SaaS Growth Playbook PART 1: Top 3 Marketing Channels That ACTUALLY work for Early-Stage SaaS Startups

Author Avatar Oliver Bridge wrote this on May 15, 2019

People say you should fail fast to grow.

Whilst I think this is right, I think an even better approach is to learn from other people's failures, so you can avoid wasting your own time.

So here it is. A little gift for any fellow SaaS or startup marketers wandering the internet anxiously in their endless search for the Holy Grail of SaaS - a "scalable growth lever".

In this mini-series, I'll be sharing my personal Top 3 Growth Levers, gleaned from a little over 2 years of pulling most of them. Wrong ones. Odd ones. Scary ones. Evil ones. And the 1% that actually paid off!

I'll teach you in simple terms how to quickly get started with each one, to save you hours, and hours of tear-inducing research.

If you 😍 this article, please share it with your fellow SaaS devotees by using the share buttons over there 👈

OK, tune in. Let's do this 💪

SaaS Growth Lever #1 Affiliate Marketing:

This shit is GOLD.

Word of Mouth is the #1 way to grow a business, and this is the best way of rewarding people for doing WOM marketing for you. Traffic will (or should) convert better on this channel than any other channel you have, as your site visitor has already been primed to convert by your affiliate, usually someone they trust to teach and guide them on the best tools, tactics and products in the market.

Here's the lowdown, and a step-by-step to get started in the leanest and most effective way possible.

N.B. Until you raise Series A, ignore the affiliate platforms like ClickBank, Shareasale, Awin. You can't afford them, and they won't work for you yet. Run the program yourself. Here's how:

  • Get a Tapfiliate account. This is the best tool I found for running affiliates in an agile and affordable way. Check out Tapfiliate here*
  • Have a great offer. We started out with 30% MOM lifetime commission for any paid conversions. Most SaaS pitch in around 20 to 30%, so go on the high side if it works with your margins.
  • Copy our affiliate program landing page if you need pointers on how to position your program. (Please also feel free to copy and tweak our Ts&Cs, as that can take days of work otherwise).
  • Affiliates will need to know a) Who you are b) What your offer is c) Why they should spend time on you d) How they can promote you e) When and how they will get paid.

OK, now share your affiliate program. Where to start?

  • ALWAYS start with your existing customers - they will be your best first affiliates until you get bigger. DO NOT automate this part - reach out to your best and most active customers individually to invite them to the program.
  • Start with 10 to 20 close customers, and learn via them what works and what doesn't. Once you have ironed out all of the bugs, THEN, and only then, invite your entire list to the program - subscribers, other customers, whatever you have, let them know.
  • TOP TIP #1: As well as listing your program in your website footer, put your affiliate program in the Profile dropdown inside your product. This TREBLED our affiliate signups almost overnight, and it's where you'll get most of your best affiliates as they've already tried your product and want to tell the world!

  • Create a walkthrough video of the affiliate platform for all of your new affiliates. Just do a screen-recording of everything they need to know. I used Loom's free screen recorder for this. Here's my walkthrough video.
  • TOP TIP #2: Send each an every new affiliate a personal welcome video (watch mine here - see screenshot below). I did this by hooking up Tapfiliate to Bonjoro, so every time I get new affiliate signup on Tapfiliate, I get notified on the Bonjoro app on my phone. I can then just whip out my phone, and record them a quick personal welcome, using the CTA on the video to link them to the more detailed walkthrough video.
  • The tip above grew my affiliate traffic 150%, but even more amazingly, it grew paid conversions by 500%. Affiliate marketing, and especially B2B affiliate marketing, is all about ACTIVATION, so do it right, and make it personal. The rewards are worth it!

OK, you're up and running. How do you keep affiliates interested in your program so they keep sending you traffic?

  • The best way to do this is to personally (yep, I'll keep saying that word, as I'm a true believer from experience that unscalable tactics always work best) update them when you publish new resources that can help them educate their own audience - Ebooks, Whitepapers, Webinars - anything that will help them better articulate the value of your product to their audience. They will love you for it, and you'll have an army of engaged and educated affiliates doing your acquisition work for you.
  • TOP TIP #3: Something I do is download a CSV list of my affiliates from Tapfiliate (it's super easy to do), and then upload that entire list into Bonjoro. Yep, once again I send a personal message to them letting them know I've launched a new resource. During this video message, I tell them I'm there to support them and offer them the chance to co-host a webinar diving into the Ebook subject matter in a way suited to their audience. They rarely refuse. REMEMBER: affiliate marketers are usually subject matter experts and will say yes to anything that helps the educate and inspire their audience. Here's a video showing exactly how I set this up.

