SaaS Lifecycle Marketing Handbook – A Free Top-To-Bottom Guide

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Not everyone gets SaaS lifecycle marketing and that’s quite unfortunate. The truth is that if you don’t “get” the “lifecycle” of a typical customer, most anything else you do is just wasted effort. This is true in any business, but especially true in SaaS.

Unfortunately most guides on lifecycle marketing are super-theoretical and they make lifecycle marketing too complex. Fortunately for you, we just prepared this super-clear guide that will let you leverage the power of lifecycle marketing in no time.

Why the customer journey matters

Let me tell you an uncomfortable secret. If you don’t understand marketing, your SaaS will never get as many users as it deserves. It doesn’t matter how good your product is, or how well crafted the features are. Marketing is one the biggest determinants to SaaS growth.

So, understanding marketing is a given if you want to succeed. And when it comes to marketing, I think there is no idea that is more crucial or more universal than the concept of a “customer’s journey”.

If you haven’t studied this idea, it’s actually pretty simple. Basically it’s an observation that there are stages that a person goes through to go from a random somebody, to becoming a customer, and eventually even a raving fan.

Now, obviously different people will take a different journey and go through different stages. However, you can define some general and broad stages that people go through in order to become a customer.

One of the most famous models is the “AIDA” model and as a general model it could be applied to most any business. Though I am going to suggest tailoring your model more closely to fit a SaaS, but more on that later.

Practicality is more important than perfection

One of the toughest challenges in marketing automation is forcing yourself not to use its full power. If that sentence sounds confusing, let me unwrap that.

The fact is that a platform like Emercury lets you get super-duper sophisticated. You can gather all sorts of data about each specific subscriber, lead and user to the point where you can “super-personalize” their experience. You can even get to a point where no two customers experience the same sequence towards becoming a customer.

And that sounds all sorts of cool. However, it’s not a good idea to start there, and you just have to accept that your speed-of-implementation is more important than perfection.

For example, just treating people differently based on their lifecycle stage alone will get you some great results. In fact, when it comes to personalizing a customer’s experience, doing it according to the lifecycle model gets you the most bang for your buck.

You can of course go further and personalize on ever finer data, however this will be a case of diminishing returns. And if you know anything about business success, you must have heard of the 80-20 rule. Well, when it comes to personalization, focusing on the lifecycle will let you achieve that 80-20 point.

What does this mean in practice?

It means that, to start, you only have to worry about two things. The first is defining which actions constitute being in what stage. For example, if they merely sign up for your list, this puts them in the “subscriber stage”. If they start using a certain feature in your product, this puts them in the “activated user” stage.

The second thing is merely categorizing your content, that is categorizing the emails that you send out by stage. So, you might send out slightly different broadcasts based on the subscriber’s stage. And your automations might have different paths or emails based on this stage as well.

This is actually how we “keep it simple” to start off with. As it’s very easy to go wild and start inserting a whole bunch of other conditions and paths and granularity based on other criteria.

So for example you might say: if they have “shown interest in x”, but “have not taken a webinar yet” and “have used feature y”, then send this particular email. So it can get super granular and personalized later on. But to start with, I’d suggest “boxing people in by stage” and keeping it simple.

Depending on your model, I might go as far as also keeping track of their plan, in addition to their stage in the “lifecycle model”, but more on those specifics later on.

The SaaS Lifecycle

The fact is that even a general lifecycle model will work for you as a SaaS, and you will see some really good results. However, you can tweak it a bit further and adopt a lifecycle model which is more specific to an actual SaaS business.

And while there are all sorts of models you can come up with, I am going to suggest one myself here for your consideration. And it is primarily based on a particular stage which makes SaaS quite unique as a business model, and that is so called “user activation”.

That’s just a fancy way of saying that your user actually starts using your product. This is kind of particular as a concern as in most businesses you only care up to the point where the person makes a purchase. In SaaS, the person paying for a plan (or signing up for a free tier), is just the start. Your profit lies primarily in getting the person to keep renewing, in the case of a paid plan, or upgrading in the case of a free tier.

Both of these have in common that they require the user to actually get “activated”, that is to actually use the plan that they got into. While it is technically possible a free user would just randomly upgrade to a paid plan having never used their free account, it is not very likely.

The same goes with renewals and upgrades

Yes, some users might just sign up and forget to use the product and keep getting charged on auto-renewal, but if they’re not actually using the product, that’s only going to last only so long before they cancel.

Same thing if you want them to upgrade to a higher tier. You actually want them to use the current tier and run into its limitations, and therefore understand the benefits to upgrading. If they’re not even using the current tier, why would they upgrade to a more expensive plan?

So what does this mean in terms of actual stages?

While there are many ways to define the stages, I am going to suggest looking at the customer journey in a very simplified way. Just consider what happens from start to end.

1) A potential customer discovers your brand and becomes a lead. For example they sign up for a newsletter or download a lead magnet.

2) Then, they decide to sign up and create an account. It doesn’t matter if this is a free account or a paid plan. They’re converting from a mere lead to an actual “user”.

