This is a very important question. It’s one I have dealt with at every SaaS startup I have either consulted with or run marketing for.

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Like all Quora questions, we do not know a lot about your situation, so we have to assume some things in order to provide value to those reading this answer. I will choose the assumption – you are not focused on enterprise clients yet.

Based on this assumption, here is how I would approach the dilemma:

  1. Always hedge sales efforts with marketing efforts, regardless of how well sales is working in its current state.
  2. I have yet to see a SaaS startup where thought leadership and personal branding of the creators wasn’t (or wouldn’t be) enormously-beneficial to gaining PMF and their early growth.
  3. Treat any new marketing strategy as a proof of concept and wait until this marketing strategy is proven before you hire the team to scale it.

Hedge Against Sales Lows

There is no prescribed ratio (percentage of revenue or budget) of inbound marketing to outbound sales. Striking this balance will come with testing new strategies and monitoring results.

That being said, I a firm believe in developing your SEO and link profile early on using an inbound marketing while you are iterating on the product based on the initial user feedback. In the early stages especially, your product will not be where it is in a matter of weeks/months, so this is the time to generate high-ROI brand impressions using content and links.

As for how much inbound in the first few months, I would suggest doing a lot early, and build up those brand impressions so that when your product is ready, your outbound efforts have much higher ROI. To elaborate, imagine if you were focusing your outbound on those you know have come across your website or content as opposed to pure cold outreach. If your prospects have seen that post from your CEO, or that case study you were a part of, or maybe your product hunt page, their likelihood of success would multiply. This is the practice of prospect nurturing via content, branding and thought leadership publishing.

Lastly, if your product has a keyword which is searched frequently, SEO could be your most profitable channel in the future. Therefore, you should choose a keyword early on, and create an inbound strategy around being visible for that keyword in search.

As you grow, your inbound efforts and online funnel could likely take over your SMB or mid-market sales and allow your outbound team to go upstream to enterprise (if that is a model you are planning to pursue).

Show Thought Leadership

This is content marketing, but personal and under the founder/co-founder’s names. In other words, publishing a lot of ebooks, white papers, case studies etc… while good to do, will not have the ROI of getting the face/name of the person who created your product into the active discussions your potential customers are having around the pain points your product solves. i.e. Quora, Stack Exchange, Reddit and closed groups…

For an example of this, look at the names/titles/companies of the people who have answered this question. Then click on their profiles and see how much activity they have on Quora. They are all busy people, yet they take time to ensure their face and company name are showing up in places like this thread. Why is that? It’s because they know the more they can associate their brand with thought leadership on the pain points of their customers, the better for their sales.

So, take the time to get your name in front of customers with personal content marketing to show thought leadership and gain the trust of your potential customers. If you are not sure how to begin, we have a service to assist a few founders/month with their thought leadership.

Prove It Before You Staff It

Not every marketing strategy is going to work for every SaaS startup. Each of you have nuanced features and a nuanced ‘best’ audience. Some will have luck with PPC and SMM, others will not. So, treat each new marketing channel and strategy as a proof of concept before hiring new personnel and moving valuable resources to focus on it.

So how do you prove it before you decide whether to build a team around it? Simple – agencies and contractors.

If you have the “head of marketing” who is capable of finding/managing contractors and breaking up the large projects into smaller tasks for them to execute, then head to Upwork to find experts in PPC, copywriting, design etc… so you can test out multiple channels before you decide to hire full-time specialists.

If you do not have that lead marketer in-house, look to agencies to provide your proof of concept. You will pay a premium, of course, but that will be nothing compared to the cost you’d pay if you hired/trained someone full-time to manage a marketing strategy you ended up proving was not ROI positive.

Using agencies and freelancers allows you to be necessarily-nimble and test before committing your limited resources to someone with skills you may not need for long.