Launching a SaaS product - part 2 - Preparations

Photo courtesy of Bert Kaufmann

Photo courtesy of Bert Kaufmann

This is the second part in the series of blog posts documenting our path to launching our SaaS product. The first part of this series is available here: Part 1 - Launching a B2B SaaS product

Now that we’re getting closer to our launch date we’re busy with preparations. For us, that means coding, design work, documentation, and in just getting our processes in place. Of course, everyone wants to make their product launch a success. But how should one prepare for a product launch? 

As Steven Blank writes in his classic Four Steps to the Epiphany

A successful startup’s first release is designed to be “good enough only for your first paying customers” the purpose of the customer discovery is to identify those key visionary customers

So rather than asking customers what kind of product they would like to have, a lean startup first defines a product its founders think should exist in the market, builds a prototype, and then finds a set of customers whose problem it solves.

Intuitively, that’s about it. But still, so hard to do right. 


Streamline your onboarding process

So you got a visitor to fill out your sign-up form. Great! That means you managed to raise enough interest for a prospect to try out your product. But that doesn’t mean your work is done. In fact, that was just a first step on a long journey in building a relationship that may ultimately lead to business.

This is one of the areas that we’ve spent quite a bit of time already but it's one that we feel we’ll be spending even more in the future. Getting the whole setup process working without glitches is a skill you need to master sooner or later if you want to convert your prospects. 


Make sure you have call-to-actions in place

How to make your website not only informative, but also able to engage visitors? To begin with, we made sure that on each page of our website, there’s a call to action so that we don’t leave users hanging in the air. Here’s an example

Once a visitor scrolls to the end of a page, we provide not one, but four different ways to get engaged:

  • See the online demo
  • Signup for a free trial
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Subscribe to a newsletter

It’s important to provide options for different levels of engagement. Your website visitor may not be looking for a solution like yours yet, but that may change in the future. Why not let those visitors engage in a way that is suitable for them at the moment? In addition to the obvious “sign-up”, you can provide other means for getting engaged for those visitors who are just curious to learn more at this stage. 


Use landing pages to target your messaging

Not all visitors are alike and they have different reasons for coming to your site. Optimally, you show them the stuff that they want to see and nothing else. That’s what landing pages are for. We created three separate landing pages so that we can better target our communication to the users of a specific tool:

When driving traffic to our website, instead of pointing a link to our main site, we use one of our landing pages based on what we know about that visitor. There we can use terminology that is relevant for the users of that specific tool. As an example, In Trello you use cards to record your tasks and lists to refer to columns in your Kanban board. Familiar terminology helps a visitor to figure out that the content is relevant for them. The more familiar your language is to the reader, the better.  

As an additional benefit, we can compare the effectiveness of different channels on different visitor segments. We’re curious to learn how these alternate landing pages convert and which are the best channels for each page. 


Set up analytics to manage your sales funnel

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Thanks to Google Analytics, we can easily track

  • How many people visit our site
  • Duration of visit and the number of pages visited
  • Ratio of new vs returning visitors
  • Which countries they come from
  • Main sources of traffic

This information helps us to segment our visitors, and to gain understanding on which channels we should focus on. But what we’re really interested is to identify visitors who

  • Sign up for a free trial
  • Make the effort of enabling access to their tool
  • Ultimately convert to a paying customer

We need to find the channels that work in our specific case so that we can focus most of our efforts on those. There’s several steps we need to master in our on-boarding process. In each step, a certain percentage of prospects will inevitably leave. In order to understand when that happens, we use funnel analysis to track the drop-off between any two steps. 

This is what our funnel looks like

  1.  Visitor comes to our web site
  2.  Visitor gets engaged (by looking at the demo/signing up for a newsletter/following us on twitter)
  3.  Visitor signs up for a free trial
  4.  Visitor starts a free trial by enabling access to their tool
  5.  Visitor signs up for a paid plan

We are constantly trying to reduce the number of steps and the complexity of tasks that the user must complete on each step. By looking at the numbers, we can see whether those efforts are bearing fruit. 


Setup lifecycle emails for customer onboarding

Lifecycle emails can be used to help users to navigate through the essential features of your product. The table below shows the emails we send and when they are triggered

We send these emails manually even though they could be automated. Why is that? because it forces us to think every time when we hit the send button whether the content and timing makes sense. It helps us to make constant improvements to our lifecycle emails. Once we see that we’re no longer making changes, it’s probably time to automate the sending of these emails. 



What we know of marketing is that "build it and they will come" is not a viable strategy. You have to do promotion. We're not backed by VC money so it’s a shoestring budget for us. Fortunately there are ways to promote your work without much money involved so we want to leverage those. They include

  • Sending newsletter to our subscriber list
  • Guest blogging (the one you're reading now)
  • Directly contacting journalists and bloggers
  • Announcement in discussion forums like Reddit and HackerNews
  • Spreading the word in social media

We'll share the results of these activities in the future post once we have the numbers for benchmarking them.


Why launching in an event may not be your best option?

In 2014 Slush event there were numerous product announcements. How many of those you remember? Nokia N1 tablet perhaps? As there are so many companies launching at the same time, it’s certain that most will go unnoticed. While events can be great places for meeting people and make potential customers, they don’t automatically help in getting you noticed. So we decided not to launch in an event, which also meant that we weren’t tied to any strict release date. Such freedom can be gold further down the road if things get busy (as they always do). 


Should you write a press release?

If you have something newsworthy to tell, you should make it as easy as possible for a journalist to make a story out of it. A press release can help in that. Here's the one we did. Writing a press release is an art form of its own, and here are some advices from a former journalist of VentureBeat on how to do it right. Like in any marketing, you need to pick your audience and make it relevant for them. Develop a story around your product so that it connects emotionally. Finally, build a list of media contacts and pitch your story.

A key takeaway here is that doing a press release is not just writing but also research, pitching, finding a right audience, engaging. Yes, selling your company and yourself. It takes time so you should start the process several weeks before your launch. 


Using 3rd party channels to distribute your app

Chances are that, despite your best efforts in marketing, it’s a limited number of prospects that you can get interested enough to visit your website. If you can tap to a 3rd party channel, then your chances of getting noticed increase. There are several sites dedicated to listing SaaS services. Here's a list of 100 places to promote your SaaS app. There are also communities of early adopters who want to be among the first ones to discover cool new apps. Here's a list of 9 sites that list new products from startups


Wrapping it up

We haven't set up any specific goals for our launch. We'll do our best to get attention from our target group - IT professionals. We hope to get many signups. But most importantly, we hope to gain insight into which channels work and which doesn't. We need to find the channels that work specifically for us, and focus our marketing efforts on those.

In a future post, I will share our experience from the product launch. By then, we should have some numbers to share for benchmarking different activities and channels. So stay tuned. To read more posts like this, you can subscribe to our feed.


Sami is the founder & CEO of Screenful, the company that turns data into visual stories. You can follow him on Twitter @samilinnanvuo