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Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS, Startups

How to Nail the First Step to Scalable SaaS Growth: Customer Research

By Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré & Trevor Hatfield

We’re in the midst of writing our SaaS Growth Playbook – a zero bullshit, actionable guide to growing SaaS businesses that are set up to scale from the start. It’s an ambitious undertaking, because so much has been written about this. Really great books like The Startup Owner’s Manual (currently highlighted and bookmarked past recognition on our desks), The Lean Startup and Lean Analytics, Value Proposition Design, and that whole “Jobs to be Done” thing? Is that a book yet? Because it seems like every founder we’ve spoken with in the last two months can’t stop talking about it.

Yes, there are a lot of good ideas out there. Great ideas, even. But that’s the thing. There are so many ideas. What we’re doing is taking the ideas we know work – because we’ve seen them work time and again in real businesses we’ve consulted for – and explaining them clearly, quickly and actionably. With zero fluff – because ain’t nobody got time for that.

At the core of all of these methodologies (and what we’re writing) is this:

Getting to know your customer really, really well.

And that is hard. For any size business. It’s as hard as it is vitally important, because everything you do, from developing your product, to marketing your product, to creating a brand that drives customers to you – it all starts here.

So few startups get this right.

And established companies? They get this wrong all the time.

Take Campbell’s Soup, for example. Few brands are as established as Campbell’s Soup. That red and white label, immortalized by Andy Warhol no less, is iconic. And they ditched it. Recently (you may have noticed?).

They completely rebranded their labels in an effort to appeal to their new target audience: Millennial moms. So they took inspiration from Pinterest and Tumblr and made these really weird microwavable packets with faces on them.

Weird, right? But that’s what companies do when they want to be “hip” without actually asking the people they’re trying to be “hip” for what they want.

It turns out, Tumblr-like labels didn’t hit the mark. What Millennial moms really wanted was a change inside the can. Clean, whole ingredients. Once Campbell’s realized that, it changed their marketing entirely and the result was refreshingly relevant.

Now, most of us don’t have Campbell’s Soup kind of money. But we can all aspire to do customer research before investing in a re-brand – right folks?

That’s what this is about. Saving money by doing the hard thing first – talking to your customers to find out what they want.

But first, you have to define who, exactly, you need to talk to.

And that starts by developing a hypothesis.

The Hypothetical Customer

“I think my customers are ________. The problem they have that I can solve is _________.”

Go ahead, take a stab at it.

“I think my customers are SaaS founders. The problem they have that I can solve is too much conflicting information and no guarantee that the pages filling up their bookshelves actually work.”

That is our working hypothesis for our book.

If you have a few types of customers you intend to serve, come up with a hypothesis for each segment.

This is the easy part! You’ve created or at least ideated your company with a customer and solution in mind. Now comes the hard part: Validating your hypothesis, or chucking it into the bin.

Most books spend hundreds of pages circling around this topic. We know, we’ve highlighted the good stuff. But what it comes down to is this.

  • List everyone you know who falls into the category of customer you’ve just described. List everyone you don’t know personally, but seem like they would fall into the category of customer you’ve just described. See if you can come up with a list of 20 people.
  • Now, email each of those people and ask to set up a 15 minute call. Or, if they’re local, you can sit down with them in person and buy them a cup of coffee. Make it clear you’re not selling anything, and that you value their expertise and time. And, if you’re shy about asking for a favor, thank them with a Starbucks gift card or trade some of your expertise and time. Reciprocity isn’t just a marketing hack – it’s important in all stages of business.
  • Ask them these three things:
  1. What jobs do you need to do around [what your industry/product/problem is]? Have them walk you through their process and record the exact words they use. For example, if you’re selling an HR solution that helps companies hire qualified people faster online (shoutout to Vervoe!), the tasks a business owner, manager or HR person need to do is create a job posting, sort through resumes, figure out interview questions, and spend hours interviewing people.
  2. What’s hard about those jobs? Let them rant about how hard they work and what grinds their gears, how they’ve failed or got outcomes they didn’t want. Record everything.
  3. If those issues were magically solved – what do they love about their jobs? What would they love about their lives? What would solving that problem allow them to do with that time instead?

