SaaS Traction Lessons

Lesson 1: In the beginning of a business, you have to do things that don’t scale to enable things that do.

“Hey Jason, next time you’re in South Carolina, look me up, we’ll get some lunch” I was told by a very influential potential partner for one of our SaaS systems.

“Of course, if I’m around, I’ll look you up. I don’t get up there very often.” I responded.

“Just let me know.” he said as we said our goodbyes and closed the video conference.

What’s the right move now intrepid SaaS adventurer?

  1. Go on with work as usual building systems, working with team members, and selling through our general processes and making money the same way you have been.

  2. Find a reason to be in South Carolina to meet in person with your new friend.

If you chose B, you chose correctly. Find a reason to be there, spend the money, take the time because it’s worth it. Let’s say it’s going to take me two days of time and $500 to get there and back, but with the potential to access a huge market, of course it’s worth it! In the beginning you have to do things that you know won’t scale in order to access things that do. This applies to most businesses, but especially SaaS businesses because they can scale so much.

Lesson 2: Know your competitors inside and out

I can’t tell you how many SaaS companies I’ve met with where in the first meeting we showed a list of competitors and asked how the product compared and the leadership team or entrepreneur didn’t even know some of their competitors existed. In fact, I am guilty of this myself. When we were first getting BrainLeaf launched, there were a few competitors out there that were brought to my attention by different people at our business.

It’s hard to be on top of everything all the time, especially once you’re in the middle of building or launching a new product. That’s why it is so important you do your homework first and don’t wait for the system to be built before you start researching what could crush your business.

Next, make sure sign up for your competitors’ products! They are already doing this and have already learned a lot of lessons. Don’t be afraid to do a demo with them, see how their system works, analyze their onboarding systems, etc. The first step in beating them at their own game is to know where they are strong and where they are weak.

It may sound cliche, but I think this is a great time for some Sun Tzu. In his classic book The Art of War it is written “If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

So know your product, your team, your strategy, and your direction. But also be sure to know your competition, what they offer, how they charge; understand their customer service, where they are going with their company, where they focus and why. Most of all, know where you are strong and they are weak and where your competition is strong and you are weak. With this understanding you will be able to put together an advantageous strategy.

Lesson 3: SEO is critical in SaaS

If you are running a SaaS business, you are going to NEED to understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Every single SaaS CEO I know that does not directly sell via trade shows and personal relationships utilizes SEO. The corollary is that, a lack of understanding in SEO is the beginning of a lot of wasted money.

Make no mistake and have no misconceptions, if you are going into a SaaS business, you are going to become a digital marketer.

I recommend starting off by reading the Learn SEO portion of the Moz.org website. It is a great place to start. But it’s just a start. Next, get out your credit card, put on those reading glasses, and sign up for the SEMrush.com Digital Marketing Pro academy. If you take this course, you will know how to get ranked.

Which brings me to my last note on SEO in SaaS: pick your keywords up front. You need to know what keywords you are going to ‘own’ before you start. After you’ve read through the SEO guides above, understanding what you’re going to be able to own, compete on, or let go of will be much more clear.

Lesson 4: Building a community is key to insight

The more you know your buyers, the more know you what to do to make their lives easier and what they will pay for that convenience. If you don’t have a community, in one way or another, your time to figure out what people want is going to take a lot more time. Also, your community is made up of people that want your project to work, so they are a lot more likely to tell you what they like and don’t like. Read more on community building in that chapter later in the book.

Lesson 5: Affiliates won’t do anything unless you incentivize them

This lesson is echoed in the section on affiliate marketing, but it is important enough to bring up here as well.

This is the secret to affiliate marketing. Affiliates, for the most part, will do basically nothing unless you make them or incentivize them heavily. They are already running their own businesses, and while selling your product may be an easy way for them to make more money, they are busy running their own businesses. Don’t expect for them to do anything unless you lay it out for them in a way that is so easy no one can mess it up.

Lesson 6: Sales is not marketing and marketing is not sales

Very basically, marketing is getting someone to sign up for your SaaS. Sales is getting someone to pay for it. Sometimes these overlap, other times they don’t. A lot of SaaS companies start off marketing and don’t follow it up with sales. Getting on the phone with your users makes a huge difference and helps you learn what they need. So take it a step further, get to know your people first hand, and SELL them on using your system!

Lesson 7: Making people put in a credit card up front gets you better customers in the beginning.

We were doing a launch for one of our SaaS businesses and had a number of people get upset that they couldn’t look around without putting in a credit card. They wrote us, they wrote the people helping us put on the launch, they posted negative things on Facebook and other forums, they complained, they moaned, and they were generally not nice. Now that I think about it, not a single person who was upset enough to write about it was nice about it.

And that is exactly why we didn’t want them.

People not willing to invest at least enough time to risk putting a credit card, without even a charge, are not the kinds of people you need when you’re first launching your product. If you’re interested in more on this, I even wrote an article going deep into this here. If you’re wondering if you need to start off with a freemium model, make sure to take a look at this one. Not to say that the freemium model shouldn’t be used or isn’t a good idea. Sometimes it is the way to go. But when you’re first starting, start with the people you want to be using your system.