There’s no shortage of unsubstantiated advice when it comes to how you should promote your SaaS business. I’m a firm believer in the power of experience and intuition, but I also believe in the power of empirical evidence. It’s in that blend of creativity and data-driven testing where powerful growth strategies develop.
Today, I wanted to lean heavy on the power of empirical data and examples as a method of helping to devise strategy. The facts that follow have been carefully selected to be as actionable as possible.
Put this information to use as you hone your SaaS marketing strategy.
1. A full 85 percent of SaaS companies currently invest in content marketing. Ninety-five percent of them also invest in customer support.
2. SalesForce uses a content marketing strategy that they refer to as V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles, measures). SalesForce advises SaaS companies to take the following steps when devising a content marketing strategy:
- Determine how content marketing fits into your broader strategy.
- Determine what elements relevant to this strategy can be tracked and measured, and which can’t.
- Develop a strategy for distributing your content.
- Consider the role of ROI when evaluating which strategies work, and which do not, especially when you consider scaling a strategy.
- Use pilot campaigns to test your ideas before investing heavily in a potentially flawed strategy.
3. Forty-seven percent of buyers look at between three and five pieces of content before talking to a sales representative.
4. Growth Hackers was able to grow their user base from 90,000 monthly active users to 152,000. They were able to achieve this growth by investing in what they call “high tempo testing,” a method of testing growth strategies quickly and effectively, and putting them to use. Their advice on high tempo testing is to:
- Involving more people in the process of coming up with growth experiments, including people outside of the marketing department, such as interns, engineers, salespeople, and support. They even reached outside of their own company to advisors and friends. When the flow of ideas started to slow, they added a leaderboard, and they currently test roughly 2 to 3 tactics each week.
- Prioritize which ideas to test using what they call an “ICE” score, for impact on growth, confidence in success, and ease of implementation. By scoring their ideas in this fashion, there was no dispute over which idea to test next.
- Keeping the tempo high. At first, they often found that they were testing big ideas that began to bog down their ability to test new ideas. They found that their growth would slow every time their tempo slowed, indicating that the number of ideas being tested was the strongest factor influencing growth, as opposed to the strength of individual ideas. To manage this, they instituted a weekly “growth master” meeting to reevaluate and reprioritize which growth strategies to test and which to cut, as well as to plan for the week ahead and make a habit of setting realistic goals.
- Learning from the tests. Completed experiments were always stored in a database for later analysis. This allowed them to determine which types of strategies were proving to be most effective, and prevented them from running identical tests twice.
- Finally, they found that analyzing the results was becoming a bottleneck, so they created a unique role within the company for performing analysis of previous experiments.
5. Sixty-eight percent of people spend time online reading about brands that they are interested in, and 80 percent of people appreciate brands that produce content to help them learn more. That’s not all. Eighty-two percent of customers have more positive feelings about a company after reading their content, 70 percent feel closer to brands that use content marketing, and 78 percent perceive themselves to be in a relationship with a company if they consume their content.
6. Slack is currently the fastest growing SaaS company of all time. They convert trial users to customers with a 30 percent conversion rate, have gone from a valuation of $0 to $4 billion in only four years, and they add $1 million in new contacts every 11 days. Here is how Sumo argues that they did it:
- Involve as many users as possible while developing the product. In their case, it took 14 months of testing, and they involved as many high profile contacts as possible.
- Come up with a strong hook for the SaaS that will gain media attention. In this case, their hook was that they were setting out to be the “email killer.”
- Slack’s social media and video marketing is focused almost single-heartedly on creating a curiosity gap and then encouraging users to click through. Their Facebook header points to their podcast. YouTube is their highest social traffic referral source, and their best performing video is an ad that creates curiosity and posts a nondescript link that encourages users to click through to satisfy their curiousity. The ad puts the focus on what it helps teams accomplish without explicitly stating what Slack does.
