Your browser does not support JavaScript!

The 3 Elements Needed for Effective Growth Marketing

Whether you work in marketing or you’re just on the lookout for creative ways to grow your business, chances are you’ve come across the term “growth hacking.” You might have even tried out a few “hacks” for yourself. Truth is, the term “hack” is misleading. It suggests we’re using programming skills to “hack” the system […]

Whether you work in marketing or you’re just on the lookout for creative ways to grow your business, chances are you’ve come across the term “growth hacking.” You might have even tried out a few “hacks” for yourself.

Truth is, the term “hack” is misleading. It suggests we’re using programming skills to “hack” the system for faster growth, which isn’t quite accurate. I prefer to talk about growth marketing – a facet of marketing that uses scalable tactics and testing to grow a business fast.

But how is this different from what any other marketer does?

In most cases, the key difference between a “marketer” and a “growth marketer” is the range of their focus.

As a general rule, “marketers” concentrate on things like brand awareness, website visibility, and new customer acquisition.

“Growth marketers,” however, will look at every aspect of the customer journey – including (critically) what happens after someone buys.

Image Credit

Growth marketers will also use the product as the catalyst for growth, whereas marketers tend to look at customer acquisition more holistically.

“Growth hacking focuses on product to move the needle.” Kate Harvey, Chargify

Of course, the disciplines overlap, and the end goal for all marketers is the same – to grow a business – but this doesn’t mean marketers will automatically be effective at growth marketing.

For that, you’ll need these three things:

1. Comfort with different channels

Many marketers have their preferred channels for driving traffic or new leads. They’re comfortable using these channels and they’ve gotten good results with them on more than one occasion, so they think, “Why rock the boat?”

This is shortsighted, and when it comes to growth, massively limiting.

Good growth marketers know they have to diversify the channels they use; that a hunger to keep trying something new is essential.

What’s worked before won’t necessarily work again. Your product or audience might be different, or the channel itself could have changed (just think about how Facebook’s organic reach has declined over the years).

Image Credit

A good growth marketer’s arsenal will include a whole bunch of different channels. This might include everything from email and paid ads to viral referral loops and influencer marketing – and a whole lot more in between. They’ll constantly be exploring and experimenting with new channels, too. First off, they’ll use a mixture of experience and experimentation to establish one scalable channel that moves the needle. Once that’s in place and driving growth, they’ll test out new channels alongside it.

If you want to be effective at growth marketing, it’s essential that you too get comfortable using lots of different channels concurrently and are able to keep pace with how those channels are changing (both in terms of the channels themselves, and the impact they’re having on your client or business).

2. Agility

Being able to switch between tasks and react fast to changing landscapes – in other words, to be agile – is essential for growth marketers.

“Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and multiple new ideas every week.” Jason Heller, David Edelman and Steven Spittaels for McKinsey

This is because growth marketing is a very experimental discipline. Most of the time you’ll be working on a new brand, and you’re not going to know how this brand matches up to different channels and how effective those channels will be at driving that brand’s growth.

You can make an educated guess based on past experience and information other marketers have shared, but that’s it. It’s just an educated guess. A growth marketer’s job is to find out what actually works for the brand they’re growing, and to switch it up quickly when something fails to deliver.

This means performing tests and trying out new channels in short sprints, while getting comfortable making informed decisions at speed. You have to be prepared to work on different tasks day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. You might be split testing landing page elements one day, working on top-of-the-funnel content the next, and reducing churn the day after that.

If you’re not happy working on such a diverse range of tasks and swapping between them as needed, you’re probably not cut out for growth marketing.

3. A focus on the full funnel

A good growth marketer recognizes that not all website visitors or prospects are created equal – that each one has different pain points and is at a different stage of the buying cycle.

Of course, we can’t create a strategy that targets each visitor or prospect individually, so we have to find some way of grouping them together. This is where the sales funnel comes in.

Image Credit

A sales funnel groups prospects according to their position in the sales cycle. At the top of the funnel are those that are aware they have a “problem” but they don’t know how to resolve it. These are also people who have never been exposed to the brand. For myself, a prospect at the top of the sales funnel would be someone who wants to grow their company, but has no idea how.

