“On a scale of 1-4, how trustworthy [and influential] was each of the following sources you used [when purchasing a SaaS product]?”
TrustRadius asked 1,036 technology buyers that question in its 2020 B2B Buyers Disconnect study.
Their answers proved that Product-Led Growth — where your product is the primary vehicle to get and activate users — is here to stay.
Data doesn’t lie. And in this case, it confirmed that, when buying software, four sources your potential customers trust the most are:
- Their own experience with your product.
- Free trial/account.
- Product demos.
What is Product-Led Storytelling?
Product-led storytelling falls under the SaaS content marketing umbrella. It’s the process of crafting stories that show how your product will help your target audience overcome a defined challenge.
Recently, I spent several days creating a content calendar. I talked to colleagues about how to best do this, I watched YouTube videos, and I posted on LinkedIn for guidance. The last step in my research included conducting a Google search for “content calendar template.”
It was then that I came across ClickUp and its content calendar template blog post. Not only did it provide me with direction, but it helped me to better visualize what I needed in a content calendar.
This is what happens when your target customers begin to search for a solution to their problems. They come across your brand, realize that it suits them, and then (hopefully) take steps to give it a try.
What is the Importance of Product-Led Storytelling?
There are many reasons why product-led storytelling is important, but it all starts with spreading the word about your product. You could have the best SaaS product in your industry, but if no one knows about it, it’ll never gain traction.
Yes, there are other ways to gain interest, but product-led storytelling is a unique approach. It engages the user with a story that leads them toward a solution — your product — to their problem.
Your product is important, but storytelling is what connects it with your target audience.
Are you ready to tell more stories?
Why B2B Buyers Are Losing Trust in Your Marketing Collaterals
On the flip side, TrustRadius’ research also revealed the four sources prospects trust the least when buying software.
- Vendor blog (i.e., your blog).
- Vendor marketing collateral.
- Vendor-produced case studies, and
- Vendor/product website.
I’m a product-focused content strategist. Hence, the thought of software buyers having little to no trust for vendor-published SaaS content was hard to swallow.
I kept pondering about it, and one question I sought to answer was:
“Why do software buyers have lesser trust in company blogs, which is what SaaS brands need to create awareness and generate traffic?”
I didn’t need excessive digging to find answers.
Most SaaS content writing, if they manage to create awareness and drive traffic, end up doing either of the following:
- Make verbose, difficult-to-confirm claims about their brand, or
- Focus on converting traffic into Marketing Qualified Leads, MQLs.
But, as you’ve seen from TrustRadius’ report, prospects don’t trust claims made in your marketing collateral. Neither do they visit your blog to become leads, be it MQL or SQL.
They want to solve their problems. And if you think your product can help them, they want to experience it before they commit.
This new reality calls for a mindset shift in the way SaaS companies, especially those with freemium or trial business models, approach content production.
Content can (and should) do more than just generate MQLs.
It should inspire new users to sign up and experience your product directly from the traffic it drives.
But, Victor, can my company do this, you ask?
Yes, and it’s simple. You need to switch to a new form of SaaS content marketing called Product-Led Storytelling.
Here your content doesn’t try to pile up new MQLs for your sales teams.
Instead, it engages readers with relatable stories and shows them how to overcome their problems. And it does this in a way that prompts them to sign up and start solving those problems themselves — at that same moment.
New product users direct from content just as Ahrefs does it:
Like to see how Product-Led Storytelling gets you new product users directly from content?
The rest of this article will show you how. First, let’s explore what looking beyond MQLs gets you.
What Really Happens Beyond MQLs?
Win-win situations are what your SaaS content — if focused beyond MQLs — gets you.
Also, something more profound happens when your content looks above MQLs. It initiates and boosts the speed of producing Product Qualified Leads, PQLs — a more user-centric metric for PLG brands.
Unlike MQLs, PQLs aren’t people who signed up to trial your product and are a better SaaS growth metric because:
- It focuses on getting new users to experience and get value from your product quickly. According to TrustRadius’ study, this is the number one thing that builds prospects’ trust in buying your software.
- It doesn’t assign tags such as MQLs and SQLs to people who may not be considering your product.
- It doesn’t move prospects from one team to another, where after wasting resources and time qualifying if they even need your product, you end up blaming one group or another for not closing them.