Sure, there are a million and more questions you could ask – but these three focus on what jobs these customers need to do, what their pain points are surrounding those jobs, and what their ideal outcomes are.

We’re using a little of the Startup Owner’s Manual, a little Lean, a little Jobs to be Done, a dash of Customer Success – and a lot of experience here.

The answers you gain will start to show you some truths about your hypotheses.

  • You’ll start to see that some kind of ‘ideal customers’ are more ideal than others.
  • You’ll check whether the problems they have match the problems you think they have.
  • You’ll compare the language you use to describe those jobs and problems with the language they use.
  • And you’ll uncover insights you can’t even begin to guess at right now.

You may have to go back to the drawing board and re-write your ideal customer hypothesis – and that’s okay. It’s progress.

And you’ll definitely come away with language you can use for marketing – it’s one of the most valuables takeaways of this exercise.

Don’t be Lazy

Why can’t you just send a survey? Hey, that’s the reaction of most founders, too. Really. If we all agreed to just keep things simple by communicating via text message and Slack, we’d have more time for everything else. But believe us when we say: You need to hear their words.

In person, if possible.

Yes, it takes time and it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. But it’s worth it. People will not tell you on a survey what they will say to your face. They won’t even tell an employee of yours the same thing they’ll tell you, the founder. With an actual conversation, you’ll be able to ask in-the-moment follow-up questions, listen to the tone of their answers and put their words into an emotional context, and most importantly – you’ll be starting a relationship with potentially ideal customers who might become your first customers. Your best customers. Customers that will adopt early and advocate for you.

All of this comes from person-to-person communication. You can’t survey it away.

Keep it Short

A few rules for polite customer research:

  • Keep it short – stick to 15 or 20 minutes. It’s enough to get deep information without scaring people away.
  • Make sure every question you ask is actionable – as in, if you don’t plan to act on the information you get, don’t waste time asking the question.
  • Avoid yes/no questions. The goal is to get voice-of-customer data, which means you need to let them speak and not put words into their mouths.
  • Don’t take anything personally. These people want solutions to their problems, and maybe you have them, but even if you don’t, they’re giving you valuable feedback.
  • Show appreciation somehow. This doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, but it should be personal and helpful.

Sort Your Answer Pile

In the course of customer research, you’ll speak with people who may have seemed like ideal customers at first, but then clearly were not.

And others who aren’t so clear. They could go either way.

The answers you need most are the ones from your ideal clients, and to make sure you’re sorting the Ideals from the Non-Ideals accurately, ask yourself this:

  • If I gave this person my product/service/solution, could they successfully use it to reach their ideal outcomes.

This is a Customer Success approach that I really like because it sets you up to work with people who are primed and ready to love your product (and tell their friends about it). It’s also a way to avoid The Product Death Cycle of customer churn, panic, product changes and bankruptcy.

Success Potential relies on several different types of “fit” that the customer has to have to be able to use your product/service and reach their ideal outcomes. Types of fit include:

  • Technical – They have or can get the right technology to use your product.
  • Functional – Your product offers the features the customer needs to achieve their ideal outcome.
  • Resource – They have the time, money or manpower to use your product.
  • Competence – They know or can learn what they need to know to be successful with your product.
  • Cultural – They share your core values, without which you wouldn’t work well together.
  • Experience – You are able to deliver your product in the way they need to succeed, like having a Customer Success agent assigned to them if they need a high-touch approach, or clear in-app walkthroughs if they prefer to DIY. It’s about providing an appropriate experience that gives them support, in the way they need to be supported, to succeed.

There are other types of fit too, and you should feel free to build your own list and keep adding to it as you grow. Understanding fit now will go a long way towards preventing churn, and understanding churn when it happens.

You’ll be returning to your customers for feedback again and again – and if you don’t know which customers to ask, that feedback can get you into trouble! That’s why we’re spending a lot of time on laying the foundations that are so important to building a sustainable, scalable business. At the end of the day, it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know, and how well you know them.


