Marketing Saas: Growing a Team from Scratch, Inbound Lessons & a Data driven approach

Rahama Obadak
Marketing & Comms, Flexisaf

Marketing Saas in Nigeria: Growing a Marketing Team from Scratch, Inbound Lessons & Moving to a data driven approach

Software as a service (Saas) in Nigeria isn’t very common. Like the name suggests, Saas means making use of a software service - most often on a recurring basis. Think about your monthly Netflix or iTunes bill.This is how FlexiSAF positions its major products: SAFSMS&SRMS.An extra element of uniqueness in FlexiSAF’s model is this being a B2B (Business to Business) as opposed to B2C (Business to Consumer) product, especially considering the emerging sector FlexiSAF finds itself – edtech (educational technology).Nonetheless, we were able to grow from 200 to almost 600 - or maybe 700 clients (schools) in less than 2 years using digital marketing strategies.Apart from this, we generated about 4k leads during the current year of which 80% are Marketing qualified. In fact, the sales team has had to expand just to keep up with the influx of online leads!The Process still isn’t close to perfect, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But how did we get here?When I first joined FlexiSAF in 2017, the digital marketing team consisted of just 2 people. In fact, I can’t really say there was a digital marketing team. There were two people who posted on social media, and occasionally wrote on the company blog (among other unrelated job roles). No posting schedule, no focus keywords.During my interview for position of ‘technical writer’, Faiz (CEO) asked: “We have a company blog, but it isn’t gaining much traction. How do we generate more traffic?”I wasn’t so sure either. From my little understanding of Inbound Marketing at the time, I thought that if we kept creating content, people would eventually just come to us.Basically the major relevant skills I possessed to the job role were great content writing, and a willingness to learn and face challenges.Discovering an Inbound Marketing Formula: The main aim in Saas marketing - similar to many other online business models - is to attract leads (interested potential customers) to sign up on your website/app. These leads are eventually converted into customers.[caption id="attachment_4571" align="aligncenter" width="792"]

inbound methodology

image credit: Media Town Marketing [/caption]But for any of this to happen, people have to visit your website, like what they see and be compelled to sign up to something. (Your newsletter, download a resource, subscribe to your product)Bottom-line, we needed to get people to start visiting our product websites. But not just anybody – potential customers. For the purpose of this article, I'll be focusing on the work we've done with SAFSMS - our flagship product.What Worked for Us

  1. Rapid Content Creation

We started from the very basics of the inbound method: creating targeted content. We were marketing a niche set of products and we had to consider our target audience - school admin & decision makers. Teachers are also major influencers in school systems as well, so we couldn’t leave them out, and parents too. So What would they like to read?Of course we had several other questions: are our customers even online? Where do we find them? We wouldn’t know if we didn’t experiment.SaaS Marketers have a tough job for a number of reasons but your greatest asset is your information. So we created a lot of informative content. We weren’t even doing keyword research at the time- just writing posts on topics we thought our audience would be interested in. We created about 150 blog posts in a few months. We also posted a lot on social media to distribute our content.We didn’t know it, but we were slowly earning trust, while driving brand awareness. During that period, online leads started to trickle in. We also felt a huge impact offline – Prospective clients and competitors were asking questions about us: word of mouth was spreading fast. We’d attend trade events and get “Oh, FlexiSAF...we’ve heard of you online”.

Web traffic, social media and brand reputation sky rocketed quickly because there wasn’t really anyone else in that niche creating content like that.

To turn all of this into conversion, we had to combine our online and offline sales efforts. We learnt how to optimize our web forms & landing pages for conversion. Soon, all our posts started having call to actions linking back to our sign up forms. We also created a bunch of free downloadable resources to generate leads. We organised social media contests tailored for our target audience and started running paid ads and promotions.By then, a good number of Leads had started trickling in.2. Free Trial ModelTill date, one of our highest converting pages is our free trial page. What else can I say? People like free stuff. 3. SEOWhen we decided to invest in SEO, neither of us yet had a firm understanding of the technical details and so we hired a consultant. I worked closely with him re-creating the content on our product pages to be optimized around variations of a keyword. (This was a great learning process for me). Then we ran an aggressive link building campaign which involved guest posts, creating lots of share-able info-graphics like these and a few press releases. In no time, we were ranking on the top organic spot of google for several of our keywords.

School Management software Organic search results

After SEO on the main product page, I decided to do a content audit on the blog; re-doing all 180+ individual posts around more targeted keywords. This took about a month – altering content, adding images, links, H1 & H2 Tags; the whole works. We also moved the blog to the same domain as the product home page(s) - big ranking boost!It paid off almost instantly, the blog traffic sky rocketed and backlinks were popping out of nowhere.[caption id="attachment_4577" align="alignnone" width="1121"]

blog traffic growth

blog traffic growth[/caption]We started experimenting with pop-ups, Call to action banners redirecting them to the product pages, and strategically placing free resources to convert these visitors to leads.3. Email MarketingSo now we were getting 1000s of leads. Obviously not all of them could be qualified, so we had to do something with them. Our initial email campaigns were trial and error: We just had one huge unsegmented list to which we’d just compile emails from our blog posts and send.Gradually, we grew beyond that and now have fully segmented lists based on job role and lead stages which we deliberately nurture. The next step for us is email marketing automation.4. Social MediaI’ve already spoken about the role social media played in our brand growth. However, it took a lot of hit and miss. At some point, we realized that a lot of our target customers (for SAFSMS) are on Facebook & Instagram – less on Twitter and LinkedIn. But Twitter was still a great way for staying in the loop, especially in the tech/edtech world. So we’d post more tech resources on our company twitter. We also made the wise decision to separate company page from product pages on Twitter so we could really interact as a brand instead of coming off as 'sales-y'.When we had found a posting rhythm that worked, we automated most of the process. Hootsuite practically saved our lives when it came to scheduling and taking more man-time off social. Then we included social media re-targeting ads directed at previous website visitors. Great pay-off there as regards Leads quality.There's a whole lot more to be said about social media marketing as regards SaaS; maybe in another post!5. Flexibility in approachKnowing the kind of business climate we find ourselves in, and the demographic of most of our customers, it was crucial to adapt our model to suit the needs of these people.Flexible payment methods, pricing packages, and of course we know very well the importance of good customer service and user satisfaction.6. Becoming Data DrivenMore and more, we're leaning towards fully understanding all of our marketing data in order to know what's working and correctly predict the result of certain scenarios. Google Analytics has always been handy in tracking site visits and general user behavior, and with the introduction of Hubspot to our Workflow, we've almost totally hacked reporting and attribution of our conversion sources. ALMOST[caption id="attachment_4578" align="alignnone" width="1543"]

Hubspot Lead sources report

Hubspot Lead sources report[/caption]Other crucial data-driven elements we are still trying to pin-down are A/B Testing and Consistent Link tagging using URL Builders.In cases like this, it's quite hard to rely on existing market information, especially being in Nigeria - so we've had to create our own tests and see what works.7. Constant Team Learning & Creativity As part of company policy, every employee is mandated to undergo online capacity building courses related to their job function for our termly OKRs. That has really helped team growth in general and we are tasked to apply the knowledge we've gained in creative ways.This is What has helped us grow our digital marketing team so far. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?Takeaway - What Works in SaaS Marketing: 1. Content + Strategy is a winning method 2. Stay Flexible 3. Free Trials are Good 4.. Use Data 5. Keep Learning 6. Referral programs 7. Social Components