Growth hacking exists all around SaaS companies. For example, if you know that 80% of customers prefer watching a video to reading a help doc, your content growth hack is creating more video content than help docs for your website. Additionally, content marketing generates 3x more leads than PPC campaigns. Knowing this, you might allocate more of your budget to content marketing and put your PPC campaigns on hold.
Although statistics like these can inform strategy, growth hacks aren’t only about knowing statistics. It’s about scaling your SaaS business through creative, innovative, low-cost strategies and constant experimentation.
So, we’re going to discuss our best SaaS growth hacks using the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. The idea that 20% of what you do drives 80% of your business results. You’ll leave knowing how the Pareto principle can inform your SaaS growth strategy and what to focus more of your efforts on.
First, let’s start with the basics. What is growth hacking, and how does it apply to the 80/20 rule?
The term growth hacking started as a buzzword circling corporate offices, as many marketing terminologies do. Sean Ellis, founder, and CEO of GrowthHackers, first used the word to describe low-cost strategies to help businesses acquire and retain customers.
And growth hacking outlived its initial hype. It’s now a methodology that can rapidly grow businesses with minimal costs when SaaS companies use it properly. Growth hacking requires marketers to set priorities, find the ideal channels for customer acquisition, measure success, and scale growth.
At SureSwift, we like to apply the Pareto principle to finding the growth hacks to focus on. The Pareto principle specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes (also known as the “vital few”). Originally derived from an imbalance of land ownership in Italy, it asserts the unequal relationship between input and output; 20% of what you do drives 80% of business results.
It should be noted that the Pareto Principle is an observation, not a law, so it won’t apply to every scenario. But we’ve found this 80/20 concept to be the best growth hack for Founders. As you grow, the gap between what you should work on and the amount of time you have available widens. So, deciding what lives in that 20% zone and making those things your non-negotiables can be a massive boon to your efficiency (and sanity).
Finding your 20%
SaaS companies can use growth hacks to scale their business, but it requires grit and shirking traditional marketing mentalities about success. SaaS marketers must constantly experiment with methods. Some will fail, but the ones that succeed produce significant growth potential. (And even failures provide key lessons.)
In growth hacking circles, the 20% is typically found using the Pirate Funnel framework developed by Dave McClure. It’s called the Pirate Funnel because the first letter spell AAARRR for Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue.
Start with your pirate metrics to reveal where you lose the most people in your marketing funnel.
Deconstructing the Pirate Funnel: AAARRR
Growth hackers use the Pirate Funnel to identify the weakest part of their business to focus on. The AAARRR framework (also known as the A3R3-funnel) breaks down a company’s marketing funnel into 6 steps:
- Awareness: How many people you reach in total
- Acquisition: How many people visit your website
- Activation: How many people take the first step
- Revenue: How many people become paying customers
- Retention: How many people repeat their purchase
- Referral: How many people refer an acquaintance
The Pirate Funnel isn’t fixed; many marketing experts and companies interpret it differently. For example, if your goal is retaining customers, you might want to swap Retention and Revenue. Acquisition and Activation are also interchangeable as some see Acquisition as a new customer instead of as a website lead, and Activation as the moment when customers realize a company’s value (the magic AHA moment) instead of only a signup.
Fill in your Pirate Funnel
The first step to finding your 20%, or bottleneck, is to fill in your Pirate Funnel using tools like Google Analytics and advertisement platforms like AdWords or Google Ads. You should start now if you don’t have these set up yet for your SaaS business. Knowing your metrics is the only way to track the success of your campaigns.
If you can’t find the pirate metrics or don’t have an exact number, take a rough estimate if you have a general idea of how many people are in each stage. Once you fill these out, you can move on to finding your bottleneck.
Identify the 20%
Data analytics is arguably the most important growth hacking skill because, without data, you can’t track success or identify inefficiencies.
Look at the percentage that survives the gap to the next step. If you don’t know how to calculate these, divide the number in step 2 by the number in step 1, then divide the number in step 3 by the number in step 2. Do this for each step until you identify the lowest percentage of any pirate funnel step. This is your bottleneck.
Once you identify the problem, you need to find out why it happens. Send out customer surveys using tools like Hotjar or Typeform. Talk to your customers and discover why they’re dropping off at a certain part of the customer journey.
