July 15, 2021
Traditional business models are pretty straightforward. Each department is segmented and labeled based on their role within the organization. Product development comes up with the product, the marketing team brings in the leads, the sales team closes the deals, and your operations staff keep things running smoothly for the customer and the company at large — hopefully.
If this is the paradigm you’re used to, mention of creating a “growth team” may seem redundant. After all, everyone is responsible for the growth of the company, are they not?
For example, one of the jobs of the marketing department is looking for ways to expand their reach and gain more market share. The sales department is quite often all about making the company’s numbers move in a positive direction, and product managers are constantly looking for ways to increase adoption among potential customers.
But traditionally, company growth hasn’t been given its due diligence.
Like a “tragedy of the commons” scenario, when everyone is responsible for growth, no one is responsible for it. As there’s no one to take the lead on the issue, there’s no way to direct the company’s collective action in a singular direction to drive company growth.
Good ideas for growth are often buried under the day-to-day processes of making the business work. What’s worse, separate departments too often operate in siloes, serving their own interests above the interest of the collective. They can be connected through technology, but this doesn’t negate the fact that each team has their own interests and objectives.
Furthermore, when there isn’t a steady hand guiding the company’s growth, growth often happens in spurts when it does happen. For example, if your marketing team has a breakthrough success and you acquire a slew of new customers for your SaaS product, that’s great!
But what if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to support those users? What if your marketing team is focusing on acquisition while your product is mostly — but not entirely — complete yet? That forward momentum could be all for naught if those new users get frustrated with all the kinks in their experience and bail on your product.
Your first step should be to develop a strong product and a happy user base. Once you’ve achieved that, in order to scale and grow, you’ll need a specific group of experts to lead the growth of your company. Here’s what you need to know about building the perfect growth team.
First, what even is a growth team?
The concept became popular thanks to tech startups like Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber. Originally, these companies were focused heavily on perfecting their products. Once they had a viable concept, they then turned to marketing tactics to promote those products. But they realized that there was an inextricable link between both product development and marketing.
If they wanted to achieve the type of growth they wanted (what you might call “hockey stick” growth), product development and marketing couldn’t happen separately. By creating a growth team, they could free up some of their talent to focus on the nuanced aspects of growth.
According to an article covering the subject on technology news site VentureBeat, “Growth teams solve problems that enable further growth through a process of experimentation and analysis.”
Since they originated in the tech industry, it’s easier to imagine growth teams in terms of a software or SaaS product than in any other context. A growth team may be made up of marketers or salespeople, but in tech, it will often include developers, data analysts, and UX/UI experts working underneath a growth manager.
The people filling these roads need to be able to think freely about how the company acquires and retains customers, so growth teams are often made up of the most creative and innovative individuals in a company. For example, a growth marketer doesn’t just engage with day-to-day marketing operations. They search for new ways of driving results through experimentation, gaining insights from their analytics to draw conclusions.
The daily activities of a growth team really depend on the company and the industry they find themselves in. Generally, once you find a market that fits your product, you’ll enlist the help of a growth team to use data analysis, qualitative research, and experimentation to understand what keeps people from purchasing and using your product and how your company can eliminate those frictions.
Whereas other departments are often hindered by their day-to-day responsibilities, a growth team can bounce back and forth between departments, applying insights based on data and experimentation to discover and take advantage of growth opportunities wherever they appear.
The best growth teams take a scientific approach to their jobs.
For example, a growth team may want to understand why your product’s new feature is giving users so much trouble. They may begin with a hypothesis, but they can use experimentation to reach an observation and analyze the results. Insights derived from that analysis will help them create a solution to the problem.
Or, they may work to make your marketing more effective. This may involve discovering and experimenting with new marketing channels or even coming up with innovative ways to use existing ones. Ideally, they’ll discover repeatable strategies your digital marketing team can take, developing a growth marketing blueprint that you can follow into the future.
Growth teams can even have an impact on your internal operations, discovering efficiencies and new ways of doing things.
Altogether, a growth team works to increase the organization’s rate of customer acquisition, boost customer retention rates, and drive the sustainable growth of revenue.
There are many benefits to building a growth team, many of which will be discussed below. But using a growth team has a direct effect on what executives care most about when it comes to their businesses: the bottom line. More specifically, a growth team can help your company find ways to boost its net income.
