Wondering how some of the fastest-growing SaaS companies made it? We’re sharing 8 success stories to help your SaaS business generate more leads and start bumping those conversion rates up.
The first step for any successful SaaS company is to have a reliable, easy-to-use service (remember that great design is critical in helping users understand your SaaS product and have the best experience using it).
Got that? Great! Now, it’s time to start working on your lead generation. A study from GetApp shows that 50% of SaaS companies find lead generation acquisition to be their biggest challenge. And we all know getting the right people interested in your brand is easier said than done.
However, there are some great success stories from the industry to learn from, and find ideas to improve your SaaS marketing strategy. We’ll be looking at 8 case studies for SaaS companies that used diverse approaches in their marketing efforts.
1. How Slack became the market leader by “inventing” a market of their own
Slack launched in February 2014 with around 15,000 daily users. Exactly one year later, the number of daily users soared to over 500,000.
How was this possible? After all, communication software wasn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea. CEO Stewart Butterfield explains:
“When we asked the other 70 to 80% what they were using for internal communication, they said, ‘Nothing.’ But obviously they were using something. They just weren’t thinking of this as a category of software.”
Slack’s big marketing success happened because they were able to change people’s mindset: from ‘no software’ to ‘software’. Once this was done, it was much easier to convince them that Slack was the solution they needed: from a patched-up system of communication that combined several tools to an all-in-one solution.
Another side of this success story is Slack’s persistence on providing a high-quality and sophisticated software. It’s not just convenient, compatible with other SaaS products, and comprehensive. It also looks cool. Like the kind of software you’d want to pay for without having to.
2. Canva and the influencer marketing
The greatest SaaS companies are often ones that come up with an original solution. One such business is Canva. They had the brilliant idea of creating a DIY design tool that non-designers could use easily.
Of course, after the bright idea and slick software came something, practically tailor-made for Canva: social media endorsements.
Some early adopters wanted to spread the word about the software they loved; others joined as part of the Canva Pro affiliates program (spreading the word on Canva gets you free access to their premium service). Many even created Canva tutorials on Youtube, which helped enforce a vital aspect of any successful SaaS business: getting customers to make the most out of your software.
Of course, the greater the influence, the more significant the impact it can have on your company.
In 2014 Guy Kawasaki, celebrated author and marketing expert, joined Canva as its Chief Evangelist (the company approached him after they’d learned he was using Canva for his designs). Just two months later, the number of Canva users tripled.
3. How content marketing made HubSpot an industry leader
Yes, content marketing is extremely effective: it generates 3 times more leads than outbound marketing, at less than half the price. However, using ahrefs to help sprinkle all the right keywords on your landing page is not enough.
Content marketing and SEO are inseparable, but search engines are rapidly becoming better at determining the actual value of written content. In other words, doing SEO right and ranking in Google is good. Providing real informational value is much, much better.
This is precisely how HubSpot became a major SaaS industry success story. Their marketing blog has become the go-to source of information for digital marketers, providing data, real-life examples, and actionable ‘how-to’ tips.
And for a B2B company this is major: think how many LinkedIn shares their blog posts get! The results are evident. HubSpot’s blog has over 2 million readers monthly. Even if a tiny portion of them convert to new customers for their marketing and sales software (think as small as 1%), it still makes an impressive number.
4. Spotify’s personalized experience
The nature of SaaS products is impersonal, even more so since this is essentially a self-service. That’s why creating a custom-made experience for your users can make an incredible marketing tactic.
In 2015 Spotify launched the Year in Music campaign, which allowed you to review your listening habits (time of listening, different artists etc.) Of course, this also made a hugely successful social media marketing campaign, as people flocked to share their individual experiences on using Spotify.
In 2016, this SaaS company pushed the personalized experience idea even further with the campaign 'Thanks 2016, it’s been weird'.
In this data-driven campaign, the company created unique and very amusing marketing materials based on actual listening experiences of their users.
5. Trello and the power of a great, free product
Offering free trials or freemium models of your service could sound scary. There’s always the question of 'how am I going to make money?’ One route for successfully implementing a freemium model is acquiring a huge number of leads (and getting your money’s worth even with small conversion rates ).
