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retention

Customer Experience

The surprising impact onboarding has on employee retention

employee onboarding

When does your relationship with a new employee begin? Much like relationships with customers, they begin long before you’re aware – from the first time the employee encounters your brand. From there, it’s a bit like a sales funnel as awareness increases, the prospective employee weighs their options, does some research, and finally decides to apply. The employee goes through the application and interview process, and – hurray! – they’re a great fit. They have a lot to offer you, you have a lot to offer them, they’re so excited to start their first day.

Fast-forward one year – that great-fit employee who was so excited to begin is gone.

What happened?

The issues that lead to employee turnover may have their source in your onboarding – those first few, very important weeks of a new hire’s job. It’s why new hires are at a higher risk of leaving within their first year.

When you get onboarding right, retention rates rise, turnover falls, and you’ll see the ripple effects of higher engagement and productivity. Onboarding is an investment that pays off again and again over the course of the employee lifecycle.

“The seeds of animosity or advocacy are sown from and individual’s very first interaction with a company. The attraction, recruitment, hiring and onboarding stages – along with daily experiences that continue after onboarding – each affect how a candidate or employee feels about an organization and its promises… Gallup data reveal that companies are faltering even in the earliest stages of the employee experience.” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

Why Few Companies Get Onboarding Right

Too often, companies confuse onboarding with induction – the paperwork and mandatory tasks required to start a new job. Onboarding is much more than that. It’s your opportunity to set your employee up for success with their work, and engage with your company’s mission – the big WHY behind what you do.

“12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

This is one of the missing pieces in most onboarding practices – sharing your ‘why’ and showing your values as a company. How do you help people? What impact do you have on your customers’ lives?

Aligning employees behind a shared sense of purpose has been proven to raise engagement levels — and with them, retention rates.

Sharing your purpose and values with your new hire will lay the foundations for engagement, but that’s not all they need to be successful. To understand that, you have to understand why new hires leave.

Why New Hires Leave

New hires are at the highest risk of leaving within the first year and a half, with the highest turnover happening within the first 45 days. What happens during that short period of time to send them running out the door?

“22% of staff turnover occurs in the first forty-five days of employment.” – The Wynhurst Group

“46% of rookies wash out in their first 18 months” – Leadership IQ, in a study of 20,000 new hired employees over 3 years

In one survey, 26% of departing employees cited mismatched expectations between their interviews and their actual work as the primary reason for leaving – and that’s an onboarding issue.

Onboarding is a time to make sure managers and new hires establish a shared set of expectations – hopefully the same set of expectations that were set up during the recruitment and interview process. At minimum, that means:

  • A job description that accurately and comprehensively describes the position.
  • A statement of how the individual position contributes to the broader purpose of the business (ie. how it impacts customers, why it’s important)
  • A discussion of the new hire’s goals, and what support they can expect from management

But there’s also a crucial, and less tangible, factor during onboarding – does the company culture match the expectations set during recruitment? If the onboarding experience falls flat, it can undermine the new relationship and cast doubt as to whether the new starter made the right decision.

“When employees don’t have the experience they were promised, they will likely make their unhappiness known – in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. They may start looking for new job opportunities, or they may become actively disengaged employees, meaning they develop such a distaste for their organization that they take deliberate steps to undermine its progress.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

Get Onboarding Right & Raise Retention Rates Substantially

When you lay the foundations for engagement, success and aligned expectations, employees have what they need to do well in their work and feel part of something bigger. And that is a recipe for retention.

“Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are 69% more likely to remain at the company for up to three years.” – SHRM, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success

But those aren’t the only ingredients required. A positive onboarding experience gives employees a strong start, but you also need to follow through on those first impressions. Employees need to feel supported by management, able to connect their work to the company’s larger purpose, and feel like the company lives its values. It’s a relationship that requires care and feeding, like any other.  

“Employees are consumers of the workplace. They are drawn to brands they can connect with. And they stick with – even advocate for – brands that honor their promises.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017

In other words, a great onboarding experience only works to increase retention when companies follow through and live up to the hopes of their new hires.

How to get started:

employee onboarding

Download Enboarder’s white paper The Avoidable Problems That Cause Your Best People to Leave to unmask the primary culprit behind your turnover problem.

Microsoft, Google and Eventbrite reveal how they balance technology and the human element to keep their best people.

Customer Success, Mobile, Mobile Apps

“Do push notifications increase retention?” Answer by @NikkiElizDeMere

Do push notifications increase retention? Hah! I spent the first 10 minutes of my morning disabling push notifications AGAIN from my phone (because apparently app ‘updates’ = resetting my notification settings?).

I am not alone, apparently. Andrew Chen said it best: “notification-driven retention sucks.”

In all seriousness though, push notifications only increase retention as much as they are *useful.* Tell me when something is wrong. Tell me when something goes through correctly. Tell me when a friend, or client, contacts me. Tell me when you have a 20% off sale (anything less than 20% I consider spam, let’s be real here).

This morning though, my phone was pinging for no reason I could find at all. Disable. Disable. Disable. Like someone from Facebook should have listened when PostFunnel’s Matt McAllister said “Push notification permissions are a privilege… Users can take them away at any time.”

So I’ve got this crazy idea:

What if we took another look at how we use push notifications, and this time, see it through the lens of Customer Success?

How can we use push notifications to *help* our customers be successful with our product?

Not just ‘ping’ them into submission.

Let’s think about that for a moment, in the context of what your app does, who uses it, and what their ideal real-world outcomes are. Can getting a message at just the right moment help them (not just you) be successful?

Starbucks is doing this really well. If you’ve got the Starbucks rewards app on your phone, they optimize what they send you based on your purchase history, listed preferences, even the local weather, like sending an iced coffee notification when it’s 101 degrees.

And how about a crazier idea – most of the ‘push notifications’ we want to see are the ones alerting us that a personal friend, or a client, or a human (vs. a brand), or a member of a group we’re in, have said something interesting, that we might want to know about, NOW.

That’s right – the most effective push notifications are based on human relationships. Shocker!

This is actually great news when you’re trying to use push notifications to drive retention and engagement, because relationships also drive retention and engagement!

What if you focused on building relationships, say, with a social media community built around your product, and when something of interest is posted in that space, send a push notification to invite users into that conversation? I always want to know what’s happening and who’s saying what in my Facebook groups and Slack channels. That will always get me to click.

But when you start with what your customer needs and wants, they’re not going to spend their mornings like I did – disabling your push notifications!

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Mobile, Mobile Apps

“What are the best practices to optimize retention in a mobile app?” Answer by @NikkiElizDeMere

First, let me state some fun facts.

  • Last year, there were more than 20 million apps on iOS App Store and 3.5 million on Google Play.
  • In 2017, the average person had 80 apps on their smartphone – but, only used half of those apps on a monthly basis.
  • The odds of someone becoming a long-term user are really slim. Only 29% of app users continue using any given app after 3 months.

In that landscape (appscape?), retention is an enormous challenge. And a lot of SaaS companies are trying techniques in Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, using push notifications and emails as “external triggers” to get people to essentially practice going to the app and building positive associations with it. Almost like building muscle memory.

Or an addiction.

But let’s look on the sunny side of the street (while acknowledging that the shady side is really dark) for a moment.

One of the ideas in Hooked that I like most is “habit testing” your product. The Habit Testing process places a lot of emphasis on understanding “Who your devotees are,” in addition to “what part of your product is habit forming, if any” and “why those aspects of your product are habit forming.”

Understanding your customer is where every retention effort should start.

Talking to your best customers to find out why they use your product, how they use it, and when is vitally important. Using that information to tweak your user flow to get your customers to their goals faster and easier is the raw material of retention.

But I would go farther. I recommend interviewing your best customers (or people you believe will be your best customers, if you haven’t yet launched) to find out what they’d really like to do, and how your app moves them closer to that goal.

That goal that lives outside your app.

Let’s take Facebook for example. My goal as a Facebook user is to stay in touch with my friends, feel a sense of community and camaraderie in my groups, and share photos of my cats. Facebook has won my long-term usage by making it easier (mostly) for me to do these things by suggesting “people you may know,” sending notifications when someone posts in one of my groups, and allowing me to upload kitten pics in HD.

