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Grow Your SaaS the Hard Way

With experience, the hard task is the smart easy one because delaying a few days of hard work resulting in a year of lost growth is insanity. This includes talking to customers more, analysing them and spending more time on giving a damn about their problem and less time on getting pricing right and watching MRR stats. Below is a list of those hard tasks based on lessons learned by SaaS companies, including Upscope.

Related: What Every SaaS Founder Secretly Knows About Sales

Content marketing that gets results the hard way

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What's the easy way that partly works

Writing random blog posts using basic keyword analysis where some of them work, some don't and over time there's growing traffic though you can't really predict or control it.

What's the hard way that gets you the result you want

When you write down a revenue target and realise that you're not going to hit it by doing a random blog posting here and there.

The hard way is to write a greater number of high quality posts and organise them into topic clusters after doing keyword analysis using tools like SEMRush and adding up the numbers.

Read about a SaaS SEO content strategy that gets results for people that hate SEO.

Writing blog posts that keep people reading, the hard way

A man pulling on a rope on a dock in Hạ Long Bay
Photo by Stijn Swinnen / Unsplash

The easy way is to continue to write in your own style

This is dangerous advice to give as some people have a naturally good writing style that is enjoyable to read but most people don't, including me (still learning here!).

Most people have not really found their own style of writing which also happens to be clear and concise for the end user.

Don't spend years trying to learn what copywriters have known for decades and are openly telling you.

The hard way is to adapt your style with structure from experienced writers

The hard way is to use structure and advice from the best copywriters and find your style within that structure.

You know those guys whose posts you keep reading and they're always at the top of Google search pages?

It was not a coincidence.

They planned that, in detail and they've made every mistake until they've not so coincidentally found a very similar way to write for the web, especially the mobile web.

Read about the APP formula, bucket brigades and writing for the web

Also read about using the jobs to be done framework for writing marketing copy and planning features

Correctly price your product the hard way

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The easy way is to do a few days analysis, make up a price and make small changes to the price and plans over time

How many times have you and your team said 'Do you think we are charging too little? Too much? Should we move this feature to the higher plan to grow?'

It's simple enough when starting to sit around for a couple of days arguing and analysing and then make up prices.

After that, you move features from one plan to the other, you make small changes to the price, you add free plans or remove them. You think they're significant changes because two people complained but nobody really gives a damn.

The hard way is to experiment, price by value and be willing to lose customers

We looked at the pricing models of 25 companies with good growth and a few points stood out.

Price based on value.

You have to run pricing experiments and be direct when increasing prices.

Avoid bad-fit customers, be willing to drop them.

Read 25 of the best SaaS pricing model examples that worked

Know your market and secure the future of your company the hard way

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The easy way is to know who your customers are because you talk to some of them and you get lucky with your instinct and analysis

They talk to you on live chat, you look at their websites, you've chatted to them on the phone, you've got an instinctive feel for who your customers are, how much they're using your product and why.

One year later it turns out that you've got 70% of it wrong but you still somehow made some money and survived and then eventually adapted.

The hard way is to look at job titles, job descriptions and usage stats

The hard way is to download a list of your customers and analyse them one by one as companies and as individuals by usage.

If you have teams from companies signing up then know who is signing up first from that company. The person signing up or making the first enquiry is the one you might need to market to and you may find they're in more senior positions on average. They might spend weekends and train journeys reading, whereas other employees might spend them drinking. It varies by company but there's a pattern.

Look at the job titles of each of those people. You can do this by entering their names into Linkedin one by one.

Once done, if possible, find the job descriptions that those companies initially listed for those positions and see how those people are measured in their jobs.

Take everything you've listed and then see which of those job titles uses your software the most.

Why do this?

Confirmation bias is a killer for growth. See the impact of confirmation bias in the early stages of a SaaS startup.

Look at how your landing page could change and improve based on that analysis.

Make customer success your winning philosophy the hard way

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The easy way is to believe in customer success, to change job titles, landing pages and mission statements to focus on it

The focus on the customer that customer success thinking gives, is becoming default.

So, we do the reading, we change job titles, we write blog posts on it, we even change our emails and mission statement and other, often peripheral, things.

