A grim year ahead even for SaaS?
Everyone’s bracing for another recession.
Economic growth sank to 0% in June, and in response, the Federal Reserve is expected to increase interest rates to 3.4% by the end of 2022—and potentially 3.8% in 2023.
Consequently, growth expectations for 2022 are grim and will likely affect every industry, including the inflation-resistant SaaS market.
But inflation is an altogether different monster now also:
An 8.6% annual increase in the consumer price index in May is the highest since 1981.
Energy prices increased by 34.6%
Food costs increased by 10.5%
All other categories increased by an average of 6%
All this contributes to a possible recession on the horizon.
What’s Already Here
Beneath all of this, the SaaS landscape is a raging battle between established tech giants and nimble startups (the survivors are now part of the latest gold standard: fast-moving, adaptive companies).
Thanks to the pandemic, consumer behavior, and buying experience expectations are more sophisticated than ever and will continue to evolve in novel ways shortly.
Still, more are the deeper economic implications high-interest rates will have in tandem with other market forces, including volatile social and political climates, rising global energy prices, food shortages (due to the Russo-Ukrainian war), and runoff effects from an ever-more-serious global warming situation.
This all points to a looming storm on the horizon. We could be entering an even more volatile era where preparation is key, even for SaaS companies.
What Needs to Happen
The best response SaaS marketing departments have to economic uncertainty and a looming recession—let alone, a hyper-competitive industry and volatile social, political, and environmental climates—is to actively experiment, learn, adapt, improve, and grow their website meaningfully by integrating with an engineering team.
After all, a stagnant website doesn't increase engagement, discover opportunities, or spur new growth. It simply maintains the status quo, which isn’t enough in today’s hostile business environment.
Conversely, benefits abound for those who integrate marketing and engineering teams and experiment purposefully on their website.
Collaboration and productivity dramatically improve.
More website projects launch sooner, perform better, and with lower risk.
Websites adapt quickly and grow meaningfully, actually helping their companies grow.
Morale and resiliency soar.
But how? Introducing the website product team.
What Shouldn’t Be Happening
When implemented properly, a website product team almost always results in higher team productivity and morale, faster time to market, better quality, and lower risk than traditional approaches can achieve:
Traditional Marketing Agencies: Knowledge of modern design and engineering techniques can be high, but traditional agencies don't view websites as fast-growing products. Effective cross-departmental alignment, collaboration, and feedback take a back seat to blind "grand reveal" instead of iterative improvement.
Hiring Within: Salaries, benefits, and perks are expensive. Plus, marketers aren't properly equipped to hire engineers and create development tracks for them.
Engineering-Owned Website: It’s difficult and time-consuming to align with an engineering department that doesn’t care about marketing because they're focused on improving the SaaS product.
Team of Contractors: Just like above, it's difficult and time-consuming to find and replace the top freelance design and engineering talent, let alone figure out the complex processes needed to scale an integrated multi-stakeholder website with a team of disparate, part-time contractors.
A Website’s Function
To most SaaS companies, a website is currently a platform for brand awareness and education, recruitment, and lead generation—but it can, and should, be so much more, especially now:
The Bare Necessities:
A platform for brand awareness and education.
A 24/7 salesperson to generate leads.
A 24/7 recruiter to attract top talent.
A sensor to keep a pulse on market trends.
A lab to run experiments, test hypotheses, and find opportunities.
A database of behavioral data to help inform business decisions.
The SaaS Marketer's Economic Uncertainty Playbook
To help address the above realities, we created a playbook for SaaS marketers to help combat economic uncertainty and tighter marketing budgets.
Play #1: Consolidate Competing Content for More Organic Traffic
If good keyword research informs your content strategy and you have a company blog with years of consistent publishing, this is one of the best and easiest ways to drum up new traffic.
Since company blogs typically stick to a handful of high-level topics, keyword overlap between articles on each topic is bound to happen. Over time, collections of similar content start to confuse search engines and weigh each other down in the rankings.
