marketing

SaaS Startup Founders: Are you talking to the right audience?

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I have a confession to make. I am a developer, not a marketer, and in the nearly 4 years that I have been running my startup HR Partner, I have made a ton of mistakes in my ‘go to market’ strategy, and I hope to share a couple of them here with you.

I always naively thought that the coding of my SaaS product would be the hard part, and that the selling part would happen naturally and effortlessly. How wrong I was. In today’s noisy world, with a ton of competitive offerings, getting heard is nearly impossible, and finding people who will like, and more importantly, pay for your offering is painfully difficult.

Probably the biggest mistake we’ve made with our marketing was simply talking and selling to the wrong people. We never really stopped to look at who would be using our product but instead went for the scattergun approach to throw everything at the wall and see what would stick. Let me give you a brief history of what we did.

When I first built HR Partner back around 2016, I decided to release our Beta version to the world via a fanfare splash on the very popular ProductHunt website. It seemed to work, and we actually got hundreds of sign ups out of this one source. “Great!”, I thought - success and endless bags of cash shall now rain down on me.

Wrong. Pretty much 0% of those early signups stuck around. You see, ProductHunt is comprised mainly of programmers, designers and other small startup founders. They are very interested in tech, but have little or no interest in setting up HR policies and procedures, or managing a large team. They signed up purely out of interest sake, but had no reason to actually implement our system at their workplace.

Nevertheless, we doubled down on our failure to learn, and I embarked on a campaign of listing my HR system on various Beta announcement sites such as BetaList. Same results. A flurry of sign ups by curious people, but very little stickiness.

Of course, this spike in signups both times was great for my ego, but I couldn’t see that this was just a vanity metric that did nothing to help us get any real traction.

Next, we went completely broad based, by spending a ton of money on Google Ads. We even worked with a Google consultant to get our keywords and campaign ‘just so’. But while we saw a massive increase in traffic to our website, it didn’t result in many trial signups, and in fact, we got a TON of calls and emails from various employees asking us HR policy and payroll legislation questions! We quickly pulled the plug on this avenue.

At this point, and for the first time in over 6 months of trying, I actually sat down to think about where I was going wrong. It was pretty obvious actually. ProductHunt and BetaList are great sites, but really, they are ideally suited if you have early stage products that are geared to the programmers or designers of this world. Business owners are not renown for adopting concept stage or beta stage software - they want something proven and reliable. Coders and creative people however, are different and can’t wait to try the next shiny thing! We were talking to totally the wrong people.

So I began to think. Who would need HR systems? Well, the obvious answer is “HR Managers”, duh!

Thus began our next marketing push - cold outreach to anyone with the title “HR Manager” on LinkedIn. Initial observations were a mixed bag. We were having some great conversations with a lot of HR Managers on that platform, but very few would actually take the next step and sign up for a trial of HR Partner. It turns out that while these were the right people to talk to, they already had established systems they were happy with, and were not looking to buy.

We were getting closer - the right people, just in the wrong place & time. So how do we get them at the right time? Well, we’ve recently put some marketing effort on business software directories, such as Capterra or G2 Crowd. These are vast directories of SaaS offering that people can go to when, you guessed it, they are evaluating business software that they are thinking of buying.

Now we were getting somewhere. By promoting our offering on these platforms, we started to see a steady uptick of trial sign ups, and more importantly, paying customers.

This is all good news, but there is still so much more learning to be done here. For instance, we are finding that while it is the HR or Operations Managers we are mainly talking to, the actual buying decision is usually made by a different person in the chain.

HR Managers are coming to us with a specific set of problems - for example they may be drowning in paperwork or having trouble keeping employee qualifications and training up to date. Whereas the business owner may have a different set of issues they want solved, such as high turnover, or the high cost of recruiting new employees.

This means that we needed to address both areas. When talking to the HR Manager, we would focus on the problems they were experiencing, but when the decision went back up the line to the person who would sign off on the new software, we had to start from scratch and provide solutions for a whole different set of problems. We essentially had to sell our system twice, to practically two different audiences.

Did I say two? We actually discovered that we had a third audience that we had to sell to. These were the actual employees themselves within the organisations who bought HR Partner. Any great HR software is just going to languish if the employees don’t feel comfortable using it. All that the employees wanted to know was - how do I find out how many days leave I have available? How can I request some time off expediently? How can I find the contact email of another employee in a remote office? etc. A totally different set of problems and expectations than the other two audiences we had been dealing with!

