SaaS Growth Is A Group Effort — Not A Solo Venture
Growth is a wonderful thing, and these tips will help you avoid rookie mistakes
Developing a growth strategy around your SaaS is a critical step that every entrepreneur needs to tackle—as it correlates to both customer and operational success. A great growth strategy removes the dry functional aspects of the technology or solution and breathes new life and personality into the overall customer experience or brand. It also takes some decision-making pressure off of the founders, and empowers stakeholders to be involved the growth success of the SaaS. But remember: growth isn’t just a one person show. Just like a concert soloist can showcase his or her unique skills and talent in a performance, it’s the group, or orchestra, that helps provide the foundation and support to let the soloist shine.
Growth is an interesting concept because it means many different things to many different teams. It isn't a formula that is derived by following a prescribed series of steps, but rather, effective growth displays fluidity and comes from a genuine communication with your customers whether it’s B2B, B2C or B2X2Y. This impacts the decision on who will best support how growth on the team is handled and to what extent. Like any great plan or strategy, how the concept is defined plays a foundational role in the “who,” “what” and “why” that each team member contributes to.
Customer Experience (CX) is the DNA of the problem you control solve, and it’s also very holistic in nature (example: if you’ve acquired a customer, it’s equally as important to keep that customer). Thankfully, there is a rich history of accomplished startups that have either exited or were acquired, and many of these startups have shared their formula for growth success. Although these formulas are inspirational and a great learning tool, they should be used with caution. In short: just because what worked for them, doesn't mean it will work for you. With that said, borrowing ideas is OK if it’s sprinkled with some creativity. Now that we have a good baseline for the holistic CX approach, let's look at some common misconceptions that will help you avoid any rookie moves.
Growth as a specific function or single role While great growth marketers can move the needle, what can't be predicted is when that may happen and at what cost. Typically a “growth marketer” can have various functional and strategic roles, but even they need direction from leadership so there is enough of a canvas to play with. Whether it’s data mining or outbound marketing campaigns, it can be expensive to teams that are inexperienced, and engagements may last considerably longer than anticipated to achieve results. For bootstrapped startups, it’s important to really understand the process the growth marketer works in and what resources they need to be successful. While they may at times work in a vacuum, it all comes down to numbers and performance. All too often, growth marketers can unfortunately be set up to fail.
“Going viral” as a planned growth event While some viral tactics can be planned, the most effective viral growth events are spontaneous in nature vs. something contrived. This doesn’t mean being preparing for a viral event can’t be done; however, it can become expensive very quickly—especially if hiring out to an agency—and it could ultimately leave you feeling empty (with a lot less money!) after 30 days. If you are planning on a viral tactic, think more about what you want to do with your messaging after the big splash. Not figuring out post-viral messaging is one of the biggest misapplied tactics for startups, and this oversight can quickly lead to self-indulgence instead of genuine effectiveness. Tread lightly.
Customer support is a reaction Aside from trendy phrases being utilized today, such as “user empathy”, it goes well beyond product design to adopt this customer support mentality with the team culture. Your team should be built on the premise that they have a stake in customer success and that means listening to problems, finding solutions and providing support. Customer support is more than just retention or acquisition—it’s an incredibly opportunity that can not only help retain your customer, but also help bring them into a community where their value is much more than your product offering. You may not win over everyone, but the loudest voices are the biggest believers.
The magic product feature This is truly the biggest fundamental shift and evolution in SaaS and digital products that we’ve seen. We went from, “Wow, technology can do that?” all the way to, “Someone isn't doing that by now?” in a very short amount of time. The days of being impressed about a new feature seem to be long gone, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The grand slam feature these days is usually a little more complex behind the scenes, with the end result providing far more than just a single design feature. Think boldly, but also be realistic.
Identifying the growth strategy for your startup is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Assuming you have created growth specific KPIs and a strategy for reaching important metrics is really where it all comes together. How it comes together, is in correlation with the people, the product and the processes you have available based on your budget. Startups are about taking risks, but it’s not worthwhile to take risks that can’t be supported after the fact. Critically thinking about the potential outcomes that derive from those risks will prepare you for the worst. So what are some tips to help you move forward with a growth success plan?
Track and measure everything: This includes all of your inbound/outbound activities, product, budget, milestones and anything else related to growth. If it’s not aligned, throw it into the backlog for review at another time.
Follow a timeline: Time is either your biggest threat or your best friend. It’s noisy in the startup world and it can take a long time to develop both a digital footprint and relationship with your marketing, CX and product channels. It’s important to note that the timeline should run in tandem with your acquisition strategy.
Define your budget: Growth is extensible to your budget and vice versa. Being effective doesn't always equal being right. This is one area that requires the most critical thinking. Have your key stakeholders develop KPIs that justify the position, need and priority for tech, PR, marketing and everything in-between. Everything in startups is about the cause/effect—choose wisely.
Growth is a wonderful thing, especially when it’s part of the team culture, and as a key takeaway, remember that it pays to put the user first in more ways than just product feedback. Trust me: it will be the gift that keeps on giving—especially if your product delivers on its promise. While you may be the SaaS conductor, or part of the ensemble, be aware that a solo growth strategy may only get you so far. This strategy is an important group effort that will not only add personality to your tech, but it will also help to create unique inbound opportunities.