(2022) Getting the first users for your SaaS startup

Denis Shatalin
Founder Coach, Serial Entrepreneur
Starting out in SaaS is a daunting landscape. The idea of acquiring the first ten clients for your SaaS startup can be terrifying.

I firmly believe that any SaaS with a good value proposition can succeed, but I still see so many brands making simple mistakes that hamper their growth.

I’ve worked alongside SaaS founders to grow brands and sales to a global scale. I want to share with you the exact strategies and tools I use to help SaaS startups find those vital first adopters.

Finding the first customers for your SaaS

Your first SaaS customers are a treasure trove of potential feedback for your SaaS product. The first 10-100 customers will likely form the backbone of your troubleshooting team.

Early adopters are open to snags and bugs in SaaS, how you respond, process, and action their experience and advice will define your brand in the future.

So how do you go about finding the critical eyes you need for your product to grow and succeed?

What SaaS customer success looks like

Customer success refers to the process of actively helping your customers to achieve their goals.

This often takes the form of consultancy and support after the initial sale to teach your SaaS customers exactly how to use your SaaS to achieve success. I recommend approaching your first 100 clients with customer success as your paramount concern.

Try to build personal relationships and nurture your customers’ growth with a deep understanding of their problems and how you can solve them.

Create 100 happy users that have achieved exactly what they wanted because of your tool. Keeping this as a core focus at the initial stages of your SaaS’s growth will separate you from the myriad of providers and create a pool of brand ambassadors at your fingertips.

Leverage your existing professional network

I don’t know if it’s embarrassment or pride, but some entrepreneurs struggle with the idea of looking within their own network for new SaaS customers. The likelihood is your SaaS startup isn’t going to be a fit for close family members, if you’ve come this far in the SaaS industry.

That said, your existing professional network can be a treasure trove of clients, if you’re building products within your niche. For instance, think of Moz, an SEO platform leveraged from Rand Fishkin’s SEO community, or even SparkToro, a new customer insights platform founded by the same person built upon the success of Moz.

In any way, with trust baked in, your close professional circle will be more willing to try out and share your new SaaS tool to their friends. This can effectively encourage word-of-mouth growth, whereby your existing customers organically refer you to new ones. Understand what your current professional network likes and wants to share to induce virality.

This is what led to my growth on Twitter and something you can easily take advantage of with enough creativity and critical thinking:

https://twitter.com/Denis__Shatalin/status/1508867114257555468

Don’t know what resonates with the audience you want to target? Engage with the influencers in that niche and analyze what makes their content great and shareable. And when I mean analyze, I mean literally creating a list of their top-ranking content and identifying the elements that make them great. Why reinvent the wheel when the current one works?

Outbound marketing

Outbound marketing is a powerful tool if used wisely and somewhat sparingly. Unpersonalised mass email campaigns are a thing of the past, if you want to stand out in people’s inboxes you need to be original and creative.

Outbound emails

According to Hubspot email generates $42 for every $1, ROI’s like that cannot be ignored.

Think of your email campaigns as little snapshots of your brand. Outbound or outreach emails should build trust with the receiver so I would avoid going for the hard sell.

Use this opportunity to show what customer success looks like with your SaaS. Engage readers with thought-provoking headlines and finish off with a clear entry to your sales cycle.

I like to use booking forms for demos or free trials at this early stage. With the right value proposition and an enticing offer, outbound email can get the audience you need for a relatively low cost.

You can use a tool like Hunter.io to scrape websites for emails, saving you time and putting you directly in touch with decision-makers.

Always invest the same time and effort in designing and testing your email campaign templates as your landing pages.

You can learn more about building and optimizing your SaaS sales cycle.

Outbound calls

If you’re adopting an outbound marketing strategy, calls should be carefully considered before moving forward.

Somewhat more intrusive than emails, unsolicited sales calls require trained sales staff to work successfully. Even with a team in place, your conversion rate will struggle to ever reach much over 10%.

With the high cost involved with outbound calls, I would avoid this as a SaaS founder looking to get my first SaaS customers.

Creating a SaaS landing page

Landing pages make up the backbone of SaaS marketing campaigns. I love the microdata you can gain from how people view and interact with your value proposition and call to action.

Great landing pages always contain the same winning formula:

  • Simply and concisely communicate your value proposition
  • Use social proof like testimonials or reviews to show examples of SaaS customer success
  • Create a bold call to action that contrasts the rest of the page and draws attention
  • Add frequently asked questions to try and resolve any concerns immediately
Pro tip - Try to avoid showing a navigation menu on your landing pages, this gives visitors an option to leave your landing page without achieving your desired result.

