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5 Phases of the Startup Lifecycle: Morgan Brown on What it Takes to Grow a Startup

The best growth leaders know how to adjust their focus depending on what their startup needs at any given phase in its trajectory.   I had the chance to interview Morgan Brown, one of growth’s OG’s. He has served as the Head of Growth at Qualaroo, GrowthHackers.com, and a number of other high growth startups. […]

The best growth leaders know how to adjust their focus depending on what their startup needs at any given phase in its trajectory.

 

I had the chance to interview Morgan Brown, one of growth’s OG’s. He has served as the Head of Growth at Qualaroo, GrowthHackers.com, and a number of other high growth startups.

 

I found out that Morgan isn’t only a total badass when it comes to strategizing and executing growth plans, he’s also incredibly articulate when explaining the processes and frameworks that underlie his approach.  

 

In the interview, I dug into the question of what growth looks like at different stages in a start up’s life cycle. So put your growth marketing pants on and let me walk you through Morgan’s take on the key stages, and related inflection points, in a startup’s growth trajectory.

 

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Frameworks are Great, but They Aren’t Life

 

Morgan was the first to admit that a caveat was needed when talking about the “rules” for growth. Frameworks are great for teaching concepts but in the end life so often evades our best efforts to put method to madness. So, as neat and tidy as this framework looks, anyone who’s thrown their hat in the startup ring knows there are infinite variations on how the parts of this outline can be mixed, matched, layered and timed.

Though you can never be sure how the details of your startup’s life story will reveal themselves, you should recognize bits and pieces of this framework all along the way.

 

The Stages

1)       Problem/Solution Fit

2)       Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

3)       Product/Market Fit

          a Language/Market Fit

          b– Funnel Optimization 

          c– Channel/Product Fit

4)      Scale

5)      Maturity

 

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Stage 1:  Find Problem/Solution Fit

You have an idea for a product that you just can’t get out of your head. Maybe it was even born from one of your own needs. You’re off to a good start.

 

At this point, ask yourself two questions: “What problem am I compelled to solve?” and “Does my proposed solution solve it effectively?” If you have a clear answer to the first question and a confident “Yes” for the second, then you’ve got problem/solution fit and a hypothesis, and it’s time to start pressure testing your idea.

 

TO THIS:

  • Study the Lean Startup framework and apply it to your discovery process.
  • Conduct problem/solution fit interviews like crazy.
    • Have a hypothesis about who the target user may be for your product.
    • Find people that fit that profile and talk to them. For inspiration, check out Episode 20, How to Get Your First 10 Customers, on Hiten Shah’s and Steli Efti’s The Startup Chat podcast.
    • Ask them tons of questions to understand how they view the problem and what they are currently doing to solve it.
    • Drill down into their specific pain points around the problem.
  • If possible, run demand tests
    • Use landing pages or even a crowdfunding campaign to test demand.
    • If people are biting, you may be onto something – it’s time to invest in building a more robust product.
  • Use your discoveries from interviews and demand tests to start cooking up your initial blueprint for your MVP.
  • Iterate on your proposed problem and solution as new information flows in.

 

 

Stage 2:  Build Your MVP

The purpose of this next step is to test your product hypothesis with the smallest possible investment of time and capital, hence, minimum viable product. In this way you are proving demand and learning about customer behavior, while minimizing risk.  Once you put your MVP out into the wild, focus on getting users flowing into your product – this is where the seeds of initial startup growth are sown.

 

For initial users, there isn’t a hard and fast number, but you need enough users moving through so you can see whether people are sticking around and using your product or abandoning it.” -Morgan Brown Tweet This  

 

DO THIS:

  • Refer the Lean Startup Framework for best practices on building an MVP.
  • Keep in mind that an MVP for one company may take one day to build and for another it may take 6 months. There are many different types of MVPs and you must use your judgement to decide what an MVP looks like that will adequately test your idea. Take a look at 15 Ways to Test Your Minimum Viable Product for some guidance.
  • Conduct a minimal amount of channel discovery to get some initial users using your product so you can measure retention.
    • Only do as much channel discovery as you need to get your initial users. You will be investing in more robust channel discovery later when you’re preparing to scale.

 

 

Stage 3: Work For Product-Market Fit

Your MVP gained traction, you’re learning and iterating, you’ve got paying customers, they buy again and keep using your product on a regular basis, maybe they’re even telling their friends about it. These are the telltale signs of product/market fit, that ever so elusive entrepreneurial carrot.

 

Retention rate is your best measure of product/market fit, the higher your retention rate the more it’s a must have product.” -Morgan Brown ← Tweet this 

 

Take his words to heart – always measure retention rate and use it as your north star to navigate this whole startup game.

 

One caveat: the usual rules of searching for product market fit through limited customer acquisition and testing don’t apply if you have a network effects business or marketplace such as LinkedIn or Airbnb.

 

For two-sided market products like these, you need to achieve some semblance of scale, with liquidity on both sides, to actually test whether your product works and people keep using it.

 

Products in which the value can be experienced regardless of network effects, such as HubSpot or Evernote, show indications of product-market fit before scale. For this reason, for a two sided business model, you need to get to some critical mass and refine the product along the way to get to a must-have product.

 

DO THIS:

  • Test for product-market fit
    • Survey users to understand how they feel about your product
    • Measure Net Promoter Score (NPS) – if it’s a 9 or a 10 you’re in good shape
    • Use Sean Ellis’ test for product-market fit – if 40% or more of your users say they would be very disappointed if your product was taken away that is a good indicator of product-market fit.
    • Measure retention rates and look for a stabilizing retention rate over time. What’s a good retention rate? Depends on model and vertical.

 

Morgan drilled down a bit deeper into some of the stops along the road to product/market fit, including:

  • Language-market fit
  • Funnel optimization
  • Channel-product fit

 

Test for Language/Market Fit – When it comes to language/market fit, the key is to figure out how to talk to your users about what your product does so that they “get” it. This is where you test your messaging to make sure it resonates with your target customers.

 

DO THIS:

  • Define your product’s positioning in the market and to your target users
  • A/B test different messaging around:
    • The value proposition of your product
    • The tagline
    • Product descriptions
    • Features and benefits
    • Calls to Action

Perform Funnel Optimization

Before you turn up the dial on acquisition, make sure your user flows are solid and you bring people into your product in the most intuitive way possible.” -Morgan Brown Tweet This

Funnel optimization is where you experiment with different elements of the user experience to reduce and remove points of confusion. This may involve testing landing pages, calls-to-action, the user onboarding process, and any other key actions users take as they learn how to use your product. It’s done with the intention of optimizing for activation, conversion and retention.

 

As I wrote about previously in Build a Growth Machine Like Andy Johns, the heart and soul of any successful funnel optimization effort is to uncover the “Aha Moment” for users and get them to it as quickly as possible. At Qualaroo, Brown’s team found that retention rate increased significantly when users received 50 or more responses to a survey. With that Aha Moment in mind, the team optimized the product to maximize survey responses during the trial period.

Look for signals of things that make certain users more successful than others and do more of that.” – Morgan BrownTweet This

 

DO THIS:

  • Segment your audience – make sure you are targeting the people who get value from your product.
  • Figure out what’s unique about the users that stick around and those that churn
  • Find the critical actions they take and milestones they reach that unlock the value of the product.
  • Bake those actions into the experience and push as many users as possible to take those actions or hit those milestones – this will drive up activation, conversion and retention.

 

Seek Channel-Product Fit

Channel-product fit is all about using a process of channel discovery to find the highest yield and most efficient avenues for reaching your target customers.

 

Exploring channels is all about experimentation. When you’re testing channels, it’s like echolocation. You’re sending out pings – if I do a test here, do I get a response, if I do a test there, do I get a response.” – Morgan Brown Tweet This

A common mistake that founders make is dabbling in a bunch of channels, rather than being deliberate in their approach to channel discovery.