Now you know that your fall-off point is in revenue, so you’ll want to find growth-hacking methods to help increase your revenue stage or how many people become paying customers. The falling-off point differs from company to company; what isn’t working for your SaaS company won’t be the same as what isn’t working for our SaaS company.
The 20 percent to focus on: 7 SaaS Growth Hacks to Scale Your Business
There’s a lot of buzz on the internet about SaaS growth hacks, and you can find multiple lists with 99 tactics to try to grow your business. Grab a few of those, and you easily have 300-400 to-dos.
Through the many years of acquiring SaaS companies, we’ve trimmed this list down to 7 growth hacks we think are most beneficial to bootstrapped Founders.
First, we’ll start with paid user attribution tracking to quickly identify your most profitable marketing channels and traffic sources.
Growth Hack 1: Paid User Attribution Tracking
Tracking paid users' paths to allocate marketing budgets and resources better is a challenge facing SaaS companies of all types and sizes. Using traditional attribution methods like Google Analytics for conversion tracking is easy because you receive instant vanity metrics when a website lead converts to a new trial. However, when a trial converts into a paid user, some time has passed, and connection points are lost, proving difficult when trying to see where new paid users come from.
Paid user attribution tracking is important because:
- It helps you determine where and how to allocate your marketing budget and resources.
- Tracking trial sources can be misleading because you can get more trials from Source A than from Source B, but Source B might send you more paid users.
For example, pretend you allocate the same budget for Facebook Ads as you do for Google Ads. Through tracking, you find Google Ads sends you more trials, but Facebook ads send you more paid users. Instead of raising your budget on Google ads, you should instead raise your budget on Facebook Ads.
At SureSwift, we have two methods to track this:
Option A: User Behavior Tracking
This is the better and more difficult option because it requires a bit of time to collect the needed data.
Step 1: During your new trial onboarding campaign, ask, “How did you hear about us?”
Step 2: Use a tool like Mixpanel to track the new trial's journey on your website from the moment they first land on your website, become a trial, become paid user, and beyond.
Step 3: Build cohorts and reports that filter how paid users answer “How did you hear about us?”
Option B: Thank You Page Survey
This is the easiest option. Use a tool like Hotjar to add a survey on the thank you page a trial user lands on after successfully upgrading to a paid plan. This thank you page is the most underutilized page by SaaS companies and an easy way to survey new paying customers.
Stick to open-ended survey questions that elicit a specific response from your customers. Questions like:
- How did you hear about us?
- Did anything almost stop you from sign up today?
After you run the survey, compare your responses with trial sources in Google Analytics. Tracking paid user attribution helps you save time and money by identifying the exact source of your paid users.
Growth Hack 2: Leveraging Google Tools
Big data is a big deal for SaaS growth hacking. You need to know how to use data to move your leads through the funnel. Remember the Pirate Funnel? Data from Google tools like Analytics can help you see where customers jump ship.
At SureSwift, we use many Google tools to help us find fall-off points, optimize our SaaS company’s website, test our efforts, and track our leads:
- Google Tag Manager
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Google Optimize
- Google Data Studio
We’ll quickly review why we use each and why you should use them for your SaaS company’s website.
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager places a single container in a website or app for all scripts, tags, events, and pixels. Once you install GTM, your site performance improves, and you’ll no longer need a developer to add any third-party scripts.
Google Analytics collects data from your websites and app to generate customer insight reports for your business. GA tracks top user traffic sources, gauges the success of marketing campaigns, identifies patterns in user behavior, obtains visitor demographics information, and tracks goal completions like free trials or paid sign-ups.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console tools and reports measure your website’s search traffic and overall performance. GSC helps you monitor and troubleshoot any problems with your website’s presence in Google Search results.
Google Optimize allows you to A/B test or run multivariate tests for your company’s website. Optimizing and testing your website with GO helps increase conversion rates by identifying the version that best resonates with your target audience.
Google Data Studio
Google Data Studio is your live marketing performance and analytics dashboard. SureSwift uses GDS to consolidate important performance and analytics data from multiple platforms into one dashboard. This reduces learning curves, and the number of platforms stakeholders must log into each week when analyzing product performance.
