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How to Run a Growth Team (Includes Free Download)

A look at how to run a growth team with frameworks from Sean Ellis and the book Lean Analytics. Includes free download with templates.

Growth is flatlining. Ads are dipping. Your growth team isn’t getting results. 

Yup, I’ve been there.

I’m currently leading growth at an ecommerce startup. As our marketing team grew, the results started to stall.

It’s not that we weren’t working hard, it’s because we weren’t focused.

via GIPHY

That’s when I dove into these resources — Hacking Growth, Lean Analytics and Rob Sobers’ blog for guidance. If I was going to scale a startup the right way then I needed to apply the framework used by companies like Dropbox and Airbnb.

Here’s a look at the process I used to run my growth team and scale a startup to over half a million dollars per month.

Start With The End In Mind

What is your business objective? For our ecommerce company, it’s pretty simple – we care about revenue growth.  To unpack that further, we want a conversion rate over 4% and a 7% week-over-week user growth, with a customer acquisition cost (CAC) that’s under $30.

But, what should we focus on right now?  The key word here is focus.  We can work on our conversion rate and our user acquisition strategy at the same time.  But, can we do both of them extremely well at the same time?  For smaller growth teams, the answer is no.  That’s why focus is so important.

Brian Balfour, former Head of Growth at Hubspot, makes a strong case for focus in the following illustration.

How to Run Growth

One Metric Should Drive Your Actions

The goal is growth, but what is the one metric we should be focused on? With the ecommerce company, it’s about conversion rate.  Before we increased our ad spend or invested in content marketing to get people to our site, we wanted to hit our conversion rate goal of above 4%.  This way, we would be prepared for an increase in traffic volume.

We picked our metric, and, most importantly, set our goal.  This is the number the entire team has written down as the number we want to hit.  The best part about this decision is that it helps us determine the actions of everyone on the team.  From the developer to the designer, we’re all focused on moving this single metric.

Another example of how one metric drives a team’s actions is Moz, a SEO toolkit. They determined that their one metric was net adds.  Below is a graph from Lean Analytics on how this metric drove the actions at Moz:

One Metric That Matters Moz

How can you determine your one key metric or your north star?  Lean Analytics explains how  you can figure it out based on two things: your industry and your stage of businesses.  Here is a graph that shows you the one KPI you should focus on based on your business vertical and stage:

Lean Analytics Book

Your one key metric might not be on this graph, but it could directly impact one of the metrics on the above graph.  It could be a micro-conversion of one of these metrics. Here is an example of how Airbnb used one micro-conversion metric to scale their growth to a $24 billion valuation.

In the first three years, Airbnb really struggled to get any traction with their product.  They had a small group of users that loved their product but they couldn’t break through to a big audience.  They built up the supply side with listings and started to get potential renters to the site but they struggled to convert them. Their conversion rate was below average and they couldn’t figure out why.  After going through the user flow, the CEO didn’t like the feel of the product.  That’s when he decided to test professional photography on the site instead of user generated photos of listings. They tested this idea in the NYC market by sending out a professional photographer to the listings and the results were staggering.  The NYC conversion rate outperformed every other market they were in.  That’s when they decided to launch professional photography in every market.  Their metric ended up being the percentage of listings with professional photography.  Their founders still credit this move with the main catalyst for their success.  Here is a breakdown of how they ran the process:

STEP 1: Use Your Gut Instinct to Create an Experiment
Professional Photography = More Bookings

STEP 2: Test with a Clear Goal (Increase # of nights booked)
Sent 20 Photographers to Photograph NYC Listings

STEP 3: Measure Results
Professionally Photographed Listings > Other Listings

STEP 4: Data-Driven Decision
Launched Photography as a New Feature (Percentage of listings with professional photos)

How to Run Your Growth Team

You’ve determined your main business objective and the one metric to focus on.  Now, what do you do to impact that number?  How do you maximize your resources to have the biggest impact. How do you run your growth team?

First, lets look at your options. Below are two charts that show almost everything you can do as a marketer to grow.  The first chart is from the book Hacking Growth and shows 27 growth experiments to run.  The second chart is from the book Traction and it lays out the 19 channels you can use to get traction.  Think of this as your Denny’s menu for growth.