Instead, PQLs give your entire team, from marketing, sales, customer service, and product execs personalized, user-centric data. This data informs the right team to invest resources in converting only those prospects who have trial-ed and reached defined product value points.
In the words of Wes Bush:
“...PQLs are more likely to become a customer than other leads. Unlike Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), which base buying intent on arbitrary factors like email opens, whitepaper downloads, and webpage visits, PQLs are tied to a meaningful value.”
Luckily, the journey to PQLs is shorter with Product-Led Storytelling.
How to Get New Users Directly from Content Through Product-Led Storytelling
Product-Led Storytelling is a product-focused form of SaaS content marketing. It’s a tactic where your SaaS content focuses on teaching and showing prospects how to solve their problems with your tool.
With this tactic, every content piece you publish can bring in endless streams of new users (depending on how you promote it) and not MQLs that take more time and resources to convert.
But how is this even possible?
Ahrefs CMO & Product Advisor, Tim Soulo, has a theory that captures this tactic’s foundational logic. According to him:
“My theory is that people don’t sign up for your [SaaS product] and then learn how to use it. My theory is that people first learn how to use your [product]. And they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
Tim’s theory means that each SaaS content you publish can generate new users if:
- It educates prospects on how to overcome a problem or challenge and reach their desired outcomes.
- It teaches them how to overcome that challenge with your SaaS tool. Doing this inspires them to try your product; thereby, becoming new users.
- And where possible, it shows real results others achieved after using your tool to overcome the challenge. Storytelling comes in here in the form of reviews/testimonials/use cases and is how you further prompt them to try your product.
- Finally, you promote the content where your target audience will find it, because each time they do, another stream of new users comes your way.
When your SaaS content checks those boxes, you can expect better results.
With this, not only will you teach prospects how to overcome their problems, but you’ll also be showing them how it’s better to do so with your tool.
Even if they don’t sign up and become new users immediately, they’ll have your product in their minds whenever they’re ready:
Ready to explore the four SaaS content checklists that ease the generation of product users directly?
Let’s dive in.
1. Focus on Solving Prospects Problems
If you consider your SaaS tool great — that is, it solves a real need, articles you create to bring eyeballs to it should be no different: It must be great too. In this case, focus on solving your prospects’ problems.
Most B2B buyers, except they’ve been exposed to your product before, won’t search directly for your tool. Instead, they’ll search for solutions to their problems.
Take me, for example. I once needed to retrieve an email in Gmail.
Like other SaaS prospects would do, I didn’t type “how to retrieve emails in Gmail with DocSend,” because at first, I had no idea this tool existed.
Instead, the screenshot below shows what I typed into Google’s search bar. From here, I discovered content from a SaaS tool, DocSend (which I’d never heard about) that solved that problem and gave it a trial:
However, creating content to solve your prospects’ problems is nothing new. And this is where Product-Led Storytelling conforms with regular SaaS content marketing.
According to Lydia Roth, a digital marketing manager at Alexa, you should be:
“...researching what your audience needs, using the right keywords for their queries, and discovering the pain points they have.”
Furthermore, before you even jump into any form of content creation, make sure you develop a strategy.
Jakub Zajíček, former CMO of PitchGround, advises against doing otherwise:
“Without a strategy, it’d be just shooting in the dark. It’s important to start by fully understanding the audience’s needs, challenges, desires, goals, and then craft content around that...”
And IMHO, you should try the SaaS Content Topic Clusters Strategy, CTCS. This strategy allows you to build topical authority by building relevant clusters (disclaimer, I developed it).
2. Show How to Solve those Problems with Your Tool
At opposite ends of the spectrum, TrustRadius’ study revealed that while software buyers mostly trust their own experience with your product, they have less trust for content on your blog.
And it makes sense because it’s only natural for anyone to make verbose claims about their product in their marketing collateral.
However, you can leverage what prospects trust (experiencing your product) and their needs (solving their problems) to turn your blogs into not just what they’ll trust, but a user acquisition channel.
How can I do this, you ask?
From the onset, don’t fall for SEO tools-influenced copycat content, which concentrates only on ranking or outranking the competition.
Yes, it’s critical to rank and get the most traffic to your content, but if all you do is optimize for the search engines, you won’t get new users.
To get new users, your SaaS content must inspire, show, and walk people through how to go from point A to B with your software.
In short, it should get readers to experience your product as they consume your content. And you do this by teaching them how to overcome the problems addressed in your content with your tool.
