The 19 Growth Channels That Every SaaS Marketer Needs to Know

September 27, 2017

(Coming Soon)

Georgiana Laudi & Claire Suellentrop

Forget The Funnel

We hear questions like this over and over again:

Which growth tactic should I try next?
How do I pick the right one?
Where should I spend my precious [and oftentimes limited] marketing time & dollars?

TL;DR — deciding where to focus in marketing & growth is hard. So in this workshop, we’re sharing the 19(!) growth channels every SaaS marketer should know about, as well as a way to prioritize which ones make sense for your company at its current stage of growth. Keep in mind: we don’t recommend testing every single channel at once, since that would be the opposite of focus. Rather, you’ll want to select the few that are likely to matter most to your target audience and company right now (our prioritization framework will help you with this).

The framework we describe in this workshop comes from Traction(which we think you should read). Rather than a deep-dive into any single growth channel, consider this workshop a high-level overview to help you decide which channels will most likely make sense for your situation.This is just one of the many useful workshops in our SaaS Marketing Workshop series. Here are the highlights:

When To Experiment With New Growth Channels

Before we talk about the growth channels, it’s important that you have a few foundational pieces in place first. We recommend that you have:

  • A functioning, usable product.
  • Some way to get people into that product. This might be a signup funnel, or that might be in addition to an onboarding program or campaign. But there has to be some way to get people into that product.
  • A web presence. Your web presence can be a multi-page website with a features page, testimonials, pricing, etc. — or it can be as slim as a single landing page describing your product, and providing a way to purchase / access that product.

Once these are in place, then you’re ready to start looking at growth channels for your business for improved efficacy.

Defining Tactics With Real Companies

Traction lists the 19 growth channels as follows:

  1. Targeting blogs
  2. Publicity (traditional PR)
  3. Unconventional PR
  4. SEM
  5. Social/display ads
  6. Offline ads
  7. SEO
  8. Content marketing
  9. Email marketing
  10. Viral marketing
  11. Engineering as marketing
  12. Business development/strategic partnerships
  13. Sales
  14. Affiliate programs
  15. Existing platforms
  16. Attending trade shows
  17. Offline events
  18. Speaking engagements
  19. Community building

As SaaS — and technology in general — continues to evolve, this list of channels may change or grow. But let’s consider this a good place to get started.SaaS companies have leveraged every single one of these channels (even non-digital ones where it made sense, like billboards and radio ads) to grow, picking and choosing based on where their target audience naturally spends time, and what makes sense for their product & pricing.

One example includes Leo Widrich, co-founder & former COO of Buffer, targeting dozens and dozens of blogs to spread awareness of his product during Buffer’s earliest days.Leo made a lot of strategic decisions in terms of which blogs he chose to guest post on, as well as the topics he chose to write about of course. The topic wasn't always exactly on social media marketing (though it often was) — , but it was always about Buffer in the end, whether from a product perspective or a thought leadership and company values perspective.

Another example (not SaaS in this case, but fun all the same) is BlendTec’s use of channel #3, unconventional PR. Their YouTube series Will It Blend? has nearly 1M subscribers, and puts an admittedly pretty boring product — a blender — in hilarious, memorable situations.As a result, each video racks up thousands of videos and is regularly shared around the internet. Can you think of any other blender brands whose content you’d willingly share with friends? Neither can we.

More SaaS-specific examples include as Dropbox’s famous refer a friend program (channel #10, viral marketing) and Hubspot’s website grader (channel #11, engineering as marketing). Listen to the full workshop to hear all the examples.

Choosing Growth Channels For Your Situation: A Framework.

The concept of the 19 growth channels really shines when used as a brainstorming tool. Without taking the time to truly consider every channel — to seek out interesting, creative, and sometimes even wacky examples of how other companies have used them — it’s easy to get stuck in a rut as a SaaS marketer. When that happens, you end up leveraging only the channels you’re most familiar with, or that only the people you personally know use. As a result, you miss out on opportunities to unlock growth in new, creative ways your competition might never have thought of.

When brainstorming new ways to expand or improve your company’s growth strategy, we recommend coming up with at least 1 idea within each channel — even the ones you think would never work for you. When you’re forced to consider each and every option and look for real-world examples, you might be surprised by the new ideas you come up with.

Once you’ve come up with your 19 growth ideas, it’s time to choose where to focus. We recommend focusing on no more than 2-3 new ideas at a time — or 1-2, if you’re extremely resource-strapped.

To choose which growth ideas to pursue, score each idea (use a simple rubric, e.g. 1-5) based on the following:

  1. How long will it take to launch this idea? (speedier launch = higher score)
  2. How resource-heavy is this idea, in terms of money and your/your team’s bandwidth? (fewer resources required = higher score)
  3. What’s the PITA (pain in the ass) level of this idea? (less of a PITA = higher score)
  4. If launched, how big of an impact would this idea have on your company’s growth? (bigger impact = higher score)

From there, choose your top 1-3 highest-scoring ideas. You’re now ready to get moving!We highly recommend listening to the full workshop to hear more in-depth explanations of this scoring criteria, along with examples.

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Georgiana Laudi & Claire Suellentrop

When it comes to growing multi-million dollar SaaS businesses, we’ve seen what works. Both separately and together, we've built best-in-class brands from the ground up and played key roles in revenue growth. While our background stories may differ — Gia’s a Canadian who’s been marketing since 2000; Claire’s an American whose marketing career began in 2012 — we’re united in wanting to support those growing SaaS companies, and to provide resources they need to step up as strategic leaders. You can learn more about us here.

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