And, of course, there are the psychological rewards built in – the dopamine boost of the “notifications” tab, the constant drip of “what will show up on my feed next?!”

But if it didn’t get me closer to my core goals? I could live without Facebook. Happily.

The ways in which you engage your customers should be ways that help them reach their goals. Whether those are emotional goals (I’m bored! I want to see kittens playing in boxes! Hello YouTube!), practical goals (I must budget! Baby needs a new scratching post!), self-improvement goals (I will eat kale at every meal!), or professional goals (I’m going to make Partner in 5 years!).

We can personalize in-app experiences to nudge people towards making real progress. We have that technology. And I predict that, when customers are tired of being manipulated into forming habits that may not be in their best interests, they will gravitate towards apps that are genuinely designed to help them become better versions of themselves.

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Customer Success, Retention, SaaS

[Podcast] @LincolnMurphy on The Secret to SaaS Retention: Cutting Time to First Value (+ other insights from @SamuelHulick, @patio11 & @statwonk)

If you’re charting customer success milestones into your user flow and/or onboarding processes, congratulations! You are way ahead of those who don’t. But before I can offer the panacea statement “You’re doing everything right!” – there’s one step you might be missing.

It’s easy to miss, because it’s counter-intuitive.

It’s counter-intuitive, because, being the very good CSM that you are, you’ve done ALLTHERESEARCH on your target customer. You know what they want to do and need to get done with your product. And you are building milestones into your product to keep them on track.

But here’s the missing link.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone.

It isn’t.

And understanding the difference is very… well… valuable.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone. It isn’t. Click To Tweet

We’re talking dollars and cents, make-or-break your company valuable.

First, a couple of definitions for the newly initiated:

Your Milestones: Typical milestones include trial period, sale, onboarding, product usage, upsell opportunity, renewal, etc. These are your milestones – the things you’d like your customers to accomplish so your product is successful. These are not your customer’s milestones.

Customer Success Milestones: The steps a customer has to take in order to reach their desired outcome. (Lincoln Murphy’s definition.) You can also think of them as the little successes along the way to reaching the customer’s ultimate success.

Time to first value (TTFV): Time to first value is how much time it takes for the customer to get real, tangible value from using your product. And this is “value” by their definition, not yours. This first value is probably going to be related to your value proposition – that promise that got your customers in the door in the first place.

The onboarding process, in particular, is where we really win or lose customers – and the surest way to win them is to show them value. In The Most Important SaaS Metric Nobody Talks About, RRE ventures connects the dots between the value proposition and time to first value in a nice, concise way:

Onboarding should emphasize and reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Sign-up should be frictionless and deployment should be self-service to the point where the customer is up and running in minutes and, most importantly, getting value from your product a few moments right after.”

Onboarding should reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Click To Tweet

A few moments isn’t much time to deliver value, and if your product simply can’t manage that – you’re not alone.

Lincoln Murphy has been noodling over the idea of time to first value for a while – and I particularly like what he has to say about including “quick wins” in the onboarding process. Quick wins don’t have to happen within the first “20 minutes” like the RRE Ventures article suggests, but they do need to happen fast enough to prove that your product is worth the time/money investment before the customer loses interest (or patience).

Reaching that first value quickly is easier in simpler SaaS products. But what if you have a complicated product, one which does a lot of things and has a steeper learning curve? I asked Lincoln Murphy, Founder of Sixteen Ventures to weigh in on time to first value, and what the TTFV process looks like for a more complicated product.

Time to First Value (TTFV) Podcast ft. Lincoln Murphy

Lincoln on Time to First Value

Since there’s some confusion over value versus milestones, Lincoln clears that up first.

I like TTFV because it forces us to think about value; milestones can quickly devolve into the typical inward-focused CX of just trying to get a customer to do what we want, not what they need to do.

The purpose of milestones is to get the customer closer to finding value – I might have to go through several milestones to reach first value. If a milestone isn’t value-based – if it’s not moving the customer toward their Desired Outcome – it isn’t a milestone. Or it isn’t a milestone in the context of Customer Success.

Also remember that “first value” may be actual value delivered (or received, depending upon your POV) or it could be when the value potential is first recognized by the customer outside of their interactions with sales and marketing.

More complex products often take awhile for value to be truly recognized, so the value potential is what we focus on initially.

Lincoln on First Value when it’s Complicated

Onboarding design is usually about prompting the new customer to complete “setup” tasks and/or learning how to use the product.

It’s a bit like creating a new character when you want to play your computer game – you pick a name, do some cosmetic surgery on the face, choose a species (I know I’m not the only RPG gamer here). The best games make that part fun too, because they know that fun is their customer’s desired outcome. It’s not that different for SaaS products, but with SaaS products – especially those adopted by teams and businesses, you also have to manage expectations.

Setting up the system is part of getting to first value, but you need to be prescriptive and manage expectations with them along the way, meaning you really have to understand what first value actually is [for the customer] and design a process to get them there quickly.

Structure begets trust.

The more we can help our customer set things up and manage expectations on their end, so they can plan for it accordingly, the more they’ll trust us. Often it’s the unknown that causes our customers to lose confidence in us.

The unknown is problematic because it’s confusing, hard to plan around. Sometimes, onboarding processes are even confusing on purpose.

For most vendors, the onboarding process is a total black box, at least throughout the sales process, and only then does it become more apparent that it’s… not actually that great.

You see this when vendors try to hide the details of onboarding from their customers until it’s too late for customers to back out. We need to be open, prescriptive and structured with our customers.

That said, very often, the setup, implementation, data seeding, integrations, etc., aren’t necessary to getting the customer to first value. That’s a huge idea, because vendors often don’t understand what initial value is for the customer. They think that in order for a customer to get value they have to have everything set up. The customer has to have all the implementations and integrations complete.

The reality is that’s not true.

It may be true for the customer to get ultimate value, but that’s not first value.
The critical piece here is understanding the difference.

Back to my role-playing games – sometimes the setup is more fun than the game. That’s doing it right. ie. finding the first value insta-fast. But in the serious world of SaaS, product development and sales folks are so concentrated on full adoption, that they miss opportunities to identify other, in-between ways in which their customers can get closer to their ideal outcomes.

Most vendors have an idea of value for their customers and that idea usually greatly varies from the idea of value that their customers have for themselves. The vendors’ idea of value is often full adoption, full breadth and depth. Customers must use all the seats and every feature or they can’t be successful, but your customers tend to have something else in mind. They have a business outcome that they need to achieve and that may not require what *you* think success really is.

The question is: do you care about what your customer sees as success? Or do you care about what you see as success?

You have to make a decision. If it’s all about you, all about that full depth and breadth of use, that’s fine, but know that’s not the same as your customer’s definition of success.

And that’s going to be a problem.

So how do we dig deeper and find out what first values to target?

We need to ask what is their ultimate business outcome and what would first value actually be?

Is it when they first get some real tangible value, or is it the first time, outside of sales and marketing, that they see the potential for value in their relationship with us? Figure out which one it is and that’s your onboarding goal.

Now we have to engineer a process to get them to that point.

Here’s the deal: We have this ultimate business outcome, and to get there we have to achieve these smaller outcomes along the way – an initial outcome followed by logical milestones.

If they don’t achieve those first few milestones, their ultimate goals don’t really matter because they won’t get there. This is why we see so much churn and non-renewal attributed to early lifecycle issues.

It’s your job as the vendor to know what that initial outcome is and help them achieve that in the appropriate way, and you have to know what those milestones are on the way to the next logical outcome.

But because software vendors often invest millions and millions into features, they want to shove those features on customers as quickly as possible instead of understanding what the customer needs and just giving them that.

Just that.

Instead, vendors tend to overwhelm their customers with too much stuff – features, tasks, integrations, enhancements, training, whatever – and the customer never gets any real value because they’re never really onboarded.

And how does timing work in this onboarding process? It’s not tied to the typical 30 days – that’s for sure!

I see a lot of vendors tie their onboarding to some artificial time frame, usually 30 days. And they say, “Well, they’ve been a customer for 30 days, check that box, they’re onboard now.” So even though they have an onboarding process, they have some arbitrary time frame, they overwhelm the customer, and then they say after that 30 days, the customer is onboard.

This makes no sense.