Google's tools are powerful and free, making them an obvious choice for SaaS businesses of all sizes. All of Google's tools help you collect data about your customers and website visitors to help you understand where your leads come from, how they interact with your site, and where they drop off in the funnel. Armed with this information, you can optimize your website and marketing efforts to improve conversions and grow your business.
Growth Hack #3: High-quality, long-form content
Short-form articles are great for sharing product updates, features, and news. However, if you want to create evergreen content that ranks in search results and converts customers, long-form content is king. However, there’s a caveat, and here it is:
Long-form content ranks in SERPs only if the content matches search intent. A few years ago, it was a common practice to fluff articles with extra words to be seen as an authority piece. But through constant algorithm tweaks, Google is much smarter now. Add as many words as you want, but if your word count doesn’t match search intent, Google won’t rank your article highly.
Some sources found that articles of around 2,500 words get more organic traffic, backlinks, and shares, but we found that word length varies based on the keyword.
For example, we optimized an article for Docparser by adding additional keywords to the article to test if this would rank higher. The article “What is OCR,” was Docparser’s highest-converting page and consistently sat at rank #2 for the primary keyword “what is OCR” for a couple of years.
Before we added more words to the article, it had around 500-700 words. After content optimizations, the article ended with around 2,400 words. We tracked this page for 10 months and found that not only did our ranking decrease to spot #11 for “what is OCR” but conversions decreased too. To counter this, we searched “what is OCR” in Google and took an average of the top 5 pages for word count. We also looked at the top 5 articles and analyzed search intent:
- What are users searching for when typing in this keyword?
- Does our article fill this search intent?
- Does it give them what they want or go too much into trivial details?
After trimming the article and matching search intent, “what is OCR” not only gained 59 keywords but has slowly crept back to its coveted #2 ranking spot, hopefully taking over the #1 spot.
Long-form content can rank well but must match search intent.
Growth Hack #4: Leaning into holiday sales
Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday can potentially increase traffic to your stores. While these sales are typically reserved for brick-and-mortar stores, there’s no reason SaaS companies can’t use them as a part of their marketing strategy.
Not all online businesses have coupon code functionality, so you must explore your discount capabilities before proceeding with the sale.
You can use:
- Coupon Codes or Discount Links: Does your business have a discount link feature or coupon code system in place that makes it easy to offer discounts and promotions?
- Email Segmentation: Can I segment my email list by trials, canceled members, or plan type?
Next, you must decide on your discount. Your discount should be affordable for your company and competitive for your customers. Most companies opt for a percentage discount on a single product or service or off of a customer’s entire bill.
Consider a few discount options:
- 20%-50% off their monthly payment until they cancel their account
- 20%-50% off any annual subscription
- 3-6 months extended free trial
- Other (you decide)
Every SaaS business is different and offers different capabilities. Discuss your SaaS’ discount capabilities and contact segmentation capabilities with your team.
At SureSwift, we have a strategy we recommend SaaS companies use. First, you need to pick your target market whether it’s current trials (target anyone currently on trial right now), past cancels (win back past customers), or upgrades (perfect for existing customers).
Then, decide on your offer outlined above but usually percentage-off discounts are the easiest to implement, and most SaaS companies opt for this.
Next, determine your segmentation and delivery strategy. For example, you need to consider sending existing, paying customers discounts and promotions. Some companies do this to show their loyal customers how much they value them, and others only give this out when existing customers ask for a discount.
Then, choose a delivery method: will you announce the sale through social media? An eBlast? An in-app banner? We recommend:
- Emails in the week leading up to the sale
- Social media posts in the week leading up to the sale
- A landing page to send customers or a revamped homepage (only make this homepage option live when the sale begins)
- In-app notifications like banners or side pop-ups
Next, you’ll draft emails. We have a framework for this:
- Send Email 1: 3-5 days prior to event
- Email 2: 1 day prior to event
- Email 3: Morning of event
- Email 4: Afternoon of event
- Email 5: Day after event
Always check in with customers at the end of a sale to thank them for patronizing your store or trying your service.
