We asked pros from 60 SaaS businesses to share tips for converting trial users to paid customers. Here’s how they’ve improved their paid activation rates.
Product and Design | Jun 26
Databox on January 11, 2016 (last modified on February 17, 2016) • 10 minute read
Now, I typically make a point in the first class of this 20-session course to emphasize there is no “magic formula” for marketing success. But without fail, nearly every class involved someone asking about a systematic way to drive growth. And by the middle of the second course I was teaching, I decided this was a topic that qualified for the exception to my “no magic formula” rule.
So without further delay, here it is – my 100% verified, bulletproof, money-back-guaranteed guide to how you can drive growth at any SaaS or eCommerce business on this planet:
It’s fail-proof. Follow those steps – and you don’t even need to do all of them all at once – and I guarantee your business will grow.
Of course, at this point in the class I’d usually get a couple of groans and eye rolls. Obviously, this list isn’t all that helpful. It might tell you what to do, but not how to do it.
And that’s because the “how” is different for every business, product, market, and situation. Sorry guys, but there really is no magic formula. First and foremost, before you can drive growth for your business you need to know who your customers are; what you offer them that they consider valuable; and how they buy. If you haven’t already… talk to your customers. Talk to the people you think should be your customers but aren’t. Talk to people who used to be your customers. And talk to all of them with the goal of understanding them. It’s not about getting them to tell you what to do – it’s for you to gain some perspective so you can envision different ways to reach and communicate with them.
Of course, I highly recommend quantitative research, like market studies and surveys. But make sure you rely on some qualitative methods to develop an understanding of your market as well.
Ok, now that I’ve put out my disclaimer — on to a shortlist of the tactics most commonly used by digital marketers to achieve these goals.
Improving your conversion rate from website visitor to customer is all about recognizing where you’ve made it more difficult than it needs to be for your users to take the next step in the sales process.
Website optimization. This is what most people think of when they think of “growth marketing.” The key thing is to use the scientific method – you know, that thing you learned in grade school – instead of randomly hoping that changing the color of your buttons will make your business explode overnight. You need to have a specific hypothesis backed by some legitimate evidence, and a test designed to prove or disprove that hypothesis. Creating a hypothesis is essential – but often overlooked.
Retargeting. For the record: downright stalking people is not exactly a laudable marketing practice. But when done right, retargeting visitors who came to your site with relevant ads on social media or third party site is still a good way of staying top-of-mind with prospective buyers. Just remember to control the frequency and placement of your ads. Make sure you put some thought into the content and personalize it as much as possible. And for heaven’s sake, please use a burn pixel to stop retargeting people once they’ve converted.
Email marketing. Nope, email is not dead. Far from it: when used well, email is a powerful way to educate and motivate potential customers. The secret to using it well? Automate. And always get permission before launching an email marketing campaign.
In-app messaging. Once you have someone commit to giving your app a try, you want to make sure they have a great experience. The worst situation is losing a potential customer because they couldn’t figure out how to get value from your app. No doubt, the most impactful thing you can do here is build a great product. But it also helps to educate your users through carefully crafted and strategically timed communications. Take a cue from social media monitoring app Mention, who increased their activation rate by 50% after implementing an in-app messaging platform.
Classic marketing tactics to drive traffic focus on press and advertising. But you can leverage your website; your engineering skills; and your packaging to drive demand just as – if not more – effectively.
SEO. SEO is intimidating to most marketers, but it doesn’t need to be. Great SEO comes down to producing content that people want, that’s coded in a way search engines can read. To quote Moz, who are hands down the best resource for all things SEO (in my humble opinion): “One of the most important elements to building an online marketing strategy around SEO is empathy for your audience.” Use tools like Google Trends, Keyword Planner, and Facebook’s Audience Insights to cultivate a deep understanding of how your audience things, and what information they need – then offer it on your site. As for the technical side, take a bit of time to get familiar with the basics of solid SEO-friendly coding. Then use a tool like Screaming Frog to audit your site and prepare a to-do list for your next web sprint.