3) Unfortunately, not all of your users will actually use your product, and especially so if you have a free tier. They might create a username and password, and never even login. So there is actually a level above merely being a user, and that’s being an active user.

4) Next, they might decide that they really love your product, and decide to keep renewing it. Or if they’re on the free plan, they might choose to upgrade to a paid subscription.

From this, I would say that you want to define 3 specific stages to keep things simple

Subscriber User Active User
Gave your their email address, no user account yet Has created a user account, but isn’t actively using it yet Actively using your service, however you choose to define that

Further, you would combine this with keeping track of their plan. For example, are they on the free plan, and if they’re paying customers, what tier are they on. From there on you can tailor all of your email automations and broadcasts based on their current stage and plan.

If it sounds simple, let me tell you a secret, that is the point. Remember, you can always get fancier later on and add all sorts of additional differentiating criteria.

However, again, let me assure you that if you implement personalization based on the criteria above alone, you will see some amazing benefits.

Now, you might see lifecycles with more stages than these

When I look at those models I sometimes get the sense that some of the stages are just a filler so that their model can have more stages and not look too simple.

So they might have for example a stage such as “awareness” which refers merely to people who know of you, but haven’t even given you their email address or any way to keep in contact. So that stage is quite impractical and not something you can keep track of in your marketing system.

In practice you need at least an email address. But at that point, you are communicating with them past the “awareness” stage, so they enter your system only after they’ve become a subscriber. So there’s no need to insert an “aware but hasn’t even subscribed yet” stage in your marketing model.

Further, I’ve seen some models insert something like “evangelist/super-fan” as the last stage. This makes sense from a theoretical marketing perspective. However, in practical terms it’s not easy to keep track of who exactly is a fan versus just a normal customer.

Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to track this, as you could develop a referral tracking system where customers refer other customers to you. I just wouldn’t bother putting it in your mental model early on.

How to actually implement this in your business

Implementation will come in two facets. Fortunately, as a SaaS you have an unfair advantage in one of these, but more on this later.

The first thing you will have to do is to define where and how to track your lifecycle stages. With a complete platform such as Emercury, this is rather straightforward. You can just define a custom-field and define the stages inside of it.

The second part will involve actually deciding how to treat people differently based on their lifecycle stage. That is, you will want to work on developing the actual automations and content that treat people differently.

Tracking the stages

In terms of tracking the stages, you will have to decide how and when you move a person up a stage. Setting them to the subscriber/lead stage is quite straightforward, as you can simply create an Emercury automation based on certain actions. For example it assigns this stage anytime someone requests a lead magnet, or when one becomes a subscriber in a way that doesn’t create a user account for them.

On the other hand, if they do register for a user account, you will ask your developers to simply define an Emercury event for registration. Then, put in an Emercury automation that sets their stage to “User”. It’s up to you if you want this to happen the moment they fill in the registration form, or if you want to trigger this event after they log in for the first time.

And then, you want to decide what qualifies as an “activated user”. Is it a certain number of logins? Great news, Emercury lets you set a goal where “if event x fires y times, this achieves a goal”. So you might have a goal based on a certain number of logins. That’s fine to start with to be honest, because a person logging in a number of times is generally a valid sign that they’re an active user.

If you want to get fancier though, you can set up custom events based on whether they have gone through your onboarding process, activated certain settings, or checked out and started using certain features. Again, Emercury custom events are your friend in this case.

Utilizing the stages – start with the welcome series

I’m a huge fan of exciting new features, in fact that’s why at Emercury we support all the latest and cutting edge marketing features and functionality.

But I’m also a huge fan of helping you get better results faster, and a big part of that is encouraging you to keep it simple when you start out.

In terms of personalizing your marketing, I would suggest that you start off by building some very simple automations.

To start off, you will want to build a welcome sequence for subscribers. Aside from the typical goals of a welcome series, it’s primary goal should be to get people to move to “the user stage”.

Then you will want to build an onboarding sequence for users. And again, this is just a welcome series that has a primary goal of getting people to move to the “active user” stage.

To keep it simple, I am going to suggest that you keep these sequences separate and to make sure that people are in one or the other. This is not the only way to do things, and it is possible to build it so that people can get emails from both. In this guide however I’m trying to give you a high-roi easy way to get started.

How do you keep people in one or the other sequence? At every step of the series you should have a simple condition to check if they’re still in that given stage.

So if a subscriber gets email 3 in the welcome sequence for subscribers, before they are sent email 4, you first check if they are still in the subscriber stage. If they have moved to the user stage, you no longer want them receiving your “non-user” emails.

Reminder – When it comes to active users, be sure to factor in their current plan

Depending on your payment model and plans, you might want to have separate sequences and content for people on different plans. This is most obvious if you have a free-tier plan. You do obviously need to send them different content and marketing than a paying user.

As a general rule, in most situations there is no need to segment content out based on which paid plan they are on. Even huge fortune 500 SaaS companies tend to send the same newsletter to everyone, so it gets read by both people on the lowest-level plan and those on the highest enterprise-level plans. Rarely though, you might want to send out a broadcast that applies to holders of one specific plan, so it’s good to have a custom field that keeps track of the specific plan that they are on.

