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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 💗

B2B, Customer Experience, Emotion, Guest Posts, Human-to-Human (H2H), SaaS, Storytelling

Differentiate by how you make people feel, not on features, by @OmerMolad

B2B SaaS: Differentiate by how you make people feel, not on features

Guest post by Omer Molad, Vervoe CEO and Co-Founder

Differentiation is at the core of any business strategy, because the ultimate marketing question is: Why buy this solution? Your answer literally defines you. But it’s not so easy in a crowded marketplace to clearly state what makes you different – and state it in an impactful way that inspires your users.

That’s a tall order.

I often get asked how we differentiate ourselves at Vervoe. The problem with that question is that the person asking the question usually assumes we’re trying to differentiate ourselves from other software solutions.

Sure, sometimes we are.

But most of the time we’re competing against the status quo because we’re creating a new way of connecting businesses and job applicants. By definition, we’re competing against the old way of doing things, the way it has always been done.

That sounds much easier than it actually is, because the act of differentiation is comparison. You’re comparing your business with other existing businesses.

We didn’t have that. No other existing business in history has taken our approach to hiring.

What makes us different? Everything.

Which is very difficult to explain to people.

Our challenge was to learn how to win people over without comparing ourselves to something familiar. Instead of saying “our thing is better than some other thing,” we needed a way to say “our thing is perfect for you.”

As we went on that journey, we made a lot of mistakes. But eventually we stumbled onto some things that work for us nearly every time.

What we found, fortunately, also works when we’re competing against other software solutions. It just works, period.

Tell your story

Usually, the most effective way of selling, especially in a B2B market, is to focus on the problem and how you solve it. And we absolutely do that. However, what we learned is that people also care why we decided to solve this particular problem. And it turns out that they care about that quite a lot.

Initially I was surprised by how many people, particularly buyers, asked why we started Vervoe.

And then it hit me.

We’re doing something new and they’re looking for a reason to trust us.

At a very fundamental level, people trust people. Once people heard that we decided to solve their particular problem for the right reason, they bought in.

So I started telling our backstory more and more, in articles, in interviews, on podcasts. How I went from a guy with a great résumé in Tel Aviv – top school and grades, military service, experience at the hottest startup – to the guy with a weird name and no degree that couldn’t even get an interview in Melbourne. How frustrated that made me feel, being disqualified from jobs I knew I could do, just because people weren’t prepared to look beyond my background on paper.

Time and again I saw how much this resonated with people from companies of all sizes. Because so many people have a story like mine. But also because of something else. People like the fact that we started our company for a reason they consider to be worthy.

Supporting us makes them feel good.

So we learned a very important lesson. Authenticity scales across all company sizes. Whether it’s SMB or enterprise, people connect with an authentic story. And, if they connect with us because of how we make them feel, our bond is inherently stronger.       

Understand user experience from a new perspective

Our origin story gets people’s attention, but that just solves the first challenge – attracting customers. Once they become users, we have a different challenge: Creating the first-class user experience people have come to expect.

The user experience includes the entire experience inside and outside of the product. We believe that every interaction with the brand must bring clients one step closer to achieving their goals.

And here’s a paradigm shift we realized: An elite user experience isn’t about functionality. It starts with the mindset of the user.

For example, at Vervoe we help companies see how well job candidates can do the job they applied for. To achieve this, we need candidates to complete tasks. What we learned through an enormous amount of research and analysis is that the single biggest factor impacting completion rates is the candidate’s mindset.

If candidates feel like they are presented with an opportunity to showcase their talent and put their best foot forward, they’ll make an effort. This also depends on how much they want the job. Conversely, if candidates feel like they’re being asked to jump through arbitrary additional hoops, they are much less likely to invest in the process, especially if they have other options.

Once again, we focus on how we make users feel above all else.

Great service is always an unfair advantage

We’re a software company and we’re always trying to make our product more intuitive to use. This helps us scale. And, while it doesn’t make much commercial sense, we also relish the opportunity to speak to our customers. When we speak with our customers, not only do we learn, but we also have an opportunity to leave them with a positive feeling.