OK, that's it for a general step by step to getting started with Affiliates.

Here are a few more useful pointers before we wrap up:

  1. Payments. I know most companies do this thing like: "we'll only pay when you hit min $100 commission". That's bullshit, to be honest - you won't activate affiliates that way until you are a much more established business.
  2. Pay every affiliate monthly on the same date. Or as I do, tell them payments will get made between x and y dates every month. This means they're confident and engaged from Day 1, awaiting their first commission payment, and it gives you a little leeway to make payments in case you forget one day.
  3. TOP TIP #4: Set a calendar reminder to make payments each month. In the early days you won't need to do mass payments, but as you get to over say 20 unique affiliate payments each month, apply to Paypal for "mass payments via CSV". Tapfiliate has a Paypal mass payments CSV download option ;)
  4. Pay all affiliates via Paypal. Don't offer bank transfer! It will be a complete pain, and it's totally unnecessary. If an affiliate doesn't have Paypal, you don't want to be working with them.
  5. Stick with it! If there's one channel that's guaranteed to give you high-quality and reliable early traffic (Word of Mouth referrals), this is it. Dedicate at least a month to setting up (Tapfiliate, plus Javascript on your site, plus triggers via your payment provider), refining your approach, and building TRULY great relationships with a core set of your biggest advocates.
  6. Unlike SEO, content, and other "hacks" you might be trying, the payoff will come quickly, and you'll know if it's working almost immediately.
  7. Tracking. I won't go into this in depth here, as it's an entire separate post of SaaS attribution, but at least start out tracking:
  • Traffic via affiliates
  • Signups via affiliates
  • Signup % (Traffic to Signups)
  • Conversion % (Signups to Paid)
  • Compare this with your other marketing channels over 3 months, you'll see how well affiliates convert.

Final Advice (BONUS TIP!):

Go after some BIG affiliates once you have your shit down. NOT before. If you land a big affiliate and you've got a bug with your javascript tracking, or you are struggling to make payments on time, it won't go down well.

TOP TIP #5. When you're ready to scale up and go after big affiliate do this.

  • Get a subscription to Ahrefs (https://ahrefs.com/). It helps you find backlinks to any site on the web.
  • Make a list of successful companies in your niche.
  • Run them through Ahrefs to identify who exactly is sending them backlinks.
  • Identify the best affiliate backlinks, by filtering Ahrefs by (estimated) "Traffic" and running a further advanced filter for "affiliates" or any other URL identifier in the backlink that calls them out as an affiliate - they will typically be bloggers and marketing educators.

  • Download the filtered list you've identified as a CSV file, and drop it on Upwork or a similar site to get a freelancer to input full names, emails, Facebook pages, YouTube etc for those "influencers".
  • Get yourself a subscription to Mailshake (https://mailshake.com/), and start sending out invites to your affiliate program. I use Mailshake as it's the most agile and effective cold-email tool I've found that helps you do things in the most personal way possible (yep there's that word again!).
  • If you don't have their email contact them via another channel: Facebook Messenger, Youtube Comments. Whatever it takes. Be courteous, but persistent.

OK, this is going on a bit too long now. I hope that's enough to get you kickstarted with your affiliate channel.

If you're struggling to grow your SaaS/startup, don't worry, I know the feeling of where you're at right now - it feels like a full on anxiety fog right!? I'll be back with Part 2 of my SaaS Growth Playbook soon, so subscribe to the Bonjoro blog to get notified when that goes live.

And hey, please share this article with the world if it was useful to you and your business :)

Essential Readinghttps://www.leadfeeder.com/blog/webinar-marketing/ - This blog post is PLATINUM LEVEL stuffPretty much the next step once you've got your program up and running and you're confident.

Take care out there,

Oli Bridge, Growth Grizzly, Bonjoro 🐻

*FULL DISCLOSURE: the link to Tapfiliate is an affiliate link. I'm in no way associated with the team over there, I just tried every product on the market and this one was WAY, WAY easier to setup and much more affordable for SAAS that the rest I tried. I wrote this article before I signed up as an affiliate, and then thought, what the heck, I might as when make something from sharing my hard-earned knowledge. Just wanted to be up-front :)

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