Then, of course, the customer complains they’re not getting any value and the vendor blames them for not finding value from this – obviously – super valuable product. There’s a mentality that has to change here.

Treat time to first value as a goal.

Every customer achieves success in their own timeline. We have to set a goal for them. We would like our customers, or at least a specific customer segment, to achieve first value either by getting actual value from their relationship with us, or, for the first time, see that real value potential in the product.

We want them to achieve that milestone in 30 days, but that’s a number we made up. It might take them 3 days, or three months. We might have to intervene, or it might be fine. It’s a goal. And we want to make sure that, if things aren’t fine, we intervene before those 30 days are up and get them back on track.

Instead of saying we have a complex product, we should start viewing it as a complex customer relationship. If they have a more complex goal, we’re going to have to work with them in various ways to help them achieve that goal. It’s not a complex product – the product is there to facilitate success through this relationship. It’s a different way to look at things.

But at the end of the day, you need to know what the ultimate value is, and you need to know what first value is, so you can design and engineer a process to meet them where they are and get them to that first value.

What other people are saying about TTV

Of course, Lincoln isn’t the only one talking about time to first value. Here’s what other SaaS industry insiders are saying.

How do you define TTV?

Samuel Hulick, UX Designer, UserOnboard.com:

“This is surprisingly tricky to define, because on the surface it would simply be “the amount of time it takes for someone to experience value from your product,” but HOW MUCH value is necessary for you to officially call it “finished”? Ideally, you provide some value in your product’s very first experience, but if that was also equal to all of the value someone COULD EVER get out of your product, you probably don’t have much of a product at all. Instead of coming up with a rule of thumb for when it’s “enough value to count”, I would instead focus on something like “value per minute”, wherein you focus on delivering more and more value more and more efficiently, kind of like this concept in video game design.

Of course, the people who NEVER receive value will skew that ratio way down, but, well… that’s sort of the point!”

Patrick McKenzie, Kalzumeus:

“Are you familiar with the character Walsh on Firefly and how he uses the word “Shiny?” When I’m thinking about this in my own head, I think Time-To-Shiny. You’re looking for a combination of both a) delight and b) either demonstrably improving someone’s life or credibly demonstrating that you have the capability of doing so.

Twilio, for example, has among the best Time-To-Shiny of any complicated, development-heavy software product you’ll ever use. You can credibly promise a massive improvement in folks lives as soon as their phone rings in response to code they have written; Twilio can have that happening in ~30 seconds or so for a new user if they’re being guided; perhaps ~5 minutes or so if they’re a motivated self-starter.

How to improve it? One, figure out a way to track it obsessively. Two, cheat like a mofo; ruthlessly defer as much as possible about the full experience until AFTER you have achieved that one moment of concentrated joy. Exact tactics for doing this depend a lot on the product at issue; often they involve (e.g.) having fake data pre-loaded in accounts so that someone doesn’t have to do weeks of data entry prior to seeing any improvement in their lives, scripted onboarding experiences, etc.”

Christopher Peters, Data Scientist at Zapier:

“Studying survival analysis taught me a great rule of thumb for this. The highest likelihood of TTV is always the moment after signing up. This is when the user is active, it’s only downhill from there. Having realized this, I’ve guided the team to really focus on onboarding well. Incorporating UX research is invaluable to get customers to TTV faster.

TTV is a curve. Some reach it in seconds, other years or even never. I think of it in terms of influencing a curve rather than a discrete point. The key is using statistics to measure TTV, but qualitative UX research to guide the improvements.”

How are you building value into your product or onboarding process? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!


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

Customer Success, SaaS, Sales

What To Do After You Close The Sale: Why Acquisition Is Good, But Retention Pays Better

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

When you make a sale, what is the first thing on your to do list? Happy dance? Happy hour? A night out on the town?

May I make a suggestion?

How about making another sale? And another, and another.

This isn’t a fast-talking sales technique or a short-lived marketing gimmick; it’s the result of customer success done well. When you have a robust customer success program, you can start celebrating multiple sales within much shorter periods of time.

As you know, the new customer sales journey is a long and arduous road. But the current customer sales journey? It’s like a quick trip down to the market to pick up a carton of milk – at least in comparison. Numerous studies show that current customers are far more likely to buy again than prospective customers are to buy the first time. Customer success capitalizes on this, and so can you.

Read More on Drift


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

Customer Success, SaaS

SaaS retention opportunities are hidden within the Customer Success Gap

You know that space, perhaps a vast expanse or a narrow gorge, between what your customer wants to have happen, and what your product actually delivers? Lincoln Murphy coined a term for this – he calls it the “Success Gap.

But in between your customer’s desired outcome…

1

And what your product does…

Is a space brimful of opportunities.

But it’s also where many companies run into trouble.

As Murphy says – you might think you have one gap to bridge, but you actually have two. The first gap is between your product’s functionality and your customers’ hopes. The second gap is between what you assume your customers’ successful use of your product is – and what success means to them. Watch out for that step, because it’s a doozy.

2

What a customer’s success looks like to you (don’t be fooled)

Let’s say you’re tracking customer usage of your product (as you should be) and you notice that a customer is following all of the patterns that you’ve seen make for a successful, long-term, happy client. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a gap. Even if they are completing all the tasks, do you really know whether they’re reaching their desired outcome?

What if their desired outcome is out of your control – and far outside the scope of your product?

You might be thinking, “well, then there’s nothing I can do. Not my problem.”

Oh, but it is your problem! It’s your problem to solve. Because that’s where the opportunities live.

See, while you may be selling a product, that’s not what your customers are buying. They’re buying a desired outcome, and if they don’t get that desired outcome, they feel like they’ve wasted their money.

Therefore, if your customers are using your product, it behooves you to know whether they are finding success with it – by their definition – and if not, you have a chance to help.

Opportunities in the gap

This is where customer success content can make a huge difference. Let’s say your company is an e-newsletter service that captures email signups and lets users create simple newsletters with templates. Your customer Robin sends out a newsletter every month for six months, but his open rates are dismal because his newsletters are staggeringly boring!

Robin might be faithfully using your product, but that’s a far cry from getting the kind of engagement he dreamed of when he signed up.

If you’ve set up the right data, maybe you can target exactly what is going awry for your less-than-successful customers and create a content strategy around that. But, even if you don’t have that kind of data set up, you can think in terms of “What does my customer need to do his or her job better?” Create content around that, and you’re narrowing the gap.

But, content isn’t the only way to bring the two sides together. You could also develop additional services, add-ons, or partnerships. Maybe better templates that include grammar-checks and suggestions for how to craft titles for higher open rates? Maybe you form a partnership with a copywriting company to do a webinar on writing attention-grabbing copy?

3

Use that success gap as a jumping-off point for ideas to make your customer go “Oh? Yeah!”

I think Lincoln Murphy sums it up best: “If you know a customer is not achieving their Desired Outcome, either automatically or because the customer self-reports, don’t just let that stand… give them something to do, read, watch, or otherwise learn to improve the result next time.”

But I would add this: People are busy, distracted, and have other priorities. Because of this, we want solutions delivered on a silver platter and we’re willing to pay for the privilege. So don’t stop at instruction delivered by webinar, blog, email or newsletter – find ways to build these success lessons into the product itself.

4


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

Churn, Customer Success, Retention, SaaS

Stop churn in its tracks with 5 SaaS retention hacks

churn

Existing customers are where successful B2B SaaS companies make money, which makes reducing churn the key to sustainability, growth, and — what we all want — swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.

But in today’s highly competitive market, you’ll need more than a lucky dime (or even a really great product) to prove your ongoing worth to your current customers. You need some serious SaaS retention hacks.

Let’s take three things as given:

  1. You have a great product that solves somebody’s problems.
  2. You are already attracting your ideal customers.
  3. Your challenge now is keeping them.

Stop Churn Lesson 1: Listen to the signals your customers are giving you

A good animal trainer knows that before an animal misbehaves, it will give a cue. Whether that’s the cock of an ear or the swish of a tail, there’s always a sign. And, if you catch that sign in time, you can prevent the behavior. People are no different. When someone disengages with your product, there are signs, and you can track them.

