SaaS Marketing: 21 Growth Hacks to Test Today

SaaS Marketing Growth HackingBelow are 21 SaaS marketing growth hacks you could test right now.

Of course, these are tactics and while everyone loves tactics, if they don’t make sense within your very well thought-out SaaS marketing strategy, you should probably not implement them, right?

In fact, you should also probably make sure you have a well-thought-out SaaS marketing strategy, too.

Now, some of these “hacks” I’ve used and have seen a big impact… others are just ideas I haven’t implemented yet but might if the occasion arises… and some are just crazy ideas that I think would work if the situation is right.

Guess what? I’m not gonna tell you which ones are which so use your imagination and a good bit of caution.

I’m also not going to show you live examples of what I’ve implemented or share results. You see, I’ve helped my clients with these tactics and they’d like a little bit more time out in front of you, thank you very much.

The goal here is to get you thinking in the right direction, that’s all. Fair enough?

BTW… this list of 21 “hacks” is in addition to the 43 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website and the 100+ places to promote your SaaS app that I’ve talked about before.

Okay, have fun…

Table of Contents

  1. Back Fill Data for Fun and Profit
  2. Dedicated Widget Landing Pages
  3. Powered By… Ego!
  4. Aggressive Widgets
  5. Retargeting Widget?
  6. Thank You for Missing Opportunities
  7. Tweetactional Messages?
  8. Help Them Help You
  9. We’ll Do it For You… For a Fee
  10. Break Stuff!
  11. Orchestrated Virality
  12. Turn Negatives into Positives
  13. Eliminate Dead Ends
  14. Personal Follow-up
  15. Reactivation Nation!
  16. Capitalize on Understanding Social Capital
  17. IRL Gifts
  18. Stop Wasting Real Estate
  19. Help Page Offer
  20. Project-Thinking is Hurting your LTV
  21. Dynamic Entry Points
  22. (Bonus!) Use your imagination!
  23. Let’s Grow Your SaaS Company


1. Back Fill Data for Fun and Profit

This is 2013 and data is more pervasive and easier to get than ever before. Why not auto-fill as much as possible for your customers – surprise them with how easy things are for them to get going. Auto-fill and then let them correct/update/etc. Not doing this in this day and age is just lazy…

  • Ask only for Company Name & State… grab the rest and then ask them to verify
  • Ask just for their Website… what can you grab just from a URL? Tons!
  • What if an invoicing SaaS company auto-builds customer data for their customers (easier with US-based companies, obviously) to make it super easy to add customers and get paid! BTW, this is even easier once their customers are using your app (see #11 below).
  • What about a CRM that automatically adds demographic information to customers as they’re added.
  • Think about a shopping cart service that subscribes to credit card updater services to help their merchants never deal with expired cards.
  • What other data and services can you subscribe to and provide for your customers automagically?

I know, I know… it won’t work for you because of a million different excuses.

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2. Dedicated Widget Landing Pages

What if you thought of your widget as a viral marketing campaign?

What if you thought real hard about how you could leverage that logic payload as the truly viral marketing scheme that it is?

Well, first you might treat it like an actual marketing campaign, meaning you would send people to a dedicated landing page from your widget.

Tons of SaaS companies have widgets that their customers embed on their websites, and most of those have links back to their sites, right? Okay….

Well, the problem is most companies just link back to their main marketing site.

I mean, would you do that for AdWords, email marketing, or Facebook ad campaigns? Yes, statistically speaking you probably would. But you shouldn’t!

Instead, send traffic to a page congruent with what the person clicking on the link is looking for.

Think about this for a second… who’s clicking on the link in your widget? Why are they clicking? Maybe they’re a competitor of the company with this crazy widget installed. Maybe they’re interested in knowing why that guy has it and they don’t. Maybe they’d like to have this for their own site. Maybe you should work to capture value from that interest.


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3. Powered By… Ego!

I’m sorry, but “powered by” is just stupid… it’s time to get a real Call to Action (CTA).

