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One size fits none: The hidden cost of SaaS that nobody talks about

You already know that SaaS has transformed the way companies buy and sell B2B products. Buyers no longer have to rely on IT and procurement teams to find and implement technology. Anyone can Google their problem, pull out a credit card, and be on their way to the solution. No wonder that, according to SiriusDecisions, two-thirds of B2B customer interactions now happen online — regardless of the product’s price or annual contract value (ACV).

But this shift has come with a profound hidden cost, one that we rarely talk about. We’ve been so fixated on making B2B purchases faster, more automated, and fully online that we’ve lost track of the most important part of the B2B revenue engine: a customized buying experience. Every B2B product has a wide range of buyers with different needs, and whether you sell your product online, offline, or on Mars, ultimately no money changes hands unless the buyer understands why the product is great for them.

It used to be that a good sales rep spent time researching and understanding their customers’ needs and honing the evaluation process to those needs. We really knew the people we were selling to, and we understood them as individuals. But now that most customer touchpoints have shifted online, those once thoughtful one-on-one interactions have been replaced with relentless generic marketing blasts — messages that haunt us around the web but never really resonate. They’re not just annoying, they’re also sorta useless.

I experienced this first-hand when I moved from VMware to Gusto. I led product marketing for various products at VMware, a company with typical deal sizes above $100,000 and a traditional B2B buying cycle. We worked incredibly hard to understand our customers’ needs and to adapt our sales messaging and process accordingly — from tailoring the first deck to the customer’s vertical, to calculating a custom ROI, to adjusting our messaging for every stakeholder at every step. For example, our sales team would show a hospital how it could use VMware to improve patient care and healthcare system availability, and talk about how other hospitals had implemented our products to solve similar problems. The experience was completely different depending on whether you were a bank, government organization, tech company, or something else.

Then I went on to lead marketing at Gusto, a SaaS unicorn that sells HR software to small and medium businesses. Given our comparatively lower deal size of ~$1,000 and SaaS business model, we used more scalable means to communicate with customers and optimize their online experience (and in turn, our revenue). We were one of the best companies at online/SaaS funnel optimization, but having seen the VMware sales experience, it was painfully obvious to me that our audience-agnostic optimization left a lot of value on the table. Our user research confirmed this over and over again — a restaurant, a startup, and law firm looked for very different functionality when they evaluated HR and payroll providers. We also saw vastly different conversion rates for different visitor segments and channels — confirming that, while our product was great for a lot of businesses, the same marketing message and buying experience didn’t work for everyone.

You would never expect a sales rep to walk into a customer meeting, cover their ears, shout from a script — and somehow sell a lot of stuff. Turns out a website that shows the same message to everyone regardless of who they are doesn’t do too well either. If you have ever visited a B2B website, you probably agree that the messaging is confusing, vague, and utterly unclear about how it’s going to solve anyone’s problem: We are the leading collaboration platform for closing deals, maximizing outcomes, and automating everything. Request a demo now! Thanks but no thanks.

Clay Christensen has a great framework for understanding customer needs called Jobs-to-be-Done. The idea is that customers “hire” products to do a job, so we should talk to them in the context of that job. For example, an ecommerce company evaluating data platforms needs to reduce shopping cart abandonment — that’s the job it needs done. Now here’s where generic online content in SaaS comes up short: If you don’t know who you’re talking to, you can’t know what job they’re trying to get done, and you definitely can’t have a relevant conversation with them. So you do the only thing you can do: state the broadest, most watered-down version of your value prop — a one size fits none message.

This is especially problematic because the shift to SaaS has also increased competition for B2B companies. That means when a potential customer visits your website and doesn’t understand what you do, they close the tab and click on the next search result. And just like that, you’re out of their evaluation set. Brutal. Try not to think about how much you paid to get them there.

This one size fits none approach is costing B2B companies millions of dollars in top-of-funnel drop-off. Companies spend over $300B on digital advertising and another $100B on marketing technology every year, yet for the average B2B company, 99% of website visitors bounce because they don’t immediately understand why the product is great for them. This results in higher customer acquisition costs (CAC), which is the biggest obstacle to growth for any SaaS company. Acquisition marketers’ ability to grow leads and revenue is rarely blocked by budget; it’s blocked by their inability to spend that budget sustainably (i.e., not lose money on acquiring a new customer, which I shortened to “CAC-sponsible” customer acquisition at Gusto since we talked about it so often). With advertising costs and CAC rising every quarter, having a strategy for how to continually increase post-visit conversion is no longer optional.

Fixing this problem is simple, in theory: We have to get the people we spend so much money to bring to our website to actually listen to us. But in practice, that means figuring out how to deliver customized 1:1 experiences in a scalable way online, and that’s no easy feat.

Legacy marketing automation tools automate workflows but aren’t built to adapt to the customer. Even when they offer “personalization” features, the functionality is cosmetic and a pain-in-the-butt to use. Ultimately, they make it easier and faster to send generic marketing blasts, which amplifies the same one size fits none problem. In other words, they take something that doesn’t work and make it easy to do more of it, faster.

Alternatively, you can build personalization in-house. A handful of companies, like Dropbox, have done this, but it’s really hard. I lived through this pain at Gusto as we tried to customize different parts of our website and emails for different visitor segments. Stitching together data to understand customers, prioritizing the most important segments, changing their experience, and continually iterating required engineers, data scientists, UX designers, analysts. How many B2B companies do you know with a surplus of engineers and data scientists waiting to work on marketing projects? Virtually none.

This is why my co-founder and I left Gusto to build Mutiny — to help B2B companies personalize the buying experience for each customer, starting with their most important overlooked channel: their website. And to do it all without developers.

Mutiny identifies visitors through various data integrations, analyzes traffic and conversion data to recommend the best audiences for personalization, has a visual editor to change any content on the site, and measures the impact for each visitor. All of this is enabled by adding one line of code to your website.

We founded Mutiny in June 2018 and were part of the Y Combinator batch that summer. Our early customers are some of the world’s fastest-growing SaaS companies, including Brex, Segment, Carta, and Amplitude. Read their stories and see screenshots of how they use Mutiny here. And if you believe that this is the future of B2B marketing (as I do) and want to read thoughtful content on the topic from time to time, subscribe to our blog and join our email newsletter.

Author

Jaleh Rezaei

CEO & Co-founder at Mutiny, previously Head of Marketing at Gusto from 10 to 500 employees and Director of Product Marketing at VMware.

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