If you get around marketing circles with any frequency, “growth hacking” is a phrase you’ve likely been hearing more about over the last few years. Sounds edgy, right? It evokes images of dot com-era hackers in dark rooms, surrounded by glowing monitors, clicking their way to untold (and morally questionable) wealth. Hacking has always been steeped in mystery, and growth hacking is no different. Most marketers — and savvy founders — have bandied the term about, but few have a firm grasp on what it actually means or how to put it to work for their brand. Here, we’re pulling back the veil and bringing growth hacking into the light so you can leverage growth hacking tactics to achieve quick, measurable, and even sustainable growth for your SaaS brand.
What is Growth Hacking?
First used in 2010, “growth hacking” got its start as little more than a buzzword, talked about in hushed tones around agency water coolers. Not many understood what it was, and fewer knew how to implement it, but it sounded pretty slick when incorporated into a pitch deck.
Today, growth hacking is a tested and proven methodology that, when executed correctly, results in rapid growth at minimal cost. The core tenants of growth hacking include experimentation, analysis, and repetition, with the end goal of finding tactics that are quick to implement, easily replicable, cost-effective, and scalable. Growth hacking is a perfect fit for SaaS brands that want to quickly grow acquisitions, activate customers, and retain them throughout their lifecycle.
It’s a pretty simple equation:
Looks good on paper, right? But is it attainable? Look, we’re not math whizzes, but we’ve seen the impact growth hacking can have on brands that implement the techniques and strategies we’ve outlined here. And you don’t need a scientific calculator to tell you that spending less to earn more is just good sense.
However, to harness the power of growth marketing and make it work for your SaaS brand, you might have to change your mindset. The way you’ve approached the marketing funnel and your buyer personas isn’t always compatible with the highest-performing hacks.
In a survey of blog posts on growth, the data shows that marketers focus a vast majority of their efforts on customer acquisition. But see that tiny little 10 percent sliver on monetization? That’s where growth happens, and that’s where you’ll find the results you’re looking for. To successfully use growth hacking for your SaaS brand, you need to focus more on the outcome and less on casting the widest net. Why? Because retention and monetization, as indicated in the survey, can double, triple, or quadruple your results.
So, what does all this mean for your SaaS brand? Let’s find out.
Does Growth Hacking Work for SaaS Companies?
The short answer is, yes.
The long answer is, yes, but…
You have to shift your way of thinking about traditional marketing.
You have to be willing to innovate, experiment, and sometimes, fail.
You have to be ready to experience the kind of growth that will propel your brand to the top of the pack.
Sound good? If so, you’re ready to enter the world of growth hacking. Buckle up, because it’s a wild ride.
Growth hacking works well for SaaS companies, because you already know you have a limited audience who need, want, and can benefit from your product. Acquisition is important, but you can’t force consumers outside your audience parameters to buy a service they don’t need. What you can do is shift your focus to retaining and monetizing the buyers who do fit the mold.
SaaS companies are well-positioned to embrace the key phases of growth hacking, including:
- Limited Acquisition: Narrow your focus to one to two buyer personas, and stop wasting time and money on those who fall outside the parameters you set.
- Heightened Activation: Use freemiums and trials to get those users to try (and fall in love with) your product.
- Aggressive Retention: Build relationships with your users to increase loyalty and keep them coming back for more.
- Scalable Monetization: Varying service level packages, upgrades, and add-ons ensure your users can grow…and so can your bottom line.
- Rewarding Referrals: You don’t want your customers to tell one person about your product; you want them to tell three or four. They tell three or four others, and the cycle continues. This is how you make growth hacking sustainable and turn your revenue stream into a surging river.
Top five growth hacking benefits for SaaS companies
More money and more time — what’s not to love? And while those are the primary benefits of growth hacking for SaaS companies, there are certainly others. Here, we’ve listed the top five benefits your SaaS company can expect to see when you invest in growth hacking.
- A healthy business. Revenue is a key indicator of business health, and when you’re able to quickly and sustainably build your bottom line, your company will thrive.
- The gift of time. While you will be investing time on the front end to test and experiment with growth hacks to find what works best for you, the key to successful growth hacking is repetition. Growth hacks aren’t one-trick ponies; the right hacks can be used over and over again, giving you time back in your day to focus on other aspects of your business.
