We combed through 100s of the most influential business blog posts to bring you the 15 must-reads and their key takeaways for turning your startup into a marketing giant.
Software as a service hasn’t just revamped the tools and services businesses use to be successful; it’s changing every aspect of the business journey. These 15 articles reveal the key tools and lessons every entrepreneur needs to break through the congested tech marketplace. Don’t waste priceless time trudging through business decisions that companies before you have already gotten wrong and have since written about the best answer.
At an average of 3,834 words per post, I recommend book-marking this one for later.
I. MARKETING ESSENTIALS
by Priceonomics on December 09, 2015
Content Marketing is the new king of digital marketing. What most businesses don’t understand is the difference between content creation and actual Content Marketing that can drive your bottom line.
The all-too-common fallacy of “If you build it, they will come” causes businesses to write off blogging and social media altogether. In this guide from the marketing gurus at Priceonomics, you will learn what it means to build an audience that trusts you, and how to generate qualified leads rather than likes with content marketing.
Why you need to read it: Writing content is a calculated science. It requires a hypothesis, market research, knowledge of your target audience, a plan backed by data, a manicured distribution strategy and flawless execution. This guide is a fantastic place to start.
About the blog: Priceonomics’ first post hit number 1 in Hacker News and they have recently published this amazing 30,000+ word article on how to write about information and make it spread.
by Hubspot on May 25, 2015
Before “Content Marketing” was a discipline worthy of its own title, it fell under the keyed term “Inbound Marketing”. Believe it or not, inbound’s core marketing theory around traffic generation and data tracked conversion funnels is a fairly new concept, developed by Hubspot. With this post, you will learn how to constrain the number of users who never make it past step 1 of your funnel once they hit your site.
- Your design is outdated: psychologist and researcher Dr. Elizabeth Sillence asked people to rate the trustworthiness of certain websites on hypertension. 94% of wary respondents attributed their uneasiness to the website’s design.
- Your content is difficult to read: Keep your font readable and make sure it’s easy to read
- Your site relies on outdated plugins: Use HTML5 for all of your videos and try to minimize plugins and add-ons so you are not constantly updating your site.
- You’re overwhelming people with ads: A Neilsen study shows that people trust all forms of traditional advertising more than online banner ads. Limit the number of ads, if possible, to increase your credibility.
- The videos on your site auto-play: Just don’t do it. Ever.
- Your navigation structure in unclear: You need to minimize your websites complexity and look at it through the eyes of your customer. Sit with someone who has never been on your website and ask them to find certain pieces of information.
- Your registration requirements are unclear: Get the minimum amount of data possible for your users to sign-up. While it is important for analysis, it can create a giant barrier to entry. Expedia earned an extra $12 million by removing one data field.
- Your site lacks personality: Create a brand identity. Do not be generic and look like every other poor site out there.
- Your site is slow to load: Kissmetrics did an analysis that states “40% abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.”
- Your gated offers aren’t relevant or appealing: “If you see traffic patterns that indicate visitors are arriving on your landing pages and bouncing, there’s a good chance they aren’t connecting with the offer you’re pitching.”
- Reasons 11-16 can be found on their blog.
About Hubspot’s Marketing Blog: You may think “Hubspot Marketing” blog is redundant, but it’s an important clarification that separates it from its equally popular Sales and Agency blogs. Hubspot’s recent posts feed reads almost like a Twitter feed with the amount of quailty, well designed articles produced each day.
by Buffer.com on April 30, 2015
The Marketing Technology Landscape is about as congested as the New York subway system – and probably just as smelly. As a young startup it can be overwhelming what tools, chrome extensions, slackbots, or platforms to even begin with on the marketing side. More importantly, every penny counts.
Plan A: The all-in-one social media budget
- Social media scheduling
- Audience research
- Sharing buttons
Plan B: Invest in education
- Great books to read
- Helpful ebooks and blogs
- Great communities to join
- Miscellaneous resources
Plan C: Advertising-focused
- Facebook Ads
- Twitter Ads
- LinkedIn Ads
Buffer dives into all of these elements with an amazing amount of detail and breadth. It’s a bit meta to include them in this post, since they’ve compiled a similar list exclusively around building you marketing engine.