 

DO THIS:

  • Study Justin Mares’ and Gabriel Weinberg’s Bulls Eye Framework and Brian Balfour’s Channel Prioritization Matrix
  • Stack rank your channels based on 3 factors:
    • How close do they get you to your target customer*?
    • How do they align with your business model?
    • What are your team members’ strengths – ie: instrumented virality, SEO, PR, Facebook ads?
  • Focus on your top one, maybe two, channels at first – don’t dabble, pick your channels and go deep.
  • Start to run some initial growth experiments in these channels – these are your pings – they will tell you if a channel is promising, or not.
*Side note – Most startups think way too broadly about who their target customer is. You MUST be hyper specific here. For user acquisition purposes, your target customers are NOT working mothers or marketers (they may be exactly that for the sake of fundraising, since you need to demonstrate a huge addressable market for your product). Example – In the beginning, New Relic didn’t see their target customers as developers, they zeroed in on Ruby on Rails developers as their early adopters and became a voice within that very niche community. Later they expanded to serve a larger population of developers as they scaled.

 

Stage 4: Scale

In the scaling phase it’s time to turn your “pings” into playbooks for growth.

 

By now you have an idea of some channels that work, you feel confident about your conversion flows and retention rates, so it’s finally time to pour it on. Do this by doubling down on the channels that work.” – Morgan BrownTweet This 

 

A key to effectively executing at this stage is to expand your growth team by hiring specialists with deep expertise in your primary channels.

 

If SEO is a promising growth channel then bring an SEO expert in house, if you’re hitching yourself to the instrumented virality sled, then bring in a product person who’s got relevant experience, and so on.

At some point, your favorite channels will start to hit saturation points, so it’s critical for sustainable growth, to think of your growth engine like a layer cake.

 

You want to nail one channel, but once you find that one channel you need to think of your growth like a layer cake. If I’m going to add growth, I need to go out and get another channel and ultimately start stacking various channels on top of one another to grow.” – Morgan Brown Tweet This 

 

Do This:

  • Double down on the top channels that showed promise during your channel exploration.
  • Hire specialists for each channel and give them the resources necessary to execute. That may mean giving them design or engineering support or a sizable budget for paid acquisition, among other things.
  • Use Brian Balfour’s Building a Growth Machine methodology to scale and track your growth experiments (this is my favorite growth video in the history of growth videos, btw).
  • Once you know what works, build a growth playbook for each channel. This is where you define and document the processes that drive growth in your company.

 

Stage 5: Maturity

Your growth rate may slow down as a company matures, but at the world’s top tech companies it never stops. It’s baked into the culture and DNA.  

 

Growth is never done. LinkedIn is almost 20 years old and they continue to push growth experiments. Same goes for Facebook. Facebook has over a billion users and they are buying apps and rolling out tests, it’s not like you check the box and move on.” -Morgan Brown Tweet This

Top companies like Facebook, continue investing in their growth teams, but they also begin to look towards M&A, internationalization, and localization as the next frontier in growth. For example, this year LinkedIn bought Lynda.com as a way to expand the value they bring to their users and broaden their market.

 

DO THIS:

  • Look for opportunities to expand abroad. Build localized teams to adapt the product experience to the intricacies and cultural nuances of each new region.
  • Look for acquisition opportunities that align either directly or tangentially with your product. Maybe an acquisition target gives you access to a new but very similar market of users, or maybe a product helps you expand the value you offer current users.
  • Keep investing in your growth team and hunting for new growth channels through continual experimentation. Look for pockets of possible target users that haven’t adopted your product yet and try to uncover why they haven’t and find ways to access them.

 

Focus: The Common Thread

Focus: The Common Thread

Focus is the common theme Morgan touched on over and over throughout my interview with him. Consciously practicing focus at each step in the startup journey is critical. It is also one of the hardest things for any startup team to do consistently. In life, and in startups, there are endless tempting opportunities to chase. But the founders who learn how to critically assess opportunities, create thoughtful strategies and stay focused in their execution, outperform those who move from channel to channel and idea to idea. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown is one of my all-time favorite books and has become the bible I keep coming back to when I feel like I’m losing my edge. Read it.

How to Overcome the 10 Biggest Growth Marketing Challenges

Growth marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact in today’s thriving startup environment. This sphere isn’t about topping up the funnel. Rather, we’re expected to leverage tech, automation, and robust digital channels to acquire and retain in great measure. You need to be nimble, bold, and willing to put your neck on the […]

Growth marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to make an impact in today’s thriving startup environment.

This sphere isn’t about topping up the funnel.

Rather, we’re expected to leverage tech, automation, and robust digital channels to acquire and retain in great measure.

You need to be nimble, bold, and willing to put your neck on the line. Growth marketers fight stagnation, streamlining the buyer journey, and work to maximize rapid scaling.

It’s a tough gig, but who would have it any other way?

Today’s growth marketers have redefined the startup marketing world.

The discipline has evolved from a broad practice to one with depth and nuance. Success requires an obsession with the buyer, an intricate knowledge of customer journeys, and a methodological approach.

As Gilles De Clerck outlined in his piece, growth marketers must know how to experiment.

The role can influence the direction and success of any early-stage business. With access to unparalleled quantities of data and technology, growth marketers have more agility and efficacy than ever before.

However, there are plenty of challenges.

In this article, I will look at some of the most critical.

These are broken down into:

  1. Tactical challenges
  2. Strategic challenges

 

1. Tactical Challenges

Tactical Challenges

Image credit: Unsplash

 

1. Data integration across systems

There is often a lack of technical expertise in terms of integrating data across different tools.

Such is the wealth of SaaS platforms on the market today, there’s a chance that you’ll have multiple systems in play at the same time. These systems must integrate and add value to one another, whilst benefiting your startup’s growth (acquisition and retention).

 

How to overcome this challenge

The successful modern growth marketer recognizes their limitations. Don’t let a lack of technical expertise leave you scrambling. Delegate to a data integration expert, and be clear on the information you require to do your job.

As my colleague Jonathan outlined in his piece about implementing marketing automation, you will always need technical resources when integrating tools.

As a growth marketer, you mustn’t waste time bootstrapping a solution or wrestling with APIs. Instead, focus your time on high-impact activities within your wheelhouse. Keep an eye on the bigger picture.

 

2. Inexperience with tools

Again, with a buoyant SaaS market and a myriad of options for the modern startup, it’s easy to get left behind in terms of expertise. You can’t possibly have an in-depth knowledge of each tool on the market, and this can be a barrier to the modern growth marketer.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Lean on the vendor for as much support as required. Competition is fierce, and they’ll want to retain your interest not only for your current setup but also for when you move on to the next opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to ask for training wherever possible.

 

3. Flawed expectations of tools

Growth marketers must also understand the limitations of the tools that they’re using.

It’s important to rein in your expectations over what a tool can and cannot accomplish. Whilst I’ll always recommend you try to maintain a dialogue with the vendor over future plans and new features, take their feedback with a pinch of salt.

You never know when they might change direction as a business.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Most SaaS marketing tools allow you to undertake a free trial period – use it wisely.

Consider the capabilities of each tool and try to understand its place both now and in the future. Will these tools grow as the startup grows, or will you constantly need to chop and change? 

In short, research thoroughly and try before you buy.

 

4. Uncertainty about technology capabilities

With over 6,000 martech options out there, it can be very difficult to swim through the vast swathes of pros and cons.

If integration is an aim (and it should be), this becomes even more difficult. To know which tools work well together straight out the box is tricky, and to know whether your combination of tactics can be exercised with each tool is impossible.

This level of uncertainty can ultimately cloud your judgment when it comes to selecting the most appropriate tools for the task(s) in hand.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Don’t be afraid to ask for external help and support.

Even if it’s just a limited consultancy to get you started on the right foot, it’ll be money well spent.

 

2. Strategic Challenges

Strategic Challenges

Image credit: Unsplash

1. Sourcing Talent

Perhaps the biggest challenge on this list, sourcing specialist talent has been the difference between success and failure since time immemorial.

Whilst the marketing sphere is one largely characterized by a supportive community when it comes to recruitment, it can be positively cut-throat.

Add to this scenario a tight budget and tighter timelines, and you’re looking at a major obstacle to overcome straight off-the-bat.      