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Content Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Success, Diversity, Growth Hacking, Podcasts, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

#EveryoneHatesMarketers: 4 Vital Things To Do Before Marketing Your New Startup

“Today I’m joined by my guest Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, an esteemed SaaS consultant, customer service evangelist, writer and community moderator. Her work has been featured in leading industry media such as HubSpot, Moz, Copy Hackers, Forbes, Canva and more.

Nichole is going to walk us through the four things you need to do before you can start marketing your startup or new business. Founders tend to skip the basics of marketing foundations, and this crucial step can make or break your business. Listen in for Nichole’s four most important pre-marketing initiatives that you need to know for your startup or to refresh the marketing of an existing business.”

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The importance of marketing foundations
  • Growth hacking pitfalls
  • Customer development work
  • Resources to identify ideal customers
  • Creating your first value proposition
  • Filling success gaps
  • Recommended reading

Transcript on Everyone Hates Marketers


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Content Marketing, Podcasts, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

#ForgetTheFunnel: 4 Steps to Align SaaS Content Marketing & Product Management

I was absolutely honored to be on Forget The Funnel, with hosts Georgiana Laudi and Claire Suellentrop to discuss four steps to align content marketing and product management.

Check out the video replay for the 30-minute workshop.


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

How Top SaaS Companies Create Customer-Centric Onboarding by @ShaylaPrice

Here’s a major SaaS growth challenge: How do teams ensure customer success from the onset?

With the goal to quickly convert new customers into loyal advocates, it’s easy for SaaS teams to forget what’s important. In this case, it’s onboarding.

Seen as just another to-do, teams neglect how crucial onboarding benefits the customer. Yes, they activated their accounts. But can you get customers to their desired outcomes?

Too often, SaaS companies marvel in their own products, from an eye-appealing user interface to near-perfect functionality. That’s only part of the equation.

Onboarding leads you from acquisition to retention. So it’s time to shift your focus to where it belongs—the customer.

Follow these five steps to achieve a customer-centric onboarding flow.

1. Score the Aha! Moment (Early)

Life is all about precious moments. People like remembering their first awkward kiss, the time they visited Disneyland with friends, and when their first-born kid peed on the floor.

Whether it’s embarrassing, sad, or joyful, certain moments define our lives and stay etched in our memory bank. The same principle applies to customer success.

Customers will recall their first interactions with your brand. Therefore, you should make that moment special. And the best way to do that is to help the user achieve value, or the Aha! Moment, as soon as possible.

“The customers need to understand your uniqueness, the costs, and benefits of the product…If the customer sees the core value of your product immediately, if they understand how it’s going to help them, they are far more likely to continue using it,” writes Gabriela Tanuri, a content analyst at Pipz.

Every company defines an engaged user differently. Maybe your users must complete three tasks in one week, or invite five friends to your app within 15 days. For instance, Dropbox considers users reaching the Aha! Moment when they put at least one file in one folder on one device.

Work with your team to unlock product value during the onboarding process. Users want to succeed—make it happen promptly.

2. Bake Success Into Your Messaging

SaaS businesses do an effective job at gaining potential customers’ attention. Teams spend lots of time designing creative display ads, developing witty copy for their homepages, and writing hilarious emails. The branding is dynamic and worth sharing on social.

Yet, once customers enter the onboarding stage, the brand personality wanes. Customers get dull messages with technical jargon.

On top of that, the messaging only informs the customer about a feature or provides access to an upcoming how-to guide.

When learning something new, customers seek validation that they’re doing things the right way. They need that recognition to move forward.

So treat onboarding like a celebration. When customers achieve a milestone, let them know and award them with personalized messages.

Mailchimp knows how to celebrate customer success. Right before customers send a campaign, they see an image that builds the anticipation, even the copy screams excitement —“This is your moment of glory.” Then, once the user sends the campaign, Mailchimp gives the user a virtual high five.

Image Source

If customer milestones aren’t acknowledged, users may feel like they’re failing. They start second-guessing their actions and the value of your tool. Keep them on the right track with messages that praise their activity.