“Powered by” is all about ego… it’s all about you… Make it about them.

Maybe in 2003 “Powered by”  was fine because technology was all “ooh… neato….” but now it’s like “WTF is in it for me?”

Seriously, even the grand-daddy of ’em all Hotmail, way back in 1996, had an actual CTA: “Get your free email at Hotmail”

It’s time to get over yourself… and get your own free survey here! <== isn’t that a better CTA than “Powered by Cloud:Survey”

In fact, here’s a case study on that shows a 500% conversion increase by switching away from “Powered By”

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4. Aggressive Widgets

I’ve been thinking… what if we really, really… really used the Widgets to our advantage!?!? What could we do.

Well, how about instead of sending people who click on “Powered by…” to a landing page (you won’t do that, right? See #3 above), get ’em to sign-up or learn more right there in the widget.

Maybe don’t do this with your paying customers (or do… I dunno), but if the idea behind all these people out there using your stuff for free is “viral expansion” and “spreading the word,” then it’s up to you to make that happen.

I’d put a sign-up form in the widget so when they click on “get your own free survey here!” they don’t go to a landing page, they can sign-up (or start the process) right there.

In fact, once they’ve filled out the survey, that’s a great time to present them with a killer CTA to sign-up or learn more. Put that expensive, over-produced explainer video right there, in-widget.

I’d go more aggressive than you’re comfortable with at first and back off from there if necessary. Be sure to measure actual results vs. irritated users… you don’t want too many of the latter, but some coupled with big results might be okay. That’s up to you.

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5. Retargeting Widget?

Maybe put a retargeting pixel in the widget.

Too much? Okay, put it on the landing page or in the sign-up/more info screen in the widget (see #2 and #4 above)… if they showed interest, don’t let ’em go that easy!

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6. Thank You for Missing Opportunities

We know that businesses that have a mailing list and let folks opt-in to that list often miss the opportunity presented by the “thank you” page. They don’t generally customize this or use it for up- or cross-sells or to engage further.

Unfortunately, the opportunity missing also happens with the Email Marketing companies themselves.

Are you being aggressive enough on default “Please Confirm” pages and emails to ensure that the person signing-up for the list knows they can – and should – sign-up for your Email Marketing app? Make sure you have a CTA to sign-up or switch to your platform… since most people in a B2B environment certainly need some type of email marketing solution, this could be a pretty wild opportunity.

How could that apply to you?

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7. Tweetactional Messages?

Due to GMail’s recent changes, something to test is taking their Email Address, finding their Twitter Handle (several ways to do this), and then tweeting transactional messages / reports to them as well as sending them an email.

Of course, you could also ask them for their Twitter handle or get them to login via Twitter, too. Whatever.

This way, if they’re logged in to your app, when they click the link it’ll show them the report… if they aren’t logged in (or if someone else clicks the link because they see it in their timeline), it goes to a super-engaging sign-up screen.

Or, if you’d like to be less aggressive, you could simply use Twitter to remind them to check their email because you sent them their weekly activity report!

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8. Help Them Help You

I bet you’re missing the point. It’s great to make your users stuff go viral, but don’t miss the opportunity for your app. If you push content to 3rd party sites – let’s say you make it super easy to share videos from your app via YouTube – optimize that output to send traffic back to your site and to be found via search.

Remember, Youtube is basically the 2nd largest search engine out there, but even more, since it’s a Google property, videos show up in Google search engine result pages (SERPs). So even if people aren’t searching directly on Youtube, they might be searching on Google, find the video, see your URL in the description or annotation, click the link to hit your landing page, sign-up for your app, and pay you.

That’s a lot of maybes, but… if you’re already pushing content to Youtube, why not optimize for those maybes?

Seriously… take 2 hours and optimize whatever content you’re sending out to drive traffic back to your app. Also, if it’s a video created by a user in your app and distributed through YouTube, that also acts as Social Proof by saying “This user created this video with XYZ Silly Cat app… and you can, too. Download it here:”

But how does that apply to your Project Management software? Hmm…

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9. We’ll Do it For You… For a Fee

After your users do a few things by hand, show ’em an offer to do it for them.

