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Marketing a SaaS Startup: 5 Key Steps for Success

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

According to stats, 61% of businesses have more than 100 SaaS apps used by their employees. Great news for SaaS founders, right?


So, your product is already in at least the MVP stage and you are ready to ship it to your customers. Now what?

Marketing your SaaS startup is the next step you want to take to make your product seen and used.


With so many moving parts, it's crucial to have a solid marketing strategy in place from the start. Based on my experience helping scale SaaS companies, here are the five steps I recommend taking on the marketing front:


1. Hire a Fractional or Full-time CMO


One of the first moves any SaaS founder should make is bringing on a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Even if it's only part-time or on a project basis, it’s a smart choice. Having a marketing leader involved from the early days will help you avoid mistakes and use your limited resources wisely.


A fractional CMO makes the most sense in the beginning when budgets are tight. Fractional CMOs are rising in demand as an affordable way to get strategic marketing leadership. Once the business matures you can move to a full-time executive.


Here are five common situations where a fractional CMO can make perfect sense:


  1. You've got a killer new product but limited funds for marketing. A fractional CMO is a smart way to get marketing guidance at a fraction of the cost.

  2. You're gearing up for a big product launch or rebrand - you need marketing help NOW. Fractional CMOs are perfect for time-sensitive project-based initiatives.

  3. Your marketing leader left and you need someone to fill in, fast. A fractional CMO can step into interim executive roles. And hire the team if needed.

  4. You need an audit of what's working and what's not. An outside fractional CMO provides an unbiased assessment.

  5. You need to cover startup or small business marketing needs. A fractional CMO provides expertise aligned to your goals and workload. You can hire a growth marketer and a fractional CMO who will guide them and operate on a higher level.


Whichever way you go, fractional or full-time executive, here are the major things you should look for in the CMO:


Focused on Business, not Vanity Metrics. CMO must ask the right questions and focus on the metrics that will drive business forward. It’s not the number of ad impressions, CTR, etc. Instead, it’s MRR (monthly recurring revenue), sign-up to paying customer conversion rate, and CAC (cost per customer acquisition).


Skilled with Content: A seasoned CMO needs strong writing skills. Marketing revolves around creating content that resonates across channels, so this executive must be adept at crafting compelling copy that delivers value to readers. An effective CMO understands the difference between fluffy content that falls flat and impactful content that truly connects with the target audience.


Customer-Centric: A CMO should be the bridge between your brand and your customers. They should understand what makes your customers tick.


Strong Prioritization Skills: A great CMO can cut through the noise and focus on what matters.


Doer Personality: A CMO with a doer personality doesn't just sit in the strategist's chair. They roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.


Lead by Example: The doer CMO leads by example. They don't just delegate, they show. This personality trait fosters a culture of action within the marketing team. When challenges arise, the doer CMO is right there with the team, navigating through obstacles.


Agility and Adaptability: They embrace change and quickly adapt to new trends and technologies.


Results-Driven Mentality: While strategic thinking is crucial, a doer CMO is focused on results. They understand that marketing is not just about creating impressive plans. It’s also about executing them effectively and quickly.


2. Put Together a Go-To-Market Strategy


One of the first tasks your CMO or head of marketing should focus on is developing a thorough go-to-market (GTM) strategy. In other words, it is a plan of how you will get your SaaS in front of customers and convert them into paying users.


The GTM strategy document should cover 9 key elements required to launch and scale the SaaS business. It should be well-thought-out yet concise, articulating the growth strategy. Let’s go through the main parts of the GTM strategy.


🎯The Product and Offering section should describe the product features and how they address customer needs. You should be able to define the unique value proposition and outline the planned product roadmap.


🎯The Messaging and Positioning section covers messaging that should resonate with target customers. First, create an ideal customer profile and buyer personas. Then align branding and messaging to the product's value. As a next step, write a unique market positioning statement.


🎯The Market Research section is about the addressable market size, trends, and competitive landscape. Segment the target audience into categories and research competitors' messaging, pricing, etc. If you are just starting, plan how you will validate the need for your product. A study by CB Insights revealed that 42% of SaaS startups shut down due to "no market need" for their product. So, prove that you have a high chance of finding your product market fit before investing too much in the idea and marketing.


🎯The Pricing section is for choosing a suitable pricing model aligned to the product. Plan pricing experiments (at least 2 per year) to uncover opportunities and test different approaches.


🎯The Customer Engagement section explains the onboarding process and describes the customer support channels and the customer success plan.


🎯The Go-to-Market Motion section is designed to describe the approach you take to deliver your product to the audience. Product-led motion is suitable for products with easy self-guided adoption through intuitive design. Sales-led motion is usually a good fit for complex enterprise products. Sometimes a mixed approach that blends both is a way to go.


🎯The KPIs & Analytics section must identify key performance indicators and how you will measure those. Make sure to set specific, challenging yet achievable targets and benchmarks.


🎯The Marketing & Sales section specifies marketing channels, budget, priorities, and the marketing team's key focus areas. Also, it makes sense to map out the sales process and funnel stages.


🎯The Timeline section provides an implementation plan with responsibilities, milestones, and a risk assessment.


