This question is a bit too general as "cost effective" (aka ROI) will depend on the product type and price and ultimately LTV, which will vary from business to business. The biggest difference will be between B2C and B2B businesses, the later will have a much higher sale price and LTV and require more high-touch lead generation strategies (that they can also afford). Another factor is the stage of the company - size and market share, and resources available - as SAAS company grows the cost of acquiring new customers goes up, so the channels change overtime.
What Chris describes in his answer is likely a B2B business.
I will speak to my experience with B2C business with low sale price and low LTV. Since my LTV is low, the most cost effective strategy for me has been SEO. I use various other channels and try new things, but I simply can't beat ROI on SEO which in my case comes down to content marketing, which also happens to enhance the product itself.
The general rule for startups is to not spend more than 1/3 of LTV on customer acquisition, but I am pretty sure big established companies go above 75% because the margins work for them as they focus more on total revenue rather then profit.
TLDR: There is no best strategy for all SAAS businesses. It depends on factors such as product type and price, company stage and size, who and where the customers are.
Our SaaS company sold B2B and used a combination of inbound marketing and the process described in the book Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross (http://www.amazon.com/Predictable-Revenue-Business-Practices-Salesforce-com/dp/0984380213) for outbound.
Inbound is phenomenal but it can takes a long time to build to a level where it will sustain enough leads for your sales team. Your team needs to open up discussions with decision makers quickly. Aaron worked for Salesforce and implemented this process there for stellar results. We implemented it and had stellar results as well.
I'm making the comparison not because one is better than the other but because you need both when you first start because it takes time and energy for inbound to become effective. By investing in both, you'll have a healthier process surrounding all the different types of leads you will encounter.
Please note that the process Aaron recommends is not cold calling. Nor is it the type of spamming/unappreciated communication. When implemented properly, our prospects appreciated it because of the ability to get to decision makers quickly and determine if there is a match for our products and services.
Of course this means when implemented improperly, it can create a mess so use your best judgment and always put yourself in your prospect's shoes (just take your shoes off first).
When it comes to lead generation for service companies, the first thing which comes into consideration is social media. However, they are not effective enough in generating qualified sales leads. On the other hand, different effective methods are underutilized. Some of the effective tools to generate leads for Saas companies are:
1. Use Customer Referrals in Lead Generation for Service Companies.
There are already a lot of services from the lead generation companies, which are easy in usage and improve efficiency greatly. Such of them is Leadpipe. It collects all the necessary data and displays it in one place. So you don’t have to surf the whole internet to get all the needed information about your lead. Then it automatically tracks all the changes from all sources you may use.3. Use SEO, SEM and PPC Tools.
PPC – pay per click
SEO – search engine optimization4. Create Сo-Marketing and Cross-Promotions.5. Appear at Industry Events, Trade Shows, and Conferences.6. Provide Contact Information on Every Website Page.
You cannot always be sure where people are going to enter your website, so having contact information on every website’s pages is important. It increases the likelihood that people will contact you.7. Use Landing Pages of Your Service for the Lead Generation.
Create a landing page for a customer in order to land for a distinct purpose. You may use it for different reasons. Landing pages can be really effective in capturing leads through the use of offers, forms, trials etc.8. Compose Whitepapers.
Using whitepapers is a great opportunity to attract new visitors to your website or business. They are a long authoritative reports or guides on a subject that is useful for your potential customer.9. Make a Live Chat on Your Website to Generate More Sales Leads.
Sales with trigger events are a form of social activity or a kind of event, which indicates your business could be thinking about acquisition decision. This is the best idea when to start with inbound. Then, you are advertising to a customer, who has a definite question with an appropriate answer or an advice.
Overall, lead generation for service companies is complex but crucial for any kind of business to survive. It is important to choose the best tool, which has the higher conversion for your company. Meanwhile, you should never be dependent solely on one source of leads generation.
There have been a few innovations in lead generation recently. It has thoroughly changed with the introduction of the new companies solutions. Companies, like Leadpipe, are creating the special services to ease the work for businesses and allow them to avoid time and money wasting activities.