SaaS startup growth is a numbers game, plain and simple.
If you bring in more customers than you lose, then you’ll grow. Fail to do so, and your competition will devour any market share you had.
Growth is everything to a new venture, but you can’t just rely on the same old traditional growth strategies and marketing tactics.
“A startup business is always going to be full of uncertainty, and marketing is no different,” according to Matt Osborn, director of marketing at Apruve. “With any new business, with new target audiences, business owners cannot make the assumption that the marketing channels that worked in larger organizations will also work with a new company. For this reason, startups need to concentrate on trying out multiple channels, analyzing their return, and finding out which channels work the best.”
With that in mind, here are 15 SaaS startup growth strategies to try this year. They’re low-risk, high-yield opportunities you can deploy today to start seeing results in no time.
Talk trigger is a phrase coined by bestselling author Jay Baer. It’s all about creating a fundamental element of your business that triggers positive word-of-mouth about your company and naturally generates growth.
Talk triggers typically have the following traits:
One example of a talk trigger is the chocolate chip cookies that DoubleTree hotels offer every customer at check-in. The hotels give out roughly 75,000 chocolate chip cookies every day. For his book, Baer surveyed 1,000 DoubleTree customers, and found that 34% of them had mentioned the cookie up to 60 days later. Further proof people love them? The countless copycat recipes posted all over the internet.
Talk triggers for a SaaS company can be as simple as Dropbox’s innovative referral program (more on this one later) or You Need A Budget’s (YNAB) weekly webinars.
“Try before you buy” is nothing new, but it’s expected even more these days. According to a new Accenture report, there are roughly 75 million millennials with an estimated annual buying power of $600 billion. It’s also estimated that by 2020 millennials will be spending $1.4 trillion annually.
The freemium pricing model is a great example of a millennial-friendly business deployment model because that generation (and subsequent ones) are used to a self-serve option. Gone are the days when you had to talk to a salesperson to decide if you liked something; today, almost anything you want to know can be found online. Free trials are just an extension of that.
Offering free trials is also a great way to keep a steady email marketing campaign going where you can educate prospects on the value of your software.
Another freemium model growth strategy is win-back offers for expired trials. This allows you to continue to reach out periodically to offer exclusive deals or extended free trials.
According to a joint report between Heinz Marketing and Influitive, less than one in four B2B organizations have a formal referral program. However, those that do enjoy significantly higher sales, lower acquisition costs, and a more cohesive relationship between their sales and marketing teams.
Setting up a referral marketing program for just about any industry is completely doable and an easy win for growth if you do it right. One notable example is Dropbox, now valued at $12 billion. They used a simple referral program to skyrocket from 100,000 to 4 million users in just 15 months. The referral offer gave 500 MB of bonus space for users and each friend they referred.
Digital note-taking app Evernote’s referral program also grew like wildfire. Evernote gained their first million users in just 446 days, due in part to their referral program. They offer a freemium product with basic features, and a premium product that’s feature-rich and provides more space.
The referral program highlighted the premium offering by giving points for each referral that could then be used as credits toward free months of Evernote premium. The referral program had the added bonus of highlighting the benefits of the premium account.
Fast-growing SaaS businesses like Sumo.com owe some of their scale to sales. Sumo, now focused on ecommerce and particularly Shopify stores, sends cold emails offering free consultation calls to potential leads. This gives the company more of an agency feel than the SaaS that it is.
That attention to customer service, plus persistence (they send multiple follow-ups) means it’s much easier to convert leads to paying SaaS customers when compared to less hands-on SaaS growth tactics like onboarding in the app.
The team at Close takes a similar approach. “We also train our sales team to personally follow up with every new trial user of our CRM product and offer them a quick consultation over the phone about how to best leverage our product,” explains Ryan Robinson, content marketer at Close. “We do this completely free of charge, and while it’s very hands-on compared to the way many SaaS companies work to convert users, we’ve found that this level of curated help and guidance creates not only happy customers, but brand advocates who are much more likely to champion usage of our product throughout their organizations and to other similar companies they know.”
DIY Marketers publisher Ivana Tyler believes that influencer marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do need to be strategic and smart about it. Use BuzzSumo.com or Brand24.com to find either influencers in your industry, or people who might be ideal users of your platform in other industries.
