SaaS Growth Strategies That Work in 2021 – with Aaron Krall, Sujan Patel and Natalie Luneva
What SaaS Growth strategies work best in 2021? Jason Lemkin mentioned in his recent LinkedIn post that GoDaddy, which makes 4 billion dollars (!) in ARR, spent $439,000,000 (!) on marketing in 2020. So even if you have a household brand that goes back to the times before SaaS was cool (1997), marketing is a must. The problem is if you can relate to John Wanamaker ‘s famous quote (“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”) though.
Obviously, as a SaaS business, you don’t want to waste money on outdoor advertising or ineffective display/ social media ads. What are the best SaaS growth strategies for 2021, according to SaaS leaders who succeeded in using them? Check them out below!
Table of Contents: SaaS Growth Strategies 2021
- Product-Led Growth
- Lifecycle Marketing
- Personalized In-App Experiences
- Product Marketing
- Viral Loops
- Affiliate Marketing
TL;DR – What Growth Strategies Should SaaS Employ in 2021?
- In-app marketing is a very effective medium of reaching your goals without being invasive.
- In-app marketing can include notifications and tooltips to guide users to build habits or use a feature – thus improve user activation, engagement and feature adoption. Speaking of adoption:
- Lifecycle marketing is a great strategy for catering to customers focusing on the unique aspects of each stage of the life cycle. The six stages of a SaaS Customer Lifecycle include Awareness, Conversion, Purchase, Activation, Renewal, and Referral.
- Date-driven product marketing calls for collecting user data and personalizing in-app user experience based on that data.
- Want your product to drive your growth? Provide and constantly improve self-serve customer support.
- Use BOFU content to highlight what your product is, how it works, and most importantly, how it stands out from the rest.
- Host an informative webinar keeping it relevant to your product and promote your products effectively.
- Utilize the viral loops to gain exponential growth via word-of-mouth.
- If your product doesn’t have a viral coefficient, opt for affiliate marketing through industry influencers and leaders.
SaaS Growth Strategy #1: Product-Led Growth
As the Chief Sumo of Sumo Group, Noah Kagan, says, “Identify marketing channels that are already working for you right now and look for ways to growth hack them to a whole new level.”
If you have paying customers, the marketing channel that is clearly working for you and that (if you’re like most SaaS companies) you’re underutilizing – is your product.
In the product-led era, it’s your product itself that is your most important growth channel. A free trial or a freemium account gives you an opportunity to give your users a taste of your (hopefully great!) product experience and to turn your MQLs into Prodcut Qualified Leads.
To achieve product-led growth, you should use in-app marketing to ‘sell’ the users on your product at every step of their user journey – even after they have converted into paying clients.
Think wowing them by helping them to achieve their goal really fast (get the ‘job’ they came for done – in line with the Job-To-Be-Done framework) at the activation stage, then helping them discover more and more value through secondary features at the basic user stage (pushing them to become an advanced user) and then finally getting them to upgrade to a higher plan by crafting an irresistible offer. That way you will not only convert more free users to paid, but also achieve higher retention and expansion revenue.
There are a few efficient ways to utilize in-app marketing:
Use the welcome screen to learn more about your users and personalize your communication
Want to create welcome screens with embedded microsurveys without coding? Let us show you how!
We talked at length about the power of the welcome screen in this post, but in a nutshell:
- a welcome screen allows you not only to greet the new user, but also to learn more about your users (role, goals, use case), and then use this information to customize the subsequent communication with them
- use it to personalize their user journey and help them achieve their goals faster
Guide the user with tooltips
Want to create similar tooltips without coding inside your product? Let us show you how!
Tooltips are an excellent example of a UI-element that help both your user and yourself to achieve your goals.
When used in onboarding, they point users in the right direction, explain less obvious features or guide them step-by-step towards getting their job done (when you get them to interact with your tool between the tooltips, we call this sequence an interactive walkthrough).
The tooltip you see above urges the user to improve their results by using A/B testing (an advanced feature of Userpilot). It’s a win-win – the user gets a better activation rate, and we get a more engaged, and advanced user.
Use splash pages to build a relationship
Whenever you need to buy time to load a feature (or download a file – like in the case of wetransfer) – your user is getting bored and frustrated.
Why not use this time to actually defuse the frustration of waiting and show your user something useful, interesting, or entertaining?
A splash page is an excellent place to do so. The full-screen pop-up appears while the user is using an app or the loading page allow you to display anything (keep it short though to make sure the user can actually read it within the loading time!)
Use in-app modals to drive sales or subscriptions
In-app modals are overlays that are intrusive – the users have to dismiss them to proceed with whatever they were doing before you interrupted them.
But if used properly (and timely!), modals can be a great tool to push your users down their user journey and even drive sales.
