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Ultimate guide to growth hacking for SaaS (2021)

In this day and age, “slow and steady” doesn’t actually win the race — at least not if you’re aiming to build a successful SaaS company.
Ultimate guide to growth hacking for SaaS (2021)

In this day and age, “slow and steady” doesn’t actually win the race — at least not if you’re aiming to build a successful SaaS company.

On the bright side, the SaaS industry is in extremely rude health — by the end of 2021, a staggering 99% of companies from all sectors will be relying on some kind of SaaS solution.

From a niche solution that the SaaS model was viewed two decades ago, the industry has grown into a type of service provider that companies need as much as basic utilities like water and electricity.

That means there’s a lot of opportunity for growth — but the other side of that coin is a huge amount of competition.

Even back in 2017 — which is, in IT terms, ancient history — the average SaaS company had more than 9 niche competitors in its first year.

For every great idea you have, there are almost a dozen other companies trying to do the same thing. And more likely than not, some of them can do at least as good a job as you in executing it.

So, how do you fight your way through this shark tank?

There’s only one solution — rapid growth. And that’s why we’re here with the best growth hacking tips for SaaS companies in 2021.

What Is Growth Hacking?

If you haven’t seen our 2020 growth hacking guide, you may not even know what the process is. And that’s okay, because we’re going to bring you up to speed with a quick crash course.

Essentially, “growth hacking” means implementing experiments that have only one focus — accelerate learning to achieve extremely rapid and efficient business growth.

The goal here is fast results and minimal expenses. That’s where the “hacking” part of the name comes from; it’s all about huge, tangible results achieved with systematic testing.

Companies like Groupon and Airbnb have managed to subvert market expectations and achieve huge growth in just a couple of years — all thanks to growth hacking strategies.

And there’s no reason why your business can’t do the same. You just need to use everything at your disposal to accelerate your success.

With that in mind, we’ve created an in-depth guide of the best growth hacking tactics you can use to achieve your business goals in 2021.

Key Measurable Metrics — What to look out for

The most basic tool that every growth hacker uses to achieve their goals is focus. Extreme focus.

You need to be obsessed with your business growth, and nothing else. And that’s why setting the right priorities and following the right metrics is essential.

If you make the right call when deciding what’s most important for landing new customers and quickly scaling your company, you’ll have enough time to test your ideas without losing momentum.

And as disruptive as growth hacking is, it still shares some basic tenets with any other business development and marketing strategy. For example — you need a palpable, quantifiable way of measuring your success.

But what metrics should you focus on in 2021?

Many successful growth hackers use a method called “pirate metrics” to measure the success of their efforts. And if you’re confused about the name, it’s just a bad pun you’ll understand soon enough.

So, the metrics you’ll need to follow correspond to stages of your growth hacking funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Revenue
  • Referral

In other words — AAARRR. Like a pirate, right? And yes, it’s awful; we agree.

But the most important thing is that it works. For any given time period, you should measure:

  1. The number of audience seeing your brand
  2. The number of new customers you’ve acquired
  3. The number of customers that are actively using your product or service
  4. The number of customers you’ve retained
  5. The amount of revenue you’ve generated
  6. The number of referrals you’ve received through satisfied clients

These are all different aspects of your company’s growth — and they’re closely intertwined and dependent on each other.

If you’re doing things right, your SaaS company should be advancing on all five fronts simultaneously. And if not — you’ll have a better idea of what you need to pay more attention to.

But now that you know what your key performance indicators are — how do you make them go up? That’s where the growth hacking really begins.

Best growth hacking strategies for SaaS companies in 2021

Since its first appearance back in 2010, the term “growth hacking” has become something of an industry buzzword — something that few entrepreneurs and marketers actually know how to do properly in practice.

No matter what some people may call growth hacking, the core of it consists of experimenting with different tactics, analyzing the results, and repeating what works. It’s a proven and tested methodology — one that, if executed properly, yields rapid growth with minimal expenses.

That’s what makes these tactics a great fit for SaaS companies that need to increase revenue quickly before they run out of initial funding. With a SaaS business, you’re likely to have a limited audience — especially if it’s a B2B solution you’re selling.

But that’s not a bad thing — if you know exactly who your audience is, you know who can benefit from your offer. And that’s important for acquisition, because it allows you to target the consumers or key decision makers within businesses who fit your mold.