27 Growth Experiments
(Source is the book Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown)

VIRAL / WORD OF MOUTH

ORGANIC

PAID

Social Media Search Engine Optimization Online Ads
Embeddable Widget PR & Speaking Affiliate Advertising
Friend Referral Program Content Marketing Influencer Campaigns
Online Video App Store Optimization Retargeting
Community Engagement Free Tools Ad Networks
Giveaways & Contests Email Marketing Sponsorships (Blogs, Podcast)
Platform Integrations Community Building Native Content Ads
Crowdfunding Strategic Partnerships Content Syndication
Games, Quizzes Contributed Articles
Website Merchandising

19 Traction Channels
(Source is the book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg)

1.Viral Marketing
2.PR
3.Unconventional PR
4.SEM
5.Social & Display Ads
6.Offline Ads
7.SEO
8.Content Marketing
9.Email Marketing
10.Engineering as Marketing
11.Targeting Blogs
12.Existing Platforms
13.Business Development
14.Affiliate Programs
15.Trade Shows
16.Community Building
17.Sales
18.Offline Events
19.Speaking Engagements

You might be thinking these are great resources but where the heck do I start?  How do I know the main thing to focus on right now?  Instead of trying to guess which ones will impact your one key metric, you can use a quantitative process to decide for you.  List the top 10 experiments you’re excited to run to impact your key metric.  Next, give those experiments a score (1 to 5) based on the level of impact, and then another score (1 to 5) based on ease of implementation. For impact, 1 means low impact and 5 means high impact.  For ease of implementation, 1 means hard to implement and 5 means easy to implement.  Finally, add up those numbers to determine what to focus on right now.  Below is a template to use when scoring your experiments.

Growth Team Scorecard

How to Implement This Process at Your Company

It’s not easy to introduce a new process. Here are some resources to help you do it with confidence.  Below are guides on how to implement this at your company.  I’ve broken it down into four deliverables to guide you.  Also, you can reference them in this Google Sheet for your own use.

  • The growth process
  • How to structure your team
  • How to structure your meetings
  • How to structure your week

The growth process for your team:

      1. Identify Business Objectives: Why do we exist and what are we trying to accomplish? EX: Increase customers.
      2. Set Goals for Each Objective: What does success look like? What is the outcome? EX: 5% increase in new customer emails per week
      3. Establish KPIs: What are the numbers that tell you if you’re successful or not? EX: Email Conversion Rate
      4. Create Targets: What is the expected or desired result for the KPI? EX: Conversion Rate of 7%
      5. Build Segments: What will we analyze to see if we’re successful or not? EX: Visitors by Social, Search, Referral, Direct and Paid Traffic

How to structure your growth team:

  • Growth Lead / Product Manager: Owns the meeting objective and the OMTM (One Metric That Matters).
  • Marketing Specialist: Marketing professional that specializes in the vertical (SEO, Copywriter, CRO, Social Media Manager)
  • Data Analyst: Collects and organizes the data. Builds dashboard.
  • Software Engineers: Technical person who can execute on the digital marketing experiments.
  • Product Designer(s): Designer that can execute on the digital marketing experiments.

How to structure your meetings:

15 Minutes: Metrics Review & Update Focus Area

          • Review data around the OMTM
          • Positive factors vs. negative factors
          • What to focus on now (short term and long term)

10 Minutes: Review Last Week’s Tests

          • Number of tests and what we learned

15 Minutes: Key Lessons Learned for Experiments

          • Positive vs. Negative (Embrace the failures)

15 Minutes: What to Focus on in this Cycle

          • Take growth idea nominations from the group based on ease of implementation and impact

5 Minutes: Growth Check of Idea Pipeline

How to structure your week thanks to the growth team at Ladder.io:

MONDAYS = Analysis
Track your OMTM, Measure Experiment, Spot trends, Performance vs. goals

TUESDAYS = Planning
What experiments can you run to hit your business objectives? Manage experiments pipeline

WEDNESDAYS = Approval
CEO/Management Approval on executing experiments and update

THURSDAYS = Execution
Implement experiments and based on data driven ideas

FRIDAYS = Learn
Continued learning of customers, industry, and competitors

To manage the meetings, I am a big fan of Trello. Rob Sobers, Head of Growth at Varonis, created a Trello template for running growth that I use for all of my clients.

Did you find this post helpful? Want to dive deeper into setting goals, hiring, and running a growth team? Check out my in-person workshop, Mastering Growth, that I teach along with  Rob Sobers, Varonis Marketing Executive.