Lessons learned from launching and growing a B2B software business
In 2018, I decided to launch a software product called GiveForms. After working with nonprofits over the years, I repeatedly saw the need for a responsive donation form anyone could quickly launch on a website. Seeing this gap in the market is one motive behind the business, but another was so my team and I could truly empathize with founders who have to design, build, launch, market, and grow their product. As a designer, it's easy to get caught up in the artistic side of the craft and lose sight of business objectives behind the work. I wanted to understand and face these business challenges firsthand so I could make more informed decisions as a designer and ultimately add more value to our customers.
As a founder, there are thousands of things you could be working on. But what should you be working on to generate the biggest results in least amount of time? This guide is the result of hundreds of hours of reading, podcasts, conversations, trial and error, and a few wins here and there. The sections below are areas I consider to be the most important and impactful to focus on when launching and growing a new product. This is the guide I wish someone had given me in the beginning, so I knew where and how to focus my time. While this post touches on a variety of areas, it's only skimming the surface. You can go much more in depth on these topics, which we'll be doing in the future.
Needing a marketing site is obvious, but what may not be obvious is that for digital B2B products, your website is generally the most important marketing asset for your business.
Regarding where to start with a website, we always take a content-first approach. Start by figuring out what you want to say, then design around the content. Doing this backwards wastes time and effort.
There's a resource to guide the outline of your website's hierarchy called the B2B SaaS Authority Architecture Website. You don't need to have all pages ready on day one. Start with an MVP website, then grow and expand it over time. Think of it as you do software—it is and always will be a work in progress. You’ll be making mistakes and assumptions on launch, which is to be expected and ok. Just course correct once you gain more clarity, which will happen over time and as you have conversations with customers.
Consider what type of conversions you need to track on the site. Are they leads, new account registrations, upgrades from free to paid accounts? Setup and track these in Google Analytics so you can track these metrics and optimize them over time.
Always make sure you have an email capture form somewhere on your site. You'll often get emails of people who aren't ready to buy today but may be down the road. Sending an email to your list is a great way to generate traffic and potentially new customers as you begin marketing via email.
You want to find a copywriter who can interview your team about your product, then translate these conversations into a story that communicates your product value prop in the simplest, clearest, most concise way possible. Don't use business jargon or fluffy, vague marketing speak. Use simple words and be direct so there's no ambiguity regarding what your product does and who it is for. I cannot stress how important this is. How you choose to describe your product can literally make or break your business.
Other Important Responsibilities:
You’ll need a talented designer (or design agency) to design your website. The design needs to reflect a company that people can trust and want to do business with. A talented designer will be able to translate who you want to be as a company into appropriate visuals, colors, and typography. Think of your company having a “persona.” How is that persona portrayed via design? Is the person funny, serious, nerdy, etc.?
Before hiring engaging a designer, gather a list of sites that inspire you and that reflect who you want to become (Land Book has a ton of product sites for inspiration). Bookmark sites that are similar to your vision for your own website, and save to Pinterest board (or a moodboard). Be specific about what you like about each site. This will help your designer better understand your vision and aesthetic tastes.
Though not required (especially as a startup), I generally suggest working with an illustrator to capture elements of the software that are difficult to communicate with words. Illustrations add a level of polish that shows you take the business seriously. This is especially useful with complex software that is difficult to explain.
We are huge evangelists and advocates of Webflow. Webflow empowers designers to create pages at lightning speed and eliminates the need for front end developers, CMS experts, sysadmins, and animators. We use it for dreamten.com, giveforms.com, along with several of our customer websites.
From my experience, Webflow is the first and only company to get WYSIWYG editing right. They’ve raised $72M in their series A last year and have been on a steady rise, while other platforms (i.e. WordPress) are losing steam.
Webflow has a built in CMS, animation library, e-commerce, user permissions, and built in hosting. It's more technical than platforms like Squarespace or Wix, but this also means it's more powerful. It's rare that you'll hit technical limitations.
Their hosting is the fastest I've seen. Sites we've launched on the platform is lightning fast and scores 90+ in Google PageSpeed Insights with minimal optimization. Getting WordPress to score this high can be a long, painful process. I'm not sure what sort of wizardry they’re doing behind the scenes, but they have some incredibly smart people working on the product.
Note that the Webflow link above is an affiliate link that gives us a small kickback for those who sign up for a paid account. This in no way impacts our decision to recommend Webflow, though it does help us out.
KPIs (or key performance indicators) are metrics used to track the performance of your product and/or marketing. With any new product, it's essential to establish and track these so you know how your business is performing and so that your team has specific, quantifiable metrics they are working to improve. These KPIs should also have a time period associated with them: daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. It will vary from product to product.
