I’m still the VP of Sales and Marketing at our venture-backed, B2B SaaS company. We still use these tactics today. For competitive reasons, rather than using actual creative, ads, and content that we use today, I will use comparable creative and content examples, so you can still understand how we do it.
Getting the Flywheel Right: Product-Market Fit Before Go-to-Market Fit
Website traffic, email lists, trials, leads… are all important factors to focus on for long-term growth. But, none of it matters until you validate that your customers love your product.
Otherwise, here’s what your go-to-market efforts will look like:
At $2 million ARR, our NPS scores were in the 40s (>30 is good based on software benchmarks).
We had customer cohorts with 13-month net revenue retention rates north of 200+%.
Meaning if a customer signed up Month 1 spending $1K/month, by Month 13 they were spending $2K/month with us.
On average, every user was inviting 3 more users and 20% of them were converting to a trial.
The power of subscription revenue for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies was on full display.
So, how did we do it?
There were 2 factors driving our compound growth:
We had a great product that was novel at the time.
We had a powerful demand generation machine that spun our flywheel faster.
And our flywheel compounded growth like this:
Publish data-driven content.
Get more traffic.
Get more trials/customers.
Publish more data driven content.
Round and round we go.
Ask an average marketer what their go-to-market strategy looks like and they’ll show you this:
That’s a losing strategy nowadays.
A strategy that typically results in marketing teams spending thousands or millions of dollars on content and paid traffic with little to no revenue to show for it.
For us, every new customer drove more customers.
I’ll walk you through this in step-by-step detail.
We Generated 500K+ New Monthly Visitors, 15K+ New Trials and $40K in New Recurring Revenue Every Month with this Strategy
Those are big numbers. And it took us over 3 years to achieve those numbers.
One thing I learned along the way was that not all traffic or trials are created equal.
Don’t be fooled into chasing vanity metrics.
Here are a few examples of experiments we ran that chased vanity metrics:
Producing blog content for long-tail keywords with very low competition, but very high search volume that doesn’t relate to your target buyer personas.
Bidding on Google search keywords that drive trial starts but don’t bring in your target buyer personas.
Paying for cheap ad inventory that doesn’t attract your target buyer personas.
We fell into these traps. I’m totally guilty.
It’s very tempting to drive up vanity metrics.
None of those experiments resulted in anything close to a favorable customer acquisition cost (CAC) for us. It was just a waste of time and resources.
Over time though, we refined our strategy and unlocked a step-by-step process to get traffic that converts into sales.
And not just any sales.
Our customers are world-class companies. Think Snowflake, Stripe, Doordash, Salesforce and the list goes on…
The 6 steps we follow to execute our strategy are:
Step #1: We Write Long-Tail Keyword Content + Data-Driven Content
Building a brand is about incrementally building trust with your customers. Trust is like a bank account. Every time you make a promise and fulfill on that promise, you make a deposit into the trust bank.
So that means, every customer experience with your brand either builds trust or it erodes trust.
Now consider this. Have you ever published a piece of content that you had some $10/hour content farm write for you?
Your customer reads the sensational headline, clicks on it, reads the first paragraph, and realizes they were tricked into reading a crappy piece of content with little value.
You have eroded trust.
The next time they see your content, they will know not to be tricked by you anymore and will ignore your content.
This pattern happens all the time.
Most agencies and marketing leaders will tell you that more content is the solution.
When really, you don’t need more content. You need better content.
Well, you probably need both. But start with the quality first.
We write 2 kinds of content:
Long-tail keyword content that is optimized for search engines.
Data-driven content based on insights from customer product usage.
They each serve a different purpose.
Long-tail keyword SEO content is grouped by pillars and topic clusters. We identify our pillars and topic clusters using a tool called SEM Rush.
Hubspot has written at length about this strategy. Here’s the concept if you’re not familiar:
So, let’s say you sold invoicing software. You may structure your pillar and cluster content as follows:
The pillar is "Freelance Invoicing." You want to own this topic in search results. The cluster topics are "How to generate an invoice" etc.