Imagine your company purchases a piece of new customer relationship management (CRM) software to replace an outdated platform that isn’t serving you well. This new system promises to increase efficiency by a certain percentage, automate processes to save you money, and align your sales and marketing teams so they can work toward common goals.
Now, imagine that no one in your company can figure out how to use the darn thing.
Buying a new CRM is a big investment, and if it isn’t bringing you the benefits it’s supposed to, that’s going to affect your bottom line. A growth team could experiment with the new system to learn how it can benefit each department, then educate your teams on how they can use the CRM to drive value.
On the sales and marketing side, this could make lead generation, lead qualification, sales enablement, and customer retention more effective, boosting your revenue and increasing your company’s net income.
We’ve already discussed how building a growth team can have an effect — albeit indirect, at times — on your bottom line. But there are peripheral benefits to building a growth team as well.
A growth process can’t occur until you have a solid product that fits a market. But once you do, your growth team can work to optimize your approach to that market. This may involve marketing and customer acquisition, but your growth team will also work internally to iron out inefficiencies between your teams and solve problems.
You’ve probably heard a great deal about sales and marketing alignment. When your teams aren’t aligned, it’s next to impossible to move on ideas and bring about real results. Technology plays a role in aligning your departments, but technology alone isn’t enough to make your teams work in concert.
In the worst scenarios, teams are siloed and working on completely different projects. There may even be animosity between teams — a fairly common occurrence between sales and marketing teams who each complain about lead quality, lead quantity, or low close rates.
A growth team can work as both a liaison between your teams and as a driver for change. Agencies sometimes fill this role, acting as a bridge between sales and marketing teams within a company. Some companies choose to combine their sales and marketing teams into a single growth team.
But growth teams aren’t just about sales and marketing. Working with product developers and software engineers, they can help to identify opportunities for upselling existing customers, generating referrals, and improving UX/UI.
It’s not uncommon for a startup to gain some momentum, then get stuck at a certain level of growth. That’s because growth initiatives too often take a backseat to other priorities. This is often exacerbated by misalignment among your teams, siloes, and other challenges.
Your growth team acts as a catalyst for identifying and solving solvable problems and steering the organization toward achievable gains. To do this, your teams change how they make decisions, typically by using insights derived from data and experimentation.
For example, let’s say a lot of your prospects are asking about a certain feature that your product doesn’t already have. Your sales team might approach your development team and mention that it might be a good idea to implement that feature. But what is driving the development team to work toward implementation? Not much.
Instead, your growth team could take that information, run experiments, then come up with a blueprint for your development team. They could even show how implementing that feature would affect the bottom line. Not only do you now have an achievable goal, but you also have an incentive for working toward it.
Plenty of companies struggle with achieving sustainable growth. Small business growth can be especially difficult to achieve, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Sure, it’s about momentum — marketing momentum, sales momentum, etc. — but it’s also about how companies treat failure.
If you grow in spurts, leaving gaps of time where your company is simply sustaining itself, you’re essentially starting from the beginning every single time. This makes failure a very slow and costly outcome. This often happens when teams must adjust their focus from daily operations to a new growth initiative when they’re unprepared.
With a growth team, you’re never unprepared because you never accept stagnation. If you’re stagnant, your growth team isn’t really doing its job.
Instead, your growth team will constantly conduct experiments, fail, then try again. They fail faster and smarter, with less collateral damage to your other departments. As they generate insights and ideas, they’ll be able to sustain your momentum, so you can achieve maximum growth.
Often, sustainable growth isn’t made by leaps and bounds but by several small gains sustained over time.
While it’s true that growth marketers tend to be “ideas people,” they tend to be cut from a different cloth than artists, writers, and designers. They tend to be more data-driven, and they tend to be drawn to the small parts that make up meaningful change.
You’re probably already familiar with the term “growth hacking,” and perhaps, like many, you’re getting a bit tired of how many people refer to themselves as a growth hacker. Regardless, growth hacking is the specific type of mentality that makes a growth team great. They can offer you a new perspective on your business, ask the hard questions, and show you results based on the numbers.
As you can see, we think building a growth team is a great idea. That said, not every business should have a growth team — at least not yet.
You must start with the basics first. Mainly, you should focus on your product, your market, and the channels you use to reach your customers. Once you have a working product that people love and a way to reach your customer base, then you can start thinking about optimizing growth and building a growth team.
