B2B or business to business companies don’t always benefit from the buzz that is generated by consumer-oriented companies, and their growth can sometimes stagnate as a result. Nowhere is this truer than in the SaaS technology sector. Despite this trend, it is still possible to generate buzz and drive sales by first ensuring you have a strong product and a deep understanding of your target market.
One of the most important things to understand when launching and building a successful software business is your audience. From here, you will be able to tap into the needs and pain points of that audience to market your software in the most compelling way possible.
When most businesses talk about “growth hacks”, chances are they are referring to strategies that will deliver exponential growth for their company over a short period of time. While this is an understandable (and very common) goal, exponential growth is one of many outcomes that can be delivered by successful growth hacks.
Before we dive into growth hacking strategies, let’s take a look at why growth is important for B2B software businesses.
Why Is growth important for B2B software companies?
While businesses differ in many ways, one thing most have in common is a desire to grow. Whether it’s to repay debts, generate greater profits or to reach any number of other milestones, some level of growth is essential for all businesses.
It’s for this reason that businesses are always looking for new avenues to facilitate this growth. In an attempt to think outside the box and do things faster and better than before, owners and managers gravitate towards new and innovative ideas that will allow them to keep up with changes not only in the market but with their customer base.
Getting into the nitty-gritty, growth can be broken down and defined in a number of different ways. For many software companies, growth is marked by the number of users, earnings, and, depending on the structure of the business, the price per share and dividends distributed.
In addition to the obvious benefits that growth can bring a business in the short term, another reason it is regarded so highly by software businesses is its ability to drive increases in revenue and the long term success of the company. Many studies suggest that businesses with an initial growth rate of 60% or more are more likely to top a valuation of $1 Billion.
One reason for this is the ability increased earnings in the short term give a business to invest further in research and development, producing new software and improving their existing product to solidify their position in the market. Once this level of growth has been achieved, there is typically somewhat of a snowball effect when a businesses’ profile alone contributes to their success and does much of the legwork in driving new sales.
Despite this common goal, there isn’t one clear strategy that will deliver growth to all software companies. The combination of factors that make each business unique also requires different techniques to achieve sustainable growth.
Finding the perfect growth hacks to suit your business and achieve your goals involves a process of experimentation. Many software companies have suffered by attempting to generate unsustainable growth without considering other aspects of the customer journey and purchase cycle.
In order to design and execute the most successful growth hacks, it’s important for businesses to be familiar with the standard growth hacking funnel. This is widely considered the most effective framework to encourage business growth and pursue new opportunities for development while maintaining existing customer relationships.
A typical growth hacking funnel consists of the following 6 steps:
- Awareness: Awareness in the funnel is a tactic that is used to bring more users and customers through the marketing funnel. The first goal of Awareness is to build up the brand and introduce it to the market.
- Acquisition: Acquisition is all about getting new customers on board with your software and finding ways to reach out to your target audience and find new users.
- Activation: Activation involves the promotion of your product among your customers. For SaaS companies, this step often involves a trial to give potential users a taste of the software.
- Retention: Retention includes the steps you take to nurture your relationships with existing customers, keeping them satisfied to reduce customer churn.
- Revenue: As the name suggests, this step involves driving revenue from your newly converted customers.
- Referral: The most valuable step in the growth hacking funnel, referral involves leveraging your existing customer base as a form of advertising to drives sales from their extended networks.
Each of the steps above is important components in helping businesses grow holistically by focusing on all aspects of the company and the customer. Want to know more about AAARRR funnel? Read my guide of AAARRR growth hacking.
To get a better understanding of how the growth hacking funnel works in practice, we have pulled together a list of some of the best growth hacks by software companies in the B2B space.
Intel is a big player in the software industry and rarely has any parallels. Intel focuses on innovation as well as computing. After a period of declining sales and backward growth, the company managed to turn it around in 2018 and reported double-digit growth in what is virtually an industry first in the past decade.
These skyrocketing growth rates can be attributed to the success of their data-centric business model and a resurgence of the company’s core PC business.
The reason for the recent growth also includes the revamping of marketing strategies to relate more to consumers. Intel understood that their customers grew increasingly frustrated with the new developments in technology and the complex terms that surrounded them.
In order to show people that intel is different and doesn’t require complexities, they rolled out an ad campaign highlighting their fun and quirky side.