To boil almost 3,000 words into 3 key takeaways:
- Spend money on what you can not do well
- Spend money on what takes you the most time
- Spend money where it will get you more money to spend.
About Buffer & its blog: is the best way to drive traffic, increase fan engagement, and save time on social media. They have an amazing social media blog which has everything from studies that show when is the best time to tweet all the way to how to the best way to use emojis.
by Kissmetrics on September 04
You can’t have effective content marketing without effective SEO. You can’t have effective SEO without content marketing. Content is king and its chariot is SEO. People look at them as entirely separate but as stated by Kissmetrics, they are like PB&J. Yes they can both be delicious separately, but together there is nothing else out there quite like it. SEO creates the demand for your content and your content is the supply. Here are the key takeaways from this excellent Kissmetrics article.
- SEO states the requirements. Content marketing fulfills them.
- SEO demands content. Content marketing is content.
- SEO demands keywords. Content marketing means using keywords.
- SEO demands linkbacks. Content marketing introduces linkbacks.
- SEO demands onsite technical optimization. Content marketing needs great UX.
- SEO demands consistent output. Content marketing requires consistent.
About Kissmetrics and the Blog: Kissmetrics is one of the premier blogs for analytics, marketing, and testing. It has a bunch of great blog posts and links to various forms of content marketing ideas and utilization. Whether you are a content marketing veteran or a newb, Kissmetrics is a great place to start.
by Tomasz Tunguz on October 22, 2014
In an interview with Bill Macaitis (former Cheif Marketing Officer at Zendesk), Tomasz Tunguz outlines the 9 marketing disciplines that helped ZenDesk become the marketing giant it is today.
- Ops & Analytics Team: This is the first and most important team every SaaS company should have. This team figures out what are the most important metrics are and which marketing efforts are the most successful. Without this, you might as well be a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board of ideas.
- Customer Evangelism: There should be three goals of every customer evangelism team. Identify the evangelists, tend to the evangelist relationships, and use this evangelism to accelerate brand awareness.
- Content: Content can come from anyone in your organization but is important for any SaaS company. You need to focus on top, middle, and bottom of funnel content to be effective.
- Paid: Paid marketing, in Bill’s view, is not the most important but is very useful in targeted marketing. if you are really trying to penetrate a certain market segment, use paid marketing to help with this.
- Website/Conversion Team: AKA Growth Hacking
- Product Marketing: Increase your customer’s perceived value and you will be able to increase the price of your product.
- Lifecycle Nurturing: More than half of the customer’s revenue potential occurs after the customer starts to pay. Make sure you keep these customers engaged.
- Comms: or Marketing Communications for PR management, brand strategy, image, and narrative.
- International: At scale, it is essential that your marketing team has native speakers to the new countries you are trying to bring onboard.
About Tomasz & his blog: Tomasz Tunguz is a partner at Redpoint and writes daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups including how to fund raise, startup benchmarks, management best practices and team building.
by Mattermark on September 02, 2015
Quora is the #139th most trafficked website in the entire world. That means it has more traffic that Yelp, Zillow, and Weather.com. It has already passed Huffington Post this year and is currently projected to pass BuzzFeed by year’s end. Even though it is one of the most popular sites in the world, it is still relatively unknown.
Noteworthy Quora channels:
- Technology (5.3 million followers)
- Science(4.4 million)
- Business (3.8 million) are the #1, #2, and #4 most-followed topics overall on the platform.
- Other Top Communities: Startups, Computer Science, Entrepreneurship, and Software Engineering
What you’ll learn:
There are a lot of reasons why you should be on Quora, whether it is to look up a specific question, network, or to post your own content to help drive traffic to your site and share industry knowledge. Here is Mattermark’s and Patrick Mathieson’s 12 steps to becoming a Quora guru. It is tailored mostly to VC’s but can be practical for anyone looking to take advantage of the vast benefits of Quora.