In the most general sense, you need to perform:

  • Authority Awareness - by focusing on industry authority medias and influencers.
  • Precise Acquisition — instead of trying to entice a general audience, narrow your focus to just a couple of buyer personas. That way, you won’t waste your time and marketing resources on people who wouldn’t be interested anyway.
  • Aggressive Activation — with promising leads, use trials, demos and freemiums to get them to try your product. If you’ve targeted your leads correctly, they’re likely to convert if they’re already in love with the product.
  • Trust-fueled Retention — focus on keeping loyal users by building relationships and taking their feedback into account.
  • Scalable Revenue — as your client companies grow, their needs will become bigger as well. Make sure you’ve got different service level packages for companies of all sizes that could benefit from your offers.
  • Incentivized Referrals — if you properly incentivize referrals through tangible rewards, you’ll more than make up for their value through the new customers you’ll land via word-of-mouth.

Apart from these general ideas, there are tons of specific SaaS growth hacking tactics you can use for maximum growth in 2021.

Use digital PR to increase your reach

One of the main goals of growth hacking is to increase your customer base — and consequently, your revenue — as fast as possible. And for digital-minded SaaS companies, that means expanding your online reach.

If you haven’t already, 2021 is the moment to ditch traditional press releases. They won’t get you nearly enough attention from the target audience, despite the effort and time it takes to write and distribute them.

On the other hand, a digital PR strategy may seem like something more long-term than what growth hackers generally recommend. However, it’s still the way to go because it provides ample results quickly: more backlinks, better coverage, and more leads — which means higher revenue.

Find an email marketing expert

Many growth hackers will give you short-term DIY tips on growing your email list — but ultimately, it’s just more cost-effective to find a dedicated expert on this right away. Quick acquisition is a vital part of growth hacking — and it doesn’t mean just having the longest possible mailing list.

A proper email expert will help you eliminate duplicates, filter out the worthless addresses, and build an effective, precise email list: one that’s in tune with your narrow buyer persona. That way, you’ll only spend time and money on people you actually want to target — resulting in a better click-thru and open rate in general, and more eventual conversions.

Also, email marketing experts can help with another difficult task — cold outreach. Let’s be honest, no-one likes doing it, and results are almost always mediocre.

However, that’s where an expert might help; someone who knows how to design campaigns capable of approaching the coldest among cold leads.

If you need more convincing from a growth-oriented perspective, cold outreach is a technique that’s scalable and low-investment — a perfect fit for the avid growth hacker. There’s only that one catch — if you want an actual ROI, outsourcing it to experts is your best bet.

Find the right influencers

While social media influencers have been steadily gathering steam in the past five years, the previous two pandemic-filled years and their social distancing measures and lockdowns have expanded the reach of influencers beyond anyone’s expectations.

With SaaS solutions, finding influencers is more difficult — you can’t exactly turn to one of the countless teen TikTok sensations to peddle your services. Instead, consider which industry professionals have the ear of key decision makers among your target audience.

Unfortunately, reaching niche influencers isn’t always easy. A template email isn’t going to cut it here, but don’t worry — there are still ways of establishing a rapport.

The best way to do this is to approach influencers like any other member of their social following would — follow them on their most popular channels, and start engaging through comments, likes, and shares.

Use startup directories

It’s 2021, and all consumers are more Internet-savvy than they ever were. It only takes a quick glance at the latest e-commerce statistics to notice that your auntie isn’t the only one who’s learned to order stuff online in the past two years.

And if that’s true for the average consumer — you can imagine how well the target audience for SaaS services has adapted to the digital age. Many are actively looking for SaaS companies and startups to support — but they’re also keen on checking out any company thoroughly before putting down money for their services and products.

You can expect any B2B decision maker or customer to go through online reviews, validate the legitimacy of a company, and only then reach an informed decision on whether to employ their services.

That’s not a bad thing by any means — you just need to pay more attention to registering your company on one of the many online startup directories you can find. That’s a great way to raise brand awareness and reach more people from your target audience. The more transparent your company is, the more will potential users be convinced they’re dealing with a vetted, high-quality SaaS service provider.

Use Reddit and Quora for targeted traffic

Your target audience isn’t just using the Internet to find information on your company — they’re also using it to discuss what you and your competitors are offering. And you can’t ignore this discourse — in fact, you should embrace it.

Quora is one of the Internet’s most popular ask-and-answer websites — and chances are someone will have posted a question about your niche (or even your company specifically) and sparked a conversation.

