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How Are the Hottest SaaS/Cloud Startups Going to Market?

By John McTigueJan 13, 2014

You might think venture capital money is flowing like a river, nourishing every SaaS/Cloud startup that hits the market in 2014. You might be wrong about that. According to several of the top investors interviewed by Forbes, valuations are relatively high right now (15-20 percent premium over 2013), making investing in startups less attractive than last year. Still, the industry continues to grow, especially in sectors like security and e-learning. The challenge for cash-strapped startups—building a hot product, getting it to market and generating revenue quickly—is on every CEO's mind. Let's see how some of the hottest startups are handling these challenges, with a focus on marketing.

Tommy Wyher, in a Huffington Post article, identified several early stage SaaS/Cloud startups with a chance to become household names in 2014. Let's take a look at three of these and how they appear to be marketing themselves online in these crucial pre- or post-launch months.

Coursera

coursera 300Coursera provides online learning courses on a wide variety of topics ranging from Cryptography to Classical Music Composition. The kicker is these courses are presented by well-known universities like Harvard, Stanford, Duke and Cal-Tech. You don't have to be enrolled in these universities to get the benefit on taking some of their classes online. A few marketing observations:

  • Original idea, nice design and the benefits are clearly stated on the home page
  • Website navigation is clumsy, requiring some drilling down to find important pages
  • No feedback or involvement from customers on the website
  • Great social media following, but nearly all posts are from the brand with little conversation; strange that there is no link to LinkedIn
  • Has a mobile app but not a responsive design for the website
  • On-page SEO needs a lot of work for organic search—title tags, descriptions not optimized
  • Great involvement by professors in the Blog, but it's only accessible in the footer; should be more prominent

In general, the Coursera website feels like a shopping cart for online courses and doesn't involve the students enough in expressing the unique value of the service. I would bring that community to the front, concentrate more on conversations and get more feedback and reviews. Also, I'd tighten up the SEO, make the blog more prominent and ensure social sites promote blogs as well as course announcements. Finally, I'd roll in some videos from users, as well as snippets from the courses to make them more "real."

Crushpath

crushpathCrushpath is a sales enablement tool for converting more leads into customers. Sales reps can create customized landing pages for their individual prospects, called "Spots." Each Spot contains relevant content, messaging, blogs and videos selected to help a prospect make a purchase decision. It's basically prospect-customized lead nurturing in one mobile-optimized microsite. Cool! Reps can easily create Spots from the online toolkit, with help from Marketing, of course. A few things I notice:

  • Nice modern design with scrolling, story-telling format
  • Website copy and images do a good job of explaining the value proposition and operations
  • Nice simple organization and navigation
  • SEO on-page looks good, but I would rethink the keyword strategy a bit and focus on actions like "close more sales" as opposed to "sales and marketing software"—there's too much competition in that space
  • Once again, the Blog, although well executed, is an afterthought in the footer; should be more prominent
  • There should be more content from users—"How do you use Crushpath to close more deals?"
  • Social media following isn't huge and the conversations are one-way—I'm sure they're working on this...
  • Nice responsive design for mobile, and I believe they are building a mobile app (insider info!)

Overall, I think Crushpath is on point with digital marketing from the website, blog, social media and mobile. A little tweaking on the search strategy and more customer content across the board will strengthen its positioning and help to drive more of its own sales.

Crittercism

CrittercismIf you are building and launching mobile apps, Crittercism is a cool SaaS tool to check into. It's a centralized reporting and monitoring system for beta users and testers who are finding the bugs and helping you refine your app before official launch. Many companies do this through multiple channels, such as Twitter or Yammer for real-time feedback or through password-protected developer sites. Collecting and processing all of this data can be cumbersome, or worse, ignored by users because it's too much trouble. Crittercism provides an easier solution. A few highs and lows from the online presence:

  • Good story-style scrolling home page helps you get the benefits without too much text
  • Good emphasis on solving buyer pain-points rather than brand (of course, they're new so people don't know them yet)
  • I'm not sure I would have placed the Forrester report as the first home page banner—it takes focus away from the Crittercism website
  • Good, prominent blog listed in the header (in the courtesy nav—might be better in the main nav)
  • SEO strategy looks good, but meta descriptions are too long (truncated in the Google SERPs)
  • Good use of customer logos to add brand authority
  • Nice responsive design and mobile apps for multiple devices
  • Social media use is primarily one-way and should be developed as an extension of the developer community (i.e. growth hacking)

I think Crittercism is off to a clean, smart start in its online marketing. It has the advantage of being focused on a niche market where users have shared problems everyone can appreciate. I would focus on bringing the developer/project manager community into conversations on the website and social sites and share their feedback with potential buyers. The more stories you can tell through blogs and case studies, the better. Some statistical data around reducing errors and crashes would be helpful, as well.

SaaS/Cloud Wrap-Up

I have featured snapshot reviews of the visible online marketing efforts of three exciting startups. I suspect many others are doing similar things—building the product first, designing a modern website and making it easy for visitors to understand the benefits and sign up for a free trial. By paying attention to the details (best practices for website design, SEO, mobile sites and content marketing), SaaS/Cloud startups can improve their online visibility and lead generation results. In particular, don't just tell your story; share the stories of your early users. That's what will influence buyers.

                    SaaS Marketing for CEOs                

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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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