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Blending Growth Hacking and Inbound Marketing for Startup Success

By John McTigueJan 19, 2015

blending-growth-hacking-and-inbound-marketing

For those of you who haven't read about or experimented with "growth hacking" yet, it might be one of those buzzwords better left unsaid. But for thousands of entrepreneurs and startup VC's, growth hacking is the new marketing. Stories abound from successful startups like Uber, Spotify and Dollar Shave Club about how they launched with just a clever move that brought in millions of early subscribers. What's in it for you?

Spotify, for example, went viral by integrating with Facebook back in 2011. Dollar Shave Club did it with a viral video. None of these "hacks" came cheap, but cheap isn't the point in growth hacking. Growth is the point—rapid growth. The idea is to come up with really clever ideas (or "hacks") to generate tons of traffic to your site, where your free trial lies waiting. If you use other hacks, like removing barriers to conversion and personalizing your content, you can generate lots and lots of leads. But here's where growth hacking often breaks down.

As Nate Desmond put it so well in a recent post, there is a catch. "...so many of these growth hacks have a short shelf life. Facebook has changed its algorithm, local partnerships rarely scale easily, new communities don’t start easily today, and viral videos have always been unpredictable."

The question is, what can you do to both grow interest in your startup quickly and sustain that interest and growth over time to convert leads to customers and customers to loyal customers? Here are a few suggestions.

Nail the Free Trial With Inbound Marketing

Congrats dude! You attracted all these viral visitors, and, hopefully, they will sign up for your free trial. Unfortunately, typical free trial conversion rates for SaaS companies are around 2 percent. According to Unbounce, "You can only expect roughly 15-20% of your free trial users to actually become paying customers—and even that percentage will drop off after 90 days."

To increase your odds, you need to think about the user experience—from first visit through free trial and beyond. Your mission is to keep your visitors engaged and working with your trial site or app until they are convinced to convert to a paid level of functionality. Then your mission changes to keeping your customers subscribed and willing to upgrade to higher premium levels. There are several ways to do that:

  1. Crush the user experience in your app. It's essential that your app is easy to use, intuitive and built the way your customers want to use it. You need to spend a good bit of time talking to potential buyers or beta users, thinking and testing to get this right prior to launch.
  2. Build monitoring into your app. Track free-trialer logins, page views, repeat visits, bounces, dwell time on pages and time between logins. Ideally you want to connect this monitoring with your marketing automation platform and CRM so you can respond if the interest level wanes.
  3. Build a killer support presence. Make it painfully obvious throughout your app, website and social media profiles where to go for quick start instructions, FAQs and Q&A. Chat apps are great for this as well as hashtag links to Twitter streams monitored by your support experts. Don't ever let questions go unanswered! As you grow, you might want to create user groups on LinkedIn, Google+ and elsewhere.
  4. Be transparent in your pricing. Make sure your pricing page is easy to find, simple to understand and clear in its terms and conditions. Tell them what they get and what they don't get with each level. Give them a quick and easy channel, like a chat app or phone number to get their questions answered.
  5. Build a great blog. Blog about how you created your app, how your early adopters are using it and ways your app can help your customers reach their goals and solve their problems. Get your developers involved in the blogging as well as your marketing and management teams, and invite guest posts from users and influencers in your industry.
  6. Court relationships with influencers. Identify the folks that care about the problems your app solves. Reach out to them with interesting questions and seek their guidance. Don't ask them for anything; just build a relationship. If they express an interest, invite them to evaluate your app and become an advisor. Eventually they may become important brand advocates.
  7. Be there, but don't be creepy. You want to reach out to free trialers with email and social media offers for additional support, training, tips and best practices and customer stories. You don't want to be overwhelming, so once or twice a week is about right. Be personal. Address them by their names and make all of your communications from a real person they can contact directly. Make observations about their free trial activity, but don't be pushy. You're there to help, not to sell. 

These suggestions are all growth hacks in themselves, but they're also the core of inbound marketing strategy. The idea is to provide just the right level of helpful support and interest with content and communications.

Own the Customer Experience in Every Way

If you combine growth hacking with inbound marketing, you can increase free-trial and customer conversion rates, but that's just the start of the story for startups. To grow your company at a sustained rate and capture market share, you need to minimize churn and maximize customer lifetime value. The good news is, inbound marketing is also really good at providing that "happy customer" vibe. Your blogs, social media presence, support forums, partner programs and community outreach all go a long way toward keeping your customers satisfied and loyal.

Many of the best performing SaaS companies, like Salesforce, HubSpot and Shopify, build customer education programs that enable users to become experts, then turn around and sell their services or leverage the app to grow their own businesses. Consider helping them achieve those goals with lots of blog hero stories, how-to webinars and live events to cement those relationships. Make sure your direct customer service channels are always on and quick to respond. Without that, you can lose customers in a heartbeat.

Go Big or Go Home

Finally, the most successful startups become big companies, but they're still growth hacking and doing inbound marketing to keep their mojo going. Shopify, for example, offers a Build a Business competition. Winners get mentored by the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Daymond John. Salesforce and HubSpot have gigantic User Meetings with thousands of attendees, featuring entertainment as well as education. The idea is to stay out in front of the competition by celebrating your customers, rewarding them with opportunities and collaboration with other users, company owners and thought leaders alike.

If you want to learn more about how successful entrepreneurs and startups are beating the odds with growth hacking and inbound marketing strategies, check out our SaaS Marketing for CEOs guide.

Photo credit: Eva Blue

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Additional Topics: Tech Marketing
The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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