How to grow your SaaS business — Content Structure (+ 10(11) must read posts)

Just over a year ago i wrote a post titled “How to maximise your customer relationship cycle”, although short it highlights the key areas for businesses to ‘Get, Keep and Grow’ customers. In recent weeks i have looked at roles within companies offering SaaS (both selling b2b). These particular roles focused on ‘top of the funnel’, or specifically the ‘Acquisition’ sage of a customer relationship cycle.

I have always read and followed many marketing topics, methods and practices, I remember roughly 5 years ago looking into freemium models as that was becoming vastly more popular with the rise of smartphone applications. One of the best resources on this at the time was a talk by Evernote CEO Phil Libin. Another great Evernote case study i have found useful more recently is their email on-boarding sequence — There are many examples of this, however i believe this to be the best one and i will touch on this later on.

With a recent job search i found a couple of roles where — in some capacity — i would become part of the content marketing team, and that these roles were seen as ‘top of funnel’. Having worked for several small and startup businesses i have found content can help throughout a customer life-cycle. So with some intrigue (and waiting to hear if i did or didn’t get the job), i started looking at large SaaS companies such as Hubspot and Salesforce, and thinking of my startup background i looked into ‘funnels’ and ‘lifecycles’ for startups and SaaS businesses. Inbound marketing is certainly an important part of the funnel, however it is just as important to make sure a customer is nurtured throughout their buying cycle and well beyond their first purchase.

In its simplest form a Customer’s cycle may look like this

Acquisition > Activation > Retention > Revenue > Referral

And the business side of this may look like this

Awareness > Education > Investment > Value (> Monetisation)

Looking at the Evernote emails that i mentioned earlier — Awareness in this example has been achieved as the user has already signed up for these emails. However, the case study highlights how Evernote educates the user on product, seeks to get investment from the user, then pushes a premium product once investment and value to the user is established.

Some quick points on data and SaaS businesses;

Garner say that 80% of future revenue will come from 20% of current customers.

Additionally — according to researchers at Bain and co — adding 5% to your retention will increase profitability by 75%.

If you are not already doing so you should look deeper into your customer data with cohorts. Cohort analysis allows a company to “see patterns clearly across the life-cycle of a customer (or user), rather than slicing across all customers blindly without accounting for the natural cycle that a customer undergoes. *Please see the talk mentioned above by Phil Libin for examples.

It is also key that your SaaS company is using some metrics — typical metrics used are; Customer Lifetime Value (an estimate of the average gross revenue that a customer will generate before they churn or cancel), Revenue per customer, Churn — and using these to determine your customer acquisition strategy.

With a large portion of SaaS products being b2b, sales is just as an integral piece of the puzzle to crack. Data can also help the sales team understand leads/prospects and adapt their approach/pitch with a greater chance of success. One way would be segmenting users by where they are in the funnel, are they interested? If they are, in which product A,B or C. Are they engaged with the product? What features are they currently using? Would they be likely to use features X,Y, or Z. Are they committed? Would they find a premium package of added value, or would product B enhance their experience with product A. Are they using mobile or desktop or both.

Another part of Evernote CEO’s Phil Libin’s talk that stuck out was that if they could get their users to use Evernote on more than one device (phone, desktop, laptop), users were 50% more likely to pay for the premium features. Knowing something as small and simple as this could be invaluable to your business.

Data can drive content success too

Startups and large companies do differ in many respects, however whether you have a sales team (or even a customer success team) or not to start with doesn’t really matter. I believe that the fundamental structure of your content marketing will remain the same. What channels and mediums you use, how you go about guiding a customer from A to Z will of course be tailored to your product and company resources. What you must look at doing is to (split) test everything from content type, to layout, title/subject, information and length, CTA’s, etc, and then delivering whichever is performing best, to the right people, at the right time.

There are literally hundreds of articles on content marketing and many around the SaaS business model, SaaS growth ideas and data. I looked specifically at how successful SaaS companies use content throughout their cycle. I found there to be less information on the role content can play. I think a plan or structure is always best as a visual, so here is a guide for how content can be structured against a customer’s life cycle and/or your funnel.

If there is a need/demand to go more in depth into the visual, i will do so. However i think it is pretty self explanatory and don’t feel the need for an extra 800+ words here given the amount of information you can already find on the various aspects to this. *There are links within this article alone to 3 or 4 well produced articles. .

Along with producing this content template for your SaaS business, a particular topic of interest to me is also growth hacking/marketing, and so I have also spent some time reading dozens of great growth ideas for SaaS businesses. Going back to the statistics mentioned above from Gartner and Bains and Co, an extra percentile shift here and there can have a pretty dramatic overall result for your business. So as an added bonus i have included ‘Ten must read posts for SaaS Growth’. If you have read this post and look at some on this list here as well, i am confident that you will be well on your way to growing your SaaS business.

  1. 10 Effective Growth Hacks to increase your SaaS Revenue — As mentioned, it would be pointless for me to give an overview on the various aspects, when i could redirect you to a perfect resource that has been well put together and already has several case studies to support the theories. This is a great article highlighting a few key best practices.
  2. Evernote’s Simple But Useful Onboarding Emails — I mentioned this example as one of my favourite case studies and have personally used this example as an aid before. This article runs through the whole thing — with screen shots — and is a great example of the SaaS content structure (visual above) for an email marketing campaign.
  3. Content Gating: When, whether, and how to put your content behind and email/capture— I am sure at some point you have visited a site which uses content gating as a way to capture your information. The MOZ team produced a great resource here, if you are also planing to use this method for generating leads for your SaaS business this is a must.
  4. 87 Tried and Tested Saas Growth Hacking Techniques — There will be many here that are more obvious, however i have chosen to included this one simply because there are so many potential small wins listed. Also for those who are “experts”, i have included it in case you feel you have tried everything and/or are stuck for ideas.
  5. Discussion: If you could only execute using one metric for the next 6 months, which metric would you use? — A great discussion feed all about metrics on growthhackers.com
  6. Software as a Service Pricing Strategies White Paper Released — An oldie but a goodie. This white paper analyses four of the most common SaaS pricing models to help cloud companies better evaluate the strategy that is best for them.
  7. The definitive guide to actually using your SaaS metrics — Basically what it says on the tin (well title).
  8. Your SaaS Is NOT a Product: How to Change Your Mindset and Boost Your Revenue — You are probably not thinking about the ‘Service’ aspect of your offering enough. Added value to your customers and added value to your business.
  9. The 3 C’s of Sales and Marketing Alignment (Smarketing) — Smarketing… This article helps you understand the value and inter-team alignment and highlights a clear path for how to get there.
  10. A SaaS Marketing Plan for High Growth Companies — Much like the first on this list here are a number of comprehensive and actionable ways you can create a highly effective marketing strategy to grow your SaaS business.

Plus one added must read for mobile is “The Mobile Growth Stack”- This is almost the holy grail for growth marketing a mobile venture. I can not recommend this enough and also please do read the original article which is linked within.