Intangible products require a touch of services marketing expertise

Software-as-a-Service is not a product so stop marketing it like one

Software-as-a-Service – the cloud-based solutions that assist us in managing our client relationships, enterprise risk, projects, payroll, expenses, campaigns, communications… – has passed its ten year anniversary. In fact, with global spending on public cloud services projected to be worth $141 billion in 2019 (up from $70 billion in 2015), SaaS is mature, mainstream and the world’s fastest-growing intangible product.

Like other intangibles – downloadable music, web hosting, mobile apps, telephone services, for example – SaaS has no physical nature. It can’t be touched or tasted or heard or even seen.

However SaaS can, like other intangible products, be experienced which is why it is commonly given away for a period of time, or with limited functionality. Even though it’s generally considered to be a low-involvement purchase, being able to experience SaaS resolves the uncertainty for buyers while simultaneously creating the perception of ownership, and of there being a switching cost.

In many respects, SaaS is more a service than a product:  While the utility of the software or application might be what attracts customers, it is the accompanying services – the help desk, customer support, ongoing product enhancements, and associated content marketing offerings – that drive loyalty and retention.

Furthermore, unlike its product predecessors, SaaS is a continuous service, not a one-off transaction.

These factors challenge many product marketers. Marketing an intangible such as SaaS is distinctly different to marketing hardware or software. When marketing intangible technology:

  • The focus shifts from promotion to education – with the market often needing to be educated about the industry at large, the category as a whole, and your particular offering.
  • The imperative for innovation escalates as it provides a means of differentiation, and can be a safeguard against competitors.
  • And, as observed by Theodore Levitt, “customers usually don’t know what they’re getting until they don’t get it…And that’s dangerous — because the customers will be aware only of failure and of dissatisfaction, not of success or satisfaction.”

The key to customer retention and recommendation is to build relationships, add value and deliver exceptional service.

25 Most Widely Used SaaS and Cloud Applications (Business@Work)

  1. Microsoft Office 365
  3. Box
  4. Amazon Web Services
  5. Google G Suite
  6. Concur
  7. JiRA Atlassian
  8. Slack
  9. Zendesk
  10. ADP
  11. Dropbox
  12. DocuSign
  13. WebEx
  14. Confluence
  15. Meraki
  16. LinkedIn
  17. ServiceNow
  18. GoToMeeting
  19. Twitter
  20. GoDaddy
  21. Adobe Creative Cloud
  22. GitHub
  23. FedEx US
  24. Workday
  25. NetSuite.