Some people deal with the freemium vs paid issue by inserting more stages in the lifecycle model, but I don’t think that’s wise

This is because a lifecycle model is supposed to be linear and only go in one direction. And people can move between plans in a non-linear fashion. They may go to paid, then downgrade to free, and so on.

If you were to create lifecycle stages to account for your freemium, it would have to assume everyone has to get the free plan, then the entry plan, then the high-end plan etc. That’s just not how things work in the real world. People can move between tiers, so it wouldn’t make sense to have stages for the type of plan that they get.

Instead, you can go with what I recommended earlier, have a custom field that keeps track of their plan, and another one that keeps track if they are a free or paying user.

And then, you can build the sequences to factor that in. So you might have one sequence for active free users, and another one for active paid users. Both automations and segments can be based on meeting multiple criteria.

Utilizing the stages – continue with the broadcasts

As you get more advanced in your marketing, you will combine many different automation sequences which work in parallel. But again, in this guide I want to first give you a simple model that works.

So you will want to guide people through a welcoming sequence, and then after they finish that sequence, you will want to continue emailing them with your broadcasts. And again, to keep it simple, you will want to create different broadcasts for people in different stages. So whenever you craft a broadcast you will want to decide to which kind of person it applies.

Is this a broadcast aimed at subscribers, that is people who haven’t even created an account yet? Is it for people who were serious enough to become a user, but aren’t actively using it yet? Or is it most appropriate for people who are active users? And if they are active users, is it just for those who haven’t upgraded to a paid plan yet, or is it relevant to all active users?

Of course, some broadcasts will apply to and be useful if sent to both active and inactive users. Other broadcasts will even apply to both users and mere subscribers. You will need to figure it out on a case-by-case basis. The good news is that it will be quite easy to figure out if you keep your model simple as I suggest here.

Adding more complexity (and fun) later on

Most people want to skip straight to this stage, that is the “master marketer” stage where you utilize all sorts of complex journeys, conditionals and advanced features. I caution you not to skip ahead. And if you need a simple reminder, please remember the 80-20 rule.

If you apply the simple model I gave you in the previous section, you will get some great results and get good at utilizing a platform like Emercury. Only after you’re doing this smoothly and easily would I suggest that you add more complexity.

You can start tracking a lot more differentiating data

For example, you might decide to track many additional differentiating properties for each subscriber and user, well past just tracking their stage.

You might define custom fields that track the size of their business, or you might place special tags for anyone who visited this page on your website, but not that other page on your website. Emercury makes all of that possible, so go wild if you wish. Remember we have a full tracking system capable of tracking all user actions and behaviours on any of your web properties.

And that’s not all. We even offer you both outgoing and incoming webhooks. Yes, you heard that right, incoming hooks. This means that you can have the customer’s profile inside of Emercury update instantly based on actions or changes in your other systems.

Your sales team changes a property in some other system? It can instantly send to your Emercury webhook and update that customer profile in Emercury.

And here’s another bonus trick we often share on this blog. You can even use broadcasts as a way to gather data. That’s right, you can tag people based on which broadcasts they opened, or clicked links from. So you might have a campaign that tells you which people are “interested in x”, and then give them that specific tag (interested in x).

And then you can really super-personalize past just the lifecycle stage

You can start to treat different users differently. So someone is in the user stage, but they have more of an interest in X, well they get more of X content. And then another user has more of a Y interest, so they get more of said Y content.

The same will be true of mere subscribers who haven’t created an account yet. You can treat them differently and personalize how you target them based on a lot more data than just “hasn’t created an account yet.

Sounds all kinds of cool right? Heed this warning though

A customer’s lifecycle stage is a super-powerful pillar to utilize and base your communications on. You want to implement deeper and more sophisticated personalization in addition, or on top of your core lifecycle-marketing.

That is, you want to have a super-solid set of automations that treat people differently based on their lifecycle stage first and foremost.

And as your ability and ways of gathering additional data grows, you can simply add more paths and conditions to treat people slightly differently based on that additional data.

Get A Partner That Wants To Grow Your SaaS As Much As You Do

Do you want me to tell you the biggest secret of our success? We have always looked at the people using Emercury as “business partners” of sorts. Not just customers “or software users.” We have always been driven by a mission to help people like you make more money by utilizing email marketing, and everything we do is driven by this mission.

As of late, we have been working very hard to make Emercury a great choice for SaaS owners, managers and CMOs. Imagine if you had a business partner that was almost obsessed with making sure that your SaaS can scale as fast as possible with the help of email.

Imagine further that this partner would be super-responsive to all of your needs and tweaked and implemented features as they became necessary for your business. And what if this business partner knew exactly what you need to do in terms of email strategy and showed you exactly how to do it?

That’s what the Emercury experience is like for any SaaS that chooses to try this. Isn’t it about time you partnered with an email marketing expert that understands and cares about your needs as a SaaS?

Fortunately, you can get a great sense for this SaaS-centric experience by simply booking a free demo. Our team can’t wait to show you around and share some tips and strategies with you. Alternatively, consider getting a generous forever-free account while we still have those.

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