If you’re not sure what to track in the beginning, look for gaps in activity, or if you have something like an e-mail marketing service, see if anyone is downloading their list of contacts. You may even want to have an exit survey. Once you know which behaviors indicate imminent departure, you can start to construct a plan.

Stop Churn Lesson 2: Easy Fixes

Don’t let credit cards expire. Don’t let credit cards expire! It’s really simple and it’s easy money. The only trick is to find a billing system that provides a credit card updater service, which will automatically let users know when their cards are about to expire.

Stop Churn Lesson 3: Learn Why They Came in the First Place

Conducting an onboarding survey, when clients are just signing up, can give you invaluable insights into what your clients are hoping to find and expecting to get. It doesn’t have to be a survey in the Survey Monkey sense — having questions as part of your onboarding drip is an awesome trick of itself. You can use this information to drive your Customer Success initiatives and increase engagement. To help your clients use your product successfully, you have to understand what success means to them. Entrance surveys will also tell you whether you’re setting yourself up to over-promise and under-deliver.

Stop Churn Lesson 4: Stay on their Radar

Whether they’re in your app or on their Facebook page, you should have a presence on their desktop, smartphone and tablet. But, you have to do it the right way. With strong content marketing that provides value and interest, combined with responsive, fun and friendly social media staff, you can continue to develop relationships (read: engagement) with your clients all day, every day.

Don’t be afraid to interact with them. Joke with them. Answer their questions. Offer tips. Sharing your helpful blog posts is just the tip of the iceberg! Most importantly, become your clients’ friends. Friends don’t leave friends for cheaper friends — you know what I mean?

Stop Churn Lesson 5: Partner Up

Developing partnerships with complimentary services is a great way to expand your reach, increase your usefulness, and make it more difficult for people to leave. You can either join an established group or form your own by inviting companies to build add-ons and integrations for your product.

I’m going to let my Geek flag fly high for a moment and cite the Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim. By opening up Skyrim to amateur and professional mods, they continue to add interest and value even if you’ve beaten the game five times already. They’ve partnered with their users and that game may outlive us all.

Well, so far I’ve cited Scrooge McDuck and Skyrim, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead and just say this: When your customers can unsubscribe any time, you have to keep providing compelling reasons to stay. Customer Success and churn reduction are two sides of the same coin — or even, one might say, the same Number One Dime…

💗 Check out Nichole’s services for B2B SaaS startups 💗

Acquisition, B2B, Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success, SaaS, Storytelling

B2B SaaS Marketing Strategies That Work: (Hint: The right words, the right people, & the right mindset)

B2B SaaS Marketing Strategies

Here’s what we know: Effective customer acquisition tactics for B2B SaaS marketing are based in understanding the customer, their jobs-to-be-done, and making your value proposition crystal clear.

That hasn’t changed.

What has changed:

Business audiences are getting harder to impress. There’s a glut in products, content, ads and emails that’s trained them to stop paying attention, unless they’re confronted with something truly unexpected.

Which means, B2B SaaS marketers like me, like you, need to find more creative ways to stand out, even when your product serves an important need.

I consulted some of the best B2B SaaS marketers in the biz, who’ve shared some of their best B2B SaaS acquisition strategies that are both timely and timeless.

These are strategies you can start implementing right now to acquire more customers.

Part 1: Finding the right words

Content and copy work hand-in-hand to lift up early-stage SaaS businesses; the first to bring target audiences in and win their trust, the second to hook them with a strong value proposition and buyer psychology. For some companies, their content strategy is their acquisition strategy.

Finding the right words, for me, is really about finding market-language fit: Identify your ideal customers, talk to them, create a value proposition based on those customer conversations, and use their exact words to inform the rest of your marketing. In fact, I’d say there’s no better ‘growth hack’ than just talking to your customers.

But what does talking to your customer really mean?

It’s not like you’re inviting them out for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (that would be cool though). 

Tea and Cookies with Pusheen

Tea and cookies?


When we say “talk to your customers,” we usually mean sending surveys that include long-form free-response fields, building quick in-app surveys to uncover moments of friction, and maybe (hopefully) getting some of your ideal customers on the phone or in person for more in-depth interviews. These are all valid ways of talking to your customers. But I’d like to see companies going several steps further and including genuine conversations with their customers. Getting to know your customers as human beings and building real relationships with them that power positive customer experience. 

In this section, we’re talking about how B2B SaaS companies use words – their words, and their customers’ words – to make marketing more effective at kickstarting those relationships.

These experts have not only found the right words, but use the right strategies to bring in people, convert them into customers, and retain them.

Storytelling

“I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works – in any situation – is storytelling.

Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost.

And by storytelling I mean telling our story… like this:

Our mission is…

We started Vervoe because we want to…

We do this by…

Now let’s talk about you…”

Omer Molad
Co-Founder & CEO
Vervoe
Omer
I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works - in any situation - is storytelling. Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost. Click To Tweet

“I find that the magic place of storytelling is where your company’s story intersects with your customer’s story. So, if you can define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills you can find where that intersects.

That particular pain you are trying to solve with your product is the same pain your customer feels. When they hear your story, they recall their own story. There is an immediate connection. It’s magic.”

Todd E. Jones
Helping tech entrepreneurs resurrect flatlined content
Copyflight
The magic place of storytelling is where your company's story intersects with your customer's story. Define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills. Click To Tweet

There is a place of magic in storytelling.

Brand

“Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions–and B2B buyers are people. I have a background in B2C marketing, so I know first-hand the power of brand to elicit a positive emotional response such as trust.
So, one of the first things I did in the early days at Wootric was to establish a strong brand identity. Remember the old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? It can be tempting to choose a logo that reflects a fun startup culture. You are better off creating an identity that embodies where the company will be in three to five years. Our roadmap had Wootric quickly expanding from an NPS survey tool to a end-to-end customer experience management solution, and our brand identity needed to take us there.

Approaching brand this way gives you a competitive edge. You will enhance the credibility of the messaging and content you’ve worked so hard to create. When Wootric acquired one of its first marquee customers, the sales team shared this post-sale customer comment with me: ‘Wow, I thought Wootric was much bigger!’

That is the power of brand. “

Lisa Abbott
VP of Marketing
Wootric
Lisa
Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions--and B2B buyers are people. Click To Tweet

“For almost five years now, I’ve been focusing on content marketing for cybersecurity and privacy companies. A big challenge is that the usual topics are stark and complex to the point of being overwhelming for the target audience.

It also doesn’t help that most content in the industry relies heavily on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to make a point or persuade readers to become customers.

I’ve found storytelling to be the most effective way to build an emotional connection that can nudge readers to reconsider their online security habits.

Sharing experiences that people like themselves lived through changes their opinion from “this can’t happen to me” to “I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in their shoes.”

Focusing on storytelling in building content for information security companies is an essential way of turning the reader’s attention from someone else’s problem to their potential problem.”

Andra Zaharia
Freelance Content Marketer
How do you know?
Focusing on storytelling in building content is an essential way of turning the reader's attention from someone else's problem to their potential problem. Click To Tweet

Content Mapping

“At Skuid, we start with a strong foundation and define our message map. This document can be used across all teams at Skuid to ensure that we are fully in sync with our message to the market.

For us marketing must be omni-channel – we call our approach a flywheel. Each facet of marketing—content, product marketing, demand gen, PR and communications—plays an integral role in the overall strategy.

 

Flywheel

The Flywheel effect is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.


Once the flywheel is built out, each facet propels the other forward, creating momentum in acquiring customers.

We create content to celebrate our customers’ successes and educate prospects and customer about our product through webinars, blogs, case studies, at in person events and virtually. We also use a combination of paid advertising (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn) and organic search to promote our content to our target audience.

At Skuid, we’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization. This has been the case in some of our largest customers, including BHGE, Intuit, HPE, RedHat, and others.”

Karie Lepito
VP of Marketing
Skuid
We’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization. Click To Tweet

The Inbound – Outbound One-Two Punch

“I’m with Text Request, a 4-year-old B2B SaaS startup in Chattanooga, TN. We hit $1M in revenue earlier this year, and have not taken any funding/investment. Here’s how we’ve acquired customers.

If you already know who your target customer is and how to take care of them once they’ve signed up, then all you have to do is find more of your targets. Right? But that’s easier said than done. We’ve split our approach between inbound and outbound (pretty evenly).

