I spent a decade marketing an enterprise SaaS platform to marketing leaders at companies like FedEx, Dell, GE and Salesforce. During that time I experimented with thousands of versions of product messaging. The vast majority of these enterprise SaaS product marketing tests were empirical and allowed to reach statistical significance. Testing certainty gave me the confidence to innovate and iterate and to know what worked and what didn’t.
Evolution of the Enterprise SaaS Buyer’s Journey
A macro trend that ran in parallel to my decade in enterprise SaaS product marketing was the evolution of the buyer’s journey. As it became more and more self directed, and as sales entered into the process later and later, the role of marketing messaging became that much more critical. People were taking their learning much further on their own, and our product narrative had to support their needs.
Another trend that was in the mix was responsive design for multiple devices accompanied by the higher and higher likelihood that product marketing content would be consumed on a small form factor. The canvas was shrinking and patience with and for vast horizons of copy was waning as a result.
More Complex Features
The third major evolutionary change we dealt with was self inflicted. We re-priced and re-positioned a couple of times; expanded and evolved our feature set; and ended up with a deeper, broader and higher ticket SaaS product. That translated to an internal perception that we had to justify our value proposition more and more.
And the last of the macro trends was competition. The martech space exploded from a few hundred companies to nearly 7,000. Needless to say, it was fierce and pretty much everyone (else) was funded, making them much more willing to wheel and deal than we were. We sold at rack rate and that was that. We absolutely had to have solid and outsized perceived value to survive undercuts and push back competitive attacks.
To summarize 2007-2017: We had progressively independent buyers, on smaller screens, buying a more complex and expensive product, and comparing us to more competitors. Gauntlet laid.
Enterprise SaaS Product Marketing Messaging
How much is too much detail? Enterprise SaaS platforms are, by definition, deep and often broad as well. There are typically hundreds if not thousands of features and capabilities that could be explained. But, should they be?
20% at Best
Here’s the reality of enterprise SaaS: Your buyer will use 20% of your features (at best). In all likelihood, they’ll only deeply adopt 5-10% of your product. The problem is which 5-20% varies wildly by buyer persona.
Many Buyers within a Buyer
You likely have several (to many) buyer personas, all of which have different and distinct messaging needs. Among others, we had marketing managers who needed command and control; business intelligence folks who needed testing and performance data; marketing technologists who needed integrations and data flow; and web creatives who needed design and production. Each of those groups needed different marketing messaging and in many cases, many of those personas were present in the prospect account. We had to create a strong value proposition with many, if not all of them.
Old Reliable 80/20 Rule
For me, sanity came from focusing on the 20% of features that was adopted by 80% of customers. We peppered that with our latest, most innovative and differentiated capabilities, which, of course, couldn’t yet have demonstrated demand and usage. In order to put yourself in the 80/20 position, you have to have in-product analytics that tell you the story. You can’t guess (my three favorite words in enterprise SaaS product marketing, by the way). So, for our website, we held to the top 20% of capabilities in width. The next question is depth.
Feature Depth is Easier than Width
I have always found width scarier for prospects than depth. Width can quickly become overwhelming and scary — implying work and resource consumption at ungodly levels. Depth, on the other hand, shows a thorough understanding and complete implementation of a feature or capability. Also, if a prospect is diving into a feature or capability, odds are they’re into it, so they want and can absorb more detail. The other advantage of detail and depth is that it can be obfuscated through interactive web design — tabbed content, accordions, sliders, carousels, etc. As long as users can opt in to detail, at their discretion, you can go as deep as you want to.
The reason width is so different is that you have to offer all options in order to know which options are of interest. This is challenging to do without crossing over into ‘overwhelming’ territory. Remember, 80+% of your feature width DOES NOT APPLY to your user. If you expose that 80% to your users, they will likely infer:
- Your product isn’t for them
- Your product is too complicated
- Your product represents too much work, time or resources
None of those perceptions is going to generate leads, inbounds, opps or deals, so it’s probably best to avoid them.
Listen to Your Buyers, Not Your Engineers
Engineers think more is more. It makes sense. They’ve invested their heart and soul into every feature in your tool, so they believe that every feature is website worthy. Your buyers are not your engineers. Just as your buyer isn’t your grandmother, your barber or your manicurist. Your buyers will tell you, through experimentation and testing, if they respond to more or less enterprise SaaS product marketing content. They’re all that matters and the only people you should be listening to. And when you listen, you’ll find the perfect breadth and depth of product marketing content that justifies your value proposition and accelerates your lead-to-revenue velocity.
For a bit of perspective, this article focused on messaging the 20% of product features for the 80% of buyers — a.k.a. the generic website message. There’s a whole other SaaS product messaging long-tail strategy that applies to the other 80%. That plays out in targeted search, on sub-domains and in microsites — and I have that topic on my list for a future post.
And, for a bit of perspective and context, watch my related video.