Starting a business these days is far easier than it was years ago, thanks to the Internet and other technological resources now available. However, growing a business is another story. Startups need to be able to develop brand awareness and generate leads with a small team and a limited budget. One way they can accomplish this is through inbound marketing.
In this article, you will learn how to create an inbound marketing playbook to use for your SaaS startup.
What is a playbook?
A playbook is a sporting term. It is often used by coaches of football teams to create various strategies (or "plays") designed for a particular situation they face to win the game.
When it comes to business, a playbook is essentially a collection of different strategies, processes, and workflows that a company uses to achieve a particular objective. It lays out not just the framework and approach in doing things, but also the specific roles and responsibilities of the different "players" involved.
The importance of having a playbook
Gone are the days when static outbound marketing strategies can yield desirable results. In fact, today's business world is extremely competitive, intense, and ever-changing, especially when it comes to marketing to your target audience that 32% of marketers today consider outbound marketing strategies like paid advertising are overrated and a waste of time.
Just like a coach that's given the responsibility to make a split-second decision when the team is down to turn the game around with just a few seconds left on the clock, business owners are always faced with situations that require them to make smart and well-thought off decisions to keep their business in the game.
SaaS startups face these situations the most. Unlike their more established competitors, startups come into the game with a tiny team and an even smaller budget to get their target audience to notice them, and eventually get them to become paying customers so they can generate revenue.
Creating an inbound marketing playbook for your SaaS startup gives you a guide that defines the different strategies and processes not only to help you reach out to your target customers and guide them throughout the entire buyer's journey. At the same time, it gives you and the other members of your SaaS startup team in-depth information about your target market, your startup's value proposition, who your competitors are, and the best practices you would like everyone to follow. Simply put, your playbook not only tells you and your team what you are supposed to do but also how to do it.
Why an inbound marketing playbook?
To answer this question, we need to first talk about what is inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is a strategy that focuses on empowering your customers by being helpful and focusing on their needs. By putting your client first, you draw them into your website where you can now develop a relationship with them and nurture them to convert them into qualified leads, and then eventually into customers.
Inbound marketing is more effective than the traditional outbound marketing strategies. Aside from the fact that traditional outbound marketing strategies are far more expensive, they are often intrusive and interruptive. So while they may seem to be beneficial for businesses because they can push their products and services in front of their customers, this type of approach does not necessarily give a good experience for their clients.
Creating an inbound marketing playbook will help get your SaaS startup because you do not need a huge budget to get the word out about your services to achieve a potentially high ROI. That is because the inbound marketing approach focuses on providing relevant and valuable content and interactions to your target customers. These pieces of content aim to reach out to your prospective customers throughout every stage of the buyer's journey so that you give them what they need when they need it. We will talk more about the buyer's journey later in this article.
Many large SaaS startups have successfully used inbound marketing to scale their businesses. Examples of these are Shopify, HubSpot, and Mention. Here are seven inbound marketing case studies featuring SaaS startups who were able to scale through the use of inbound marketing.
Elements an inbound marketing playbook
When creating your inbound marketing playbook, you need to make sure that it focuses on how your team will engage with your potential customer in different situations and scenarios. That way, your inbound marketing playbook will become effective in helping your startup generate leads and revenue.
A well-designed inbound marketing playbook has seven distinct elements: customer analysis, buying process, company offer, value proposition, competitive analysis, sales process and methodology, and best practices.
Let’s look at each of these inbound marketing playbook elements more closely.
The custom analysis section of your inbound marketing playbook contains detailed information about your target market as well as trends, key influencers, and buyers within your particular niche.
This section is also where you describe your SaaS startup’s buyer persona in detail. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Some of the information to include are:
- Demographics (e.g., age, gender, educational attainment, marital status, employment role, income level)
- Behavior patterns
- Pain points
- Critical issues they are trying to solve
One of the reasons why inbound marketing fails for SaaS startups is that their buyer persona is not detailed enough for them to make sound decisions. Your buyer persona is the central figure in all your inbound marketing strategies, so it is important to take time to create this with as much detail as possible. The HubSpot buyer persona tool can help you create a particular buyer's persona for your SaaS startup.
Here is an example of a buyer persona created using this tool.
Take note that you do not have to limit yourself to just one buyer persona. In fact, it is quite reasonable for businesses to have more than one buyer persona, especially if you offer a range of services. Just make sure that you give the same amount of attention and detail to each of your buyer personas.