 

How to overcome this challenge

A great place to start when sourcing talent is to use your network.

You have no guarantees that this will get you the results you need, but tapping into your existing contacts will initially save you from relying on inbound applications and poring over hundreds of LinkedIn profiles.

You have additional considerations when it comes to recruitment:

  • If you’re dealing with an internal HR department, it’s vital that you’re involved in the recruitment process from the start. Tailor the job descriptions, screen candidates, and sit in on interviews. Insist on the final say for who will be hired in your team.
  • If you’re pre-revenue, you’re unlikely to be in a position to build out a team of specialists. Look for the experienced generalist who can take weight as you scale. For everything else, there are freelance sites such as Upwork, and crowdsourcing sites such as TopCoder.
  • If you’re funded, you might be able to start adding more specialists in-house. Identifying the most important skill gaps is something of an art form. Conduct a skills gap analysis to ensure the team you’re building meets expectations – you don’t want to be carrying any deadweight from the start.

 

Sujan Patel’s article about hiring your growth marketing team makes for excellent reading on this topic.

Here are some extra useful articles for the various stages of startup recruitment:

 

Finally, when it comes to hiring for particular skill sets, the success of that hire can be intrinsically linked to its source.

Traditional recruitment strategies will typically bring you a pile of CVs to sift through, but talent sourcing in the age of social and cloud technologies should allow you to narrow your focus.

By stepping outside of the box and using a platform like RemarkableHire, you will be able to review a candidate’s contribution to the likes of Dribble, GitHub, and StackOverflow, therefore validating their skill set very early on in the recruitment process.

 

2. Due diligence on external providers

If you’re recommending an external provider, you need to be certain they’re reliable.

Whether it’s an agency, a vendor, or an individual, you need to be confident that they’ll deliver on what is agreed and that they’ll still be in the game next month.

With regards to marketing tools, it’s not wise to place all your eggs in one basket, only for the provider to shut up shop soon after.

To that end, growth marketers must run due diligence on all external providers before making an appointment. It’s not always clear how to go about this, and the process differs depending on what you’re evaluating.

The bottom line is that you should never take expensive external providers at face value.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Ritika Puri’s guest article on the Kapost blog features useful points on tech stack due diligence. She advocates assessing the software’s lifespan, evaluating how systems talk to each other (integration capabilities), and allowing for contingencies.

This is sensible stuff, of course.

When we broaden this to SaaS due diligence, there’s a wealth of advice on the web. ASCAMSO has created a model whereby they rate SaaS providers, focusing on “more than just features”.

SaaS Rating Structure

Image credit: ASCAMSO

 

For due diligence on external consultants, it’s about digging into case studies and testimonials, seeking references where appropriate, and understanding the character of the individual as best as possible.

To dig deeper, growth marketers sometimes lean on specialist due diligence agencies.

Always commit to these kinds of relationships with mutually agreed contracts in place.

 

3. Getting buy-in from senior stakeholders

Growth marketing has been somewhat tainted by its nom de guerre: “growth hacking”.

This issue was addressed by Sujan Patel in his article about effective growth marketing. The difference of one word can leave senior stakeholders feeling uneasy with its underhanded and unethical connotations.

Some even dismiss growth marketing as a fad in itself.

This perception represents a major challenge to the growth marketer because it means you’re on the back foot from the start.

There’s a palpable need to justify every decision, to allay fears and suspicions.

 

How to overcome this challenge

You need to demonstrate how you’re going to make an impact – and not just on the bottom line. It’s vitally important to identify and engage with the right stakeholders from the word go. Understand their concerns and expectations, and be prepared to compromise to avoid roadblocks.

Getting buy-in from senior stakeholders is really no different to any other exchange; you need their commitment, and they need to see ROI.

To that end, it’s crucial that you implement strict and accountable reporting, as regularly as required to keep things on track.

And communication is key throughout – savvy people don’t appreciate being left in the dark.

Forecast and communicate results; make it clear that testing is required to identify what works and what doesn’t; and shout loud about the areas in which your role has a significant impact beyond revenue (culture, trust, brand perception).

Your life as a growth marketer is immeasurably easier if you have and retain the support of key individual stakeholders.

By understanding their character, history, skills, and level of knowledge, and countering their objections, you will encounter less push back and have more freedom to test new ideas.

In short, learn to speak their language, get them onside, and get the job done.

Here are two great articles to help you do just that:

 

4. Motivating and engaging the internal and external team(s)

Team Play

Image credit: Unsplash

 

You know what you want to accomplish, but you can’t do it alone.

The team needs to buy into the same vision, and have the same grit and determination to accomplish goals. The strategic oversight and tactical insight of a growth marketer must be supported by a variety of internal executives and external providers.

Leaders must inspire their team.

The level of man-management depends on the nature of that team, but the universal truth is that without a motivated and engaged collective, it’s an uphill battle.

Common problems within startups and established businesses include:

  • Team members working on specific tasks with no understanding of the wider impact
  • Feeling like cogs in a machine rather than valued human members of a team
  • External providers not aware of business goals or importance of meeting certain objectives
  • Perception of being overworked and underpaid with no tangible personal benefit
  • Disruptive internal conflicts and lack of unity between team members

The problem of how to hire the right team is a uniquely complex one to solve. For the purpose of this section, I will assume that you have a relatively unified and capable team. If not, the following articles will provide some guidance for getting that sorted:

 

Now to motivating your team…

 

How to overcome this challenge

As the senior growth marketer, it’s up to you to keep your team focused and motivated.

Much of this is down to trust and belief. If your team don’t trust you, and they don’t believe in your abilities as a leader, you won’t be able to motivate them, no matter how hard you try.

One of the best ways of building trust is to be honest and upfront from the outset. Let people know what is expected of them; show that you’re there as help and support; and provide the opportunity to team members to share expectations of the role and project.

Concise stand-up meetings will help maintain an open transparent dialogue, and publicly offering praise when merited also keeps the team recognised and appreciated.

If things have gone stale towards the business end of a campaign, consider incentives to drive the team onwards.

These could be financial, or something as simple as pizza.

Incentives should only be introduced for realistic targets, otherwise you’ll run the risk of a pressurised and stressful environment; counterproductive to high-quality work.

Finally, motivation can only materialize from understanding what drives each individual.

Speak to every person privately, and discuss personal and professional goals and objectives. You’ll find that one person’s motivations are very different to the next. Use this information to tailor incentives.

HubSpot have an excellent article covering a number of strategies for team motivation. One part in particular leapt out. Once you have a handle on a team member’s goals, ask them the following:  

  • Are you motivated right now?
  • What motivates you long term?
  • What can you do to motivate yourself?
  • How will I know if you are not motivated?
  • What do you want me to do if you don’t appear motivated?

It’s always better to be direct and get the answers you need, rather than second guessing your team’s motivations. In short, think of yourself as the conductor of an orchestra. There are many different instruments – it’s up to you to make sure they harmonize.

 

5. Strategic insight, learning, and executing simultaneously

It’s easy to become distracted by the “doing” and to overlook your strategic high-level oversight.

As an experienced growth marketer, you should be implementing the strategy, but not getting caught up in the tactical delivery too often.

This is also the case for CMOs, heads of marketing, and other strategic roles.

Of course, there will be plenty of execution involved, but if you’re shovelling coal, you won’t spot the iceberg until it’s too late.

 

How to overcome this challenge

In the early stages of any growth marketing endeavour, it’s crucial that you have a handle on the activities taking place that will ultimately yield results. When it comes to speed and quality of execution, the buck stops with you. It can be tempting to roll your sleeves up and get involved to ensure things stay on track.

However, your role is too important to risk offsetting the balance between big picture, strategic thinking, and falling down the rabbit hole of execution. Remember, this goes both ways: If you spend too long thinking, you’re not going to have enough time to take action.

Balance is key.

In this article, Max Bennett discusses the difference between ‘“thinking” and “doing” activities. While the article itself is geared towards product managers, there are takeaways for today’s growth marketer.

For instance, Max defines “thinking” activities as identifying customer problems, developing the right strategy, and competitor and market research, among others. Doing activities, on the other hand, should include writing briefs, running meetings, and giving presentations.

