Product Marketing for B2B SaaS: A Beginner’s Guide

The Dock Team
July 8, 2022
TABLE OF CONTENT
TABLE OF CONTENT

Are you confident you’re building the right product for your customers?

That’s the question product marketers ask every day. 

In B2B (business-to-business) SaaS (software as a service), where competition is fierce and product-led growth is the norm, your success depends on how well your product aligns with your customer’s needs. 

Because clever sales and marketing tactics can’t overcome a lack of product-market fit, product marketers listen to the market and talk to your customers to steer your product, sales, and marketing teams in the right direction.

In this guide, we’ll explore the foundations of product marketing for B2B SaaS businesses, including:

  • What goes into a product marketing strategy?
  • How to measure product marketing performance
  • How to build a product marketing team from scratch
  • How product marketing fits in the organization
  • How to scale product marketing efforts with Dock

Let’s start with the basics.

What is product marketing?

Product marketing is bringing a product to market and making it stick. It includes market research, product positioning, product launches, and driving customer acquisition and adoption.

It sits at the intersection of product, sales, marketing, and customer success. By supporting these functions, Product Marketing enables the Product team to build the right products, educates sales on how to sell them, informs marketing on how to position them, and helps customer success in driving adoption and retention.

Product marketing differentiates itself from traditional marketing in that it’s tasked with talking about the product directly rather than taking on broader tasks like branding or lead generation.

Product marketers help prospects and customers understand the value of your product.

Overall, the role of a product marketer is to:

  • Research the market to identify unmet needs
  • Position the product relative to competitors
  • Develop messaging based on the positioning
  • Launch and distribute products to the market
  • Drive customer adoption of those products

Next, let’s discuss what’s special about B2B SaaS product marketing. 

What is B2B SaaS product marketing?

B2B SaaS product marketing means bringing software subscription products to business customers.

The business-to-business and software-as-a-service components each bring their own distinct flavor to product marketing.

What makes B2B product marketing different?

In B2B, your target customers are companies and certain job titles of people who work at those companies. For example, Heads of Finance at enterprise healthcare companies.

Contrast this with business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, where your buyer personas are more often demographics- or interests-based. For example, millennial parents who love the outdoors.

This changes the dynamic of who you’re marketing to and how you sell to them.

In lots of ways, B2B marketing is easier than B2C, because a business audience is more defined. You can target specific titles with clear needs, values, and jobs to be done. You can also more clearly define the landscape of competitor products that satisfy (or fail to satisfy) their needs. (Plus, B2B marketers get budgets they’re required to spend!)

In contrast, B2C and e-commerce are more about generating demand, capitalizing on trends, and relying on catchy marketing.

What makes SaaS product marketing different?

The biggest difference between SaaS product marketing and other industries is the constant evolution of the product.

For retail products, for example, products are often released on a yearly cycle or slower. That means you have less frequent, but bigger launches. Apple products like the iPhone, for example, have a massive launch event every year.

For SaaS companies, new features are released as often as once a week. There are different levels of importance of those features—some require a big launch, and some may not even require a mention. But because product marketers are often tasked with retention, there’s a constant release cycle to manage.

Another nuance to SaaS marketing is that customers are acquired both through self-serve and traditional sales (even at product-led growth companies), so product marketing has to support both ‌channels.

What goes into a B2B SaaS product marketing strategy?

So what do B2B SaaS product marketers actually do? They have five key areas of responsibility:

1. Positioning

Positioning is about developing an understanding of your ideal customer profile (ICP) and creating messaging that resonates with that audience.

Customer Research

Understanding the customer comes down to defining what types of companies you’re building for and developing an intimate knowledge of their needs.

This starts with asking questions about your customers:

  • What types of companies are you building for? Which industries?
  • What company size? How many employees does an ideal customer have? What’s their annual revenue?
  • Which market segment(s)? Are you building for small business (SMB) and/or enterprise?
  • Who at those companies? Is it for one role or many?
  • What problems do they have? What makes them tick?
  • How do they discover products? How will they find you?
  • How does your product solve their problem? What is your value proposition? How does it relate to the customer’s workflow?

Developing a complete picture of your customer can be accomplished through customer interviews, surveys, and market research.