Again, according to Tim Soulo:
“Each article is “a sales page” in disguise that shows readers how to solve the issue they were searching for with the help of our product.”
Because doing this works so well for Ahrefs, they don’t interrupt readers on their blogs with MQL-generating lead magnets. Instead, they use content to generate endless streams of new users:
“A single article, that took us anywhere from 10 to 20 hours to produce, can deliver dozens to hundreds of potential customers every month — indefinitely.”
3. Use Personalized Storytelling to Show Results (and Outcomes) Achieved with Your Tool
Product-Led Storytelling begins to shine over regular SaaS content marketing at this point.
To give you a clue, imagine you were a Growth Marketing executive skeptical about buying Intercom.
You visit their site and find that one of Intercom’s features solves your core problem. You’re interested, but still not convinced. Intercom knows this, so they don’t stop at showing you this feature.
They go on to show you the outcomes people like you (with real names and the company where they work) are getting from their product and this particular feature:
As a GM executive, this will increase your chances to at least trial the product, right?
Yes, and this is what happens if you inject personalized storytelling into your marketing collateral.
Most SaaS content, if it's not focused on outsmarting SEO bots, tries to appeal to a wide range of demographics. However, demographics are only traits, not real people, according to Copyblogger’s Lead Content Coach, Sonia Simeone:
“Demographics are collections of traits. They come in real handy if you’re buying a mailing list or deciding where to advertise.
But demographics aren’t people [or your fan]. They’re just a collection of patterns.”
So, what should you do?
Write for one person. Doing this well requires some SaaS copywriting skills and takes the following steps:
- Outline the problem your content will show readers how to solve.
- List out features of your product they’ll use to solve this problem.
- Examine your demographics and choose the ICP (ideal customer persona) that needs this solution the most.
- Write your content for them like you were having a one-on-one conversation.
- Use storytelling (in the form of reviews/testimonials/product uses) to show them outcomes others are getting with those features.
When you do this, your content will not appeal to everyone. However, guess what happens each time your ideal customer finds it?
It prompts them to become a new user.
4. Promote Your Content Extensively
“You don’t light up a lamp and hide it under a bowl. Instead, you put it on its lampstand, so it lights up the room.”
When your content ticks all the right buttons, it transforms into light showing your ideal customers how to navigate the dark and go from point A to B.
But, if they can’t find it, then, that’s akin to hiding it under a bowl — it becomes useless.
The seeds of interest, which inspire those who consume your content to become new product users, start germinating if, and only if, they find your blog in the first place.
And for this to happen, you must promote it extensively.
In short, if creating content is like buying a car, promotion is the gas that drives it to different places.
Do you dump a car because it ran out of gas?
No. Instead, you put enough gas to take it farther if you’re headed to a far destination.
In the same vein, you can adjust and repurpose your content to fit a designated platform where you want to promote it.
The act of optimizing content for SEO is a form of promotion: If you rank on Google, you can drive evergreen traffic each time people search for the solution your content solves.
However, with the proliferation of online platforms, you shouldn’t wait to rank on Google to get eyeballs on your content. The truth is, it takes time (3-6 months) and real, consistent effort on things like backlinks to show up on Google.
So, what to do?
While I still recommend having SEO built into your workflow, you can repurpose the same content on other platforms like LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, etc.
For example, Ali Messe’s GrowthSupply drove over 11 million page views to stories he published on Medium for his clients, including SaaS companies.
Again, this proves the impact of Product-Led Storytelling in generating users directly from content.
Do You Have a Story to Tell?
As per research by TrustRadius, B2B buyers have less trust in the claims of your marketing collateral. However, if they can experience your product, this trust score shoots up.
This new way of buying SaaS products — experiencing the tool first — further validates Product-Led Growth.
But despite this emerging trend, potential customers still research how to solve their problems and overcome challenges without having a tool in mind. And they, like all human beings, still fall for engaging stories.
Hence, the need for a mindset shift in your approach to content creation.
- First, your SaaS content now has to show how your ideal customers can solve their problems with your tool. This gets them to experience your product as they consume your blogs.
- Second, you need to blend in storytelling in the form of reviews/testimonials/use cases. This shows possible outcomes and prompts them to start solving those problems with your SaaS product.
Ideal customers who consume your content become new product users and not MQLs, which takes time and more resources trying to convert. This new approach to SaaS content production is what we call Product-Led Storytelling.