Exploring the hidden walkways of marketing with First Principles Thinking.

As a B2B SaaS marketer, does this image resonate with you? Do you feel stuck in a vicious cycle of ‘repeating’ channels, content formats, lead-gen programs and content syndication efforts? Is all of this resulting in slow-paced growth with minutely incremental positive results at best? Do you feel like the outcome is not proportional to the effort you are taking?

It really struck a chord when I first came across this image. And I have now found the perfect space to incorporate it, as I write (read as *ponder*) about First Principles thinking in SaaS marketing.

Have I mastered this? The answer is a big NO! I do not know what the result of this will be, but I strongly believe the initiative must be taken.

A wise man once said – “Focus on the efforts and the results will take care of itself”. The foolish man in me asserts, “Is there any other way to do it? “

So, let us begin!

**DISCLAIMER* - This is with reference to SaaS products in a mature competitive market. If you are with a product company that is solving some super unique challenge where the market is in the nascent stage, you may have begun experiencing this from a channel standpoint. If you are among the lucky ones that haven't, revisit this piece after 5 years!*

Why Herd Mentality does not work in B2B Marketing

Where this comes into the picture in B2B SaaS marketing is where we are ‘recommended’ to follow the tried and tested norms to help with lead generation (masked as demand generation, but that is a topic for a different day) and brand building. We follow commonly used channels, content formats and umbrella themes, topics, generic pain points, content syndication partners, etc. because once upon a time it worked for someone.

With everyone doing the same thing, what follows is the obvious output – negligible difference between us and our competitors.

Combine this with the hypothetical problems our prospects have (when is the last time you checked whether it really is a problem with a sizable audience) which are created based on our product features, and that is the recipe for expensive mediocre campaigns. Somewhere deep down you’d know that this is an inside out approach (company-centric), rather than an outside in (customer-centric). Your product may be customer-centric, but what about your marketing?

Here is a simple test -

Biblical B2B marketing adage suggests that E-books and whitepaper downloads show buying intent. These leads are sent for SDR follow-ups.

So here is the golden question - When is the last time you actually read an e-book (cover-to-cover)? More so, when have you read one and felt that you are ready to buy the solution? How many SDR calls/email follow-ups have you entertained? And most importantly, how many times have SDRs said - 'Hey, those content download leads were great!'?

I am not saying that it is a wasted content format, but a blanket lead-gen strategy of content downloads may need a re-look. Everything has its time, place and value!

And then there was First Principles Thinking!

First Principles Thinking has a rather seemingly innocent and simple definition - Deconstructing what you (think you) know into the smallest unit until it can't be further broken down, to fundamental truths, and then reason it up from scratch.

We are usually accustomed to piggybacking on other's thoughts, beliefs & ideas and incrementally improving on them, au contraitre First Principles Thinking recommends taking initiatives based on strong reasoning and on foundational truths.

"First principles thinking, which is sometimes called reasoning from first principles, is one of the most effective strategies you can employ for breaking down complicated problems and generating original solutions. It also might be the single best approach to learn how to think for yourself."

This is how James Clear, the author of New York Times Best Seller - Atomic Habits, defines it.

Rather than me paraphrasing James Clear's words, Click Here to read more about First Principles Thinking by the author himself. It includes a couple of examples of how it has changed the world (along with a snippet of how Elon Musk uses it).

While this can be a daunting task to do this for every initiative, decision & thought, it can be and must be explored to form a strong thought foundation.

First Principles Thinking in B2B SaaS Marketing

Now that we have explored the issues with B2B SaaS marketing, and what First Principles Thinking is, how can this change the way we market?

Here are a list of things that can be re-looked:

Understanding our Buyer/User

While most ICPs & Buyer Personas them have very general sections, can they include specifics such as -

1. What are the issues this persona is facing? Break this down into:

  • External Problems - Problems this persona is trying to solve
  • Internal Problems - How is this making them feel?
  • Philosophical Problems - Does it have to be this way?

(Read more about this on Story Brand by Don Miller)

2. How does this persona buy?  Who influences their buying decisions?  What does the Buyer Journey look like? Can an actual journey be built out?

3. What are their personal goals? How is our product helping them achieve their personal goals?

4. How can we win their trust?

Content Formats

  • What format of content do they like to consume the most?
  • Why will they find this information useful?
  • Will they share this information? Does it help them build their own social image? (Does your content have sharability value?)

Distribution Channels (pertaining to your product/product category)

  • Where do they hang out online?
  • Where do they consume content from?
  • What channel/portal according to them is trustworthy?

Email Marketing and Nurture

  • What kind of nurture emails do they find valuable? What is their description of a great valuable email?
  • What do they consider as a spam email? What irritates them the most?

Call To Actions

  • Which CTAs seem human enough, non-robotic, non-salesy, non-pushy, etc.
  • What are you calling them into action for? Why should they participate? Is it worth it for them? Are you clearly addressing 'Whats In It For Me?'
  • Is it easy, simple & clear enough to action on?

Feedback System

  • For all of the above, how are we collecting all the feedback?
  • Can we create a knowledge base where we record what works, what does not and improve in iterations?
  • Can this information be democratized throughout the organisation so different teams can add their comments and learn from them? (customer success, sales, marketing, customer marketing, product marketing, SDR, etc.)

How to Action First Principles Thinking

As marketing folks, you'd know more than anyone that while plans look intricate and beautiful on paper, when it gets actioned upon, its a bloodbath!

While all of the pointers and questions above seem like a daunting task to initiate or re-look at, how can we practically begin?

Starting Pet Projects - You need not uproot your current plans (and upset your manager with your new-found love for meaningful marketing). You can begin with 1 pet project. Do this in parallel with your ongoing plans. From the list above, pick one of the aspects you think will make the most difference and action it as a pet project.

And if you have any more ideas on how to action this, I am all ears. Would love to know more from you guys.

  • How you have done this in your company
  • What were the things you learnt from it
  • What are some other ways you think this can be actioned

Let us learn from each other and build a stronger foundation.