- Start by Lurking: Learn about how the site works by first reading a bunch of content that is published on there.
- Ease your way into writing: Start with non-professional topics first to write about and work your way up from there.
- When you’re ready to write about professional topics, be ambitious: Seek out questions that are intimidating. There is probably a reason there is not already an answer out there, because it’s intimidating and there probably no one set answer.
- You are not the PR department for your firm: People want to listen to actual people and their insights. A marketing campaign can be easily spotted.
- Be humble. Be Brave: Don’t worry if you get anything wrong. It is very easy to edit your post and add in corrections. P.S.- Acknowledge whoever helped you out with your mistake.
- Identify a whitespace: Find an area that has low supply and not many people are writing about it. Especially in the startup space, there are a lot of holes still left to fill.
- “Brand” yourself accordingly: Think about how you want to be portrayed and use your bio page to help you with this.
- Identify and replicate the commonalities in highly-upvoted answers: Enough said.
- Be accessible: If people ask questions, try to respond to them in a timely manner or at least leave an upvote to acknowledge the reader.
About Mattermark & the blog: Mattermark’s daily blog leverages notable market influencers and Venture Capital investors to regularly churn out evergreen content. Mattermark is organizing the world’s business information to help dealmakers answer questions about companies they’d like to do business with. Every day, businesses are turning to Mattermark to research companies to invest in, partner with, or sell to.
II. Metrics & Analytics
by SaaStr on December 12, 2012
Predicting the future is hard. Fortunately, SaaStr has come up with sure-fire way to hit your sales goals. The solution? Optimizing for Lead Velocity Rate or (LVR), or, focusing on month over month growth in NEW qualified leads.
What you’ll learn:
- “If you set as a top corporate metric growing your LVR about 10-20% greater than your desired MRR growth — and you have a consistent sales team — you’ll hit your revenue goals.”
- “And the great thing about LVR is while sales may ultimately have a quarterly variance, and while a lost renewal can hurt — there’s no reason leads can’t grow every single month like clockwork. Every single month.”
If for some reason your leads keep growing, but you are not able to increase your sales conversion, there are two fundamental problems you may need to address:
- The Sales Team: If it has changed or there has been a decrease in quality, it is time to make some big changes from a human resources standpoint.
- If the sales team has been the same or consistent, then this means you have a product problem. Your competitors are bigger, stronger, and faster than you.
About the blog: SaaStr began in 2012 as a simple attempt via a WordPress blog, together with a few answers on Quora, to help share back Jason M. Lemkin’s learnings of going from $0 to $100m ARR with the next generation of great SaaS and B2B entrepreneurs. It has since gone on to become perhaps the largest web community of SaaS founders and entrepreneurs, with over 2.5M views per month across the web, and over 16 million+ views on Quora.
by Andreessen Horowitz on August 21, 2015
One of the most popular articles from Andreessen Horowitz that give the the 16 most useful and important metrics to rely on for your SaaS start-up. Andreesen Horowitz not only tells you which ones you need to use but why they are important and common mistakes made when calculating them. They cover everything from Churn to the difference between Organic and Inorganic Customer Acquisition Cost. Here’s a look at the top 16 they have listed:
Business and Financial Metrics
1. Bookings vs. Revenue
2. Recurring Revenue vs. Total Revenue
3. Gross Profit
4. Total Contract Value (TCV) vs. Annual Contract Value (ACV)
5. LTV (Life Time Value)
6. Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) vs. Revenue
7. Unearned or Deferred Revenue … and Billings
8. CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) … Blended vs. Paid, Organic vs. Inorganic
Product and Engagement Metrics
9. Active Users
10. Month-on-month (MoM) growth
12. Burn Rate
Presenting Metrics Generally
14. Cumulative Charts (vs. Growth Metrics)
15. Chart Tricks
16. Order of Operations
“Andreessen Horowitz backs bold entrepreneurs who move fast, think big, and are committed to building the next major franchises in technology. Founded by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the firm provides entrepreneurs with access to expertise and insights in innovation, executive and technical talent, market intelligence, policy and regulatory affairs, business development, and marketing and brand-building.” -a16z.com
III. Sales & Pricing
by process.st on December 3, 2015
When analyzing 250 pricing pages from some the world’s most profitable SaaS companies, Process St.’s Benjamin Brandall found some major trends. The most notable being that most SaaS companies do not have a pricing page, and it is not a coincidence. Among other design, web interface, and copy trends, the overall absence of pricing pages teaches an important lesson about price ambiguity for Saas companies.