I think this is a really important distinction when considering the difference between thinking and doing; your thinking activities should inform your doing activities, which in turn should inform your team’s activities.

There’s little point spending valuable time working on one solitary aspect of your overall strategy (i.e. running a PPC campaign) when you could be delegating tasks and retaining control over the direction and success of the strategy.

This is where sourcing the right people for your team (strategic challenge #1) will be crucial. Recruiting people you can trust, and who are skilled in their respective disciplines, will ensure that you can spend less time micromanaging, and more time with your hand on the tiller, guiding your growth marketing campaign to success.   

 

6. Exceptional creatives and ambitious targets

Creative

Image credit: Unsplash

 

Average won’t cut it anymore. The internet is saturated.

We live in a world of huge competition in earned and paid media alike, and so growth marketers have a responsibility to deliver the finest quality in every scenario.

Growth marketing is a multi-faceted role, but you can’t be an expert designer, a business analyst, and copywriter all at once.

 

How to overcome this challenge

Build a network of trusted freelancers in specialist areas. Develop long-term relationships, partner up, and use these specialists to support your internal team where required.

Your company hasn’t hired you to fiddle with the intricate features of photoshop, or battle with Adobe Illustrator. This would be inefficiency at its worst, preventing you from focusing on important goals. I addressed some useful ways to manage a remote team of freelancers in this HubSpot article.

Of course, it’s valuable to build skills in different areas, but not to the detriment of a startup growth plan. Using experienced and trustworthy contractors might seem like a cost, but it’s far more effective and the quality will be higher. This will help you reach ambitious targets, and use your time most wisely.

 

Growth marketers must maintain perspective

Above all, the growth marketer must maintain perspective, context, and strategic oversight. It’s a challenge to keep a bird’s eye customer view in the midst of a competitive landscape, but this is essential best practice for any serious professional who wants to make an impact.

For growth marketers, the pressure is always on. The clock is always ticking. Budgets are always limited. Targets are always ambitious. Competition and constraints make this a challenging job role, but thoroughly rewarding as a result.

If you’re at a fast-growth startup, the product will likely be in its infancy. The first port of call for founders, of course, is to establish product-market fit. This provides you with a path to success, but it will be rocky.

Product infancy brings its own challenges because you’re dealing with constant iterations, volatility, and sensitive CS / product development teams. This requires an agile approach.

As a jack-of-all, you’ll have a broad awareness of what you need from your martech stack.

You’ll have high creative standards for copy and design.

You’ll know what needs to be done in terms of campaign execution, and how it contributes to your growth plan. This is beneficial, but a key challenge for the modern growth marketer is to not get sucked into executing.

Build a great team, and oversee the growth of your startup from a strategic standpoint.

How Stencil Recruited and Nurtured over 1400 Affiliates for Their SaaS Business

Building an affiliate network can seem a bit daunting at first, but once things start rolling, you’ll see it’s actually not that hard. Nurturing the affiliates and helping them succeed is another story, but we’ll get to that later… There’s no shortage of people out there looking to make a little side income, but the […]

Building an affiliate network can seem a bit daunting at first, but once things start rolling, you’ll see it’s actually not that hard. Nurturing the affiliates and helping them succeed is another story, but we’ll get to that later…

There’s no shortage of people out there looking to make a little side income, but the single most important part of recruiting affiliates is absolutely crucial: You must have a solid product to begin with. If your product is sub par, not only will you have a hard time selling directly to customers, but affiliates will have no interest referring new customers to you. Remember, the quality of your product will be directly reflected by your affiliate. It’s important you make your affiliates look good and of course, that all starts with the product.

Beyond the product itself, there’s a number of different things you can start doing to recruit and attract more affiliates:

 

1. Pay Generously & You’ll Get More Interest

We learned this one the hard way. On our very first stab at building an affiliate program, we were admittedly stingy. We were afraid to be too generous and feared we’d end up losing money. This was a mistake. Not only that, but the referral commission offering was complicated. Just have a look at our convoluted initial offer to new affiliates:

BAD: $30 one-time commission, only on annual subscriptions.

This was less-than-ideal for a number of reasons. First off, it was a pretty crappy deal all around. $30 one-time isn’t that interesting to anyone. Everyone wants recurring revenue and you should be happy to share that with your affiliates. Next, it was very confusing (and annoying) to limit commission to only annual plan signups. This stipulation made it hard for affiliates to sell to their audience and also created the potential for them to refer customers and end up getting nothing in return. For example, if an affiliate sent someone our way but they ended up deciding to go on a monthly plan, the affiliate would get a total of $0 in earnings. Worst. Even still, we would sign up the odd affiliate and go figure, they barely sent anyone our way. There was just very little incentive.

So one day, we decided to start over completely with a much better offering:

GOOD: 30% ongoing commission on ANY customer you refer.

The difference might seem subtle at first glance, but this is a far superior approach and we know it to be true because it resulted in many more affiliate signups. We also saw affiiatings sending more actual referrals our way. It’s simpler, it’s percentage based (so we can mess with our pricing and not have to worry) and includes ALL plans.

Takeaway here is that if you’re fair and your affiliates start to make some real cash, everyone wins.

 

2. Use An Off-The-Shelf Solution to Save Time and Money

Deciding how to manage your affiliate program can be one of the more technically challenging parts of the process. We first thought it would be best to roll our own simple affiliate program internally. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but ultimately, it ended up being time consuming, required a lot of maintenance and kinda just sucked. Since we’re bootstrapped and had to keep things really cost effective, our affiliate program lacked a sales dashboard where affiliates could track their success, download assets and easily get access to their custom link. Being able to see your progress as an affiliate is important and keeps motivation flowing.

We eventually decided to use a third-party service to manage our small, but growing, little army of affiliates. After much research, we ultimately decided on Tapfiliate. It’s not the cheapest solution around, but it’s feature-rich and handles a lot of the pain points of building your own affiliate program. While we’ve found this approach to be much better than our own hacked affiliate program, one clear downside is the lack of access to a network of affiliates. This is where ‘affiliate networks’ like JVZOO, ShareASale and Commission Junction tend to shine. I can’t speak much to these since we haven’t explored them yet, but it’s generally regarded as a good practice to use a network in addition to your own affiliate program (either built by yourself or powered by a third-party like Tapfiliate). One very nice thing about networks is that you can tap into thousands of potential affiliates who are eager to find new products to sell. While the network approach is definitely worth exploring, be aware that the network often wants to take a cut or have expensive set up fees.

 

3. Build a Great Landing Page to Signup New Affiliates

Having an easy to understand affiliate signup landing page is essential. We’ve experimented with this a bit and have had good success with keeping things as simple as possible. If the messaging becomes too complicated, affiliates will be deterred and may not trust that they’ll get paid what they expect to be paid.

A simple commission table and a section that explains exactly what an affiliate will get is the best and most straightforward approach:

The table immediately shows the affiliate what they could potentially make and helps us emphasize yearly accounts, which are the subscriptions we like to drive the most.

Another great thing to include on your landing page is a direct contact (or “Affiliate Concierge” as we call it) This has 2 big benefits:

  1. It will make the affiliate feel like they’re taken care of and have a direct contact they can reach out to. It puts the affiliate’s mind at ease.
  2. It creates a relationship between your affiliate and a real person.

#2 is especially powerful because it allows you to stay in constant contact with your best performing affiliates. The challenge there is that you’ll either need to hire someone to do this or do it yourself at first. I’d suggest the latter if you’re just starting out, but ignore this approach at your peril! 

 

4. Start Small and Find Some Lists

Alright, recruiting time! It’s probably a good strategy to be conservative and not try to swing for the fences just yet. There are some super successful affiliates out there and they’re very particular about the product they wanna rep. Avoid going after them first. Try to find smaller niche affiliates first who you can test your pitch on and grow with. Going after the big fish takes a bit of a different approach (admittedly, one we’re still trying to figure out!), you may as well get your feet wet on smaller prospects.

