SaaS North Day 2 Notes: Positioning, SaaS Models & Marketing Beyond Google and Facebook

SaaS North 2020 continued to deliver fantastic value on day 2. Here are my notes and screenshots from some of my favorite sessions.

Session: Positioning for Advantage — Reaching Your Best Customers in Noisy Crowded Markets by April Dunford

Striking a perfect blend of pop culture references and business tips, Dunford’s presentation was excellent. Specifically, I found her tips on how to position against an established company fascinating.

For example, Dunford presented the “donut” content metaphor that LevelJump Software used – Sales Tech Explained Using Donuts – to illustrate its positioning:

Tip: For example, emphasize niche fit for your product (e.g., “CRM for investment bankers”), which makes you a better choice than a general-purpose CRM used by many different companies.

Tip: Worried about losing to giant companies in your industry? Look for other ways to describe them. For instance, instead of describing them as “established,” why not describe them as “legacy”? This subtle change in positioning is not going to win the sale, but it may be enough to open the door for a conversation.

If you want more about Dunford’s strategy, take a look at her website or her book: Obviously Awesome.

Session: What the future of SaaS means for your product strategy

With 17 years of experience in the SaaS industry, Hiten Shahh shared several great lessons. As a student of history, it was great to see that he drew lessons from historical organization charts. Shah makes the argument that “SaaS ate the org chart.”

Bottom line: “your marketing department now requires less headcount because of SaaS.” Hmm… I’m not sure if that is the case, but it is a fascinating claim. When you look back over the last decade, the explosion of marketing technology companies (from 150 in 2011 to 7000+ in 2019) support the view that marketing departments can accomplish much more than they could in the past.

The rise of All-in-one SaaS solutions.

For example, Mailchimp has significantly grown. It might be best known as an email marketing tool, but they have more services, like landing pages. We see the same trend occur with Google’s G Suite, which has multiple product offerings

Five ways to build a $100 million SaaS business

Are you charging $100 per month? That is a tough, long road to build $100 million ARR SaaS. If you want to make it to that $100 million in annual recurring revenue, your pricing needs to reflect that fact.

Power users are a critical SaaS market

This is a fascinating argument. It is a great point. Just think about all of the courses, books, and additional software for Microsoft Excel. There is probably a market of more than one million power users for Excel. For example, Hey and Superhuman are SaaS products for email power users. These types of power users tend to use these SaaS products in their work.

Introducing SaaS Remixes

Bundling and unbundling has been one way to build SaaS products. In Shah’s view, the bundle and unbundle strategy is mostly played out. Instead, he advocates looking at Asana as an indicator of the future. For example, take a look at products like and ClickUp that offer an increasing number of task and project management capabilities.

Session: Sell Like A Marketer

Presented by Hana Abaza (Shopify), Dev Basu (Powered by Search), and Riaz Sidi (

In this section, I’m blending rough notes from the speakers and my observations.

In the opening poll for the event, lead generation and conversion were the top concerns for marketers attending this session. Overall, lead generation and conversion are getting more complicated. It’s good to question whether there are deeper problems in your offering – is your product a nice to have or a must-have? It’s an excellent time to revisit the fundamentals like SaaS marketing channels and SaaS conversion rate. It’s effortless to gloss over fundamental questions in marketing when problems come up.

When in doubt for lead generation, look for bright spots that are working well and put more resources into those areas.

Change how to think about analytics. It is more than reviewing data in a Google Analytics dashboard. Make time to speak with your sales staff. Add a voice of customer widget to your website that gathers feedback from website visitors without a lead generation objective. Qualitative insights from these conversations add depth to your marketing analysis.

What are some marketing traits that SaaS sales professionals can adopt? Review demo call recordings using recordings from or similar tools. Salespeople can adapt to the ongoing conversation much faster than a website. If you try to send a prospect directly from ad to a demo form, they are likely to bounce. You need more steps to the process.

As a marketer, apply the same bright spots filter to the insight you get from sales representatives. If low performers on the sales team complain about lead quality while the sales stars have other feedback, then you may not have a lead problem.

 If marketers get the negative feedback from sales about leads, question why that is the case. For example, you might have a lead that is not ready to buy. Also, it is helpful for sales staff to understand the levers that marketers can pull. For example, we can adjust targeting (e.g., you are getting small business leads vs. sales team wanting enterprise leads).

Eighty percent of SaaS companies have struggled to get through 2020 successfully, while a handful like Zoom and Shopify have done well. So, what can those companies do? Start with empathy better and listen to the problems they have. If a company laid off have of their employee base, your advertising strategy might need to change. Instead of thinking about prospects in a buy vs. not buy, focus your marketing on building email lists and retargeting audiences.

Session: End Your Marketing Reliance on Facebook & Google’s Duopoly

Presented by marketing expert Rand Fishkin, this was a fascinating exploration of the downsides of trying to win with Google and Facebook. In less an hour, the presentation covered plenty of fascinating points. Here are some of the highlights:

  • GDPR has had the result of strengthening Facebook and Google’s marketing strength by locking in their advantages. That’s one more good reason to look for alternatives to the digital marketing duopoly.
  • Use a market research tool like SparkToro or Similar Web to discover websites. Based on the presentation, I started a free account at SparkToro to research what websites SaaS companies are using.
  • 5 Step process to expand beyond Google and Facebook in 5 steps

This is marketing 101. The twist? Exclude Google and Facebook-owned properties from the list.

1 Figure out who your customers are

2 Find the messages that resonate with them

3 Uncover the sources that influence them

4 Discover where those audiences engage

5 Amplify messages that work in places they pay attention to

  • Social media marketing tip: content that keeps people on the platform tends to do best. Instead of asking for a retweet, Fishkin recommends asking people to leave a comment. Adding links to bring people to your website and away from the social media platform might not do as well.

Want to learn more insights from the SaaS North 2020 conference? Check out my notes from Day 1: 2020 State of SaaS: Notes from the SaaS North Now Conference (Sept 9, 2020).

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