For social media posts, we recommend scheduling them in advance with a tool like our MeetEdgar. Edgar is a social media management tool that helps customers plan out their social media posts for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Business Profile, TikTok, and LinkedIn. All you need to do is load your posts up into Edgar, and he’ll post them on the scheduled date. Scheduling ahead is especially important for date-specific events because you don’t want to forget to post.
Related article: Social media scheduling tips
Some additional holiday marketing tips:
- Track the results
- Alert the team of discounts ahead of time
- Alert your support team and prepare for discount questions ahead of time
- Celebrate any wins with your team
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are excellent opportunities to bring in new customers and increase sales. These sales events are typically reserved for brick-and-mortar stores, but there's no reason SaaS businesses can't participate.
Growth Hack #4: Use Q&A sites
Go where your audience is; chances are your audience is asking questions on a forum like Quora or Reddit. Not only do these sites provide an opportunity to gain needed customer insights, but they can also drive targeted traffic to your website and build backlinks.
For Quora, answer questions relevant to the services you offer. Search Quora for your top-targeted keywords to find these questions. We like to search for the term, select “Questions” on the right-hand side, and select “Past week.” If there aren’t any questions from the past week, we open it up further to the past month.
Another way to hack this is to do this any time you publish new content so you can create a backlink. Remember that your answer on Quora must answer the question with actionable and helpful feedback. Quora will mark salesy comments as spam, so don’t try to oversell your product here. So, the way to add a backlink is:
- Publish the blog post.
- Search for the keyword relevant to the post.
- Find a question to answer related to the post.
- Answer the question and in the answer, link back to your blog post.
For Reddit, search for Subreddits related to your industry. For example, consider joining the SaaS subreddit here if you're a SaaS owner. Or, just like you did with Quora above, search for keywords related to your industry. Then, answer a question and link back to your website if relevant.
Otherwise, focus on building a community of like-minded people who value your insights. This will pay off in the long term when people try to decide who to buy from. Would they rather buy from a company that tries to inundate them with sales-speak or a company that tries to connect with them daily on a personal level and seeks to solve their problems? We know which one we would choose (spoiler alert: it’s the latter).
Answering questions on Quora, Reddit, Shopify, or any other industry-related forum also brings in new leads to your website. People see your content, read what you’re talking about, and soon they’ll want to be a part of your community too.
Pro-tip: always return to your post and answer any follow-up comments or questions, showing you’re an active participant in the community.
Growth Hack #5: Use the $1.80 social media strategy
Thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk devised this social media strategy he dubs “the $1.80 strategy.” He was asked how to grow his social media account (specifically Instagram) for business and came up with this engagement strategy. What this means is that you consistently leave your .02 cents on a topic on the top 9 trending posts for 10 different hashtags relevant to your brand or business every single day.
By the end of this, you haven’t only left your .02 cents but a full $1.80 of thoughts online in your industry, niche, or whatever you want to be a part of.
It’s important not only to build influence but to build a community and become a part of the conversation online. Just like forums, these posts help you build a following of engaged members. What good is having a bunch of followers if they don’t interact with your brand?
Identify 9 top hashtags
To do this, you’ll first need to identify the 10 most important or relevant hashtags in your field. Many social media platforms make this easy by providing the number of posts in a given hashtag.
For example, in LinkedIn, if you write a post and then put a “#” start typing your industry’s name and LinkedIn will show you the top trending hashtags for that industry.
If I work in social media management, my top hashtags will be:
And so forth. Find 9 hashtags in your niche and spend around 20 seconds schooling through the top 9 posts of each hashtag.
When you find a hashtag, click on a post, identify the person, read the bio, review their profile, understand their likes, dislikes, activity, and start engaging with them.
Leave your 2 cents
Once you identify the top 9 posts, leave your .02 cents on the posts and answer questions or solve a problem when you can. If you have answer to a question asked in the comments, answer it. If the image reminds you of something, point it out or tag a friend.
As Vaynerchuk says, comment, like, engage, respond, and share–the easiest ways to leave your .02 cents.
Rinse and repeat this every day, and you should successfully build a following, even if that is only one new follower per day or a new idea on what worked for you.
For social media, follower count is the worst way to determine success. Engagement is the metric to track. When you post, are the posts resonating with your target audience? If not, what can you do to provoke engagement?
Always aim to build a community, not your follower count.
