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In the first part of this series, we covered new trends in sales for SaaS companies, including new processes, new channels, best practices, and new sales organizations. Now, it’s time to look at some of the growth hacking techniques for enterprise SaaS companies. A few of the examples below are based on my personal experience with Business Hangouts, which we successfully growth hacked from zero to over 1 million business users in just 12 months. Obviously, not all of our hacks are listed here. Many of the hacks are updated forms of older marketing tactics such as retargeting, email marketing, adding share buttons in your content, adding “powered by” links, customization and personalization of the content, Slideshare presentations, Quora answers, etc. The comprehensive list is very long, as you can see, however I am particularly excited to talk about the four techniques outlined below.

1. Little apps on big market places

In the early days, all startups dreamed of partnering with big names. They hired senior execs called “VP Alliances” whose job was to sign a piece of paper called a “Marketing Partnership Program” with a big name company (very often the place he/she had worked previously) so that the startup could include the logo of that name in their Partners slide to raise funds or to sell. The practice was hugely expensive and didn’t really deliver results.

Today, tremendous reach can be had just by placing an app on one of the available marketplaces for desktop applications, not to mention the App Store and Google Play for mobile. The Google Chrome app store, for example, is quite accessible to developers for any application running in a Chrome browser. Google Apps Marketplace is great if you have some sort of integration with any of the Google Apps products. If you don’t, create one to get there. Mobile is even better. You will be surprised to see how fast you can attract users from Google Play or the App Store. Be creative: Build an easy, fast, basic app with excellent design but limited features to capture leads from the early adopters in the mobile enterprise market.

2. Freemium models

The popular and effective freemium model can also be applied to enterprise SaaS. It is always possible to find the right scope of features so that the client can get a job done in limited cases or for a limited number of times. You can monitor the use of your platform by free users and fine-tune the scope if you feel there are too many of them and you would like them to start paying. When it comes to attracting new clients, freemium is definitely better than time-limited trials; the client tends to develop a more permanent relationship with your company, and there is a good chance that sometime later they may upgrade to premium.


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3. Use marketing automation early

Once you have generated traffic with free accounts, the next step is to scale them up to paying accounts. You don’t need to wait until you are generating $1 million of ARR before implementing marketing automation with Marketo or Hubspot. You can use some basic, but important, auto-responders to automatically welcome, train, and coach your new free subscribers by sending them educational videos, white papers, case studies, or other educational materials as they sign up. The contacts can be made on a time-based and event-based sequential manner several times a week. You can read about VB Insight’s research on this topic and learn how to choose the best partner here.

4. Concierge onboarding

Automation is useful, but limited, and it does not replace the good old human voice. It certainly can’t compete with concierge onboarding: making a phone call (or even better, a video call) to a brand-new customer. For high-end products with a number of free sign-ups, this service can be offered for free clients. But even when you have thousands of free daily sign-ups and a more limited number of paying clients, you can still onboard the paying clients to maintain them, reduce churn and increase upsells. That’s the role of a dedicated person or team, an inside salesperson with a technical background, or even a customer success who had been trained for sales. You can read more about concierge onboarding here.

Early Stage Startup

Now, how do the above techniques apply to very early startups, still in the design and development phases of their product? Most early-stage startups have few, if any, salespeople. This advice is for late-stage startups and larger companies, right?

Wrong! If you think reflections about sales should be considered only after you have an ARR of $1 million, you are missing crucial opportunities. Remember, nothing happens until you sell something to someone. Of course, you are not going to hire huge sales teams until you have validated your winning sales process. However it is important to integrate some of the best practices of growth hacking as early as possible so that your early experimentation provides realistic and conclusive results. If you want to understand and master your full sales process, you need to test that process in parallel with product features and the whole package as early as possible.

The process of selling enterprise SaaS starts at the inception of the product and can be expanded as follows:

  1. MVP demo (lean Startup model); some call it MSP (Minimum Sellable Product)
  2. Customer feedback
  3. Improved MVP & first dollars billed (could be a POC)
  4. Repeat 1, 2, 3 with other clients
  5. Automate the initial sales and learning process using marketing automation tools
  6. Build free apps (and connectors) to leverage large platform marketplaces’ inbound traffic (Alliance Strategy)
  7. Inside sales teams to close small deals/clients and for smooth onboarding of new clients
  8. Upsell business with each client; account executives take over
  9. Scale up the sales team

saas startup sales

Darius Lahoutifard is an enterprise SaaS executive and entrepreneur, founder of Business Hangouts and an enterprise app for Google’s Hangouts on Air, and 01consulting. You can follow him on LinkedIn.

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