Many SaaS companies launch a product-led growth model—but never update it. When the executive team calls me and asks why they aren’t converting users into customers, I tell them to buy a plant. Seriously.
If they don’t water the plant, it’s going to wither and die. If they water it and give it sunlight, it’ll grow. Everyone knows how the system works. Yet, even though we know what to do, millions of plants still die. Why? Nobody takes ownership.
The first step to SaaS growth is to appoint a person or team to take ownership, then to give them the resources or time it takes to thrive. While this is true for all SaaS companies, it’s especially critical for those that use their product—not traditional marketing or sales—as their growth engine.
Once there’s internal ownership, you can establish and iterate on a process to execute your product-led strategy. How do you optimize that process? Time and again, I’ve seen the “Triple A” sprint framework drive exponential SaaS growth.
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What is the “Triple A” sprint framework?
The “Triple A” sprint focuses on rapidly identifying problems, building solutions, and measuring impact. The process follows a one-month sprint cycle to identify and deliver an improvement to your SaaS product.
The Triple A framework consists of three “A’s”:
The Triple A sprint gives you a way to build a sustainable SaaS growth process and can be used by any team in your business.
Still, if you have a bad product, no optimization will deliver rocketship growth. On the other hand, if you have a good product that customers love, you’ll see a monumental shift if you go through a Triple A sprint each month.
I’ve seen companies apply this same framework and go from $500,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) to $1 million ARR in less than 12 months. It works. Best of all, it’s not hard to implement. Start by analyzing your business.
The first “A”: Analyze
As Romain Lapeyre, CEO of Gorgias, states, “In order to build a growth machine for your business, you need to analyze your inputs and outputs.”
Until you know the inputs (e.g. trade shows, advertising, email marketing) that drive desired outputs (e.g. ARR, customers, MRR), you won’t build a sustainable business.
If you’re not sure which inputs drive the outputs you want, start analyzing your business.
Create a recurring calendar notification to remind yourself to analyze your previous month’s results on the first workday of each new month. Block off one or two hours so that you’ll have the time to do a thorough job. You’ll get into a rhythm of analysis.
Start by measuring your outputs. Outputs are a reliable indicator of whether you’re doing the right thing—they don’t lie. Let’s dive into the right outputs to track.
Which outputs should you track?
One of the beautiful things about a SaaS business is that you can analyze almost anything. This amount of insight is incredible—until it isn’t. With access to countless metrics, it’s easy to obsess over email opens or bounce rates. Although these metrics can be tracked, they don’t tell you much.
Did your high bounce rate lead customers to churn? Or did it hurt signups? Although a high bounce rate can absolutely contribute to those problems, we still don’t know the root cause.
By looking at outputs, we can quickly analyze the area of our business that most requires our attention. That way, we know which areas to troubleshoot.
In a product-led business, these are the macro outputs you need to track:
- Number of signups;
- Number of upgrades;
- Average Revenue Per User (ARPU);
- Customer Churn;
- Monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
These outputs don’t lie, and they’re easy to find. If you compare these outputs over the course of the last 12 months, you’ll quickly identify the area of your business that’s hurting the most.
Once we know the outputs, we can ask questions to identify the inputs that get us closer to our dream business.
The second “A”: Ask
To optimize any business, you need to ask three questions:
1. Where do you want to go?
Some businesses use a North Star Metric to symbolize this focus, while others pick a revenue number. How you break down your business goals is not what this post is about.
If you really have no idea what your organization’s goals are, you should read Measure What Matters by John Doerr. It lays the foundation for how to prioritize the metrics that matter in your business and hit them across your entire team.
As an example, let’s say we’re a $10 million ARR SaaS business that has a live-chat solution. Our numeric objective is to hit $15 million ARR in the next 12 months. I’m all for setting ambitious goals, but please do not just “wing it” when it comes to figuring out what to do next. You need to know which levers to pull.
2. Which levers can you pull to get there?
I’m taking a motorbike course. As a newbie, I’m constantly making mistakes. I’ll shift down a gear when going fast, and my bike will screech and hiss in anger. I’ll use the front brake while slowing around a corner, toppling my bike onto me—an anti-climatic end that risks embarrassment more than injury.
Knowing which levers to pull is important for Saas businesses or motorbikes. What’s also true is that there are multiple ways to get the same output. To stop a motorbike, you can use the front, back, or engine brake. Or just drive into the nearest lake. Each of these braking systems achieves the desired output.
It’s the same when it comes to your business. According to Jay Abraham’s multiplier theory, there are three levers you can pull for SaaS growth:
- Number of customers.
When I talk to executives at product-led SaaS businesses, most focus almost exclusively on increasing the number of customers; however, when it comes to increasing ARPU or decreasing churn, I hear crickets.