Consolidating these overlapping blogs and implementing 301 redirects should be one of your first plays, clarifying your content for search engines and giving you the best chance of reaching the first page.
Play #2: Implement Personalization for More-Impactful Journeys
Website personalization is a strategy used by marketers to create unique experiences that include tailored recommendations, dynamic content, and exclusive offers for prospects and customers. Harnessing behavioral targeting, marketers can dynamically tailor experiences on mobile apps, emails, digital ads, and websites by using geolocation, site behavior, past purchases, and more.
In many cases, SaaS companies have diverse prospect and customer segments with differing needs and expectations. In these situations, it's crucial to have personalization software that easily fits into your current tech stack. A powerful personalization tool empowers marketers to test and experiment on their websites.
Play #3: Implement Experimentation to Keep Up with Market Trends & Find Opportunities
The best data-driven companies don’t just passively store and analyze data, they actively generate actionable data by running experiments. The secret to getting value from data is testing. Implementing a well-executed and consistent A/B testing process is a necessity.
Digital experimentation is where businesses attempt to answer a question by establishing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, and analyzing the results. By Optimizely’s definition, experimentation is “the reliable process of delivering winning digital experiences without guesswork or risk” to keep customers from losing their loyalty.
In 2011, AmericanExpress reported that 78% of customers had abandoned a purchase due to a bad customer experience. We’re now in 2022! This stat alone tells us other brands are ready and able to attract your loyal customers by providing them with relevant, consistent digital experiences.
Play #4: Adopt Headless Architecture to Boost Time to Market & Agility
A monolithic CMS falls short of supporting multi-channel experiences in a “one size doesn’t fit all” approach.
On the other hand, the headless CMS architecture can power all digital channels your organization serves. You can have more than one contributor making updates, building new templates/pages, or pushing new content live.
But most importantly, a decoupled approach separates content and design.
Headless decouples copy and code, enabling marketing and development groups to collaborate while working on both frontend and backend code, significantly reducing the time to market. A decoupled architecture enables you to make rapid changes to the front end without disrupting the back end and vice versa.
Decoupling may sound like a technical decision, but it’s a customer experience issue with a significant business impact.
Are you curious to learn what it takes to go headless? Check out our free headless CMS implementation checklist for all the secrets.
Play #5: Streamline Your Content Editing Experience with an Efficient Content Model
Content models structure your content and streamline the content editing experience, directly improving speed and agility. Without models, content is aimlessly placed throughout applications without proper guidelines, creating protracted editing experience for content editors and messy experiences for end-users.
The main benefits of implementing an efficient content model are:
Increased team alignment
Better decision making
Faster speed to market
Enterprise content models are motivated by headless content management systems (Play #4). With established content models, editors have pre-defined templates to ship content. The models help editors understand what each model is and how it should be utilized across the application—enabling them to publish messages faster.
Designers also harness content models in their UI/UX designs. With efficient content models, they know the types of messages and information available to them for the presentation of this information.
All teams involved can plan how pieces of content should work with UI modules built in the design phase (which we will touch on next) to address a wide range of user scenarios.
Addressing each user scenario promotes a consistent user experience that helps protect the bottom line—but it’s only possible by having a content modeling architecture.
Play #6: Streamline DesignOps with an Atomic Design System
A design system is a collection of reusable components used to build application and website user interfaces. Design systems function as the design team’s central source of truth, helping ease brand governance and ensure cross-functional teams speak the same UI language.
But how do you build a structured design system that streamlines DesignOps? Answer: atomic design. A building-block methodology that starts with the smallest possible design elements (the “atoms”—think brand colors, font, spacing, etc.) and combines them to form bigger structures (called “molecules”) like buttons, and eventually whole page sections and entire page templates.
This process gives teams flexibility, making it easier to see what parts of a website can be reused and how they can be mixed and matched to form other components for content to live in—and construct the patterns users will engage with.
