Too often, B2B SaaS marketers think in terms that make it easy to forget that at the end of the day, every sale depends upon effectively addressing the specific needs of a specific person at a specific time and place. Bounce rates, page views, visits, channels—these are all well and good, worthy of careful analysis—but when it comes to designing a strategic marketing framework for a B2B SaaS company, marketers would do well to set jargon aside and think brass tacks: Who is the ideal customer and what matters to them? Where and how can they be reached to convincingly communicate the benefits of the SaaS company’s services in addressing their needs and goals?
If this sounds obvious, it’s because it is—at some level, all marketers know it. But they tend to respond to these questions by simply trying to generate as much traffic as possible—creating tons of content in a variety of formats and spreading it across numerous channels in hopes that something will stick. Another way of saying this is that although these marketers might theoretically understand what their goals are, you wouldn’t know it by looking at their approach. By emphasizing volume, what they’re often really doing is prioritizing clicks over customers. It’s no surprise, then, that the vast majority of their efforts fail to produce conversions, drastically driving up their customer acquisition costs.
To be fair, especially in the B2B space, figuring out these basics can be less straightforward than it might appear. When the ideal customer is another business, an effective marketer often needs to drill down a layer or two below senior executives, to their customers and/or employees, to identify and comprehend the pain point(s) that their efforts really need to address.
Ultimately, the obstacles between a company and its highest goals are made up of smaller, subsidiary points of friction. Only once they’ve understood these issues can marketers think strategically about creating content that speaks to the needs of ideal customers, and which moves those customers toward understanding the benefits of and paying for their SaaS solution.
At Powered By Search, we’ve optimized a B2B SaaS marketing formula, which we apply to each and every one of our clients, by boiling it down to three basic ingredients:
- Intent: Understand who the ideal customer is and what matters to them—where they are, where they want to go next, and what they ultimately aspire to.
- Content: Create content tailored to the ideal customer’s intent, mirroring their pain points, prescribing a solution, listing its benefits, and identifying opportunity costs.
- Present: Deploy that content not where it’s going to reach the most amount of people, but where it’s going to reach the most ideal customers. That doesn’t mean targeting bottom-of-funnel traffic only; content designed according to intent should convert ideal but uninformed customers by explaining why a solution exists, what it is, how it works, and why now is the time to buy it.
These elements add up to a lead generation machine that we call the Intent Engine. It drives conversions using less content on fewer channels to narrowly target the right kind of traffic. On average, our clients produce roughly 90 percent less content than they did before—with vastly richer results. And in this article, we’ll demonstrate how we used the Intent Engine to help TouchBistro, an iPad point of sale (POS) system for the restaurant space, to increase qualified pay-per-click leads by 67 percent—and year-over-year traffic by 1400 percent. By applying the same kind of thinking to their own clients, marketers can achieve results of a similar caliber.
Note: If you’d like to learn how we can apply the Intent Engine to help your business, you can sign up for our free 25-minute assessment here.
How TouchBistro Realized That by Targeting Ideal Customers Directly, They Were Addressing the Wrong Audience
When they came to us a few years back, TouchBistro, which is based in Toronto, had an elegant, dynamic product that was already in use in restaurants around the world.
More than merely a point of sale—i.e. the place where payments are made—it featured adjustable floor plans and ordering screens; cloud reporting that made data shareable from any tablet, phone, or computer; and a hybrid system that allowed it to work with or without internet service. Owners and managers could use it to build menus, see staff profiles, and review inventory counts and other financial data. By providing for tableside ordering, it obviated the need for waitstaff to ferry tickets between kitchens, dining rooms, and bars, accelerating order delivery and turnover.
Users were overwhelmingly happy with TouchBistro’s service. But the POS space is fiercely competitive, and they were struggling with search engine visibility, lagging in rank for their target keywords, and getting fewer qualified leads than they needed to (based on their marketing spend). To begin addressing those issues, we conducted an in-depth SEO audit, then set about optimizing individual TouchBistro web pages to improve their organic search traffic and visibility. We also made some recommendations to improve their landing pages.
But TouchBistro needed results, in the form of larger numbers of qualified leads, fast. They also wanted to be able to quickly tell whether what they were doing was working—and how well. When speed is a priority for a B2B SaaS company—or for any other kind of company, really—we generally steer them toward paid ads, testing a variety of channels before making a recommendation about which one(s) will get them the best return on their investment. In this case, though, TouchBistro was already paying for clicks by running an ad on Facebook.
User Intent Analysis: Subtle Errors, Big Problems
It’s at this point, once we’ve verified that a company has all the right strategic machinery in place—properly calibrated tracking, a thoughtful mix of SEO/paid tactics, a marketing budget commensurate with revenue goals—that the Intent Engine comes into play.
Strictly speaking, there was nothing egregiously wrong with TouchBistro’s existing Facebook ad. It was designed to draw in their ideal customers—restaurant owners—immediately, by having them self-identify with the ad’s open: “Are you a restaurant owner?” It furnished social proof, indicating that TouchBistro was the number one POS app in 33 countries. The copy advertised that the app would reduce owners’ costs, and it featured a great offer: a 30-day free trial.
