How To Position Your SaaS Product For Success

This week on Digital Conversations, Billy is joined by Stewart Marshall, Commercial Software Strategist. Stewart mentions one of the greatest weaknesses he sees with SAAS product marketing teams; focusing on the product itself, rather than focusing on solving the customer’s painpoints.

Guest: Stewart Marshall- Stewart spent decades as a software architect, and now helps businesses to focus on aligning customers’ needs with the SAAS software that they create. Connect with Stewart on LinkedIn!

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Billy: Alright, everyone, welcome to the show today. Today, I have the pleasure of being joined by the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. SAAS himself, Stuart Marshall. Stuart, thanks for joining me today.

Stewart: Thanks so much for inviting me, Billy.

Billy: Yeah, I’m excited for this. We’re going to be talking about how sales and marketing can communicate how their SaaS product is better, and not just different from other products and their competitors. But before we get into that, just want to give you an opportunity to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about you and what you do.

Stewart: Okay, so I’m a commercial software strategist. And as somebody said to me, when I actually went to an in person event last week, what’s one of those? And I said, Well, I’m the guy you talk to when you’re in the SAAS product world, and you think, this is really complicated. It’s very confusing. It seems to be entirely chaotic. And I can spend an enormous amount of money and get to the end and think, gosh, I don’t really think I’ve got anything for my dollar. And so yeah, I’m basically in a simple one sentence. I’m the guy who helps software people live their dream.

Billy: Awesome. Awesome. So how did you get into that, like, tell me the story.

Stewart: I came to Australia in 2000, working for an Australian software company, I mean, come over from the UK. I got into the development team. And I kind of went from there to the guy somewhere near the top of the development team. Did that for 20 years, spent my life in r&d, making high speed development tools used around the world, by the likes of Procter and Gamble, Kellogg’s, Kawasaki, Honda, those kind of big businesses, and got to the end of sort of 2017, and thought,  I’ve done this, it’s time for whatever’s next. And so having left industry decided it was time to go and build something for myself, rather than going to work for another business.

So I set out to build a life. And it’s evolving, I think, is the best way to describe it. I wrote a book, which everybody should have a copy of, is the best book about IT that I’ve ever written. Okay, the only book about IT I’ve ever written. But the point of the book was really to say, Well, okay, look, there’s far more to the world of technology than just buying some software and doing some stuff. There’s very much of a human centric need to all of this stuff. And something you guys at ChatFunnels will certainly understand. This is not just about the technology, this is more about humanity, and how we interact with the tools that we make.

And the common phrase I use is, if you’re looking at the technology, you’re missing the point, nobody cares, right? It’s just a tool we don’t care about level, we don’t care about a shovel, what sort of shovel it is, we just want to know that if I use it, I’m gonna do some digging effectively. So I wrote this book. The point of doing it for money was really to help people embed the ideas of how they use technology, in business. Then I spent 2019 talking to a lot of people trying to encourage them to invest in technology and invest in their own software, and to build specific solutions for themselves to really turbocharge their business.

That sort of broad idea, is now narrowed down and focused entirely on SAAS vendors. Because it turns out that they’re really just a super tight microcosm, a little tight niche within the sort of broad market that I was looking at. I had my sales training and people telling me, no, you need to tighten this. Let’s go get them really on the path to success rather than, as a lot of them do. So we’re getting some money and writing some software and then wondering how they’re going to sell it. That’s kind of how I ended up here. It’s a strange path, but it’s a natural fit it seems.

Billy: No, it’s a great fit. I love to hear how did people get to where they are? And everybody’s story is a little different. Some is like, Oh, this is exactly kind of how I would expect it to play out, and other times you’re like, really, that’s the path, okay. So let’s get into our topic then for today, I think your intro just leads right into it, you work with, with SAAS vendors. And we are a SaaS product company, most of our customers actually are SaaS product companies.

And I think one of the things that I’ve seen that everyone struggles with from time to time to a certain level is, how do I really, after I’ve created this product, hopefully, I’ve created something that isn’t just different, it’s better than my competition or even if it’s just, this niche, for them, and this is the best solution. How do I communicate that difference? And, how I am better to my prospective customers as a marketing person or a salesperson?

Stewart: Well, it’s a curious thing. So I mean, the phrase that the word that stuck out in that sentence was hopefully. And I kind of start with this point of saying to me. Well, look, stop, just whatever you’re doing, just put the keyboard down. We don’t need to make more tools. We don’t need to make more technology. What we need to do is to make sure that what we’ve got right now is what somebody needs. And that’s what we’ve got to talk, this is this fundamental point of what we’re talking to. It’s about need, we’re looking at people and say, because people buy what they what they want, right. But most of those wants are driven fundamentally somewhere in the background by a perceived need.

So in software terms, if we’re actually building it, we spent half a million dollars on a package, let’s say, to build something, and half a million is a is a good little start point. One would hope that half million has been pointed at solving a particular problem. So these two things go hand in hand, we can’t just build some software, and then try and sell it. What we need to do is build an answer to somebody’s problem, and then tell them that we’ve got the answer to the problem they’ve got.