Thus we refined our sales and marketing processes to deal with these three distinct audiences that our product had. Sure it is a lot harder to do, and is time consuming, but it has resulted in a far more effective and predictable process now - just by understanding who our audience was, and in our case, who our multiple audiences were that we had to talk to, understand, and solve problems for.

We are still learning and improving, and I am interested in hearing more from other startup founders and business owners out there. How did you find your real audience?

This article was originally written for the Catalysr Blog. I was a member of the Catalysr C18 cohort for migrapreneurs, an experience which was awesome and extremely beneficial to me and my startup. Find out more about them at catalysr.com.au.

How I rolled my own explainer video, in a weekend, for under $100

Being totally boot strapped, and non funded, I have to market my web app HR Partner, on the smell of an oily rag, plus do all the marketing and other promotional tasks to keep the costs down.

I’ve been told many times that I basically have to have an ‘explainer video’ to introduce people to my app, because it is the quickest and most effective way to get people interested and signing up.

Well, I hunted around and spoke to several companies that specialises in making these explainer videos. I gave them my specifications, and received back quotes ranging from $2000 up to $6000 to make a 60 to 120 second video.

I debated going to 99designs.com or fiverr.com, but in the end, decided against it because every time I began a conversation on those platforms, I always felt that the price wasn’t as concrete as the other firms I spoke to. It was always along the lines of “Well, we have a starting price of $x, but if you need this, then it will be $y extra, and if you wanted that, it will be $z more…” etc.

So I thought I would throw caution to the wind and look at doing the video myself, over the past weekend. I started on Saturday morning.

The first thing I did was to go to Envato, where I have an account, and search on their VideoHive sub site for an Explainer video template. I found one there for around $40 which I quite liked. Then, I went across to theirAudioJungle sub site to find a background ambient music track to suit the video. Found one. Total time searching and evaluating on Envato was around 2 hours.

Next issue was that the explainer template required Adobe After Effects to modify, so I signed up for a one month subscription for JUST After Effects on the Adobe Creative Cloud — total cost, approx. $20.

I had never used After Effects before, so while the app was downloading, I viewed a couple of 30 minute introduction and tutorial videos on Youtube. It didn’t seem too hard. I figured that I had managed to self learn other Adobe products before, and with my development background, I felt confident I could get to grips with it.

Once installed, I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon tweaking and customising the AE template, and wrote up a short script. Well, I thought it was short, but it ended up being around 3 minutes long.

Then came time to do the voiceover. I hate the sound of my own voice, but luckily my wife has a really nice speaking voice (she has actually been asked to be a voiceover artist on a few occasions). So she did the voiceover for me. One take, 5 minutes, and we were done.

I guess the other good part is that I am a musician as well, so I have some fairly good quality studio equipment which ensured that the recording sounded decent. I did some post processing in Logic using compressor and reverb plugins to tidy up the audio, and mix in the backing music I had grabbed from Audio Jungle.

I managed to complete the post processing on Sunday night, and uploaded to Vimeo on Monday morning, ready to embed the video on my website, which I will do later today after I have a break.

I think I spent a total of around 10 hours of my own time over the weekend doing the editing and audio post processing. After Effects turned out to be fairly simple to learn and use in the end.

So, my total costs (approx) were:

  • VideoHive explainer template — $40
  • AudioJungle backing track — $20
  • Adobe After Effects subscription — $20 (one month)
  • Voiceover artist — $0 (thanks to wifey)
  • Audio production — $0
  • Template customisation — $0

GOOD BITS: Having a voice over artist ready to hand. This is an important part of a video, and I can appreciate it is difficult to find a voice that fits. I consider myself lucky. Also, the explainer templates on Envato were REALLY good. Better than I expected.

TEDIOUS BITS: Learning After Effects from scratch. But the hardest bit was syncing up the explainer animations to the voiceover. I came close, but had to do a fair bit of chop and checking on both the explainer template and the audio file to get things to line up.

No disrespect at all to the companies who charge the prices they do for the production of these videos. It is definitely a taxing process, and my efforts are going to be very amateurish compared to theirs. If I had the funding available, I would have definitely engaged one of them to do this for me, but in this case, I had to work within my means.

Final results on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/157981359