Messaging

The second half of positioning is creating strategic messaging. This means talking about your product in a way that resonates with your customer’s needs.

The Product Marketing team releases messaging internally as a strategic brief or internal memo that gets circulated to Sales and Marketing.

These messaging documents won’t necessarily contain the exact words that appear on your company website, but ‌the key points that the marketing team should always hammer home.

The biggest positioning challenge in B2B product marketing is accounting for buying teams with multiple stakeholders or decision-makers, each with differing goals.

Let’s use Canva as an example. Their primary end-users are boots-on-the-ground marketers who need a convenient way to make graphics and videos. However, selling their enterprise plans requires getting buy-in from marketing managers, C-suite executives, and IT managers who control the tech budget.

Therefore, Canva’s positioning for their enterprise plan has to touch on the needs of marketing leaders, such as productivity, brand consistency, approval workflows, user permissions, and security—not just how easy it is to make drag-and-drop graphics.

Canva’s enterprise messaging is about brand consistency at scale.

2. Market Analysis

Product marketers have to understand their customers, but they also have to understand their competition. Market analysis gives you an understanding of where you sit in the market.

There are many ways to slice a market analysis, but these are the two most important questions:

1. What audience does each of your competitors serve? Each company will lean towards a certain persona. For example, Workday sells finance and HR management software to enterprises, whereas Gusto sells payroll solutions to five-person companies.

2. What makes you different? For each target customer profile, what sets you apart from your competitors?

There are lots of ways to differentiate yourself—by your features, performance, reliability, customer service, messaging, or image—but it’s Product Marketing’s job to help decide how.

Large companies will have entire teams doing competitive analysis and publishing reports for upper management. They may also hire consultancies like McKinsey or Gartner to carry out this research.

At smaller companies, it’s usually less sophisticated. At Dock, for example, we keep a spreadsheet of our competitors and regularly check out their websites to see how we sit relative to their offerings. We also use sites like G2 to build a sense of the overall competitive landscape and LinkedIn and social media for customer research.

3. Product Launches

The bulk of Product Marketing’s role is to launch products. You can think of launches in two general phases: pre- and post-product development.

The launch process starts before the product is even created. The earlier Product Marketing can be brought into product development, the better.

Product Marketing works with the Product team to determine what use case they’re solving for, how to position the product, how to price it, and what the market looks like. 

Product Marketing also considers how the positioning of each newly launched product works together with the overall platform messaging.

The goal is to articulate what products or features will sell well. Amazon famously writes the press release for a product before they build it. 

Then, once the product is in development, Product Marketing project manages the launch by managing four streams in parallel:

  • They work with Product to align on launch timing
  • They work with Marketing to collaborate on communication and assets
  • They work with Sales and Customer Experience (CX) to educate them on the product

This is normally managed through Product Marketing meetings and cross-functional launch meetings. Product Marketing should be constantly establishing milestones along the way to make sure you hit your target launch dates.

4. Sales and Customer Experience Enablement 

Product Marketing supports Sales and CX by providing the training and assets they need to do their jobs.

Training

Product Marketing and the Product team should team up to train Sales and CX on how to talk about the product in the right way. This includes platform-level positioning and positioning for each new product or feature.

The Product Manager trains on the what: what was built, how it works, and how to give a demo.

Product Marketing trains on the why: why we built it, why it matters for customers, and what to communicate about the product.

This also includes creating the pitch deck for Sales and then training sales reps on the pitch deck.

Battle cards

Competitive battle cards are comparison spreadsheets or tables that highlight everything you discovered in your market analysis. This includes competitor messaging, features, target audience, and pricing.

Product Marketing provides these to Sales so that they can explain how your product is different from a competitor’s.

Product Marketing should update battle cards as regularly as possible so Sales has up-to-date information. Competitive intelligence tools like Crayon can make this much easier.

Sales Collateral

Product Marketing also creates sales enablement collateral to help Sales answer every potential buyer question. 

This should include collateral for your core product and for each feature within the product. And ideally, your most-used collateral should be tailored to each customer persona or segment. 