3. Identify & Remedy User Gaps

It’s impossible to see all the gaps in your onboarding process before launching. And if you focused on finding every imperfection, you would never ship the product.

To identify gaps, start by monitoring user behavior over time. Are there increases in new user inactivity? Do customers stop opening onboarding emails after the third message? Is there an influx of similar support issues?

The next step is to fix the problem. Let’s say new user activity drops by 25% on the fifth day after signing up. You may want to lure customers back to your app with a nurturing email on the third or fourth day.

“Users should never wonder what to do next. Often this is best achieved by holding the customer’s hand and walking them straight to whatever they consider success. This can be done with popups, tooltips, or a guided tutorial that only shows the user what they need to see,” states Dennis Hammer, a content strategist at Audience Ops.

Slack is well-known for its guided tutorials in the onboarding process. Customers get short descriptions about each feature. There’s even an opt out link if users feel comfortable moving forward without guidance. These tutorials ensure users attain success.

Image Source

Don’t freak out about onboarding gaps. Instead, take action to fix the mishaps and get back to delivering value to your customers.

4. Be Available for Questions

Building a worthwhile product is important for your SaaS. If your application sucked, no one would bother purchasing it. However, it’s not the only thing that matters.

Teams sometimes forget that no matter what your SaaS product does, you’re still in the service business. Your primary objective is to build amazing customer experiences. And one of the tenets to achieve that goal is offer superior customer support before, during, and after onboarding.

Of course, you’re nice to customers and respond to their concerns. But another key ingredient is accessibility.

What annoys customers the most is signing up for a product and not having multiple channels and times to access your team members. Either customer support is only accessible by email, or you only respond to questions from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. It’s frustrating to the user who wants a solution now.

So what should you? Make yourself available on several channels. For your SaaS, that may include investing in live chat software to answer customer inquiries. Or you may need to expand your phone support times by three extra hours on the weekends.

You can streamline the support system for the customer, too. For example, Trello customers who are signed into their accounts can send a help message with their names and email addresses already pre-filled.

Onboarding is a critical stage. If customers feel helpless, they may decide to churn. Gather the right tools to make the experience convenient for them.

5. Evaluate Customer Milestones

It’s a completely normal process: Set a goal. Take action. Measure the progress. Adjust and repeat.

Whether it’s fear of failure or a forgotten step, SaaS teams skip over measuring their customers’ progress. It’s the only way to know if the customer is reaching their desired outcome and is fully buying into your brand promise.

So revisit those customer milestones. Are users accomplishing them? How often? What can your team do to make the process easier?

Understanding where users fall on the milestone spectrum gives your team insight on how to drive them toward becoming a power user or brand advocate.

“Keeping this ‘success milestone’ way of thinking after they become a customer—or are otherwise past the customer onboarding process – will allow you to surface upsell/cross-sell offers, as well as advocacy requests, at the perfect time so you’re more likely to get a positive result,” says Lincoln Murphy.

Experimentation is vital as well. Try breaking your onboarding into separate workflows, or customizing onboarding based on specific user segments. You may learn that certain customers need concierge onboarding.

The Customer Takes Center Stage

While these insights don’t reach the level of rocket science, SaaS teams often undervalue and overlook them. You possess the power to get customers to their desired solution. So start giving the customer your undivided attention in the onboarding process.

Case Studies, Content Marketing, SaaS, Testimonials

[Case Study]: Autopilot (@autopilotus) + Rocket Fuel

How Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré helped Autopilot attract relevant influencers, improve engagement metrics, and improve conversions with the Rocket Fuel Package.

“In 2017, I hired Nichole to help promote Autopilot’s content. Not only did she get our content in front of the right people, but she also saved us time and money along the way.” – Jes Kirkwood, SaaS marketer & growth strategist

The Challenge

SaaS marketer and growth strategist Jes Kirkwood was tasked with helping Autopilot improve their content following, but not just by boosting page views and engagement metrics. Autopilot, a marketing automation software company, needed to reach their target audience of SaaS marketers – specifically.