The buyer’s process, also known as the buyer’s journey, is essentially the different decision making processes your buyer persona makes before, during, and after they avail the services offered by your startup. This is entirely different from the marketing and sales funnel which will we discuss in more detail in the marketing process and methodology section.
There are three distinct stages that your buyer persona goes through in the buyer’s journey:
- Awareness Stage. Your buyer persona realizes that they have a problem, but they do not know what it is yet. They begin to do some research based on the signs and symptoms that they experience to figure out what is the problem.
- Consideration Stage. In this stage, your buyer persona has now discovered what is exactly the problem he or she is facing. So now, he or she begins to research to find what are the possible options available to solve this problem.
- Decision Stage. At this point, your buyer persona has come up with a list of the possible solutions to the problem he or she is facing. Now, your buyer persona is trying to decide which is the best option to choose.
Below is a graphic representation of a typical buyer's journey of a SaaS customer:
This is, of course, the ideal journey that your buyer persona will go through. In reality, your buyer persona can go through the buyer's journey differently. For example, your buyer persona may go back and forth the consideration and decision stage several times before they finally go ahead to make a purchase. In other cases, your buyer persona can skip the consideration stage altogether and move from the awareness stage to the decision stage.
You will need to take account on all of these possible scenarios when creating the buyer's process for your SaaS inbound marketing playbook.
In this section of your SaaS inbound marketing playbook, you need to describe in detail the different products and services your startup is offering to your buyer persona as well as how they can address your buyer persona’s pain points and issues.
When you create this section of your SaaS inbound marketing playbook, don’t assume that your team members understand your products and services as well as you do. Just like your buyer persona, you need to be as detailed as possible here. That way, they are easily understood by your current team members but also those that you will be hiring shortly as your startup grows.
The value proposition section is where you explain why you launched your startup and, more important, how your startup can make a difference in what could seem to be a saturated marketplace. This is where you provide answers to the following questions:
- Why should your target customers buy your product or service?
- What value will they get when they choose to get this product or service from your startup, and not from someone else?
Many businesses tend to start their playbook with this section. Personally, I recommend adding this section only after you create your buyer persona and company offer. Doing this will help make your inbound marketing playbook more streamlined, and you can more effectively align these with your value proposition.
As you may have probably guessed, this section focuses analyzing your competitors. For this part to be useful in your inbound marketing playbook, you need to go beyond naming who are your competitors. You also need to study the different inbound marketing strategies that they are using that prove to be the most successful. That way, you can incorporate these into your marketing process and methodology, which we will be discussing in the next section.
A common mistake SaaS startup owners make is that they focus their competitive analysis towards their direct competitors. SaaS startups who have been successful with their inbound marketing strategies are those that do a competitive analysis by studying the three different kinds of competitors:
Source: Marketing Sherpa
- Direct competitors. These are the companies that offer the same products and services that you do and have the same or similar value proposition.
- Indirect competitors. These are companies that provide the same products and services you do but have a different value proposition.
- Replacement competitors. These are companies that offer products and services that can serve as an alternative to your products and service.
Marketing process and methodology
This is the crux of your entire inbound marketing playbook because this is where you map in detail the different strategies that you will implement to promote your SaaS startup.
To do this, you will first need to understand the sales funnel.
The sales funnel is a model that describes the different stages of the journey a prospect goes through from being a visitor to a paying customer. Unlike the buyer’s journey, the marketing funnel is designed from a marketer’s perspective. The diagram below shows the difference between the two.
Although it is mainly called a sales funnel, marketing plays a crucial role here. That is because the right marketing strategies implemented at the right stages of the sales funnel will fuel your prospects to make them go down through the funnel, converting them first into a lead and then into a customer. It is for this reason that this section should be created with both your sales and marketing team.
The key to creating this section of your inbound marketing playbook is to get prospects to your website. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. In fact, 63% of marketers admit that their biggest challenge is to generate enough traffic and leads to convert into customers.
Why is this the case? The reason is that there are a lot of different strategies that you can do for this. However, the most effective are through content marketing. In fact, 88% of B2B marketers use content marketing as part of their inbound marketing strategy.
