Growing a wildly successful software as a service (SaaS) business is a game of numbers.
More new customers than canceling customers? You’ll grow.
If not, you’ll stagnate, and the competition will gobble up market share right in front of you.
At the same time, not every new idea for boosting growth and retention will be feasible with the resources you have.
Your product team is busy working on ideas to build a SaaS product that is 10x better than what’s on the market. Your engineering team is building next generation technology that will give a crucial edge of the competition.
It’s not always strategic to pull them off core functions to work on the latest growth idea.
So, while they are busy working on the product, there’s still room for low-cost, easy-to-implement techniques to improve the growth and retention of your SaaS product today.
Think of these ideas as low hanging fruit you can get started on today to see results in the coming months.
1. Call New Prospects Immediately When They Sign Up
This is an idea that I first heard from Steli Efti. He makes the bold claim that if you’re a B2B SaaS startup you need to be calling all your free trial signups within the first 5 minutes.
You might be thinking whether spending time on the phone is a good use of your team’s time. It’s definitively not scalable once you’re getting hundreds of new trials per day.
The benefit is that as an early stage company, every phone call is an opportunity for customer development. Because the person on the other side just went through your marketing funnel, you’ll get feedback on whether your website is performing well.
It can also act as an “early warning system” for poorly targeted ads. You’ll potentially save a lot of money if you realize that your AdWords are attracting the entirely wrong set of audience based on the conversions you’re having with new signups.
The downside is that you’ll have to add a phone number input to your form, which may reduce your sign up rate slightly. You can make it optional so people can self-select whether they want to hear from you via the phone or not.
In my experience, people are generally happy to hear to from you if you call within minutes of signing up to welcome to the service and let them know if they have any questions you’re happy to talk.
The insights you learn from these calls can be turned directly into hypotheses for experiments to run on your SaaS onboarding funnel. For example, you might find out that many of the signups are using a specific piece of legacy software, so you can adjust the funnel to highlight how easy it is to move over to your product.
2. Offer a Weekly Webinar
Some of the best, “stickiest” SaaS products will be become deeply woven into the fabric of your customers’ lives, saving them countless hours or helping them generate more revenue.
But it’s often hard for people to “see” the improvements your product will bring when they are looking at the empty state of your app after they’ve just signed up.
In Elements of User Onboarding, Samuel Hulick refers to this concept as helping your users envision their improvement.
Webinars are an opportunity to give them a glimpse of how your product will look in action after they’ve been fully onboarded.
Once they’ve seen with their own eyes how easy your product makes it to get a specific job done, they’ll have a reason for why they’re going through the hard process of trying something new and investing in learning your product.
At the same time, webinars can be operationally challenging. Live webinars, in particular, pose problems. You’ll need a soundproof studio with someone to keep an eye on the chat box while another person walks people through the product demo.
And then the problems start: the wifi is patchy, your product doesn’t respond as expected while live on air or your mic suddenly stops working.
It’s tough to stay calm on camera!
Therefore, Intercom took a hybrid approach to product demos. They showed pre-recorded demos interspersed with live Q&A and discussion.
They automated the part that could be automated, such as showing how to do a particular job in their app, while they kept that part that couldn’t be automated: live feedback from a product expert.
Personally, I was skeptical when I first heard of this “hybrid” approach, but I decided to give it a whirl.
I was worried that webinar attendees would be disappointed that the video wasn’t live. However, those fears turned out to be unfounded. In fact, because I could concentrate on the questions coming in via chat, I could give better answers to questions and quickly pull up the relevant documentation to send to them right there.
I’d particularly recommend this approach if you want to offer multiple webinars a week for different time zones.
3. Try Out a Win-Back Offer for Expired Trials
When you first launch your product, users may like your MVP product, but not pull the trigger on moving over to you, just yet. However, as you develop your product into a more fully featured solution, those initial prospects might just be ready to move over.
I’ve noticed that several SaaS providers send out “win back” emails to dormant trial accounts after a year, offering them another 30-day trial while highlighting what’s changed in the meantime.
Here’s an example from Front:
The great thing about this tactic is that it’s so easy to implement. You can manually pull a list of these accounts every month to start. If the tactic works well for you, you can move to an automated email.
4. Send a Summary of “What Happened This Week in Your SaaS” via Email
I first heard this idea put into words by Patrick McKenzie, a serial SaaS entrepreneur:
A thing geeks consistently underestimate: "What happened this week in $ YOUR_SAAS_ACCOUNT" ; archivable, free earned media channel, etc
— Patrick McKenzie (@patio11) April 5, 2017
Many SaaS products work day in, day out on your behalf. For example, monitoring services such as StatusPage test your services every minute to make sure all services are operating as expected. Other examples include connecting services such as Zapier, which let you link up data from various services.
These services work for you in the background. In best case scenarios, you might not log into these products for months on end.
A monthly “report card” listing what the app did for you each month will clearly demonstrate the value you’re getting from that particular SaaS. In the next financial meetings when ongoing subscriptions are put under a magnifying glass, your customers will be able to defend their monthly subscription to your service to the accountants.
An even better approach is to put a dollar number to the value you provide, as Nickelled does:
Depending on what your application does, you can send out emails highlighting number of issues closed, number of conversions tracked or leads generated. The closer you can get to a metric that managers care deeply about, the better this tactic works.
5. Retarget SaaS Trials with Customer Success Content
Retargeting is a powerful way to reach out to your past visitors to get them to come back to visit your site. In fact, there’s nothing right now that can work as well as retargeting (for your non-identified users).
Often, SaaS companies use retargeting to get past visitors back to their site so they sign up.
But you can also use retargeting in a myriad of ways to drive better retention of users.
For instance, you can target people within your free trial period with an ad for your webinar. Facebook Lead adverts make it so easy to sign up to the webinar with pre-filled fields. Just two touches and you are signed up, even on a mobile device.
Alternatively, you can advertise customer success stories that highlight the type of value that people can expect to get from your product.
Once customers have activated and are paying customers, you can even take retargeting a step further and start targeting customers that look like they might be in danger of churning based on the data you see in Kissmetrics.
You can export a monthly segment of users that are danger of churning and target them with ads on more advanced features they are missing out on or strategies for getting more value from your product.
6. Offer a “Done for You” Data Onboarding Package
Depending on your SaaS, your customers may need to move a lot of data over to your app before they can get started. Particularly if you’re starting out, this roadblock may get in the way of many of your customers using your product.
Offering a “done for them” data onboarding package to new customers can be a way to smooth the path.
In many cases, this data will have to be moved over from one of your competitors. Other times you’ll be faced with a collection of excel sheets, CSV files, or SQL dumps. The result is that you’ll be faced with importing data from a myriad of different software, including custom in-house solutions.
This diversity of data sources makes it difficult to offer an entirely automated import flow that your customers can carry out themselves. Even importing something as “simple” as a CSV file can be fraught with issues, as Patrick McKenzie points out.
Typically, enterprise customers won’t bat an eyelid at paying for this service, whereas an upfront charge can be a barrier for many SMB customers.
Test Out New Ideas On a Regular Basis
Small improvements in your growth rates and churn rates can have a big impact on your bottom line. Each optimization in your funnel results in more customers using your product, more word-of-mouth referrals and higher customer lifetime value. The revenue this generates means you can invest more back into product development and growth, accelerating the growth loop.
Do you have some ideas on how to boost growth and cut churn? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author: Thomas Carney has worked for tech companies in Munich, Paris, and now Berlin. When not on a computer, he’s at CrossFit or trying to brew the perfect coffee with an Aeropress coffee maker. He writes about marketing for SaaS at ThomasCarney.org.