The frustrations of computer users were depicted in a comical way that showed that Intel is relatable and really gets their customers.
This effective strategy helped Intel turn its sales slump around and resume business growth. The example of Intel shows that by improving the product, simplifying marketing activities, and most importantly, stopping to understand the needs and, in this case, frustrations of their customers, a period of negative growth can be turned around.
Slack is a popular business management platform that allows workers to connect and collaborate online. Not just this, it integrates with tools that help businesses manage tasks and projects in a highly organized way.
Slack is very important to business for a smooth flow of tasks and effective communication with all team members. The teams can collaborate, communicate and discuss ideas easily.
Slack brings the idea to life that effective communication can generate better results and a more innovative approach to work is the result.
Companies often find it hard to organize and connect to multiple individuals at the same time. You can organize teams, topics, ad projects for business and share content easily. Apart from all this everything is effectively managed by Slack under a single platform. You can connect and share a message with the whole company, regardless of the location of individual team members.
What Slack really offers businesses is the ability to connect every person related to the company all around the world so they can stay informed and up to date at all times. Through its innovative platform, Slack helps workers deliver value at the pace and scale the company wants.
The main reason for the growth of Slack is the effective communication they provide businesses while also helping coordinate and manage multiple workflows within an organization. Slack’s user-friendly platform has also made it a hit with employees at businesses right around the world.
By enabling information to be shared with all staff easily rather than writing emails back and forth, Slack provides the perfect solution for effective and efficient communication.
Slack just didn’t become the fastest growing business, this easily, they identified a common problem and need that businesses often had poor communication and operated under a heavy workload and mounting stress.
One of the most successful hacks used by Slack to achieve its current level of growth was leveraging word of mouth marketing. This, combined with the use of a “freemium” initially allowed the platform to grow to include more than 500,000 daily active users. Currently, Slack has more than 9 million weekly active users.
With the recent boom of online businesses and retail stores, it has become increasingly difficult to manage website traffic and online marketing. The competition has increased so much that effective marketing strategies are required to help businesses cut through the noise.
To achieve this, companies are looking for solutions that will help bring recognition to their products. That is where Mailchimp comes in. It is the largest marketing automation platform that caters to both small and large businesses alike.
In a nutshell, Mailchimp helps businesses find their target audience, and build relationships with customers as an effective marketing technique. From there, the platform helps businesses develop their brand by analyzing statistics, information, and consumer behaviors.
While Mailchimp has increased their product offering in recent years, at their core they are an email marketing platform, helping businesses market their product via email. The simplicity of the platform enables small businesses and those who are unable to afford an in-house marketing team to take advantage of the benefits of email marketing to attract customers and drive sales.
These emails are very important in promoting products and keeping track of what kind of products each consumer is interested in. By analyzing the behavior of different customers, Mailchimp can generate customer-specific emails that will then result in increased revenue.
Mailchimp will customize the emails to your business as well to find the best way to suit your business and form a campaign that will suit each user best.
By noticing the growth of the online e-commerce market and offering a simple, scalable tool to businesses in need of effective marketing, Mailchimp has enjoyed massive, sustained growth that shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2019, maintaining a profile on LinkedIn is a non-negotiable for students and professionals alike. With a wave of fresh graduates entering the job market each day, there has never been more competition for the best jobs available on the market. By combining a number of tools to streamline and simplify the job hunting process, LinkedIn has quickly established itself as a candidate’s best friend.
LinkedIn has now become one of the greatest tools to generate employment and source jobs. By offering dedicated tools for both employers and job seekers, LinkedIn has changed the recruitment process for good.
For job seekers, LinkedIn helps users keep tabs on new job postings nearby and never miss any opportunity.
Despite its current popularity, LinkedIn wasn’t always so widely used. Originally, the platform was used to facilitate networking within the technology industry. While this is still one purpose of LinkedIn, the success of the platform has seen it grow far beyond Silicon Valley to take in a wide range of professions and industries around the world.
While LinkedIn originally placed a greater focus on private inmail communications, it was the optimization of the homepage or “feed” that saw the platform really take off.
Based on this growth, LinkedIn has been able to monetize certain aspects of the platform while enjoying continued global growth.
These days, Netflix is a household name. You want to stay home and chill? Netflix is your go-to source of entertainment. Looking back at the history of this company, things weren’t always such a success. When they first launched in 1997, Netflix began as a DVD mailing service, renting movies out so customers one envelope at a time.