So, we document our top 3-5 pillars. Then we document all of the keyword topic clusters that roll up to the pillars.
From that list of topic clusters, we identify data-driven content opportunities.
If we sold invoice software, we would look at our anonymous user data for inspiration. And maybe we choose to write a piece of content about "how quickly the average invoice is paid" for companies of different sizes. OR maybe we write a content piece on "the most common invoice templates".
You could wrap either in a catchy headline and tell a story that helps to educate your target audience.
Lastly, we optimize the content to rank in search results and insert calls-to-action to download related assets in exchange for their email addresses.
I'll go into exactly how we do that next.
Step #2: Optimize Content with SEO Best Practices and Capture Emails
There are basic principles we follow for every piece of content published.
Despite these being well documented, it’s incredible how many sites still DO NOT follow these best practices. They are stuck in an endless cycle of publishing mediocre content that doesn’t get ranked.
We have a template we follow like this:
Then within each piece of content, we include calls-to-action to download an asset that’s related to the content the reader is consuming.
We highlight the CTA in a different color and design to stand out from the body text. CTAs are placed within each third of the article. 1st, 2nd and last 3rd of the article.
Before we hit publish, we run it through our quick and final checklist:
Is the content great? Is it better than the top 10 search results for the target keyword?
Is it optimized for search engines using SEO best practices?
Does it include contextual CTAs to capture email addresses?
Yes? Ok. Let's ship it!
Now, we are ready to publish and drive a massive amount of traffic to each post.
Step #3: Pay for Massive Distribution and Retarget Audiences with Free Trial CTAs
This is where most content marketing teams fall down.
They invest the time and resources to publish great content, but either don't get enough people to read it or don't get the right audience to read it.
Consider these 3 scenarios below. I will walk you through each in detail.
Control Scenario illustrates the average cost and return of publishing a single piece of organic content.
Scenario A illustrates the average cost and return of promoting a single piece of content via paid distribution (promote in month 1).
Scenario B illustrates the average cost and return of not paying to promote your content, but instead publishing 10 additional pieces of content and waiting to rank for organic traffic (cumulative traffic over 12 months).
For the Control Scenario, on average, it costs us $500 to publish 1 piece of content ($50/hr * 10 hours).
On average, you see 1,000 unique visitors over 12 months from a new organic piece of content (~100 visitors/mo after 2 months to get ranked).
Ok, so you convert 1% of those visitors to a free trial = 1,000*0.01= 10 trials.
And you have a best-in-class trial -> paid conversion rates of 20% at $50/user/mo.
That piece of content brought you 2 paid subscribers.
Optimistically, each has a lifetime value (LTV) of ~$1,417 = $50/user/mo x 85% gross margin / 3% monthly churn rate.
Multiply that by 2 paid subscribers to get a total LTV of $2,833. You divide that by $500 (cost of the piece of content). That’s a 5.7X CAC:LTV ratio. Very nice!
Keep in mind. There are a lot of hard to achieve assumptions in there like the best in class trial to paid conversion, churn rate, arpu... etc.
That being said. What happens if rather than producing 10 more pieces of content for $500 each (illustrated in Scenario B), we spend those budget dollars to distribute the content?
$500/piece of content x 10 = $5,000 for content distribution.
We use Taboola and Outbrain to publish our content across media sites like CNN, The Washington Post, BBC, Bloomberg, ABC, NBC, and many others. You have seen ads like this before:
The average cost-per-click for Outbrain and Taboola is $0.30 per click.
We take the $5,000 budget, divide it by $0.30 CPC to calculate the amount of traffic.
That’s 16,666 visitors. The equivalent of 16.5 years of organic traffic.
So, going back to our assumptions. The traffic tends not to be as high quality as organic traffic, so we assume 0.75% convert into trials instead of 1%.