- They sponsored several Podcasts, dropped the ones that weren’t performing, then developed their own Podcast audiences. They put a heavy focus on creating a podcast with a distinct personality, described as “This American Life meets Office Space meets Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
- Pick up listings in as many review sites as possible by encouraging users to leave reviews in your communications.
- Trello picks up 200,000 views from integrations with other SaaS applications, and this is where the majority of its referral traffic comes from. Strategic integrations with platforms that are related to your target audience can be an important source of growth.
- Use Medium as a source of referral traffic, in particular by importing your user base from social media platforms and marketing to them.
- Creating media stunts, such as writing an open letter to Microsoft and publishing it as an ad in the New York Times, then publishing it to Medium.
- Their landing pages break down very quickly and visually how the SaaS will work for them, with a great deal of visual metaphors, big subheadings, and a whole lot of whitespace.
- Product integration pages serve as a source of broader keywords that also have high conversion rates.
- They created a viral invite loop that makes it very easy for people to invite others.
- A fair pricing strategy that only charges for active use.
- Use an excellent onboarding process that is not excessively salesy.
7. If a company invests in producing at least 16 blog posts per month, the company can expect to receive three and a half times more traffic than companies who publish between zero and four blog posts each month.
8. New Relic was able to grow 69 percent in a single quarter, to $29 million. This application performance management company counts small startups, fortune 500 companies, and governments among its customers. How did they do it?
- They focused on a specific solution, working in private beta with the Rails community to develop an SaaS that suited their precise needs.
- They were first to market with an application performance management solution offered as an SaaS, with a clear and defined value for the product to be an SaaS instead of another solution.
- By choosing the Ruby on Rails community specifically, they were able to target a community where competition was limited and interest was high.
- New Relic decided to focus on selling themselves from the bottom up, earning traction with developers instead of with IT leadership. This allowed them to focus on building a passionate following of users who loved the product and would encourage use within their companies.
- The freemium model was still a relatively new approach at the time, particularly since no SaaS competitors existed in the industry. Choosing an industry where this is still true would be the obvious best choice, but where that isn’t possible, taking similar steps to value usage over sales can be an important differentiator.
- They picked up press working with Healthcare.gov, drawing attention to the importance of working publicly with organizations to prove value.
- Their marketing philosophy is:
- Try It
- You’ll Love It
- Complete Step 1 to enjoy Step 2
9. Leads that come in as a result of content marketing, as opposed to other methods, tend to spend more. Average sale prices are approximately 20 percent higher for content marketing leads than others.
10. Airbnb was a failing startup not long before it became a billion dollar company. They serve as a lesson in the values of tenacity and reinvention.
- In 2009, Airbnb was making only $200 a week, and the team was maxing out its credit cards.
- One of the most important lessons from their story is that it’s okay to try things that don’t scale in order to build momentum. After realizing that poor photos were stalling the site, Paul Graham decided to travel New York with a nice (rented) camera, take photos with customers, and add them to the site. This doubled their revenue.
- Airbnb has since evolved into a company that recognizes it’s not always possible to know what might scale, or how unscalable projects can teach you things about your business. The company now encourages new employees to ship something on their first day.
11. In just three years, Intercom has grown from $1 million in revenue to a staggering $50 million, making it one of the fastest growing startups in Silicon Valley today. Here’s how their growth strategy works:
- The differentiating feature of Intercom’s marketing strategy has been to specifically target the jobs it is being hired to fulfill, instead of buyer personas.
- Intercom identified five job packages that they target, each of them developed as a result of conversations they have had with customers and prospects and any other feedback they were able to obtain.
- For each job package, they use a messaging guide that they use to develop each landing page. The messaging guide encourages those developing the landing page to ask questions like “what problem are we solving?” and “why would people hire Intercom for this job?”
- Each landing page is designed to incorporate the messaging in the most visual way possible, in addition to addressing it more explicitly in text form.
- Visual messaging is also used to present how using Intercom fixes the problem.