So our job is to help them identify that they have that problem. And for a lot of people, they don’t know what they don’t know. So we’re in the position where we make a tool with a very specific purpose, and more niche solutions are undoubtedly, the future of SAAS product businesses The vast majority will be very tightly focused solutions on very specific problems, very specific industries, and so on.

So if that’s our core focus, and we start at that point, then when we get to talking about marketing, or we’ll get to talking about sales and how we market to a business, then we’re talking specifically about the problem and specifically about the value that that solution delivers. And the technology becomes irrelevant. Because it’s a SaaS product business, of course, it’s software. So how, how we do it? Yeah, kinda who cares, right? So we’re interested in that, what we’re interested in the value that we deliver, and the more we can articulate the value, and the more we can identify ourselves with that target niche, the better our chances of success.

Billy: I agree, I agree. We don’t care about how the sausage is made, we just we just want the solution. So let me ask you this, then. So as we’re focusing on, you said two things there, focus on the problem and the solution. If I’m in marketing, and usually marketing, the sales, get some voice in product direction, because they’re out engaging with customers, they’re getting their feedback. How can I help influence  product, when I take that back to my engineering team, or my product team, and I’m getting this feedback, whether it’s through demos, or even through live chat conversations we’re having on the site? And I see, like, no, we’re not quite fitting here. But we could, what do you think is the best way for them to sell like, Hey, I have an idea to the product team?

Stewart: I’m of the opinion, it shouldn’t need selling to the product team. And it certainly shouldn’t be the product team who are driving the decision making. Because there were a number of things going on. That in terms of what the product team actually makes, that must be aligned with the problem being solved. If we collectively understand the problem, then we should all have this sort of same target. It shouldn’t be this, us and them. I need you to make this for me. There’s an interesting point that comes out of this, which is this idea of building new features, and software developers love that. They get up in the morning go, Well, what can I do today? Right? Yeah. Look through the bug list to go.

And then they want to go and play with the toys. Now that yeah, I mean, that goes on. And there’s no debate about that. So, but this idea that we’re going to make something new, and very often, it’s what I call whack a mole, is this idea that somebody says, oh, if we had this feature, we could sell more. I mean, that’s, that’s like an echo in my existence is to continue, if we had this, I could sell more. And that’s true. One of your customers wants that feature, or one of your prospects wants that feature. But the success in SAAS product doesn’t come from just continually whacking moles and providing more features and ending up with bloatware. It comes when what you do firmly fits in, firmly fills the requirements of the people you’re talking to.

And provided you give them enough, they will stay. And that’s our value proposition, is the customer lifetime value. We want customers to come in and continue to use the product. So we have to keep them on board and deliver functional things that increase that level of love. And we’re not going to do that just by sort of, this, but I have a drum kit. We can practice on my drum kit in the back there. Hit one hit one hit one hit one hit one. That that doesn’t work, just all we do is we’ve spent our development money, building things that one person wanted. So it has to be a more holistic perspective that the development team uses and sales team uses, the marketing team. Everyone pointing to this one core problem.

Billy: So as we’re working towards that, that problem, and then communicating, everybody’s got competitors, there’s rarely any solution that’s so drastically different, so new that, that there’s no, like, we’re the only thing. Now you can convince everyone, you’re the only thing, and that’s what we all would love to do is say, Hey, don’t look at them. It’s just us, and it’s only us. So how do we, let’s say you’ve built a product, it is a great solution. And often engineering and product take that they’re going to work with marketing. But how can marketing really communicate that to your market?

Stewart: Well, there’s three and a half thousand CRMs, according to Capterra. Now, I’m not an expert on CRMs for a moment.

But there is no way that they’re all, there’s nothing unique about any of them. They can’t be, somebody may have a unique feature, I suppose. But the reality is, they’re all the same story. They’re all the same product, and they will do subtly different things. And they’re all special. Yeah. And as we know, because our moms told us when we were kids that we were special, and we worked out very quickly that everybody’s mom says they’re special, right?

And so it is with software products. So it is with any product or I mean software’s just manufacturing, so we’re in the business of articulating why our product is the perfect fit for the people that are looking at it. That’s the conversation we’ve got to have, because the features we’ve got are irrelevant, everybody’s got them. So unless we are unique, then what we have to talk to is how we are going to make people’s life better and happier. One of the good ones for instance is Grammarly. I’m sure you’ve seen the Grammarly ads.

Billy: I use it every day.

Stewart: Yeah. I don’t use Grammarly because, I went to the same school to Shakespeare went to apparently. The photos looked a little bit like Hogwarts in places it’s kind of weird. But see what Grammarly does, is Grammarly puts up on that thing he says writing is difficult. So now that Grammarly has segmented all the people seeing that ad and immediately said, right, we are selling to people who think writing is difficult. That’s all immediately their target thing. And then what they do is they put a little picture on the screen of a lady, let’s say probably in a mid to late 20s around that age. But she says, God, writing is terrible, and she hammering away the cable. And then it’s like, here’s Grammarly, and she’s like isn’t life wonderful?

