16 Powerful B2B SaaS Growth Channels for your Startup
Learn more about direct (inbound & outbound) and indirect growth channels (marketplaces, reseller, co-sell) for your SaaS growth.
In today’s newsletter, we will have a look at 16 powerful B2B SaaS Growth Channels for your startup.
Once you’ve defined your SaaS growth strategy and you know your ideal customer profile (ICP), their FIUU problem, your unique value proposition, your market positioning, and your unique sales messaging, it’s time for you to execute growth activities on different growth channels.
I highly recommend testing different growth channels to see what works, but master one channel at a time.
B2B SaaS Growth Channels
Growth Channels are a way to get your ICP to pay attention to you. You want to get your unique sales messaging (with your value proposition) in front of them. But how do you do that? What channels are available?
Here is an overview of 16 powerful Growth Channels for B2B SaaS companies.
P.S. The order of the channels is NOT ranked based on importance or effectiveness.
Direct Channels vs. Indirect Channels
Direct Channels, in comparison to indirect channels, are channels where you as a startup get directly in touch with your ICP. This means you allow the potential customer to buy your product directly from you. Indirect channels mean that your products are distributed to the ICP through other channels (e.g. marketplaces or resellers).
#1 Inbound channel - SEO
SEO (search engine optimization) is a great channel to acquire new leads. SEO is a very cheap channel, but it normally takes more than 12 months to really kick-off. Therefore it’s not the best channel to get immediate growth for launching your product. Start early to optimize your page and content for SEO, but do not expect to see lots of new sign-ups in the first 12 months.
But in the long run, SEO can be really beneficial for your marketing growth (e.g. ranking on search page one on Google for relevant keywords). It’s also an organic channel (unpaid) and does not rely on your paid marketing budget.
#2 Inbound channel - Content Marketing
Content is of course related to SEO. But creating relevant content for your ICP is also a great way to grow your (social) audience, build trust and convert your audience to sign-ups and active users.
Start your own newsletter, be active on Linkedin, Twitter and Reddit, publish relevant content on Medium or launch your own podcast, Youtube channel, or Facebook group.
Check out 16 Organic B2B Growth Channels for your B2B SaaS startup to learn more about it.
#3 Inbound channel - Paid Social
Paid Social means you are paying for advertising on social media. Depending on your industry and your ICP different platforms can work for you. Most social media platforms (Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, Pinterest...) allow different ways of advertising. Also always be open to testing out new upcoming and niche platforms. Sometimes those are great ways to acquire new users relatively cheap (lower competition and therefore lower CPCs).
#4 Inbound channel - Paid Search
Paid marketing is great for driving immediate growth for your startup. Paid ads can give you a quick and powerful boost in traffic volume and conversions (e.g. sign-ups).
When you know the most relevant keywords for your product, paid search is a great way to convert traffic to your website. If you choose the right keywords, the chances are pretty high that you convert the right ICP with demand, interest, and hopefully buying intention for your product. If someone is searching for ‘HR management software’ the chances are pretty high that they are ready to engage with your HR software product - that’s also the reason why prices for paid ads increased over the last years - but it still can works really well (so always track conversion rates and customer acquisition costs for different growth channels).
#5 Inbound channel - Referral
A referral program is super powerful if you already have your first happy paying customers. Not asking your existing customers for referrals is one of the most common mistakes in B2B SaaS Growth.
What’s important about a referral marketing program:
customer segmentation: Track your customers’ NPS score and product usage and only target your happy customers
timing & frequency: ask your customers for referrals at the right time (not straight after the signup, give them some time to experience your product and become a happy customer). Think about triggers in your customer journey where customers are happy with your product and willing to refer your product.
referral incentive: What is the referral bonus (cash vs. free product usage vs. other perks) and who gets the bonus when? Make sure it’s transparent and use a two-sided referral program and incentivize both parties (the referrer and referred) - check out some referral program examples
communication & messaging: Figure out the right messaging and best channels (in-product, email, phone...) to ask for referrals; create rules on when (triggers) and how often you ask for referrals
technical implementation & tools: referral tracking and referral bonus payout
#6 Inbound channel - PR
PR (public relations) means mostly building healthy relationships with reporters and magazines and creating interesting, inspiring, engaging stories that are worth for them to publish and share.