- Each landing page builds credibility with visitors by displaying the logos of trusted brands that are using Intercom.
- Landing pages are tested using Google Analytics, Inspectlet, and Optimizely.
- This strategy has allowed Intercom to triple its top-of-funnel traffic as well as achieve a high conversion rate of 5 percent.
12. BrightGuage was able to increase its customer base by 87 percent and its revenue by 152 percent by switching to an inbound marketing approach. Here’s how they did it.
- Coinciding with a product relaunch that introduced a new version of their SaaS, they began investing in an inbound marketing strategy to assure a more steady flow of leads.
- They introduced new lead forms based on more explicit customer personas, which they had never fully developed before.
- The lead forms asked questions that helped them gain a better understanding of their audience, such as “What types of metrics are you interested in?”
- In response to this information, they developed more personalized marketing automation and sales outreach strategies and processes.
- As part of their marketing automation strategy, a trigger was added to promote leads to the sales team when they requested a product demonstration.
- They invested in a swift sales response time of only 15 to 20 minutes.
- As a result of these actions, in addition to the increase in customer base and revenue discussed above, they cut monthly customer drop-outs by 55 percent, boosting lifetime value.
13. Evernote went from nearly going out of business to gaining 75 million users and no shortage of attention from Venture Capitalists. How did they do it?
- It would be a mistake to ignore the role luck played in the company’s survival. They got in early, when apps were still a new thing and competition was sparse, driving home just how important it is for brands to capitalize on new opportunities as soon as they arise, not later.
- Likewise, Evernote was one of the first SaaS companies to leverage the freemium model. Once again, this is an example of a company surviving by capitalizing on networking effects using new strategies that other companies were not yet widely using. Freemium is nothing revolutionary today, but Evernote’s use of it in the early days exemplifies the importance of truly understanding new technologies and their cultural implications.
- Evernote takes brand advocacy to a whole new level, giving some of their customers the literal title of “ambassador.” Meetups are also held with these ambassadors to ensure that Evernote is part of a conversation, not a monologue.
- They have not rested on their laurels and instead continue to keep putting out new features as well as new apps, some of them entirely free, as a way of maintaining brand relevance and continuing to earn attention. In short, they have approached app development itself as a form of marketing.
14. Ometria, a UK-based predictive analytics and marketing platform built for retailers, grew their revenue 60 percent in a year, on top of increasing their number of leads by 558 percent and their website traffic by 368 percent. Here’s how they pulled it off:
- They developed a blogging strategy to target audiences at the top of the funnel.
- They put the focus on topics that would strongly resonate with their target audience in very specific ways, such as “How to Calculate Customer Lifetime Value In E-Commerce.” Topics like these tend to resonate very well because of their immediate practical value and lack of competition.
- They placed calls to action at the end of their blog posts that were highly relevant in the context of the blog post. The calls to action were for lead magnets such as a “Customer Lifecycle Marketing Kit.” This kit includes not just an e-book, but a cheat-sheet poster and an Excel template. By focusing on creating a highly valuable, extremely practical lead magnet, they were able to dramatically increase signups.
- They incorporated social media inboxes, custom workflows, and analytics tools in order to develop a coherent process for their marketing strategy that is consistently followed.
15. Stripe’s story is one of preposterous success. The online payment processor is currently valued at 9.2 billion with a “b” dollars, an actual competitor for PayPal. How was such a ridiculous success story possible?
- As is often the case, a large portion of the marketing was built into the product and its unique selling proposition. Stripe was built to address the cumbersome interfaces that other payment processors on the market had failed to address. Stripe had the singular vision of making it easy for E-Commerce businesses to accept payments, a vision that would not just serve markets, but open up new ones for small businesses trying to get started.
- More specifically, Stripe addressed to primary issues with other payment processors, specifically the fact that PayPal required customers to leave the E-Commerce site, creating a clunky unbranded experience for customers, and that the majority of payment processors had extremely complicated backends that were developed with sysadmins in mind, rather than small businesses with limited tech experience.
