Anna Holopainen

SaaS reads this week: Atlassian's GTM, Crossbeam's content machine, 4 ways people buy

publishedabout 1 year ago
6 min read

Hi friends 👋

Here are some of my best reads from this week:

  1. Atlassian's lean GTM machine
  2. Four ways people buy
  3. How Crossbeam scaled content

#1 Atlassian's lean GTM machine

Restructuring a "well enough" working go-to-market approach might seem like lunacy. Still, it's a requirement for building a sustainably growing business like Atlassian, who pioneered a hyper-lean, hyper-efficient GTM model – mostly out of necessity – in its early, bootstrapped days, and it's still running strong – regardless of incorporating some higher-touch tactics along the way.

  • Invest back in product: Atlassian runs its entire GTM game on approximately 15% of revenue, which allows them to invest roughly 35% of revenue in R&D. The ability to invest so much in R&D allows them to experiment, innovate, and develop differentiated products that give us a competitive advantage.
  • Remove friction and let people try before they buy: A great product that customers (users, not just executives) can try for free and essentially sell themselves allows you to reduce spending on GTM. Great products also tend to spread across teams and companies organically. Atlassian made all their cloud products free for teams of 10 or fewer (which allows people to try before they buy and then grow with Atlassian over time). Their purchasing process has been automated using e-commerce and delivery systems. If a prospective customer has to call or email you, it means you haven't explained something well enough on your website.
  • Build a growth community: Atlassian invested in a sales channel program early on (that now accounts for a third of their revenue), built a community of passionate Atlassian admins and end-users who champion their products through word of mouth, and partnered up with local vendors and channels partners in some markets.
  • Embrace the opportunity: Moving to a GTM flywheel is slow going at first. There will be short-term sacrifices in the name of sustainable long-term growth. But Atlassian is living proof that the right GTM approach helps you survive – even thrive – amid uncertainty. A lean approach helped them get off the ground just as tech bottomed out in 2002 and grew during the Great Recession and the pandemic.

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#2 Four ways people buy

Marketing works best when it connects your customer's description of their problem with your product. Still, not all your customers understand and describe their problems in the same way. If you're Trello, you could do multiple different value props – a specific but same-y "Project management simplified," the visionary but vague "Better collaboration for everyone," or anything else. But choosing the right one depends on the starting point of your prospective customers.

Four ways to sell your product depending on your customers' starting point

  1. "I have a problem, and I don't know how to solve it" These customers speak only in the language of the business pains they feel. You're competing against your indirect competition (everyone from A/B testing tools through to growth hacking conferences are offering to "boost your conversions"). You need to educate your audience to help them believe your product is the most likely to solve their problem.
  2. "I know the problem and I think I know the category of the solution" – These customers are drawing a conclusion from their problem. They think they know what type of product they need. In these cases, you're either looking to establish brand preference (so they believe you're the best in this category) or take the brand relevance approach (you create a new category in which you are the only player).
  3. "I know the problem, the type of solution, and the product I need to replace" Happy customers don't shop around. They have better things to do. So when someone is searching for an "alternative to X", they want a better version of what they have today. When someone is unhappy with their current product, you can market your product around how much better it is than their current solution.
  4. "I know the problem, the type of solution, and the product I want to buy (and it's not yours)" When someone sneezes, they think "Kleenex," not "My current problem is a runny nose, how do I resolve that?" If you're not the brand of preference and you're competing against a product synonymous with the solution, you need to niche to win. There are lots of payment platforms, but only one "built for developers." And so on. As you grow, you can deploy competitive marketing to help customers see the migration path from their current solution to yours.

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#3 How Crossbeam scaled content

Crossbeam is a B2B SaaS company that has built an email list of 22,000 and a steady 14% month-over-month traffic increase, and is getting constant positive feedback from their readers. Here's how they did it in just 18 months.

  1. Know your audience (but don't overthink). When building an audience, it's your job to make your reader a superhero within their organization. What can you give them to accelerate their career growth? In startups, it may not be immediately obvious who your primary buyer is, so make sure to sync your efforts with sales.
  2. Play to your weaknesses. In the early days, when you're still a small team, you will not win on quantity. SEO takes months to gain traction and show results, so ignore it first and focus on getting ten super qualified readers (who are actually potential customers) than thousands of lukewarm visitors (who aren't going to convert any time soon, if ever).
  3. Build a qualified email list. In the early days, your B2B business doesn't need traffic (like random newsletter subscribers) – it needs leads (i.e. qualified ICP emails). But no matter how good fit your subscribers are, nobody's going to sign up for your product right away, so you need to find a good way to land in the middle. Consider kickstarting your email list with a gated piece of content built specifically for those ten readers (figuratively speaking, of course).
  4. Reiterate until you make it. Like a startup finding product/market fit, your content marketing seeks publication/audience/company fit. You need to write stuff that resonates with the right people the right way. To get there, you need to build strong feedback loops and talk to your audience. Pick a hypothesis, test it, and move on when you're wrong. Crossbeam started their newsletter with a "what we're reading" section because they thought their audience wanted tech news curated specifically for their role. Turns out, they didn't: numbers showed that nobody clicked the links.
  5. Have an opinion. Your job description says you are making "content", but you are really building a brand. And brands have opinions. Most startups make software and software can be pretty boring. But the reason the software is being created? Now that's interesting. For Crossbeam, it's. "Ecosystem is Everything." Crossbeam believes that a company's partner ecosystem and a willingness to connect with other businesses and services will be the prime lever for growth and a key indicator for success. This is debatable, and some people reading their opinion may roll their eyes – and that's the whole point.
  6. Define the space. It's you're a new kind of platform like Crossbeam (a "Partner Ecosystem Platform"), there is no "category" you'd fit snuggly into. You need to spend time establishing it until your competitors start using your language. If you're in an already crowded space, think critically about what new positioning and functionality you are offering. Whatever sliver of an advantage your company is establishing over competitors should be named.
  7. Use your size to your advantage. Don't try to go toe to toe with companies much larger than you if you're a small team. Crossbeam made this mistake and tried to map, interview, and analyze, different partner ecosystems and publish a study. Unfortunately, all this hard work was for nothing. It turned out that if people really want to explore a vertical, they will go to G2 or Forrester. Instead, we focus your efforts on the places you could provide unique value. For Crossbeam, this was the Partner Playbook (a pain point / topic that came up in a conversation with a prospective customer).

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That's it for this week. I'd love to know what was your favorite read this week!

Cheers, Anna

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P.p.p.s. Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter! (Warning: I mainly post memes and rants about marketing, but if that's your jam, let's be friends. I'm also Head of Growth at an EdTech startup and a freelance consultant for B2B SaaS startups, but honestly, I'm more into shitposting than personal branding.)