Blogging as an effective inbound marketing strategy
This was the case with Marco, a SaaS company that focuses on providing voice, data, video and print solutions. Although they already have two blogs and a handful of other inbound marketing assets, Marco still struggled to generate new leads to convert into customers.
After a thorough research on their current assets, the folks at Marco agreed that the best way to increase traffic to their website to generate leads is to improve their blog traffic, starting with doing a revamp on the topics that they wrote about on their blog. That is because after reviewing the company's buyer persona, they discovered that the issues that were being discussed in their blog are not those that their target customers wanted to read about.
Marco then created a brand new blog based on their buyer persona. From there, they created a blogging editorial template to help them decide not only how many posts they will have per week but also the topics that will be covered in their blog posts.
The first month after the blog was launched, it received 88 visits. A year later, this figure significantly rose to 2,249 blog visits. That is an increase of 2,512.5%!
Now, I am not saying here that blogging should be the only inbound marketing strategy to include in your playbook. However, blogging is a very effective inbound marketing strategy for two reasons.
First, creating blog posts gives your website an additional page that could be indexed by search engines. The more web pages your site has indexed, the higher the chances that your site shows up in search engine results pages (SERPs). This, in turn, makes it easier for your target audience to find you.
Second, it gives you more opportunity to rank for a particular keyword. This is the reason why I prefer creating long-form blog posts. Long-form blog posts and other types of content allow you to use a particular keyword more frequently within a piece of content without compromising its quality. At the same time, the in-depth information that you provide helps establish you as an authority in your niche.
Finding the right keywords
This was one of the reasons why Marco was not doing well with their inbound marketing strategy the first time around. Even if they got the right inbound marketing strategies in place, the content they were publishing was not effective simply because these are not what their target audience was looking for.
That said, it is important that before you dive into blogging or any inbound marketing strategy for that matter, that you first do some keyword research. That way, you can be sure that there is a demand for the blog post that you are about to write.
There are three primary tools that I use and recommend when doing your keyword research. The first is SEMRush. What I like about this keyword research tool is that it gives you the stats on not only your chosen keyword and a list of related keywords but also a list of websites and even paid ads that are considered the top performers.
Here’s an example of that list when I looked up the keyword “inbound marketing”:
With this tool, you can then visit these websites and study the content so that you can replicate this for your SaaS inbound marketing strategy.
Another tool that I use is Google’s Keyword Planner.
Although it is not as exhaustive as SEMRush, it does provide the competition level and list of related keywords that are ranking the highest in Google, which is the number one search engine used today.
Speaking of Google search engine, the Google Suggest tool is another helpful tool to use when doing your keyword research. This is Google's autocomplete function when you type something in the search field.
The keywords that come up here when you type a particular keyword based on their performance, meaning that these are the top keywords that are also used by users that search using the keyword you have used.
Incorporate social media
Perhaps the biggest misconception SaaS startups have when it comes to inbound marketing is that all they have to do is to create some content and wait for the people to start coming.
The truth is that you will need to incorporate in your inbound marketing methodology methods on how to distribute your content so that your target audience can find it. For this, social media will be one of your best avenues. Here are some stats why social media is essential to any inbound marketing strategy:
- 83% marketers use social media marketing as part of their inbound marketing strategy
- Content consumption on Facebook has increased by 57%, 25% on Twitter, and 21% on LinkedIn
- 76% people look for interesting content on Facebook
- Pinterest users spend 50% more on products and services than those coming from other channels
- Twitter sends 16% of referrals to long-form articles and blog posts.
You can download a copy of my social media marketing playbook to get some ideas on how to distribute your content using social media.
The last element in your SaaS inbound marketing playbook is a comprehensive list of tips, techniques and best practices observed within your startup. As your startup starts to scale, you will be bringing in more people on board. Having this in your SaaS inbound marketing playbook will make sure that everyone will be on the same page and you as the owner can be assured that the way things are handled remains consistent.
Creating an inbound marketing playbook for SaaS startups requires much time, effort and resources. Admittedly, it can be overwhelming for a SaaS startup, especially when you do not have someone on your team that can create quality and effective content. One way to overcome this is to hire an inbound marketing professional that can work with you not only to help you create your inbound marketing playbook but also help you implement these content marketing strategies.
Once you have completed your inbound marketing playbook, you will have an in-depth document containing all the techniques and strategies to help you and your team make those all-important decisions that help you generate leads, increase sales, and win the game.