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8 Steps To Automate Your SaaS Customer Lifecycle And Lower Your CAC

One of the biggest changes we’ve had to work on at Trakio is moving all of our marketing, sales and onboarding from high-touch (and expensive) processes into a low-touch (therefor cheaper) automated processes.

It’s difficult to manually onboard every customer when you’re selling a product at $10 /user /month!

While I’m a huge fan of doing things that don’t scale, I’m also a big believer in growing fast and putting processes on autopilot!

Here’s how you can also automate your full customer lifecycle and lower your customer acquisition costs!

Contents

  1. Map your journey
  2. Automated content creation
  3. Automated lead generation
  4. Automated lead nurturing
  5. Automated onboarding
  6. Automated free trial conversion
  7. Automated product engagement
  8. Automated referrals and evangelism (viral)

Step 1: Map Your Customer’s Lifecycle

Before you can automate the customer lifecycle, you first need to create a customer journey map so that you can understand each stage and begin automating each point.

Here’s a typical SaaS customer journey for a low-priced, self-service product like Metrix:

  1. Awareness – the user discovers your brand through a guest blog post (aka content marketing), a tweet or a Google search
  2. Data Capture (aka Generating Leads) – the user enters an email address to download a lead magnet (aka content bribe)
  3. Lead Nurturing – the user receives a series of extra content and over time, begins to engage with your brand and content more regularly (aka marketing automation)
  4. Free Trial Signup – eventually, the user has a need for your solution and signs them self up to your product to begin a free trial
  5. Product Onboarding – your user needs to figure out how to use your product and needs to realise the value and the ROI it could provide them
  6. Payment (Free trial conversion) – your users enters a credit card and starts paying for the service
  7. Regular Engagement – your user needs to use the product on a regular/repeat basis. Not all users will have the same usage cycle, but you need to ensure the user doesn’t lose touch with the product
  8. Referral/Evangelism – you need to leverage your existing happy users to attract new users. Not only are these new acquisitions free, but they’re also more likely to convert than any other channel

Each stage of this journey can be automated or at the least, semi-automated.

Step 2: Automated Content Creation

In order to build a customer acquisition funnel that scales, you need to get the full process automated. Content marketing is extremely powerful, but it can take a long time before it builds enough momentum to seem significant.

That is, unless you automate it and work smart!

A great book on the topic of creating a fully automated content marketing team is Dan Norris’ Content Machine. I highly recommend reading that!

content-machine-cover-orange

Content creation is one of the most difficult parts of executing content marketing successfully at scale. While it’s OK for the CEO to write some knockout home-run pieces of content to get the initial traction on the blog, eventually it needs systemised and turned into a process that scales.

As an example, look at the Hubspot blog – every day they publish 6-10 articles, each one receiving 300+ social shares with some posts receiving 1,000+ shares! Over time, they have crafted a strong content creation team that doesn’t rely on any one individual or ‘celebrity’ in the company.

Another example of a founder-led blog that has scaled into an automated process is the WP Curve blog. While all the early posts were written by CEO Dan Norris, eventually he hired a content manager, created processes and templates, and built a system to work with freelance writers but still maintaining the same high quality content receiving 100+ social shares each.

Breaking Down The Content Creation Process

To keep fresh posts on your blog, you need to find scaleable processes for the following:

  1. Idea generation
  2. Initial research
  3. Article creation
  4. Editorial voice and quality checking

The perfect place to scale the idea generation and initial research phases is to outsource to cheaper workers. I recommend Upwork or TaskBullet. Here, you should be spending 1-5 hours on research for a blog post. This includes articles to link to, key themes and current best practice, key influencers to help with promotion and quotes, and key vendors in the space.

The article creation stage requires verbose guidelines and manuals created for your skilled writers to follow, and then skilled writers to execute on them. Ideally, the most senior marketer in the team should create the guide docs, as we’re essentially facilitating knowledge transfer.

Once you’ve created Google Docs that explain everything from ideal article length, to featured image dimensions and styles, to tense and formality, you’ll need to have a process to find writers to produce the articles.

While guest writers may occasionally reach out, I recommend having a go-to place where you can provide briefs and get the finished article back on your schedule, not theirs.

Upwork does have skilled native english writers from $10-$25 per hour, but you can also try Scripted ($149 /post).

Finally, the editorial voice stage requires a more senior, native english speaker. While this doesn’t need to be a full time hire, the person does need to be someone senior and with a lot of past examples of consistently successful posts. Upwork may have some, but I’d recommend reaching out to people with successful blogs in your niche and asking if they’d be willing to work freelance for 5-10 hours per week until you can start hiring full-time in house.

Step 3: Automated Lead Generation With Lead Magnets

Once you’re creating lots of high quality content on a regular basis, you need to build a process to capture leads from those readers.

A lead magnet is a higher quality piece of content, where the reader is willing to exchange their data (name, email address, tel. number etc.) to get their hands on it.