Growth Hack #7: Host regular webinars
Again going off of the idea of building community, the best and most effective way to do this is through webinars.
Webinars do four things:
- They educate your customers or leads on a topic or on your product.
- They potentially expand your reach.
- They connect with your customers or leads.
- They help you stake your claim as an industry expert.
But many SaaS companies shy away from these, constantly pumping out features but forgetting the people piece of their business.
Webinars and demos aren’t the same though. Webinars are focused on an industry-specific topic, whereas demos are a type of webinar that focuses on how your product or service works.
There are many types of webinars:
- Free webinar for new trials (and pre-trials)
- Achievable goal: Increase trial to paid conversion rate
- Achievable goal: Increase paid customers
- Free webinar for existing customers
- Achievable goal: Increase upgrades
- Achievable goal: Increase LTV
- Achievable goal: Decrease Churn
Your end goal guides the webinar you present. For example, MeetEdgar’s goal was to increase LTV and paid customer engagement. So, they created a webinar guiding existing customers through social media marketing during the holiday season. They emailed:
- Active customers
- Churned customers (past 6 months)
They actually received quite a few sign-ups for churned customers who wanted to learn more about how to use MeetEdgar and how it can work for their business.
Ideally, hold bi-weekly or monthly webinars for webinars, setting a goal of 25+ new trials. Some companies with smaller budgets and time have quarterly webinars.
Here’s an example of a webinar from one of our portfolio companies, LeadDyno:
A few ideas for a successful webinar:
- Consider bringing in a micro-influencer (10,000 followers or less) to host your webinar. They bring expert insights to your business and offer a fresh perspective with an engaged following to potentially trial your product.
- Have themes around your webinars. For example, if Black Friday is approaching, offer webinars on how to market during Black Friday. Or if it's small business week, offer a webinar on how your product helps small businesses.
- Create social media creatives, landing pages, and email campaigns in the 2 weeks leading up to your webinar to generate hype.
Customers often drop off because they don’t know how to use your product properly. Out of frustration, they quit and leave for another product they think might be easier to use. Product demo webinars work to prevent these drop-offs because they teach customers how to use the product to its full potential.
Your product demo webinars should showcase how your platform works along with advantages and disadvantages.
Both your topic-specific webinars and your product demos should end with a Question and Answer session so that you can address any customer questions or concerns before you send them on their way. This also provides an opportunity to clarify any roadblocks preventing leads from signing up for your service.
To get started with a webinar, you’ll need a few things in place:
- An email service provider that helps segment your customers. Customer.io, Mailchimp, Intercom, ActiveCampaign, are just a few examples.
- A webcam or built-in front-facing camera.
- A strong internet connection.
- Ideally, around 3 MBPS upload speed.
- A decent microphone, headset, or built-in microphone.
- A video conferencing platform like Zoom.
Now, Zoom offers a webinar add-on, but it costs an additional $79.99/monthly. To get around this, you can use other webinar services or your existing Zoom membership but set it up as a meeting. We’ve used Jotform for customers to sign up for the webinar. Then, on the day of the webinar, send the Zoom link to invite the customers who submitted a Jotform. You’ll have to manually segment the customers in your email service provider before sending out the invitation.
Webinars create a ‘soft sell' for the product by introducing people to it without asking them to commit to trying it. People are more likely to sign up for a webinar than a product because of its lower commitment; then, you can send them a follow-up email series to work on converting them into paid customers.
Focus on the 20% that matters for your business
While we hope our growth hacking strategies help your SaaS company, we also know these growth hacks won’t help every business. Each business has its own unique customer base, products, and marketing strategies. What works for a company like Docparser might not work for a company like MeetEdgar.
However, our general growth hacking strategies can be effective for most SaaS businesses. Strategies like creating SERP-specific content, using the $1.80 social media strategy to reach new customers, and targeting a niche market through forums like Quora or Reddit can be used by almost any company to increase growth. No matter what strategies you choose to try, make sure they're tailored to fit your specific business and target audience.
SureSwift Impact: How LeadDyno Thrived Post-Acquisition 
Join us for an interview with LeadDyno CEO Brooke Hahn, where she discusses how the SaaS business has grown in the affiliate marketing space since its acquisition, with support from SureSwift Capital's network of exceptional operators.