- The founders of Stripe were close to their customer base. They came from a community of startups and had close access to the people who would become their core users. By making the job easier for other startups, they were able to make a name for themselves very quickly.
- Stripe remains in constant development, adding new features, adding support for more languages, and in general serving a greater variety of product tiers with more varied levels of support.
16. Wistia, a video hosting platform, has made the journey from nothing to a 100 employee company with $1.6 million in funding, and more importantly, $12 million in annual recurring revenue. Here are some of the things they’ve done to achieve that.
- Wistia is a video hosting platform that focusses on selling to video marketers, so it’s only natural that video marketing would play a prominent place in their marketing strategy. Meta-marketing like this is highly effective for SaaS companies that target marketers as their customer base. There’s a lesson here even for SaaS companies that don’t target marketers, though; nothing proves the value of a product more than seeing its execution in the wild.
- Wistia’s video marketing approach is very much an inbound marketing approach, featuring a learning center that is about much more than how to use Wistia. The learning center features professionally produced videos on video production, strategy, concept development, and more general marketing concepts.
- Each video ends with a call to action inviting the viewer to sign up to receive notifications when new videos are published. They have made the bold choice of making all of the videos publicly available rather than using them as lead magnets, betting that the added exposure at the top of the funnel is worth the reduced incentive to sign up at the bottom of the funnel. This seems to be working for them, since the value proposition of being notified when new videos comes out seems to have been enough for them.
- Wistia has used their platform to build a solid community of people asking and answering questions. Wistia has stayed very active in responding to these comments, a move that has set them apart from many others in the industry.
17. Contently has the distinction of making the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies for the third year in a row, and it is at the top of its market segment, which deals in connecting content freelancers and brands. It has a well-deserved reputation in the industry for pulling in big names like Pepsi, GE, and American Express, and it has earned a very positive brand reputation by compensating freelancers much more fairly than competitors. How?
- Much like Wistia, Contently is a working example of precisely the market concept it is trying to sell. Contently connects freelancers with publishers for content marketing on the premise that content marketing is a valuable approach. Contently’s marketing is built primarily on a content marketing strategy. They are seen as a trusted resource for information and have built solid relationships with their audience in exactly the way that they preach.
- Contently is also very much an example of building the marketing into the product. The success of the company relies on the quality of their freelancers, and they have attracted the best freelancers by offering the most rewarding payments.
- They did so by employing a unique payment structure. Instead of offering traditional revenue sharing with writers, contently licenses its marketplace software with publishers. This approach gives publishers access to the entire network of freelancers, and allows writers to get connected with work for hire without needing to manage this process themselves. By taking a large portion of the financial stress out of the freelancer’s job, they have accomplished one of the most important features of the modern marketing approach: attracting a large, vocal, satisfied community.
18. Glofox is a unique SaaS that targets gyms and fitness studios. Investing in an inbound marketing strategy allowed them to boost leads by 74 percent, web traffic 6-fold, and customers 4-fold. Here’s how:
- It would be misleading to say that Glofox’s performance was poor before investing in inbound marketing. Growth performance was very good, but they were using a direct sales approach and the cost of acquisition was very high. Glofox’s first good move was recognizing that this approach was not scalable and recognizing the need to try something else in order to move to the next step, after investing the time to hone their product and get it right.
- They began by setting up a blog, creating landing pages targeting their ideal personas, and setting up a social inbox to prepare themselves for brand mentions.
- They developed 4 primary personas to target with their new inbound marketing strategy.
- They developed a process for consistent content output, producing blog posts on a consistent basis, podcasting weekly, and developing a series of carefully targeted e-books to act as lead magnets that would incentivize email list signups.
- Marketing automation was implemented to automatically segment their leads into personalized workflows based on their interactions with their site and other assets, with a mind for where they were in the sales funnel.