Contribute valuable information and engage in some clever guerilla marketing to spread the word about your SaaS offer.

And if someone is asking questions about your particular services, make sure to answer them professionally. Use the top niche-related keywords and search Quora to find relevant conversations.

The same goes for reddit — which doesn’t call itself the “front page of the Internet” without a reason. Search the website for relevant subreddits to join — just make sure you’re extra careful about not being overtly promotional and abiding by all the rules on particular subreddits. The moderators there are known to be zealous.

Use Product Hunt — But correctly

Many marketers will tell you that Product Hunt is nothing more than a digital field littered with floundering and failed tech startups. However, the reality is that most people just don’t use it the way they’re supposed to — and that’s why they don’t get the kind of engagement they need.

You need to use Product Hunt beyond the initial launch. Don’t just collect subscriber information and disappear after a generic thank-you note. Just like any other online marketing platform, Product Hunt is there to help you build a community.

And while a part of that is maintaining activity on Product Hunt itself, most of it will happen elsewhere. Your strategy on Product Hunt has to be just one piece in a larger social strategy puzzle — and your email and content strategy as well.

Also, don’t be frustrated with a lack of upvotes — users will hardly upvote something they haven’t actually used, so you’ll need to use other growth hacking tactics before you can truly start growing through Product Hunt.

Just make sure you’ve got a strategy for maintaining your presence on Product Hunt long-term — engagement through social groups, email nurture campaigns, etc.

High-quality content

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in 2021, it’s the fact that content is still king. And don’t make the mistake of falling into the 500-word superficial blogging quagmire — that isn’t cutting it even in stuff like home renovation anymore, let alone when it comes to content for a more tech-literate audience.

When you’re thinking short-form, you should be thinking about tweets or LinkedIn posts. Everything else should be long-form.

And while the meaning of “long-form” varies from industry to industry, SaaS brands are generally expected to produce more in-depth stuff; think 2,000 words and more. A combination of micro-content on social media and long-form content on your main website is the way to go — at least if you want to quickly reach your share, backlink, and organic traffic milestones.

Answer customer questions

Customer engagement is essential for pretty much every growth hacking metric — which is why you should focus on answering all the customer questions. Lately, marketers and founders have made the actual effectiveness of FAQs a matter of some debate — but in our opinion, they’re as impactful as ever in 2021.

Many companies make cookie-cutter FAQs solely based on Google’s automatically generated “People Also Ask” search result section. However, that’s just systematized content that other companies have already made. You need to be unique — and the only way to do that in terms of FAQs is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.

Figure out what your target audience would actually want to know before trying your products or services — and what the people who’ve already tried them are confused about.

Provide clear answers to meaningful and logical questions upfront through FAQs — and your search rankings will improve organically, as will your retention rates.

Find logical integration opportunities

In 2021, integration has been an even hotter topic among tech companies and SaaS providers — and it’s not like it hasn’t been important before.

The reason for that is simple — people are using more digital products each year. However, they want these products to make their lives simpler instead of complicating them. Hence — the ever-present demand for integration through APIs.

Users don’t want to toggle between a bunch of apps and enter the same data manually into each one — and integration solves that problem instantly.

That saves them time, and most importantly — improves the overall user experience for all mutually connected apps. It’s beneficial for everybody, and increases retention rates for everyone.

Don’t shy away from competitor comparisons

If you’re going to enter the SaaS landscape, you’re probably prepared for plenty of competition right from the start. And another way to embrace that is to create a competitor comparison page.

These will massively boost your search engine rankings, as people always compare the services and products of competing companies before settling for one — that’s not something you can avoid, so you might as well benefit from it. Plus, this kind of page allows you to rank for your competitors’ keywords as well.

And if you create a competitor comparison yourself, you’ll also differentiate your brand from others and seem more confident to any potential leads who are still on the fence. Just make sure this comparison page is easy to read, and contains only accurate information.

Invest in referral marketing

There’s no form of marketing older than word-of-mouth — and don’t think it’s become antiquated just because you’re a tech company interested in digital marketing strategies.

If you’re looking to grow fast with a minimal investment, this is still the most cost-effective way to go.

And while satisfied customers are an obvious source of referrals, if you really want to jump-start them as part of your growth hacking strategy — include a small incentive for both the referrers and the referees.

Also, it’s in your best interest to make referrals as easy as possible — some pre-packaged invitations to your platform will make “lazy” referrers more likely to share information about your company on social media and elsewhere.