- Deals get more complicated as you grow. Eventually, you will not be able to quantify it without having direct contact with the potential client.
- Affords a more fluid pricing model as you hone in on proper market prices. In other words, pricing is hard, and most startups guess, even Hubspot’s CEO Dharmesh Shah agrees.
- For most enterprises, price comes after features.
- Pricing can make your product look cheap and not enterprise friendly.
About Process Street & blog: Process Street is a simple, free, and powerful way to manage your team’s recurring checklists and procedures. They have an excellent blog with a lot of helpful info. Ben Wrote a guest post for us on how to create the best blog post headlines and it was one of our best performing posts to date!
by Price Intelligently on July 28, 2015
Even if you have the most talented team on the planet with a polished product, you will fail if you do not understand your prospective customer. It’s like trying to shove a unicorn-shaped peg into a round, possibly triangular, possibly star-shaped hole. As you will learn on the Price Intelligently blog, you need to ask, listen, and analyze the answers before you go to market. Once you’ve done so, you still have a long way to go in utilizing what you know about your customers to launch a successful product:
Quantify your buyer personas
Start by identifying different buyer personas including their willingness to pay, their favorite feature, where you can find them, their LTV and who they report to. These are tough questions to answer about each of your personas and your answers should always be evolving. Make sure you are revisiting your initial personas and continuing to add onto them as you get more data/customers.
Deepen the buyer personas
Which persona is going to have the biggest impact on moving the business forward? You need to figure out which persona is most likely to buy and the exact problem they are facing. Price Intelligently put together this reference chart for you to go deeper into your personas and challenge your previous assumptions.
Determine the best fix and plan implementation
There are different problems and solutions for each of your personas but you need a consistent framework for brainstorming ideas and planning minimum viable tests (MVTs) to validate your initial thoughts. Price Intelligently made a framework for this and it goes as follow:
Step One: Determine which problem you’re attacking and quantify that problem with a goal.
Example: Our LTV/CAC ratio is declining and we want to work to improve our LTV while keeping CAC constant. Let’s shoot for increasing LTV by 10%.
Step Two: Determine the cause(s) through the data you’re collecting. You’ll likely find more questions than answers, but you absolutely will find the axes on which the metric you’re trying to improve that are problem areas.
Example: We found that one target buyer persona is willing to pay much more for their target plan, and another is willing to pay much less for their target plan. Also, we’re giving away too much of our value metric, since no one is hitting their limits and needing to upgrade.
Step Three: Design MVTs that work to solve the cause of those problems. Logically you can’t solve a problem; you have to solve a cause. Your MVTs should work to attack the data surrounding your causes, as much as possible.
Example: Here are the MVTs we can run in 2-4 week sprints
1. Replace our highest plan with “Contact Us”
2. Pitch “Contact Us” folks with higher priced plans
3. Adjust price, tracking conversion rates against profit
4. Lower the value metric thresholds
5. Let’s curb all discounts by 10%
About This Blog: We polled 0 founders but can safely assume that they can all agree on one thing – figuring out pricing sucks. That’s what makes the Price Intelligently blog so valuable. CEO Patrick Cambell and his team of pricing gurus expertly craft actionable blog posts that focus on making SaaS pricing easy to understand. It’s a must read for all SaaS founders.
by Both Sides of The Table on April 3, 2014
A major key to any great SaaS company is its sales force (we think DJ Khaled would agree). The only way to hire, leverage, and motivate your sales team is to understand the mindset or incentives of a sales rep. In “Both Sides Of The Table,” Mark Suster uses his own experience to help you create a great sales team and get the most out of them.
