Transparency Marketing For SaaS Revenue & Recruiting

If you’re having even a little trouble creating content or hiring, I have a simple tip for you: be a little more transparent.

Let me tell you a little story…

In 2014, sales technology company Yesware was struggling to make sales.

To some this might have been considered embarrassing – a topic to be kept under wraps.

How could a sales technology company reveal to their customers, partners and the world, that they were struggling to do what their product promised?

Yesware CEO, Matthew Bellow took a different approach.

Not only did he decide to reveal all the gory details, but did so to a reporter at the New York Times who wrote a full case study that told the the world about Yesware’s “issues.”

Why would Yesware reveal such a weakness?

In today’s ultra-competitive world of SaaS, the Yesware story is the exact kind that could strike a nerve with an audience of potential customers who faced the same struggle.

One year later, Yesware went on to raise a $13M Series-C and are used by 700,000 people around the world.

As a SaaS company your next customer or recruit is working at another company.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means some kind of transparency fan boy.

Rather, after using transparency marketing to help a previous venture-backed SaaS stand out in a competitive market, I’ve thought how I can use it again for a new software research assistant I’ve started to build.

While others have made a case for radical transparency, I think the best road is to just start small — basically, get going.

By staying on the edge of transparency marketing, you can reap the benefits and minimize the risk.

Here are 7 Ways to Make Your SaaS a Little More Transparent…

#1. Reveal Financing Information

If you want attention when raising money, instead of just revealing what you’ve raised, why not share the deck?

You don’t have to reveal anything the world otherwise wouldn’t know.

Case in point, this LinkedIn Series-B deck with over 1M views

If I was exploring options for a company to work for, I’d definitely be using this to help me see where a company was going.

Remember, you don’t need a million views to be visible with your community.

Here’s what a host of pitch decks revealed after a financing round from companies like Airbnb, WeWork and YouTube for inspiration.

#2. Tell The World About Your Customers

Want to take a page from the SalesForce playbook?

In his book, Behind the Cloud, CEO Mark Benioff dedicates an entire chapter to how SalesForce used events that featured their customers for traction.

Similarly, Mark Organ CEO of Influitive takes this a step further with a case to spend $1M to put his customers AND competitors on stage.

One approach we took at Teachable was to create an open Facebook group where we’d invite all our customers. Over time, that group has swelled to now over 14,000 members.

Does this open Teachable’s customer list up to competitors? Absolutely.

However, we know our community would do it on their own if we hadn’t. By being proactive our customers trust us more, have gotten value from collaborations and stuck with us.

#3. Share What Your SaaS is Doing to Grow

The Groove blog popularized talking about all the gory details of their journey. As a reader, there’s a suspense in not knowing what’s going to happen.

And here’s what starting the 100k blog did for Groove:

After reaching $100k in MRR, Grove now has an updated name of their blog: Journey to $500k.

Revealing your growth stats can gather interest even if you’re not selling to businesses. Neil Patel did this when he started and grew Nutrition Secrets to over $100,000 in revenue, all while giving weekly public updates.

#4. Share Your Revenue Stats

Think sharing your revenue is a radical idea?

Right now companies like Owler offer crowd estimate of private company revenue figures.

Most outsiders can estimate your revenue by looking at your employee count anyway, so why not share it?

Nathan Ladka, in his spreadsheet of over 80 SaaS companies goes into revenue, cost of customer acquisition, churn, financing and even customer figures.

Buffer goes so far as to publicly display a near real-time feed of revenue, and cancellations for all to see.

#5. Create a Public Product Roadmap

Want to attract technical talent and show your customers what you’re doing for them?

Consider opening up your product plan like Facebook has with their 10-Year Roadmap. It’s one of their most shared items.

While you might make the case that revealing your product roadmap is a competitive secret, here’s how Influitive CEO Mark Organ puts it:

“My belief is that by making our intentions clear, we attract the right people to us, and also repel potential competitors who find different white space to go after.”

Along with Influitive’s product roadmap, Trello and a list of other companies using Trello have done this to great effect.

Now you might be like Drift and be against revealing a public roadmap.

If that’s the case, one way to start small can be to share how your product team operates. This is an approach Drift readily takes with the launch of their book on running product, Hypergrowth.

#6. Share Your Expenses

This just feels too radical to me, I have to admit.

However, when Buffer publicly shared their salary formula and data it got them a 100% increase in quality applicants.

Here’s how Co-Founder & CEO, Joel Gascoigne puts it:

“The percent of people who were a good culture fit was a lot higher after all the media coverage of sharing the salary of every person on the scares the right people away.”

Buffer today continues to publicly showcase salaries and make it obvious where everyone stands.

Similarly, the world didn’t end when CEO of MatterMark, Danielle Morrill shared line items that detailed their monthly burn.

#7. Share The Tools You Use

Like we discussed when kicking off this post, the world is inundated with SaaS.

In just the sales and marketing world, there are now over 5,000 tools to chose from (and quickly growing).

With free research tools like BuiltWith, HGFocus, Datanyze and Ghostery any supposedly competitive info about what we use internally is public anyway.

Sharing the tools you use is valuable, yet doesn’t take much time

Right now, you have insight into using 100's of different tools, making creating content about them fairly easy.

This type of content is not only interesting to target customers, but also as a way to attract potential recruits who want to know what they’ll be doing.

You can chose to go in depth into one technology, or talk about your full tech stack

Either way, because you’re not talking about your own technology the content will naturally be more trustworthy and sharable.

It was fairly simple for Josh Pigford to list the 67 tools he uses to run Baremetrics. Similarly, my post on my SaaS Marketing Stack took off organically with over 9,000 views.

Similarly, you can try doing the same on video. It’s surprisingly easy to create a screenshare using Zoom or Screenflow and publish directly to YouTube.

Our weekly software research newsletter has grown completely through video recordings that go into the tech stacks of top sales and marketing operators.

Below is an example of one such video “stack share” we did with Tori Moss, Director of Sales Operations from Greenhouse which goes into how she uses Gong, Guru, SalesLoft and ChiliPiper to manage a 40+ sales rep team:

For video, you’ll want to make sure all your customer information is completely blocked out, but you get the idea.

How Are You Taking Advantage?

As more businesses embrace transparency, you can decide to take advantage of it now or watch your competition do it first

While this post gives you some of my favorite transparency examples, that doesn’t mean it’s some kind of silver bullet.

Rather than reveal everything, try one approach to start.

Reveal a little more about your story than you feel comfortable. Be a little more vulnerable. Show that you’re not quite sure what will happen, and give you community a reason to root for you.

Transparency Resources

  1. List of “open startups” revealing their SaaS revenue numbers from Baremetrics
  2. Why You Should Embrace Transparency Marketing from ConversionXL
  3. The See-Through CEO from Wired
  4. Building Your Brand with Transparency from OpenView.

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