So where do we find these smaller affiliates? A great place to start is finding a list of affiliates who publicly display their monthly affiliate income. These often go by the phrase “Income Reports”. Here’s an income reports list where you can see exactly how big or small the affiliate is, at least in terms of income. Start from the bottom and work your way up, honing your pitch along the way. For most of these affiliates, it turns out the easiest way to contact them is via the contact form on their site. While that sometimes can get a response, you often get mixed in with a giant pile of contact form submissions and you may not get noticed. In addition to filling out their contact form, it’s also a good idea to try and find their email address to contact them directly there as well. A great tool for this is called Voila Norbert and they even have an excellent Chrome Extension so you can find emails on the go.

Sending a direct email (in addition to a contact form submission) has 2 distinct benefits:

  1. It shows you’re persistent and if they get contacted from you in multiple places, they’re more likely to respond.
  2. With an email pitch (as opposed to just an on-site contact form submissions) you can use a tool like Mailshake to automate a sequence of emails and follow-ups. This is a huge time saver and you can even tell Mailshake to only send follow-ups if the prospect didn’t open emails or take action. For more tips on how to do this, check out this great post on how to write the perfect “Ask” in your cold emails.

Generally speaking, these pitches are a bit different than sales pitches, because you’re not actually selling anything in exchange for money. And heck, you know these people are already interested in being affiliates, so the goal is to show them your awesome product and how it can make them money and ultimately make their audience succeed. Oh and bonus tip: After you’ve filled out their contact form and emailed them directly, follow up on Twitter, LinkedIn and eve Facebook to keep reminding them about your existence. Out of sight, out of mind!

 

5. Tap Into Your Own Customer & Mailing Lists

A great place to find affiliates is right within your midst! Your existing users, customers or mailing list subscribers are an excellent source of potential affiliates. This will of course depend on the nature of your product, but chances are if they’ve purchased your product or signed up, they are probably already impressed by your offering. That right there is half the battle and it’s usually pretty easy to turn these folks into affiliates, assuming they’re into that sort of thing. This is where we signed up our very first affiliates. You can do this by emailing your list and announcing your affiliate program. You can be pretty confident that anyone interested will reply. We did this initially and then over time we would continually get requests and questions about the program.

 

6. Partner with Others to Tap Into Their Customer & Mailing Lists

I can pretty confidently say that this is where we’ve signed up the majority of our affiliates. Not to mention, this being our #1 source of new user signups…but that’s another post for another day. Partnering with other services that have an overlap with your audience is incredibly powerful, but it can be a bit tricky. In the end, it ultimately comes down to networking and relationship building, but if you can find a win/win scenario with a similar app or service, it’s a fantastic source of new affiliates. For example, we’ve done several promotional offers with our great friends over at AppSumo and it has resulted in almost 30% of all our new affiliate signups.

 

7. The 80/20 Rule Applies Here Too…But It’s More Like 90/10 With Affiliates

As you begin to start growing your base of affiliates, you’ll realize the horrible truth: Only about 5% of them actually do anything. I know, kinda sucky news, but it’s the reality of most affiliate programs. The good news though, is that the 5% can often send a lot of sales your way. So whatever you do, don’t disregard these high performing affiliates. Try to build a direct relationship with them and always be as helpful as possible. Some ways you can help these affiliates:

  • Provide them with brand assets, banners or any information they need about the product.
  • Help them with blog articles they write about your product.
  • Offer custom coupons they can offer to their audience (keep it reasonable ~10-15% so it doesn’t cut too deeply into your profit margins.)
  • Create content for them like pre-made tweets (make sure to include their affiliate link!), videos and even ‘lead magnets’.
  • Check in with them frequently to see if they need help with anything or even just to say hi.
  • Let them preview new features before they’re publicly available (this makes them feel like VIPs which everyone loves!)

 

8. YouTube Is A Great Place to Find Affiliates

YouTube is an especially good place to find affiliates because they’ll ultimately be creating high quality video content to showcase your product. Even better, if they decide to do “Tutorial style” videos, you can leverage that content and link your existing users/customers to it. So it’s kind of a triple whammy: Get a new affiliate + video content you don’t need to produce yourself + built-in social proof. New customers love hearing from someone — other than you — how great your product is!

 

9. Build a Drip Campaign To Nurture All Your Affiliate Signups

One important thing with new affiliates is remembering to nurture them effectively. If you don’t check in with them every now and then, they may forget all about you and probably won’t send as many referrals as they could. The reality is, you’ve probably got a ton of other things going on with your business and remembering to follow-up with new affiliates can be tough. So, let’s automate it!

To do this, you’ll need to use a service that can send a sequence of emails at a specific frequency, over a given period of time. This is often referred to as a “Drip” campaign. Some tools — just to name a few — that can help you do this:

We used Campaign Monitor for this, because that’s the service we use to manage all of our customer emails. Since Campaign Monitor offers drip tools in what they refer to as “Automation”, we were able to keep things all under one roof and avoid any additional integrations. For some inspiration, here’s our actual affiliate drip that is currently being used. Note that these emails are intended to be very plain looking, so they almost resemble a plain text email. They tend to get better engagement than heavily designed HTML emails.

 

10. Continue Nurturing with a Weekly Affiliate Newsletter

In addition to your affiliate drip campaign (or in place of it) it’s a solid idea to have a weekly affiliate newsletter as well. We’ve seen good stats with these often with over 40% open rates and 10% click through. Here’s an example of one of our affiliate newsletters:

In the newsletter we always include:

  • Links to helpful blog posts from other industry experts
  • Some ideas on how they can promote our service
  • Call to action to login to their affiliate dashboard
  • It can be good to have a ‘theme’ for each newsletter where you can focus on a particular channel for promotion, such as Twitter in the example above.

 

Summing Things Up

That’s a lot of information to take in, but follow these steps and you’ll start to see more and more affiliates trickling in. Much like anything else in growing your business, JAY-Z was right: Progress is a slow process. So this will definitely take some time. But stick with it and you’ll reap the rewards of an affiliate powered promotion engine.

Always be generous to your affiliates because whenever they succeed, you succeed! Keep a close eye on how much you’re paying out to affiliates every month. That number going up is a basic but great indicator that things are going well. One of the best feelings we’ve had as a company is not only seeing some of our own success, but that other people out there can actually make a real income just from promoting your product.

How are you running your affiliate program? Would love to hear some of the stuff that’s worked for you in the comments!

Lower Your Marketing Debt or Die

  Marketing Debt happens when startup marketing departments are underfunded and understaffed. Just like Technical Debt, marketing debt means that a lot of shortcuts were taken that will eventually undermine the health of the organization. In the case of marketing debt, there will come a time when sales start to flounder because Marketing hasn’t had […]

 
Marketing Debt happens when startup marketing departments are underfunded and understaffed.

Just like Technical Debt, marketing debt means that a lot of shortcuts were taken that will eventually undermine the health of the organization. In the case of marketing debt, there will come a time when sales start to flounder because Marketing hasn’t had the time or ability to create a scalable, repeatable lead gen model via multiple, holistic channels.

This results in Sales not getting what they need to get their job done.

There are a lot of reasons why you should care about marketing debt.

Remember The Startup Curve?

Startup Curve

Marketing debt accumulates through the Trough of Sorrow all the way through the Wiggles of False Hope. Marketing debt is part of the reason why these crashes and wiggles happen, and lowering your debt is one of your biggest obstacles to get over into the Promise Land.

Most companies start to focus on alleviating their marketing debt after they have raised their A Round. Until then the focus and budget has been on sales, because without sales they wouldn’t have reached their A Round, but without solving marketing debt, the company will not reach its B Round.

Now that you’ve determined that you have marketing debt, or you haven’t, which in that case there are plenty other articles you could be reading right now, how do you start to lower your marketing debt?

 

The Marketing Audit

What are you doing now and what do you need to be doing? Determining this has a lot to do with your sale amount and your funnel. It makes no sense for a product that is $10 a month to have SDRs, Inside Sales, and AEs. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on companies that sell to mid-size companies up to enterprise and have an average sale over $50k.

 

How Strong is Your Brand?

