It’s not easy choosing the right technology to grow your SaaS business.
According to Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2018-2019, Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are now spending a larger proportion of their budgets on technology than on internal staff.
With this demand has come equal supply. There is perhaps no better way to demonstrate the plethora of choice available to the marketing department than this now infamous supergraphic by Chiefmartech:
The more choices we have, the more likely we are to make the incorrect decision. In fact, I’d say one of the major reasons prospects reach out is because they can’t decide which MarTech vendor to select, or they don’t understand how to properly make use of the technology they have chosen.
More and more, people are signing annual contracts with providers, only to find a few months later that it doesn’t fulfill their requirements. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Things will get more complicated as your business grows. But in the early days, there’s a tried and tested marketing technology stack that will work for most startup SaaS businesses.
These recommended tools will stand the test of time - becoming more useful as you scale and collect more data, whilst unlikely to become extinct due to lack of funding or acquisition.
If you want to grow your SaaS without worrying about if you’ve made the right MarTech choices, then follow this template.
Website, Hosting & CMS
Look no further than Webflow.
With Webflow, you won’t have to worry about hosting, deploying, SSL, CDN making changes to or publishing content to your website again. All of this is handled by Webflow in an incredibly easy to use interface.
There were really only two choices here: Wordpress or Webflow. If this was just a question of publishing content, I'd go with Wordpress. But the remarkable ease which Webflow allows you to do all of the above edges it out, especially in the early days when development resource is stretched.
Webflow doesn't only make editing and publishing your website a breeze, it'll also make landing pages, forms and blogs easy. You can even build light web applications in Webflow if you really get into the No Code game.
Startups is a game of speed. The quicker you can execute and learn, the quicker you can grow. Webflow enables your team to move at breakneck speed, without adding burden to your engineering resource. Let's face it - when you're building a digital product, your website is usually the last priority of your development team.
It's easy to get started, there's tons of free and paid for templates. They also have a gallery of sites built in Webflow that you can deconstruct in their editor to learn even the most advanced interactions. Or, you can just hire from the growing pool of freelancers and agencies that design and build in Webflow.
Webflow's Content Management System possibly needs some work. If you're heavy on publishing, it's best to create outside of Webflow and then import. But even then, there can be some unpredictable formatting that you will have to correct.
For $36 a month (paid annually) you can subscribe to their Business site plan. This gives you capacity for 100 static pages, 10,000 CMS pages and 1,000,000 monthly visits.
Total annual cost: $432
For website analytics, it’s got to be Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is free, and because it’s owned by Google, it’s likely to stay that way. When the time comes to graduate onto something more powerful - something many of us won’t need - you can upgrade to Google’s enterprise-level website analytics solution, Google Analytics 360.
Until then, you can enjoy the most comprehensive and well-resourced website analytics tool on the market without spending a thing.
Google Analytics offers reports that cover everything from website engagement, channel performance, content performance and more.
By default, Google tracks a wide range of data points related to your user such as location, gender and technolographic information. All of these can be used to create segments so you can begin understanding how different buckets of visitors experience your website.
Another major benefit of Google Analytics is its ubiquity. If you’re ever stuck or need help, it’s likely there’s someone else who has gone through the same struggle and shared their solution. Failing that, there's also no shortage of Google Analytics consultants available for hire.
Google Analytics also operates within the same ecosystem as Google Ads. This means conversions and segments you create in Google Analytics can be used in your paid campaigns; conversions to track performance and segments as retargeting audiences. This dramatically reduces your setup time and lowers the learning curve.
It’s hard to think of any downsides for choosing Google Analytics. There are some fringe concerns over Google’s privacy and ethics, and if that’s something that causes you sleepless nights then you could consider a competitor such as Fathom.
To get the full benefit of Google Analytics, you will need to make sure your goals are setup correctly. Most people find this easy when a goal is defined by a URL, but struggle when it comes to more advanced goal setups.
Goals allow you to uncover the important actions visitors are conducting on your website, where those visitors came from and which part of your website they're doing them on. This is important when optimising your website and marketing performance.
Total annual cost: $0
Choosing a CRM isn't quite as straight forward. Although there's no shortage of CRMs in the market today - there's 409 results for CRM software on g2.com - there's really only 3 that I'd consider as a startup: Salesforce, Hubspot and Pipedrive.
Salesforce is by far the most powerful CRM on the market. It's almost transcended the CRM category itself and become an operating system in its own right. However, it's also incredibly complex and it's glut of features may be intimidating and distracting. For that reason, it wouldn't be my recommendation for a startup SaaS business. However, I'd recommend any SaaS founder serious about understanding the space to study Salesforce as they're the true pioneer of cloud software.
Hubspot CRM was also a contender. It's free, well-supported and easy to use. However, due to Hubspot's events API only being accessible on their high-end plans - reducing the power of it's marketing automation features - and their free CRM being a part of their sales funnel rather than a fully supported product, it isn't the CRM I would recommend.
Instead it is Pipedrive.