Take FriendOrFollow for example, I can either click individual followers to unfollow them or I can subscribe to their service and unfollow everyone in one fell swoop.

Since most people will opt to do stuff by hand at first to save money, here’s something they – and you – should try.

Once the user has unfollowed 25 people by hand, for example, remind them that they can easily and quickly unfollow everyone that doesn’t follow them back with just ONE click for only $9.99!

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10. Break Stuff!

The Customer Success movement and using Support as a Marketing like Buffer did makes something like what I’m about to say both credible and controversial.

If you figure out that most people that become paying customers have at least one interaction with your Customer Support team, it might make sense to get more people to interact with your support team, right?

But how do you do that?

Well… you could cause a “problem” that requires them to contact support.

You can either let them contact support or you can use that to reach out proactively and fix the problem.

It might help to do this after they’ve reached a certain milestone or CCA during the Free Trial.

But then again this is just a crazy idea that never, ever actually happens in reality, right?

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11. Orchestrated Virality

If you think viral expansion has no place in B2B SaaS apps and they can’t “go viral” that’s fine. Disagreeing with me, in this case, doesn’t hurt me, it hurts you.

Need I point to super-successful companies like Box and Yammer that have proven that internal, highly-orchestrated virality is not just possible but the key to infiltrating and locking-down Fortune 500 – very B2B – customers?

Let’s get this straight, though… virality doesn’t mean your app will be popular in the way a video of a stuntman risking life and limb might bounce around the web like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert.

But it does mean that you can – and should – build in viral expansion loops that make sense within the context of your target market.

Consider internal virality that can be orchestrated inside of companies (peer to peer, up and down the chain of command, etc.), between trading partners, from customer to vendor and vice versa, etc.

And consider how this virality can not just lead to more sign-ups and activations of your app, but also increased usage per account and increased stickiness of the app… even by those who don’t actively use the app.

Hmmm… what does that last one mean? My clients know what I’m talking about, but I’ll give you a bit more… think “internal report distribution.”

But just like everything else, the key to internal, B2B virality is that you must orchestrate it. I hear from companies all the time – SaaS and otherwise – our top customer acquisition method is “word of mouth.”

When I press a bit, though, I find out there is little going on to enable or help the word of mouth process along.

So on the one hand, it’s great that – in spite of your efforts – people still spread the word for you.

But on the other hand, how much growth have you left on the table because you didn’t orchestrate the process of spreading the word for you. You didn’t make it super easy for people to help you…

… but you can and should.

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12. Turn Negatives into Positives

Tell your users and customers something in a positive way rather than your typical negative speak.

Instead of “18 people unsubscribed from this campaign” maybe say something like “You had 82% subscriber retention on this campaign.”

Be nice to people.

In fact, since I originally posted this, Buffer has changed their messaging from negative to positive recently (early 2014).

Here’s the before…


And here’s the after…


Food for thought, huh?

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13. Eliminate Dead Ends

But don’t just tell people something, though.

Tell them what to do next. Tell them why this information you’re giving them matters.

“You had 82% subscriber retention on this campaign. Click here to find out how to keep even more subscribers next time!”

Ask this about everything you send to your users / customers right now: “what can they easily do with this information?” If it’s not obvious – or easy – fix that.

This topic is something I’ve talked about in more detail before, but it’s something you’re probably messing up right now so I included it in this list.

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14. Personal Follow-up

This is simple… when someone signs-up for your app, send ’em an email and say that you saw they signed-up and ask them an open-ended question to start a conversation. But there’s more to it if you want to get it right.

You can do this by hand or it can be automagical… but it can result in a huge boost in engagement and conversions.

Some people don’t like to do this with automation, but I say automation isn’t meant to replace human interaction, it just allows you to do what you’d do by hand if you had unlimited time and resources.