For inbound, we use a combination of SEO best practices for keywords related to business texting, a high quality blog, and Google Ads. The concept is to be the resource people are looking for.

They go to Google with a question. Our content, ads, and website answer that question well, so we show up at the top of search results. Once they make it to our website, we have various calls-to-action to get them to take a next step. (E.g. Let us show you how it works. Schedule a demo!) In fact, almost all of our enterprise-level customers found us via Google search.

For outbound, we take an ideal target (let’s say pest control companies). We Google search for those companies in a particular town, and then we send them an email. We’ll say “Here’s the problem other exterminators are having, and here’s how we fix it. Here’s a link to more info. Schedule a demo to see how it works.” It’s a numbers game, but that process works very well for us.

In my experience, it’s not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. You also don’t need fancy marketing tech. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website, but you don’t need to spend thousands a month on software just to build an effective sales funnel.”

Kenneth Burke
Director of Marketing
Text Request
It's not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website. Click To Tweet

Email Segmentation

“Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. I can’t stress enough the importance of targeting the right people with the right message at the right time.

I helped one of my clients increase their sales from email by 10% with a solid segmentation strategy. So, experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior.”

Shayla Price
Marketer
Stories by Shayla
Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. Experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior. Click To Tweet

Segment!

Build Content for People, Not Users

“At a meta level, one thing that worked for us is to keep in mind that even though we’re a B2B startup, at the end of the day we’re in business to help people achieve their goals. That means looking at our customers as people and not as businesses or users. It’s a small shift in the way we think, but goes a long way in terms of how we approach our marketing.

An example of how we approach this – Since we’re (Zepel.io) an early-stage startup, we reach out to our users as soon as they create their first project (we’re project management tool) and walk them through how they can get maximum bang for their buck quickly.

We believe this is important for any B2B SaaS company, but it’s even more important if you’re in your early days.

Earlier this year, we decided to write about a topic that people who might buy our product have problems with. Something they constantly think and worry about. And we knew one thing every product manager worried about is feature prioritization. So, we wrote about it and it was well received – generating plenty of shares (nearly 500!), eyeballs, and more importantly, conversions.

Naturally, we were excited. People were moving from our blog post to our website and converting! What marketer wouldn’t?!

But we didn’t have a good enough process to reach out to our new users and understand more about them. And that left us in the dark when it came to understanding why someone didn’t take a key action on our product. Fortunately, we were quick enough to realize and act fast. Today, we reach out to new users and guide them through our product.

Sure, everyone does that with onboarding emails.

But when we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there. The more we treated them as people by having genuine conversations, the more they trusted us.

This has not only helped us improve key areas within marketing and improve our engagement in the app, but also find areas we can improve within the product itself.”

Vikash Koushik
Product Marketer
Zepel.io
When we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there. Click To Tweet

Stealing Words from Your Customers’ Mouths

“Marketing will often struggle going from a blank page —not knowing what to say— to having so much to talk about that it’s impossible to find focus. Both problems can be solved by going to the source: your customers.

It’s your customers you’re trying to connect with. So why not spend quality time talking to them and understanding more about their businesses?

Whenever I work with a new client, I always start by doing research. That includes a handful of one-on-one calls with their best customers. After you’re done talking to them, you’ll notice important trends around how they speak, what words they use, how they refer to themselves, how they describe their pains, challenges and your product.

Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the page, and what to leave out.

Now you are ready to open a new text doc and write a quick outline of what the page should say. Then, start copy-pasting actual quotes from your interviews to fill in the gaps. Part of the creative work is editing the quotes to increase impact and adding your own flavor to it. But you’ll be amazed at how much gold you’ll find in these recordings. Use that to write headlines, tag lines, product descriptions and even testimonials. No more fear of the blank page.

Follow this process to get the most out of your customer interviews:

  1. Email your top customers and ask them to join you on a quick 20-min call
  2. Record your conversation with them —ask them questions and let them do the talking
  3. Transcribe the recordings using Temi.com or Rev.com (for human-made transcripts)
  4. Organize the feedback into usable buckets: pains, objections, fears, benefits
  5. Start over for continuous marketing research”
Federico Jorge
SaaS LeadGen Copywriter
FedericoJorge.com
Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the blank page, and what to leave out. Click To Tweet
Pusheen on the Phone

Listen to your ideal customers and “steal” their words.

Part 2: Reaching Out to the Right People


Do Things That Don’t Scale

“When my co-founder, Elias Torres and I started Drift, there were over 5,000 other products in the marketing technology space. So we knew that the only way we stood a chance in such a crowded market was to do things that don’t scale.

People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships. So from day one, we focused on that. We replied to every email, tweet and message. And it made all the difference because people knew that real people were out there listening.”

David Cancel
CEO
Drift
David Cancel
People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships. Click To Tweet

If content marketing is inbound, and cold-calling and traditional advertising is outbound, what’s in between? Is that an odd question? It’s not one very many people ask. But when I think of my favorite way of reaching out to ideal customers and getting to know them in a meaningful way, neither of those more traditional avenues fill the bill.

My ‘hack’? It’s not a hack. It’s building a community around your product.

(Check out this 30-min. workshop on Forget The Funnel in which I talk about building SaaS communities.)

Your ideal customers have so much in common – their challenges, their pain points, their goals. When you can bring people with so many of the same interests together, everyone benefits. And, when it’s in a more social setting, like Slack or Facebook groups, you learn a lot more about what your customers need, and what delights them.

For B2B especially, I think Slack communities are an incredible, untapped resource. Subscription-based businesses require strong customer relationships to prevent churn and increase customer lifetime value, and Slack is remarkably well-suited to creating exactly the kind of communities that sustain that high level of engagement.

Of course, nobody will join your community unless it’s A) useful, B) fun, and C) has a beneficial and enjoyable group of people. It’s your job to set the tone. Here are three steps you can take the lay the foundation of a community that gets you and your ideal clients together.

  • Define a ‘value proposition’ for your community. Why should people join? Don’t make it about you or your product – nobody wants to sign up for a sales channel. Maybe you’ll offer customer success how-to videos, guest experts, access to thought leaders, access to your own CEO, etc.
  • Ask what ‘experience’ you would like to build for your community. How do you want them to feel. What makes it enjoyable and rewarding for them?
  • Reach out to thought leaders in your industry and ask them to join your group and be active participants (either because they can benefit from sharing the same audience, or because you’re incentivizing them for their time – or both).
  • Make it clear to community members that, in addition to all the other benefits of joining the community, they can also get immediate, relevant help from the company as well as other users, and – this is where they can influence how the product evolves (making them feel heard and valued).

From a platform this strong, you can promote your content (within reason), get early feedback from highly-engaged customers to tailor product-market fit, collect qualitative data galore, and announce new features and opportunities to an enthusiastic audience.

That’s my preferred way to reach out to the right people. But there are so many other ways to build genuine, human-to-human relationships as a growth strategy.

Here are how these companies are doing it.

Strategic Partnerships

“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a start-up is that you don’t yet have a reputable name, or portfolio of impressive clients to show prospective customers. Word of mouth is incredible powerful in the B2B world and we knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution? We formed partnerships with resellers and distributors who have many existing customer relationships in place already, so by working with them we were able to quickly access customers who were difficult to reach directly.

Alongside partners, we also focused on marketing and outbound sales strategies too. Digital marketing is vital for B2B success, and a tip for start-ups is to focus your SEO on your niche, rather than broad terms which will always be won over by big names. Even a couple of simple, focused pages will help you to be found by people looking for your solution.

And finally, sometimes you can’t beat some old fashioned prospecting. Whether it’s through calls, emails, letters, LinkedIn messages, make sure you use any and all means to proactively reach out to your customers! It may not be glamorous, but it works!”

Patsy Nearkhou
Digital Marketing
Talkative
We knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution? Click To Tweet
6 reasons you should consider being a dog

Form partnerships to help sell your solution.

Expert Programs

“One of the first things I look at when I’m auditing a business is if they have an opportunity for an expert program. Experts are those ‘power-users’ who can help setup new customers on your platform. It’s a no-brainer in B2C SaaS and yet so few companies are doing it.

The fact is your new customers LOVE your product and want to get setup as quickly as possible. They want to make the most of their monthly investment. And they’re telling your customer support team about it.