At the bottom of the funnel are qualified leads – someone that is genuinely considering becoming a customer. This generally means they have made an inquiry, or, depending on the product, started a trial.

Effective growth marketing considers the whole funnel. Focusing on a single stage is going to hold back a brand’s growth significantly. It either means you’re not working to draw in new potential leads, or you’re not doing enough to convert those leads into customers.

That said, there’s a trick to targeting the sales funnel, something that can speed up how quickly you grow.

When implementing a growth-based marketing strategy, most marketers start from the top of the sales funnel. That’s logical – get people to your site, and try to convert them later – but it’s wrong.

Instead, try starting further down the funnel. Target those who are most likely to buy, and then try to convert them.

To do this, you might use:

  • Paid ads (both in the SERPs and on social media – particularly Facebook).
  • Retargeting campaigns.
  • Drip campaigns.
  • Display ads.

Only once you have a steady stream of new customers from this strategy should you work your way up the sales funnel and target those at the start of the sales process (i.e. those who know they have a problem, but not how to fix it).

To do this, you might use:

  • Blog content (especially 10x content).
  • Podcasting
  • Video content and guides.
  • Creating content for other industry sites (primarily guest posts).

Will you get results if you start at the top of the funnel? Yeah, probably. After all, the most important thing is to ensure you’re working on the full funnel – but you’ll get better results, faster, if you start from the bottom and work your way up.

What do you think are the most important elements needed for effective growth marketing? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

4 Lessons on Marketing to Small Businesses From Ryan Farley of Lawnstarter

Scaling a company that offers technology to small businesses is tough. As Peter Thiel so eloquently puts it in Zero to One: The product needs a personal sales effort, but at that price point, you simply don’t have the resources to send an actual person to talk to every prospective customer. This is why so […]

Scaling a company that offers technology to small businesses is tough.

As Peter Thiel so eloquently puts it in Zero to One:

The product needs a personal sales effort, but at that price point, you simply don’t have the resources to send an actual person to talk to every prospective customer. This is why so many small and medium- sized businesses don’t use tools that bigger firms take for granted. It’s not that small business proprietors are unusually backward or that good tools don’t exist: distribution is the hidden bottleneck.

Additionally, small business owners are often overworked, and rarely have time to seek out solutions.  Many have learned the trade over a decade or longer, and are fine with doing things the way they have always done.  And with small budgets and cashflow constraints, a business owner must be certain that there is not only a high ROI but a quick payback period to their purchase.

With such headwinds, distribution certainly isn’t easy.

But if you get it right, selling to small businesses can be both lucrative and impactful.  Just look at Yext, Grubhub and Yelp to name a few.

It’s a different game that typically involves some blend of traditional B2B demand gen, consumer marketing, inside sales and a bit of out of the box creativity.

Here are a few tips to help you overcome the challenges and succeed at selling to small businesses

First, understand your customers’ language

Small business owners get called and advertised to every single day.  And not only that, many have been burned by companies selling crappy leads, software that didn’t do anything, or the ‘first spot on Google that just opened up’.

Really understanding your customers’ language is an easy way to cut through the noise and establish trust.

If you were to describe my company LawnStarter’s value prop to our service providers in typical business lingo, you might say something like this:

LawnStarter increases your utilization by filling up your excess capacity.  We increase your profitability without increasing your costs because we bring you incremental jobs in close proximity to your existing routes.

Whereas, a message that resonates much better:

We’re looking to bring you 20-30 extra recurring, paying customers per season.  We show you the price upfront, and you don’t have to take any jobs you don’t want.  And since we only send you jobs near your existing customers, you actually make more money due to the reduced drive time.

Not only is that laymans terms, it does the following:

  • We mention that these are paying customers – not just leads.  We learned early on that home services professionals are sick of getting burned by sleazy lead gen companies.
  • We reinforce that the customers are recurring.  This is because we know that lawn care companies don’t make much money on one-time jobs.
  • Drive time is a well-understood concept in the industry.  Reduced drivetime = more profit.