Examples can include 10 page PDF eBooks, or a 1 page cheat sheet, or an Excel template, or a video course.

They key is that this content is perceived as higher qyuality than a blog post.

Producing Lead Magnets

Producing lead magnets is the same process as blog post creation: you need to have a system for researching and creating the content.

But the difference is you’ll be making fewer lead magnets per month than blog posts and you’ll also probably need extra skills, such as design (eBook) or video editing (video course).

Upwork can help here, but you can also check out Design Pickle ($249 per month) or even Fiverr (small editing tasks for $5!)

The most important thing to remember when producing your lead magnets is that they should build on your blog post content. For example, if you produce blog posts about metrics and analytics, you might create a lead magnet thats a comprehensive eBook in implementing analytics.

Capturing Data From Lead Magnets

Once you’ve created a lead magnet that’s relevant to your posts, the next step is to promote this on your posts and to setup a system to deliver the lead magnets to the user.

You can use a tool that’s more comprehensive, such as LeadPages, for this. Lead pages includes hosted landing pages (great for non-technical users to produce pages for lead magnets independently of your development team!) and also popup boxes.

Other landing page tools and popups include Instapage, Unbounce and Exit Monitor.

Once you’ve created your landing pages and/or popups, you’ll need to link to those offers.

Some email automation tools like Nathan Barry’s Convert Kit actually come with WordPress plugins to automatically insert Lead Magnets at the end of your wordpress posts, making the process simpler and more targetted – increasing opt-in rates.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 13.09.47
Nathan Barry’s Convert Kit Makes It Easy To Add Lead Magnet Forms To Blog Posts

Your other option is to use a standalone Wordpress plugin for inserting ad code into the end of posts, such as Optin Monster or Thrive Leads. Or of course, drop big money on Hubspot.

Step 4: Automated Lead Nurturing

When people download a single piece of content from you, they aren’t immediately ready for purchase. The relationship needs nurturing.

You wouldn’t expect to take a guy or girl on just one date before asking if they’d like to see your stamp collection?

Implementing automated lead nurturing requires some kind of marketing automation platform – a tool that can send individual emails to customers on an individual schedule (as opposed to big blast campaigns like newsletters).

Marketing automation is a crowded, messy and extremely commoditised space. With a few exceptions, prices have been driven to the floor and choosing the best tool for you will probably come down to personal preference (did you prefer the UI?) and whether they connect to your particular tech stack (Stripe + Zendesk + Popcorn Metrics).

Some options:

Delivering More Content

You should plan your lead magnets to have multiple follow up pieces of content, ideally building int terms of engagement and effort required and finally finishing in a ‘conversion’ piece.

For example, if someone first joined your list for Sales Pipeline KPI’s Cheat Sheet then you would want to setup an automated campaign to deliver a follow up email with other relevant blog posts on Sales Reps, SDR’s etc., and then another to deliver a Sales Pipeline Optimisation eBook and finally, an invite to a webinar on how your platform can help improve the efficiency of sales reps.

The theme is that the content should be constantly strengthening the relationship between the lead and your brand. We aren’t trying to push towards a conversion too soon (or we’ll scare them away!) but instead, keep inviting them out on another date!

Using Call To Actions Sparingly

Once it’s time to start suggesting a free trial, I prefer to include one opportunity for a conversion every 2-4 content pieces. So, if the user opened the last 4 emails and downloaded 3 of the content pieces, then the next email they’ll receive will be a direct offer to signup for a free trial of the product.

If they don’t engage with the offer, then go back to sending more content for a while, and try again later.

It’s important to just be there when they are ready to purchase. Lead nurturing is not sales – it’s about staying at the top of their list for when they are ready to look for a solution to their pain.

Step 5: Automated Onboarding

Once the user has clicked through and created a free trial, now comes the part where nearly all SaaS startups mess up: onboarding.

Effectively onboarding a new free trial signup is so much more than a simple email course triggering an email on day 2, day 3, day 4… While this is better than nothing, for an effective onboarding process that’s going to maximise all the hard work you’ve just put into acquiring the customer, you need to personalise the onboarding experience.

In terms of software, the same platform you used for lead nurturing should be able to handle the onboarding emails. The important aspect is that you can send data and analytics on how the user is engaging with the product and use this in the campaign.

Has the user invited any colleagues yet? Remind them how much better your product is when it’s collaborative.

Have they invited colleagues but not integrated their backoffice yet? Send them guides reminding them how simple it is to setup the integration.

Self-Service Everything

In a high touch product, you’d have the luxury of introducing an account rep, jumping on multiple calls and screen-shares… but when you’re trying to build a scaleable system with a CAC that makes sense for a lower price point, you need to try and build as many self-service options as possible.

While the emails can push the benefits and reminders, you’ll need to create a portal of self-service guides and videos where users can help themselves.

Zendesk found that a whopping 91% of users would prefer to use a self-service knowledge base if it could meet their needs.