When filling out the sections, keep the end customer in mind. Map everything back to understanding and meeting their needs. Discover more about GTM strategy and how to create one in this guide.


3. Set Up Analytics and Attribution Models


One mistake some SaaS founders are making is launching marketing without setting up the analytics. Analytics and attribution are essential for assessing the impact of your activities and optimizing your strategy.


  1. Start by setting up Google Analytics, as well as any other analytics tools needed for your website, apps, or platform.

  2. The ideal option would be to connect all your data to BigQuery including marketing results and stats from the product.

  3. Establish key dashboards and reports to monitor traffic, engagement, conversions, and more. You can put them together using free tools like Google Sheets or Looker Studio.

  4. You also need to determine how you will track ROI and attribute conversion value to different campaigns and channels. For accurate multi-touch attribution, I recommend using platforms like HockeyStack. This will let you see the true impact of each marketing touchpoint in driving sign-ups and revenue.


Be rigorous about analyzing performance and setting optimization goals. Continuous improvement will be vital for marketing success.


4. Map Out a Marketing Roadmap


Once you nailed the strategic foundations, I recommend creating a high-level marketing roadmap. It lays out objectives, marketing channels, and KPIs. The roadmap should map out key activities across channels and campaigns over the next 3 or 6 months.


It should have concrete goals and key results to hit by specific dates. I'm a big fan of the OKRs (objectives and key results) goal-setting. It helps to align everyone on priorities. Don’t be over-obsessed with the planning though, your roadmap and marketing approach should be flexible.


What should a marketing roadmap contain?


Here’s a list of essentials to cover in your marketing roadmap:


  1. General business marketing goals (this is where our North Star Metrics live).

  2. Marketing budget by channel and by month.

  3. Marketing channels with key target metrics.

  4. Visual roadmap of key marketing activities for the period. Make sure to map out vital campaigns, promos, or events that support major launches.

  5. Potential risks, limitations, or dependencies that could impact delivery.


Chose your key marketing channels


The key question that all SaaS startups face is how to choose those first marketing channels. Based on my experience with SaaS startups, I have created this chart. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what popular marketing channels have in store.


marketing saas startups - channels

It shows how much time and money each channel relatively needs. Also, based on results I’ve seen in the past with other SaaS startups, I represented each channel with a bubble of different sizes. The bigger the size - the higher the likelihood of direct conversion from the channel.


Don’t get carried away and try all the marketing channels at once. With limited resources, you have to be selective in choosing only several to focus on at first.


5. Define First Month Priorities for Marketing Your SaaS Startup


While you need a long-term roadmap, first-month priorities are critical for making an immediate impact.


Activities you could focus on for quick wins could include:

  • optimizing the website for conversions,

  • launching targeted LinkedIn campaigns to reach your ICP,

  • developing compelling content that speaks to your customers' needs.


Get very granular on defining each team member's responsibilities for month one.

Pro Tip: use the RASCI model to assign clear owners to each task and avoid duplication.


The first month or two is all about getting some quick traction and proving your model. By pressing hard on those month-one priorities, you can generate momentum going into the rest of your marketing roadmap.


5 Tips for Marketing SaaS Startup


Often what many startups THINK THEY NEED is not necessarily what they  ACTUALLY NEED. Here’s my list of 5 tips to be one step ahead. 


🔴 Forget "marketing growth hacks"; build a solid GTM strategy, and use working frameworks. This is a true roadmap for success, while shortcuts often lead to dead ends.


🟣 Don't fall into the trap of omnipresence. Spreading yourself thin across every channel is resource-intensive and ineffective. Choose several specific channels and dedicate quality time to them for optimal results.


🟢 Exceeding competitors isn't always necessary. Being different can be just as powerful. Make your product distinctive. 


🟡 Focusing on perfecting your product is not as important as being quick and addressing your customers' feedback. Embrace continuous product evolution and focus on solving real problems for real people. 


🔵 Instead of seeking a "Marketer-Magician," look for a seasoned practitioner with T-shaped skills and a proven track record in scaling startups. They'll understand that "exponential growth" requires more than just paid ads and that a half-baked product won't generate sustainable results.



5 tips for marketing saas startup


Need Help with Marketing SaaS Startup?

With 8 years of helping SaaS startups go from 0 to $3M ARR and more, I've started Upleadium to help more businesses with my services. Here's what I can offer:


🟢 Marketing Audit & GTM Strategy: I conduct a comprehensive audit of your current marketing strategy and programs. Then I develop an optimized go-to-market strategy tailored to your business goals. This includes positioning, messaging, and a roadmap to drive results.


🟢 Fractional CMO services: I can serve as your part-time Fractional CMO to oversee marketing strategy, drive execution, and provide ongoing growth consulting. This allows you to tap into high-level marketing expertise without the cost of a full-time CMO.

🟢 Marketing Consultations: Get help with specific marketing questions or projects through one-time or ongoing consultations. I'll provide strategic guidance to unblock growth.


🟢 Website Messaging: I'll align your website messaging and design with your value proposition for maximum impact. Includes strategy, wireframes, and copywriting.

Want to learn more? Drop me a message at inna@upleadium.com or book a free call to discuss your marketing challenges.



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