This is a huge missed opportunity, according to Tomasz Tunguz:
Drew Sanocki, former CMO at Teamwork, found that decreasing his churn rate by 30%, increasing ARPU by 30%, and increasing total customers by only 30% increased lifetime value (LTV) by over 100%.
Breaking down your business by these three levers lets you quickly identify which ones will help your business grow fastest. Unless you’re just starting out, reducing churn and increasing ARPU will almost always have the biggest impact. Once you nail your churn and ARPU, you can start multiplying your business with each additional customer.
Want to see how it works? Create a chart like the one below in a spreadsheet to see which lever will have the biggest impact on your business.
|Metric||Scenario A||Scenario B||Difference|
|Customer Count||Current (e.g. 1,000)||0%|
|ARPU||Current (e.g. 100)||0%|
|Annual Churn Rate||Current (e.g. 20%)||0%|
|ARR||Current (e.g. $80,000)||0%|
Once you’ve identified the top lever, it’s time to brainstorm which inputs will kick your business into high gear.
3. Which inputs should you invest in?
Once you’ve identified the lever to focus on for your Triple A sprint, figure out which inputs will affect it. To help you find the right ones, look at the three most common reasons why businesses fail:
- You don’t understand your value.
- You aren’t communicating your value well enough.
- You aren’t delivering on your value fast enough.
Ask yourself: Which part of your business is underperforming? Brainstorm potential inputs to run experiments. This is easier said than done, but don’t overthink it. If you’re struggling with low signups, do customer research to understand the value your buyer perceives. Then, communicate that value to them.
If you’re struggling with low upgrade rates, work on delivering your value. Cut out every piece of onboarding that doesn’t deliver value. As Samuel Hulick cautioned, “People don’t use software simply because they have tons of spare time and find clicking buttons enjoyable.”
One way to find opportunities to improve the buying experience is to buy your product once a month. You’ll quickly spot easy improvements. Too often, we set up our onboarding and assume it works without a hitch. (It doesn’t.)
I’ve done countless user onboarding audits and found embarrassing bugs that were cratering free-to-paid conversion rates. Anyone could’ve spotted these bugs. Compile a list of items that could improve your product experience. Filter these ideas. How you do it doesn’t matter as much as having a defined process.
How to prioritize inputs
As Scott Williamson, VP of Product Management at GitLab, implored, “Have a consistent prioritization system, so you can compare the value of very different projects, force priority decisions out into the light, and pressure test assumptions.”
I use an Input Log as a prioritization system. It helps you track and prioritize every idea that could help your business grow. Then, I use the ICE prioritization method, developed by Sean Ellis, to score each input on three elements:
- Impact. How big of an impact could this input have on an output I want to improve?
- Confidence. How confident am I that this input will improve my output metrics?
- Ease. How easy is it to implement?
Here’s an example of what this could look like:
|Because we noticed quite a few customers having problems upgrading, we expect that adding an “Upgrade Now” button to the header of our in-app experience will make it easier for users to upgrade their account. We’ll measure this by monitoring if the signup-to-paid conversion rate improves.||5||5||3||13|
You can use any framework you want; however, if you don’t have an existing prioritization system, start with the ICE score framework. It’s easy to understand and implement.
Once you’ve run through the ICE method to filter your ideas, find the one or two opportunities to implement that will have the biggest impact on your business. Now, it’s time to act.
The third “A”: Act
Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. As Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, are we busy doing the right things?”
Once you’ve chosen the one or two ideas you’re going to implement this month, launch the idea. Depending on the ease of each project, this could take you and your team a few hours or a few weeks.
If this is your first time going through a Triple A sprint, start small. Get some quick wins under your belt. Typically, this means choosing an input that is easy to implement and has a moderate-to-high estimated impact. Later, you can take bigger swings that require more resources and time.
Kieran Flanagan, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, took a similar approach when helping HubSpot transition from a sales-led to a product-led business:
Here’s the high-level process that worked for our growth team:
Get wins on the board to build trust with leadership and other teams, such as product and engineering.
Prioritize growth experiments you can execute quickly to demonstrate results.
Once you start to see a high-level of test failures or non-results, move on to tackle more complex growth opportunities (take big swings).
Eventually, tell your CEO you want to test pricing ;-) (take even bigger swings)
If you already work in growth, this process of getting quick wins and laddering up should be familiar.
In aggregate, even small wins can become big wins. If initial growth is incremental, the pattern of success can earn buy-in for your more ambitious ideas.
Process beats tactics. Following the Triple A sprint framework puts you on track to grow your SaaS business consistently:
- Analyze your business and key metrics.
- Ask where you want to go and how you can get there.
- Act on those insights, starting with small wins.
In a market where, over the last five years, customer acquisition costs have increased more than 50% while willingness to pay is down 30%, we need to instill a culture of optimization.
If we can, we’ll be able to pull the right levers and put our business in high gear.
This post was adapted from a chapter in Product-Led Growth. Wes Bush also teaches our course on product-led growth.