Kirkwood signed up for Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré’s Rocket Fuel package in July, 2017.

The Rocket Fuel Package is designed for this precise purpose: To help companies gain brand recognition among their ideal audiences by sharing their high quality, original content on Nichole’s personal social media accounts, as well as Growth Hackers, Inbound.org, SaaS.Community and additional distribution to specialized outlets like Zest.is.

Over the course of two months, Nichole promoted 36 pieces of content. The results?

“In just 2 months, her influence drove 359 new users to our blog, attracted the attention of relevant influencers, and landed our content in an industry newsletter with over 135K subscribers. Better yet, she sparked meaningful conversations with our target audience. If you want to reach and engage SaaS marketers, I highly recommend partnering with Nichole.” – Jes Kirkwood, SaaS marketer & growth strategist

The Numbers

Cost: $1,000 for 50 days (tracking wasn’t set up properly the first ten days, a mistake made by Nichole)

Results:

  • 857 website sessions (average time on site: 0:43 seconds + average 1.33 pages per visit)
  • 359 new users (website visitors)

Top three channels:

  • Twitter (most sessions)
  • Quuu (most new users, i.e., website visitors)
  • LinkedIn (highest quality traffic)

Other benefits:

  • Time savings (approx. 5 hours) syndicating each article to GrowthHackers.com and Inbound
  • Started a meaningful conversation in the Inbound community (attracting influencer attention): (23 upvotes, 29 comments)
  • Landed Autopilot in the Growth Hackers newsletter for Flight School lesson (135K+ subscribers, 3.9K views, 20 upvotes)

In the client’s words:

“Nikki’s content promotion efforts helped drive brand awareness for Autopilot to a highly qualified audience across relevant social media channels and active online communities. Not only did she attract traffic that spent 38% more time on our site compared to our average visitor, she went the extra mile to start meaningful conversations with our target audience.” – Anne Fleshman, Director of Marketing at Autopilot

 

Customer Experience, Customer Success, Emotion, Products, SaaS, Startups

A Completely Different way to Look at Customer Fit for SaaS Startups ft. @LincolnMurphy

There are so many ways businesses segment customers, and many of them are useless: demographics, location, purchasing histories, size of company, how much the customer pays, and so many more.

But there’s one method of segmentation that tends to be overlooked. And overlooking it will lead, invariably, to churn.

It’s called Appropriate Experience (AX). And I guarantee it’s not what you think.

What is Appropriate Experience?

Appropriate Experience is an extremely customer-centric idea, because it’s all about them. The customers. Their experience. But this isn’t “customer experience.” Forget CX and customer satisfaction. No, no. This is completely different.

Appropriate Experience is about how the customer needs to be treated and supported by you so they can reach their desired outcome.

But what is it really – in practice?

For SaaS, a good example of Appropriate Experience might be customers who need high-touch customer support vs. low-touch. Maybe the customer’s Appropriate Experience is self-service, because they have the expertise and technical abilities to figure out most things for themselves. Or maybe the customer’s Appropriate Experience requires some hand-holding, a designated customer-success manager and 24-7 help desk.

Lincoln Murphy, who championed AX, explains it this way:

You see, a customer has a required outcome. A thing that they need to achieve… And they have a way that they need to achieve that Appropriate Experience. That Appropriate Experience – AX as I call it – goes across the entire customer lifecycle.

He mentions Appropriate Experience within the context of the checklist he recommends using to see whether a customer has “success potential.”

Here’s that checklist (view full descriptions on his article about success potential.)

  • Technical fit
  • Functional fit
  • Cultural fit
  • Competence fit
  • Experience fit
  • Resource fit

In many ways, Appropriate Experience (aka. Experience fit) is the flip-side of Resource fit. Resource fit asks the customer if they can spare the resources to put in the time/money/manpower to succeed with the product. Experience fit asks you – the SaaS company – the same question.

The question you need to ask yourself is…

Do you have the resources to ensure that this customer has the experience they need to reach their ideal outcome?