The thing about customer service is that everyone knows how important it is, yet very few companies do it really well. So any company that can consistently deliver exceptional customer service has an unfair advantage over its competitors.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling vacuum cleaners, air travel or software. People remember great service. And they remember it because of how it made them feel.

So while we’re always aiming to offer low-touch experience, we’re also secretly hoping we get an opportunity to provide service. Put differently, we relish each opportunity that comes along.

Treat your customers like humans – simple, right? Not quite

In software, we like to talk about users, buyers and ideal customer profiles. The reality is that we’re dealing with humans. And at a very basic level, they’re just like us. They get confused if it’s not clear enough, frustrated if it’s not simple enough and really mad if it’s unfair. But if we help them do what they’re trying to do, and we make an effort, odds are they’ll respond.

People don’t sit at a café and talk about some feature they used. They talk about the service they received, the story they heard and the experience they had.

When you can differentiate by how you make people feel, you’re winning.

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

B2B, Guest Posts, SaaS

Top Go-to-Market Myths in B2B SaaS by @kaleighf

Guest post by Kaleigh Moore, freelance writer for eCommerce platforms and SaaS integrations.

When it comes to B2B SaaS, there’s a lot of talk about growth–and these conversations often include buzzwords like “growth hacking.”

For good reason: Everyone wants the go-to-market hack or shortcut that will help their brand launch and scale more quickly (and outpace the competition while they’re at it.) And for many B2B SaaS companies, that growth is already happening. Data shows that in 2016, the median growth rate for B2B SaaS was 48%.

The trouble is: There’s a lot of misinformation out there that can put growth on the wrong trajectory.

If you’ve ever wondered where to draw the line between fact and myth around go-to-market strategies for B2B SaaS, you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll look at the top five most common myths in this realm, as well as insights from experts that help break down false information.

What is “go-to-market”?

Before we jump into the myths, let’s first get on the same page about what “go-to-market” means.

Go-to-market (or go-to-market strategy) is how an organization delivers its unique value proposition to customers (via inside and outside resources) that ultimately helps the brand achieve a competitive advantage.

Essentially, this is the series of tactics a SaaS company uses to grow. It can include marketing and sales strategy, funding, user acquisition and onboarding tactics–anything that will help the business grow and scale at maximum velocity.

With this in mind, let’s now take a look at some of the myths floating around in this realm.

Myth #1: It’s almost impossible to compete with VC-backed giants who already have an established position on the market.

If you’ve ever heard that bootstrapped SaaS companies can’t compete, you have false info on your hands. Just take a look at a company like Basecamp that’s achieved incredible growth and massive market share without a cent of outside funding.

Tom Zsomborgi, CFO of Kinsta, expanded on this:

“If you have a great idea and a good product, it doesn’t matter who the competition is–you can bootstrap your way to success despite the big players in the industry that have secured millions in funding and that work with a team of hundreds of people. Experts or founders on different platforms might advise you to go after another market or niche because that one is saturated and dominated by X companies with deep pockets–but that’s not a good enough excuse. There is always room for another company and a great product that can achieve great results.”  

Myth #2: You don’t have to do much research when it comes to content–just crank it out and go.

Content is indeed an important go-to-market strategy that B2B SaaS companies use pretty much across the board. But quality and strategy are two key components that have to be part of that approach. Without them, companies can tie up a lot of time and money with lackluster results.

SaaS writer Amy Ahrens expanded:

“Typically, I hear things like: ‘I just need a bunch of content to help our SEO.’ While there is some truth to this, what needs to happen first is research. By that, I mean that you should research your company’s competitive set and try to find something that isn’t covered and do that well. Also, the algorithms have changed and now content marketing is all about pillar-based content and how that affects SERP. Do these two things well and I guarantee that your SERP placement will improve and your content will resonate better with your audience.”

Myth #3: Businesses can’t onboard themselves into a tool.

Onboarding is another area where SaaS companies get things wrong thanks to best practices that don’t work across the board. Sometimes, breaking industry norms and testing new strategies that let users guide the way is the best path to success.