Not understanding your customers’ language not only won’t convert; it’s a surefire way to alienate them, and see you as the enemy vs a partner.

Make your outbound sales script a requirement

If you’re selling to SMBs, you’re probably going to have an inside sales team.  I can’t think of a single technology company that has scaled without inside sales operations.

Why is that?

There’s a finite number of small business owners searching for a solution, if any.  But literally every small business has a phone number.

It’s a game of 150 dials, 10 conversations, 3 demos, 1 sale.  It’s a grind, but if you can make the costs work, it scales pretty darn far.

Early on when I was making all sales calls, I treated every call a little differently.  It was conversational, and we got quite good at it.  We figured we needed to go out and hire someone who could improvise just as well – if not better than me.

That was until an investor who had scaled his company to hundreds of reps told us how stupid we were (this tends to happen a lot, as first time founders).

What he told us, was that we had to turn the call into a script.  It’s actually much like a flow chart.  You read the script, and when the conversation inevitably goes off-script, you give the answer, then move back to where you left off.

At first this seemed counterintuitive.  Shouldn’t a top-notch sales rep be able to hold their own?  Aren’t they better off if they can find out what works for them?

Well, as it turns out, it’s tough to optimize a sales team when everyone is doing something a little differently.  Every time you give someone feedback, you say something like ‘well, in this situation I would have said something like X’.  That makes your feedback just your opinion.

When you have a script that is proven to work when followed, your feedback is really one of two things: 1) you didn’t follow the script properly OR 2) there’s something wrong with your tone.  Both are pretty objective.

Over time, you can easily listen to calls and understand what parts of the script aren’t working.  You then change it, teach it to a few trusted reps and run an A/B test.  When it wins, you make it the control.  Can’t do that if everyone is winging it.

Additionally, enforcing a script ensures that expectations are set properly and that pushy, high-pressure tactics aren’t used.  If you give reps free reign to say whatever they want to get the sale, you’re going to end up with people doing whatever they can to get the sale, and that’s going to hurt your brand long term.

Experiment with non-traditional channels

It’s very unlikely that there’s going to be much intent-based search you can grab. Or that you’re going to be able to come up with a solid lookalike audience on Facebook.  Or that the small business owners you’re targeting are going to want to follow you on social media.

(Yes, I know there are exceptions, but this is true in most situations)

So, you’re going to have to get creative.

Here are some examples I’ve seen to be effective:

‘Claim your profile’

Let me start by saying I’m not a huge fan of this one, as it has the potential to be sleazy, which is why we never leveraged it at LawnStarter.  But it’s worked for many successful companies including Yelp and WeddingWire.

Basically, you create a profile for a business whether they want to be there or not.  Then, you invite them via email to ‘claim’ their profile, getting you a chance to market or sell to them.

It’s a bit hacky and borders on sketchy, but pretty standard in today’s world.  What I don’t like about it, is so many times companies will trick the small business into claiming their profile, doing nothing but trying to sell them.  If you do use this tactic, my belief is that you should 1) offer real value (not just the chance to sell someone) by allowing the business to claim their profile and 2) allow them to take their profile down.


We started out by advertising on Craigslist, since that was where lawn care providers were looking for jobs.  The lead quality ended up being low so we stopped, but I’m sure it works for other industries.

In fact, nearly every company in the ‘gig economy’ seems to be posting on craigslist.

Direct Mail

Many say this channel is dead, but my overstuffed mailbox I haven’t checked in a week would beg to differ.  It’s quite easy to model out the ROI – (cost of creative + postage cost) / conversion rate – and test to see if you get anywhere close to the response rate you need.

Keep in mind, if you have above a 0.10% conversion rate, you’re doing really really well.  And keep in mind someone responding to a postcard will likely require a phone call as well.  So you’ll either need a pretty high LTV or high response rate.

Like most things, it’s worth testing.  I can think of two friends’ companies who get 4+% response rates on DM.  Both of them sell products in very, very old school industries.  Maybe that’ll be you.

Industry Forums

Remember forums?  Well, they’re still alive and well for many industries.  Most have been bought up by media companies, who monetize the community in a few ways.