What experience are you able and willing to provide?

You may not have the resources to serve customers who need the high-touch approach.

And that means that you can’t give that particular customer segment their Appropriate Experience, and they won’t be successful with you.

You can’t afford not to identify your customer segments by the experience they require.

Yes, that also means you can’t afford to keep customer segments to whom you can’t deliver an Appropriate Experience. Even if they’re paying you.

It sounds crazy to turn away good money, I know.

But these are people who will never be satisfied with what you offer. They won’t refer you business. They’re highly likely to leave lackluster reviews. And they will churn – after wasting a tremendous amount of your time and resources trying to make them happy when that was never gonna happen.

What happens when you segment your customers and find that a lot of them could use a different experience? Well, then it’s…

Problem-solving time

When you use Appropriate Experience as a factor in customer segmentation, you may find that a large part of your customers demand a type of experience you’re not currently providing.

Uh oh.

You have a few options.

You might consider expanding your services and scaling to meet that need.

If this is a possibility, you’ll want to first survey that segment and ask them what experience would most help them achieve their desired outcomes. But when you do, keep Lincoln Murphy’s checklist in mind. Are these customers who have success potential, if only they had a slightly different experience?

Also keep in mind that Appropriate Experience isn’t limited to how much help a customer gets. It’s not just a high-touch/low-touch issue. If my desired outcome is to go out to dinner with my significant other for a romantic evening, there is a very specific experience I need to achieve that, and Burger King isn’t going to do the job. Think holistically.

Another option, of course, is to not scale or change the experience you provide. You could decide to focus on the customer segment whose Appropriate Experience matches what you’re prepared to offer.

Both are actually good options.

The only bad option is accepting the business of someone you can’t really serve.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Experience, Customer Success, Customer Support, SaaS

The Loyalty Metric: A Brief History of Net Promoter Score and How to Use it in Practice Today ft. @Wootric

More than two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 list currently use Net Promoter Score, a customer loyalty metric introduced by Fred Reichheld in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow.”

One number. And to get to that one number, you only have to ask one question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this [product/brand/company/service]?”

Anyone who scores 0-6 is considered a Detractor. Passives rate 7 and 8. Promoters are those who score 9s and 10s – extremely likely to recommend.

The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting Detractors from Promoters. Scores can range anywhere from -100 to 100. It couldn’t be simpler, or more powerful.

Since 2003, the popularity of that one number has grown exponentially, spawning specialty apps to track it and spurring researchers to study it. The most recent study by Temkin Group of 10,000 U.S. consumers showed a direct connection between NPS and customer loyalty across 20 industries. In 291 companies, NPS was highly correlated to the likelihood of repeat purchases from existing customers. In fact, promoters across those 20 industries were 92% more likely to make more purchases than detractors (not surprising), were 9 times more likely to try new offerings, and 5 times more likely to repurchase. Promoters were also 7 times more likely than Detractors to forgive companies if they made a mistake.

Loyalty is lucrative.

The ability to measure and improve it is imperative. And that’s where NPS comes into play.

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Quora Answers, SaaS

“Is it a good idea to switch the monthly plans with quarterly to reduce the churn rate in an SaaS business?” Answer by @NikkiElizDemere

Churn isn’t caused by sending the bill, or having a quarterly or monthly plan. You could ask subscribers “Are you still in? Want out? You sure?” every single day and if they are making real, tangible progress towards achieving their desired outcomes with your product, they’ll say “Dude, don’t be so insecure. I freakin’ love you.”

Or something to that effect.

Thing is, they’ll stay with you for one reason, and one reason only: If your product is helping them achieve their goals (and doing it better/faster than your competitors).

Now, it would be lovely if churn was as simple as that. It almost is, but there’s another component to the issue.

Do the customers who are churning have the potential to succeed in the first place?

Think of churn as a symptom, not the disease, and it’s usually caused by customers who either don’t have Success Potential or aren’t reaching their Desired Outcomes.So instead of A/B testing your plan cycle, focus on checking whether customers who are churning have success potential in the first place (Lincoln Murphy has a very handy checklist in the second article), and if they don’t, it means your marketing may be attracting the wrong people and/or your sales team may be selling to the wrong people.