Establishing metrics are essential in aligning your team and working towards a common goal. It's common for teams to begin working on features that sound nice in theory, but don't add value to customers. New features should always be considered based on their impact on KPIs.
Some examples of product metrics:
There are financial KPIs including:
Product related KPIs can be tracked using tools like Amplitude or Mixpanel. If you have a subscription SaaS business, ProfitWell and Baremetrics give you these KPIs (and many more) instantly by simply connecting your Stripe account.
With GiveForms, we're tracking a few KPIs including:
You want to continually be in communication with your customers. They'll share insights about your product and use it in ways you won't expect. Something you may believe is obvious may not be to customers. These conversations can be goldmines of information, and are crucial when iterating your product to find product-market fit.
As your product is updated, keep customers in the loop. Have a system in place for keeping track of their feedback and feature requests. Canny is a great tool for this that allows you to:
Implement FullStory to watch videos of your customers using your product. This can uncover major usability issues to help you optimize your conversion funnels.
People don't trust what you have to say about your product. They want to hear what others are saying. Reviews are so important these days that I consider gathering and improving them essential. Make sure you have up to date profiles on major software review platforms including:
These review sites are important because they dominate search traffic using smart SEO.
Plan a strategy to get customers to write positive reviews. Some sites will incentivize review writing with gift cards.
You can game your reviews by sending out 2 field surveys that ask customers to:
If they submit a perfect 5 stars, on the thank you screen ask them to repost the review on 3rd party sites. Make this process as simple as possible (for ex, take them directly to the review writing URL), so they don't spend time figuring out how to leave a review.
If the rating is less than 5 stars, record and address the feedback, especially if you see the same issues appearing repeatedly.
Once you have a decent number of reviews, post badges from review sites on your own website to improve your trust factor.
The more sites like these you appear on the better. It helps your website's domain authority to be on as many as possible. Once you've built up your profile they can be great sources of targeted, organic traffic.
Most offer paid ads as well. I don't recommend these initially, but once you've hit a cap on growth from free channels, it can be another to explore.
People are excited about new products, so capitalize on this by having an “official launch.” Develop a launch strategy that outlines all the activities and channels where you want to announce the product launch.
Here’s a list of strategies and channels to consider:
SEO and content marketing are some of the most effective, sustainable ways to build a business and generate visibility. However, these are serious commitments that take time and devotion to see results. The content quality has to be amazing and directed at the proper target audience.
Many companies try their hand at content marketing and fail. They write articles on topics they think people are interested in, only to find that once published, they generate zero traffic.
Instead of randomly picking writing topics, use a tool like BuzzSumo, Google search autocomplete, or even Udemy to discover topics that you know have demand. Write articles on these topics using the Skyscraper technique to make the best content on a given topic available. This removes much of the risk out of content marketing and nearly guarantees it will generate traffic.
We also recommend Ahrefs as a great SEO monitoring and growth tool. Their blog has a wealth of top notch content on effective SEO strategy and methods. They’re doing over 40M ARR with fewer than 50 employees and their CEO attributes it primarily to their content marketing.
If you know who your specific target customers are, direct sales is a very effective way to grow a software business. For example, we know that our target GiveForms customers are nonprofits with annual budgets between $1M and $10M. Prospecting tools like Apollo, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, and LeadFeeder can help you pinpoint the right POCs at these companies.
ConvertKit's CEO Nathan Barry attributes all of their early growth to direct sales. It’s also how we’ve landed many of our GiveForms customers. Find customers who fit your target market, then send them an email drip campaign that is optimized over time using a tool like Close or Mailshake.
We use Close to queue up leads and send email sequences. It's not my favorite product... It’s expensive and the UI confusing, but it has everything we need, including sales pipeline, prospecting, and email sequencing, built into one platform. Pipedrive has a better user experience, but they don't have 1st party supported email sequencing (though you can do this using a 3rd party tool).
Pay per click ads (via Google/Facebook) aren't a great way to grow a startup, but once you find product-market fit and hit a cap on other growth from other free channels, they're a worthwhile avenue to explore.
Even before you're ready to scale, you can leverage PPC ads to run conversion tests on your copywriting. Budget a few hundreds dollars with ads to A/B test copy that points to different landing pages. See what’s working and what isn’t, then use these insights to improve your sales and marketing copy.
There’s a ton of other methods and channels to get traction. Here’s a few resources that may be helfpul.
It's a tough lesson—when you realize all the time and energy spent building your MVP is merely the starting point. Launching and growing a SaaS business is a marathon, not a sprint. It's rare to see sudden, overnight success. Most successful SaaS companies are built on hundreds of small wins and strategies like the ones above.
Hopefully you found this guide helpful. If you did, consider sharing it with a friend or on your network. If you have any feedback or questions, you can reach out via Twitter.
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