As with any customer acquisition, you first have to make sure you’ve got a solid foundation before you get into marketing efforts.
You have to understand your ideal customers and develop a compelling value proposition. Who are they? Where do they hang out? What are their desired outcomes? What words do they use to describe their problems and desired outcomes? What do they expect to get from you? What do they hope to get?
Don’t know? Don’t guess. Ask them.
Based on the qualitative data you gather and your product, the next challenge is to come up with a unique value proposition that establishes product-market fit – in the language with which your target market will identify. (Sometimes I refer to this as language-market fit.)
We’re doing some high-level English major work here. We’re talking diction: Word choice. And we’re using it to power your marketing so when a customer for your SaaS startup (or otherwise) hits on your value proposition, they’ll immediately know you are for them.
Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky) for Nichole.
A value proposition accomplishes four tasks:
- Defines who your ideal customer is
- States what your product does
- Establishes why you’re unique
- Shows the end benefit
Value propositions are complicated, but when you distill it down, the idea is really simple: To get customers, you have to tell them why they should work with you based on what you uniquely offer that is also important to them.
Now, once you have that foundation, the challenge becomes getting your product in front of your ideal customers.
Perhaps even more than other markets, SaaSpreneurs are looking for thought leaders to tell them how to do things just a bit better. So they’re here, on Quora. They’re on Medium. They’re on blogs like SEOMoz, and sites like Hacker News, ProductHunt, Growth Hackers, Reddit, and LinkedIn.
Which isn’t to say you’ll get equal ROI from each of these outlets. You won’t. And you’ll spread yourself way too thin if you try to hit all of them.
Traction & Growth Channels
This is where “traction channels” come into play, and a very useful tool called the “Bullseye Framework.”
Image source: Strategize, Test, Measure: The Bullseye Framework by Brian Balfour (@bbalfour)
Traction channels are marketing and distribution channels that focus on customer acquisition.
They’re where you strategically choose to place your content to attract leads.
The secret to traction channels is that most startups use only a few – and there are hundreds (if not thousands).
Most businesses flood just a handful of channels and ignore the rest. They choose the ones they’re most familiar with, but you really can’t know what channel will work best for your product or service, and your audience, until you test.
That’s where the Bullseye Framework comes in – introduced in Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares’ e-book, Traction.
Weinberg and Mares identified 19 different traction channels in their e-book, Traction, including traditional media, social media and various types of marketing.
Here are a few channels from the e-book just to give you an idea:
- Viral marketing – encouraging users to refer other users
- Traditional media outlets & offline ads (tv, radio, print ads)
- SEO / Inbound Marketing
- Engineering as marketing – developing free tools, micro-sites and widgets to drive leads
- Strategic partnerships with other companies
- Existing platforms – i.e. using Facebook or Apple’s App Store, or even Medium to grow your audience
- Speaking engagements
- Community building
The Bullseye Framework is designed to whittle down the list into a few that have the best chance of maximizing your ROI. Because creating really great thought-leadery content requires a significant investment of time, if not money.
Bullseye in a Nutshell, According to Traction
Step 1: Brainstorm at least one idea for how you could use each type of traction channel.
Step 2: Rank your ideas according to which seem most promising, which could possibly work, and which seem unlikely. It might be helpful to give yourself a measurable goal, like which channels are most likely to yield 100,000 users in the first six months after launch (that, incidentally, was Mint’s lofty goal).
Step 3: Prioritize – Choose three channels that seem most promising.
Step 4: Test your three channels with the aim of finding out Cost to Acquire for each channel, how many customers are available through each channel, and whether the customers you are getting through each channel fit into your ideal customer profile.
[I’d watch out for Step 4 though, because some very important channels yield long-lasting, sustainable results, but don’t deliver quick wins. Yes, I’m talking about inbound marketing, content and SEO, as well as some others that can fly well under the radar.]
Step 5: Focus on the most promising channel. Weinberg and Mare recommend focusing on one traction channel at a time, the idea being “At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition.” But again, they seem to ignore the long-term benefits of building solid content.
I would argue that startups should focus on one traction channel for quick wins, and another for long-term gains.
Here’s my list of traction and growth channels for the SaaS market to test, divided into quick wins and long-term gains.
These channels should be based on the customer.
- BetaList – Submit your startup on BetaList to find early adopters for your product and get valuable feedback.
- Contests, giveaways – try Wishpond
- Events – Launch parties, festivals, conferences – 32 examples of marketing using events
- JustReachOut is a tool that was created specifically for startups to pitch journalists (though it is a paid resource)
- Introduce your product on Medium – Examples: Welcome to Glitchand Introducing Yo Stories.
- Paid Campaigns
- Press / PR campaigns
- For media coverage, you can use a website like Help A Reporter (HARO) to connect with journalists and bloggers needing sources for future articles. The daily HARO newsletters break down the source requests into categories, so scanning to see if your expertise is a fit is easy (plus, it is free!).
- Product Hunt – Is your product available (i.e. not just in test mode)? Launch it on Product Hunt, a community where product enthusiasts can easily discover new products.
- Social media – Social media buzz is one of those things that is often more easily said than done. But, companies like InVision have used the simple tactic of giving away free company t-shirts to drive impressive customer acquisition. And even early stage SaaS companies can afford a few t-shirts. (This tip is from Kate Harvey, Content & Search Marketing Manager at Chargify.)
- Zest.is – A new-tab feed of content suggested by marketers, for marketers
Long-term gains, channels usually based on creating high quality, relevant content:
- Submit your product to the app store and/or Google Play
- Organic campaigns
- SEO / Inbound Marketing on your own blog
- Guest posts on other blogs that your ideal customers read
- Re-purpose older content for your site and guest sites
- Podcasts – Hailey Friedman wrote about this, and podcast advertising and interviews really are a great way to get in front of an educated, friendly audience.
- Communities to distribute content – be an active member in these communities, don’t just share your content
- Integrate with other tools, like Intercom, Slack, Segment, or Zapier
- Newsletters – Submit your content to curators, here’s a list of 40 SaaS, Marketing, and Growth newsletters
- Social media
I’d recommend using the Bullseye Framework to narrow down this list and find a channel or two that work best for you for both the short and long-term. And try new channels when you’re initial channel stops working.
Ultimately, acquiring SaaS customers requires the same research and strategies as acquiring any other type of customer. The difference lies mostly in where to find them. The SaaS community is an especially active one on forums and online communities like Product Hunt, Growth Hackers, Medium, Quora, and private groups on Slack, Facebook and LinkedIn.
That’s good news, because knowing where to find your customers is half the battle.
The other half is proving your worth.
I originally answered this question on Quora.
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