“Strong brands have been shown to be effective strategies for achieving sustainable profits and returns. Furthermore, strong brands also demonstrably enhance shareholder wealth via higher firm stock [prices].GfK MIR

People see you before they can read your message or hear what you have to say. Are you claiming to be the BMW of XYZ for the enterprise but you look like a Yugo?

Cars

Branding is critical for companies that sell to enterprise. Having a strong, consistent, well-designed brand makes leads easier to get and deals easier to close because people trust that you if you care enough to pay attention to your brand, you’ll take care of theirs as well. Also, in today’s world of hyper-commoditization in SaaS, design is one thing that isn’t easy to copy. In addition, people have the automatic assumption that we are what we look like thanks to the

Also, in today’s world of hyper-commoditization in SaaS, design is one thing that isn’t easy to copy. In addition, people have the automatic assumption that we are what we look like thanks to the Consistency Principle Heuristic. That applies to companies as well. Poor design makes you look untrustworthy. We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

Poor design makes you look untrustworthy. We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

This means enterprise deals have a stronger emotional component than most other sales. Someone’s job could be on the line if they choose the wrong option or the implementation doesn’t go smoothly. No one wants to be the one with their head on the line. That’s why, according to

No one wants to be the one with their head on the line. That’s why, according to CEB’s research on the Consensus Sale, there are now an average 5.4 decision makers that need to sign-off on every enterprise deal. In addition,

In addition, Circle Research has found that only 39% of B2B companies actually have a strong brand – which means your company has an opportunity to win over your competition by creating a strong brand.

Of course, “brand” is far more than just a logo and a consistent look and feel.

According to Circle Research, “A strong brand – we call it an Alpha Brand – has seven key features:

  1. It is prominent, understood and inspires affinity
  2. It is based around a single clear anchoring idea
  3. It is perceived to provide a better solution
  4. It appeals to the emotional as well as the rational
  5. It recognizes ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work
  6. It is built to have multi-dimensional appeal to all stakeholders
  7. It is true to its word”

 

Positioning

“To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product.

Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind.” Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Get your team together and ask them (and yourself) the following questions:

  1. Who are we as an organization?
  2. Why do we exist?
  3. What do we do?
  4. Who do we serve?
  5. What would success of [Company] look like to you?
  6. What’s the good news?
  7. What’s the “not so good” news?
  8. What do we need to keep in mind?
  9. What are our goals?
  10. What is our offer?

 
Most importantly – be honest with yourselves and with everyone else in the room. These aren’t easy questions, but you won’t be able to create a strong position without answering them fully and honestly.

Keep in mind, you don’t own your brand reputation. Your customer does. All you can do is manage it. Does your organization on the inside reflect who you claim to be to the world?

If you’ve never worked on positioning before, and even if you have, Simon Sinek gives an amazing explanation on the power of positioning in his TED talk “Start With Why.”

 

Messaging

How clear is your message? Can someone understand what your company does from first glance at your website? Can you explain what you do in a 1-minute elevator pitch? What about 30 seconds?

How do you explain what you do and why you do it? What tone does your messaging have? Humanistic? Funny? Technical?

“…to introduce a new product category [you] must carry in a new ladder. This, too, is difficult, especially if the new category is not positioned against the old one. The mind has no room for what’s new and different unless it’s related to the old.

… it’s often better to tell the prospect what the product is not, rather than what it is.” – Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Does your message reflect how you look? How you act? Are you keeping the promise of your words?

Mailchimp takes this so seriously their Voice and Tone guide is public for anyone to review.

Buffer is known for its transparency in all decisions. This is reflected in their message, their blog posts, and their actions. Buffer doesn’t just say they believe in something, they follow through with it – and they are rewarded in turn with brand loyalty from those who think like them. Their brand is strong.

The Funnel Audit

If your average sale is above $50k a year then in all likely you have, or will have, SDRs, Inside Sales, AEs, and Customer Success:

  • Sales Development Reps – Builds the lists and does the initial outreach
  • Inside Sales – BANT qualifies
  • AEs – Closes deals and manages accounts
  • Customer Success – Helps with onboarding and overall success of your customer using your product, and can help upsell

 

Customer Experience

Let’s look at some of the ways to fill the lead gen funnel:

Outbound Events Advertising  Inbound Earned Media Referral
e.g. Building lists, cold email workflows, cold calling, ABMe.g. Conferences, trade shows, CABs, PACs, hosted evenings – your own or going to others e.g. SEM, Facebook, industry publications, ads in newsletters, print, billboards, paid article placemente.g. SEO, blogging, guest blogging, Twitter BOTs to landing pages, giving away Case Studies, White Papers, and datasheets, webinars, etc. e.g. Press write ups, reviews, industry pundit and analyst outreache.g. Partner programs and incentives for customers (plus all of the materials listed in Inbound)

Let’s look at these in terms of the Stages of the Funnel (see above):

 

Building Awareness

Think about how we buy. We don’t purchase something the very second we hear about it the first time. We need to hear about it several times, dozens, even hundreds – before we reach a minimum trust rate where we will even consider purchasing it.

That also holds true for B2B sales, because while we might be selling to businesses, those businesses are filled with humans.

So how do we build awareness?

This is where PR is your best friend.

I’ve heard plenty of companies say that they don’t see any ROI from PR. There’s a reason for that. People see your name in an article and they don’t necessarily go directly to your site and buy. What they do subconsciously is have a mental checkmark by your name that says, “Social proof – this place is good enough to be mentioned in publication XYZ.”

And then they look for other cues to show that your company is worthy of their attention.

That’s the strength of PR, getting in front of a lot of eyes and growing your mindshare to your target market by going after the right publications. After you have shown up in enough articles, ads, friends posts, events, etc they are ready for your outreach.

Outbound marketing helps bring them to your website.

I don’t recommend buying lists, but I’m all for researching and building them. There are several companies that you can use for business intelligence if you have the budget, and if you don’t there’s always LinkedIn and Email Hunter. Targeted lists do better than wide lists in terms of results.

Targeted also means targeted content, which has a higher response rate as it is aimed at the reader and is more likely to build engagement.

If you’re going after top tier enterprises, then Account Based Marketing (ABM) is the way to go. Also outbound, ABM requires a collaboration of marketing and sales at a level these two departments typically don’t do. Marketing controls the message and delivers the materials, and Sales controls the delivery.

Each team gets to focus on what they do best and together they land the large deals. There are companies out there that help do ABM at scale – Demandbase (ABM for ads) and Folloze (ABM for enterprises that do complex enterprise sales using direct outreach) are two of the leaders in this realm.

 

Consideration Stage

Your website, blog, and available materials such as webinars, white papers, case studies and datasheets all come in to play here. Consideration means that the prospect knows that they have a problem, and they are considering companies that solve their problem. It does not mean that they are considering your company at this stage. SEO is critical here.

Your message being on point is crucial as well. If you can’t be found in a search, or if your message doesn’t resonate within the first 8 seconds on your website – you do not exist.

How do you do what you do better than your competitors? Positioning comes into play here. Brand matters. Transparency of information and thought leadership help as well.

Who are your Partners? Partner marketing brings with it a level of trust that many other types of outreach do not. Your prospect is already spending money, or considering spending money, with your Partner.

Bringing you on with them can lower your own sales cycle time and get you from the consideration stage to the decision stage.

We Develop Mindshare


 

Prospects Decision Making

You’re now on the shortlist – how are you maintaining interest while arming your evangelist inside of the organization?

Do you have a repository of helpful content that enables them to educate others so they can bring your business in? At this point, it’s all about what you can do for the prospecting account.

You are the enabler, but the real salesperson is inside the company you’re selling to.

 

Action

You’ve gotten the account.

You might think this is the end, but it’s actually the beginning. If you’re a SaaS company you need to keep that account, and most likely you’re looking to upsell. How you onboard, the first actual experiences your customer has with your service and team, these actions need to be spot on.

Mistakes can happen (and they will, trust me) but your team need to find them, own up to them, and fix them. You Customer Success team is the most important part of this process – giving them everything they need to be successful is how you will win.

Making sure that your brand holds up to the promise you make is how category leaders are made.