The problem is that your team can’t do that kind of deep support and keep up with the growing number of customers. You want to do real customer SUCCESS… but how do you and your teams stay focused on your core competencies while scaling customer success without bursting at the seams?

When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down.

Leads are generated on a rolling basis and they easily become paying accounts. Monthly accounts turn into totally satisfied annual accounts and retention is increased.”

Val Geisler
Conversion and Churn Strategist
valgeisler.com
When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down. Click To Tweet

Promoters

“One of my favorite B2B SaaS marketing strategies is one of the most straightforward, easily implemented and overlooked.

It’s super simple: Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are.

The most recent “real-world” example I’ve seen of this is Appcues (full disclosure, Appcues is a client of mine). Senior Product Marketing Manager, Ali Haris, set out to get 10 reviews last quarter. Just by asking their happiest customers, found that more than expected were happy to share their experience. With little effort they received 30 reviews with just a couple of hours spent per week.

It’s easy to overlook the amount of value these reviews will yield over time. Not only with they help potential customers discover Appcues, but they’ll help those who are already well into their evaluation of the tool, tip over the fence to buy. It’s one of those marketing strategies that has the potential to positively impact customers at every phase of your customer journey; Mobilizing your engaged and loyal customers to become one of the most effective drivers of growth.”

Georgiana Laudi
SaaS Marketing & Growth Advisor
A Better CX
Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are. Click To Tweet

Success Stories

“As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories.

Customers know what the value of our product/service is better than we do, because they are the ones putting it to work. At Hotjar, we like to run informal interviews with our customers to find out as many details as we can about how our tool fits in their everyday work schedule. And each time we invariably discover at least one interesting story that would make for enjoyable and useful reading—for example, we wrote an entire guide to market research after an in-depth conversation with one of our customers who shared their step-by-step process so other people can simply follow it.

Warning: you need to practice your empathy muscles and facilitate the conversation so it’s not self-serving, and then translate it into broader terms that can inspire and help others. Our mission should be to educate, be helpful, and make sure that people leave each piece of content with the inspiration and/or ability to do something they couldn’t before.”

Dr. Fio Dossetto
Content Marketer
Hotjar
As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories. Click To Tweet

Success! Going up!

Building Genuine Relationships

“I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of the world’s top B2B marketers for Quuu’s podcast and they all say that the best marketing strategy is to build genuine relationships.

I’ve seen this work firsthand at Quuu. When Daniel Kempe and Matthew Spurr started Quuu, they knew that one of the most effective ways to get people using it was through word of mouth. So they gave influential figures in the marketing / tech industries free access to both Quuu and Quuu Promote, in exchange for supporting and mentioning Quuu when appropriate.

Not only did this ensure us a bank of high quality content, since these influencers submitted their blog posts to Quuu Promote for our Quuu users to share, but it also meant we were able to reach the right audience for our product. We’ve kept on nurturing these relationships and I would say it’s been essential to Quuu’s growth.

What’s really important is that this publicity doesn’t feel forced – our ‘Quuurators’ actually use our product and see the value of it, so it’s natural for them to mention us if, for example, they’re writing a roundup of content marketing tools for a big publication.

In B2B, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re still selling to humans – people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having people your customers admire recommending your product is a really effective way to do this.”

Lucia Fontaina-Powell
Community Marketing Manager & Freelance Copywriter
Quuu
In B2B, you can't lose sight of the fact that you're still selling to humans - people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having customers recommending your product is a an effective way to do this. Click To Tweet

Integrations

“When doing your customer research, ask your customers what kinds of tools they use. What’s in their stack? What do they open everyday? What other tools do they live in?

The reason I always add this question during my customer research and development process is because integrations (along with partnerships and business development) are an incredible growth channel, and it’s one not many marketers think about.

It’s definitely a conversation for both marketing and product, but if there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention.

Plus, when building integrations or even exploring the possibility of an integration with another company, you can build and form relationships with their teams. This opens the door for co-marketing opportunities like guest blogging, featuring each other on your integrations and strategic partnership pages, hosting virtual events together, attending conferences together, and so much more.

If it fits your product’s model and makes sense for your market, I’d definitely consider it — especially if your prospects are a little harder to reach.”

Asia Matos
Go-to-Market Strategist for Startups
DemandMaven
If there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention. Click To Tweet

Part 3: Growth Culture & Mindset

So much of successful B2B SaaS Marketing is the result of cultivating a culture of growth and a mindset that makes testing and optimizing integral to every process.

One roadblock to achieving a Growth Culture that I see far too often is when teams dig out their trenches and never cross over to see what the other side is doing. I’m not just talking about data silos, where information that should be shared is kept by a chosen few. I’m also talking about a sort of territorial unwillingness to collaborate freely. This is my turf, that’s your turf, stay on your side and don’t bother me!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Growth depends on a free flow of information, especially between Customer Success, Customer Service and Product Development. This is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds, because each of these departments usually has its own set of KPIs to meet. And, sometimes they conflict.

Consider the onboarding user flow.

From a Product perspective, there are milestone actions customers need to complete to finish the onboarding process.

From a Customer Success perspective, there are success milestones, like “time to first value” (when the customer sees real-world value from using the product) that are vital to retention.

From a Customer Service perspective, they’re on the line to bridge the (often unnecessary) success gaps, when the customer can’t figure out how to achieve success with the product.

When you bring these three groups of people together – the ones who build the product, the ones who ensure customers succeed with the product, and the ones who troubleshoot when the process breaks down – in one room, magic happens.

They can solve problems. They can build an onboarding flow that bridges success gaps, and gets the customer from point A to point Z.

Of course, I don’t mean that collaboration should only happen for user onboarding! Collaboration between teams should be a daily, ongoing part of the process. Everyone should have access to user stats (and know what they mean). Insights, not just ‘fix-it’ tickets, should flow from Customer Service to Product and Customer Success. And, all parties need to be aware of putting undue burden on the other teams (yes, product tends to get buried in requests – let’s lighten their load, okay?).

Team work shouldn’t just happen within teams, but between teams.

And with that, let’s look at how other companies are cultivating growth cultures.

Smarter Tracking + Clearer Focus = Better Growth

“Most businesses start marketing right away, only later to begin to setup their sales and marketing dashboards, sign up for tools like Mixpanel or Amplitude and start to narrow in on what to they could be tracking better.

The idea of wanting to make smarter business decisions based on data insights is the right approach. However, without first defining the metrics that matter most, how are you going to know if your marketing activities are actually contributing to growth vs have you constantly juggle marketing activities and spinning in place?

One of the best ways to implement a more focused, and strategic, marketing approach is to know what you want to track before kicking things off.

When working with clients we [Inturact] start with a simple framework called SaaS actionable metrics, or AARRRR metrics. They consist of:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Referral
  • Revenue

These actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively.

With this approach you will properly define the most important growth metrics BEFORE kicking off your next marketing campaign. Hone in on what matters most and start focusing your efforts on strategies that actually contribute to growth.”

Trevor Hatfield
B2B SaaS Consultant & Founder
Inturact
SaaS actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively. Click To Tweet

Build a Company Growth Culture

“SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business.

At SEMrush, we test everything. Headline ideas, images, advertising targeting models, pricing algorithms and more. We want to figure out which of these ideas work for us and which don’t.

For example, say we want to determine which marketing efforts are really paying off for our SaaS company. So, we experiment to determine the variables that drive more customers, to understand what content is the most relevant or how to convert visitors into buyers. We know that the real magic happens while we’re learning from each test. Such data allows us to determine the baseline, our winning ideas, and losers.

Experimentation is our engine to move forward and accelerate growth.”

Elena Korotkova
Product Marketing
SEMrush
Elena
SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business. Click To Tweet

Make Experimentation Your Operating System

“I never want to lead with any specific tactics, because I think context is almost everything, and what works really well for one company is often not optimal for another (even in the same industry). In addition, we’re all at different stages of growth, so some tactics in the beginning stages may be impactful but costly in time, whereas with scale we can focus on shifting resource costs to money rather than time.