Of course, once they reply and the conversation starts, that’s where automation – at least in the content of the messages – stops. We’re not talking about a chat bot here.

And I’ve seen crazy engagement numbers with this method, like upwards of 80% of those contacted with a personal follow-up email shortly after sign-up reply and start a conversation.

You’ll have to test the best amount of time to wait, the best way to reach out, etc. My clients get access to my proven methods, though.

The worst response I’ve seen is somewhere around 50% engagement… which is still a big-time number…. so this is probably worth looking into.

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15. Reactivation Nation!

In addition to simply sending an email to try to get customers to come back and try your stuff again, you can reactivate Free Trials that didn’t convert – as well as former / deactivated users – with email pre-targeting and retargeting. My clients know that, done right, this can have pretty amazing results.

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16. Capitalize on Understanding Social Capital

The reality is… most apps ask people to share the app with their friends way too early in their relationship.

People don’t know, like, and trust you yet, and you’re asking them on step 3 of your Free Trial sign-up to share your app with their colleagues.

Let’s talk about Social Capital and you’ll understand why that doesn’t work.

People on Facebook will share things with friends and family that make them look silly or even stupid. Social Capital with family and friends… and even strangers… is plentiful. In fact, doing something stupid in front of your friends might even make your Social Capital rise.

But at work, things are different. People are actually LESS likely (my own observations) in a B2B setting to do things they know make themselves look stupid. And if they aren’t sure how something is going to make them look – good or bad – guess what? They’re going to err on the side of caution.

If you understand this, you can take advantage of that.

One of the simplest things you can do is remove the “invite a colleague” thing from the initial engagement process in your Free Trial.

Then, once they’ve reached a milestone or CCA that indicates they’re sufficiently engaged and that they know enough about your app, you can ask them to invite colleagues.

But then, you might make a suggestion to invite a couple of colleagues, maybe even suggest the titles that most people invite, like Project Manager and Marketing Coordinator, and keep the invite form to just two names.

Or you can just let them upload their Outlook address book on screen 2 of the Free Trial sign-up process… whatever.

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17. IRL Gifts

Yeah, send ’em something in real life… a gift; ideally something that helps them do more with your product, faster.

But know the difference between a gift and a reward. A gift is delightful and unexpected. A reward is a quid pro quo like “sign-up and activate your account and we’ll send you a t-shirt”… rewards have their place, but gifts mean more.

  • Welcome Packet – maybe it’s less of a neat gift, but this could help drive engagement; especially if FedEx’d overnight even for Free Trial users. Throwing a t-shirt in there wouldn’t hurt, either.
  • Book – Especially if you wrote the book on whatever subject your app is a productization of expertise in… throwing a book in the mail (and including that as part of your CAC) would go a long way in helping drive home that your app is the best one out there.
  • T-Shirt – Everyone loves a t-shirt, but it helps if you sell to an industry where people would actually wear your shirt. In public. Ideally to conferences with other potential customers. BTW, in a complex sale, one way to “hack” the technical folks is to include a t-shirt with the explanation of why your API won’t break their app, security, regulations, etc.
  • iPad stand if you make POS software
  • Cookies or Pizza
  • Something cool that’s sourced Locally or sent via FedEx / UPS…

Know your market and include this in your CAC calculations.

The chances of someone taking a picture of what you sent and sharing it socially is pretty good… you don’t even have to ask for that, though you might seed social networks with pictures of the gifts from a handful of “customers” and a hashtag… you know, to get the ball rolling.

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18. Stop Wasting Real Estate

There’s an epidemic of “wasted” real estate in SaaS apps that could be used to drive conversions, viral expansion, etc. Think about post-signup / login pages, introducing interstitials into the mix, various screens in-app, forgot your password pages… even the post-Logout Page.

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19. Help Page Offer

If you have a survey at the end of your help page, when someone says “yes, this was helpful” have a CTA for a One Time Offer (OTO) or to spread the word.