For starters, you can buy banner ads inexpensively.  For a bit more money, you can send out an email blast to their list.

But probably the biggest benefit of being a forum sponsor, is that they’ll let you engage in their community as a user. (If you try and self promote your company without a sponsorship, you’ll quickly be banned).  Be sure to give first, provide value, and seldom talk about your product.  People will notice you, and have a much more positive perception than if you try to sell.

Display / Facebook Ads + Inside Sales

Display and Facebook advertising – both prospecting or retargetting – may not show you a positive ROI out of the gate, but these channels can be used to increase the effectiveness of your sales efforts.

Ravi Parik, CEO of campground comparison site Roverpass,  explains how they used display advertising to double their conversion rates on outbound sales calls:

We’re a two sided marketplace that sells advertising to RV parks.  One of the biggest issues was that they had been in the industry for so long, but never heard of us.  Then we turned on retargeting and prospecting in the Seattle area.  At first, I looked at our clickthrough rates, and figured this experiment was a failure.  But then I checked our Seattle campgrounds page and saw that it had filled up faster than any other page.  Sure enough, our conversion rate on sales was double than other geos.  Now we bake the cost of display into

There you have it; don’t call a channel dead until you’ve measure the lift it has on your inside sales efforts.

(For Marketplaces) Leverage your consumer channels

One of the most surprising things when scaling LawnStarter was how many service providers heard about us via our consumer channels.

Typically what happens is a savvy small business owner will start Googling to check out their competition.  They’ll stumble across us, learn about us, and think ‘well if I found them, how many customers are going to find them?’.

Many of these businesses will get in touch with you organically, but tailoring some of your landing pages towards the suppliers can only help.  Porch, for example, has a call to action for their pros in the nav of all their consumer-facing pages.

If you’re doing awareness advertising via billboards or local radio, that will also have a large impact.  In this podcast episode, Casey Winters describes how early on at Grubhub, their outdoor advertising helped increase trust among businesses who had previously never heard of Grubhub.

Lean Innovation

3 Must-Have Lean Innovation Skills for Growth Marketers  By: Jeremiah Gardner (@JeremiahGardner) Growth is hard. From those of us starting from zero… To those with a flourishing audience. From a startup in a co-working space or an enterprise marketing team in global HQ… From the greenest novice to the battle-tested veteran… Growth is hard. And […]

3 Must-Have Lean Innovation Skills for Growth Marketers 

By: Jeremiah Gardner (@JeremiahGardner)

Growth is hard.

From those of us starting from zero…

To those with a flourishing audience.

From a startup in a co-working space or an enterprise marketing team in global HQ…

From the greenest novice to the battle-tested veteran… Growth is hard.

And that’s because marketing has forever changed.

What used to be a simple one-way broadcast has turned into a continuous, asynchronous, amalgamous, voluminous, raucous conversation.

The end of the Industrial Age has shifted power to the consumer. And as a result, marketers are overwhelmed daily with the challenge of just keeping up with their audience, much less growing it.

Luckily, Lean Innovation can help.

Lean innovation sits at the crossroads between the inspiration of design thinking and the rigor of lean startup. It’s been successfully used by thousands of startups and is at the forefront of the transformation of many large corporations.

By mapping these three essential Lean Innovation skills to the practice of growth marketing, marketing teams can move faster, act bolder, and jumpstart their growth.


1. Get In Front of Customers

Get in front of customers - lean innovation

The first step in putting Lean Innovation to work in your growth marketing is simple – get in front of your customers and start having meaningful conversations with them.

You need to heat it straight from the customers mouth.

This requires you to listen, not to talk. To learn, not sell. To understand, not be understood.

The answers always lie with your customers, not within the walls of your office.

Learning to see your growth efforts through the eyes of your customer is a critical skill every growth marketer should possess. Gaining direct insights from your audience gives you a huge advantage over your competition.

The most successful Lean Innovation practitioners, from startups to the enterprise, don’t just talk about being customer-centric; they live it. They go beyond personas, customer journey maps, and big-data-demographics and instead try to walk a mile in their customer’s shoes.

