Most SaaS Marketing is Stupid, Why Is Everyone Still Doing It?
My thesis is that marketing in the software, tech and SaaS worlds is not working, it is provably not working, almost nobody is being successful yet everyone is doing the same thing. Most SaaS marketing does not work, the customers hate it, yet everyone still does it.
So is marketing not working because everyone is doing the same thing or is everyone doing the same thing because they are all really stupid, lack imagination and have no other way to market?
My further thesis is that marketing is not working because something has fundamentally changed.
Here, I source the great book by Graham Hawkins, a must read, and his SalesTribe:
We are in a new place, the technology markets have aged and they are now in a mature state. Thus, what worked before may not, and clearly is not working now. But our marketing warriors are essentially out of ideas, having none to begin with, since all they have been doing is implementing the same stuff used 10 years ago.
Let’s define success.
SaaS Marketing Success
The result of successful marketing is not gaining tons of small beer customers yet remaining unprofitable after 5 or more years in business. It is not raising so much venture capital that your employees have diluted their equity to trace elements. It is not being ranked in Gartner and Forrester reports in some magic trapezoid that is undistinguished from those little logos around you. It is not having everyone recognize your logo because you give out so many T shirts at trade shows that people think you are a painting company since everyone wears your stuff when they paint their apartment.
Success in the tech sector is becoming a market leader where everyone agrees you are the market leader. More on that in a minute.
Success is delivering disruption that benefits the customer in a big way and everyone in the industry recognizes your team has done it, not just your most recent marketing VP. Success is profitable quarters. Success is significant equity wealth for those who got you there — your employes. Success is being able to write a press release that does NOT begin with:
“Company X the undisputed global leader in delivering widgets to left handed people, who were born on a Thursday in May, and reside in Montana, New York and Dallas, thus changing their lives forever today announces…….”
You are successful if you address a big problem, solve it in a big way, do it in a way everyone recognizes is innovative and you do it profitably and the customer loves the result.
Is that you?
Perhaps not but nobody would believe it from the press releases and the marketing output from the software and SaaS community. Read the press releases from about any SaaS or software company and it appears they are the next Apple Computer or Amazon, impacting how people live, work and play.
Yet they are Chef, Puppet, Xebia, Perfecto Mobile, innumerable DevOps testing companies. Yes, you will have to Google them as clearly you have no idea who these “market leaders transforming companies into digital” are. And who cares? Well, nobody since they use appalling marketing indistinguishable from their peers.
We could pick almost any technology sector. We could pick converged infrastructure firms. We could pick high performance computing. We could pick DevOps.
Well, let’s do that because DevOps makes the case more starkly than the other sectors combined for stupid, really stupid, insipid, uninspiring marketing that is funded by massively dilutive VC dollars leading to unprofitable results that are entirely predictable.
What are the really absurd things our marketing warriors do, every day? Let’s pick just 10 that virtually everyone does.
Marketo-Spam driven email campaigns for SaaS marketing
Is there anything worse for an executive than to learn he or she is now captured in a Marketo-Spam sales campaign?
Every time they open their email, there it is. That useless email from that unknown vendor, with that pablum value statement.
Is there any doubt that in the last 5 years maybe the only people who have responded were those who drank at work or clicked on the wrong button?
The concept itself is maddening. Email campaigns by the billions, to people who need to use their email for good work, yet marketing types flood their emails with noise that conflicts with their daily work.
Buy your lists from DiscoverOrg and RainKing
And how does the poor exec get captured in the first place?
He or she responds to something that gets their name in a DiscoverOrg list. That means every tech company now has their name, phone, address, email, maybe cell phone. These are clever little guys who can get that info and when they do, the entire VC-funded industry has that data to SPAM and harass that exec to death. One wonders just how a marketing department can tell its sales team they are adding any value when they are purchasing the same list every other firm has for their reps to run campaigns that land on top of several hundred other vendor campaigns that same cloudy, drizzly Monday morning when the exec opens his or her email.