- Better allocation of resources. With more money coming in and more time freed up, you’ll be able to channel hours and dollars to other areas of the business.
- Custom hacks tailored to you. Growth hacking isn’t one-size-fits-all. And while that may mean more testing and experimenting on the front end, it will also result in a strategy that’s designed to meet your brand’s specific needs.
- Stronger data. The best use of growth hacking will not only increase your sales, it will also give you valuable data insights on your customers that you can leverage to improve the quality of your products, grow retention, and reach a wider audience.
Does the 80/20 Rule apply to saas growth? Let's discuss.
Okay, we know we said we weren’t mathematicians, but bear with us because we’re about to bust out some ratios. You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 Rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, in which 20 percent of your effort leads to 80 percent of your results. So, let’s say you spend 80 percent of your day in meetings or managing administrative tasks. That’s not moving the needle on your SaaS brand. What is moving it is the 20 percent of your day you spend implementing and testing new growth hacks. So what if you could cut down on all the clutter that doesn’t drive results, and move up the ratio of time you spend focused on generating revenue? Your 80 percent results just increased to 90 percent. Or 100 percent. Or more.
Salesforce does a great job of detailing the intricacies of the 80/20 Rule and how you can shift the ratio to increase productivity and maximize return.
The way to improve your ratios, and subsequently, your revenue, is to bust out the (metaphorical) machete and start hacking away at the 80 percent of effort you’re putting into just 20 percent of results. Our tip: be ruthless. Those meetings that could have been an email? They’re the first to go. That obsession with clearing your inbox? Let an assistant or an intern take care of it.
Take a look at this graph and ask yourself: what quadrant are you living in?
You start in the top left corner, where you’re spending a lot of time with very little to show for it. That’s where you start slashing the debris and clearing a path. You move into the lower left quadrant, devoting your time to experimenting with growth hacks that fit your SaaS brand. No major results yet, but you can move through the testing process quickly. Next up is the upper right corner. You’ve found the hacks that work, and you’re developing systems to put them in place. You’re starting to see results, but it still takes time. The lower right corner is your ultimate goal: repetition. Low time investment and high results — peak growth hacking.
If you aren’t there yet, don’t stress it. We’ve got 25 growth hacks you can start experimenting with now to work toward your ultimate goal: Lower Costs + Less Time = Exponential Growth.
The 20 Percent You Need to Focus On: 25 SaaS Growth Hacks That Will Help You Scale Quickly
Do a quick search for “growth hacks.” Go on, we’ll wait. What did you find? Probably a bunch of shouty headlines along the lines of “100+ Growth Hacks That Will Make You Rich, Shame Your Enemies, and Cure Sick Puppies!” We’ve read them, too, and while there are countless quirky, unique, and interesting growth hacks you can test out, these mega-lists aren’t tailored to SaaS companies and their specific needs. That’s why we’ve put together a pared-down but even more impactful list of the hacks you can get started with right away.
#1: Improve Your Reach By Embracing Digital PR
Traditional press releases are tired. Even worse, they don’t get the kind of return you need in relation to the time and effort you spend crafting them and distributing them to media outlets.
If you haven’t digitized your PR strategy, now is the time to start. Digital PR gets you more — more coverage, more backlinks, more leads, and yes, more revenue.
Ultimately, digital PR helps you build your SaaS brand. And if you aren’t doing it already, it’s a great growth hack to start with.
#2: Partner with Influencers to Spread the Word
One key element of growth hacking for SaaS companies is reaching a shared audience. You know you aren’t the only one talking to your target, so start finding out who else has their ear. Who do they look to for advice for insight on the type of services you provide? Whose opinions matter the most? Those are your influencers.
However, reaching influencers can be tough, depending on your industry. A form letter isn’t going to cut it. Don’t sweat it, though, because there are two quick, easy ways to win over influencers:
- Follow, follow, follow. Every influencer loves a good follow. And when you jump on their social bandwagon, you’ll get authentic insights into the topics that matter to them…and to your audience.
- Engage, engage, engage. What do influencers like more than a follow? A like. Better yet, a comment. It’s free and it’s fast, and it’s the best way to build relationships with influencers you can leverage down the road.