It doesn’t matter whether it shows you a drop down of words and you can pick one do this and do that whatever it might or whether it underlines something because nobody cares. What their marketing says is if you find writing hard, this is how happy you can be shortly after you use that product. Now I’ve got a story now on it. Immediately everything else is irrelevant. I’ve got a single story about certain type of people. Nice, niche, nice announcement of what we do. And a really nice result, which is somebody sitting there feeling happy, brilliant, I get that for 20 bucks a month or whatever the price might be awesome. That that’s world we’re in.

But software vendors don’t do that. What software vendors do, so we have a service management workflow tool, and it will manage your service management and workflow, brilliant. Yeah, and but nobody ever wakes up in the morning, God, what I need? I need a service flow work management tool. Now, they look at the problems they have, and this is this core idea every single time is about problems.

Billy: So, so let me ask you ask you this, you gave the example with Grammarly. That’s more of a b2c solution for anyone can use that. What are some companies in more of that b2b space you see doing a good job of communicating hey, here’s the problem I saw. And this is why our products are going to solve that for you.

Stewart: Okay, I can’t think of a good b2b example. And I think I’ll have to go and come up with some. But HubSpot is pretty good. It’s just a CRM, right.

Billy: They are do all kinds of things now, but it’s fundamentally a CRM.

Stewart: Well, I’ll tell you what I liked about HubSpot is their service levels are exceptionally good. So when you line up with HubSpot, somebody tells us hey, on the local representative in Sydney, blah, blah, blah, and they’re onto your on their emailing, they’re continuing in contact with you. And it gives you a sense that because it’s a little bit b2c really, but b2b as well. But you get this idea that they’re interested in you as an individual interested in you as a, as a partner more than just as a customer. So it’s not just the marketing side, it’s also the service side, that’s a crucial part of it. Software ss a service, right? The S, the second S is really important.

Billy: One that they’re not as big as a HubSpot that we use, that does a great job, I think is it’s called Bamboo HR. And it’s HR software. So it’s nothing sexy, but everybody kind of needs it once you get to a certain point. And they’re just like, hey, if you have less than 100 employees, we’re a great fit for you, is kind of the messaging. Once you have more they even admit, hey, you might need to move on to a more enterprise solution we’re not going to adapt, we’re not going to change.

Stewart: And this is really this is a crucial point, right is knowing what your market is. After however many years we’ve been doing this you’d think we would work this stuff out, right. But continually I saw it this morning, when I looked at I don’t know who you’re selling to, what I see is somebody telling me what this software is, not who should buy it, and your example Bamboo there, yeah, we, if you’re up to 100 people, we’re great.

Brilliant, if you’re not go somewhere else, and that serves two purposes, it segments your market nicely and helps you identify customers. But it also helps you rule out the rubbish ones that you don’t want to talk to, that are going to come along and go. Just because your target is because somebody isn’t in your target doesn’t mean you can’t sell to them. But it helps you, it helps a woman sort of maintain order. It just makes life a lot simpler, a lot clearer.

Billy: We talked about some good examples. I know there are so many bad examples. I’m not going to get in get into like, let’s name specific companies, because everybody’s trying to figure this out. But what are some just general mistakes that you see? And you’re like, please, just don’t do this. As people are marketing their SaaS product.

Stewart: We’re a SaaS platform, and therefore, we’re SAAS platform and you should buy us.

Billy: Okay, I’ve seen that one.

Stewart: And it’s the example I made earlier that they come along, they say we are a widget spinning company, and therefore we can spin your widgets. But people don’t think that they don’t want that. It’s it’s the selling software because it’s software. And it’s meaningless. It. Nobody looks at that and nobody wakes up and says I want one of those. When I first started, when I came out of industry, I thought, okay, I’ll do it strategy for small and medium enterprise. That’s where I’ll kick off. So that’s where that’s where my descriptor of self started. And at no point in the history of mankind, has anybody in a small to medium enterprise woken up in the morning think, gosh, I need to sort out my IT strategy. Yep. Nobody wants that.

What they do want is more profitability, happier workforce, more productivity, more efficiency, a whole bunch of stuff, which can be delivered with effective IT. But they wake up thinking God, my people are inefficient. God, my workforce is low quality, God they’re unhappy. Yeah, those are the problems they look to. But we don’t work with the software industry is absolutely rife with we’ve done it for years. I’ve got one of these problems, this is what it does. And we hope that the people look reading the text, and watching the videos will understand that what they’re being told, is helpful to them. But unless they’ve actually made that link themselves, it’ll never happen. So they look and they go Yeah, it’s interesting. Next.

Billy: Before I let you go, what is your one piece of advice to anybody in marketing in SAAS, if you’re just going to say, hey, just do this one thing? What would you tell them?

Stewart: Focus on the problem. Just pinpoint, laser focus on the problem that you’re solving and the value that you deliver.

Billy: I like it. I agree. Okay, Stuart, if, if people want to reach out to you and continue the conversation, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

Stewart: Just search for Mr. SAAS product on Google and you’ll find me.

Billy: Okay. Okay, man, thank you so much, and we’ll chat later.

Stewart: Thanks very much.