Free tools. Hubspot’s marketing grader is one example of a free tool that does an excellent job of generating leads for the company. The key to making this work for you is to treat it the same way you would an important product feature – in other words, don’t half-ass a widget and then expect magic to happen. Make sure you understand how to create value for your audience (are you noticing a theme here?), and then work with your dev team to see if there’s a way to engineer a lightweight solution.
Packaging. Packaging – particularly the freemium model, like MailChimp; and built-in referral incentives, like Dropbox – can be a powerful way to generate demand for your product. Just remember the immortal wisdom of South Park: Freemium isn’t free. Among other things, make sure you understand your economics – including your customer support costs – before adopting a freemium model.
By now, you’ve probably come across at least one statistic supporting the fact that it’s less expensive to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. Yet, this is still one of the more neglected areas of marketing. Remember, driving growth doesn’t have to mean only growing your user base.
Retention. It should go without saying: retaining your existing customers is all about delivering an excellent experience to them, end to end. That includes how you communicate with them, how you support them, and how your product delivers on what it was meant to do for them. Helpscout offers a couple of tips on effective customer retention strategies, including things like personalization and segmentation.
Upsell. I still consider the classic pricing experiment run by The Economist as one of the best examples out there on how clever pricing and packaging can drive upsells. But it’s not just about psychology. One of the best upsell strategies out there is making it clear to your customers how they’ll derive more value if they spend more money with you. Whether it’s letting them know over the phone, via email, or in the checkout process – the most important thing is that you make your upsell and the associated benefit obvious.
Cross-sell. Not too long ago I bought a pen with my name and title printed on it. Now, granted, I did this because I thought it was funny – but also because it was easy, since Vistaprint gave me an option to buy it at the same time I purchased business cards from them. There’s no denying Vistaprint is a rather aggressive example of cross-sell at work, but you can still take a tip out of their playbook and incorporate relevant offers into your checkout process.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times: a referral is the best type of marketing. Referrals can and do happen organically, of course. But there are also a couple of steps you can take as a marketer to accelerate referral activity.
Identify your influencers – and then build a relationship with them. To have influence, someone needs to be contextually relevant to your market; have reach (a large number of Twitter followers, a dedicated blog community); and the ability to inspire action. You can use tools like BuzzSumo to help you build a shortlist of influential members in your community. And remember – someone doesn’t always need to be a customer of yours in order to advocate for your company.
Opportunistically ask your customers. I recently moved into a new home, and I’ve had a couple of contractors come out to help do some work around the place. Nearly every single one I complimented on a job well done asked me to write them a review on Yelp or Angie’s List. Not too surprising, given that’s how I found those contractors in the first place. Take a page out of their playbook – when your product solves a problem for someone; or you deliver a great support experience; or you see someone coming back to buy again – ask them for a review.
Say thank you. A sincere thank you goes a very long way. A service I stumbled on, ZocDoc, contacted me shortly after I used them for the first time to check in on my experience. I was already impressed by their proactive outreach, but imagine my surprise when they followed up their initial message with a $5 Amazon gift certificate to thank me for giving them a try. It doesn’t take a grand gesture; all you need to do is demonstrate genuine appreciation for your users. Helpscout’s helped out with a list of 25 ways to thank your customers.
Perhaps one of the best ways to grow your business is to look at adjacent markets where your product or service could add value. Take a look at Facebook, for example – before their target market became the entire human race (more or less), the platform was build for Harvard students in 2004. From there, it grew to include other colleges (2005); the English-speaking public (2006); and the international community (2008). Your audience may not be quite as large as Facebook’s, but you can still find new people to sell to. Some of the most common adjacent market opportunities include:
I have, of course, saved the best for last. I’ll go out on a limb and say the single foolproof driver of growth is to build and continually sustain great products that create real value for your customers. If you’re looking for some information on how to jumpstart your product organization, look no further than Marty Cagan’s book Inspired.
And that, my friends, is as exhaustive an overview as I can come up with when it comes to identifying growth marketing strategies and tactics. Remember though – at the end of the day, there really is no magic formula. You can’t use tactics as a substitute for delivering a great end-to-end customer experience.
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