Today’s guest in our “Learn from” series: Dmitry Dragilev. He helped companies such as HubSpot, Pipedrive, Wistia, and many more, rank #1 on Google. He also used SEO to grow a startup from 0 to 40M pageviews a month that got acquired by Google. He is also the founder of JustReachOut.io — an SEO tool which makes backlink outreach a breeze. It’s currently used by 5000+ content marketers to build links and pitch podcasters, bloggers & journalists without SEO Agencies or PR firms. So, when Dmitry is talking about how to grow a business, he knows what’s he’s talking about.
Are you struggling to grow your business?
Building any high-growth startup is challenging, but there are a few pitfalls that slow down nearly every entrepreneur.
Thankfully, they’re pitfalls you can overcome—if you learn how. Today, I’ll share how I’ve grown a successful SaaS business and the five biggest mistakes I’ve discovered that every entrepreneur should avoid.
How I bootstrapped a SaaS startup (and what I learned along the way)
In 2014, I founded JustReachOut.
JustReachOut helps founders connect with journalists and build PR for the brands. Our model is similar to most B2B software businesses—someone who’s interested schedules a demo and subscribes monthly.
But along the way, we hit plenty of roadblocks and made a number of major mistakes. Learning from those experiences gave me insight I’d like to pass along to you about finding and converting leads the right way.
Now let’s get on to those 5 mistakes you should avoid…
Mistake #1 – Focusing on getting leads instead of fixing retention
The first lesson I learned is focusing on the growth metrics that really matter.
Every business needs to get great ROI from marketing, especially startups. It’s no wonder that ROI is the top concern for CMOs and brand managers, with 98% saying it keeps them up at night.
But when we take ROI and make it concrete, the solution becomes vague. Most people think a smart ROI mindset is “grow, grow, grow,” but that’s only partly true: growth only works if you find new customers you can keep.
That’s why it’s a mistake to only focus on getting new leads.
We found that fixing retention and churn is a better way to spend your money. Keeping the average customer around for even an extra month or two can mean five, six, or even seven figures of additional business revenue over the long term.
And improving retention is usually more affordable than acquisition. You aren’t paying ads, running partnerships, or finding new opportunities. You’re just leveraging the strengths of your existing team to improve the customer experience.
And that is what reducing churn is all about: the customer experience. Customers tend to start because they want results, but leave because they aren’t happy with how they’re treated.
Have conversations with former customers who are leaving and understand why. Dedicate time to improving even small complaints from customers who leave.
To succeed with a business that runs on recurring revenue, focus on retention, not just new leads.
Now that your business keeps customers loyal and happy, we need to turn to nurturing leads.
Mistake # 2. Miscommunication between support and sales
Speaking of focusing on retention, one of the best ways to keep your retention rates high and set yourself apart from the competition is a solid system for sharing communication between sales and support.
This may sound simple but it’s easy to get wrong. For example, is your live chat software flagging requests from existing customers? Are you getting the context of previous conversations when someone reaches out?
You will struggle with streamlined communication until you have a good system.
We found that an omnichannel solution helped us the most to synchronize support and sales. We integrated several different technologies all into one communications platform.
For example, we combined HelpScout with HubSpot using Zapier, tying everything together.
Where it shines most for us has been having a help desk, VoIP phone system, live chat, SMS text and CRM all in one. We’ve been delivering a much better customer experience using this method.
We can pick up customer conversations right where we left off, even through different channels. Incoming requests are matched to the relevant customer data. And we can deliver customer support that feels seamless.
If you’re just starting, you might be able to get along without an omnichannel solution, but it’s only a matter of time. Start looking for a communications tool like this now and upgrade as soon as possible to move your business forward.
Synchronized communication delivers a better customer experience that affects everything, from retention to customer satisfaction to conversion.
Mistake #3 – Incorrect tracking and attribution
How often do you get a new prospect and have no idea how they found you?
If you’re like most startups, it happens all the time. For example: let’s say you’re running a Google ads campaign on your WordPress site you might be getting leads from that, but at the same time you might be doing webinars and newsletters and you might be getting leads from that effort as well.
Tracking software can do a great job, but it isn’t as effective as you might think. For example let’s say: someone learned about your tool from an ad but signed up for the tool three days later after they read your newsletter.
Focused landing pages do a much better job of tracking your leads, and help you track people who find you in ways you wouldn’t expect.
For example, we have a partnership offer with Silicon Valley Bank. It’s a straightforward landing page that targets customers of a bank that appeals to entrepreneurs—a win-win for both of us.