But as we examined the ad through the lens of intent, we began to see TouchBistro’s error. By necessity, their ideal customers were restaurant owners; they would be the ones evaluating TouchBistro and deciding whether or not to pay for their service. And to be sure, they did stand to benefit from that service.
But the ad had gone wrong, we realized, in targeting restaurant owners directly. Unless they were tiny mom-and-pop operators, owners were unlikely to be the people getting the most day-to-day use out of TouchBistro. Servers, hosts, and managers would mostly be the ones interacting with service—many of them constantly, throughout their shift, as they took orders and reservations, rearranged tables, and the like. Therefore, we saw, they also stood to benefit most viscerally from TouchBistro’s solutions to the pain points that tend to arise in the moment-to-moment running of a restaurant: rushing back-and-forth to and from the kitchen; miscommunications between waitstaff, bartenders, and chefs; parties adding and subtracting guests to and from their reservations, etc.
While directness in advertising can often be a virtue, TouchBistro was making a mistake in cutting to the chase too quickly, appealing to their ultimate customer without considering the intermediary pain points preventing them from moving from where they were to where they wanted to be.
A restaurant owner, of course, wants to increase revenue and decrease costs; maybe they even want to go on to open a whole family of eateries. But if they’re constantly spending money training new staff because their employee retention rate is poor, if morale is low and tensions are high because the restaurant’s choreography for taking and delivering orders is badly designed, if turnover is slow and the managers can’t keep the inventory straight, those larger goals are going to remain out of reach.
What we concluded, in short, was that TouchBistro had been targeting the wrong audience. To win their ideal customers, they needed to speak directly to their employees, winning over the people who would use their service most as a stepping stone to making restaurant owners understand how TouchBistro would eventually benefit them. And with that new intent in mind, we turned our attention to content: designing a new ad.
How TouchBistro Tweaked Their Facebook Strategy to Highlight the Benefits of Their B2B SaaS Solution
Much like TouchBistro’s old Facebook ad, the new one endeavoured to have the ideal audience self-identify with its message, this time by mirroring their pain points. And this time, of course, that audience was restaurant employees—servers, to be exact—so both the copy and the imagery focused on severs’ moment-to-moment workplace pain points: running between customers and kitchen, the cumbersome process of taking orders with pen and paper.
As required by the Intent Engine model, the ad prescribed a solution, reflected in an image of the TouchBistro interface displayed on an iPad. Both explicitly and implicitly, it highlighted the benefits of that solution: eliminating the stressful and exhausting back-and-forth between table and counter, increasing efficiency (more turnover = more tips), and replacing manual order-taking with a digital solution that neither taxes the memory nor requires restaurant employees to decipher one another’s hurried handwriting.
The last element of the content portion of the Intent Engine—identifying opportunity costs—sometimes confuses people. Usually opportunity costs are discussed as a function of action. But in this context, marketers need to highlight the opportunity cost of inaction—of failing to opt for the SaaS solution on offer. The TouchBistro ad did so subtly, by implying the increased volume of tables that a server would forgo by passing up the opportunity to advocate for using TouchBistro at their place of work.
Finally, the ad featured a call to action—a direction to servers to share TouchBistro’s four-week free trial offer with their boss. The CTA was somewhat unusual for the SaaS space, where a more typical approach would involve a direct proffer of some kind of lead magnet. But the ad’s target audience didn’t actually have buying power; having convinced them of TouchBistro’s benefits, it now sought to turn them into advocates—a kind of highly specialized marketing channel made up entirely of influencers with close proximity to TouchBistro’s ideal customers. In combination with the particulars of Facebook’s interface, it made for a powerful present strategy.
How the New Strategy Created an Army of Advocates
As we mentioned earlier, when it comes to deciding how to reach as many of a company’s ideal customers as possible, we will generally test their (optimized) content in a variety of channels to find the right fit(s). But in TouchBistro’s case, we were confident that Facebook was the way to go. For one, restaurant staffers were unlikely to be actively seeking solutions to the pain points that TouchBistro could help them with. And even if some of them were, without an enticing (read: free) offer, they wouldn’t have much standing to recommend implementing a system like TouchBistro to their bosses.
Facebook was also the easiest place to target restaurant staffers as a group—much more so, for example, than LinkedIn. And there were tons of them, representing an audience ten times larger than the restaurant owners that TouchBistro had previously focused on. By targeting the entire universe of servers, we ensured that our client’s message would reach employees of restaurant owners who’d never heard of POS systems, as well as of those who might have already been considering trying one. And once live, the ad produced a veritable wildfire of engagement, with shares, comments, and likes soaring as servers interacted with the post. Often, they tagged their bosses, so that the TouchBistro ad (and offer) reached them directly, with an implicit recommendation from one or more of their staffers.
As a result, TouchBistro saw a 200 percent increase in leads.
TouchBistro’s results are not unusual, but there are other elements of the Intent Engine that didn’t quite suit their purposes, and which we don’t have room to dive into in detail here. For example, our 9:3:1 Content Method, which helps marketers identify nine pain-point based angles for every content challenge, producing three lead magnets and one core, too-good-to-refuse offer.
If you’d like to learn how we can apply the Intent Engine to help your business, you can sign up for our free 25-minute assessment here.