The B2B SaaS Marketing Blog

    Precursor Marketing — How to use templates to get SaaS trials and demos


    Last updated: March 29th, 2024

    When you’re trying to solve a problem, it can be difficult to know where to start, and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. This is the same whether you’re trying to solve it yourself, or trying to use a tool to solve it for you.

    This is why templates can be so useful, as they give you somewhere to start and is why so many SaaS companies offer templates as part of their SaaS product. Zapier, for example, provides hundreds of free templates that users can use as soon as they’ve signed up.

    What’s less common is offering standalone templates as a precursor to the buying process that can demonstrate some of the benefits of the software without requiring any commitment.

    These templates might be provided as forms, documents, or spreadsheets, but they all mirror the functionality of your SaaS product and offer a viable, yet lo-fi solution.

    In this article, we’ll look at:

    • Why offering standalone templates is such a valuable play for SaaS companies
    • How to build a library of standalone templates that helps move buyers through the customer journey
    • The common pitfalls most SaaS companies face when creating these templates

    After reading this post, you’ll have a clear idea of what precursor marketing is, and how you can use templates earlier in your selling process to engage and acquire more customers.

    Want to learn more ways to engage customers with your product? Get your Free Marketing Plan for guidance on how you can increase your conversion rates.

    What is precursor marketing?

    Many SaaS companies take a haphazard approach when trying to identify the steps that lead to action. They look at the journey a customer takes in a simplistic and linear way:

    Customer journeys are not always as linear as marketers would like them to be


    Based on this model, it would be easy to assume that the pricing page was a necessary precursor to signing up. This assumption would lead you to waste time and money in an area that might not need it.

    We buy things based on what we’re trying to achieve, not how much they cost.

    If you walk into a supermarket to buy a sandwich, you’re not going to buy a pencil sharpener instead just because it was cheaper.

    The price of something is inevitably part of the buying process, but it’s rarely the driving force behind the decision.

    How other industries use precursor marketing

    To get an idea of what a better approach could be, we can look at other industries to see how they encourage and entice people to buy.

    • Hollywood – Movie production companies release teasers and trailers of their movies, which allows the consumer to experience a small sample of what the movie will be.
    • Supermarkets – Food vendors offer free samples of their food and drink products so the customer will know immediately whether or not they like the product.

    These are both simple ways to give the customer a chance to experience the benefits of the final product without giving away the whole thing for free.

    More importantly, if the customer didn’t know your product existed in the first place, they do now, and they can use this new information to make buying decisions.

    This is what we’re talking about when we say precursor marketing — it’s the things you can do as a SaaS company to make yourselves known to your customers, while also giving them a taste of what you can do for them.

    How we can apply this to SaaS Marketing

    We already have demo videos and free trials for SaaS products, but these are effective once the customer is solution-aware and already in the process of choosing what tool to use.

    Related: What to Expect from a B2B SaaS Content Promotion Program

    If your customer is only problem-aware, they won’t even know your product exists, so there’s no reason for them to watch your videos or sign up for your free trial.

    Instead, you need to find a way to let potential customers experience the benefits of your SaaS without requiring them to watch any videos or use your product.

    Most SaaS products offer one or more of the following benefits — speed, certainty, and insight — so you need to find a way to deliver those same benefits to your customers earlier in the sales process.

    How popular SaaS products add speed, certainty and insight

    Why is precursor marketing different to engineering as marketing?

    Precursor marketing shares a lot of key benefits with engineering as marketing — where SaaS companies create a free tool that solves a customer’s problem in a way that’s linked to their main offering.

    The main difference is that engineering as marketing tends to solve an adjacent problem, rather than the same problem their software solves. This is often in the form of things like calculators, checkers, or widgets.

    This approach works in the company’s favor in two ways:

    • Gives the customer immediate value, putting the company in a good position to convince the customer that the company can provide even more value if they sign up for the software itself.
    • Utilizes the reciprocity principle that tells us that customers are more likely to view us favorably after we’ve given them something or done them a favor.

    Both of these benefits are great, but unfortunately, engineering as marketing isn’t always a viable option because it requires development effort.

    Not only does this make engineering as marketing expensive (developer time can cost a lot of money), but it can also prove difficult to get this work prioritized over the existing backlog of work.

    Templates are a much simpler solution

    A much simpler, and cheaper approach to precursor marketing is providing free document templates that solve a problem your software already solves, albeit in a less comprehensive way.

    These precursor documents should replicate part of your software’s functionality, but in a lo-fi way such as in a spreadsheet, document, or checklist.

    These templates help the customer with their problem, while also introducing them to your solution.

    If you analyze search terms, you can see that there is a comparable number of people searching for x software, as there are people searching for x template.

    People are looking for a solution to their problem — you just need to direct them toward yours.

    Client example: Loopio’s go/no-go decision template

    Our client Loopio uses this technique beautifully by offering a PDF template to help teams make Go/No-Go decisions for RFPs. They offer a simple, free template that anyone can download and use.

    Loopio lead magnet for precursor marketing

    The template isn’t especially complicated — it just has some data, a few editable fields, and some instructions on how to use it — but it’s still a step up from having no help with this process.

    Once the customer has submitted the form, they receive a useful template, and Loopio gains a qualified lead that they know would benefit from their SaaS.

