Stop f#cking around with growth hacks if your metrics look like this

by Steli Efti
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Startup founders love to experiment, especially when things aren’t going well. They map out hundreds of tests and hacks, hoping to find that one perfect path to success.

But if your startup isn’t growing as quickly as you’d expected, you might have a problem that growth hacks can’t solve.

Let’s start with an example.

A startup founder recently asked for feedback on a few experiments he wanted to run. He’d successfully landed enterprise deals for his company, but the self-service SaaS product he developed hadn't found its footing. He believed in the product, but something needed to change.

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So the founder sent along a bunch of potential optimizations:

  • Improve the onboarding experience
  • Start a drip campaign based on user activity
  • Sell directly over the phone
  • Add new features
  • In-app upgrade notifications
  • Ask for a credit card up front

He wanted to know which options would grow his SaaS business

But when I reviewed their monthly KPIs, here's what I found:

  • 40,000 unique visitors
  • 2,000 free trial signups
  • 10 paid upgrades

That’s a conversion rate of 0.5%.

In other words, 1,990 people who signed up for free trials didn’t find value in his product. And to make matters worse, nearly 5% of those paid customers churned every month.

What was my advice?

Forget about growth hacks. Forget about onboarding, drip campaigns, and new features. There’s a much bigger problem: you have no idea who your customers are.

You’re driving traffic, but no one feels compelled to purchase your product. No one wants to be your customer.

When a conversion rate is this painfully low, no amount of optimization can save you. It’s tempting to think you can test and experiment your way out of this mess, but when you’re converting 0.5% of your free trials, it’s time to start over. Direct phone sales and in-app notifications won’t move the needle. A 50% improvement only gets you 5 more conversions each month—that’s not enough to turn things around.

You need to blow everything up

The first step is to figure out who your customers are. Where can you find them? How can you market to them? How can you build a product that solves their problems?

When I asked the founder who his ideal SaaS customers were, he couldn't give me an answer. That’s because he didn’t know.

So how can you identify the right customers for your product?

Create an ideal customer profile

There’s a good chance you’re missing out on the right customers by focusing on the wrong ones. Ultimately, you want customers who:

  • Get significant value from your product
  • Provide significant value to your company

If you’re failing to convert free trials, you’re likely missing one (or both) of these critical factors.

To create an ideal customer profile, make a list of your 10 best customers and search for common attributes (company size, industry, how long they’ve been in business, etc.). This will help you focus on generating high-quality leads—you know, the ones that will actually pay for your product.

Do things that don’t scale

If you’re struggling to identify customers, find new ways to connect with them. Many times, that means validating your ideas with the power of hustle. At Close.io, we know one of the best ways to connect with potential customers is to do things that don’t scale.

We’ve called new signups, left voicemails after 7 days of a trial, emailed users from personal accounts, gave free hour-long training sessions and sales consulting, and offered engineering support (almost) 24/7. These weren’t optimizations for us. They weren’t growth hacks. We did these things to understand our prospects and to learn what makes them tick. To generate real customer insights—and solve real customer problems—we couldn’t rely on in-app notifications.

Visit customers

Your customers are more than a collection of data points. You can monitor usage and review feedback all you want, but if you don’t see customers using your product in the wild, you’re missing a lot of context.

Visit your customers. Build customer outreach into your schedule. Make time for the people who interact with your product every day. Ask questions. Dig deeper. Observe them in their natural work environment. How are they using your software? What’s competing for their attention? What makes them smile?

Over time, you’ll build stronger relationships with your current customers, and you’ll better understand what prospects are looking for in your product.

When should you optimize?

Before you consider possible growth hacks, you need strong conversion rates. Optimize for growth only when there’s evidence of product/market fit.

When we launched Close.io, we knew we’d built a CRM that would help sales teams close more deals. But early on, we offered practically zero reporting. And while this may have been a drawback for some people, tons of customers purchased our product.

Why? Because they loved almost everything else about Close.io. We understood how to build a powerful inside sales CRM for our customers. And those productivity gains outweighed any lack in reporting. Eventually, we knew we’d improve the platform once we gained more traction.

If your conversion rates are garbage, forget about growth hacks

Forget about onboarding and in-app upgrades. There’s no quick fix for a product that nobody wants.

Go out and find your ideal customers. What do they need? How can you empower them? How can you add value? Until you have the answers to these questions, nothing else matters. Not even that new drip campaign. 

Want more customers? Check out my latest book, Your Growth Hacks Aren't Working, to learn why cold calling is so important for startup founders. Click below for your free copy:

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