What are the best ways for SaaS startups to generate sales leads? While no single answer applies to every SaaS, these 10 strategies are proven ways to build an ever-increasing pipeline of quality sales leads.
1. Offer Freemiums
Freemium offers are popular in the SaaS industry. While there are many variations on the theme, the general idea is to offer a free version of the software to attract subscribers, with the expectation that some or many of them will upgrade to a paid version.
Freemiums are effective when the free version gives users a good idea of your software’s value. If it doesn’t, the freemium user will fade away, and worse, tell others your software isn’t any good. This not only defeats lead generation, but it also ruins your brand perception.
2. Offer Free Trials
If you need prospects to experience the full range of your software’s features, free trials work better than freemiums. Free trials enable the user to understand the full range of features and benefits of the software in a way that even the most detailed webinar or live presentation can never match.
Some SaaS firms are positioned to offer freemiums and free trials. This dual approach makes sense if your software appeals to prospects with needs ranging from simple to complex. A prospect who needs only 10 features of your software will be interested in a freemium; a prospect who needs 100 may settle for nothing less than a free trial of the fully loaded version.
3. Make Free Trials Easier
If your free trials are not gaining traction, perhaps you are putting too many obstacles in the way of potential users. The more information you require to sign up, the longer the term of the trial and the harder you make opting out, the more prospects will say no.
Rigid signup requirements are especially counterproductive for lead generation if your industry is commoditized to any degree, and/or if you have established competitors with liberal free trial policies. When prospects have several software options that all seem roughly equivalent, they will run to competitors at the first experience of friction with your signup policy.
4. Make Free Trials Harder
Easier is not always better for lead generation. If you are processing a lot of free trials but gaining few long-term customers, either your service is somehow flawed, or you’re attracting the wrong prospects. Assuming your software is not the problem, asking for more of a commitment to qualify for a free trial could be the solution.
This strategy is effective for B2B, high-end, niche and/or complex services where prospects almost expect a commitment in exchange for free use of your service. A healthier up-front commitment also makes sense at the opposite end of the spectrum when the service appeals to everybody. In that situation, you need more rigid requirements to filter out the inevitably large percentage of prospects who have no serious interest.
5. Use PPC for Direct Lead Generation
PPC (pay-per-click) advertising on Google is widely used by SaaS firms of all sizes. Among its many advantages, these two are extremely important to startups:
- The ability to immediately move to the top of Google SERPs (search engine results pages) for searches relevant to your service, providing immediate lead generation.
- The ability to start with a modest budget and change your ad spend at a moment’s notice.
An effective PPC campaign requires careful keyword selection, and skillful ad and landing page creation. Once the pieces are in place, methodical testing gradually (or sometimes quickly) improves the click-through rate and conversion rate.
6. Use PPC for Indirect Lead Generation
The data from PPC campaigns should be used to fine-tune your other marketing initiatives and sales collateral. Examples of how this works:
- You may find that a PPC ad offering a free 30-day trial attracts minimal interest, whereas a free 45-day trial brings in scores of new users. Knowing this, you then promote 45-day trials in your emails, on social media, in sales brochures, etc.
- PPC landing page tests also provide insights. For instance, a landing page with a set of three screenshots produces 0 inquiry submissions, but a test of three new ones produces 25. Understanding what sells your service visually powerfully improves your website imagery, videocasts, Instagram page and your other marketing/sales materials with visual components.
- PPC conversions also help you understand which demographic markets are hot and which are not. This information brings your marketing and sales efforts into sharper focus, saving valuable time and expense.
7. Set Up a Basic SEO Framework
SEO (search engine optimization) is all about making target pages of your website appear high in organic Google rankings for relevant searches. SEO is a long-term marketing effort with a high success rate in SaaS, but requires many months and sometimes, a large investment.
Regardless of whether you are ready to implement a full SEO campaign, you should do two things even before your website launches:
- First, conduct professional research to identify SEO primary target keywords (that is, words Google users utilize when doing a search for what you offer).
- Second, create unique pages on your website for each primary keyword. These pages are usually the home page and a handful (at most) of service pages.
These activities lay the groundwork for a present or future SEO campaign and help with other lead generation initiatives you’re ready for now. Let’s look at one of them next.
8. Engage in Content Marketing
Content marketing, particularly writing guest articles on websites and blogs that attract readers in your target market(s), generates leads in a few ways:
- Guest articles expose your brand to new, relevant audiences, bringing curious readers to your website.
- Your articles help establish your expertise, making prospects more confident in signing up.
- The articles, when shared by readers, further expand brand awareness and bring new prospects to your website.
Also, and crucially, any links in those articles pointing to your website — especially to your home page and those target pages we just discussed — are extremely important for SEO. Google’s algorithm puts tremendous importance on backlinks — and backlinks are something all SaaS startups struggle to obtain.
Content marketing with an SEO dimension will give you a substantial, long-term edge over competitors in lead generation.
9. Conduct Webinars
COVID lockdowns, by necessity, made virtual meetings and webinars almost as routine as email. SaaS firms can take great advantage of this by hosting webinars that walk prospects through their services, answer questions and deliver a strong sales pitch that includes, perhaps, a special incentive for webinar attendees to sign up.
Webinars are a natural in B2B markets, especially when an organization will have multiple users. But any complex service, or one with several hard-to-discover applications and benefits, is suitable for webinar marketing.
And — a big advantage of webinars for startups is the low cost.
10. Cultivate Referrals
Referrals are often the best source of leads. When you tell a prospect how great you are, your words may be persuasive; but when a user tells a prospect how great you are, that prospect is likely to be 50%-75% sold even before he or she engages with you.
Cultivate referrals by encouraging positive user reviews on popular review sites and your own website, encouraging reviews in the customer review section of your Facebook profile, and instituting a formal referral program you promote through email, social media and other marketing channels.
Finally, don’t forget non-digital referrals! Family, friends, peers, convention attendees, lead exchange participants and even strangers you befriend in airports can be great sources of leads if they understand your value proposition and have confidence in your ability.