#3: Hire an Email Marketing Expert to Grow Your Email List
We’ve got a lot of DIY tips on this list, but there are times you just have to ask for help. Putting together an email list is one of those times. As we’ve mentioned, while acquisition is important to growth hacking, it’s not about casting the widest net. The longest email list does not equal the best.
Instead, you need an email expert who can check your list for duplication, weed out worthless addresses, and rebuild a list based on your narrow, targeted buyer persona. These are the ones you want to target, so you’ll see increased open rates, click-throughs, and eventually, conversions.
#4: Leverage Quora and Reddit to Drive Targeted Traffic
Your audience likes to talk. You just have to find out where they’re having the conversation, and make sure what you contribute has value. On Quora, that means answering questions that are relevant to the services you offer. Search Quora using your top keywords to find conversations and opportunities to provide the answers your audience needs (while subtly directing them to the solutions you can offer).
On Reddit, you’ll also want to search your top keywords to find relevant Subreddits you can join. Remember to abide by all the rules and get cozy with the moderators (it helps, trust us). If you’ve got some killer content you can share, post it (make sure there’s a backlink to your site in it). Just remember not to ghost others in the Subreddit. Come back and check the comments so you can offer a swift answer to their questions.
#5: Get Your Brand Listed on Startup Directories
Consumers are savvy these days, and while many are eager to support startups and SaaS companies like yours, they aren’t too keen on doing so without validating the company’s legitimacy, reading reviews, and making an informed decision. Listing your company on one (or many) of these startup directories is a great way to get your brand out there and bring your audience to you. Just remember that it’s a best practice to make your reviews visible so potential customers know they’re getting a credible, vetted, and quality service.
#6: Stay Active on Product Hunt
Product Hunt is, to some marketers and founders, a graveyard of failed tech and struggling startups. But if you use it correctly, it can be a goldmine of acquisitions and engaged users. The fatal error many brands face is just after the initial launch. They collect subscriber information, build a list, send a generic thank you…and then disappear.
To improve your Product Hunt rankings, you have to build a community. Some of that happens on Product Hunt, but much of it happens elsewhere. Your Product Hunt strategy needs to tie into your social strategy, your content strategy, your email strategy, and…well, you get the idea.
You can’t expect users to upvote a product they’ve never used before, so you’ll need a team of beta testers willing to share their experience to maximize impact. You’ll also need a plan to continue engaging with new subscribers, whether that’s an email nurture campaign, instant messages, or interacting on social groups. The key is sticking around and maintaining your presence after launch.
#7: Use FAQs to Answer the Questions Your Customers are Asking
There’s been some debate recently on the efficacy of FAQs. Do people really read them? Do they have an impact? Is anybody even listening??
The answer is, yes. FAQs are vital to improving search rankings, and most of the time, they lead visitors deeper into your web content, coaxing them through the funnel organically.
Think FAQs can’t be sexy? Think again. Big brands are revamping their FAQs with user intent and experience in mind, with big results. Besides, who among us hasn’t had to ask for the umpteenth time when McDonald’s stops serving breakfast?
#8: Create High-Quality, Long-Form Content to Attract Backlinks and Build Authority
Wondering if less is more when it comes to your content? It can be, if we’re talking a lot less (think Tweets). But these days, long-form content is where it’s at. Generally speaking, long-form content is anything over 800 words, but it may vary by industry. For some SaaS brands, long-form content may be 1,800+ words. What we do know is that content length exists on a curve (called the Quartz Curve), with the bottom performers falling into what used to be thought of as the “ideal” blog length: 500–800 words.
As you can see, most brands need to start thinking outside the curve. Micro-content can be effective, but so too can long-form content. In fact, articles around 2,500 words get more organic traffic, backlinks, and shares. Convinced? You should be. After all, you’re literally reading long-form content as we speak.
#9: Ensure Your SaaS Product Integrates with the Most Popular Apps
Integration is a pretty hot topic among SaaS and tech companies these days. That’s because users want products that simplify their lives, not add hassle and headaches to it. Integration happens through APIs that link your service or app to other cloud-based apps or on-premise software systems. Why are so many users looking for integration capability?
- It saves time. When they can interact with your service through an app or software system they’re already familiar with, they’re more likely to use it.