Understanding your sales funnel

To increase the conversion rates of your SaaS landing pages you can curate exactly where specific visitors should arrive.

I like to split visitors into two simple groups:

  • Unaware of your SaaS
  • Aware of your SaaS

If a visitor is already aware of your value proposition they’re much more likely to purchase your services. On the other hand, visitors who haven’t heard of your brand or SaaS or more likely to become customers further down the line if you offer a demo or free trial.

I’ve written a detailed guide on how to match your SaaS landing pages to your sales funnel(link to: Essential SaaS landing pages for a great sales funnel.

Start your brand SaaS brand site

SaaS start-ups need a website. The majority of your marketing efforts will revolve around your brand website, forming a hub for email campaigns, landing pages, content marketing, and your SEO efforts. This is your most important asset, so creating this is a top priority.

Treat your brand website home page as a landing page for users who are aware of your product. If a visitor lands on your homepage chances are they’ve arrived via organic search or via your sales strategy (different ways you can generate leads for your SaaS).

You can use all the same best practices for a landing page with the exception of navigational links. Use your menu to help visitors dive deeper into your SaaS.

Ahrefs’s home page is a perfect example of how a home page acts just like a landing page.

Consider displaying your value proposition separated via the industry sector. Content that feels personalized and displays customer success people can relate to will always convert better.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a tool to target users at different stages of the buying decision. Placing valuable content in front of your target audience can raise your brand awareness and build trust in your industry.

Better yet, as the founder of your SaaS startup, you’re all set to start creating engaging, informative content around your products and services.

Some of the different kinds of content you can create to help get customers for your SaaS startup:

  • Content that displays your value proposition
  • Content for client retention
  • Comparison content
  • Outreach content

Competitive analysis

Analyze what’s worked well in the past with your direct competitors and position your product based on the shortcomings of your competitors. While it can be quite hard to carve your niche in a crowded marketplace, effective positioning can lure your competitors’ customers by promising a superior customer experience.

Content that displays your value proposition

People look for ways to solve their problems online. By creating content that displays how your SaaS can remedy business owners' problems you present yourself as a helpful resource and a potential solution.

Content for client retention

Even in the early stages of your SaaS startup, you should begin creating content for your user base.

Retaining SaaS customers is just as important as finding new ones. Study how customers engage with your platform and optimize the onboarding flow (e..g, tooltips) for your highest-paying segments. How-to guides, online tutorials, and webinars are all great ways of helping your users navigate your solutions and quickly learn the best practices.

Comparison content

Piggyback off the larger brands in your niche by creating content that compares and contacts your SaaS with the big players in your space. People are always on the lookout for new alternatives to well-known brands so positioning yourself as the newcomer with a unique value proposition is a great strategy.
This second example from Ahrefs goes the extra step by comparing itself to two other industry leaders.

Outreach content

This often overlooked strategy is predominantly used for SEO but can be leveraged to increase your visibility as an up-and-coming SaaS brand.

Rather than publishing content on your own marketing channels, you can start reaching out to see if you can make content for someone influential in your niche. This could be a large news organization or an influencer who has a captive audience.

This proposition is very powerful because people love content, particularly content they don’t have to create themselves. You simply offer to create content that clearly displays your SaaS brand and ideally links back to your website.

This opens you up to a whole new range of eyes relevant to your SaaS. It can drive traffic, social follows, leads, and customers all by leveraging an audience you didn’t have to build yourself.

SEO (search engine optimization)

SEO is a powerful tool for developed and established brands. Ranking for the words related to your SaaS and the problems it solves is powerful but takes time.

Focusing on SEO to acquire your first customers would be a misinformed strategy. As the founder of a new SaaS brand, it can be hard to know where best to spend your time.

Simply by focusing on building your brand website to help the user and engaging in a content strategy from the get-go, you will develop a presence on search engines.

That said, once you have a loyal customer base and have reached product-market fit, it’s time to use SEO to enable flywheel growth and scale your SaaS platform to stratospheric heights.

Get your first 100 customers!

Now you’re equipped with everything you need to go out and find the first customers for your SaaS brand. Focus on customer success as the core concept behind your entire customer acquisition process and your SaaS will flourish and grow along with the businesses you support.

If you found this guide helpful and want help executing any of the strategies we’ve discussed you can book a SaaS start-up coaching call with me here.

Get my proven user acquisition tactics to grow your startup's revenue
Put your email below and I'll send you tactics which add thousands in revenue for startup founders each week.
✋ Hey, it's Denis! Thanks for reading :) Want help with your startup or to have a chat? Just reach out to me on Twitter, Email or LinkedIn.