- Salespeople often blame the product: You need to give your sales team Objection Handling. People are not buying features, they are buying the company, the sales rep, and the company culture. You need to make sure you give your sales rep enough money to help portray this.
- Salespeople will often blame your pricing: Customers pay for value, not price. Your sales team needs to be able to sell and show the customer how much more valuable your product is than anyone else. Do not give them too much price discrepancy, the loss in commission from a sales rep lowering price is probably worth the easy sell to him but much more damaging to the company.
- Salespeople will often sell future development work Don’t let your salespeople sell extra features that you have not already developed. Instead use this information to help guide your future features.
- Salespeople will often exaggerate the strength of competitors
- Sales people will always ask for more sales support: You need your salespeople to roll up their sleeves and be scrappy. Everyone needs extra support and your sales force needs to understand that.
- Salespeople will always tell you their quotas are too high: It’s part of the game. You are going to ask for high goals to push your sales force, they know this and will push back. It’s no hard feelings for each party and you need to mkae sure to set goals that are lofty but not insane.
- General Management Tips: Pay your sales force well, give them adequate training, and roll up your sleeves and sell with them. They pay the bills and they know this. There are 100 other sales jobs out there they can get if their not taken care of. Finally, don’t be cheap. Salespeople are the highest paid people in every organization. Give them enough spending money to do their job effectively without breaking the bank.
About the blog: Both Sides was founded by Mark Suster who is a 2x founder turned VC. He joined Upfront Ventures in 2007 as a General Partner after selling his company to Salesforce.com.
by Chaotic Flow on November 16, 2010
Price and complexity define a strategic spectrum of sales approaches for SaaS startups that gravitate strongly toward three distinct SaaS sales models: self-service, transactional and enterprise.
Your Average Selling Price might be the most important metric in your SaaS model. It is the intersection of supply and demand and tells your customers, the public, and your staff the value of your product. The higher the price, the more value you need to add and the more risk you take on. Complexity is also the biggest crutch to your development of a product. The more complex the product and sales process, the more declined revenue you will receive. When complexity forces you into a SaaS sales model where the costs exceed your ASP, your business is destined for the SaaS Startup Graveyard. There are only three ways out of the SaaS Graveyard: Increase Velocity, Increase Value, & Increase Profit.
Three SaaS Sales Models:
- Customer Self Service: Achieving significant revenue at a low price point naturally entails driving complexity and cost out of the purchase to clear the floodgates for high volume. The ideal SaaS sales model is complete customer self-service.
- Transactional Sales: As price increases, customers become less willing to part with their cash without at least knowing there are actual trustworthy human beings behind your website URL. The risk-driven need for a more interpersonal business relationship drives the SaaS sales model away from customer self-service into a transactional sales model characterized by efficient, high volume sales and support operations, short sales cycles, and rapid onboarding.
- Enterprise Sales: Some SaaS startups have products that provide so much value per customer and are so complex to buy that their natural starting point is traditional enterprise sales.
About: Joel York is the founder of Chaotic Flow and has been making and marketing B2B software for the better part of the last 20 years for a wide range of companies and products including SaaS, enterprise and desktop across an even wider range of industry sectors (marketing, financial services, supply chain, security, business intelligence, etc.).
IV. Onboarding & Customer Support
by Kevin Dewalts Blog on January 29, 2014
“Helpful Marketing is a strategy to win customers by proving you help them solve problems,” says Kevin Dewalt on his accredited blog. According to his analysis, there have been three large marketing movements in the past century: Mass Consumer Marketing, Permission Marketing & Helpful Marketing.