- It improves user experience. Happy users are repeat users, and integration is a happy-maker. It creates ease of use and contributes to overall positive feelings about their interaction with your service.
- It makes data sharing easy. Toggling from one app to another to find the info you need is tedious, and users will quickly find another way to track down their data through another integrated option.
#10: Embrace Referral Marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing is older than the hills, but it’s still one of the most effective ways for SaaS brands to achieve accelerated growth. However, the way referrals are encouraged and managed has changed over the years, with two-way referrals now becoming the preferred method.
Referral marketing tackles all three goals of growth hacking: acquisition, retention, and monetization, but remember that your referral methods should always include:
- Exclusive value the user can’t get anywhere else or by taking any other action
- Incentives to continue sharing past a 1:1 ratio
- Reciprocal benefits for the referrer and the referee
- Pre-packaged invitations that are easy to share across social media platforms
#11: Create a Competitor Comparison Page to Rank for Alternative Keywords
A competitor comparison page is a great way to show what sets your SaaS brand apart from the crowd, but it has other benefits, too. Not only does it differentiate your brand, but it can also help improve search rankings and improve rankings for alternative keywords that have to do with your competitors’ services.
This is just one example of a robust competitor comparison page, but the possibilities are endless. You could opt for an all-in-one landing page, like this, or create separate landing pages for each competitor to reap the SEO rewards. Ultimately, you want your comparison page to be easy to read, with accurate information that highlights the ways your brand shines.
#12: Optimize Your Abandoned Cart Email Sequence to Increase Sales
For many online businesses, the abandoned cart rate hovers close to 70 percent. Your aim should be to keep your rate below this, by nurturing skittish customers to bring them back into the fold. But why do so many shoppers abandon their cart?
The numbers all boil down to a few key issues: lack of transparency, lack of trust, and demand for too much up-front information. Most of these problems can be remedied proactively, but if you still find customers jumping ship at the 11th hour, you need a strategy in place to woo them back.
Studies show that abandoned cart emails have a much higher open rate and click-thru rate than other marketing emails. Here are the key elements you need to have to ensure your abandoned cart emails convert to sales:
- Appealing design: Animation, GIFs, and engaging visuals invite clicks.
- Personalization: Go beyond “Hello, First Name!” Make sure personalization includes the products they were looking at, reviews and ratings, and other products or services they might be interested in.
- Strong CTAs: Get those puppies above the fold! Higher CTAs get more clicks. Be sure to repeat them throughout the email.
#13: Offer a Smooth and Frictionless Onboarding Process
Customer onboarding is crucial to SaaS companies. No matter how steep your product’s learning curve, you want the onboarding process to be as painless as possible so your customers (especially those coming in on a free trial) will want to stick around.
Some of the best practices for SaaS customer onboarding include:
- Offer live chat to answer questions in the moment.
- Provide video tutorials and detailed product walk-throughs.
- Send personalized messages and updates that coincide with each stage of onboarding.
- Design simple data collection forms to gather information that can be integrated seamlessly in the onboarding experience.
#14: Use Live Chat to Strike Up a Conversation with Customers
Live chat is useful for more than just customer onboarding. It should be available to users at any point in their interaction with your brand. Why is it so important? Because it increases customer satisfaction far beyond that of email or other forms of communication.
The key to leveraging the power of live chat is to ensure a speedy response time. The average live chat response time to maintain satisfaction is 2 minutes and 40 seconds…but faster is better.
Surprisingly, only 14 percent of B2B SaaS companies make use of live chat. But that means there’s a major opportunity for your brand to step up.
#15: Hire an Expert to Manage Your Cold Outreach
We get it — no one likes going in cold. Results are often mediocre, and for the time invested in building a cold email campaign, the juice really isn’t worth the squeeze.
Outsourcing to an expert might change your perspective. An email expert understands how to build lists and design campaigns that can warm even the coldest leads. Plus, overall, cold outreach is a low investment tactic that’s easily scalable, making it a natural fit for growth hacking. However, if you want to see actual ROI, you’re better off entrusting it to the experts.
