How top SaaS companies use integrations as a growth strategy

Early-stage SaaS companies often find themselves in a tight spot. On the one hand, they’re in a hurry to grow an audience and gain traction, both in terms of user base and business growth. On the other hand, you can’t expect anyone to adopt your product unless it’s good enough to provide consistent value to users. But to improve the product, you need users and their feedback.

So how do you juggle both while keeping your teams aligned?

For some of the smartest SaaS companies, the two goals have been accomplished by one strategy: focusing on integrations and technical partnerships.

Building integrations with other services is something your SaaS product team will need to focus on at some point. Your software doesn’t exist in a void, and your customers don’t use it in one either. They want it to behave nicely with the other tools it takes to do their job, making it easy to push data back and forth. And when handled strategically, with growth in mind, integrations can be the lever your marketing strategy needs to fuel audience growth while improving the product.

That’s been the case for the three companies we’ll look at in this article. Each of them leveraged integration partnerships in a combination of business strategy, growth timing and alliance relationships, and doing so was key to their success.

Here’s more on how they did it.

1. For Zapier, integrations make for a marketing flywheel

Firstly, there’s Zapier, a tool for building automations between different business apps. If you’ve never heard of Zapier, there’s still a good chance your company’s utilizing it. That’s because it’s what founder Wade Foster has called an “invisible product” — the kind of tool that runs in the background. If it’s working properly, you won’t even notice it.

That invisibleness can make growing a brand and reputation difficult, but Zapier has found a way around that in the way that the handle integrations. They’ve built a self-sustaining flywheel out of their partner program that now lets their partners — all 1300+ of them — grow their audience for them.

Image source: Drift.

“We have a developer platform that allows our partners to build integration on it,” Foster has explained. “PipeDrive built their integration on Zapier. When that integration goes live, we do some co-promotion with them. They announce it to their user base. We announce it to our user base. We spin up a bunch of landing pages that target all the different...use cases that we could possibly support. Google indexes those. We start ranking for those organically, and then each time we get a new app, that just means more people that can keep coming into the fold. So it’s kind of just this organic machine that builds itself.”

Because of SEO and how heavily their partners promote the integrations, Zapier doesn’t need to put as many resources into this marketing anymore. The foundation is there for others to build on. And the strategy works. Today, Zapier has a user base some 3 million strong and boasts $50 million ARR.

2. Supermetrics takes a ride on a Google marketplace monopoly

Next, there’s Supermetrics, an add-on for Google Sheets, Google Data Studio, Excel and other platforms that saves marketers from the hassle of complicated and time-consuming manual data imports.

Unlike Zapier, they didn’t build their own partnership/integration platform. Instead, they leveraged a partner’s existing audience to fuel their growth. And since that partner was Google, it’s turned out excellently.

Image source: Techstars.

The initial Supermetrics product was a script for Excel that gained popularity in 2009 through the Google developer forums. It built enough of a reputation that when Google launched an add-ons gallery to Google Sheets in 2014, it was the only marketing add-on available – and it remained the sole marketing integrator to Google Sheets for a long time.

This visibility started impacting growth almost immediately, converting several hundred new trial users per week. “I wanted to get a good user base for the connector from the get-go in order to take over the market, and to get as much user feedback I could right from the start,” founder Mikael Thuneberg recently told Techstars.

Now, five years later, Supermetrics is still able to get acquire users through the marketplace. Because it’s accumulated such great marketplace ratings and reviews, as similar tools have entered the market, they’ve been able to maintain their visibility in the marketplace rankings.

Through those early years of traction, they’ve solidified a relationship with Google, so that today, the tech giant still turns to Supermetrics when launching new integration ecosystems. Plus, they’ve amassed enough momentum that Supermetrics is now a go-to solution with brand recognition. The company has grown from €3.3 million ARR in 2017 to €8.8 million ARR in 2018, some 35% of which is profit, Thuneberg says, and it’s projected to achieve €20 million this year.

3. Realizing co-marketing potential with Groove

Finally, while integrations may not play a primary role in Groove’s business model like they do for Supermetrics and Zapier, cross-platform data pushes have still been a key lever in the customer support platform’s growth. Whereas Zapier set out to integrate with as many business tools as possible, and Supermetrics focused on one, Groove’s strategy lies somewhere in the middle.

They choose their handful of integration partners selectively, using their audience to guide that selection. Their focus is on those integrations that will make their product more valuable to their ideal customers. Then they collaborate with promotion and launches on both sides, to get the best conversion impact possible out of the partnership.

Image source: Groovehq.

For example, take their integration with Slack. "When Slack announced the integration, it gave Groove exposure to an entirely new audience of ridiculously qualified leads — who already use a product that we integrate seamlessly with — that couldn’t match our target personas more exactly," founder Alex Turnbull explained. “From tracking our funnels in KISSmetrics, we know that visitors who click on the Slack integration page link on our marketing site are 15% more likely to sign up for a Groove trial.”

By treating each integration as a core feature of their product, built carefully and selectively, Groove has been able to see tremendous results and conversion rates from partnerships, without integrations being a core focus of the business. Yes, the company has hit some roadbumps in recent years due to accumulated technical debt, but with the rollout of the completely rebuilt Groove 2.0 product, they seem poised to resume growth-focused activity, back on pace to hit $10 million ARR in the months ahead.

All about the cross-pollination

Whether you decide to treat each integration as a selectively as Groove did, go all-in on one go-to-market partner like Supermetrics, or turn it into a flywheel like Zapier, you can use integrations strategically to grow your SaaS company.

When done right, they can build audiences, fill feature gaps, and make your product more valuable.

About Author:
Mohammad Farooq is a seasoned blogger who writes about a range of Technology topics and digital solutions for business. He regularly blogs about digital transformation in his new blog, DigiTortoise.
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