This was Trello’s idea from the get-go: reaching 100 million users. With that in mind, they realized it would be near impossible to create a service that 100 million people would be willing to pay for.
So, instead they created a software that anyone can use. It was super simple (the original idea was an online version of a sticky note) and completely customizable. A software anyone can use any way they like? Yup, that will spark an interest with a lot of people.
They also made a very smart move by making their product available in several languages, to expand the market outside the US. If you’re after 100 million users, you need to look for potential customers in a pretty big pond!
The result? Trello increased its user base by 426% in just 3 years.
As much of a success story, Trello, however, is also a cautionary tale. The business was ultimately sold to Atlassian, and never became a $1 billion dollar company it probably could have. The main reason for this was that too much effort was put into new customer acquisition, without ample attention given to converting users into paying customers.
6. Mailchimp sends the right message
Remember how we said it can be pretty hard to market and sell something that doesn’t exist? Well, this is especially true of Mailchimp.
A service to send emails? Umm… thanks, I have that already. It’s called email.
So why is Mailchimp a SaaS marketing success story? Well, unsurprisingly, because they managed to send the right message. Instead of trying to sell their product (which indeed is difficult to sell), Mailchimp focused on marketing the outcome, what their users can achieve by using this service.
And it wasn’t just the content of the message that was good. It was also the style. Mailchimp was one of the pioneers of more playful copies which immediately stood out from the then much more formal industry standards. This wasn’t unintentional though: as a small business itself, Mailchimp saw this as an opportunity to connect with its small business customers.
Their content and admittedly fantastic graphic design are meant to create an emotional response. (The sweating monkey before an email campaign is sent hits a little too close to home every time!)
7. Dropbox and the foolproof referral program
So influencers are great, but how about a word-of-mouth recommendation from friends or family?
Dropbox is a SaaS giant that truly cashed in on this idea since its simple referral program helped the business grow by 3900% in 15 months. Nope, that last zero is not a typo.
The referral program itself was quite simple: it rewarded people with additional cloud storage space (for both the old and new user). Once again, the focus was put on the outcome. Instead of just straight up asking people to “invite friends” (because why should they), the main message was about getting more space for yourself and your friends.
Finally, it was the ease of the referral process, which truly helped push this campaign even further. With a simple link that they could send through email or social media channels, it was a matter of seconds. And Dropbox went one step further: they offered the option to sync your email contacts and send invitations to all of them at the same time.
Source: Viral Loops
Email marketing is still hugely relevant (it has a 4,400% ROI rate). But the genius idea behind Dropbox’s marketing strategy was running an email marketing campaign without having to spend a dime out of their advertising budget.
8. Shopify and the perfect user experience
When Shopify first appeared, eBay had long been the ultimate platform to sell things online. Talk about a tough competition to beat! However, although the intent is the same (selling stuff online), Shopify and eBay have very different business models.
Unlike a virtual marketplace like eBay, Shopify encourages sellers to build a relationship with their customers. You use eBay to search for a product; you come back to Shopify for the seller you like.
And why do people like sellers on Shopify? Because the platform itself is helping its users become better merchants.
First of all, instead of charging transaction fees per sale (like eBay), Shopify has a flat rate, which is supposed to encourage sellers to sell more.
Shopify also devised a brilliant pricing plan. With lower subscription rates you are required to pay a small transaction fee for each sale. Pay more for your subscription and you can sell as much as you like without any additional charges. It’s genius because it works for the company (you get paid either way), but also allows for the optimal user experience (pay what makes sense for you).
Their comprehensive merchant support system includes blogging on topics such as branding or digital marketing; publishing long guides and extensive FAQs, as well as providing access to analytics which merchants can use to grow their businesses.
They continue to expand their service to match the users’ needs. In 2017, Shopify QR codes were introduced as a way of combining online and offline shopping.
SaaS Marketing is all about doing more with less. You probably won’t need to spend money printing flyers or even run an expensive ad campaign for that matter. Instead, focus on inbound marketing (creating valuable content whether it’s blogs, guides, webinars) and before you even consider making money, think about creating the best user experience and helping your customers overcome their main challenges.
Of course, remember that no good idea will reach the right audience without effective design. To that end, we suggest you check out our list of ultimate 2020 SaaS design trends for some great inspiration.