In any case, I don’t think you can go wrong if you make experimentation your operating system. If you start by asking questions rather than applying “best practices” or even well-thought-out theories, I think you’ll find the answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks. Instead of closing ourselves off from potential ideas and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, we can design experiments to unlock innovative solutions, and we can use data to inform our tactical endeavors.

I think this is becoming a more approach with B2B marketers today, and it’s definitely popular in the B2C startup space. But we can move beyond A/B tests and treat almost everything we do as some sort of experiment, and then the learnings and results compound over time (plus, we don’t have to constantly rely on copying competitors, chasing stale tactics, or implementing best practices as a default). “

Alex Birkett
Growth
HubSpot
Make experimentation your operating system. Start by asking questions rather than applying best practices. The answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks. Click To Tweet
Pusheen as Sherlock Holmes

Make experimentation your operating system.

Part 4: In the end, it’s all about knowing your customer

Several responses for this round-up were along the lines of “understand your customer really really well.” I did not include them here, because that’s not a strategy. Rather, it’s the foundation of every strategy. Everything I do begins with substantial customer research.

So I want to end with my own favorite strategy of creating accurate personas that can effectively form the backbone of every marketing strategy and tactic you employ, from your value prop to your content calendar, and everything in between.

An accurate buyer persona helps in a few ways:

  • It provides an easily identifiable reference that helps teams align and stay focused on what really matters to the target customer.
  • For individual content creators, having a ‘one reader’ (who represents all the readers) makes it simpler to choose which content to produce, how to write it, and how/where to distribute it.

How to make a persona for better content (and better decisions in general) using predictive personas

Here’s the thing: you can do your research, talk to your customers, find out their goals, dreams, ideal outcomes, current challenges, and which parts of their ‘jobs to be done’ make them want to pull out their hair.

And you can compile all of that research, slap a stock photo on top, and give it a name.

What you’ll have, really, is just a description of your current customers, which is still very useful for giving your entire company a solid understanding of your customer. But it’s not an actionable persona for marketing unless you can do this:

Can you use your customer description to find 10 people, 9 of whom will absolutely buy your product?

If you can, then you have a predictive persona you can use to align your teams AND use for product dev and marketing decisions. Including content marketing and distribution.

In her article on persona creation, Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know describes it perfectly:

If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer.

Predictive Personas

Use predictive personas.

If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer. Click To Tweet

How can you elevate your persona from a descriptor to a predictor?

Research, describe – then verify.

It’s the step most marketers miss: to go out and find people who you think fit your customer description and check your work.

Take the information you’ve already gathered about your customer and create a hypothetical persona. Then test it in real life. Here’s how:

  1. Consolidate your user research into a customer description that matches the majority of your *best* users/customers. (Who are your best customers? Look at your NPS scores, qualitative data, etc. They’re not necessarily the ones that have been around the longest but the ones who *love* your product and advocate it to their friends.)
  2. Make a shorter list of key characteristics to go for that include what problems your users most frequently (and urgently) need to solve. Think behaviors, needs and goals, not just demographics.
  3. Recruit 10 people who fit that description, who are not your users, to help you with your research.
  4. Try to get them to buy your product. For real. If it works, then you’ve proven that you have a clear understanding of your users’ needs, goals, wants and problems – and that is information you can act on. If it doesn’t, revise your hypothesis and try again.

Have we missed an acquisition strategy that’s succeeded for you?

I’d love to hear your best tips and real-world experiences! Tell me your story in the comments, especially if you’ve got a case study.


Work with Nichole for your B2B SaaS startup

B2B, Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success, Growth Hacking, Product Management, SaaS

There is no better “growth hack” for B2B SaaS than talking with your customers.

B2B SaaS Growth Hacks

Not just when you’re developing or marketing a product, but through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

It sounds simple — but it’s not easy: talking with your customers through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

There’s been a lot said about the value of talking to your customers before you build the product to ensure market fit, but very little said about continuing the conversation past marketing and past the sale.

Why do I know talking with your customer is *the* very best predictor of, and contributor to, SaaS business growth? Because creating a constant flow of customer feedback, input, and conversation makes Customer Experience (CX) better.

Multiple studies show that CX leads to revenue growth.

CX Drives Sales

CX also drives brand advocacy (aka. word of mouth), creating a virtual sales army, which leads to:

Decreased cost-to-acquire.

“Customers with the best past experiences spend 140% more than those with the poorest past experiences.” — Harvard Business Review

Increased customer lifetime value.

“Customers with the best past experiences have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year.” — Harvard Business Review

Plus, qualitative customer research leads to making data-informed decisions that streamline product management, ensure customer success, and make marketing and sales far more efficient.

In short, as Laura Klein, author, VP of product, and co-founder of Users Know says,

“User research saves time. Period. When you actually understand what your user needs before you build things, you have a much lower chance of having to go back and rebuild everything after shipping something that nobody uses.”

But what does “talking with your customer” really mean?

It’s not like you’re inviting them over for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (though that would be awesome, and you should do that and invite me).

When we say “talk to your customers,” or “listen to your customers,” I usually mean getting on the phone with them (or better, meeting up with them in person). But, it can also mean sending surveys that include long-form response fields, or building quicker in-app surveys into your roadmap to uncover moments of friction.

And, of course, if you’re earlier in your business, there’s the Lean approach of interviewing dozens of target customers in person and over the phone — groundwork that helps founders (and product developers and marketers) form better hypotheses around what will deliver the best product-market fit.

There’s also user testing.

These are all valid ways of listening to your customers. But I’d like to advocate for doing all of these things and going several steps further. I’m talking about combining all of the above and adding genuine conversations to the mix.

It’s just not input. It’s just not feedback. It’s getting to know your customers as human beings and building relationships with them that drive positive CX far more powerfully than any of these elements could do alone.

So much has been written about interviewing customers prior to developing products that I’d like to focus on how to keep communication lines open after the launch, after customer acquisition, starting with onboarding.

Track more than actions, during and after onboarding

Customer Success + Product Management

(This is a chart I created for: “Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones in Your User Flow”)

The first key to ensuring communication stays clear and open is to observe your customers. We communicate far more by our actions than we do verbally, and tracking the actions of your customers, especially (but not limited to) during onboarding can tell you the truths you need to hear.

Tracking customer behavior during onboarding and throughout product use allows you to see:

  • Time to first value (how long is it taking?)
  • Where customers run into trouble and need tech support
  • When customers typically need Customer Success help to reach their desired outcomes
  • Which customers reach their success milestones (the points in their user journeys where they see real progress towards their ideal outcomes)
  • And which customers don’t reach their success milestones

Yes, you want to track how well your customers accomplish the required tasks outlined in your User Flow, but usually, tracking stops there. If they press the right buttons at the right times, if they input the requested information, if they log in relatively regularly, it’s easy to assume customers are happily using your product.

But that’s not always the case. There may be ‘success gaps’ you can’t see that are causing churn. FYI: A ‘success gap’ is “the gap between what you think represents the customers’ successful use of your product and what they think equates to success,” according to Lincoln Murphy.

This is where aptly timed in-app surveys come in handy, which I’ll get to in the next section.

Tools that can help:

  • Appcues for onboarding
  • Intercom for targeted in-app messaging
  • Segment for easily managing your tools without dev

Check in with event trigger-based surveys

While you’re tracking user behaviors, successes and failures, you’ll also want to check in with your users in an unobtrusive way to get their feedback at specific points in their user journeys.

For example, if you identify a page or prompt during onboarding that tends to ‘lose’ people, have a trigger-based in-app AI chatbot pop up and offer to clarify, or transfer them to an agent. (This, incidentally, would have saved my relationship with more than one app! If you hit a ‘wall’ during onboarding, the odds of completing the process and becoming a successful customer are terrible — unless you get timely help).

You can set up event trigger-based surveys to deploy when users spend too much time on a page, ‘click away’ before completing the action, or when they’ve been ‘dormant’ (not logging in) for a while.

By giving customers opportunities to tell you they’re confused, are experiencing failure, aren’t getting the results they’d hoped for, or are suffering from a lack of time/motivation/technical skills etc., you will know who is really at risk of churning in time to save them, and really impress them with your customer service skills.

Finding friction with customer effort scores

Another place where checking in with your customer can really pay off is after the onboarding sequence is complete. It’s a perfect time to ask “How difficult was this?” (aka. A Customer Effort Score survey). The easier a process is, the less friction people experience, and the more likely they will be to complete your desired actions and reach their desired outcomes.