If you “power” (yuck… don’t do that, see #3 above) help pages/systems for SaaS vendors, consider helping them make this happen. You instantly become MUCH more valuable in the process.

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20. Project-Thinking is Hurting your LTV

LTV is Customer Lifetime Value and it is the amount of revenue your customer will pay you while they’re a customer. The longer the customer lifetime, the higher the LTV. Makes sense, right?

Well… if your customers come in for short-term projects, they might not stay that long, giving you a low LTV.

So, if you have a project-oriented customer-base – maybe you have a Project Management system – you have to educate them on *other* ways to use your SaaS so they’ll continue to beyond the project they came in for.

Otherwise, they might churn out when they’re done with that project they originally came in for.

This is also applicable to seasonal or event-based customers… and probably others. Use your imagination!

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21. Dynamic Entry Points

Web Apps haven’t changed much (see #1 above) since they were created. No, really. No matter how awesome the apps get, how modern and cool the UI elements get, use of new languages, frameworks, and infrastructure…

…the reality is, at the core, most SaaS apps are just web-centric, modern-looking pieces of software.

Few are truly taking advantage of what that web-centricity (network effect) really means.

So many companies – especially developers – are like “look at how dynamic our screens can be” how “configurable” or “mutable” or blah blah blah. Okay, great.

If your app is so freakin’ dynamic, how come everyone who enters your app for the first time comes in through the same process?

They have the same experience, even though they came in with different intent, from different sources, etc.

Your “dynamic” web app is doing nothing to serve the dynamic nature of your audience.

Let’s say you have an Accounting app that also does Payroll and Invoicing. You might have 3 different PPC campaigns setup for those three different functions of your app.

You might even do it right (see #2 above) and have dedicated landing pages for those campaigns.

But when they sign-up for your app, they all go to through the same “funnel” into the app and have the same in-app experience. If I’m looking for Invoicing, I probably should start there, right? Maybe customize the messaging in-app for Invoicing.

Or what if I launch a WordPress plugin for my app? I get coverage about this new plugin, I add it to the WordPress plugin directory, etc. Someone comes from that directory to my app, they sign-up, and then what? They get dumped into the app just like everyone else and…. mention of WordPress integration is nowhere to be found.

Instead, info on configuring the WordPress plugin is like 15 screens away.

So I leave. I leave your app and I deactivate and delete the plugin. Why? Because you don’t get it.

When I come in from a WordPress Plugin source, make that information – what I need to see in order to activate that plugin – front and center. Do I need an API key? Did I come from

That’s the first thing I see after sign-up and *maybe* some basic account info. If I have to give you anything, fine, just tell me I’m “x steps from activating my WordPress Plugin”.

What about time of day? If someone searches at night (local time) and sees a specific AdWords ad (did you know you can show different ads based on the time of day!?!?!?) and goes to a landing page specific to that time of day, what they see in the app maybe should be different, right?

Think about someone searching for a Project Management app at 11PM local time. Why? Why are they doing that? Maybe they’re fed-up with what they have? Maybe the first thing you show them is an import utility from their existing solution. Take advantage of that late-night frustration right then.

During the day, they may need to go through more stuff to get to know, like, and trust your product before they import their existing stuff. But late at night (and based on frustration intent) they’re not evaluating… they’re looking for a way to switch. Now. Give it to ’em!

Anyway, game designers have a metric for this called Entry Event Distribution (EED) that breaks down the first actions users perform when they come into your game. We should apply that thinking to SaaS apps.

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22. (Bonus!) Use your imagination!

What we call Growth Hacking today, and what it’s been forever and what it’ll be later – Marketing – isn’t just about tactics. Tactics change. Tactics are different for every situation.

No, it’s about a mindset of understanding customer and user behavior as well as market dynamics and what’s technically possible – or should be – and using your imagination to make it happen.

There are no rules here… just a way of thinking about stuff.

About Lincoln Murphy

I invented Customer Success. I focus primarily on Customer Engagement. Learn more about me here.