What can we learn from the large SaaS companies that have generated so much buzz in recent years?
If I hear "SaaS" or "cloud" in the news one more time, I'm going to scream! Cloud computing has become a hugely overused buzzword over the past few years, although probably for good reason. Cloud companies have taken the technology world by storm, and have seen growth rates unlike any other sector in software. So why not study their adoption of marketing technologies to see if they are changing the way they go to market just as much as they are changing the tech world?
Software as a service (SaaS) had such an immediate impact because it allowed companies to use software over the Internet. Instead of large, upfront capital investments in hardware and software, companies could simply pay a monthly "lease" and use software via the Internet. Gmail is a great example of a SaaS technology. In the list of the largest SaaS companies, you might also recognize companies like Salesforce.com, VMware, and ExactTarget. Taking a closer look at the 17 largest SaaS companies can give us some interesting insight into adoption trends when it comes to marketing technologies.
If you're looking for evidence of SaaS companies that have enjoyed widespread success and influence, look no further than Salesforce.com: its CEO recently graced the cover of Forbes magazine, and its annual user conference attendance is expected to top 80,000 this year. For these companies dominating their respective industries, the product is only half of the success story. Their sales and marketing had to be cutting edge as well to drive these companies forward in a market with so many competing technologies.
When you pull the covers back, you can see that 76 percent of the 17 largest SaaS companies in the world use marketing automation, and 100 percent use some basic form of website tracking. If you compare this to my earlier study on the Top Fortune 500 companies, only 28 percent of the biggest B2B software companies listed on the Fortune 500 used marketing automation, while 97 percent used some basic website tracking. There is no surprise in the adoption of basic web tracking, since Google Analytics is a free tool that provides a very robust solution for companies of all sizes. However, the very high adoption rate of marketing automation is very interesting.
When I dug even deeper into the marketing technologies of SaaS companies, I found that 70 percent of the largest SaaS companies are using an ad management solution to help manage their paid placement advertisements (in addition to marketing automation). Moreover, 76 percent of the largest SaaS companies are using retargeting technologies.
In addition to automation, retargeting, and ad management, 88 percent of the companies researched use some type of user experience (UX) testing. This ranged from heat mapping and click tracking to detailed website analytics. UX design is currently a hot topic, so this is not surprising in itself, but noticing the adoption of such a wide variety of technologies at such a high rate validates this segment's position of "cutting edge" for marketing execution.
With their ability to push the limits in both technology and go-to-market strategies, it's easy to see why these large SaaS companies have generated so much buzz in recent years. So what can we learn? Look at your marketing from a holistic viewpoint. Try using paid placement alongside your SEO, consider retargeting as a valid advertising venue, look at UX testing to help drive more conversions, and consider automating communications throughout the full lifecycle. In short, copying is the best form of flattery, and copying a few pages from these companies' playbooks can help any marketer.
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Mathew is the head of thought leadership for B2B marketing at Pardot, a Salesforce.com Company. A consummate writer, he has been featured in numerous publications such as Marketing Automation Times, DemandGen Report, Marketing Sherpa, ZDNet, and is the author of Marketing Automation for Dummies (published by Wiley February 2014). As a speaker Mathew speaks around the world at events such as Conversion Conference, Dreamforce, SugarCon, and to companies including Microsoft, Investec, NetJets, and Restaurants.com, to name a few.
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