#16: Connect and Build
It’s been a while, but the event circuit is back and better than ever. If you put your networking plans on hold (or online) through the last year or so, it’s time to get back in the game. Industry conferences are a great place to learn and connect with colleagues in your industry, but if you look a little harder, you’ll find even more opportunities, like:
- A non-creepy way to scope out the competition
- Connecting with leaders and mentors who have reached the goals you hope to achieve
- Getting your product in front of the most motivated, engaged, and interested audience you’re likely to find
- Answering questions in person and act as a resource to potential customers
#17: Offer Free Trials or Freemiums
It’s the cornerstone of the SaaS industry, and there’s a good reason for that. The “try it before you buy it” methodology was designed with SaaS in mind. If the product or service you offer is largely self-serve once a customer gets onboarded, the costs of maintaining a “free” customer is relatively low. Just remember that freemium users expect to be treated like paying customers and that includes functionality, reliability, and service. If you win them over at the free stage, they’re far more likely to want to dig out their credit card to access exclusive paid features and add-ons.
A great example of a freemium done right is Zoom. The video communications platform became part of our daily lexicon in 2020, in part because of their “forever free” model. However, users quickly learned that if a meeting went unexpectedly over the 40-minute limit (and did so with regularity), their smartest choice was to upgrade to a premium plan.
#18: Personalize Demos to the Potential Customer
The popularity of personalization seems to come and go in waves. Most of the time, it depends on how you utilize it. A friendly, personal “hello” can be appealing to many consumers, while spitting out their birthdate, Social Security numbers, and eye color is generally seen as off-putting.
The key is walking a fine line between being familiar…and being a creep. When it comes to demos, however, this is a great opportunity to use personalization to build a stronger relationship with your customer.
Live demos give customers an authentic experience with your product and work to create a genuine relationship. If live demos aren’t feasible, you can still personalize how-to videos and walk-throughs for your user to make them feel you’ve gone above and beyond to win - and keep - their business.
#19: Create More Intuitive Landing Pages
Landing page visitors are not (generally) Sherlock Holmes. They shouldn’t have to look for clues to find the information they need or solve the mystery of what the heck you want them to do. Landing pages should be intuitive, focused, and very narrow in intent. Here’s how to lay out a landing page that works:
- Remove navigation. Extensive menus with multi-level dropdowns are unnecessary and confusing if the goal of your landing page is to get visitors to take a single action. Take away the navigation and give them a simple, single-click route to get what they want.
- But not the back button. Taking out menus is a good idea, but trapping visitors on a landing page with no option to go back? Not good. If they can’t get back where they were, they’ll just exit the browser altogether, and you’ll have a harder time getting them back.
- Minimize distractions. You’ve created a lot of great content, but cluttering a single-purpose landing page with videos, infographics, links to listen to your podcast, etc., is a big no-no. Take out the fluff, and only leave content that drives the user toward taking the action you want them to take.
#20: Implement a Retargeting Pixel
A retargeting pixel is a code that is built into your website that delivers metrics on visitors from a particular platform; in this case, Facebook. It works automatically and is easy to implement if you’re already a Facebook advertiser, so adoption is quick and painless. With the retargeting pixel, you’ll be able to:
- Build custom audiences with clear targeting parameters
- Create lookalike audiences to reach new leads
- Track metrics on how your targeted audience is responding to your ads
- Quickly adapt ads that aren’t performing well to increase conversions
While Facebook is one of the leaders in retargeting pixels, other platforms, like Google, offer them to advertisers as well.
#21: Use Video Testimonials as Social Proof
What’s better than customer referrals, influencer marketing, and video content? How about all of them in one? Video testimonials make your satisfied customers the star and turn them into a micro-influencer with a built-in audience. Plus, you’ll be leveraging the power of video, which is shown to increase sales by 64 percent.
#22: Use Customer Analytics to Optimize Your Sales Funnel
Big data is a big deal for growth hackers, and when you know how to use it to move your audience through the funnel, it can lead to a swift increase in conversions. But first, you have to understand the difference between the traditional sales and marketing funnel and the growth hacking funnel.
If you need help remembering the stages of the growth hacking funnel, just pretend every day is “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” AAARRR! Awareness, acquisition, and activation are all stages in the traditional funnel, but growth hacking takes it three steps further, or rather, three “Rs” further, with retention, revenue, and referral.