Play #6B: Develop Your Content Model & Atomic Design System Simultaneously
The main challenge is building a design system that coordinates with the content modeling structure of an application. Developing the content model and design system at different times results in generic systems that lack a mapping between them.
Decoupling the content model and the UI design system doesn’t mean they are treated individually. They are two separate elements that require coordination to classify and manage the user experience.
Build content models and design systems in a coordinated manner. Digital teams will have the flexibility to ship new experiences quickly and the reliability to deliver content and patterns consistently.
Play #7: Optimize Your Tech Stack
As mentioned above, your website is a well of potential that needs to be harnessed properly and purposefully during economic uncertainty. Optimizing your tech stack is one way to unlock this potential.
Businesses that limit themselves to “monolithic” (all-in-one) solutions create tech debt, lock users into inflexible tools, and reduce brands’ ability to deliver digital experiences at the pace modern customers expect.
Conversely, “composable architecture” allows businesses to future-proof their tech stack, choose the best tools for their business needs, and use a modular approach to deliver experiences faster.
Here are some solutions and tools to look into that will help implement and optimize everything you’ve read in this playbook:
Contentful: Launch faster with a modern content platform. It’s the easiest, fastest way to manage content: Integrate your tools. Publish across channels. Unblock your team with our industry-leading app framework.
Gatsby: Gatsby is the fast and flexible framework that makes building websites with any CMS, API, or database fun again. Build and deploy headless websites that drive traffic, convert better, and earn more revenue!
Mutiny: Mutiny is a website personalization software that gives teams the tools to target audiences and accounts to increase conversions. Speak directly to different segments of an audience with diverse messaging, creative, and selling points.
Google Optimize: Google Optimize is the heart of digital experimentation, helping increase conversion rates by building and running A/B tests. For users with fewer testing needs, it’s the best tool, as it is the only free tool in the market so far.
FullStory: Introducing FullStory—a website optimization tool that tracks and monitors each customer activity. Make better business decisions by keeping track of every user’s website heatmap.
Segment: Segment is a customer data platform (CDP) that simplifies data collection and supports data aggregation with other tools on your tech stack. In short, Segment can send data to other tools such as Zendesk, Optimizely, or Google Analytics, serving as a connector between all marketing data sources.
Play #8: Obtain Buy-In
Now that you know what to do, it’s time to acquire buy-in from stakeholders.
Obtain Headless Architecture Buy-in
It’s never easy convincing stakeholders in charge of website decisions to let go of a monolithic CMS for a headless architecture.
We’ve mentioned the benefits of structured content, but that’s only part of it. Here, you want to present to stakeholders how a headless architecture not only improves the customer experience but also allows teams to work smarter.
To advance talks, teams must present a strong case. This includes:
Explaining how the architecture can support internal teams the way a monolithic architecture can’t.
Setting realistic team expectations for the new solution.
Sharing an understanding of how it’ll improve customer experiences across all digital channels.
To read more about ways to obtain buy-in, read 5 ways to successfully obtain headless CMS buy-in.
Obtain Content Modeling Buy-in
After obtaining headless architecture buy-in, content modeling becomes the new focus. Adopting a content modeling approach allows designers to build a design system coherent with the content structure.
To begin the buy-in process, you need to highlight the issues the content production team (from copy to design, to development) encounters to produce excellent content on time. After, it’s important to outline how a content model can help resolve these issues.
Here are a few items you can get started on to build your case:
Assess your current content structure with UX and design teams.
Keep content and development teams in mind.
Gather content modeling uses cases and present them to stakeholders.
Check out our article that goes more in-depth on how to successfully obtain content modeling buy-in.
Obtain Atomic Design Buy-in
Atomic design is the most accessible approach to design systems. However, it’s difficult to sell a new methodology to your current UX team and undergo the adoption of a new approach.
But atomic design doesn’t only favor designers and engineers. Marketing teams are beginning to have more control over the marketing website by building web pages without the need for engineers.