Here’s how Duolingo, a popular language-learning app, offers a free trial of its paid version Duolingo Plus. The modal consists of an information slideshow about its premium features and a CTA to opt-in for the free trial. The user either has to opt for the trial or has to dismiss the modal.
If you are looking to provide your users with a great personalized in-app experience, Userpilot is the perfect solution for you. Get a demo now to see how you can use code-free modals and slideouts inside your app to increase growth metrics at every stage of the user journey.
A less intrusive way to push your user to do something while going about their business inside your app is by using a slideout. Slideouts are like modals – but they usually appear (”slide out”) from the bottom-right side of the screen – thus not interrupting the user’s flow completely.
Here, the slideout invites the user to check out a new feature (the resource center).
You can also use slideouts to promote e.g. your user webinars.
To use slideouts effectively you need to be contextual: when your user is doing something that indicates he may be interested in your webinar or upgrading to a higher plan to get access to a relevant feature. Hubspot provided a great example of this:
When Hubspot “noticed” the user (yours truly) was copying and pasting emails instead of using saved email templates (a premium feature, by the way!) they showed us this slideout to encourage us to use the productivity feature (and to upgrade).
You can easily do the same – analyse your user behaviour, segment them accordingly, and then display the right message in a slideout at exactly the right time – without coding with Userpilot.
SaaS Growth Strategy #2: Lifecycle Marketing
SaaS customer journey is evolving. This is why it makes more sense to opt for Lifecycle marketing to ensure that individual users are engaged in every step of the customer journey.
Hubspot’s six stages of a SaaS Customer Lifecycle includes Awareness, Conversion, Purchase, Activation, Renewal, and Referral. Lifecycle marketing involves catering to customers at each stage of the life cycle.
You can use in-app marketing to deliver lifecycle marketing of course: so strategies 1 & 2 are perfectly compatible.
In this stage, consumers become aware of a problem that needs to be solved. They search for relevant solutions.
You need to be there when they are searching.
Figure out what keywords they are using when looking for a solution to their pain points. Figure out what “jobs” they want to get done with your product.
Then – write helpful content optimized for the exact keywords and jobs to be done with your product. Make sure the content is genuinely helpful – ranking for a keyword is one thing, and getting people to actually read and think about your content is another. As the CEO at CovertKit, Nathan Barry, puts it, “If step one in building an audience is to create great content, step two is to endure long enough to get noticed.”
Don’t fall into the SEO-pasta trap. Always write for people, not for search engines.
Also – don’t be discouraged if your SEO content efforts don’t take off in three months. It takes time (usually about a year) to generate awareness of your product to the right audience.
In the conversion stage, the user is preparing to take steps towards getting involved with your brand. Here, you need to clarify why your offer is the best from all the options they are considering and what they are missing out on.
As Natalie Luneva, founder of SaaS Boss community, pointed out, “You need to associate your product and what you are doing to your prospects. You need to make sure that you can tie your product as the solution to their pain and challenges.”
Make an effort to reach the right audience at this stage, as proper targeting will directly lead to purchase. In this regard, Nathan Barry adds: “Products become bloated not by listening to customers enough, but by listening to the wrong customers.”
Users need to have easy access to information about your product or service, which will help you to solidify your position in their minds. Focus your efforts on helping them lean towards taking action.
Once customers make a purchase or subscribe to your service, you need to provide onboarding and support to guide them towards the ‘Aha! moment’ – the realization of the value of your product or service, and activation – the time when they have actually experienced the benefits.
While we could talk about onboarding for hours, this post is intended to give you an overview of the SaaS growth strategies that work in 2021 – so we won’t go into all the gory details. You can head to this post for more info on personalized user onboarding that works and designing it in a way that information and prompts are given based on the user’s actions.
Pushing your new users towards activation is probably the single most important job you have in your product marketing. Your retention and churn rates depend on it. After all, if your users don’t get the benefit of using your app, and don’t get their problems solved (fast!) they are not going to stick around.
You need to focus on getting users to actively engage with your product by optimizing the onboarding experience and highlighting its key features.
Your customer has to renew after a specific interval, and you need to identify any issues that may prevent them from doing so.
At this stage, retention is your top priority. You can take initiatives like a loyalty program that rewards the users who continue being your customers. Better still – make sure you keep ‘selling’ your product to activated users throughout their user journey – by showing them the secondary features relevant to their use case etc.
You can also offer early-renewal discounts, an extended renewal period, complementary services, and more to make the users feel valued.
In the referral stage, your customers essentially become your sales representatives. Loyal customers will help you boost your reach through word-of-mouth, reviews, and testimonials.
Your goal is to get your users to recommend your services to others who fit your target group. You can provide incentives to your customers by offering discounts or coupons after a successful referral.
Another way of generating awareness is by engaging user-generated content. You can also display customer feedback on your website, which is very effective as social proof.