Once you have your list of influencers, use Voila Norbert’s email finder to track them down and reach out, and start building a relationship with them by following them on social media, sharing their content, and engaging with them on their social platform of choice.
“Once your brand is more familiar to the influencer, have the founder or CEO send a personal email to the influencer offering a personal demo and a free license for a year (either to them or as a giveaway to their community),” suggests Tyler. “Do not do an automated outreach blast, and do not have the email come from a PR firm – all of those will get ignored.”
Keep the relationship with your core group of influencers going by sharing their content and continuing the conversation. “Check in to see if they are using the platform and if not, why not,” Tyler continues. “See what the obstacles are and how you can help them become power users of your platform. Over time, you will see that these influencers will continue to reference you, give shout outs and recommendations.”
It’s 2019, which means you’re working on building content marketing and SEO to grow organic traffic – which also means your marketers are going crazy trying to figure out what content works and what to write next, according to Clwyd Probert, founder of digital agency Whitehat. The answer? Make them work in support.
“Existing customers are likely to ask the same questions as new customers would ask, and prospective customers/leads are likely to wonder as well,” Probert explains. “Figuring out what your customers worry about/are uncertain about allows you to answer it once and for all in a blogpost. This has the added benefit of appearing in Google when people search for ‘How to …'”
This strategy is straight from the playbook of Tim Soulo of Ahrefs. “If you ever ask a question on Ahrefs’ Intercom (support chat), chances are they’ll offer a link to a blog that covers both product feature and strategic/marketing thinking,” says Probert.
Early on in the buyer’s journey, it’s important to focus on the buyer, their problems and their goals. Probert confirms: “Follow an industry standard marketing blueprint and build your website around the idea of helping your potential clients, and you will become an authority in your sector.”
Content assets like white papers and ebooks offer a ton of lead-generating potential – but they are costly and time-consuming to produce. To get the most value from your content efforts, look into repurposing your content. “A single ebook can turn into a YouTube video, a blog series, a series of marketing emails, or an infographic,” says David Campbell of Right Inbox.
“Repurposing content allows you to connect with different audiences in the medium they prefer.”
If it’s time to take your business to the next level in 2019, consider adding a partner program to your mix. Having a well-designed partner program can yield highly-motivated partners, which in turn can lead to a 48% growth in overall business revenue, according to research from partner relationship and channel management solution Allbound.
The team at Allbound offers some tips for launching your first partner program. First, you’ll need to set a few guidelines to keep everyone on track:
What is your ideal partner’s target audience, and does it overlap too much with your own target audience? How does your ideal partner sell? Does your ideal partner have a product that works well with yours?
Partnerships are about giving and taking. When entering into any partnership, you’ll need to figure out what a fair trade is for their services. Not only that, you’ll need to define the results you are hoping to see from your partner program.
If you’re looking for a successful partner program, you’ll need to define what steps need to be completed in order to achieve the goals you’ve put in place. Your partners should be an extension of your sales team, so it’s helpful to communicate what you expect from them on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
If done incorrectly, having a partner program can be more work than owning a puppy. It’s important to set up your lines of communication right away. There are plenty of tools out there to help empower your partners with the content and resources they need to confidently sell.
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. It’s your first day on the job, what do you need to be successful? Content. Give your partners high-quality content that can help them answer questions and be proactive about their prospect’s needs.
Don’t expect your partner program to be perfect after the first week, month, or even year. Some of the biggest players in the game are still working on how to elevate their partner program. The key is, keep trying, keep testing, and keep moving forward.
Pierre de Braux of Spiralytics says one strategy he’s been seeing results with recently is PPC for non-promotional content like ebooks and whitepapers.
“Using mostly Facebook to ‘boost’ gated content, we’ve been able to drive a relatively large number of conversions at a very competitive CPC,” he explains. “Sure, landing page conversion rates for PPC don’t quite match those of organic users, but the sheer volume of new leads coming in is tough to ignore. That’s why this strategy works so well for young companies and startups trying to build brand awareness and supercharge growth.
“The end result is a solid (and cost-effective) list of leads who love your content. And that’s a great place to start nurturing.”
Dominique Jackson of Copper CRM says the top growth strategy his company implemented last year was to release their content in themed clusters. “Instead of publishing articles on random unrelated topics, we came up with broad themes and created 10-20 related articles for each,” he explains. “For instance, one theme was sales emails. We created around 20 in-depth articles covering topics like how to write an email after a trade show, or tips on writing open house follow-up emails.”
