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Case Study: How To Grow a SaaS Brand and Generate Free Trials

October 6, 2017 | Ryan Kovach

This case study shows how MaxOne, a start-up company built for athletic coaches, utilized Facebook ads and email automations to get in front of the right people and generate “free trial” registrations. 

The Story

MaxOne, a sports-based startup in the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry is looking to change the lives of Varsity Coaches across the country.

The Goal

Create brand awareness and generate free trial registrations with an efficient and easy-to-manage workflow.

MaxOne’s business model works similar to most companies in the SaaS industry.

Simply put, our goal is to get in front of Varsity Coaches and move them from the top of this pyramid to the bottom.

The Challenge

There is friction between a stranger becoming aware of the brand and registering for a free trial. Even though trial accounts are free, users do have to pay with their time: It takes time to make your account, it takes time to learn how to use the tool, and it takes time to get the entire program up to speed with this new tool. Time is a form of currency and, just like dollar bills, people don’t like to waste it.

That said, once users do take the time to get comfortable with the company’s product, they quickly fall in love and are more likely to become a loyal customer.

The question was, how can we remove as much friction as possible and make it easy to attract and convert customers?

Our Process

We combined PPC traffic (via Facebook Advertising) and email marketing automations (via Mailchimp) to drive potential customers to the website and opt-in for a free piece of content. Then, we nurtured those users towards registering for a free trial.

Our strategy was designed to help tackle these 4 key objectives:

  1. Get the company’s message in front of the right people.
  2. Get the company’s message in front of the right people at the right time.
  3. Avoid 1:1 sales calls and nurture customers with email.
  4. Help the sales staff save time and cut down on data entry.

Here’s exactly how we tackled these objectives…

Objective 1

Get the company’s message in front of the right people.

Presenting the company’s message to the right audience is one of the major strengths for a tool like Facebook Ads. We were able to target our ads to only be shown to people who:

  • Are aged between 25 and 64
  • Have specific job titles, such as Football Coach or Athletic Director
  • Are interested in:
    • Complimentary or competitor tools, such as
    • Popular websites that high school coaches visit, such as
    • Conferences or associations
    • Similar niches, such as high school recruiting

The targeting fun doesn’t end there.

We took our interest targeting (listed above) and split-tested it against Facebook’s powerful Lookalike Audiences.

The results were pretty convincing:

This specific campaign was driving users towards opting in for our email list.

On bottom, you see our “Interest Only” audience. It was costing $18 per opt-in. Not exactly the number we want to see.

On top, you see our Lookalike audience.  Note the $15 decrease in opt-in cost! This number was exactly what we wanted to see and we began scaling up that campaign.

This split-test just goes to show… if you want to get your message in front of the RIGHT people, then Facebook is probably the platform you need to be on.

Objective 2

Get the company’s message in front of the right people at the right time.

Most start up companies come to market on the back of a big idea. This big idea turns into a great and exciting product that solves a massive problem for consumers. Unfortunately, this scenario often comes with a trade off. Since the product is new, world-changing and exciting, it also means that consumers aren’t actively searching for this product.

When you purchase paid traffic using any type of PPC advertising, especially Facebook Advertising, it is important to understand where users are in the customer journey. Have potential customers heard of the brand before? Are they actively searching to have their problem solved? This level of understanding is important because a complete stranger who has never heard of the brand is far less likely to make a purchase than a loyal customer is.

With this in mind, it is incredibly important to understand what type of messaging a user needs to receive. That message depends entirely on the time that the user consumes it and the context around the relationship at that point. Smart marketers know they need to craft specific messaging to users when they are in the “consideration stage”.

Delivering a great message at the perfect time is part art, part science. We accomplished this through strategic retargeting advertisements. First, we mapped out all of the pages on the website that represent purchasing intent (for example, a pricing page) and retargeted those page visitors with specific messaging. We then repeated this process for all relevant pages a user could view on the website.

Did the user visit a page focusing on a specific sport? If so, we retargeted that user with testimonials about that specific sport.

By using these retargeting methods throughout the website, we drove down our average Cost Per Acquisition. In some cases, our retargeting ad sets would out perform our cold traffic by 4,685%.

Objective 3

Avoid 1-on-1 sales calls and nurture customers with email.

Just because you’ve collected a potential customer’s information does not mean the job is done.

For companies that use a “free trial business model,” there are 2 major email automations to have in place:

1 — Pre-Registration Automation

  • This automation is shown to potential customers who have opted-in to receive free PDFs, or who have purposefully signed up to receive more information from the company.
  • The goal of this email series is to provide value, build trust with the user, and prompt them to register for a free trial.
  • Here is an example sequence for Pre-Registration Automations:

2 — Free Trial Automation

  • This is shown to potential customers who have registered for a 20-day free trial of the product.
  • The goal of this is to help potential customers become comfortable using the product and to get the most value from it.
  • Here is an example sequence for SaaS free trials:

With these two sequences in place, we create a system that runs on autopilot and nurtures potential customers on their journey, making them more likely to take that next step with us.

Objective 4

Help the sales staff save time and cut down on data entry.

When you’re a startup company, it truly is all hands on deck. This company, like a lot of companies, had an email service provider that was separate from their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to help them run the business.

Although this original workflow was technically viable, it did create a few problems.

For example, once a potential customer would opt-in for an email, their info would be passed to the email provider, but not the CRM solution that the sales staff used.

This simple hiccup would require the sales team to spend hours manually entering data from the email provider into the CRM solution.

To solve this, we used a powerful tool called Zapier which integrates APIs for a variety of popular business tools. Then, with a variety of tweaks, filters and segments, we were able to pass all the necessary data throughout the company’s own ecosystem.

By mapping out an ideal process for the flow of data (and working with our developers to make it happen), we created a streamlined solution for the entire back-end of their business. This was crucial. This one action alone saved the company hundreds of billable hours and countless headaches. This also enables us to improve the accuracy of our reports through new access to the data.

The Punchline

By solving for these 4 major problems the business was facing, we helped them create streamlined processes for generating consistent leads that can be reported on and don’t require hundreds of hours of employee labor costs.