are not that different.
If you are the marketing leader or founder of an early-stage software company, I recommend staying away from paying an inexperienced marketer who has done a couple of SEMrush or MOZ courses money to go tinker with your site structure, meta-data, and content planning. Instead, focus your energy on writing. Your junior SEO marketing professional is not going to beat the Google Algorithm anytime soon, and any SEO agency or consultant who is able to compete in the very contested SEO field, is going to be paid big bucks by large corporations. So, take my word for it, if you’re still in MVP or the PMF growth stage, and under $10M ARR in size, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.
To back up my strong claim, here is some data. This graph shows the content publishing on the Kalungi blog, vs. session growth over time. While we started to do specific SEO optimization in the middle of 2020, it’s hard to say how much that contributed to the ongoing growth. We probably are getting a bit more of the right traffic now, and of course, the sustained momentum is helped by ongoing publishing and optimal SEO. My thesis however is that the early investment of a founder or core team member to create a high volume of relevant, valuable content, is the key factor.
While I cannot share that confidential data, I’ve worked with 50+ B2B SaaS Companies with the founder, or through Kalungi as their startup marketing agency, and we have consistent data that shows how early-stage founders who commit to doing content marketing themselves and publish articles that answer important questions for their audience, have an incredible impact on later SEO rankings. At Mightycall we started blogging in the summer of 2014 and posted most of the content during 2014 and 2105. It led to a fantastic organic growth curve in the years after.
Of course, it’s worth spending time on SEO as well. I just think it should never become a priority before writing actually good content. So what should you do?
Now that you know step one is to create some actually valuable content (and publish it, without thinking about SEO), it’s time to add SEO to the mix. Here are a couple of simple things that I have consistently seen work to get started with SEO, and get actual results with a relatively low effort.
Do some simple research starting with your single most important keyword phrase you want to rank for and find the other 9 phrases that are related to this. This is called creating a “topic cluster” and will help you focus your initial efforts. Don’t overthink this. Here’s what I did for this T2D3 website:
I picked the sentence “B2B saas marketing strategy” as the single most important Keyword I wanted to start ranking for. Now I used a simple Keyword research tool to find related keywords to target. I like the SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool. This gives me a list to look at with search volume and variations that help show the intent of the searcher. Below you can see how I picked some sentences with relatively high volume (90 and 260 are fine…we can go for more competitive keywords in the future when we have a foundation), and some that are very specific to what this book delivers (strategy, plan).
Now that I have my list, I plan to write articles for each of them, with the exact keyword phrase as part of the URL. For the T2D3 playbook, I picked this list:
Now all I have to do is create content for each of these and write a solid meta-description of around 150-155 characters, clearly describing what the reader gets by reading this article.
Now, for each of these, type the search into google and see what you find. What have others written already? Read these articles and form your thoughts on how you can add real value. What new perspective can you add? Can you help summarize/organize some of the other ideas? Can you challenge the status quo? Thought leadership is a bit overcomplicated sometimes. Just having an opinion, asserting yourself, and adding your own new insights is enough.
Write your article. Try to have at least one page that provides new content, and after that, it’s ok to use some existing ideas and refer to them, make them better, or summarize. It’s great if you can write a couple of pages, but even if your content is relatively short, as long as you add real value by answering an important question you should be fine.
Now just get it out there, and make sure to use the URL Slug as planned with the right metadata. Now share it with others and try to get people to like it, re-publish and link to it. Use it in your nurture campaigns.
That’s all. After you do this you are on your way to start ranking, and you can do this again for higher volume, more competitive keywords later. I’ve seen this lead to results in weeks consistently. It does not take months, as long as you focus and start publishing valuable content.
You’re getting some traffic to your site. Emails are being opened. People are landing on your site. Now you must convert them. Most marketing teams fail to do the relatively easy work of creating a lead magnet early for each of the three phases of the customer’s journey.
A lead magnet is anything that attracts a prospect or turns a prospect into a lead. Think of lead magnets as breadcrumbs or cookies you drop along the customer journey. In your story, they’re the nuggets that encourage the hero to keep mining for more gold.
It doesn’t have to be a light or free version of your product. It could be an interactive tool, a specific landing page, a form to fill out to get pertinent information in return. One example could be a survey. You’d gain valuable info regarding potential customers and they’d receive the entire results of the survey to see how they stack up against others in their category. Free assessments or ROI calculators are two other examples of effective lead magnets.
What causes your audience to want to learn more? To ask for a brochure or white paper. To watch a video. To respond to a call to action. To answer an email. To pick up the phone and call. To meet in person. To request a demo. To sign on the dotted line.
A lead magnet is basically content that is so timely and relevant to where your audience is in their buyer's journey, that they are willing to give you something in return. It's basically a mini-marketing campaign.
Here are a few basic questions to ask as a litmus test to see if your lead generation content stands a chance to become a real magnet. First, you need to make sure that the content is helpful. Find at least 5 people who will confirm the content is useful and they will share it with someone else. Now ask your sales team if they would point prospects to this piece of content to help them decide. Here are a few more:
What's your offer to have your audience take the next step in their journey? Don't settle for a contact form as a "call-to-action". Provide something meaningful.
Here are some lead magnet examples for each of the three stages of the buyer's journey:
Lead magnets to “Wow” your audience and make them “lookup” and take notice. Connect with the Pains, Fears, and Dreams of your Audience.
Lead magnets to show your audience “How” and establish your credibility and reputation as a trusted guide. Show your Claims and your value proposition in a useful, usable way.
Lead magnets to help your audience take the final step “Now”. A call to action that paints the picture of perfection so vivid that they get struck by “Fear of Missing Out”.
To write your first content marketing plan, you probably will end up creating a content marketing calendar, some SEO research, and a framework to map content based on the needs of your customer journey. This is a great way to do it.
To get you started, I’ve created a list of “inputs” and “outputs” that can help you with all these three items. Unless you have these inputs, it will be hard to create your SEO plan, content calendar, and content journey. I believe the CMO is responsible for making sure these get completed before hiring a content marketing leader, agency, or team. I would argue that any SEO plan or content plan not based on these is suspect.
If the inputs are given, the content marketing leader needs to turn these into a solid Messaging and Positioning document, a list of lead magnets to create, and blog topics to cover all 10 priority keywords. The messaging needs to include a company tagline, and adhere to the brand voice direction. I recommend creating customer testimonials and collecting quotes that say all these things in their voices.
Now just write those first 10 pieces of content to cover the top priority keywords. After that, you can start doing more sophisticated work like B2B Content Syndication, set up your Content Marketing Metrics, create Content Promotion Strategies, and optimize the Content Marketing Funnel.
If you really want to level up your writing game, consider watching the following graduate student-level writing class, which I’ve recommended to many marketing professionals I’ve worked with. The class by Larry McEnerney is great training on creating valuable content, and connecting with your intended audience, especially in the complex audience journey of B2B Marketing.
More practical tips on how to get started can be found is this great article on Saas content marketing.
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