How to learn effectively, Mind-blowing brains, and Defining who owns growth

The Growth Report #61

👋 Hey there, you force of nature more powerful than a waterfall, more graceful than a soaring eagle, and more awe-inspiring than a sunset over the blue sea!

I hope you had a splendid week.

Feels like forever since we had a proper newsletter hitting your inbox.

You wanna see something interesting?

….

This just blew my mind 🤯

Speaking of blowing minds, let’s get right into….


...Today's topics

📈 Marketing Strategy
Who "Owns" Growth? Product, Marketing or Growth Teams?

🧰 Tools of the Trade
Articles, Tools and Inspiration for Marketers

⛑️ Reflections from the Trenches
Structured Learning vs. Unstructured Learning


📈 Marketing Strategy

Who "Owns" Growth? Product, Marketing or Growth Teams?

This article mostly applies to product-led startups or companies. Meaning firms who have some kind of trial or freemium model baked into their go-to-market strategy (and hence, where product influences a good chunk of the customer journey).

The question in the title comes up over and over, whether it was during my time as an in-house marketer or now when working with clients. So I went on a research-rabbit hole and came out the other end with a few answers I lay out in this article.

Inspiration drawn from: Naman Khan, CMO at Zeplin; Kevan Lee, Head of Marketing at Polly; Sam Richard, Sr. Director of Growth at OpenView; and Andrew Capland, Head of Growth at Postscript (as well as a few articles from Reforge).

For all the progress we have made breaking the departmental silos within our organizations, there is still a tug-of-war going raging, on who owns growth.

But in my opinion this is also the wrong question to ask. A better question would be:

What’s the role of Product vs. Marketing vs. Growth in influencing the growth of a company?

First of all, all teams should share one unifying goal: Increasing annual recurring revenue (ARR). Or more succinctly: Everyone has a responsibility to think about reducing friction at every point in the customer journey (pre-signup to post-signup).

Now Kyle Poyar from VC Open View Venture, came up with this brilliant chart to get us started:

  • Product owns everything that happens inside of the app: Product quality, UI and UX design, active usage metrics, etc.

  • Marketing owns everything outside of the app. We are talking social media, email, brand messaging, (paid) search etc., as well as sales-assisted deals enablement.

  • Growth owns, and I quote Kyle "in-app activation (i.e., getting users to see value in the product) and conversion including in-app onboarding, checkout, billing, and paid conversion experiences. You can think of them as responsible for the in-app experience as it relates to helping users quickly discover and experience the value that Product has created, which then leads to commercial impact." Thank you Kyle.

Where things get tricky aka: Areas with room for collaboration

Okay, so far so good. Now the reason we have this discussion in the first place are the blurred lines and boundaries around a bunch of topics which are less clear-cut. And boundaries are important because decisions need to be taken and people need to be held accountable, else we land in the Wild Wild West and somebody gets hurt.

  • Website - Ah, the website discussion. There is no way around collaboration here. The website a) needs to fulfill its education purpose, i.e. where potential customers learn about the product, sign up for webinars, read case studies etc. (Marketing), but also b) needs to have a sign-up flow that is distraction free and quickly converts people who want to try the product (Product and Growth).

  • Customer Research - Let's agree that all three teams must do customer research. It's the backbone of every go-to-market-strategy. We want our strategy to be based on actual user needs and not opinions. The “tricky”, collaborative aspect surfaces around sharing those insights across teams. I've seen wiki-style user research insight databases and regular "customer-roundtable" meetings work really well in this area.

  • Lead quality - Is it marketing's fault that bad leads sign up for a trial? Or is it growth who can't show the value fast enough? Or is the UX of the product just too cumbersome? What are the criteria by which we define a good vs. a bad lead? All questions that need to be contended with as a team.

  • Dev-Resources - How do you prioritize engineering resources? Both new growth efforts and new product feature development needs the precious time of developers. Ideally you have a dedicated developer on the growth and / or marketing team, but that is usually only possible for later-stage companies.

Conclusion

So you see, there is no clear-cut answer on who owns growth. And there shouldn't be. It's a team effort. But it makes sense to draw some boundaries and clearly define how teams work together in the areas where there is inevitable overlap. Because if you don't, valuable resources are wasted in endless discussions and land-grabs. And it's good to remind ourselves one more time that we all have the same goal in growing our SaaS company: Increasing annual recurring revenue.


🧰 Tools of the Trade:

Articles, Tools and Inspiration for Marketers

💬 Inaction

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer the negative elements in your life, don’t sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy!” — Dale Carnegie

👨‍🎓 Marketing & Leadership Education

  • CXL Playbooks - Another education resource just launched by the CXL institute. Step-by-step playbooks for all kinds of recurring marketing tasks.

  • Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet - A fantastic overview of cognitive biases you, your boss and your customers are likely dealing with. Gaining at least surface knowledge of some of these is an asset for any career.

  • How to create remarkable product GIFs - When showcasing your product, every millisecond counts. And this article shows how to do it right.

🤩 Brands and (digital) Products that caught my eye

  • Reform - A modern, advanced form builder so you don't have to get the devs on board.

  • Dovetail - A directory software for all your user research insights. Every company should have this.

📚 Interesting reads

  • The Rise of the One Person Unicorn - The way we build startups is changing, and with that change comes the rise of a new breed of company: bootstrapped, cash generative, and growing like crazy.

  • Why successful people take 10 years to succeed over night - There's a reason this 10-years-to-overnight-success pattern shows up over and over. And it's not just about working hard.

  • The End of Nation States - In the 19th and 20th centuries, nation-states became the ultimate powers, thanks to their control of gatekeepers. Now we got the internet. So we need to ask ourselves what the role of the government will be in the next 50-100 years.


⛑️ Reflections From the Trenches

Structured Learning vs. Unstructured Learning

One of the key skills of every knowledge worker is the ability to learn new material and apply it in the real world. And because the world is changing so fast, the speed at which you learn becomes a distinct competitive advantage.

Now I am of the school that knowledge has no inherent value. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake leaves me unsatisfied. I want to apply what I have studied. Unless we talk about entertainment, like reading a book about the fall of the Roman empire. But for the sake of this essay, we focus on "professional learning" in order to advance your career.

Houston, we need a process

In tech and marketing specifically we love to read about tactics, hacks and best practices. It's immediate knowledge that can be directly applied and experimented with. BUT, if we only focus on copying what others are doing, our professional growth is heavily limited.

Every now and then we are plateauing with our knowledge of the fundamentals. When you start out in marketing for example, you'll be really ineffective if you do not know the basics of market research, segmentation, targeting, positioning, the 4 Ps, etc. Likewise, when you specialize in content marketing later on, you will need the fundamentals of writing a good story, keyword research, content distribution, how to measure content success and so forth.

You need to learn the concepts, the building blocks and the processes of a new discipline first before you dig into the juicy tactics. So there are really two phases of learning something new:

  1. Structured learning

  2. Unstructured, or "self-advancing" learning

So let's have a look at each.

Structured Learning

In my definition structured learning is to be applied when you need to grasp the fundamentals first. There needs to be some kind of tried-and-true curriculum. Somebody who distilled the basic concepts for you to get started. This is where you cannot advance on your own through trial and error or googling for solutions. Because you don't know what to google.

Think of programming for example. If you don't know the basic structure of Javascript let's say, it is near impossible for you to make any progress, let alone write your own web application. And so even if you self-educate online, you still need somebody who has done the work and put together a sequential learning curriculum you can follow to learn the ropes.

In programming this might be self-evident, but think about all the other knowledge-working professions and how little structured learning there is.

Unstructured Learning

Now contrast this to unstructured learning, where you can grow organically by responding to obstacles in your path by either experimenting or googling best practices. This is the brute-force method. You have a problem; you google it, try stuff out and solve it on the fly.

This mode is fantastic if we can ask the right questions and know what a sensible solution would look like when we encounter it.

I would argue, that most of us knowledge workers got accustomed to this self-advancing style of learning. The competitive environment of business forces us to act quickly and figure stuff quickly.

But in the long-run hacks, tactics and best practices can only get us so far.

My Observations & Approach

Of what I have seen this lack of structured learning is the status quo in marketing today.

Everybody thinks they know how to market, without having ever studied the fundamentals. And in the beginning of my career I fell into this trap as well. Until I realized I am spending hours googling solutions and copying other people's "best practices" and having nothing to show for it.

So my current thinking on this is two-fold:

  1. Let's keep studying the fundamentals of our fields. Let's train ourselves in the meta-skills that make us effective in our jobs. Structured, curriculum based courses are best suited for this.

  2. When researching best practices let's not blindly copy the tactics, but use them to better understand the problem we are facing and improve the underlying processes of our work.

So in other words: Unstructured learning and best-practices should drive our process, not the outcome. When looking at what others have done successfully before you, focus on the way they thought about the problem, not on the solution.

I believe that if we use this two-pronged approach to learning and improving our skills than we are well prepared for anything future will throw at us.


That's it for this week.

Talk soon,

Sandro