Not only did this allow them to reach highly-targeted audiences looking for very specific content, but it was very beneficial to their SEO efforts as well. “With this strategy, we were able to grow our organic blog traffic by over 200% in less than four months,” Jackson says.
Nissar Ahamed at Atomic Reach suggests one avenue to growth is reverse engineering calls-to-action. “Like many SaaS marketing teams, we relied on traditional CTAs such as ‘Book a Demo’ or ‘Talk to Sales’,” he explains. “However, we weren’t satisfied with our conversion rates. As our traffic continued to rise month over month, we had minimal conversions to show for it.”
He says that’s when Atomic decided to drop the best practices and improvise. They approached their customer success team and got some insights into the conversations they were having with customers during the onboarding process. What they learned changed their entire approach and drove massive growth.
“We uncovered that more often than not, customers were using us to perform content audits,” says Ahamed. “We reverse engineered our CTAs and frequently visited landing pages by doing some keyword research. We discovered that the keyword ‘Content Audit’ was being searched approximately 700 times a month. By incorporating the keyword into our CTAs and landing pages, our conversion rates tripled, and continue to drive leads for us at a steady rate.”
One strategy that worked like a charm (and is still a game-changer) for infographics software company Venngage was using infographics to build links to their landing pages and blog posts.
“We focused on creating viral infographics that visualized data and/or summarized our research findings, and pitched that to hundreds of publications,” explains Naser Alubaidi, Growth Marketer at Venngage. “We found that pitching a viral evergreen infographic was more effective than simply trying to get other blogs to link to our content.”
Turns out infographics are far from dead, and rightfully so. According to MIT, 90% of the information sent to our brain is visual.
Operating inside the SaaS industry, Matej Kukucka of LiveAgent is working heavily with review portals and incorporating them inside their daily tasks.
“According to the user feedback, which we are collecting after each upgrade from a trial account, we found out that a lot of customers made the decision after going through one of the review portals,” he explains. “That made us respect them, not hate them for reducing our revenue. We are offering our customers Amazon gift cards for leaving us an honest review, since we are aware that people don’t leave reviews on their own after the purchase, and we want to compensate them for their time.”
It’s a fact: our brains are hardwired for stories. That’s probably why customer storytelling is one of the most effective SaaS growth marketing strategies out there.
The 2017 content preferences report from Demand Gen found that 78% of B2B decision makers used customer stories and case studies to research their purchases. And a report by DocSend analyzed 34 million data points and found that customer case studies have an 83% reading completion rate compared to other sales content.
With the right kind of case studies, prospects can see themselves in your customers’ shoes and will trust your brand to help them solve their biggest challenges. They’re also a great way to maximize the ROI of your content strategy because they can be used at every stage of the sales funnel.
One of WordStream’s recent customer spotlights.
The team at Follow Up Boss knows this firsthand: “We’ve successfully leveraged firsthand stories from our biggest fans and power users into live webinars, blog posts, emails, and social media content to showcase the transformative nature of our product and convert more leads. Just make sure you know exactly who you’re targeting with your case studies and how you want to use them in your sales and marketing strategies.”
Business networking events and workshops are one of the most inexpensive ways to get the word out about your SaaS and make new contacts. “Get in touch with local and national business event organizers, breakfast meets, marketing events, and trade shows,” suggests Paul Granger of Website Promoter.
“Don’t be shy to get up and talk about your business, product or services. Remember to collect business cards and email addresses and see if you can get subscribers to your newsletters. Always follow up after events with people you’ve met to keep the relationship strong and see if you can work together on something mutually beneficial.”
There you have it – 15 SaaS startup growth strategies to try this year. Remember, even the slightest improvements in your growth and churn rates can have a profound impact on your startup’s success. Each advancement of your funnel means more customers using your product, more promoters, and a greater lifetime customer value. And that means higher revenue and more opportunities to invest back into your company – more cash for growth strategies, product development, and better customer service – and growth.
What strategies or tactics have had the biggest impact on your startup’s growth? Let us know in the comments below!
Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures, makers of Mailshake, Pick, VoilaNorbert, and Right Inbox. He has over 17 years of marketing experience and has led digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit, and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.
See other posts by Sujan Patel
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