A 4 Stage Methodology for Subscription Lifecycle Marketing

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The following is an excerpt from ‘Drive Subscription Revenue with a Proven Framework for SaaS Marketing’, a whitepaper by Ryan Cahill, Founder and CEO of Executive Answers.

Catering to today’s hyper-connected, always-on consumers is challenging enough for any company. But when your business lives on SaaS or cloud-delivery subscriptions, you add a whole extra layer of complexity to reaching and satisfying your target market. That’s because subscription customers take their expectations up a notch. They have invested in an ongoing relationship with you—and in return, they expect a higher level of engagement and customization from you.

Done right, marketing engages these customers and turns them into loyal brand advocates. Mishandled, it sends them straight into the arms of your competition. But much of what’s out there in terms of marketing strategy was developed for a different kind of business with a different revenue model. When you translate that to your SaaS business, there are a lot of moving parts, varying strategies, and a multitude of tools. So how do you know if you are doing it right?

Following the below framework will help your marketing organization drive top-line profitability by streamlining operations, increasing customer spend, attracting new subscribers, reducing churn, and delivering a world-class customer experience that results in loyal, long-term customers.

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THE CARE METHODOLOGY

Let’s use the acronym “CARE” to describe our methodology for creating an effective Subscription Lifecycle Marketing plan:

  • CONTENT
  • AUTOMATION
  • RELEVANCY
  • ENGAGEMENT

This one simple word can help you solidify your thinking around effective marketing communications and serve as a blueprint for creating your own Revenue Growth Engine.

Content: Educate, Inform, and Inspire

In the subscription economy, where revenue is recurring and it is critical to nurture relationships to drive adoption and customer satisfaction, effective content is the key to attracting more customers, reducing churn, and helping users get the most from their relationship with you.

The Buyer Journey contains 5 critical steps for any subscription model business: Research (Buyer has a need and searches for options), Consideration (views video/downloads ebooks/likes social post, etc), Decision (compares options), Close (contacts Sales or makes final purchase), Renew and Expand (determines value of service and decides to continue using it). These steps represent the critical impact points your business has to influence and educate your customers and help you identify relevant content for each stage of the relationship.

Knowing what content will be relevant to them at any given moment means learning how to be a good conversationalist. At the beginning of your relationship, you might want to offer a case study, a white paper, or even a free subscription period to help customers understand and evaluate your product. As the relationship matures, you can continue to drive revenue growth from cross-selling and upselling using content that deepens the relationship.

Automation: Personalize at Scale

Being relevant and timely with your content is critical, but it is impossible to execute at scale without automation. Marketing automation platforms have become quite sophisticated, moving beyond the stage of basic process automation—where you can schedule a weekly email to your list, for example—to incorporating a business logic layer, which will send personalized messages at key junctures in the customer lifecycle.

For example, you can set up a series of welcome messages that trigger automatically when a new opt-in happens, or a retention series kicking off before a renewal date, or an abandoned cart email that includes the product in consideration. Very sophisticated platforms can even use customer behavior on your website or within your product to trigger personalized messages about what they are interested in at the moment they express interest. This level of personalization and automation can drive as much as a 300% improvement in engagement.

As you embrace marketing automation, mapping out the key touch points of your customer buying cycle and automating the process for these critical junctures will pay huge dividends in both revenue growth, churn reduction, and the overall customer experience. The subscription model is a relationship and you should think about your marketing as an extension of this relationship, leveraging your knowledge about a prospect or subscriber to speak to them in context with who they are and what they are doing.

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Relevancy: Create Data-driven Dialogue

Today’s consumer is inundated with marketing messages throughout the day with the average number being somewhere in the mid hundreds per day. The only way to avoid the delete button is to communicate with people in an approachable, genuine voice, with respect for the context of their relationship with your brand, and with messages that are personalized based on their preferences, profile, and recent behavior.

Each and every interaction is an opportunity to extend the dialogue, deepen the relationship, and earn the opportunity to educate, inform, and inspire your audience. This requires a change in mindset from “pushing” offers or notifications at subscribers to “engaging” and facilitating a relationship. But in order to engage, you have to be relevant, taking into account what the customer has subscribed to, how they have engaged with your site and product, and what they have expressed interest in. This requires getting smarter about using your data to drive the content, timing, and details of your messaging.

A critical need in this process is that your subscriber data must live in a unified system, one “system of truth”. This system needs to eliminate the data silos so many companies struggle with today. It must unify the customer profile to include marketing data, web interaction data, product/service use, customer service and finance data to have a holistic perspective of the customer. It is impossible to execute personalized and relevant messaging without having a complete view of all the touch points your business has with each prospect and customer.

Engagement: Listen to Your Subscribers

Engagement is not a marketing metric dashboard number, like open rates or web traffic, it means working to create a dialogue between your brand and your subscribers. Fostering that dialogue requires focusing on what they like, determining if you are resonating, and deciding if they want to hear more from you. Done well, it creates a powerful data feed of interest and a barometer for your message cadence.

While not a metric, engagement can and should be tracked in a detailed way so you can respond based on what users engage with and how they engage so you can continue the conversation. For example, it is no longer good enough to know that a prospect opened an email, you need to know what they clicked on in the email, where they navigated to on the website, and then base your next message on those data points.

Leveraging your existing user engagement data, you can identify and empower the right users and turn them into evangelists for your brand. If you execute this methodology, users will naturally want to share their great experiences, and who better to help you identify new ideal customers that happy current users? If you think about your own experiences, you probably subscribe to many services today because of a recommendation.

Make a plan to acquire, retain, and delight customers

Success in the subscription economy hangs on your ability to acquire, retain, and delight subscribers. The CARE marketing methodology provides a framework for structuring your marketing. It is important to note that long-term success with your marketing strategy—just like your pricing model—is driven by constant testing and iterations. There is no “set it and forget it” marketing in the subscription economy. The most successful SaaS businesses stay competitive by embracing change, constantly measuring what’s working and what’s not, and using this data to nimbly adjust to a rapidly-changing environment and needs of your subscribers.

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