The main benefit of Pipedrive is that it has an incredibly intuitive interface that's easy to use without compromising on features. Unlike some other CRMs which are part of a wider sales and marketing suite, Pipedrive focuses on the sales process only. Because of this, Pipedrive is a full-featured CRM and an affordable option, starting at only £12.50 per user per month for their entry-level plan, but perhaps more impressively, only £99 per user per month for their fully onboarded, enterprise-ready solution.
Even at the lower pricing tiers, Pipedrive has everything you'd expect from a modern CRM. Automation, data enrichment, email automation and more make it a better choice than Hubspot, where much of the functionality is hidden behind a myriad of pricing and feature-set options that never quite seem to hit every requirement.
Some people may consider Pipedrive's CRM not being part of a suite of tools - such as a help desk and live chat - as a flaw. However, all-in-one suites always compromise and are never as effective as their standalone counterparts. A major downside to this is that there has to be more consideration about data pipeline if you value well synchronised data across your sales and marketing platforms (something which we will come onto later). This can only be achieved through the use of other 3rd party solutions.
A contract costs £49.90 per user per month (paid annually) for their professional plan, a plan that has more than enough capability for most SaaS businesses at startup, scale and beyond.
Total annual cost: £1796 for 3 users
The best marketing automation tool for SaaS startups is Autopilot.
There are other options we considered.
Firstly, Hubspot. The reason we didn't go with Hubspot is that it isn't the best suited tool for SaaS businesses. It's too expensive, the journey builder is limited and it's too focussed on the lead acquisition phase.
Secondly, ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign is a good compromise and you get a lot for your money, however the interface isn't on par with Autopilot.
Finally, SaaS-specialist marketing automation tools like https://encharge.io/ and https://userlist.com/ are now entering the market. Because they’re built with SaaS in mind, they should come into your thinking. However as they’re so early in their lifetime, it’s hard to recommend them as a robust solution.
Autopilot is the easiest to use and the most powerful marketing automation tool for creating omni-channel marketing campaigns across the whole customer lifecycle. Recent price increases mean that it isn't as much of a no brainer as it used to be, but if you're serious about marketing automation, then it will more than justify the price.
Autopilot has native integrations with Pipedrive, Segment and Salesforce (all tools I'd recommend), making the choice even easier..
It certainly isn't without it's shortcomings though. Archiving messages is impossible, the interface can seem underdeveloped in places and there are concerns about the recent hikes in pricing amongst some users. Autopilot also seems slow in rolling out innovations, it's hard to see what significant changes have been made in the last few years of using it.
For £249 per month you can get their Platinum package that supports upto 10,000 contacts and all of their advanced features.
Annual cost: £2,988
The only answer here is Mixpanel.
There was a brief moment where Amplitude overtook Mixpanel in terms of capability, but Mixpanel's greater funding and smart executive decision making has seen off their threat and resulted in a considerably better product with much faster innovation than before. Besides Mixpanel and Amplitude, the only other product in this space is Kissmetrics, and credit where credit is due for being the first to introduce events-based analytics, but it is no longer a credible product.
Mixpanel is easy to use, feature rich, well-supported and their support team are some of the best I've ever experienced. This is important due to the technical requirements of setting Mixpanel up.
Their interface is much better than Amplitudes, and their product is all around easier to use. Mixpanel is also adopted by many more organisations, meaning finding a contractor or consultant who can work with you much easier.
The rate at which Mixpanel launches new features is always impressive. Most recently, they launched data warehousing features and many other recent product updates have been to make Mixpanel a better fit in your wider data ecosystem.
The downsides of Mixpanel are that it can seem daunting. It's much more complex to setup Mixpanel than Google Analytics for instance, and therefore you're much more likely to make mistakes. There's definitely a learning curve involved, but once you've mastered the Funnel, Insight and Retention reports you can get a incredible insight into your product performance
$5,049.00 for 15,000 monthly tracked users.
The only revenue analytics tool I’ve used is ChartMogul, and as I’ve never felt compelled to trial another, it’s a complete-enough solution to be the recommendation
There are two other notable players in this space, Baremetrics and ProfitWell. As I don’t have experience with them, I couldn’t say with confidence whether they’re worth your time or not.
ChartMogul allows you to segment and analyse your recurring-revenue data with a number of useful charts, and against any property you pipe into it.
It's affordable and incredibly useful. A must for any SaaS business that's starting out.
Annual cost: $3600 upto $1m ARR
The world of ETLs, data warehouses and data pipelines might seem daunting, but stripped back to its fundamentals, data pipeline is just making sure your data can go from one place to another in an effective manner. There are a number of easy-to-use tools that allow you to achieve that, but unfortunately not only one to allow you to achieve this perfectly.
For this reason, I’d recommend 3 tools:
- Zapier - for doing one-directional data-transfers.
- PieSync - for bi-directional synching of people properties.
- Google Tag Manager - for tag installation and management.
With these three tools, you can remove a lot of the headaches that you'll encounter with data management as you scale.
Annual cost: $2,616