10 growth fundamentals
I grew my startup’s organic conversions by 1330% in 12 months.
The year before I grew a key segment of our MRR by 800% and learned a lot of lessons in the process.
Here’s a breakdown of how 10 fundamentals that I use when thinking about B2B SaaS growth.
1. Growth systems > Growth hacks
I've written about the importance of growth systems a lot before.
Growth hacks will only last you so long. Scaleable, manageable growth comes from making systematic improvements over time.
Here’s a chart of our organic search value to show you how true that is:
2. Do what is proven to work, then innovate
In almost every industry there is a set of proven strategies and tactics which will work for acquiring enough customers to be gaining momentum.
Don't get bogged down in trying interesting tactics before you've done the (sometimes) boring but effective work of creating a solid foundation.
We relied on cold outreach for a long time. Why? You can sell large deals and generate good cash flow to give yourselves runway to experiment.
Another example of when this worked for us?
We created simple pain point SEO pages that convert upwards of 20% visitors and it’s targeting a keyword that I would say is essentially pointless.
But it generates us a good portion of our SMB revenue because it addresses a pain point directly
I talked about this in depth on the Growth Machine podcast:
3. Create value for customers above all
Can't emphasise enough how important it is to be obsessed with value creation for customers. Don't buy into the popular startup myth that only founders who follow their noble visions will succeed.
Even visionary leaders focus on value creation. To borrow a way overused example: Steve Jobs presented the iPod as a visionary product. But foremost, it created huge value for customers.
4. The customer journey does not stop at acquisition
Classic marketing is very focused on awareness and acquisition in the customer journey. Those things are really important.
However, successful SaaS businesses are built on healthy customer retention and referral too. Every new subscriber is great – but added to the retained customers and they're golden.
One area I want to do better in is retention. Our funnel is not quite right yet. But hey, we're all doing our best, right?
5. Fix your funnel before investing in paid acquisition
It's fun to spend money on ads. Being able to buy people's attention is wonderful. But it's also deceptive.
If your funnel (all the way down to retention and/or referral) isn't right, you're going to burn a lot of cash inefficiently.
Tip: I spend money on broken funnels in order to pump new users through it to find out where the holes are. Then turn the ads off. Then fix the problem. And repeat!
How do you track leaks in a funnel?
A version of this post was published in the IndieHackers community. Someone asked in the comments, how do you track leaks in a funnel?
Headlines: set up conversion events for the main actions in your customer journey.
What that looks in practice:
Map out your customers' journey from awareness all the way down to referral – do it in broad brushes at first and then work out which 5-10 events are the most important.
You can learn what your customers do in all kinds of ways. Some popular ones:
- Customer interviews (see those 10 principles!)
- Screen recording; analysing usage data
- Gut feel
For some ideas, ours are:
- View landing page
- Complete onboarding (which we recently removed)
- Create a survey
- Share a survey
- Get 10 responses to a survey
- Viewed paid plans
- Chose paid plan
- Purchase successful
Set up conversion goals for those events in Google Analytics or whatever analytics tool you prefer
Create a funnel data spreadsheet – Just something simple like this template is fine. Each week, add the funnel data into this sheet.
Look for the highest drop-off rate – Look at where the percentage drop-off between stages of your funnel is.
Go back to the same things you used in step 1 to better understand why people are dropping off at that particular stage.
Screen recordings on Hotjar are my favourite for this. Come up with an experiment to see how you can fix the issue – e.g. is there any obvious button missing? Put it in!
Then turn on the lowest cost ad campaign you can to pump people through the funnel and see if it makes a difference to conversion rates at your failing point – if you don't want to do the paid ad thing, you can always wait for organic traffic to go through the funnel... but it usually takes longer when you're early on in acquisition.
6. Follow the data but know when to trust your gut
You should absolutely keep good data when working on growth.
Create a funnel tracking spreadsheet to keep those well earned conversions in.
Occasionally, you'll have to deviate from the numbers to address pain points you've inferred just through talking to customers.
We shipped a feature that we thought customers would want (results as interactive, filterable charts) even though no-one said it explicitly.
Product usage increased 3x in one week.
Revenue took off soon after that.
7. The best channel is the one that works
I wanted so badly to find a scalable paid channel for our startup. But we're going head to head with so many big companies. And they can afford massive inefficiencies.
However, I doubled down on my skill set and tested content marketing instead. What do you know? It works! People find our product because we aligned our content with their needs and they buy.
The best channel is whichever one works for you right now.
8. Ask: ‘what do my customers think?’
The customer isn't always right. They often come up with ideas that you know just won't work.
On the other hand, the ideas they give you are them trying to solve the problem and be helpful.
So delve into the underlying needs and desires.
There is gold in customer conversations: what language do they use (great for copywriting), what questions do they have (Amazing blog content), what problems are they dealing with (feature planning!).
9. Satisfy user intent at every opportunity
One common error for people investing in content marketing is to not consider the user's intent. This shows itself in high volumes of traffic with terrible conversion rates.
It also matters way down the funnel too. I can't tell you the number of times that a small change we made after watching users struggle to achieve their goal on a particular view has resulted in added revenue in the following days.
10. Sustainable growth > rapid growth
I had a friend who had a growth spurt when he was 13. He went from a tiny kid to over 6 foot. It was weird. And his body just didn't cope well with it. He couldn't ride roller coasters anymore because his blood flow wasn't catching up with his growth.
I'm not doctor but that seems odd.
Rapid growth is rarely sustainable. Build your company for durability and enjoy sustainable growth at every stage of the company.
Last year, we went from ~2m all time votes to >16m overnight because of a very high profile customer. It absolutely melted our servers and we had to spend >$20K to get it back to functioning.
By the way, a high profile piece of PR like this is an incredible way to grow your backlinks. Look at what happened on the right hand side of this chart.
Hope this has been interesting. If any of these resonated with you in particular, I threaded them all on Twitter. Give the one you most vibed with an RT/Fav
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