Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Niraj Ranjan Rout who is the founder of Hiver.

When people start companies, the first thing they focus on – Fundraising. I’d say that’s a big mistake.

Where should they focus instead? TRACTION.

There are various ways to define traction. The most important aspect of traction if you’re a paid product, is real paying customers whereas if you’re a free product, it’s real engaged customer base.

Even the tiniest bit of traction is enough for investors to overlook some of your deficiencies, and start trusting you. Traction is THE indication that your team can produce real results in a real market.

Coming to SaaS, the market has grown in leaps and bounds with both consumers and businesses displaying an insatiable appetite for easy access, and consumption of data. At the same time, it has become increasingly competitive with newer apps hitting the counter at a pounding rate. As a result, more and more newbies are shutting shop as consumers just won’t buy from them!

I wonder what most of them lack. Everyone has a good product, yes, everyone. What do most people fail to garner? Traction.

I built Hiver to facilitate team collaborations, and foster productivity, at work. The app has been around for over 4 years now, and we’ve learned some very handy lessons about building traction early on. All of which I will now delve into in this post.

Build something people WANT, iterate till you reach perfection

In all my experience, I have noticed one consumer trait that most people are hesitant to talk about: Users will always tell you what they WANT, and not what they NEED.

It is never a good idea to build a product based on what your prospective users tell you. Most people are not good at telling you about a product that they will definitely use.

Build a problem based on your instincts. Base your long term product roadmap on your understanding of market, the existence of a problem, and what you think can be the best way to solve the problem. It is way better to have the zest to solve a problem, rather than relying on a consumer survey.

The process:

  1. Build a product based on your instincts.
  2. Start marketing it instantly. You do not need a market fit. All you need to know is that the problem exists, and your product will solve it.
  3. Once you have a first set of users, talk to them.
  4. Try and understand what problems they’re facing, what else would they like your product to have.
  5. Based on what your users tell you, iterate. Iterate fast.

Give them a good product. Then improve it and you will eventually hit the spot where everyone’s happy with what you’ve built.

Understand your buyer’s mindset

Back to traction again. The only way to gain initial traction is by spotting the buyer in the right buying mode, and spending all your energies on them, and only them.

A buyer can exhibit three main buying modes:

  • Status Quo – the buyer is happy with what they currently use, and see no reason to change. How do you spot them – they just say NO. Stop there, do not waste your time.
  • Searching for alternatives – this person is unhappy, and is already talking to your competitors. How do you spot them? They will keep probing about how you are better than competition, why should they choose you and not them, they will compare price points. Now, these buyers might or might not convert depending on how well you clear their objections. A study conducted by Aberdeen says that your average close ratio for such decision makers is only 16%, not worth wasting time when you need the initial traction.
  • Window of dissatisfaction – they lie between the two modes. They know that the status quo is just not sufficient, but have also not had the time to do anything about it yet. A study conducted by Forrester states that your odds of winning with buyers in this zone is 74% – now this is where you need to spend all your energy when you want that initial traction.

How do you spot the window of dissatisfaction?

  • They will say – I am thinking of doing something about it, let’s talk in 2 – 3 months.
  • They will indicate that a problem does exist, but will not start talking about possible solutions yet.
  • They will not have a ton of questions ready for you.
  • They will tell you that they’ll come back after to their spouse/friends/anyone for that matter.

The bottomline is – they will indicate that they need a solution, but are nowhere close to a solution.

This is is the best kind of buyer to spend time on when you’re hustling for the initial traction.

Give them the perfect Landing Page

In SaaS, more than anything else, it’s the landing page that has the best chance to hook customers. You get the landing page right, it’s a job very-well-begun.

Here are some tips for a solid landing page:

  • The first image that the users see should very clearly communicate what the product is about.
  • The punchline should aim to address the problem that your product solves. Fluff is passe.
  • Have essential information upfront. More scrolls equals diminishing interest.
  • Make them feel comfortable right at the beginning – testimonials, happy faces.
  • Online chat. Need I say more. And please be online! Nobody likes a response time of 17 hours.
  • Numbers. Less words. Verbose is old school.

Pay close attention to User Onboarding

Getting the initial signups is not a big deal, everyone reaches there. What happens after the signup is the real deal.

The first step – create a user onboarding workflow for various categories of users. Read the user behavior, and customize the rest of the workflow accordingly.

Keep in mind: Do not hire a salesperson unless you have a decent revenue level. This will help you tweak the workflow better, as you now know your users better.

Some tips to nail user onboarding:

  • Make the sign-up process very easy.
  • Make your CTAs compelling.
  • Always give them a social login option.
  • Give them a quick product tour. The sooner they get comfortable, the better.
  • Send them a welcome email with all the resources they might need to learn how to use your product.
  • Have a retention/rewards program and tell your users about them right at the very beginning.
  • Always give them an option to invite friends right at the beginning. People love to preach you see.

Once you have the basic fundamentals in place, it makes sense to also give a good amount of attention to these unconventional tips for SaaS founders, from a SaaS founder.

Quick growth hacks

Let’s now move to some quick growth hacks that’ll help you get that initial traction.

  • Domain specific keywords – do extensive research to get relevant traffic, and not just any traffic.
  • Showcase your product to Influencers, and popular bloggers to get them to write about you. Here’s a great resource to outreach and guest posts from KISSmetrics.
  • Get customer testimonials – nothing works better than them.
  • Ask for money – do not wait for ages. Let them know that you are not a free product, as soon as you can.
  • Use KISSmetrics – See what hooks visitors. Don’t just analyze.
  • Intercom – Build behavior-based-engagement.

Conclusion

Investors need to carefully balance the risk and return of investing in startups. They understand the basic fact that most startups fail. This is why they want to see evidence of traction – a promise that can give them the push needed to fund you.

Remember that products never suck. It’s the traction that most fail to build.

Author – Niraj Ranjan Rout
Niraj is the founder of Hiver (formerly GrexIt), an app the lets you share Gmail labels with other Gmail users. Niraj works on programming, customer support and sales, and also contributes to design and UI. He’s a fusion music aficionado, loves to play the guitar when he can.

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Guest Blogger

This is a guest post written by one of our contributors.