There is no more powerful tool in your marketing toolbox than a cup of coffee with a customer.

To gain empathy it takes both practice and courage. The most important step in your customer development is simply getting started.

Schedule a chat. Go to a meetup group. Head out on a “customer safari.” No matter how you do it, if you want to grow, you must be in direct contact with your customers to learn from them as much as you can.


2. Experiment

Experiment - Lean innovation

Bet small, win big…

The infamous landing page, Mechanical Turk, Judo-Imposter, Dry Wallet, crowdfunding, paper prototypes, mock-apps and the list goes on… It’s likely by now you may be familiar with at least one (if not all) of these shorthand expressions for experiments. Although the idea of experimentation is simple, putting it into practice is not.

Experimentation is both a skill and a mindset.

The engine of Lean Innovation is rapid experimentation. Many product teams have nailed the art of experimentation and are able to produce evidence from their experiments to guide their development forward. Products developed using rapid experimentation are markedly better than their counterparts.

But over on the marketing side of the house, many of us are still stuck thinking that A/B split testing subject lines and running focus groups are the extent of experimentation. Doh!

As technology continues to transform our world, new channels arrive daily in droves, old channels evolve, and customer expectations rise; the opportunity to put the skill of rapid experimentation to work in our marketing efforts has never been bigger.

Your job is to experiment!

Run a meetup to test your customer assumptions. Use a Dry Wallet experiment to test your go-to-market pricing structure. Refine your social ads with prototypes in two-week sprints. Launch a series of crowdfunding experiments to test new product positioning.

Truly, there is no right way to experiment. The goal of any experiment is to learn as much as you possibly can as fast as you possibly can learn it. The key is to define the customer behavior you’re trying to illicit along with the key metrics that will tell you whether or not you’re efforts produce actionable data.

This is where the terms minimal and viable come into play. What is the very minimal tactic, creative, prototype, etc. you can put in front of a customer to produce a viable behavioral response? Are you trying to get a customer to click? Purchase? Act as a referral? Watch the video? Walk through the door? Share on Twitter? Why would they behave that way? Is this tactic working? Are people responding to it? Why?

When you’re able to combine an experiment-first mindset with the skill to execute purposeful experiments, you’ll begin to see the results.


3. Flip Evidence Into Action

Flip Evidence Into Action - Lean Innovation

Using Lean Innovation techniques, growth marketing teams can engage a small group of their existing customers in new ways to produce evidence to propel their growth.

The ability to turn evidence into action is key.

The result of great customer development and well-designed rapid experimentation is evidence. Evidence is the combination of the raw data you’ve generated plus the insights about why the customer behaved in the way they did.

Tying customer insights to data is vital to producing results in your growth marketing efforts. A Must Have Score, Viral Coefficient, Daily Net Change, or activity heatmap are almost useless without the insights about why the customer is exhibiting that behavior.

Your NPS score may be 72, but if you don’t know why those customers have become promoters, you won’t be able to turn that score into action.

The goal in applying Lean Innovation to your growth marketing is to build a case over time. Using multiple rounds of customer empathy and continuous rapid experiments will create the level of evidence you need to prove the ______ (tactic, marketing product, strategy, etc) should be used.

If you’ve proven it’s effective, execute. If you still don’t know, experiment.

Growth marketing teams successfully using Lean Innovation have chosen to prioritize building their team’s skills to move fast, iterate quickly and act boldly in their marketing efforts.

When you spend the majority of your marketing efforts behind a desk planning out quarterly strategies, you’re essentially taking a big bet that your strategy will be right. Instead, bet small. Use constant Lean Innovation to test the most critical assumptions in your growth marketing efforts to advance your progress.


Three Questions You Need to Answer

1. How are you using customer empathy to inform your growth?

2. Which “big bets” are you making that could benefit from the rigor of rapid experimentation?

3. What is the threshold for evidence you’ve set in your growth marketing efforts?

When you answer those questions you will be primed for massive growth…

So what do you think? Are these the tactics you use in your business? Is there a customer development strategy you use that’s been working recently?