Much the same logic for the SaaS product and tech-startup universe. You might be working ungodly hours in a day focused on building the most cost-effective and innovative SaaS product ever, but if nobody knows you, the game is lost.
The foundation of every business is to grow and scale. In doing so, we founders use a number of strategies and techniques. Things need to be more creative when it comes to SaaS and tech startups. You’re selling something intangible after all. and to begin with, for any tech startup to be successful, it needs to have customers who are willing to try their products or have a look at their offerings.
The era of the attention economy:
When you’re vying for the attention of a prospect to try out your product you’re not just competing with your industry-competitors but also the time they could spend on Facebook or medium etc. After all a human mind can only be actively focused on one task at a time. Making someone try out a new software requires heightened and sustained attention for the user to understand the value. Therefore, attention becomes the modern pseudo-currency.
So my thoughts began at this – From promotional emails to pop up ads, how do you make your product stand out? How can we founders ensure that all those gazillion hours of arduous work are noticed, and prospects want to try out your software?
I find the feeling similar to when you cook something for the first time for important guests and your heart is pacing about whether they will want to try your food and how they’d like it.
When we started the Alore journey mid-2017 we faced all these challenges. I wanted to discuss the various mechanisms we brainstormed on and the ones that worked. This will probably help you choose the ones that would be most apt for your business. Here are some things that we tried and worked:
Choosing between premium and freemium model of business:
Unless you’re a brand that is already well established or not looking at expanding your customer base, offering premium services is not your smartest choice. Premiums are effective if you have tough competition around or your product/service is undeniably unique in its features. Whether your product is an app or a web service or any product that uses the digital space for its promotion, premiums are slowly losing ground, mainly because of the huge competition in the market today.
A Freemium on the other hand, is the trending option for startups or companies wanting to expand their customer base. 17% SaaS companies use a freemium pricing model (Totango) It allows people to have rudimentary functionalities of the product or service while it’s complete functionality comes for a price. Since they have you on their phones and laptop screens, you can track a lot of their likes and preferences to target them effectively. But the important question is what features should be free and how to convert the free users into paid ones?
Anything that has a “free” tag is usually appealing to people, but the idea is to get them hooked onto it so that down the line they are ready to convert to paid customers. I remember a conversation I had with a mentor in my early days of entrepreneurship. His exact words were “When thinking of freemium Vikas, think like a drug dealer. Give your best offering first to hook the customer onto your product. Don’t hold back”. I further ask you to take a moment to think about it.
Headspace is a good example of a successful freemium. Headspace, an app allows users to access the foundational meditation course but requires to pay for the custom courses on stress, anxiety, happiness and so on. They have used clear segmentation that will cater to you no matter what goals you aim to achieve out of meditation- happiness, studying, sleep, exercise- they have a meditation pack for all your needs. The idea is to introduce you to how guided meditation works and leave all the enticing things it can do for you- like good sleep, better workout etc.- in the paid version. That’s how your freemiums need to be. Expose them to how your product/service works and leave the exciting parts to the premium. Some other popular names who are using this model are Slack, Skype, Hootsuite, Grammarly etc.
Understanding free trials, demos and discounts
Offering a free trial of your SaaS product with no holds barred access is a great way to hook prospects to your product because they see the potential in what’s being offered. Free-trial signups will also give you access to e-mail IDs that you can turn into an active and successful mailing list. You can offer various incentives and discounts to people in your email list or through ads on relevant networks e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook etc. The idea is to make the people who have made the effort to try your product, feel special and find the process to sign up less intimidating.
If you’d like to read some more on free trial planning, this article by Charles Yu would be interesting.
Also, incentivizing will always make the reader curious enough to at least go through the product offering. Always have three different pricing ranges for your product when you seek to convert free trials to paid ones, you can try an A/B testing to see what kind of pricing brings in more converts.
When giving out demos to attract customers for your SaaS product, you primarily have two motives:
a) To convert the free users to paid ones and
b) To gain more free users using the current ones.
During demos, engage the prospect in a way that he/she is intrigued by what they can achieve after using your product. A good tactic my friend SV does is that when giving out a demo, he creates a free trial profile for the user to play with live while sharing the screen and thereafter send the details to the prospect to dive deeper into his profile. The prospects are hooked even before they know it!
Life Time Deals (LTDs) for early adopters
Essentially, early-adopters are the tech-savvy risk-takers who are willing to invest in your nascent brand. It’s their influence that is going to take your company forward and shape your SaaS product. To catch their attention, you need to give them a value that’s incomparable and will not only make them just stay but bring in more people. (Yes, WOMM works!) Early adopters need to feel like they’re gaining awesome value and feel special too. and the truth is they are. Early adopters are taking out time to test out an unproven product which may or may not work. You owe them your best for just that!
Of course, early stage LTDs also help with a minor influx of cash at a critical time but the bigger picture is to have the product shape up well and get early bugs fixed ASAP. Winning over early adopters with LTDs and sustaining them is the kick-start to dynamic growth.
For e.g. when I launched Alore CRM, I did two rounds of LTDs. They were a great way to get the product in front of a tech-savvy community led by a dedicated micro-influencer. I offered the LTD at a flat $49 Lifetime Deal where a user would have access to lifetime updates to the product. Users were intrigued probably with the promise of the product and the promise that all future updates to the product would be provided to them. Roughly about 1300 people signed up for the free trial and almost 500 of them bought the deal. I also offered an extended refund period to those who wanted and authorized the entire support team to be able to be able to issue instant refunds if any. The aim throughout was to ensure all interactions with our business were smooth – you liked our product or not.