Mechanized sales funnels
One observation I have had from 2 years watching several of these DevOps firms is they love to mechanize the easy stuff, they love to drive lots of transactions. They cannot do the hard stuff that generates results. Sales funnels are a perfect example.
These firms do the SPAM campaigns. People respond — like 2%. Usually low level, curious grunts. Responses are from Hotmail and Gmail accounts so they do not get their corporate emails spammed. These enter the “funnel” where they get “aged.” The marketing department is paid on “conversions” which mean the luckless person who clicked takes a phone call. Then, maybe they take a face-to-face call where the sales rep, the regional manager, the VP all show up because almost nobody ever takes a visit any more. Mechanizing the sales funnel shows the marketing department is delivering metrics, not value. Because value is really hard in a mature market and SPAM campaigns NEVER deliver value. And if something is mechanized, it is impersonal, stale, vacuous. It is the McDonald’s hamburger of marketing — which is now being created by robots.
Try to do anything productive on LinkedIn or other social media
LinkedIn is where sales people sell to other sales people and post cliches about if you fall down but get up, you will not be down any more. That’s OK and if you sell sales stuff, like sales consulting, it is the place to go. It is cool if you read that Deepak Chopra stuff or you actually read those Kahil Gibran books from your girlfriend in freshman year. But do not think for a moment that any exec is home every evening on that second glass of Chardonnay and logs onto LinkedIn to see if any DevOps sales reps, the age of his middle child, sent important messages about how to “transform his or her firm.” Execs who can buy avoid social media like they would avoid sitting on a plane next to a possible Ebola carrier.
Clothe the world in logo-wear
What CEO would pay for this? Marketing people love logos. They pay big bucks for them. They love shirts, hoodies, pens and notebooks. Actually the notebooks are pretty good. But have you ever seen a CIO or SVP of Worldwide Customer Service in a vendor hoodie? Maybe but I have not and I deal with a lot of them.
Logo-wear is for kids, for low level grunts who wear that stuff to work and certainly give to their spouses to paint the living room. Thus, there is real, but indirect value. I believe one can measure the mindlessness of a marketing department in direct proportion to the number of T-shirts it gives out every year. Waste of money. Waste of time. And it attracts people who need paint shirts. Better given out by Sherwin-Williams.
Write press releases that are so palpably untrue as to be actually funny
There are only three people who read vendor press releases.
The person who wrote them loves them and reads them endlessly. Those mentioned in them read them, once. I read them, yes I am the third person. I read them because they are universally a ride into fatuousness, written by a college-educated person who deals in words yet cannot deliver crafted words that have an impact. That is why I never hire MarCom types. There should not be federal money for MarCom college courses. That is another matter.
I read vendor press releases because they show me just how preposterous PR and marketing types are and how really stupid they think their customers are. Let’s play here. Chef: “The leader in continuous automation….Puppet: “Puppet is leading the movement that will define the future of software.” Xebia: “XebiaLabs, the recognized leader in DevOps and Continuous Delivery software…”It goes on and on but you get the drift.
Since nobody ever reads them it doesn’t matter. It does however show that PR people are clearly the most mindless of the marketing types and they think their customer will never click on the other vendor release and see they are also the world leading widget maker. And they are being paid big bucks from dilutive VC-paid equity that leads to this nonsense.
Forget there is institutional memory because we can still Google the stuff you said about the person who just got fired
Want to have a really fun drinking game? Get out the wine and pick 5-6 companies who are generally competitors. Or in the same space. Go to their press page. Go to press releases about the new CEO, new VP of Sales or Marketing. Then Google the title, not the name and you will likely see the same press release from 18 – 24 months ago about the last guy who is clearly not there now.
Read the glowing comments from the CEO or board member about the recently departed. Note how he was going to focus on “execution” and would take the company to the next level. Now that guy either quit or got fired.
