Growth Hacking: the new secret sauce for enterprise SaaS

By on January 30, 2017

Ever wondered how companies like Slack, Stripe and Dropbox were able to grow their user base incredibly quickly, and effortlessly? Aside from having great products, they were able to master the art of growth hacking – an omnipresent yet somewhat misunderstood art of building viral elements into your products. It is relevant for both B2C and B2B contexts, but for the most part still has a low profile from an enterprise standpoint. Nonetheless, Growth Hacking as a topic has gained a lot of traction over recent years, and is now responsible for a burgeoning category of marketing and books in tech.

First, a quick definition:

Growth hacking refers to a set of both conventional and unconventional marketing experiments that lead to growth of a business. Growth hackers are marketers, engineers and product managers that specifically focus on building and engaging the user base of a business (source: Wikipedia).

Note that Growth Hacking is not simply a marketing exercise; it requires vision and input from everyone involved in creating your enterprise SaaS product. A classic example of growth hacking was the signature that Hotmail put at the bottom of every email. This was a feature added in, perhaps originally by a cheeky developer, but went on to become a key driver for growth in the service’s early days:


Apple’s iconic white headphones and laptop designs represent more great examples – the first time you saw them, you couldn’t help but recognize how different they were from the boring black products provided by their competitors. Dropbox’s referral plan that gave you more storage space every time you referred a friend was a hit. The best growth hacking techniques do three major things at once:

  1. They make an early adopter user seem smart to the people they invite/refer.
  2. They give significant value to the user when the people they invite/refer.
  3. They give significant value to the people that are invited once they sign up/purchase.

Here are some current enterprise SaaS growth hacking techniques:


  1. Creating features useful for the whole enterprise: Your app or service will have a primary user group, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t build in features that can be leveraged by the entire enterprise. For example; a CRM might be targeted towards sales teams, but it could also send regular sales updates and reports to the entire organization.
  2. Premium feature free-trials, upgrades and teasers: Free trials of more advanced features, or intermittent availability of said features will show users that the service can add more value as long as they upgrade. This technique can create demand for the product in the line of normal use.
  3. Pro-actively onboarding of users: Hands up if you received an email update from Owler or a similar site, despite having no recollection of ever signing up. A few clicks and confirmations later and you are a full blown member and leveraging all of its capabilities. The secret here is that savvy services build targeted lists of users to reach out to, and they remove most barriers of entry for them to start using the service. It is fast, simple, and value is delivered instantly which can create a regular user with one taste.
  4. Give something to get something: Notice how Quora and Glassdoor make you sign up before you can get full value out of the site. This is another technique borrowed from the B2C/consumer world whereby you must always give something to get something free in return. This constraint creates a viral effect as the user base expands.
  5. Integration across apps: The more other apps or systems you can sync with in a meaningful way, the more value you add – like an ecosystem. For example, Front, an email app for teams seamlessly integrates into Salesforce, Slack and Twilio, among dozens of other apps that they know are being used by their users. This way, users of these other systems will soon find out about it, and may want or even need to sign up.

There is no one-size-fits all or silver bullets to growth hacking. Successful tactics depend largely on your product and user base. Experimentation plays a large part. The key point is that it is not simply a marketing exercise, or something that can necessarily be brought in quickly if a strategy hasn’t been planned out. Everyone involved in the product creation – from development, sales, marketing and ops should understand that Growth Hacking techniques are key to the early growth of a product, and with the right focus can often help a business grow exponentially.


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Nick Milani
Redwood City, CA

Hi, I'm Nick. My career has been built on working with tech inside large enterprises. Here I write about it. Outside of work, I love the outdoors, big engines, gaming, writing, heavy metal and 80s action movies. BSc, MBA. This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.


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