PR is a channel that can work pretty well (good examples are Tesla, Einhorn, or Ben&Jerry’s) but it is relatively hard to plan (meaning you never know if it really shows positive results), measure (not easy to track outcomes), and especially hard to scale (you can not just ‘publish’ more PR articles). Talking about the purpose of the company (The WHY) and passion for the topic of your business are effective pr strategies.
A great starting point for a powerful pr story can be the Golden Circle (WHY/HOW/WHAT) of Simon Sinek.
#7 Inbound channel - Product-led / Viral features
Product-led growth means that your company's growth relies solely on product usage (how your customers experience and interact with your product, including acquisition, activation & retention). This means no sales touch is involved and in-product features/experiences (e.g. share, invite, collaborate...) are the main drivers for growth.
How to master product virality gives you a great overview of the different types of virality features:
Network effects —> The more users of the product, the higher the value of the product. Good examples are Social media platforms (Linkedin or Facebook) or Chat Apps (Whatsapp, Slack), or peer-to-peer payments (Paypal).
Value virality —> Users spread the word about your product but simply use the product. Good examples are e-signature tools (Docusign, Hellosign) or collaborating on design boards (Miro), or sending emails (Mailchimp, Superhuman)
Exposure Virality —> Your users show your product to others to show off (because it’s cool and social status). Good examples are NFTs (e.g. Cyrptopunks) or education badges (e.g. Hubspot Academy, Udemy Courses).
Invites & Referrals —> Your users get rewarded to invite others to your product (mostly used with discount codes or free usage). Good examples are Dropbox (free storage) and Uber (free rides).
Of course, you can (and probably should) not only use one of the different types, better combine more of them.
Growing your business purely based on Inbound is probably the dream scenario for most startups. Unfortunately, the truth is that outbound channels are still highly effective and necessary.
Lead generation is a key step for effective outbound sales. Once you know your ICP, you can leverage different methods to grow your lead database. Think about buying databases, lead scraping (e.g via Phantombuster or Lusha), crawling websites and directories, or manually searching for your ICP (when you target the upper market).
#8 Outbound channel - Phone
Once you know the contact detail of your leads, you can start to get in touch with them. And yes, cold calling still works. Especially if it's hard for you to target your ideal customer online, phone calls can be a very powerful strategy and still show amazing results in terms of conversion.
But don’t just pitch your product, work on great sales calls to position yourself as an expert. A good sales call is a discovery call (FIUU problem, Why you, Why now), not a feature selling call. This means, engaging with your customer, asking questions, talking about pain points, presenting values (and not features), and positioning yourself as a trustworthy expert.
#9 Outbound channel - (Cold) E-Mail
When we talk about email, there are 2 different email channels - the 1:1 sales emails (sent from your sales team) and marketing emails (= newsletter). Both channels work really well, but marketing newsletters are for me a sub-category of content marketing (inbound channel).
First of all, cold emails still work. Make sure that you personalize your email and don't spam your prospects. There are great tools that help you to write personalized cold emails and even automate the process later on (Email marketing automation).
Combine phone calls with personalized sales emails to drive interest from your prospects. Always think about value selling, not feature selling.
Make use of your unique brand and sales messaging to master your outbound channels.
If you don't have the email addresses of your potential customers, think about purchasing emails, hire a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork to scrap leads for you, or use lead scraper tools like Phantombuster.
#10 Outbound channel - Letter/Postcards
Who is nowadays still sending letters or postcards? Noone!