Start pleading your case by:
Evaluate your current design prototyping process.
Taking inventory of all existing design components.
Measuring the reusability of your design components.
The atomic approach is set up for designers to create the UX journey, developers to build reusable, flexible content models, and marketers to fit content into the models and ship out structured content.
Read more ways to obtain atomic design buy-in.
Play #9: Integrate Marketing & Engineering with Agile Methodology
Naturally, as companies grow and progress through their life cycles (from development to startup, to growth, to established), so do their operational complexities, gradually increasing the need to integrate cross-functional teams like marketing and engineering, and giving rise to four relationship types, outlined by The Harvard Business Review:
The Business Stages
Development stage: When in the development stage, a founder’s best bet is to develop a detailed business plan. Whether they need funding, a set of goals and timelines, a detailed customer profile, or all the above. In the development stage, transforming a website into a growth machine isn't a top objective since the business leader has bigger fish to fry. Learn about the Undefined relationship
Startup stage: During the startup stage the viability of big ideas is tested as well as the effectiveness of the company’s capabilities. This stage can represent a series of make-or-break moments for many small business owners. If things aren’t progressing the way they want or need, it’s okay to reassess and pivot. Flexibility is key and allows leaders to figure out what changes need to be made to build a healthier, more resilient business. Now is the time to define relationships. Learn about the Defined relationship
Growth stage: Growth potential is an exciting prospect, but knowing how to make it happen can be a strategic balancing act. Matching the pace of increased cash flow and client base without losing sight of core tenets is a struggle that many successful companies at this stage have had to navigate. In addition to taking time to review and recalibrate the business plans, wise leaders upgrade existing processes to match their new reality. Learn about the Aligned relationship
Mature stage: In the mature stage it’s time for businesses to extend their lifecycle by reinventing themselves and investing in new technologies and emerging markets. This allows companies to reposition themselves in their dynamic industries and refresh their growth in the marketplace. Learn about the Integrated relationship
How to Integrate Marketing & Engineering
To deal with complexity and scale, you need systems. Many SaaS companies need to systematize how they deliver messaging and experiences by developing design systems and seeking to structure their content.
Only a few have managed to combine these activities into an integrated capability. While they recognize the value of modular content and modular design, they have not yet managed to combine these approaches into an integrated framework.
Integrate processes & systems
Involve the design team early in marketing website project planning to assess user experience needs and expectations.
Involve the development team early in a website project’s design phase to assess needs, weak points, and limitations.
Implement “sprint” and iterative marketing methodologies.
Create a shared design-development language with an atomic design system.
Optimize website editing experience with a scalable content model.
Jointly involve design and development teams in signing off on marketing website assets.
Integrate and scale activities
Implement systems to track and manage the design and development team’s joint activities.
Utilize and regularly update shared processes.
Establish common metrics for evaluating the overall success of design and development efforts.
Create a reward system to laud successful efforts by the design and development teams.
Mandate that marketing, design & development teams meet periodically to review and improve relations.
Require marketing, design & development heads to attend each other’s budget reviews with the CEO.
Emphasize shared responsibility for results between the different divisions of the organization.
Emphasize metrics with standardized, cross-departmental dashboards.
Tie rewards to results.
Enforce division’s conformity to systems and processes.
Integrate a dedicated marketing website product team.
Implement new rules and solutions
SaaS-familiar UX designer
SaaS-familiar front and backend developers
Content Model Architect
Quality Assurance Manager
Agile-knowledgeable Project Manager
Headless website architecture
Project management software
Website analytics software
AI-based content optimization software
A/B adaptive testing software
Will another recession hit? Maybe. It’s always best to prepare for the worst—especially in SaaS where economic realities (like the one we’re facing today) shift our buying decisions. This playbook is meant to help you boost the impact your website is driving.
Or better yet, help you see the value in shifting your website technology stack into an integrated stack that can help you market your product better while spending less and achieving more confidence in your decision-making.