“If you build it, they will come.” Entrepreneurs have since debunked this myth. If you build it, you will still have to market it… That would be a truer quote, but maybe not as catchy. In the past 5 – 10 years however, the SaaS industry is proving the old saying to be at least partly true. Your SaaS growth strategy can rely heavily on your product.

Getting your product to sell itself isn’t something that can be strategized after your product’s launch. Instead, you need to build this sort of growth into your product. Of course, you’ll still need to do multichannel marketing, but when you have a product that is designed for growth, you’ll get better results across all channels. 

What is a SaaS growth strategy?

A SaaS growth strategy is anything designed to grow your user base with virality, speed, and cost-efficiency. Low priced SaaS products need to inspire virality to grow quickly because they can’t afford sales teams. Even higher priced SaaS products need smart growth strategies to lower their customer acquisition costs and increase their revenue per employee. 

There are a variety of growth strategies that can work including referral and affiliate programs, influencer marketing, and content marketing. However, none of those are unique to SaaS or tech. 

Product-led growth, on the other hand, is a specific strategy that lends itself very well to SaaS products, which are highly scalable. 

Because we’re discussing SaaS growth strategies at the product-building stage (not after launching), we’ll be focusing the content of this post on product-led growth. 

The Product Led Institute has this to say about product-led growth:

Product-Led Growth is a go-to-market strategy that relies on using your product as the main vehicle to acquire, activate, and retain customers. If you’ve used Slack or Dropbox, you’ve witnessed this first-hand—you didn’t read a lengthy whitepaper on the benefits of strong internal communication or cloud-based file sharing. You wanted to see the damn product in action!

How to build SaaS growth strategy into a freemium product

Freemium products are the darling of product-led growth, but you can use this affordable growth strategy with products on any price (as we’ll see later in this post).

With viral shareability:

Move over Slack. There’s a new example of viral SaaS growth in town. Have you used Loom? Of course you have. Loom is a screengrab video sharing app that we discussed in our post on vetting your SaaS ideas

The lesson with Loom (and other sharing-friendly freemium rockstars like Invision), is that you should build sharing into your product however you can, and make sure to do so in a way that inspires more free sign up users. 

With Loom and Invision, sharing is part of the product. You share your video or prototype with others. Canva is also an example of this. 

But what do you do if your SaaS product isn’t so shareable? You can still get massive freemium growth without this, but before you abandon it, brainstorm ways users can share something with your app. Can they share something with a customer, client, colleague or friend? Even if it’s one small feature, consider adding something that inspires sharing. During launch, the investment will likely prove worthwhile. 

Without viral shareability:

Buffer is a social media scheduling app. On the free plan, you can only load up 10 posts per social media channel, and you only get to integrate a couple social media profiles. 

If viral sharing just isn’t part of your roadmap, you can still encourage viral free growth. Just make sure that the product has enough value for solopreneurs and (very) small business owners, but that it won’t solve the problem of small to medium sized businesses or enterprises. 

Build your product for your ideal user (the one who can pay) but then also determine how you can build it for free use as well. If you later find that you gave too much away, you can always remove features from the free plan going forward for new freemium users. 

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How to build SaaS growth strategy into a free trial product

A freemium model doesn’t make sense for many products, especially products that can’t provide value to your users without giving too much away. Freemium also doesn’t fit for products that are very niche, when the market is too small. If you give a free version, you won’t have enough paying customers left.

Xero’s market is huge. Xero is a bookkeeping software. But Xero doesn’t have a freemium model. Why? There’s no value they could give to business owners without giving too much away. Imagine a software that only let you log 3 transactions a month or generate one P&L per year? It would simply be annoying. 

For all of those reasons, Xero offers a free trial instead of a free version despite its large market size. 

After signing up, you have to confirm your email address to continue. Because email is such a vital part of free trial onboarding, it’s essential that you require email verification. You can test this for yourself, but in the B2B environment, it’s safe to assume that you should build in email verification as part of your onboarding. 