It’s crucial to keep an eye on your KPIs and metrics at every stage of the funnel so you understand when and where there are major drop-offs in traffic and adjust your approach accordingly. Set up goals in Google Analytics so you can clearly see where your audience is jumping ship, and remember it takes a lot of trial and error to nail your funnel.
#23: Leverage AI to Attract and Maintain Customers
Artificial intelligence sounds futuristic, but the future of marketing automation and machine learning is already here, and you can use it to grow leads, revenue, and referrals. AI software spans a range of services and functions, and when paired with your CRM, it can help you manage and nurture leads throughout the growth hacking funnel. Chatbots, email automation, and product recommendations powered by AI help you build relationships with your leads quickly and easily, leaving you more time to focus on growing your brand.
#24: Use Facebook Groups to Build a Loyal Community
Facebook groups have the potential to be a goldmine for your SaaS product by giving you direct access to potential customers, competitors, and leaders in your industry. There are two ways to leverage Facebook groups for growth hacking: build your own or join already existing groups.
Build Your Facebook GroupsFacebook groups are quick and easy to set up, they’re totally free, and they’re basically limitless in the opportunities offered to grow your brand. Just keep in mind, building a following for your Facebook group takes time, which is not always a friend to growth hacking.
Join SaaS Facebook GroupsIf you don’t have time to create, build, and manage your own Facebook group, look for established groups you can join to learn best practices, engage with an audience similar to your target, and see how your competition operates. Also join industry groups focused on growth hacking, like SaaS Growth Hacks, to see how other companies have experimented growth hacking strategies and learn what worked and what didn’t.
#25: Keep an Eye on the Right Metrics
Analytics are key to successful growth hacking, especially for SaaS brands, but is your company looking at the right metrics? See below our outline of the nine growth hacking metrics your SaaS brand should be keeping tabs on.
9 Growth Hacking Metrics B2B SaaS Companies Should Watch Out For
To be sure you’re leveraging growth hacks to their full potential (and dropping hacks that don’t work like a hot potato), track these metrics carefully and regularly. Measure your current state at the start of each new growth hack campaign, then plan for a mid-point check, and analysis once the experiment is complete.
Average Lead Close
On average, close rates for the software industry are around 22 percent. Keep in mind, there are many variables that contribute to close rates. You need to understand how many leads you have to introduce to the funnel to reach your desired close rate.
CTA Click-Through Rate
Ninety percent of visitors who read your headline also read your CTA.CTA placement matters to CTR
- Sidebar: 0.5–1.5%
- Generic, end-of-post: 0.5 –1.5%
- Pop-ups: 1–8%
- Sliders and bars: 1–5%
- Welcome gates: 10–25%
- Feature box: 3–9%
- Navigation bar: varies
User Activation Rate
Activation rate is a success metric that marks an action taken by a user that indicates their perceived value of the product or service. SaaS leads among similar industries for the highest user activation rate.
Customer Satisfaction Rate
CSAT is highly variable feedback based on actual customer response to your service. Customer surveys are the best way to measure CSAT. To compile the data, use this equation based on survey results:
Customer Retention Rate
LTV is based on the number you predict your customers will spend on your product throughout their relationship with your brand. LTV is calculated based on user activation, revenue generated during the lifetime, and churn rate.
Time and Spend Per Acquisition
The average customer acquisition cost (CAC) for B2B SaaS is $205. SaaS acquisition costs are lower than many other industries.
Monthly Recurring Revenue
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is based on averages from current subscribers. Committed monthly recurring revenue (CMRR) is a long-term projected metric based on new subscriptions, new upgrades, new downgrades, and user churn. CMRR is a more valuable metric as it projects future growth.
Referral Invitation Rate
The average referral rate across industries is around 2.3 percent.
Don’t Take on More Than You Can Chew: High-Growth SaaS Companies Achieve Results By Partnering with Experts
Feeling overwhelmed? We get it. Growth hacking is still pretty new on the marketing landscape, and while it promises quick and sustainable growth, it comes with a lot of research, planning, experimenting, and repetition.
The good news? You don’t have to go it alone. A growth marketing agency made up of growth-focused experts across marketing channels can help you sort through the growth hacks listed above, and find the ones most suited to driving growth for your SaaS brand. Best of all, by outsourcing your growth hacking strategies, you’ll have more time to focus your energy where it counts: turning your SaaS brand into a long-lasting success.