SEO expert Brendan Hufford shared his firsthand experience with this:

“SaaS usually is entirely self-serve or entirely something you have to go through a sales team on. But a different option is to let people sign up and get started and then have the sales  or success team come in from there. We tried both self-serve and very hands-on onboard assistance for Happy Meter. Both produced poor results for differing reasons. The best option we found was to hop in to assist at a strategic time. I think in B2B SaaS there’s often this myth that it has to be a high-touch service or self-serve and that’s it. It creates a false dichotomy.”

Myth #4: Sales and marketing teams can work independently.

Silos are never a good thing–especially in the world of B2B SaaS. Even big brands with years of success under their belts are finally taking note of this and implementing changes. If your go-to-market strategy pivots on teams that work independently, it’s time to reconsider your approach.

SaaS writer Elise Dopson explains why this is so important:

“Misalignment between these sales and marketing departments leads to low conversion rates since the marketing people are referring irrelevant leads. Huge companies like Mars and Coca-Cola are appointing new people for this, but the same applies with B2B SaaS. The people you’re selling to have long, complex sales processes. Confusion and overlap between teams when convincing them to buy + their sales process = long time to see results.”

Myth #5: You can get by without having much ‘go-to-market’ content.

Circling back to the topic of content, let’s talk about content that is specific to go-to-market purposes. Is it okay to skip over it? In most cases, the answer is a resounding no. You need content that helps inch the buyer closer to the conversion point through the customer journey.

Jordie Black, a B2B expert, explains:

“SaaS buyers, especially those in B2B, much prefer to self-educate in order to come to a buying decision. Too many companies put more focus on gearing up their sales teams as opposed to gearing up their content arsenal to ensure that they have enough content that supports a buyer at EVERY stage of the buyer’s journey.”

Final Thoughts: Don’t Fall for the Myths

Information is power, and hopefully the myths we’ve busted here will help you get back on the path to rapid growth. Just remember: Don’t take someone’s word for it when you hear blanket statements about SaaS growth or hear about one-size-fits-all approaches to always work.

In the go-to-market environment for B2B SaaS, you always need to keep and open mind and put information through the ringer before letting it guide your decision-making process.

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

B2B, Customer Success, Guest Posts, Product Management, Retention, SaaS

How top B2B SaaS companies create customer-centric onboarding

Guest post by Shayla Price.

Here’s a major B2B SaaS growth challenge: How do teams ensure customer success from the onset?

With the goal to quickly convert new customers into loyal advocates, it’s easy for B2B SaaS teams to forget what’s important. In this case, it’s onboarding.

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

Too often, B2B SaaS companies marvel in their own products, from an eye-appealing user interface to near-perfect functionality. That’s only part of the equation.

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

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

1. Score the Aha! Moment (Early)

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Bake Success Into Your Messaging

B2B SaaS businesses do an effective job at gaining potential customers’ attention. Teams spend lots of time designing creative display ads, developing witty copy for their homepages, and writing hilarious emails. The branding is dynamic and worth sharing on social.

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source

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

3. Identify & Remedy User Gaps

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source

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

4. Be Available for Questions

Building a worthwhile product is important for your B2B SaaS. If your application sucked, no one would bother purchasing it. However, it’s not the only thing that matters.

Teams sometimes forget that no matter what your B2B SaaS product does, you’re still in the service business. Your primary objective is to build amazing customer experiences. And one of the tenets to achieve that goal is offer superior customer support before, during, and after onboarding.

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

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

So what should you? Make yourself available on several channels. For your B2B SaaS, that may include investing in live chat software to answer customer inquiries. Or you may need to expand your phone support times by three extra hours on the weekends.

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

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

5. Evaluate Customer Milestones

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

Whether it’s fear of failure or a forgotten step, B2B SaaS teams skip over measuring their customers’ progress. It’s the only way to know if the customer is reaching their desired outcome and is fully buying into your brand promise.

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

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

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

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

The Customer Takes Center Stage

While these insights don’t reach the level of rocket science, B2B SaaS teams often undervalue and overlook them. You possess the power to get customers to their desired solution. So start giving the customer your undivided attention in the onboarding process.

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