 

Final Thoughts

Lowering your marketing debt and building your brand isn’t simple, but it’s the differentiator that all unicorns and other strong companies have in common.

In the beginning, spending your time and money on sales makes sense – but there comes a time in your growth where that isn’t enough, when your marketing debt is too high. That’s when it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your marketing channels to build a scalable, repeatable lead generation model.

That starts with making sure your positioning is on point, and then builds out to message, design, channels, methods of engagement, and materials.

You don’t become a category leader without going through this process.

Have any ideas, comments or questions on this topic? Tweet me at @shiraabel. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

B2B Startups Need Brands Too: How To Prototype Yours

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It? First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.   A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on […]

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It?

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.  

A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on creating products that solve problems.  

Now, let’s talk about why your B2B startup should work on its brand strategy, too. While you have been busy building your product, pitching investors, hiring people, and selling to customers, your company’s essence has coalesced into a brand.

But is it the brand that will serve you best down the road? Is your brand in conflict with your product, costing you leads? There’s no way to answer those questions if you don’t know what your brand is, today.

 

Why Should A B2B Startup Care About Brand?

Successful brands have consistent messaging. But as more and more people get involved with your company, more and more ideas and interpretations will be infused into your brand.

As your company grows, you will need to delegate work to people that you cannot supervise, and you need to know that the message will reflect what you and your team have worked so hard to build.

For example, one day you will ask a marketer to improve your messaging, sales materials, advertising, or PR. How can they write new messaging for you if they don’t know what your brand is, or what you stand for? You will need to do the work, either now or later.

But doing it now, when there are fewer stakeholders, will make it easier down the road and improve the likelihood that your company’s communications are consistent enough to start building a brand that will serve your company well in the marketplace.

 

Prototyping Your B2B Startup Brand

You don’t need an expensive agency or weeks in a conference room with PowerPoint to do this. All you need is a few hours, whether over a weekend or slowly over a few weeks, of focus and commitment to putting a stake in the ground with your brand, the way you did with v1 of your product. And just like your product, you can prototype and rapidly evolve your brand.

 

Step One: Look into a Mirror and Define Your Current Brand.

Take a day or two and write down what you think your brand is.

That is not the same as describing your product since the latter is only a part of the former. There are numerous free frameworks and documents out there to help you do this, but start by asking yourself questions like these:

  • A brand is a promise. What are we promising? What do we stand for?
  • Are we delivering on that promise in the eyes of our customers now? If not, are we delivering on a different promise? How are we measuring that, if at all?
  • Who are our customers now, and in the next 12-18 months? Are they the same? If not, how are they different?
  • Because of what our product does, what do our customers receive? (tangible and intangible benefits). These may differ by customer segment.
  • How are we truly different from anyone else in this space?
  • Why should customers/employees/investors believe us? (proof points)

 

brand-prototype-guidelines

You can prototype your brand just like you do your product.

For now, this is just for you. It’s a writing prompt, to try and put what you already think and feel into words. Now it’s time for a 360-degree review.

Ask your co-founders to do the same, independently and in writing, if you can. Then ask your customers, your prospects, your employees, your investors, and your board. Ask investors who turned you down. Try to collect as many points of view as possible.

Consultants can be helpful facilitators because even great marketers can lose objectivity once they are in the founder/CEO role. Be sure that any consultant you hire does not push their vision, but works to uncover what you believe to be true.

 

Step Two:  What Brand Do You Want? Building the Brand’s Requirements.

Depending on how early-stage your company is, you may be surprised by what you find. This process will uncover hidden assumptions and different perceptions that may challenge you.

That’s a good thing.

Take some time to process it all, and determine where you want to go.  Then you can combine the answers into a cohesive whole in one document. Again, if you are unable to be objective, a consultant can help you through several revisions.

Your co-founders and company leadership need to come to a consensus on this before you go further. Take the time to do this, and it will ensure that when you go to implement it, the message will be communicated clearly and consistently.

This is no different than building a “product requirements” document.

 

Step Three: Implement. Possibly Pivot.

Once you have a full picture of what you stand for, you can start evaluating your company against this brand standard.

Does your product need to shift direction? What about your pricing? Most certainly your advertising messaging will need to change.

Maybe you’ll find (as one B2B company we know did) that your billing team needs to be more responsive, or that your sales folks need coaching. The messaging on your website may need to evolve, or maybe you sell a tool for risk management to conservative gatekeepers, but your visual design is all about fluidity and change, creating a mismatch of promise and need.

The best news is that you can A/B test any and all of your hypotheses on your website or in your advertising.

 

Startup

You Know How To Do This

One way to make your brand concrete and scalable is to write a messaging document, which is simply your brand essence made tangible into exact words you want people to use when talking about your company and your products.

If a brand is about feelings, messaging is the concrete expression of those feelings. If you’re not a natural writer, a consultant can help.

You’ll want to think through short, medium, and long messaging, your proof points, the tone of voice, and style, which may vary depending on the audience.

That way you have a standard for everyone to measure communications against.

Make a list of what needs to change, then get to it. This is a great use of a hackathon in a slower period. Do all the planning and prep work in advance, then gather everyone for a concentrated period to pay down your “brand debt” the way you pay down technical debt.

 

Step Four: Iterate.

You are a startup. Everything is changing, and so should your brand.

If you treat this exercise as a prototype, you’ll get it done faster. Work with it for a few months, and have it evolve as your company grows. Don’t get anchored on it just because you spend this time and energy. Just like v1 of your product, your brand will change to meet the needs of your company and customers.

Pro tip: Schedule a “brand review” for a year from now. It will be so much easier since you’ll be iterating and not generating from scratch.

 

You Have A Brand. Make It Work For You.

As a startup founder, you are responsible for your brand. Right now, it exists, even without your attention. Put just a few hours of time into this exercise, and you can leverage your brand for the next phase of your growth.

On top of everything else you face as a founder, understanding and managing your brand might feel overwhelming. Take a minute to remember that you have done the hardest part already – creating a product someone wants. You probably have a huge backlog of product changes too.

Just like with your product, you can always allocate some story points in every sprint to touch a piece of your brand.

The point is not to think of your brand as an accident, but to manage it the way you manage your product and cash flow – with clear intent and vision.

I’ll be speaking about B2B Content Marketing at the Growth Marketing Conference on December 8, 2016, San Jose. I look forward to seeing you there!

Funnel Hacking: More Crucial than Growth Hacking

  The impact of Growth Hacking on startups has been immense, accelerating the growth of the most successful startups such as Airbnb and Uber. The Growth Hacker has become a crucial role within startups.  Growth Hackers are in high demand; especially those that know what they’re doing.   As its role in startups has evolved, […]

 

The impact of Growth Hacking on startups has been immense, accelerating the growth of the most successful startups such as Airbnb and Uber. The Growth Hacker has become a crucial role within startups.  Growth Hackers are in high demand; especially those that know what they’re doing.  

As its role in startups has evolved, the meaning and practice of Growth Hacking has evolved to a predominant focus on User Acquisition strategies.  It’s a very important focus area.

But what if I was to tell you there is actually a much more crucial focus area out there?  This focus area is called Funnel Hacking.

So, what’s the difference between Growth Hacking and Funnel Hacking, you ask?  

Surely, Funnel Hacking is just about building a sales funnel, you say.  No, it’s not.  Funnel Hacking is a methodology I have designed to solve a number of problems I’ve seen in the way startups operate.

So, before I explain Funnel Hacking to you, let’s go through some of these issues that prevail in startups these days.

Startup Problem #1: The Bottleneck

There is one role in a startup that is constantly a bottleneck for forward movement.  That’s the role of the software developer.  Not because they are bad at their job, but because they have way too much to do. There’s always a huge backlog of work to do for the developer.  

So, any new task that comes up needs to be reviewed in light of this backlog and prioritized accordingly.

This made me realize an opportunity: how can we reduce the tasks that fall into the developer’s domain?  What are the types of tasks a developer is doing that perhaps should not really be in their purview?  

Let’s get back to that in a bit.

