Framework Fatigue: SaaS Growth Simplified
The number of made-up frameworks to drive SaaS growth has hit peak insanity.
- Ham and cheese sandwich-led 🥪
Okay, that last one only grows my waistline.
But now that you’ve read it, would it surprise you to see a cold LinkedIn InMail about Ham and Cheese Sandwich-led growth within a day of reading this article?
No, it wouldn’t. 🙄
The proliferation of these frameworks exists because driving consistent growth is more challenging than it was.
People will grab anything they think will make that path clearer, smoother, and faster.
Unfortunately, these frameworks usually make it more difficult.
Why? Mainly for three reasons:
- First, they usually put one function above all others.
And in this climate where businesses scrutinize every budget, being ‘the second favorite’ has gone from being un-fun to an existential threat.
- Second, there’s no standard for what these names mean.
Three people arguing over what product-led or sales-led means they will have at least five definitions for each.
- And lastly, none of them puts the most important thing first: the people!
People create software. People sell software to people. And people solve the problems with the product when the unexpected happens.
SaaS companies grow because people work together to make that happen. ChatGPT hasn’t changed that yet, and it won’t anytime soon.
So what do you do?
Forget the frameworks and get back to these three forever-valuable fundamentals.
1. Connection Through Context
At the earliest stages of a company, individuals drive growth. When businesses have up to 10 or 20 people, information flows fluidly between people, the team quickly makes decisions collectively, and everyone uses the same scoreboard to evaluate success.
But all that breaks down once the business hits 50 or 100 people.
That’s because a business is not a puzzle of individual pieces. It’s a system of interconnected parts. When the business is small, individuals are the pieces, but at a certain point of scale, teams take over, roles get more focused and specialized, and coordination becomes incredibly challenging.
A hundred people collaborating as 100 individuals does not work.
At that scale, it’s more important than ever to have artifacts that give the right people clear and consistent context on who your business serves and how they use your product in their context.
There are two artifacts your business can’t thrive without.
Ideal Customer Profiles
Translating core user experiences into a value story for the buyer often falls to sales. But part of a tech company’s job is to help everyone in the customer journey—buyers, admins, and users—recognize the product’s value.
Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) outline the common attributes of your most successful customers and the opportunities and challenges of the people that drive the buying decision.
A strong ICP creates visibility into buyer needs such that your business can appropriately prioritize their needs alongside core user needs. To be clear, buyers don’t need to use the product, but they need to believe it will help their business achieve whatever goal it’s supposed to. An ICP helps define who is best suited to “get” your product and how you can best position your product with them.
This context helps the business determine what and how much to invest in streamlining and enhancing the buyer experience to create the most straightforward path from initial customer interaction to activated users.
Customer Journeys and KPIs
Then, take your ICP a layer deeper by outlining the actual and ideal Customer Journey they experience with your business. The customer journey is a visual storyline for how the customer discovers, adopts, and engages with a product (or service or brand).
Why is the customer journey so important? Because building “the perfect product” means nothing without the continuum of buyer engagement.
If buyers don’t buy or they churn because of low adoption or utilization, your “perfect product” isn’t so perfect.
The customer journey gives clear context on essential questions like:
- How and when does the buyer experience the problem your product solves?
- How will they remember your product when that problem arises?
- How do they solve the problem today, and what would compel them to switch?
- What do the “happy paths” and “sad paths” look like for navigating this problem?
- What do they do when they experience friction in solving this problem?
- How would your customer buy your product, and what barriers to buying exist?
The customer journey allows your business to make and test hypotheses at every point in the buyer journey to drive customer acquisition, activation, adoption, and retention.
It also acts as the foundation for all value prop messaging: your promise for how you will make your customer’s life easier, better, or more successful.
If your customer expresses frustration anywhere from sales to activation to retention, you’ll quickly root out what it is with your customer journey as a guide.
2. Count What Counts
Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” In SaaS, what counts is often elusive.
Of course, we can easily count revenue, number of users, profitability, etc. But, these business output metrics result from what the product experience produces. If we want to improve these output metrics, how do we do that?