If the churning customers do seem to have success potential, then you’re going to have to dig deep (ie. voice of customer data, surveys, interviews) to find out what these “ideal” customers aren’t getting from you that they need.

I originally answered this question on Quora.

Read Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré's answer to Is it a good idea to switch the monthly plans with quarterly to reduce the churn rate in an SaaS business? on Quora


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Quora Answers, SaaS

“How do I acquire SaaS customers?” Answer by @NikkiElizDemere

As with any customer acquisition, you first have to make sure you’ve got a solid foundation before you get into marketing efforts.

You have to understand your ideal customers and develop a compelling value proposition. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What are their desired outcomes? What words do they use to describe their problems and desired outcomes? What do they expect to get from you? What do they hope to get?

Don’t know? Don’t guess. Ask them.

Based on the qualitative data you gather and your product, the next challenge is to come up with a unique value proposition that establishes product-market fit – in the language with which your target market will identify. (Sometimes I refer to this as language-market fit.)

We’re doing some high-level English major work here. We’re talking diction: Word choice. And we’re using it to power your marketing so when a customer for your SaaS startup (or otherwise) hits on your value proposition, they’ll immediately know you are for them.


Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky (
@yazsedky) for Nichole.

A value proposition accomplishes four tasks:

  1. Defines who your ideal customer is
  2. States what your product does
  3. Establishes why you’re unique
  4. Shows the end benefit

Value propositions are complicated, but when you distill it down, the idea is really simple: To get customers, you have to tell them why they should work with you based on what you uniquely offer that is also important to them.

Now, once you have that foundation, the challenge becomes getting your product in front of your ideal customers.

Perhaps even more than other markets, SaaSpreneurs are looking for thought leaders to tell them how to do things just a bit better. So they’re here, on Quora. They’re on Medium. They’re on blogs like SEOMoz, and sites like Hacker News, ProductHunt, Growth Hackers, Reddit, and LinkedIn.

They’re everywhere.

Which isn’t to say you’ll get equal ROI from each of these outlets. You won’t. And you’ll spread yourself way too thin if you try to hit all of them.

Traction & Growth Channels

This is where “traction channels” come into play, and a very useful tool called the “Bullseye Framework.”

Image source: Strategize, Test, Measure: The Bullseye Framework by Brian Balfour (@bbalfour)

Traction channels are marketing and distribution channels that focus on customer acquisition.

They’re where you strategically choose to place your content to attract leads.

The secret to traction channels is that most startups use only a few – and there are hundreds (if not thousands).

Most businesses flood just a handful of channels and ignore the rest. They choose the ones they’re most familiar with, but you really can’t know what channel will work best for your product or service, and your audience, until you test.

That’s where the Bullseye Framework comes in – introduced in Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares’ e-book, Traction.

Weinberg and Mares identified 19 different traction channels in their e-book, Traction, including traditional media, social media and various types of marketing.

Here are a few channels from the e-book just to give you an idea:

  • Viral marketing – encouraging users to refer other users
  • Traditional media outlets & offline ads (tv, radio, print ads)
  • SEO / Inbound Marketing
  • Engineering as marketing – developing free tools, micro-sites and widgets to drive leads
  • Strategic partnerships with other companies
  • Existing platforms – i.e. using Facebook or Apple’s App Store, or even Medium to grow your audience
  • Speaking engagements
  • Community building

The Bullseye Framework is designed to whittle down the list into a few that have the best chance of maximizing your ROI. Because creating really great thought-leadery content requires a significant investment of time, if not money.

Bullseye in a Nutshell, According to Traction

Step 1: Brainstorm at least one idea for how you could use each type of traction channel.

Step 2: Rank your ideas according to which seem most promising, which could possibly work, and which seem unlikely. It might be helpful to give yourself a measurable goal, like which channels are most likely to yield 100,000 users in the first six months after launch (that, incidentally, was Mint’s lofty goal).