Our core philosophy has not really changed, we've adopted customer success as a way of thinking but without the hard changes that make most of the impact. It has some impact, there's a slight mental shift towards the customer. The changes have a small % impact towards the positive.

The hard way is to tell your customers how much they're using your software and lose some of them and then turn away new customers

You know that feeling when 20% of your user base don't really need your product as much as they think but they're still paying you?

They make your SaaS stats look good but all they're doing is skewing all your thinking about who your market really is.

The hard way of doing customer success is to show your customers exactly how much they're using it and to even encourage those who don't need it to leave.

That way your pricing and marketing can align on who really needs you.

Read how customer success metrics are necessary torture and see what we've learned about customer success and bad fit customers

Have non-tech team members learn to fluently explain technical products the hard way

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The easy way is to carefully explain to team members how the software works and to run multiple tutorials going into further detail each time

Someone new starts and you give them the reading material, you sit with them one to one and explain how things work. You answer questions and gradually have them go from shadowing to answering customers themselves.

Eventually they can answer many of the questions but they don't really truly have a ground up sense of confidence because when pressed they revert back to the IT team for what are sometimes simple technical questions.

The hard way is to have them build things with code from the ground up

It took 3 weeks of part time learning for one team member to go from knowing little or nothing to building a website using HTML, CSS and javascript using a simple text editor and only minimal guidance at key points.

After that, they learned how to connect to and use an API.

Now they're answering relatively technical questions while conversing with both developers and regular staff in client organisations.

See how a SaaS customer success manager built a site from the ground up in weeks

Create email sequences to turn users into customers the hard way

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The easy way is to spend weeks getting the right welcome, trial and purchase emails set up and then sometimes sending content

If you're using a tool like Intercom or something else that sends email sequences then you'd have spent time writing and re-writing emails to cover the process a user goes through when they sign up and trial your SaaS.

When they've finished the trial but have not purchased, you might have some follow up emails and ask for feedback.

If that does not work and they're still subscribed to your email, you'll send them occasional content to inform and educate them.

However, it turns out that it's 1/10th of the effort some smart sales focused companies make.

The hard way is to send excellent instructive content with catchy subject headers and good copywriting every week which truly educates the user on the underlying 'why' behind their problems.

First, a confession. As a member of team Upscope for whom content is a big part of the job, I totally half ass this and it's sad. There's always some excuse stopping me from sending content regularly to our new and old sign ups via email and it's costing us. Sometimes things just don't happen.

Anyway, let's get back to the point. Close.io, week after week, send great content and you can see a breakdown of their onboarding emails here.

Also see the best onboarding emails and advice from 27 different companies

Selling SaaS to Enterprise the hard way

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The easy way is to get lucky

You send your usual emails and create new content and by pure chance an enterprise customer likes you, signs up, trials the product and buys with a minimal number of questions about data security.

You don't know how many others you missed out on but at least you got that one. Now you just have to wait for the process to repeat itself to grow.

The hard way is to have live chat, respond quickly, create white papers, contracts and run multiple software demos over months until they do an extended internal and external trial prior to purchase.

So many SaaS companies are set up for low touch rather than high touch sales models with customers. The belief is that customers will sign up, trial and then go on to purchase the product themselves, which is true in many cases.

It's almost upsetting when customers repeatedly ask about data security or odd deployment options. It's almost as if they're overly paranoid and pedantic.

Over time it turns out that those white papers, long winded discussions on data security, multiple software demos to different levels of management and requests for on-premise deployment are standard for many enterprises. What appears to be the hard way for SaaS startups is the default process for enterprise buyer teams.

See what we thought selling a SaaS product to enterprise was going to be like compared to the reality.

Also check out a simple way to see how big your sign ups traffic really is and how to get key insights you can't find anywhere else.

Other really hard things we couldn't fit into the above hard things


Photo by David Hofmann / Unsplash

There are plenty of questions that drive SaaS founders crazy so we've collected some key advice that experienced founders provided to answer those questions.

Read Answers to the 12 questions every SaaS founder has

Grow Your SaaS the Hard Way
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