Then, after your new user has had a chance to put your product to work, you should send out a Net Promoter Score survey (NPS) to find out how they *really* feel about your product. Do they like it enough to recommend it to a friend or colleague? That’s an excellent indicator of how well they’re succeeding. And be sure to send an NPS follow-up question to understand the why behind the score.

Tools that can help:

Wootric: For these types of in-app surveys, I recommend Wootric. Their dashboard makes it very easy to understand what you’re seeing, and they do great work with extrapolating insights from qualitative data questions too.

Wootric

The Game Changer: Have real conversations in your community

Tracking what customers do and asking them what they think at strategic points is a very good start; the trouble is, that’s where most B2B SaaS companies begin and end. But B2B SaaS businesses are subscription-based. They’re in this for the long-haul. They depend on customers sticking around (customer lifetime value! retention!).

And that means you also have to build relationships with your customers.

This is why I so strongly advocate that B2B SaaS companies build social communities around their products. It’s an opportunity to relate to your customers as people.

The bonuses are many. B2B SaaS product communities give you:

  • An on-tap resource of customers who are delighted to answer your questions and give you real-time feedback on everything you do
  • A straight line to your most engaged customers
  • A real-time capability of helping customers in trouble and creating delightful experiences for them, on a public forum, with everyone else watching (warm fuzzies all around!)
  • An opportunity to cultivate a culture around your brand and a genuine community
  • And… it’s possible — ZERO churn!

The most important thing to remember about building a community is that it’s not a one-sided arrangement. This isn’t a place for you to ‘shout into the void’, post blog posts nobody reads, try to ‘sell’ or advertise. It’s a place where you and your customers can come together around your common interests. Human to human.

Tools that can help:

  • Facebook
  • Slack
  • Your social community of choice!

Bring it all together now!

When you are tracking user behavior in your product, identifying predictive patterns of behaviors/successes/failures, locating trouble-spots and offering timely help, checking in with surveys to ask your customers what they think — in their own words and with numerical ratings, AND forging human-to-human relationships in the casual setting of social media groups, you’ll see a few things happen…

Customer Happiness

  • Your referrals will skyrocket as more customers achieve success
  • Your retention rates will go through the roof
  • Your acquisition and product development spend with become more efficient (as you target the right prospects, and use customer feedback to guide your iterations)
  • And you will grow — fast

Are you ready for that?

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for B2B SaaS startups 💗

Customer Experience, Product Management, Products, Retention, Startups

Achieving product-market fit should be job #1. By @SueDuris

This is a guest post by Sue Duris, Director of Marketing and CX at M4 Communications.

Every startup wants to succeed. Startups want it bad. They know nine out of 10 startups fail. They want to be that one that succeeds!

They spend all their time first making that great product. And trying to make it better.  They add to it. A new bell here. A new whistle there.

And when they think they have the next big thing that’s going to disrupt the market, they go hunting for capital, trying to get any venture capitalist and angel investor they can to fund them.

“Capital first” is the battle cry so built into the startup community that whichever startup event people attend, the conversation seems to always be about raising money.  

Yet, when a founder does get an investor meeting, typically investors want evidence to support founder claims. They want to see metrics such as monthly and annual recurring revenue, active users, renewal rates, customer acquisition cost, customer lifetime value, and the like.

They also want to know about the market and the customer, in addition to your product. Is the market big enough? Who is your customer? What value do they get from your product? What kind of traction do you have in the marketplace?

Do you know this info?

While startups make their primary focus about raising capital, they place their secondary focus, if at all, on the customer.

Many times I hear startups tell me “I’ll focus on user and customer research after I get funding”.

Too many startup founders feel that getting funding is the magic pill that will solve all of their problems and put them on some fast-track to success.

But, don’t investors want to know about your customer strategy – i.e. how you make money – before they give you money?

Raising capital is very important. But to focus on it first is the wrong approach.

The first thing a startup should do is achieve product-market fit.

It is everything.

It typically determines whether you succeed or fail. It’s what sustains a startup and enables it to grow.

Make something people want.

It seems basic.

Creating a product that doesn’t fit what the market wants is silly. Yet, many do exactly this.

And if a startup doesn’t achieve product-market fit, chances are it will fail.

According to CB Insights, who has been compiling failed startup post-mortems, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. This is cited by 42% of CEO’s of failed startups.

According to CB Insights, the #1 reason startups fail is because they don’t achieve product-market fit. Click To Tweet

Product-market fit is hard work and it takes time. There is no doubt about that. Yet, it’s too much work for some founders. They want the glory but not going through all the blood, sweat, and tears to do the work.

This is where things become paradoxical.

These are the same startups that worry about churn.

“We have to eliminate churn,” they say.

But to ultimately reduce churn means you have to first retain your customers, build loyalty and drive customer lifetime value.

So what is product-market fit and why does it matter?

According to Marc Andreessen, product-market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

He goes on to say product-market fit is the only thing that matters.

When it’s not there you can tell because customers don’t get your value, no one is talking about you, usage isn’t growing, conversions are slow or not at all, etc.

But when it’s there, revenue, usage, and growth are fast.

People crave your product.

People are talking about you, especially your customers.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved it, something I call “customer nirvana”.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset.

When your customers advocate and sell for you, you have achieved customer nirvana. And it’s not a destination. It’s not a journey. It’s a mindset. Click To Tweet

You have to keep on working towards it. You have to give your customer that experience. The experience is the product. And it all starts with product-market fit. And making everything about the customer.

To get to product-market fit, ask yourself:

  • What is the unmet/under met need my company or product is attempting to fulfill?
  • How do I meet that need?
  • What value do I deliver to my customer that enables them to achieve their business outcomes? What is my customer’s WOW or aha moment?

That moment is what gets you to the value. But it isn’t only the value, it’s how quickly you can get to that value. Time-To-Value is key.

You have to know your why – why do they buy from you?

You have to know the what – what is resonating for them that is compelling them to buy from you?

Then you must know the actions and behaviors they have with you that’s helping them be successful.

Knowing your why, and how customers use your product is what will sustain you.

This is THE WORK.

And, you’ve got to do the work if you want to drive revenue, growth and customer lifetime value.

This work will get you to a minimum viable product, which you can use to gain traction, which you can use to get noticed by investors, which will help you get funded.

Having the insights from product-market fit is what drives and sustains growth.

Can product-market fit be measured?

It’s questionable. But there are certain trends you can look for in the product-market fit path.

Retention is the social proof to product-market fit. Other metrics to be watching for product-market fit include NPS, Customer Effort Score (CES), increased sales (upsells, cross-sells, and greater share of wallet). Win-Loss can also hold insights to how healthy product-market fit is.  

I scratch my head when companies don’t focus on retention. They should double-down on it. Yet, for many, it’s an after-thought.

In its 2018 NPS & CX Benchmarks Report, CustomerGauge still finds retention is an issue.

44% of respondents don’t know their customer retention rates, that’s one in three companies don’t know this vital info!

This aligns fairly well to my research that 2/3 of marketing budgets focus on acquisition activities and 1/3 is focused on retention.

This is another head-scratcher.

Companies place more resources on acquisition and feel it is more valuable than retention. Forget about data points from Bain – it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one – or Gartner – 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers.

According to Bain, it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one. And according to Gartner, 80% of your future profits come from only 20% of your existing customers. Click To Tweet

There are numerous reasons for the push on acquisition.

This is the culture of the organization and how it measures success. Marketing doesn’t view itself as responsible for retention (to this I find fascinating, considering many marketing departments feel they own customer experience). Retention gets passed around so many times that ultimately no one ends up owning it. Investing and analyst communities place high value on acquisition and so CEO’s follow suit to be in lock step. Leaders have number-envy.

Ultimately, retention must be a mindset that is engrained in the culture.

It also troubles me when I hear people say product-market fit is elusive.

Why? How?

You want to determine product-market fit?

Get out there and research. Find people. Ask people. Take the data they give you and identify insights to help you craft your business model. Do the work.

Raising capital is vital. But it should not be the first plan of attack. Startups must make product-market fit job #1. All roads to startup success begin there.

💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