Makes you wonder just how long the new guy is in for. And these PR types think nobody Googles the last guy. Everyone does it. Everyone. Pass the bottle.
Consider Hotmail, Gmail and other “attendance leads” to be a lead at all
Have you noticed when you are downloading that white paper some evening that you have to put in a “company email?” Hmmm?
Why do you think that came around? Well, go back up here on my list to items 1 and 2. For every marketing action that pisses off prospects, there will be an equal, opposite, prospect reaction in return. And the reaction is they use Hotmail and Gmail and other non-business emails to hide from Marketo-SPAM campaigns your marketing VP runs.
Why you ask? Because they HATE MARKETO SPAM CAMPAIGNS because they are of zero value. What they hate even more is when they hit that wrong button trying to escape that downloads the white paper, in comes a call from the 20-something BDR (business development rep, really!) wanting to know if he or she can explain it to you. Welcome to VC funded (employee stock option diluted) marketing!
Ignore the “trade show effect” in all signage
This one is by far my favorite because it is the most egregious SaaS marketing action but the least understood or recognized. And I am in the middle of this one right now trying to innovate my company’s way to a new marketing cognition concept.
Here it is. Go to a tech trade show. Any one will do. Walk through all the booths. Read the signage. Take brochures and certainly get some of that logo-wear to give to your teenager to use when painting the closet. Then leave and try to remember anything you read in booth signage. Nothing, you will remember nothing but perhaps logos, works every time.
2 years ago I was working such a booth for fun and tried an experiment. We had a sign for a demo for a pretty cool product and nobody, literally, nobody signed up for it. Professional sign, on the side of the booth, in red, white background. Nothing.
So I took a white board from a conference room and in marker, with crappy writing, wrote we would have a demo at 3:35, today only. Over 40 people stopped, asked, signed up and most showed up. I did not care about the demo, I cared about the cognitive concept. In a mature market, people are IMMUNE to marketing splash. Their brains crave differentiation. Give it to them. Find ways. Your marketing department loves trade show booths, and they will always fall into this trap.
Allow industry analysts to position your firm with their magic quadrangles
When some top industry analysts, even the CEO of one of the largest, was once your boss, your peer or your employee, you have a different concept of really how insightful these people are.
When I see marketing VPs all hot about being mentioned in a Gartner or Forrester report, I know they are officially brain dead.
Let’s have more DevOps fun here. Go to the Xebia site and the Chef site and the Puppet site. They all have the same analyst reports, from one of these firms, showing them and their competitors in the same space, one a slight angle from another. Can you believe that any reputable marketing pro would publish such a ranking unless it unequivocally showed them as the leader by a large margin? Well, look and laugh.
It is fun to toy with the absurdity of software and SaaS marketing VPs. They are all living though a massive industry change. We are now in a mature market where everything is different. SaaS marketing needs to change and it cannot because these people do not know where else to go, what else to try. This is all they have ever known.
While it is fun to watch stupid stuff, there is a sadness here, and I am not being dramatic. There is a payment for this nonsense, this faulty effort, these actions that only piss off those you are trying to sell. The sadness is these actions are paid for in the dilution of employee stock options.
Employee stock options can be about 30% to as much as 50% of the wealth captured over 5 years by a good developer at a SaaS software firm. Yet, for most of them, they will not see much or any of it.
These tech firms bring in massive VC funding. That funding dilutes options unless it moves the ball forward. And it isn’t moving the ball. It is almost all wasted on marketing that cannot work because the world is different now.
And sadly, those sales engineers, developers and top sales people who should share in rewards will not. They lose equity and years of work they can never get back.
Stupid SaaS marketing does not hurt the marketing people. They are lucky to be employed. Same with HR. It hurts those who really are the software product, the engineers, developers and sales talent who lost wealth, value and independence in the process.
Mindless VC investments were thrown away in funding round after funding round, equity was diluted, and the real contributors lost out — completely.