But let’s say an SVB customer sees our offer and clicks on the page. But instead of scheduling a demo, they signed up for our newsletter. They forward information to the CEO, who reads third-party reviews and the pricing page on mobile, then signs up for a demo the following week on their desktop computer.
Scenarios like this are more common than you’d think. And they’re nearly impossible to track.
The solution? Asking people how they found you. We’ve learned it’s an excellent tool to help break through the confusion of automatic attribution.
And for even more detailed information, leave it as a text box, not a multiple-choice question. Have each lead write how they found you in their own words. You’ll learn a lot, and robably be surprised with the unexpected ways people discover your brand.
One advantage of this method is that you’ll spot new opportunities for marketing. And another benefit is that it’ll give you valuable information you can use to segment properly and present the right offers to the right people at the right time.
But tracking and attribution are only as valuable as the leads you can qualify.
Mistake #4 – Not qualifying leads with questions
I see a lot of founders focusing on the number of prospects they bring in. Leads are essential, don’t get me wrong, but they can become a vanity metric if you’re not measuring conversion rates.
What matters is sales, and it’s impossible to run a lean sales team if they’re spending most of their time on leads that will never buy.
We’ve found that one of the best ways to convert leads is by asking questions. A lot of questions. Seven, to be exact—plus contact details, here is how our “book demo” page looks like:
There is a great article on the Colibri blog titled “The Chronicles of WordPress Lead Generation” with more examples on the topic.
Many marketers focus on reducing the questions in signup forms to get more leads, and we certainly lose prospects because of how much we ask.
But our thought process is that if someone isn’t willing to spend 1-2 minutes filling this out, they aren’t interested in our product (and probably aren’t worth 30+ minutes of our time in a demo).
So it works as a filter. But it also pre-qualified leads with a lot of detail. For example, we ask about their budget for the next six months, whether they have a dedicated content person on their staff, and more. We’ve found these factors determine whether or not someone will succeed with our product.
We can immediately see who’s a perfect fit for JustReachOut, and who might not be ready for it (yet).
If you want to start converting more leads, try this method. Ask more qualifying questions in the signup process. If you’re worried about losing too many prospects, give it a test and see how well these pre-qualified leads perform.
And those qualifying questions have another advantage. They help us target leads more directly.
Mistake #5 – Forgetting to personalize and segment
The next mistake is not customizing the experience enough for each lead. Once someone has expressed interest, you need to make that journey unique and valuable.
Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
Segmentation divides your leads into groups, like one-person solopreneurs versus medium-sized businesses. Personalization is customizing each message, like using their name or referencing previous conversations.
It’s nearly impossible to segment and personalize by hand. That’s why I recommend automation software to help.
One of the simplest ways to do so is by utilizing the lead intake form we talked about earlier and simply adding multiple fields to segment your target audience and personalize follow ups.
At JustReachOut we used a WordPress form, then used Zapier to connect different parts of our funnel without needing to intervene. For example, a simple Zap connected new leads to ConvertKit, ready to send a welcome message.
This message is part of a sequence that builds rapport with new customers and onboards them to our software. But you can create an email series to interact with any kind of prospect or customer, from warming up new leads to building an intro sequence to your newsletter.
And you can also personalize with most email platforms, including ConvertKit. Any information you collect, like their first name or business, can make your emails that much more relevant.
Over time, you’ll learn better and better ways to customize your message for your audience. Start segmenting now and test as you go on.
But great personalization extends beyond just automation.
The final word on mistakes to avoid
There’s a lot to learn when growing your business. And thankfully, the fastest way to learn those lessons is from those of us who have gone before.
As I’ve grown my business, I’ve learned that the key to long-term growth is less about bringing in leads and more about how we treat them once they show up. We need to make sure they’re qualified, even if it means fewer leads passed on to the sales team.
We need to track, attribute, personalize, and segment better. And we need to keep our paying customers around with great support and high retention rates.
Building a business isn’t easy, but if you avoid some common pitfalls, you can speed up the journey.
I’ve helped companies such as Realtor.com, HubSpot, Backlinko, Pipedrive, Wistia, CultureAmp rank #1 on Google. I used SEO to grow a startup from 0 to 40M pageviews a month and got acquired by Google.
I’m the founder of JustReachOut.io — an SEO tool which makes backlink outreach a breeze. It’s currently used by 5000+ content marketers to build links and pitch podcasters, bloggers & journalists without SEO Agencies or PR firms.
I’m the founder of PRThatConverts.com – an online SEO and PR coaching program with 800+ students from 25+ countries.