The new pool of SaaS marketing: How to leverage your direct and indirect competitors’ audience to your advantage

by | Aug 27, 2018 | Marketing Lifecycle

When producing marketing materials and strategies—blog posts, long-form content like eBooks or white papers, social media tactics, etc.—we often look to what our competitors are doing. In most cases, businesses look at what their competitors are executing well and try to replicate it—or do it even better.

Take Hubspot, for example. The CRM business knew that going up against big players Salesforce and Oracle was a challenge, and its audience was already flooded with articles, white papers, and webinars on how a CRM tool can transform your sales businesses. Most of this content was gated, requiring readers to fill out a lead form. Hubspot changed the game when they decided to launch not only one blog, but several blogs dedicated to their specific buyer personas. These blogs have several resources including articles, webinar recordings, and even a free Hubspot Academy where marketers have unlimited access to 10 courses on digital marketing and sales success, 130+ lessons and tutorials, and 15+ free software tools to apply learnings from the HubSpot Academy.

Hubspot had performed significant analyses to determine this investment was worth launching:

  • Observed the current competitive landscape: What types of content were its competitors producing, and how can they do it better?
  • Identified that content needed to be segmented by audience: Hubspot’s solution is for both marketing and sales teams, but its value for those audiences isn’t the same across the board. Dedicating targeted content to both of these personas has allowed Hubspot to attract and keep the attention of both sales and marketing audiences.

Direct and indirect competitors: Why you should pay attention to—and leverage—both

Direct competitors are how we traditionally think of competitors (think: the iPhone versus Android, or mid-market CRM technologies SugarCRM versus Hubspot), and indirect competitors are companies that compete for your audience’s attention in a related field or an industry that has some overlap with yours.

Take a look at several SaaS companies today: Many of these businesses are developing new, distinguished technologies that don’t fit in a single, specific industry bucket. Indianapolis-based SaaS company PactSafe is a modern workflow signing tool that offers faster and simplified signing methods for organizations. While its obvious direct competitor is DocuSign, the company also falls outside of traditional “e-signature” solutions. PactSafe prioritizes solutions in reinventing not only digital signing methods, but entire business workflows. This differentiator and focal value point pushed the PactSafe team to look outside of traditional marketing methods and evaluate new avenues to its desired audiences.

Tip: Know the right time to invest in partnerships and referral networks

“One of the unfortunate parts of being a startup is obviously limited resources—so it was very difficult to prioritize things like partnership development [when the business first launched].”

PactSafe Chief Product Officer Eric Prugh shared how the company performed its competitive and industry analysis to find its niche audience, create valuable messaging, and execute on marketing strategies that would produce results. Based on these activities, partnerships with indirect competitors became an opportunity since PactSafe has grown and now has more resources to dedicate to those efforts.

A tech startup in its fourth year, the company recently closed on a Series A fundraise that will allow them to invest in partnerships with indirect competitors.

“Referrals, resellers, and other opportunities are ones that we are much better equipped to tackle now that we have additional investment, resources, and an amazing stable of customer success stories in our toolbelt to bring on new partners. Content generated from our experience and expertise is naturally complementary to others in our industry. I suspect we’ll start with things like joint webinars, infographics, guest blog posts, and more.”

— Eric Prugh, PactSafe CPO

PactSafe has already found a way to leverage partnerships from SaaS powerhouses like Salesforce through integrating with its solution and getting in front of the CRM’s users—who also happen to be one of PactSafe’s target audiences:

“We are really starting to amp up efforts from a partnership perspective with companies like Salesforce, who act as a system of record for customer interaction and success. Though we are a point solution in that ecosystem, we’re an important piece of the puzzle that must be accounted for. We’re working to create content, generate buzz through targeted marketing efforts, and get in front of the Salesforce customer who is looking for new ways to solve old or complex workflows like getting contracts signed or accepted faster. It’s a stepping stone for us to tap into their customers—we also have a ton of value add beyond that ecosystem that we’ll look to untap.”
— Eric Prugh, PactSafe CPO

Competitive analysis: A crucial, annual step to evolving marketing tactics

Particularly in the world of SaaS, businesses are revisiting their competitive landscape on an annual—if not more frequent—basis. Performing competitive analysis not only means evaluating what your competitors are doing and how you differentiate and serve value, but evaluating new audiences and niches for which your product/solution solves.

Here are some questions to guide your competitive analysis:

  • How much is your industry growing?
  • Is your industry changing?
  • Who are the big players, and why are they dominating?
  • Where do you fall on the product matrix—where do your competitors?
  • Are there pricing standards?

Thoughtful answers to these questions will provide factual information that will assist your organization in pairing the knowledge of your business, your expertise on the subject matter, and data to create successful marketing strategies. A significant result in performing competitive analysis is identifying your solution’s ideal persona. Prugh shares that through amping up their partnerships through integrating with companies like Salesforce, the company has been able to formulate a key buying persona for their solution:

“The great thing about our go-to-market strategy, too, is that we’ve identified a persona that isn’t getting 20 calls a day from software salespeople. Our primary stakeholders are usually in-house legal folks at mid-to-large sized tech-enabled businesses. We just need to work through who the right partners are — the ones who have the attention of legal folks looking at the world the way we do.”

— Eric Prugh, PactSafe CPO

Tip: Be proactive with competitive and industry analyses

Performing these exercises shouldn’t be limited to during the beginning stages of your business, they should be performed as a recurring tactic to evolve messaging as your business grows and as users adopt your product and establish clear value points.

Despi Ross, VP, Marketing & Customer Experience at Pattern89, a data science platform for social campaigns that launched in 2017, shares how she prioritized evolving the company’s messaging to their expanding landscape.

“We have evolved our brand messaging a few times over the course of our company’s timeline. Even though we are a young company, we have been diligent to conduct two very thorough competitive analyses to inform both our product positioning and our primary marketing messages. We also want to prioritize the features that differentiate us in the first place. So, the usefulness of this exercise has not been limited to marketing. In one instance, product and marketing teamed up to analyze competitors and build positioning to create aligned goals across our company.”

— Despi Ross, VP, Marketing & Customer Experience at Pattern89

Taking a proactive approach to industry and competitive analyses not only helps businesses with their positioning against existing competitors in a known market, but it puts a light on audiences that can move faster through your sales funnel and will become advocates of the value your solution provides.

“Pattern89 focused on e-commerce retailers, because our product features are best suited to their needs and this vertical has the commitment to paid social and the budget to support it. This audience has the most at stake, and we can move the needle more for them than any other audience.”
— Despi Ross, VP, Marketing & Customer Experience at Pattern89