Looking past the confines of their original business model, the business decided that their long-time goal was to help more people take advantage of their platform and watch movies, TV shows, and other content whenever they wanted. Even before the rise of online streaming services, Netflix was planning its future.
One of the reasons for the success of Netflix is that the company made a decision to divide into separate businesses in an attempt to avoid confusing and alienating their existing customer base. While one side of the company forged ahead with the online streaming future, the other maintained business as normal with the DVD mailing service.
This strategy helped Netflix appeal to different markets and generate profits to fuel their future expansion plans.
One other growth hack that Netflix continues to use is one we all are quite familiar with: The acquisition of popular shows to entice people to watch them. By targeting highly popular content, the platform has virtually created the concept of “binge-watching”, using the power of great content to keep viewers on their platform for longer, generating more profits in the process. This combination of hacks has certainly worked for Netflix, with the platform now boasting upwards of 117 million subscribers worldwide.
With the reality of a cashless future looming on the horizon, PayPal is one platform that stands strong as an alternative to the humble $1 bill. By streamlining payments and simplifying money transfers between individuals and businesses, PayPal has attracted a huge number of customers with the promise of time savings.
These days, almost every website has the option of PayPal which shows the amount it has grown since the early days. The ubiquity of PayPal as an offered payment method highlights not only the success of the platform but the increasing number of partnerships help by the provider, each opening up future avenues of growth for further expansion.
Despite its current stronghold on the market, things weren’t always so easy for PayPal. In its infancy, the platform found it so hard to lure businesses and individuals away from big banks and cold hard cash that they resorted to offering financial incentives to use their service.
In the beginning, PayPal used a system of referrals that allowed the business to grow by a large percentage of between 7–10% every day. While ultimately successful, this strategy costs the business upwards of $60 million in the short term. Despite the cost, the referrals worked and the rest is history.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this growth hack is that it was done in a time before social media as we know it today. In order to get the business to take off, PayPal needed to get their referral message out via more traditional channels like email, print, and word of mouth marketing. To this day, the growth of PayPal remains as a shining example of the possibilities of non-traditional and free advertising methods.
Have you ever heard a song and had an unexplainable urge to find it online and play it on repeat? Shazam is the solution. While not strictly in the B2B space, the revolutionary nature of the Shazam product and the way they were able to achieve growth is a lesson for all businesses. Shazam took a problem experienced by individuals all over the world and delivered a simple solution to the little to no hurdles to access it.
With everything on the internet these days, Shazam uses the offline capability as a point of difference, allowing users to save songs for later while saving data.
Users are also able to identify songs by opening Shazam and placing the phone near the source of the music to identify it.
What Shazam did was introduce something innovative. People were often interested in the way users held their phones and others asked about it, instantly attracted.
The special offline feature also captured the attention of people who would be relieved of the problem of always staying connected to the internet.
This initial word of mouth marketing has been so successful for Shazam that the app has now been downloaded over 1 Billion times.
These days, Gmail is one of the biggest email providers in the world, enabling millions of users to send and receive communications while also accessing their range of ancillary features. Looking just a few years back, Gmail wasn’t always such a success.
When Gmail was first launched, they used the idea of exclusivity. In order to drive growth and still maintain its elite status, it started an invite-only system. Only people with an invite could access the platform.
This was essentially part of a bigger strategy to generate FOMO (fear of missing out) among email users across the globe. Gmail used this FOMO as a powerful strategy to capture the attention those not lucky enough to receive an invite to the platform that they were indeed missing out on something great. The power of exclusive access only works if your product is also equally good and is something people would love to buy.
At the time of its launch, Gmail came with better email search features and better email management than other alternatives on the market. This might sound basic by today’s standards, but these features were revolutionary at the time of Gmail’s launch. The invite hack was so successful that Gmail invites were even auctioned on eBay.
While this strategy worked for Gmail, businesses looking to replicate this strategy should proceed with caution. While it can definitely deliver impressive results, this strategy is only really successful for game-changing products that people want. Indeed, even Google has struggled to recreate this strategy, achieving mixed results when they tried it again for the more recent launches of Buzz Wave and Google+.
One takeaway here is that this strategy is best suited to platforms and products that cast a wide net. While it proved to be effective for Gmail (a platform that caters to everyone) this wasn’t the case for the more niche communities provided by Buzz Wave and Google+.