The most common formats are:

  • PDFs (ebooks, white papers, and one-pagers)
  • Slide decks (sales decks and proposals)
  • Videos (demos, webinars, and testimonials)
  • Web pages (landing pages and product comparisons)
  • Blog posts (case studies and content marketing)
  • Digital sales rooms

There’s no hard and fast rule for which format you should choose, but sales reps tend to love PDFs. It makes them feel like they’re giving a gift to the customer.

Building this collateral library is a big job. It can take years to build out a complete library of collateral (and then keep it up to date). But the more questions you can answer, the more buttoned-up you look, and the more you show you’ve been there, done that.

Tip: With Dock, product marketers can create customer workspaces for the Sales team, preloaded with all the relevant collateral.

5. Customer Adoption

To close the loop, Product Marketing also supports Product and CX with adoption (although it tends to be a lesser responsibility).

Here, Product Marketing asks questions like:

  • Was the launch successful?
  • Are people using the new product/feature? How do they feel about it?
  • What customer questions or issues are cropping up with CX?
  • What additional resources are needed to drive adoption or enhance onboarding?

Much of closing this loop is about measuring the right things to track marketing success. So let’s go there next!

How to measure SaaS product marketing success

The blessing (and curse) of SaaS is that there’s so much data available from the product, marketing, sales, and CX. Everything is trackable.

But don’t fall into the trap of tracking a long list of metrics and KPIs just because you can.

To track performance, start with your business goals and then choose a handful of metrics that support those goals. For example, if you’re an early-stage company interested in finding product-market fit, you can track which features most often lead people to pay.

Here are a few example metrics you may want to track and what you can learn from them.

Revenue metrics

Revenue is the ultimate goal for Product Marketing, so you’ll want to track numbers like:

  • Revenue: Monthly (MRR) and annual recurring revenue (ARR) to track top-line growth.
  • Average deal size: On average, how much does each customer pay? Are there upsell opportunities?
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): Can customer retention be improved?
  • Upgrades: How many customers upgraded?
  • Market share: What percentage of the total market do you own?

Acquisition metrics

Your top-of-funnel metrics can help you understand whether your marketing is resonating and which marketing channels are most successful for launching products.

  • Leads, trials, or sign-ups: Is your positioning enticing?
  • Funnel conversion rates: Where are your biggest sales and marketing gaps and opportunities?
  • Cost per acquisition (CPA): How much does it cost to win a customer? Which channels are providing the best return?

In-product metrics

Work with the Product team to track how people use your product. This will take a lot of testing to find meaningful correlations.=

  • Feature adoption rate: What percentage of users are using your high-value features? Is it sustained? What features are most likely to lead trial users to pay?
  • Help documentation usage: Which features are drawing the most attention or causing confusion?
  • In-product feedback: What qualitative and quantitative feedback are you receiving from users?

Customer metrics

These metrics track how many people are using your product, whether they’re the right people, and how they feel about it.

  • Users: How many daily (DAU) and monthly active users (MAU) do you have? How many free vs. paid users?
  • Use cases: Segmenting customers by job title or use case helps you filter your other metrics down to the most relevant segments.
  • Retention rate: How many paid customers are churning?
  • Net promoter score: How likely are customers to recommend you?
  • Customer sentiment: How do customers feel about your product?

Tracking the right metrics will take a lot of experimentation. You should stay flexible with which metrics are helping you make decisions and which are only noise.

How to structure a SaaS Product Marketing team

The structure of your SaaS product marketing efforts will depend on the size of your company, your business model, and the complexity of your product.

Former ClassPass CMO gives a great breakdown in First Round Review:

  • Simple product and small company: Marketing and product can handle the responsibility together without a dedicated product marketer.
  • Simple product and large company: Hire a product marketer.
  • Complicated product and small company: Hire a product marketer.
  • Complicated product and large company: Create a Product Marketing team.

However, very few B2B SaaS products fall in the bottom-left quadrant, so you’re likely going to find yourself with at least one product marketer.

So how do you go from zero to an entire department?

Start with one product marketing manager

Most startups start with a single product marketing manager (PMM). Because they’ll largely be supporting Sales, Marketing, and Product, they should be a generalist that can handle a quickly shifting role.

Unsurprisingly, though, having one PMM doesn’t scale. Eventually, you’ll need to build a team.