Why you should read:
- Mass Consumer Marketing: This is basically your Don Draper style marketing where bigger, brighter, and smarter won the advertising game. Think of Times Square
- Permission Marketing: Once the internet came around, consumers began spending more and more time consuming just what they wanted. This led to marketing through opt-in emails, and newsletters once you visit someone’s site. Why is it dead? You get countless of emails a day that you constantly disregard as spam. It is very hard to grab a customer’s attention through this.
- Helpful Marketing: This is where you provide relevant content
About Kevin & his blog: Kevin is a career startup journeyman. He’s made the transition from founder to mentor to investor. We recently featured one of Kevin’s pro-level Slack Hacks.
by Sixteen Ventures on October 27, 2014
Even if you build a substantial community around your business through content and meaningful engagement, it’s meaningless without product execution and value-add services. That’s why Customer Onboarding is essential to your business’ success. This is where you being to deliver on your promise to make your customers more successful. And Lincoln Murphy knows exactly how to deliver flawlessly in his post on the secrets of successful customer onboarding.
Here’s a snapshot:
The first step to successful onboarding occurs long before you what your customers desired outcome from your free trial. AKA you need to know what is most important to your customer. What is their perceived value of your product and what constitutes a successful free trial for them, not for you. Not sure what success looks like for them? ASK. Here are a few questions layed out by sixteenventures to help you get started
- What is their Desired Outcome?
- How do they measure success themselves?
- How are they measured by their boss?
- what are they trying to achieve with your product?
Set milestones for yourself and your customers. Once you have milestones based on your customers perceived value, it’ll make creating email or in-app lifecycle messages easier and results in them being much more effective.
About Lincoln Murphy & Sixteen Ventures blog: SixteenVentures is one of the most popular start-up blogs on the internet and is founded by Lincoln Murphy. Since 2006 Lincoln Murphy has directly helped 300+ SaaS companies accelerate their growth by optimizing the Customer Lifecycle, from customer acquisition to retention. He’s contributed to, written for, or been featured in Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, Sandhill.com, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, GrowthHacker.tv, OpenView Labs, Read Write, ChiefExecutive.net, SoftwareCEO, Venture Beat, Venture Hacks, and ZDNet.
by First Round
Tech publications need great content, just like you. In this post from First Round Capital’s blog, First Round review Brooke Hammerling breaks down how to build relations to gain press when the time comes. Hammerling is the founder of Brew Media Relations, and previously worked with companies like WordPress, Wealthfront and Oracle. We followed this process to earn a feature on Venture Beat, one of the top tech journals in the world.
You are your message & your message is everything
The first thing you should do when thinking about your PR strategy, is make sure that your company messaging is aligned. A great way to do this is to separate everyone in your company including investors and ask them “What are you? Why are you? Who are you? What problems are you solving and how are you solving it? Why should people care right now?” The goal of this exercise is to understand the differences, overlaps and keywords within your company’s messaging.
Build a messaging document
This document should be your learnings from the previous exersize. It can be as detailed as necessary but it is important to start the documents with one clear sentence that explains your company. Make sure that everyone in your company has a copy of this for future reference.
Drawing analogies is a rookie crutch
Lots of companies like to call themselves the Twitter for X or the Uber for Y but Hammerling believes that this takes away from your company’s real brand. It is important to tell your unique story and to boil it down to 1 crystal clear message. It sounds easier than it really is, however it is important to take your complex concept into a single idea.
Avoid timing your launch with a funding announcement
You want to avoid launching your product at the same time as your funding announcement. A large round raises expectations of your product and a small round lowers the expectations. The amount of money you raise can easily influence what your customers can expect from your product and how likely you are to succeed. Make sure you give your product a chance to stand on its own.
About First Round & Review: First Round Capital is a premier Venture Capital fund in NYC. They are focused on helping seed stage companies become the next big thing. Some of their investments include Adaptly, BirchBox, Uber and Refinery29.
Also published on Medium.