Tap that SaaS; 7 Growth Tips Your SaaS Startup Needs

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Dead simple tactics to tap your SaaS market, with detailed examples


You want growth?

You want quick and actionable tactics to get you traffic, subscribers, sign-ups and paying customers?

These are 7 of the exact same tactics I use for my SaaS clients when I’m setting up a content marketing campaign. They are some of the most effective tactics that I’ve used.

Given that they are only “tactics” you should make sure that you are toning them to your unique voice, with your own unique style and brand approach.

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

1. Build your subscriber list using “Guides

Create ebooks, worksheets, cheat sheets, templates, themes, interactive guides, or other valuable stuff that aligns with your customer’s core needs. Require an email sign-up to download or access them. Simple.

Wrap your resources around your customer’s pain points.

AppSumo did this perfectly with their “Validation Cheat Sheet” to help their users validate their business ideas quickly. The pain point was wrapped around the hesitation to validate, based on the notion that they did not know what questions to ask or what to measure. It was simple for Noah Kagan to put together this cheat sheet and wrap an email sign-up around it. He even says that this was specifically one of the most effective tactics they used to induce growth for their email list.

AppSumo’s main target is their email subscriber list of over ~750,000 subscribers, from whom they receive a 15-30% click through rate.

Think about that for a moment.

When they have something new to promote they drop an email and have an influx of anywhere from 112,500 to 225,000 impressions. That’s tremendous. Imagine having that kind of force to play with as a source of traffic and amplification for future content. This is why you need to build an email subscriber list now, and creating guides is a beautiful tactic to attract those subscribers quickly.

How do you wrap in the email subscribe?

Like this ->

The highlights:

  1. Clear call to action, entices clicks
  2. Says “Free” as an age-old incentive
  3. Says what it is, a “Validation Cheat Sheet” — twice
  4. Says what is included and how it will benefit you

This is how you build your subscriber list using guides.

2. Use Targeted Blogging to Build an Audience

Otherwise known as “Blogging for business” but really just basic content marketing.

What’s the difference between “targeted” blogging and “every-day” blogging? You have a defined audience and target in mind, and you are speaking in a medium that is native to that defined audience. You have an objective and a topic that you have honed your approach around to directly attract the customers you want to sign up.

This may sound a bit odd, so let me explain with an example.

Copyblogger teaches people to be better writers. People come to them to improve their writing, get better traffic to their blogs and attract more shares with their written work. That’s what they’re known for. What do they make their money from? Selling WordPress themes, hosting services, plugins, and guides to those customers. They target subjects that will ignite the attention of their target customer — people who want to improve their writing — but through that build a following with value and trust for their products (targeted at those same writers).

As a content marketing consultant if I wrote about content marketing on an industry blog it might get me some notoriety within the industry, which would be great — but it wouldn’t make me much money. What would make me money is writing about how to improve your marketing to a bunch of entrepreneurs, because some will want to know more. See what I mean? It’s a fine line difference.

The goal here is to simply give value to your target audience where they are interested. Not just in what you offer, don’t just talk about features. Talk about what matters to them. Buffer — a social media management tool — does a great job with this for productivity. Buffer understands that their customer’s key concern and interest is optimizing their time and efficiency, and using science to prove it. So Buffer’s content team writes incredible posts about scientific studies to improve other areas of their lives, to be more productive in many areas, and often about how to improve their social media marketing as well.

It’s rather simple — but if you don’t think enough about it consciously and define your voice, audience, and the story for that audience it won’t connect and you will fail.

3. Create Interesting Infographics

Use data that is unique to you to create something interesting.

Like the “11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures” from Maptia. Okay, so this isn’t a typical “infographic” in it’s common “single image” form — but it is highly visually based, with a different image for each point. This is extremely interesting information, especially to Maptia’s target audience of traveling adventurers.

One of the words from the infographic

The goal here is social shares and inspiration through visual understanding. Also links, sweet, track-back links.

In this case there really is no “embed this” but typically you would have an embed box with a link that pointed back to your original page that you posted the infographic to. This way every time someone embedded the infographic in their post it would link back to you. If it’s a well positioned and interesting infographic, this could mean thousands of links from hundreds of domains. That looks good on search engines, and simply gets you more referral traffic. This specific infographic-focused post has over 57,000 social shares with links from the Huffington Post and Lifehacker.

With that many shares I doubt Maptia is experiencing much waldeinsamkeit.

4. Build a mob

Facilitate a large community of people excited to help each-other or otherwise engage. This will act as a subliminal force to fuel your own referral marketing.

I’ve written on this pretty extensively but basically you need to build a community around your business. Hubspot & Moz (well really Dharmesh Shah and Rand Fishkin) worked together to build the Inbound.org community. This is a place where inbound marketers could share information on email marketing, SEO, content marketing, CRO, branding or whatever else. This is really just to better the community, but also works as a user-generated source of brand awareness and referral traffic for both sources.

Y Combinator did this exact thing with Hacker News which was actually the inspiration behind inbound.org. Y Combinator, being a seed accelerator gained a massive amount of notoriety in the hacker community just by simply giving them a medium to share interesting information with each-other. Simple up and down-voting functionality makes it completely user-generated and self-replicates their traffic.

A community doesn’t have to be an up-and-down voting site either, it could be a number of things. It could be as simple as polarizing your audience as a visionary, as Steve Jobs did with his rebels.

Basecamp has done a great job of this, building a cult-like following around their SaaS product while they were 37signals by writing a few books like Rework and Remote driven by their belief systems. Also they gained a massive amount of credibility by building “Rails” for the very involved Ruby community, while they were simply using it to build their own tool, Basecamp. 37signals already had quite a bit of notoriety in the web design field before building Basecamp, so their initial growth of the product was bolstered by their already established reputation and community.