Step 3: Prioritize – Choose three channels that seem most promising.

Step 4: Test your three channels with the aim of finding out Cost to Acquire for each channel, how many customers are available through each channel, and whether the customers you are getting through each channel fit into your ideal customer profile.

[I’d watch out for Step 4 though, because some very important channels yield long-lasting, sustainable results, but don’t deliver quick wins. Yes, I’m talking about inbound marketing, content and SEO, as well as some others that can fly well under the radar.]

Step 5: Focus on the most promising channel. Weinberg and Mare recommend focusing on one traction channel at a time, the idea being “At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition.” But again, they seem to ignore the long-term benefits of building solid content.

I would argue that startups should focus on one traction channel for quick wins, and another for long-term gains.

Here’s my list of traction and growth channels for the SaaS market to test, divided into quick wins and long-term gains.

These channels should be based on the customer.

Quick-win channels:

  • BetaList – Submit your startup on BetaList to find early adopters for your product and get valuable feedback.
  • Contests, giveaways – try Wishpond
  • Events – Launch parties, festivals, conferences – 32 examples of marketing using events
  • JustReachOut is a tool that was created specifically for startups to pitch journalists (though it is a paid resource)
  • Introduce your product on Medium – Examples: Welcome to Glitchand Introducing Yo Stories.
  • Paid Campaigns
  • Press / PR campaigns
    • For media coverage, you can use a website like Help A Reporter (HARO) to connect with journalists and bloggers needing sources for future articles. The daily HARO newsletters break down the source requests into categories, so scanning to see if your expertise is a fit is easy (plus, it is free!).
    • Mailroom Month teaches you how to get journalists to write about your business, product, startup or idea. They send a reporter to your e-mail with expert advice on how to pitch them — every day for a month.
  • Product Hunt – Is your product available (i.e. not just in test mode)? Launch it on Product Hunt, a community where product enthusiasts can easily discover new products.
  • Social media – Social media buzz is one of those things that is often more easily said than done. But, companies like InVision have used the simple tactic of giving away free company t-shirts to drive impressive customer acquisition. And even early stage SaaS companies can afford a few t-shirts. (This tip is from Kate Harvey, Content & Search Marketing Manager at Chargify.)
  • Zest.isA new-tab feed of content suggested by marketers, for marketers

Long-term gains, channels usually based on creating high quality, relevant content:

I’d recommend using the Bullseye Framework to narrow down this list and find a channel or two that work best for you for both the short and long-term. And try new channels when you’re initial channel stops working.

Ultimately, acquiring SaaS customers requires the same research and strategies as acquiring any other type of customer. The difference lies mostly in where to find them. The SaaS community is an especially active one on forums and online communities like Product Hunt, Growth Hackers, Medium, Quora, and private groups on Slack, Facebook and LinkedIn.

That’s good news, because knowing where to find your customers is half the battle.

The other half is proving your worth.

I originally answered this question on Quora.

Read Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré's answer to How do I acquire SaaS customers? on Quora


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, Onboarding, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

How to Create Customer-Centric (Not Product-Centric) User Onboarding Flows ft. @Appcues

Onboarding is a magical time—magic in the sense that if your users don’t find what they need and get the results they want, they will magically disappear. Also, magic because of its transformational power to turn tire-kickers into loyal users.

Will your onboarding process lead to a disappearing act? Or will it enable you to build a lasting customer relationship?

It all depends on how you build customer success into your user flows.

Many onboarding user flows are designed to help the user set up their accounts and learn how to use the product. That’s all very useful. But these user flows are missing a step.

Account setup and functional learning are important, but only as much as they help the user achieve their ideal outcomes.

Your user doesn’t care about your interface. They don’t really care about your tool either. They care about achieving their ideal outcome in the simplest, easiest, fastest way possible.

That’s what your product is designed to deliver, isn’t it?

Yet, too often, we fail to include the actions that mean success for the customer into the very user flows designed to get them there!

It’s time we re-think product-centric user flows—especially in onboarding.

Read More on Appcues


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.