That’s what key outcomes are for.
Key Outcomes and Target Results
Two attributes define key outcomes:
- First, your customers would use these measures to describe the value of your product in their terms.
- Second, moving the outcome in a favorable direction creates business outputs like revenue and profit.
An example might be an increase in quality (customer outcome) that justifies a price increase at contract renewal (business output).
Another might be that greater efficiency in a workflow (customer outcome) leads to more volume (customer output), which yields increased monetizable transactions (business output).
In any case, improving key outcomes creates value for both the customer and the business.
They are not the business value itself. They are not vanity metrics that make you feel good when they move but do nothing of substance for your customer or your business.
They are about how your business creates value for customers and moves your business forward.
Key outcomes set the foundation for all goal setting. When you know what outcomes matter, you can create meaningful targets within those outcomes and assess the viability of your goals as a portfolio.
Are you trying to achieve every outcome simultaneously, all in one quarter? You’re probably taking on too much.
Are you trying to move only a few goals, just a marginal amount? You’re probably not taking on enough.
Understanding what key outcomes matter most for your business and setting meaningful targets within those outcomes allows you to ask, “Are we trying to accomplish enough?” in a meaningful, evidence-based way.
3. Give Your Customers the Reins, Responsibly
Odds are, your processes from customer acquisition through activation are broken.
You might make sales and complete implementations, but they are slower and take more effort than you’d like—or can afford. That’s because your processes reflect your instinct to control the end-to-end customer experience: how they buy, implement, configure, and launch.
Believe me, I understand why you would design it like that.
We want sales and activation to be as predictable as possible. The more we define the process, the more we can measure and optimize each step.
It sounds so practical on paper. But customers don’t care what sounds practical to you. They don’t want to play by someone else’s rules. Customers want to have confidence before they sign on the dotted line that they’ll get good value from your product and that it won’t be a nightmare to set up and maintain.
We create too many barriers for them to know and feel we will do either. We can do better. We can balance ownership over the process for the customer and predictability for the company.
Dedicated Buyer Experiences
Dedicated Buyer Experiences are not demos.
Demos are a sample view of the product that shows what it can help customers accomplish, but they only convey what the customer will experience after launch. They show nothing of how they’ll get to launch, nor what to expect after launch.
B2B buyers buy with the total cost of ownership in mind. If you use only demos, you only show a fraction of that cost and complexity. Dedicated buyer experiences are your chance to demystify your end-to-end experience in a controlled environment that maximizes customer insights without endless overhead.
They let the buyer configure a mock version of the product to see directly how that changes the product experience. They show how under-the-hood capabilities work so the product feels more predictable and less like magic. They show how interactions in one part of the product flow across the end-to-end workflows.
Most importantly, they equip the buyer to drive the sales conversation with their buying team—showcasing to their peers directly that the product can meet their needs cost-effectively.
Buyer experiences are not part of the production product, but they are what brings the promise of your product to life for your buyer in a tangible way before expecting them to sign on the dotted line.
Lead with Transparency
You’re probably afraid to pull back the curtain on your product because a competitor will steal your ideas. But the reality is there are 8 billion people on the planet. If you believe you’re the only one with an idea, you’re not. A competitor can copy, recreate, or reverse engineer anything—except your next idea. Copycats focus on you, not the people who decide whether to buy, use, and renew their products.
That means they don’t understand why they’re making things or how to evaluate whether they’re working.
So, if you’re worried about copycats, don’t—they lead with competitors in mind, not customers. That means they don’t understand the customer like you do. Pulling back the curtain for your customers will only give you a greater competitive edge. The more your customer learns about your product, the more you’ll learn about them and the greater confidence they’ll have in you.
Let the copycats try to copy you.
Remember, no copy of Coke’s better than Coke or will be better than Coke in the future—nor will there be of your product.
Now You’re on Your Way to Winning the War
These fundamentals—creating shared context, measuring the right things, and empowering buyers—are the reading, writing, and arithmetic of SaaS businesses that win their market.
They’re not sexy, but when you do them well, your customers will feel like you’re laser-focused on equipping them to succeed because your team will be.