The key here is to build a following wherever it makes the most sense for you. Build a community for your company. With Bidsketch, their favored social channel and source of community is Twitter. They engage with their followers and have built a strong following by means of engagement and value. Buffer’s main community is their blog, where they wrap everyone in with incredible content, and then follow up with comments and engagements.

Build where it makes sense for you.

5. Integrate with other services

The fastest way to grow your audience is to adopt someone else’s.

Build an API for your business that you can use to connect to others, and that businesses can license to integrate with you.

Ruben Gamez, the founder of Bidsketch has said how influential this has been for his business growth. The day Bidsketch’s integration with FreshBooks went live was the #1 most signups he had to date. Bidsketch converted more sign-ups that day than the past 30 days combined.

These are some key take-aways from what Bidsketch experienced while integrating with Salesforce, Basecamp, Harvest and FreshBooks:

  1. Make sure it will benefit your customers significantly, and it’s something they’ve asked for.
  2. Make sure it will help your marketing efforts. Do they have a large user-base or subscriber list? Will they promote their integration with you?
  3. Make it easy for them when you approach them for an integration. Do the groundwork for them.
  4. Give them the understanding of a win-win benefit. Show them how it will help their customers, let them know how you will promote the integration.
  5. Don’t be afraid to mention their competitors if they’re hesitant to integrate.
  6. Make a landing page that shows the virtues of using your service based on this integration.

Here’s an example of Bidsketch’s landing page for their FreshBooks integration:

Bidsketch + FreshBooks

This landing page is still the highest converting page on Bidsketch’s site. Here is the beauty of this landing page, and what makes it so successful:

  1. It gives people trust and value. Understanding that they can use it with their own invoicing system makes signing up seem obvious.
  2. Simple sentence to exploit the benefits — “FreshBooks integration lets you turn persuasive proposals into paying clients”
  3. Highlights of what the integration lets you do.
  4. A simple explanation of what Bidsketch itself is, for people who are coming to the site from FreshBooks.
  5. A quick video explanation.

Obviously powerful integration, and perfectly executed marketing. This is one of many reasons why integrations can be so influential, especially for early stage startups trying to establish notoriety. A well established brand can help your reputation tremendously.

6. Build Referral Programs

Building “referral programs” is a great way to get traffic from businesses in your vertical while also providing great value to your customers. If you can contact a business and offer to give a % off of your product to their customers if they do the same for you, you can create a basic affiliate relationship and acquire access to a potentially huge audience that would be directly interested in your services.

This can be done on a B2B level or a B2C level.

Again, the best way to build an audience is to adopt someone else’s audience.

Buffer understands this well, and perfectly presents their integrations with some of the most widely used apps in their vertical. Each integration has a great use-case to their customers. It’s simple, it’s straight-forward, and every integration also helps Buffer. Buffer gets views from the Chrome App Store, from IFTTT’s possible “recipe” options, and from Feedly’s sharing. The list goes on, but this is an obvious B2C blowout for Buffer.

Buffer’s “Extras”

Moz uses their “Perks” page to build great B2B benefits for their customers. Moz negotiated discounts with businesses in their vertical to give % off of plans for their paying customers for other services that they know their customers use, or should use. This built relationships with these businesses that lead to reciprocal sign-ups from their respective audiences. Also when you’re a customer and you get a free benefit, you just feel awesome. Make your customers feel awesome.

Moz’s “Perks”

There are plenty more examples, but essentially the answer is to find benefits for your customers, and negotiate a deal with companies that could help your customers and could bring you customers.

7. Build Free Stand-alone Tools

This is pretty costly, so if you’re just starting out this might be a tough pill to swallow. If you have some capital though, this is one of the best ways to spend it. Build tools that your customers will love and give it away for free. Either put a kick-back link to your site on the tool, or host it on your own sub-domain, then benefit from the amount of people using your free tool and discovering you in the process.

Neil Patel from Quicksprout knows that people reading his blog want to learn how to improve their site, so he took it a step further and created an in-depth analyzer that will tell them exactly what they need to do to get quick results for their site immediately. Now when you go to Quicksprout’s website you see a splash page like this:

Quicksprout’s Homepage

You’re obviously intrigued if you’re looking to get more visitors, and Neil has a huge amount of users that put in their URL to be analyzed. When you put in your URL you will see an in-depth analysis that breaks down potential SEO improvements you could make on your site. Like this:

Quicksprout Analysis

You can segment the information for competitor analysis, social media improvements or SEO improvements you can make, and what your site’s current grade is for all of these efforts. These are all topics that Neil focuses on in his blog.

Essentially Neil Patel just knows his audience, and knows what they could really benefit from. He built this to help his users, and also as a way to build his own referral traffic through inbound links, social shares, and email subscriptions to Quicksprout. You can get a full PDF report at the end of this analysis to improve your site if you want, and Neil gets another subscriber to his email list. It’s a win, win and will grow your audience just by solving their needs. For a bit more information on this you could see his blog post he also wrote about it which alone got 1,930 social shares.

There are plenty of other tactics to build your SaaS product’s audience, but these are 7 of my favorites that I’ve directly seen grow businesses tremendously. So how can you help your customers?

What guides can you write?

What integrations can you make?

What tools can you build?


Get started, tap that SaaS.

by Sean Smith

Sean Smith is a content marketer and SEO consultant, having worked with brands like Best Western, Holiday Inn, MFG, Bidsketch & Olo to boost revenue through clever content and organic search. Sean is Co-Founder @ Simpletiger 

This Post was first published on Medium on 8th April 2014

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