I personally feel that providing the option for instant refunds is a good strategy. Not only does it convey to people that you’re confident about your vision, product, and the team, but also gives many doubtful minds the confidence to try our your new “unestablished” SaaS product. That’s how you would like it right if you were the one buying ? so why not your users ?
Most of us today, look at our emails first thing in the morning so having an attractive email as you start your day is a good way of promotion. But it is imperative to have something unique about your email that would make people read through them. Having attractive deals and offers for those who subscribe to your mailing list is a must. You should provide them with something extra for sharing their contact. Some such incentives include a discount or 15% off on your SaaS product on subscription. You can include free templates, contest giveaways, and sample gifts. Tell them why it’s a good idea to sign up, how quick the sign-up process will be and the host of incentives that they can gain upon doing so. You can actually use A/B testing to determine which incentive works the best for your customers, it’s a foolproof way of making a choice.
Some popular forms of retaining customers through emails are discounts, gift giveaways upon sharing with friends and useful blog posts or guides or e-books on related content.
Drip emails are the best form of online promotion where you can set and forget( almost). DRIP campaigns are a set of pre-written emails which get sent in a sequence depending upon the triggers set which are different options how the recipients engage with the product. The customers who sign up later are able to see the entire thread. If you would like your customer to try your SaaS product, it’s a good idea to send them a personalized welcome email followed by all the things that the subscription offers. Based on where your customer navigates on the site, automated emails can be sent as a way of call for action.
The great part about drip email campaigns is that they are completely automated. All you have to do is choose the right emails to be sent to different segments and the system does the rest. You could also create an empathy map to figure out what would motivate your typical customer based on demographic and psychographic data. Though the incentives will shift from business to business.
Abandoned shopping carts, testimonials and reminders of what they have gained till now and what they will gain in the future are some ways to wire your customers back in. So set the ball rolling and see what follows!
Getting popular blogs and influencers to talk about your SaaS product, service or even your own blog is a great way to attract people. It increases the credibility of the brand. Choose niche bloggers and micro-influencers who are influential in the field of your business to write or talk about your products. If you have a blog of your own, get a guest blogger to post on it. Collaboration is always a good sign for brand image. Prospects who see you being mentioned positively by these influencers will be intrigued to check out your product and therefore be tempted to try your product. (Curiosity is a huge factor!! )
So how exactly do you reach out to these popular professional bloggers? Most preferably not via social media. Craft a good email. Personalize it. Read up about their work and make sure you have something to say about it. Most bloggers reject what looks like a mail you’ve forwarded to 10 other people. Be professional but not too formal. Like blogs are meant to be a little more casual and engaging, so should your email.
Cross promotion is always a good option even among bloggers without a massive following. Ensure you comment and share your influencer’s posts (not in a creepy way. Please don’t stalk!). Don’t make it sound desperate but at the same time emphasize on the fact that someone established has also given a thumbs up for your brand.
Website, Social media and SEO
This is relatively easy to use yet slightly difficult to nail tactic.
Your website speaks volumes about the way you’re perceived. The design, the copy, the experience – it all culminates to become an indelible part of the user’s intent to want to engage or not with your SaaS product. Use this well. Use popups and chatbots if needed but the intention must be to keep the user hooked onto your website enough to make him want to sign up – even if it’s just to “explore”
Nothing speaks about your brand like your social media page. Depending on what your brand voice is, having an engaging, witty social media account is always a plus. Post testimonials and about benefits of your SaaS product regularly to make prospects want to try the product out for themselves. This won’t happen overnight of course so maintaining a steady and consistent effort will do much good here.
Invest time in SEO. There’s no denying the value in that. The more you pop up in people’s search, the more likely they are to notice you and eventually be intrigued enough to try you out.
and here’s something that’s super important and works but is often not thought of enough!
UI is how you pass your information to your users in terms of images and graphics etc., UX is how users engage and interact with your offering. Therefore, a focused and purpose-driven UI UX helps translate an idea into a product.
What’s beautiful and well-designed is disruptive yet invisible to the user. Think Apple for a second – The design is so seamless and in flow that you never really notice it yet find it beautiful and engaging.
As SaaS and software businesses, we founders need to take great care in getting the experience right. If a user faces more than 3-4 moments where he is tempted to think “let me look at this later” then you’ve got work to do my friend.
Getting someone to try out your software product is not like taking a walk on the beach and I understand that. However, it’s not conquering Everest either. First, I suggest using empathy mapping to map out and understand the user persona in detail. Next, figure out based on the timeline and resources available, what tactics you can work on immediately and then gradually figure out your way into each.
a) Premiums and Freemiums model of business – Understand what model works in your specific niche and what competitors widely use. Figure out your position in the scheme and then go for the freemium/premium model.
b) Free trials, Demos and Discounts – Based upon the velocity of your pipeline and prospect list, this is a great way to get prospects hooked to your product. It also gets you to identify the bottlenecks in your conversion process.
c) Life Time Deals for early adopters – As a nascent SaaS product, you need to target this target audience to shape the product right.
d) email campaigns – Great campaigns which incentivize well will tempt the deal seeker target audience into trying your product.
e) DRIP campaigns – Well-crafted and personalized DRIP campaigns will help you engage with prospects and warm them to trying out your product.
f) Influencers – Use influencers to review and talk about your SaaS product.
g) Website, Social Media and SEO – Design a great website copy and use social media to create intrigue about your SaaS product
i) UI/UX – Good UI/UX will minimize customer drop off. Focus early on this aspect
Hopefully, this article gave you a broad view and a starting point for thinking about getting prospects to try your SaaS product. Will soon be writing a continuation to this article to talk about the niche tactics like Opt-in forms, Lead magnets, chatbots etc. to refine the customer experience, get more sign-ups and eventually get them to convert.
Would love to hear from other SaaS and tech founders on what your experiences around this have been?