Once the user verifies their email, they’re presented with an onboarding dashboard to help them keep track of next steps. Meanwhile, empty states for invoices and bills helps the new user imagine how valuable the dashboard will be once he or she has started using the product.

The best free trials tick off all of the following requirements:

  • Progress tracker to help with onboarding
  • Email onboarding sequence 
  • Leads users to the initial value as quickly as possible
  • Videos and guides to satisfy a variety of learning styles
  • Offer personal help, group webinars and/or live chat

Free trials don’t inspire as much virality as freemium products, but they do remove the barriers for curious potential new users. Allowing people to “try before they buy” helps you acquire skeptical prospects as well as hot leads. 

SaaS growth strategy with no free trial (create a side project!)

Can you make use of this smart SaaS growth strategy if you don’t have a free trial or a free version?

You absolutely can. Instead of giving away your product for free (whether free forever or a limited time), you’ll be giving away something else, like a tool, a course or a quiz. 

Popular SEO tool SEMrush does not offer a free trial. They do however offer extensive education in organic SEO content marketing and PPC advertising. They have a 9-minute video course that culminates in a certificate which marketers can use to advance their careers. They offer something of a value (a certificate) which goes above and beyond their informative content.  

Email marketing software Mailjet has provided a great example of side project marketing with their Ultimate GDPR Quiz to help business owners and marketers determine if they are GDPR compliant. 

Once upon a time Mailjet created a free app for tracking email marketing campaigns as a form of side project marketing, but it became too costly to run. Let that serve as a warning that what you give away for free needs to be relatively easy to create and maintain. Don’t build a free tool or app to give away until you have the revenue to support it. Start with a high-value quiz or course instead. 

Can you excel at growth without giving something away for free?

By now, you’ve gotten the gist. In order to build your SaaS growth strategy into your product from the jump, you’ve got to create something free. 

But is it possible to grow without building free stuff?

Short answer: no.

Simply hover over sales platform Outreach’s Resource tab in their main menu, and you’ll see a whole host of free things: library, blog, podcast, community, live events, webinars and more. 

It may seem that building a free component inside your product is incredibly costly. But guess what? Content marketing and community building and event management is incredibly costly too. 

Reciprocity is one of the top hacks for influence and persuasion, and it means giving away something free to potential customers, in the hopes that they later feel unconsciously obligated to buy. Among marketing geeks, reciprocity is nearly synonymous with psychological marketing, and it’s one of the smartest SaaS growth hacks. It’s the reason product-led growth should be part of your SaaS business plan.

When you build growth into your product, you start with reciprocity. You give users something for free. Depending on the type of product and the audience, a partially free product might be more affordable for you and more valuable for them than all of the educational resources that a company like Outreach provides its enterprise target audience. 

Determining what level of product-led growth your product can support

There are a lot of cautionary tales about not going for the freemium model, because too many entrepreneurs wrongly assume its their best route. 

Here are the criteria you can use to help you determine whether you should choose freemium, free trial, and/or create a side project to help promote your SaaS using product-led growth. 

  • Size of addressable market – Large markets can allow for the freemium model
  • Type of target customer – Small business owners will be more expectant of a free trial or freemium offer
  • Narrowness of niche – A very small niche typically requires a free trial or selling from a demo, not a freemium model
  • Depth of problem solved – Solving very large business problems often warrants larger price points, which allows for a sales team
  • Maturity of market – Really mature markets are often a great fit for a freemium model, because it’s disruptive, whereas emerging markets that are underserved can allow for free trial or selling from a demo
  • Shareability – For products with viral shareability, you’ll get a ton of product-qualified leads by choosing the freemium model
  • Product price point – Products that cost over $49 per month typically won’t sell well with a freemium model, you should have a lower tier subscription to get the best revenue results with freemium

The time to build out your SaaS product strategy is now, at the same time that you build your product. This is not something you should think of later. “If you build it, they will come” can work wonders if what you’re building is a partially free or temporarily free product that is highly valuable and hopefully shareable. 

Learn how to build a SaaS product with our free course.