SaaS Growth Strategy #3: Personalized In-App Experiences
People come to your product to solve specific problems, and they want specific solutions.
Personalized in-app experience (e.g. onboarding flows tailored to role and use case) ensures that the user feels you care about their problem.
To provide a tailored experience to your users, you need to know your users. The easiest way is to look at their data.
Personalization based on user activity helps you direct them to an action they should take in their app to achieve their goals faster.
A great example of personalized recommendation is Netflix. Its algorithm helps users view the most relevant content based on their Watch history and app activity. Although it is not perfect, it surely helps users choose content that is more familiar and appealing to them.
Be careful with ‘fake personalization’ though – like sending meaningless ‘personal’ birthday messages and adding the users’ (often wrong or incomplete) first name everywhere to compensate for not really making good use of the data you have about them.
Self Service Support
In the Product-Led Era, customers prefer to help themselves rather than chat or email your support (let alone pick up the phone!). That’s why the self-paced support solutions are all the range. Chat bots, help centers or in-app resource centers (like the one above) with all your help docs and in-app experiences searchable (isn’t that ‘wow’? Let us show you how to set it up!)
Self-serve support also reduces a lot of work for your customer support staff, and they can prioritize the most urgent and important queries.
You can identify the most frequent customer queries and automate them so that customers can find the solutions anytime they want. You can get these FAQs from previous customer service data and popular search queries on Google.
You need to constantly improve your self-service portal so that the customers always get up-to-date solutions.
You should also ensure that the service portal is mobile-friendly to make it easier for the user to access it on the go.
SaaS Growth Strategy #4: Product Marketing
BoFu or Bottom of the Funnel content focuses on the closing stages of the buyer journey. Marketers will essentially focus on selling the product to the potential customer since customers at this stage are actively comparing options to choose from.
This is a crucial stage, as your audience pool is narrowed down to users who have done their research and are waiting for the right option.
BOFU content aims to highlight what your product is, how it works, and most importantly, how it stands out from the rest.
One way of doing so is by providing a product demo. You can release the demo as a promotional video or during BTL campaigns. Your goal should be to help potential buyers realize the benefits of the purchase and how it solves the pain points.
“Pick one target audience, and solve the pains for that audience. Tailor your offer and your message to their unique set of pain points. When they visit your landing page, you want them to say, ‘they are talking to me’”.
Customer feedback and testimonials can also come in handy at this stage as users can learn from other users how the product had benefited them.
Hosting webinars can help you facilitate communication between stakeholders as well as promoting your product. You can take this opportunity to provide a product demo to a large number of people at once.
You can also host dialog with experts on the field to make it informative to the audience. Before you plan a webinar, you need to have a clear idea of what action you want your audience to take.
Ideally, your webinar should last for an hour, with an additional 15-30 mins for questions. Use appealing visuals, which are easily understandable to the audience. Keep the webinar relevant to the product and keep the intended action in mind.
You can also keep a recorded version of the webinar on your website and social media channels. Remember to follow up on webinar attendees to nudge them to take action.
SaaS Growth Strategy #5: Viral loops
A viral loop accelerates referrals by users to ensure continuous growth. This involves creating a chain where your customers spread the word to their network. These newly acquired customers will then spread the word to their network. The continuous word-of-mouth causes an exponential or “viral” growth.
You can express this through the Viral Coefficient, which is the number of new users an existing user generates. The viral coefficient is calculated by:
(Number of Active Users x Average Number of Referrals x Referral Conversion Rate) / (Number of Active Users)
To create a viral loop, you need to incentivize your existing users to boost referrals. The co-founder of Mailshake Sujan Patel says, “If you’re pushing a referral scheme that benefits you, rather than the new customers that’ll be introduced to your offering, it won’t get you very far.”
Keep in mind that the incentives need to be cost-effective for your company, so avoid going overboard with it.
You can also make the reward available to both the sender and recipient of the referral. Make the referral feature as accessible as possible. Continue optimizing your loop to make the most out of it.
SaaS Growth Strategy #6: Affiliate marketing
Your product may not have a viral coefficient. Besides, word of mouth is a very unpredictable medium to rely on. This is when affiliate marketing comes in.
But unlike industries that have a physical product for affiliates to display, promoting SaaS products requires a different approach. You need to find influencers and leaders in the SaaS niche who have a good understanding of the software.
This will also help you to promote your product through people who have an established audience that falls under your target group.
As the businesses prepare to adapt to a post-pandemic world, it is best not to go for a complete overhaul of growth strategies in 2021.
Stick to the basic strategies that are working for you and keep improving on those to maximize results.
Focus on product-led growth by utilizing the in-app channel and optimizing user experience at the same time.
Remember to connect to your users by personalizing their experience and providing them with efficient self-service support.
Last but not least, cash in on the viral loop to unleash an exponential growth of word-of-mouth.