    How to create your first precursor template

    Using tools such as Google Sheets or PDF builders, you can easily create basic, but useful templates that help your customers address their pain points.

    Because this doesn’t require any coding skills, the marketing team can create the templates, and you can tweak and adapt them to help with different problems your customers are trying to solve.

    Step 1: Decide what problem you’re going to solve?

    It’s a good idea to watch product tours and demo videos to get an idea of the functionality the sales team is prioritizing and shouting about on the onboarding sequence.

    Then, you should do a quick check on Google to make sure you aren’t already offering a template that addresses this problem.

    How to use Google Search Operators to find existing content on your site

    If there isn’t a template already, talk to the product team about the features and what pain points those features solve for the customer.

    They will likely have documentation/research data that will make it easier to define your templates.

    Step 2: Create the template

    The easiest way to start developing the template is to jump on a call with someone from the product team that knows a lot about the feature you’re basing your template on.

    When you’re on this call, ask them what the functionality would look like if it was built in a spreadsheet (or another type of template). Then, either sketch it out or start building the document itself.

    You can continuously iterate the template, making changes and improvements based on the feedback of the product team. This doesn’t need to be a long process.

    Step 3: Launch the template

    You want to launch your template as soon as you can, so you can start reaping the benefits sooner.

    It’s not as simple as just sticking it on your website and hoping for the best, though.

    There are three things you’ll want to have in place before launching your precursor template: a landing page, a thank you page, and an email sequence.

    Landing page

    The landing page offers several opportunities to connect with your audience:

    • It will be the page that shows up on search results and brings your potential customers onto your site
    • The name of the page should resonate with the reader and directly address a pain point your customers experience
    • The page can explain what the template is, how to use it, and clarify what problem it solves
    • It will display the form a user will fill in to access the template — you want to capture at least their email address

    Thank you page

    Once a customer has filled in and submitted the form, you could just say “thanks” and leave it at that. But that would be a missed opportunity.

    Instead, it’s important to have a lead magnet thank you page where you can utilize videos, testimonials, conversion copy, and so on to highlight why they should be using your SaaS.

    Email sequence

    Once they’ve received their template, you’ll want to follow up by email to prompt them to use the template and remind them that your software would provide an even better solution.

    There are two key emails you’ll need in your email sequence:

    • Short, simple email: A simple email sent one day after they download the template, asking something like, “Were you able to access the template?” This simply reminds them that they intended to use the template
    • Follow-up: This is sent a few days later, inquiring how they got on with the template and asking if they found it useful. If they reply that they haven’t used it, your automated reply should empathize with this and explain that a lot of people struggle to find the time; then, frame your SaaS as a more practical solution

    Make sure your emails are coming from a real person, not a no-reply email address, so your customers know there is genuine value in responding. These emails will be invaluable in bridging the gap between the precursor template and your SaaS.

    If you want to add a bit of extra incentive, you can include a special offer in your follow-up email, maybe with a limited timescale.

    This can be an effective way of turning an unsure customer into a customer that is willing to give you a chance.

    Once all of these are done, you’re ready to launch!

    Client Example — How Titan GPS uses a free guide to target leads who aren’t ready to buy

    Titan GPS guide on new legislation as precursor marketing

    You can see from this screenshot of Titan GPS’s landing page how we used this technique (in the form of a free guide) to boost their number of qualified leads.

    The landing page is clear about what it’s offering and makes it easy to fill in the form and receive the guide.

    This free guide gave Titan GPS a total of 300 MQLs (marketing qualified leads) over a five-month period, which highlights the value of precursor marketing.

    Common mistakes with precursor marketing

    Precursor templates can be a big opportunity to acquire more leads and draw attention to your SaaS earlier in the funnel, but it’s not without pitfalls.

    Here are a few common mistakes we’ve seen when people try to implement precursor marketing techniques:

    Focusing too much on high volume keywords

    A common mistake when deciding which templates to build is focusing too much on keyword research.

    Keyword-driven templates may be an easy way to gather lots of email addresses, but if the template doesn’t solve the same problems your software tackles, there will be minimal buying intent and you won’t be able to convert subscribers into customers.

    Waiting for perfection before shipping

    It’s easy to get bogged down trying to make your template look amazing, but your template doesn’t need to be flawlessly branded and formatted.

    Focus instead on making it functional and getting the name right. Having a name that nails the pain point will be far more effective than making sure the columns are using the right brand colors.

    Quantity over quality

    Another pitfall some companies fall into is focusing on creating as many templates as possible.

    This will only provide diminishing returns, whereas focusing on key pain points will yield more effective results.

    Not following up

    If you don’t follow up on these leads, the templates won’t accomplish much.

    Remember, the reason templates are so useful is that anyone who downloads them would benefit from using your product.

    Make sure you’re sending them follow-ups and even timed special offers to encourage them to give your product a go.

    In closing

    Pre-cursor marketing is the perfect way to identify problem-aware customers and convert them into solution-aware customers.

    It doesn’t matter whether the customer uses the template; the important part is that you’re collecting names of people who could genuinely benefit from using your software.

    Templates only work if they closely resemble what the software does, but if they do, you’ll get a steady stream of qualified leads, primed and ready to be sold to.

    Want to learn more ways to engage customers with your product? Get your Free Marketing Plan to learn how you can scale your trials and demos using precursor marketing.

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