Before kicking off a similar, FOMO inducing strategy in your business, consider the success and failures of campaigns launched before you. While Gmail continues to thrive, (passing 1.4 Billion active users at last count), this success is far from guaranteed.
9. Harvest Snaps
Necessity is the mother of invention and so it the source of some of the best growth hacks. When you are short of resources and lacking the budget for effective promotions, you have to look elsewhere.
For that, we have the amazing example of Harvest Snaps. This business was able to look past their budget constraints and lack of resources to dream up a number of creative ideas to grow their business.
Harvest Snaps, first of all, decided that they needed a proper business model and user base. They defined these and then listed some of the best growth tactics that would suit their business model and user base.
Some of these included:
- Reviews from influencers to attract users.
- Promotion on social media allowing for the easiest and cheapest way to promote their product.
- Reaching the widest audience possible by utilizing hyper-targeted methods of digital advertising.
But what worked the best to generate revenue for the company was the introduction of a loyalty campaign among the businesses’ email subscribers. This strategy ensured the business remained top of mind among their most engaged customers while fostering a sense of exclusivity that kept this group of loyal VIP’s coming back time and time again.
Through the use of these hacks, Harvest Snaps were able to see huge growth within three years of launch, with revenue increasing from $10 million to $240 million. The businesses’ social media audience also rose to 342,000 while Harvest Snap’s email database increased by over 95,000.
10. Dollar Shave
While not a software provider, the success of Dollar Shave Club is a standout example of successful growth hacking. These days, if you are launching a product or service, you need something innovative and unique to capture the attention of your target audience. By using a social media-focused video marketing strategy, Dollar Shave Club was able to capture the attention of millions and seriously increase their presence in a crowded market.
Dollar Shave Club introduced the concept of delivering razor blades directly to customers from only $1 per month. At a time when the only alternative was both costly and environmentally wasteful, this strategy captured the attention of the market.
In order to promote the razor blades that they made, Dollar Shave Club started by producing an explanatory video to sell their service. The video instantly went viral and gained close to 20 million views across social media. This viral reach would go on to play a big part in the successful launch of the business. While not all those 20 million viewers will purchase the product, the attention-grabbing nature of the video together with the new service and unique value proposition has helped make the company a household name.
Due to the influence of media in the modern world and the effect of a video going viral, Dollar Shave Club made a total revenue of $20 million within 2 years of launch and a year later this figure tripled.
One thing to learn from this growth strategy is the importance of social media in marketing your product. Secondly, the content is very important. The incredibly hilarious video went viral because people deemed it interesting enough to watch until the end. The content must catch the attention and retain the attention of viewers until the end. Last but not least, in order to have the greatest impact, the content must be tailored to the specific platform and match the length, dimensions, and style of that platform. In short, video marketing is the future and if used well can be a great growth tactic.
Growth for B2B SaaS companies is anything but assured. While there’s no doubt technology is having a moment in the sun and businesses in the tech sector are enjoying relatively easy access to funding and acceptance among customers, there are still hurdles to overcome.
For businesses looking to not only achieve but also sustain growth and the benefits that come with it, here are the main things to remember:
- Before kicking off any growth strategy, take the time to stop and consider the goals for your business as well as the wants and needs of your target customer. Not only will this give you clarity on the steps to take to achieve your business goals, but it will also allow you to ensure these goals and the needs of your audience align.
- While your goals may be similar, no two businesses are the same. For this reason, no growth hack executed in the same way will have the same outcome for different businesses.
- Leverage your understanding of your customers to get your point across. While this should influencer everything your business does, it should be front of mind in designing all your marketing activities to appeal to your audience.
- Don’t get caught up with the status quo. While the examples on this list are varied in nature, one thing may have in common is the revolutionary nature of the product or services. By moving beyond what was already on the market, these businesses were able to achieve massive growth by seeing a gap in the market and giving their customers what they were asking for.
- Growth hacks don’t need to be expensive. While many of the examples covered above involve big corporations, they all leverage free forms of marketing to some extent. From influencer marketing to word of mouth and social media, getting your message across doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective.
Growth hacking is not a precise science. While it’s definitely possible to make educated guesses based on your knowledge of your industry and target customer, nothing is a sure thing. The only way you are going to discover the best ways to achieve growth in your business is by getting out there and giving it a try.