To scale, segment the team

As your Product Marketing team grows, it’s best to assign each PMM or product marketing team to one segment of your business.

Segmenting your team allows people to build expertise in a single area. It also allows business leaders to compare performance across teams or PMMs.

But there are different ways you can slice it. 

According to Lindsay Bayuk (now CMO of Pluralsight), there are five common organizational designs for product marketing teams:

  1. By feature or product: Each PMM handles end-to-end responsibilities for a single product.
  2. By marketing function: Each PMM handles one core product marketing pillar (e.g. positioning) across all products.
  3. By sales segment: PMMs are aligned with the Sales teams to split by SMB vs. enterprise or by geography.
  4. By line of business: Each PMM is assigned to a customer vertical (e.g. Finance vs. HR)
  5. By business objective: PMMs are assigned to the greatest business or customer needs and pain points, such as revenue retention or brand awareness.

Bayuk recommends the business objective model (5), as it allows for the most fluidity, but argues that organizing by sales segment (3) or line of business (4) are also strong options if the business lines differ significantly from one another.

How does Product Marketing collaborate with the rest of the organization?

We’ve mentioned that Product Marketing is a supportive, cross-functional role. Therefore, most of the success of a PMM comes down to how they collaborate with other teams.

Here’s how product marketers should work with other teams:

Product

PMMs often have the closest working relationships with the Product team. They work hand-in-hand to figure out if the product they’re creating is marketable, how to talk about it, what features are needed, and the story behind it.

Product managers educate the PMMs on the product’s inner workings and keep them updated on the roadmap. PMMs will often sit in on Product meetings to contribute their expertise or insights from Sales and to ensure their goals are aligned (e.g. increase retention).

Executive Leadership

Leadership expects to hear from PMMs when exploring new products or markets. PMMs will provide research reports, presentations, and market analyses. These projects can either be driven internally by Product Marketing or requested by the leadership team.

Their research serves as food for thought to inform strategic decisions at the company.

Marketing

Product Marketing gives direction to the marketing team through weekly or monthly meetings. PMMs work with the CMO to educate marketing on positioning, messaging, and upcoming products.

The PMMs typically project manage each launch, starting with a kickoff presentation on their thoughts about the market, how that should be reflected in the messaging, and what assets will be needed.

Sales

Product Marketing trains Sales on the products, how to talk about the products, and what the market landscape looks like. They should also sit in on sales calls or listen to Gong calls to make sure Sales is pitching the product the right way—helping them refine their messaging over time.

They also provide Sales with collateral such as one-pagers, outreach emails, sales decks, and product demos.

This should be a two-way educational process. Sales should also provide learnings back to the Product Marketing team to inform overall messaging.

Customer Experience

The relationship with CX is similar to that with Sales but for existing customers. They provide CX with the necessary training and assets to drive adoption.

Revenue Operations

Revenue operations is the data backbone for Product Marketing. RevOps creates dashboards on how customers behave throughout the customer journey, from marketing down to product usage. This data informs positioning, product decisions, sales training, and more.

In return, Product Marketing informs RevOps of potential changes needed to the data. For example, in advance of a product launch, they can collaborate on what new things need to be tracked or whether new competitors need to be tracked in Salesforce.

How product marketers can scale themselves with Dock

One of the biggest challenges for product marketers is ensuring that Sales consistently delivers the right messaging and content to potential customers. PMMs can’t be there for every sales call or email chain.

With Dock, product marketers can build personalized customer workspaces that help sales deliver consistent messaging to your customers so they can understand your value.

Here are four ways that Dock can benefit product marketers:

  1. Create a differentiated buyer experience: Dock’s personalized workspaces provide a premium buying experience while aggregating all your content in one convenient place.
  2. Standardize sales content: Create a templated content library so Sales can always pull the relevant content they need in one click.
  3. Instantly distribute content to customers: With synced content sections, product marketers can instantly deliver the most up-to-date content to prospects—whether that’s a product announcement, updated messaging, or a new marketing campaign.
  4. Track content performance: Everything is tracked in Dock, so product marketers can see what content is accessed most often by clients or used most frequently by Sales.

To get started with Dock, check out our Dock template library, and then sign up for your free 14-day trial.