Any business – be it a storefront, online service, or software package – will seek to identify its target audience as a matter of course in it’s earliest stages of development. For you as a SaaS founder, it may be the case that this was achieved when you first had an idea for a product to launch, and that your product was originally conceived of as a solution to a certain problem experienced by a clearly defined demographic. Yet even if this is the case, you’ll still need to reach out and find that audience to make them aware of your service, and the ways in which it can change their lives professionally, personally, or both.

This article will look specifically at how a SaaS founder may go about finding their customers, and will go through a number of resources and strategies, as well as questions to consider, which will go some way to generating leads and conversions.

Opening strategy audit

– Is your target audience big enough?

You may not be able to answer this question immediately, but it raises other issues within your development plan, namely scalability – are you prepared to adjust your product to be sustain itself relative to the user base?

– Who are you competing with for their attention?

This point highlights how researching your competition and how they already interact with your chosen market demographic should be a key starting point. For example, you may be able to use user reviews of your competitors to find pressure points amongst offerings that already exist.

– What is your audience looking for?

Here it helps to empathise with your market as much as possible – find their forums, hashtags, and groups where they might post their gripes with industry-specific issues.

– What’s your pitch to your audience?

Running through these sequentially should help you condense the results from the points made above into a coherent offering to present to prospective clients.

Defining your target audience

With a solid idea of what your SaaS product will look like, you’ll want to zero in on the audience that you first had in mind when you in the early stages of developing your idea.

However, you shouldn’t consider the relationship between your product development and your target audience to be a static one – they should both be evolving in tandem. Once your product goes for a soft launch, the users will feed back to you and push the development in a certain direction. As your audience expands, suggestions for how your feature set can grow will come flooding in after you launch your first demos.  

What makes a good SaaS market?

In trying to define what makes a market ripe for SaaS exploitation, it helps to start by dividing first into two camps – big spenders, and small spenders. This is a distinction that works for both B2B and B2C, representing the scale of their re-investment budget that would be spent on SaaS products:

Big spenders

– Larger companies and consumer groups, or potential users with a high level of disposable income.

– Competitive, with a number of rivals looking for their slice of those bigger budgets.

– Less responsive, with a higher barrier to entry when trying to attract their attention

Small spenders

– Less sought after by established competitors

– Resistant to buying solutions to problems, bootstrap mentality

– More receptive to personable business relations

Based on this distinction, it would seem that the best option for a SaaS product fresh off the market is to find its niche amongst smaller clients. Whilst their may be less money in the pot for you to contest, there are many positives that will help in the crucial early stages of the business.

One of the key advantages relates to early iterations and testing – bigger clients won’t have the time or patience to feed back on demos or soft launches. Chances are you’ll only get one shot to demonstrate the worth of your product to a mid-level executive looking for a quick fix to salvage more time for themselves or their team. They’ll expect the final product to be polished and ready to implement once they’ve gone through the trouble to secure the go-ahead from their supervisors.

Smaller clients will have different limitations. It’s likely that if you’re pitching to other start-ups, you’ll be talking directly with the key decision maker, removing a layer of communications over which you have no direct input (i.e., between your contact at a larger organisation and their own management).

That said, smaller clients bring their own limitations. No matter how personable you are, or how receptive a fellow start-up may be, their own tightly-focused budgeting will always be your biggest obstacle. The bottom line is that they may just not have the capital to invest in solutions that could otherwise be found by simply putting more hours in themselves – an option that many founders are more than willing to accept.

Buyer personas

Profiling your target audience is an important part of planning your business strategy, and whilst it may seem obvious, the knock-on benefits to the rest of your product are less so. Once you start understanding your audience, especially if your product is B2C, that research will start to feed back into your development process and may point to new features or changes in direction that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen coming.

The opening characteristics are obvious enough – age, gender, occupation, budget/income etc. Beyond that however, you’ll want to start looking at where these potential customers reside – both online and in the real world. Fortunately, SaaS products by their nature aren’t tied to physical storefronts. This means that you have a theoretically infinite number of places to search for prospective buyers – a daunting proposition that should be made more manageable with the following pointers…

Finding your target audience

As the internet has made itself a ubiquitous feature of our everyday lives, there isn’t a serious business owner on the planet who isn’t lurking on or actively participating in a relevant online community.

The flip side is that the internet is, of course, vast – and your potential customers may not always be looking for their SaaS solutions in the most obvious places. Different social media platforms serve different needs, so you’ll want to narrow your search to those spaces that are most likely to harbour them.

The best place to start is perhaps unsurprisingly; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These platforms incorporate the broadest swathe of content and communities, and are also the most practical when it comes to refining your searches.

For Twitter, you’ll want start by searching various related hashtags and trends to get an idea of what your customers are talking about. However, since you’re most likely trying to target a niche, you’ll have to use trial-and-error to find the most relevant hashtags around which your potential customers are collating.

Facebook in its current iteration is more focused around Groups, some of which may be invite-only. This relates to a broader difficulty with Facebook – that being that it’s foundation is much more focused on personal connections. Twitter on the other hand is designed in a way that pushes strangers to interact, without a need to have a pre-established posting history to be heard or seen as you do in some forum communities.

The suggestions so far make a good starting point; one that will hopefully let you in on the most engaged portion of your target market. From there you may find communities active on Discord, Reddit, or independently-run message boards where you’ll gain the most unfiltered access to your potential customers’ engagement with your chosen sector. Make sure to resist the temptation for self-promotion in these spaces – especially if you don’t have a product you’re ready to confidently demo on the spot. You’ll likely alienate other users looking for engagement on more neutral ground – assuming your post instantly quickly removed by moderators.

Finally, LinkedIn is naturally the go-to for essentially anyone within the business community  – which is also its biggest drawback. On LinkedIn, you’ll be competing with pretty much every other start-up founder out there for eyeballs and clicks, so you may want to consider the options above to get yourself noticed in a less competitive space. That said, being engaged and available on LinkedIn is a must for any B2B business – just make sure that your leads are genuine and that you’re not losing time getting caught up in the revolving cycle of engagement-farming that could be better spent diversifying your social media presence.

So far, this guidance has been given on the assumption that you’re out actively looking for customers – but there is also the ‘passive’ option that you can run alongside your more pro-active searches; and that is ensuring that your business is searchable on the main social platforms. This doesn’t have to be a vast exercise in pinpoint SEO keyword targeting – it can be as simple as projecting an image of yourself and your business as active, and looking for work. To put it more plainly, you want to make sure that those social buttons on your landing page actually lead to a profile that is active and engaged with the industry your targeting.

Once you have your target audience locked in, you’ll be ready to consolidate your work into a fully-validated roadmap – and look to be launching the first iteration of your idea.

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