Tools to use:

Step 6: Automated Free-to-Paid Conversion

Assuming that like most other SaaS, you have either a free trial (or a refund period), you’ll need to make sure you have a process in place to convert your free trial users into paying customers.

Collect The Credit Card As Soon As Possible

While not requiring a credit card upfront will massively increase your free trial signup rates, it doesn’t mean that you can’t offer the customer an opportunity to enter their card before the end of their free trial.

Make sure the call to action to add billing info is prominent within the tool itself – this way you’ll avoid some of the mad rush to get a credit card at the end of the free trial.

Keep Free Trial Periods Short (As Short As Needed)

There is very rarely a need for a 30 day free tria. Urgency is a very powerful tool, and a 7 day free trial might be more than plenty to convince the user of the value in the tool and then to push them towards entering their card.

While there is no “standard” answer here, it’s almost guaranteed that 30 days is too long. If 7 or 14 days works for you, drop the length!

Automation Tactics

As with our onboarding and marketing automation, you should use smart emails to tell the user when it’s time to enter a credit card.

But also, what about free trial extensions? If a user needs an extension, create an automated process for them to set that up while also providing an opportunity to open a dialogue and collect research data.

In our first product, we were spending a LOT of time manually handling free trial extensions. And in some cases, I would take too long to reply to the user and they lost interest. when we built an automated process for free trial extensions, we increased conversion rates by a whopping 33%!

Step 7: Automated Product Engagement

Keeping users engaged in the product over time is difficult, and fighting customer churn is one of the biggest priorities for growth stage SaaS companies.

Product Updates

Product updates can be sent out in a newsletter format to keep users updated on the new features, which increases their feeling of being part of a future proofed product and less likely to explore the competition.

But instead of spending 4 hours curating this newsletter every 2-4 weeks, why not automate the process! You could share a public Trello board (which is being used and updated internally anyway!) this way, users can be updated of new features whenever they want!

Activity Digest Emails

Sometimes retention can just be a case of keeping ‘top of mind’ for the user. Implemented a fully automated activity digest email can help remind the user how useful the product is and bring them back into the app too.

Buffer’s weekly score card email is great at this:

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 20.10.50

They also use the email as an opportunity to upsell their Business Plan (although if I’m honest, I think they could pull back on this a little bit!)

Step 8: Automated Referrals

Once you’re product starts to sell itself, you’ve pretty much reached the holy grail of automated customer lifecycle marketing and will be able to enjoy the lowest cost customer acquisition available.

91% of B2B buyers said that word of mouth referrals were influential in their purchasing decision. You should make it as easy as possible for your existing customers to refer new customers.

Powered By

B2B buyers like to use tools that their peers are using, especially if they aspire to those peers. Make sure it’s obvious that a customer is using your product by including ‘Powered by’ link. Qualaroo have effectively used this tactic to become one of the market leaders in Voice Of Customer surveys:

Pop-up-with-QualarooIncentivised Referral Program

Offering a financial (or gifts, free credits etc.) incentive for referring friends can radically increase the willingness of your customers to make referrals.

Digital Ocean have been tweaking their automated referral program for a long time – they realised that developers were most likely to refer other developers if they were sending free credit ($10) to their friends, and receiving a bonus in return once they;d signed up ($25). But they also experimented with lots of different tactics in their referral marketing (video here, highly recommended).

Make It Easy

One of the most important things with a referral campaign is to make it as easy as possible for your customers to help themselves.

Provide ready made banners. Provide ready-to-copy-and-paste HTML code snippets. Provide pre-populated Twitter and Facebook share buttons. Provide them with gorgeous analytics to track how their referrals are going.

And don’t just stop there – try to actively engage with your most successful advocates and ask them what else you could give them to make it even easier to make more referrals.

Tools To Help

Get Ambassador (SaaS platform for managing a referral campaign)

 

Published by

Liam Gooding

Liam is the cofounder and CEO of Trakio. Previously an engineer, he writes about growing subscription companies using data-driven techniques and inside glimpses to Trakio's own growth journey. He wrote a book, "Growth Pirate!" which discusses data-driven growth strategies for startups.

  • Excellent and insightful article with tons of actionable items! Well done!

  • Matt

    Awesome post! I use most of them. Instead of lead magnets to automate lead generation(requires great content), you can consider using advanced tools like aeroleads.com and datanyze.com.

  • Hi,

    You have mentioned that when developing a scalable system with a CAC, one should aim to design innumerable self-service options. As you have mentioned the use of Zendesk, Freshdesk and Teachable in the post, hence I want to know which is the best and most efficient?

    I have used a KB tool in the past and wasn’t really satisfied. I am apprehensive to use one now.

    Please help.

  • Hi,

    You have mentioned that when developing a scalable system with a CAC, one should aim to design innumerable self-service options. As you have mentioned the use of Zendesk, Freshdesk and Teachable in the post, hence I want to know which is the best and most efficient?

    I have used a KB tool in the past and wasn’t really satisfied. I am apprehensive to use one now.

    Please help.