If you don’t take care of these things first, you can run into pitfalls like marketing a product no one wants to buy or selling your product to people who aren’t interested in it. This is a waste of resources, so growth marketing should come second.
The way you structure your growth team depends on a lot of factors, but a few of the biggest factors are the size of your company, your budget, and what you hope to achieve.
A small business that has had a successful product launch might just need a single team member to get things moving in the right direction. A startup with just 20 employees might need a team of three to start on their growth journey. Meanwhile, an enterprise-level company might be served well by an entire growth department headed by a Chief Growth Officer, or CGO (it’s a thing).
The roles you include in your growth team will depend on your industry and your business. For example, you clearly don’t need a software engineer if you don’t sell software. But since the growth team concept has its origins in the tech startup world, that’s also where it’s been implemented most successfully.
Across industries, most experts agree that your growth team needs to either be made up of or at least include members who are product-focused. In the tech industry, your growth team may be comprised of all or some of these roles:
You may want to focus more on your marketing operations, in which case you could include roles like content marketers, social media managers, and graphic designers. You may even want to include a stack developer to help you coordinate your internal technologies and operations.
The structure of your team can take many different forms as well.
Obviously, your growth lead will be at the helm. Depending on how many people you include on your team, you could also have multiple roles to fill underneath your product management role or several people working underneath a marketing lead.
One contributor to The Startup, an online publication that covers startup culture, interviewed several growth leads to determine how they modeled their teams. Here’s an example of Uber and Facebook’s growth team model, known as the independent model:
(Source: The Startup)
This model is focused on flows, like sign-ups, and product features. But you can also use a similar model based on metrics:
(Source: The Startup)
Both of these models are built for speed and agility because each team member works autonomously. They can set their own priorities and apply their resources to reach goals. This doesn’t mean they are completely directionless, however.
Under a different model, the team functions as a unit:
(Source: The Startup)
In this model, leaders decide which growth priorities to work on and direct the team to work together towards those goals. They may also balance initiatives that aren’t related to growth with initiatives that are related to product development. After all, growth can’t happen is your product doesn’t follow suit.
This model often works best when the leader of the team is driven by data and analytics. When this is the case, there’s less chance that growth is occurring at the expense of other metrics.
For example, the company may acquire new users, but at great effort. If effort was diverted from product development to accomplish that goal, it could jeopardize the user experience or take the focus away from customer attention.
You may be concerned about which of these models is right for your company. But one thing that has become apparent is that the models themselves aren’t necessarily more effective than one-another.
Choosing a growth team model is often less an issue of metrics and objectives and more an issue of culture. If your company operates in a regimented way, then a functional team may be your best option. If your team members tend to work well when they work autonomously, then an independent model may be the best choice.
Nonetheless, the model your team takes isn’t the only decision you need to make.
It may not be in your best interest to build your growth team immediately. If you’re still small, you may want to start with a single role or maybe a team of three people, then build up and out. A single individual could provide you with all the small business strategies you need to scale up.
Then, you can add roles as new opportunities arise (and as your budget increases). Just make sure you’re deliberate about how you build your team. Structure your model with a vision of the future. Be deliberate about how you add roles and rely on your analytics to give you both insights and direction.
If you don’t have the capacity within your company to move your existing employees into these roles, it means you have two choices to move forward:
Working with a top growth agency like Ladder could be an ideal way to build your growth team quickly and efficiently. Not only this, but you won’t have to worry as much about the learning curve and how you’ll carve out a space for your growth team culturally.
Expert growth marketers have years of experience with implementing business growth strategies, so in addition to acting as your growth team, they can coach you along the way toward sustainable growth. Immediately, they’ll provide your company with skills that can take years to develop.
Working with a growth agency can also be just what you need if you don’t have the budget for a bunch of internal hires. The hiring process just keeps getting longer and even fully vetted candidates don’t always turn out to be the right picks.
Finding great candidates and taking on the overhead may not be worth it if you can’t implement your growth strategy quickly. With an agency, you can expect the same costs on a regular basis. This makes it easy to measure ROI and plan for the next quarter and the next year.
Whether you’re an enterprise company, one of many portfolio companies, a startup, or a small business, you need to focus on building a growth team if your product has already hit the market.
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