- They integrated their sales team with their marketing automation platform, notifying the sales team whenever leads hit certain triggers (such as visiting a specific page) that indicated the leads were “warm” enough for contact. This dramatically improved the success of their sales staff efforts.
- In addition to the growth in leads, traffic, and revenue discussed above, these efforts led to 50 percent cut in sales acquisition costs and a 16 percent month-to-month growth in revenue.
19. Estimating HipChat’s financial success is difficult since it is a subsidiary of the larger Atlassian, but estimates in the range of $59 million in revenue can be justified. No matter where HipChat stands financially, there’s no doubting it is a major competitor for Slack. In industries like these (social media, messaging), we usually see only one successful company for each basic idea. Snapchat has no real competition, neither does Facebook, neither does Instagram. How was HipChat able to earn attention with Slack in the market? This one has a very interesting origin story.
- HipChat’s marketing story begins in a very interesting place: billboards. They managed to make the old new again by tying it to internet culture, and they did so in a way that leveraged relatively new marketing principles like “the information gap.” Putting himself in the billboard’s position, CEO Pete Curley came to the conclusion that there must be circumstances where a buyer backs out and the billboard is left vacant. He asked a CBS outdoor rep to notify him if a situation like this ever happened, and after a few weeks he landed a billboard placement for $7,000, tens of thousands of dollars less than the market value.
- Once they had the space, HipChat took an interesting risk with the billboard ad. Rather than something more traditional, they leveraged geek culture and placed a meme instead, the “Y-U-NO” guy from Rage Comics. Next to the rage comic character was the simple plain text “Y U NO USE HIPCHAT?”
- The placement was an epic success. Pictures of the billboard went viral on Twitter, Tumblr, FAIL blog (as a WIN), and TechCrunch. Search traffic for HipChat boosted 300 percent, and the company went from three guys to a full-fledged small business. Shortly after, it was acquired by Atlassian. The price of the deal isn’t disclosed, but the co-founders almost certainly received a hefty payout.
20. Facebook bought WhatsApp for an eye-popping $22 billion. Purchases like that don’t happen without an incredible marketing strategy as an important part of the base product. Here’s how they did it.
- Like so many other case studies in this list, the key to marketing WhatsApp was in the product premise. It was a company with a singular mission, to allow people to message each other at limited cost and with no ads. No ads is an enormous unique selling proposition in an industry sector where virtually every brand’s success hinges on its primary users being the product, not the customer.
- Knowing that users simply would not adopt the messaging app if they had to pay for it to begin with (the primary reason all social media and messaging competitors were ad-based), WhatsApp made a bold decision: the app would be free for a year and only $0.99 per year after that. While freemium products and free trials were nothing new at this point, this was taking it to a whole new level, and doing so in a segment of the market where it simply had never been tried.
- The company had the sense of mind to pivot when they needed to. Originally, the product was just going to be an app that let others know you couldn’t be reached by phone. When they realized the idea wasn’t taking off, they changed direction appropriately. Perhaps more importantly, they leveraged new technologies as soon as they arrived, capitalizing on push notifications shortly after their invention.
- While price and USP are typically separate, they are inseparable for WhatsApp, since its price was so much cheaper than texting in many areas across the world.
- WhatsApp brought other distinctive features to the table, such as the ability to incorporate emojis into messages in a way that wasn’t possible, or at least easy, for a very large portion of the world for a very long time. It’s easy to forget that now that messaging has changed so much, but WhatsApp was one of the first to market.
- WhatsApp also beat Facebook to the game because they recognized that it was the cellphone that was in everybody’s pocket at all times, not the desktop which, again, it’s easy to forget was Facebook’s primary location at the time.
- While Facebook now owns WhatsApp, it’s also important to recognize just how important privacy was as a differentiating factor for WhatsApp when it launched. The app’s ad-free nature was actually quite revolutionary at the time.
Never underestimate the value of trends and examples. What you’ve learned above will help you on your journey as you grow your business and expand your reach. Start putting a process in place and watch those numbers grow.