Make onboarding as simple as possible

We probably don’t have to tell you how essential customer onboarding is to a SaaS company; especially for more complex software solutions with steep learning curves that are hard even for industry professionals.

Regardless of what your product is, the onboarding process needs to be as smooth as you can make it for your customers — particularly the ones who are trying out the platform via a demo or a freemium. You need to avoid frustration if you want them to stick around.

Set up a live chat option to answer user questions in real time — and invest in simple video tutorials and graphic product walkthroughs. Also, make sure that any data collection you have to perform is done through simple and easy-to-understand forms.

Solve the abandoned cart issue

The infamous “abandoned carts” are one of the biggest hurdles to the growth of any online business. And it’s no wonder they’re so frustrating — your qualified leads have gone all the way through your marketing funnel and decided to convert; only to change their minds at the very last second.

Abandoned cart rates can go upwards of 70% — and if you want your business to grow quickly, you should try to keep it well below this. Do your best to nurture unsure customers back to checkout.

Of course, to do that, you need to understand why they’re bailing on you in the first place. And while there are countless reasons why someone might change their mind, most of it boils down to a couple of problems: no trust in the company, insufficient transparency, and the company trying to collect too much customer data up-front.

Even if you solve all of these issues to a degree, you should still prepare a great abandoned cart email to woo people who might still decide to buy. Just make sure they’ve got some engaging visuals, enough personalization, and a killer CTA.

Pump the gas on networking

Gosh, it’s been a while since professional networking has been important, hasn’t it?

Yeah, sure, virtual and hybrid events were there — but if we’re being totally honest, building a professional network just hasn’t been easy during the pandemic. And with vaccination numbers steadily rising in 2021 and everything opening back up even for mass events, the time is ripe to get back out there.

Industry conferences are the best place to meet industry colleagues — and more importantly, fuel your growth. You can use this chance to scope out your competitors, and connect with older mentors that have already achieved the goals you want to reach.

Also, you’ve got the best possible opportunity to present your product to a knowledgeable audience; while also answering the most in-depth questions that could give you useful viewpoints on your work.

Stick to freemiums and free trials

There’s a good reason why free trials and freemiums are one of the backbones of the SaaS industry. When you’re just starting to get your SaaS product in front of people, the best way to incentivize your target audience is to give them a chance to try before they buy.

And if the product provides enough value to them and you’ve done proper audience targeting, the cost of customer retention will be relatively low. Just keep in mind that your freemium users expect the basic level of quality a paying customer has — which means reliability and functionality.

The longer they keep using your services at this stage, the likelier they’ll be to start paying for add-ons and premium features. Just take a look at Zoom — one of the biggest growth hacking stories of the past couple of years.

Sure, the pandemic accelerated their ascent; but the company had a product that delivered tangible value, and they were able to grow their user base quickly by offering an enticing “forever free” model.

Of course, that model also included a caveat in the form of a 40-minute limit for free users — but by the time that limit becomes significant, most users who organize long virtual meetings have already been hooked.

Offer personalized demos

Here’s one of the best ways for a SaaS company to further attract interested leads — a personalized live demo. Once they’ve had an authentic, hands-on experience with your services or products, you’ve already paved most of the way towards conversion and retention.

And if a live demo isn’t practically feasible, you can always ramp up personalization through guided walkthroughs and how-to videos. Make users feel like you’re ready to go the extra mile to win their business — and keep it.

Simple landing pages

At the end of the day, most of your growth hacking metrics will be helped or hindered by your landing page. And while it’s an obviously important part of your online presentation, a surprising number of SaaS businesses fail at making an enticing first impression on visitors.

The reason why this happens to SaaS companies is that they often offer complex products and various services that can’t easily be explained in a single sentence or a few chunks of copy.

Still, you need to make your landing page focused and intuitive. If your offers are too complex for a single page, don’t make your landing page a homepage with multi-level dropdowns and extensive menus.

Design a simple online customer journey for people who visit your website, and minimize clutter and other distractions. While visual content is important, don’t overdo it with tons of infographics, links, and videos — at least not on the landing page. When you take away all the fluff, customers are more likely to engage with your offer.

Wrapping up

As you can see, there’s tons of stuff you can do to fuel the growth of your SaaS business. Just make sure you stay away from the shadiest tactics that some growth hackers out there advise, and you’ll manage to accelerate your growth without losing on brand value or consumer trust.