And that’s exactly the reason why this channel is (still or again) promising. As almost everyone is using emails and no one is using letters and postcards, this channel is less crowded than email (no spam folder) and therefore can be an efficient channel for your growth.
If you are selling products with a high CLV (customer lifetime value), sending personalized letters can work. The advantages of physical old school letters are:
most companies don't use them (so you are special)
they have an almost 100% open rate
you can be creative and design nice envelopes
you can target exactly the right company and person
P.S. Personalized letters and postcards are a really nice way for customer activation and retention (e.g. Send every new customer a personalized welcome letter), too.
#11 Outbound channel - Tradeshows
What are the industry-relevant tradeshows for your product? What events take place that your ideal customer profile will attend for sure? Book a booth, host a side event or be one of the speakers.
P.S. Have a clear objective (sign-ups or branding) in mind before you attend a tradeshow. Make sure to track the results (e.g. #new sign-ups).
#12 Outbound channel - Out of Home
Out of Home marketing channels include all marketing campaigns that take place outside of your customer’s home. Popular out-of-home marketing is billboards in subways or buses, point of sales advertisements, ambient marketing, or digital screens at airports and public areas.
Out of home is rather uncommon for B2B and more popular for B2C campaigns.
#13 Outbound channel - Events / Public speaking
Building a community and starting hosting events can be a really powerful channel. You can host events online or also physically. Good examples are H.U.G by Personio (event for HR professionals) or BOLD by Mindbody.
Of course, you don’t need to start your own event, taking part in other events and offering public speaking can be effective as well.
Another great way to grow your startup is to leverage indirect channels where your ideal customers already are. This means either selling via (large) marketplaces or leveraging the audience and network of a partner.
#14 Indirect channel - Marketplace & Review Sites
If you're building a digital tool or SaaS product, the chances are high that integrations and APIs with other market-dominant players can help you with your own growth. Marketplaces like Chrome Extensions, Salesforce Appexchange, Hubspot Ecosystem, Shopify Appstore, or Zoom Marketplace are great ways to start.
Even if your core product would not require integrations to Salesforce, Hubspot, Shopify, Zoom, or any other player, it still could make sense to build it in order to leverage the power of their marketplaces (to generate sign-ups, and later upsell your core product).
Maybe there is another dominant marketplace in your industry? How can you leverage them for your own growth?
Software Review Sites
Being present on popular Software review sites like G2 Crowd, Capterra, Getapp helps you to increase traffic. Potential customers use software review sites to find the best-rated tools for their specific use case. Make sure to get reviews as this is key to being successful on those review sites.
#15 Indirect channel - Co-Sell
Find a potential partner who is targeting the same ideal customer (just with another product). You can do co-promotions and help each other to grow. E.g. if you're selling email marketing software for digital freelancers, partner up with a company that sells accounting software for digital freelancers or a job platform for freelancers. You can co-promote each other in newsletters, run a co-hosted webinar, or be guest speakers in each other's podcasts.
Maybe it even makes sense to bundle your products to make an appealing bundle offering for your ICP.
#16 Indirect channel - Resell
While Co-selling means that you and your partner are actively selling your products (or bundle), resellers are selling the product for you.
If you are selling software, make sure that you still control most of the customer journey and only outsource the distribution part to the reseller.
I saw this strategy works quite well for employee benefits software (resellers are accounting companies who already work with lots of companies, that are the ICP of the employee benefits software) and also for sports booking software (resellers are sports brands who already worked together with sports venues).
I would not recommend using resellers in the early days of your business because you are losing too much of the customer journey. When you own most parts of the customer journey it’s easier for you to collect relevant information and update frequently your growth strategy.
References: This article is inspired by TK Kader (Creating a Go-To-Market Channel Strategy), Mike Sanders (The Best B2B SaaS Marketing Channels [Data]) & Kyriaki Raouna (Top 15 SaaS Growth Strategies to Try in 2022)
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