Startup Problem #2: The SaaS tool Minefield

How many SaaS tools has your company signed up for?  Intercom, MixPanel, Salesforce, Mailchimp: the list can go on and on.  

And how much are you spending on them?  

Now, tell me how many of these tools are you truly getting value from?  Are you paying for 100% but really only using 20% of the features?  More importantly, did you actually choose the right tool for your business? How would you know?  

There are so many tools out there in each space that it’s impossible to spend enough time to test out and review all of these tools, so often you just choose what your buddy is using in his company.  

But how many of these tools has he bothered to try out?  Are his company’s needs similar to yours?  And what about the types of tools that you don’t even know about, and could solve a need that you’re currently building software to solve?

The reality is there’s not enough time in the day to do a thorough analysis and match up between your needs and what is in the marketplace, and to do everything else that is demanded by your startup.

So the opportunity here is: who can help you to figure out the best tools to implement for your needs?

Startup Problem #3: The Business Logic Engulfment

Back when I was designing and building software for corporates who had plenty of time and money to throw at this, we spent time identifying all the business rules that applied to the software we were building in advance of starting to code.  

And then, we might even find ways to set those business rules up so they were editable by the business people, perhaps through a business rule management system or by setting up a configuration module to manage a set of values and rules, so that the business could change these rules at will.

Fast forward to today.  

In our efforts to move fast for our startups, we’ve reverted back to engulfing our business logic into code. The irony is, that in doing so we are actually slowing down the velocity of our startup because once again, we are relying on the developer to make any changes to our business rules.  

So how can we put this business logic back in the hands of our business people so they can make changes to them, using modern methods?

Startup Problem #4: The Cohesion Vacuum

In previous roles as a Business Analyst, Process Engineer and Integration Analyst, I would draw up process flow diagrams that would show the flow of a business process from a trigger in one system and how that data was meant to flow through other systems, what was required to be instrumented in each system and what data was required.

Nowadays, as we leverage various different fit-for-purpose tools in addition to our custom software, we neglect to go through this process and arrive at a big picture flow for our systems, end-to-end.  In the absence of this key task, and in our scarcity of time and resources, we let things fall through the cracks, assuming that someone, or something has it covered.  

It usually is not.  

Lost customers, lost revenue, and missed opportunities are all consequences of not creating an end-to-end process view of a customer’s journey.  

So how do we ensure we get good coverage and analysis of a Customer’s journey from end to end?

Startup Problem #5: The Chicken and Egg Dilemma

Many new startups train their focus in their early days on Customer Discovery – where the world learns about your product.  They often spend a considerable amount of their hard-raised money on acquiring eyeballs for their startup.  

But it’s often the next steps of the customer journey where they fail to invest a good proportion of their attention (and funds): converting the customer, and retaining the customer. Without focus on these key steps, a startup’s Customer Acquisition Cost will soar through the roof.  

But in order to figure out what works to convert your customers, you need to acquire some users.

And this is the dilemma that startups with limited resources are faced with  – focus on attracting users or focus on converting them.

Startup Problem #6: Untapped Free Revenue

There’s another area of focus that is neglected by many startups, and that is seeking ways to increase revenue from existing customers.  

The acquisition cost for this additional revenue is nil, so it’s essentially free money – all a startup needs to do is present the offer to their users.  

Increasing Lifetime Value should be a key priority for every startup.  

So why, you ask, don’t startups focus on doing this more?  Well, partly the answer goes back to Startup Problem #1: The Bottleneck.  

However, if we could enable our business-focused team members to act on this, without having to rely on a developer, I’m pretty confident they would spend more of their time on this goal of getting more revenue from existing customers.

Startup Problem #7: The Missing Role in your Startup

Have you ever felt like there was a disconnect in your Startup between your CTO, Product Manager, Customer Success team and Marketing team?  Each of these roles has a specific focus and whilst everyone is putting out fires and moving fast, there is often a lack of consideration for how everyone can work together seamlessly.  

Moreover, your Customer Success person sees problems that the customer is experiencing, but isn’t empowered to stop those problems from recurring.  Your Product Manager is struggling to capture information in the right way to know if new features or other experiments are effective in achieving goals.  

Your Marketing Person would like to send emails to a certain segment of customers but hasn’t got the data to support that segmentation, and doesn’t know how to acquire that data without bothering the developer, who is over-allocated.

Enter the role of the Funnel Hacker.  

A Funnel Hacker has a goal that is very different from all of these roles.  A Funnel Hacker’s primary focus is to implement the underlying infrastructure to enable each of these roles to do their job better.  

To empower non-technical team members to experiment and iterate without developer involvement.

This may sound like it’s too good to be true, but with a little bit of up front effort, you can change the entire way you startup operates, and enable it to move faster.

What is Funnel Hacking?

 

While Growth Hacking is focused on bringing as many eyeballs to your site as possible, Funnel Hacking wants to make the most of the eyeballs that come your way and convert as many of them as possible, and then once converted, extract as much value as possible.  

This may not sound all that new to you.  

What is new is exactly how Funnel Hacking does so.  And it all comes down to this:

The one underlying principle of Funnel Hacking is empowering your non-technical team members to move fast and iterate without developer involvement.

In so doing, your team members feel unencumbered when experimenting and iterating on their funnel initiatives.  

This is extremely powerful.  

Startup Problem #1: The Bottleneck is one issue that everyone I talk with, from startups to corporates, connects with.  

I have never met anyone that said to me that their developer is sitting around trying to figure out what work to do because they have nothing on their plate.  

How many times have you come up with an idea you want to implement and then the second thought you have is that you don’t have the developer resources to implement it?  

I’m guessing you’ve lost count. I know I have.

And that’s where the Funnel Hacker’s toolkit comes in. It removes business logic from code and puts it back in the hands of the people that make decisions about it – so they can make changes to it without writing code, without deploying a software release (solving Startup Problem #3: The Business Logic Encapsulation).  

All it requires is access to the right tool(s) in the Funnel Hacker’s toolkit.

 

The Funnel Hacker’s Toolkit

1. The Customer Funnel

With Funnel Hacking, we have an 8-stage funnel that applies to almost any business.  Its power is that it provides a framework and a common vocabulary for discussing what needs to be done.

Every stage of this funnel has a goal and a set of tools and practices associated with it.

StageGoal
DiscoveryGet User to discover your product
FamiliarityGet User to sign up for Trial or Purchase
TrialGet User to convert to paying customer
SupportEducate User and Respond to Questions & Issues
PurchaseSupport Subscription & Payment
UpsellEncourage Greater Spend
RetainRetain Customers longer
ReferGet new Customers from current Customers and Partners


In Growth Hacking, the majority of focus is on the Discover stage of the Funnel – getting users to discover your product.  In Funnel Hacking, most of the focus is on the subsequent 7 stages.

The common pitfall that many startups fall into is focusing primarily on this Discovery phase.

They drive a whole slew traffic to their site through various Growth Hacking tactics, and then they lose most of their leads in the next 4 stages of the funnel (Familiarity, Trial, Support, Purchase).

This has the impact of driving up their Customer Acquisition Cost (aka CAC) which doesn’t look good to their bottom line or to their prospective investors.

Then once they’ve successfully acquired a customer, they forget to maximize their revenue from this customer, that has already demonstrated purchase intent.  

So in the final 3 stages of the Customer Funnel (Upsell, Retain, Refer), they miss out on their opportunity to maximize customer value. This restricts the potential of their Customer Lifetime Value (LTV).

A good Funnel Hacker keeps up to speed with the best of breed tools out in the marketplace and understands the strengths and weaknesses of each (solving Startup Problem #2: The SaaS tool Minefield).  

 

2. Fit for Purpose Tools

The key to Funnel Hacking is being able to choose the best and most suitable tools for your business and connect them together in a smart way, such that you can pass information between them about each user of your platform, whilst retaining the best of breed tool for each capability.  

The less attractive alternative is to choose one of those monolith applications that claim to do everything but don’t do anything very well.  

So, how do we do that at Funnel Ventures?  

We use an integration product called Segment.  It enables us to pass information between all of our favorite tools so we don’t have to compromise on quality, in favor of integration.  So your next question will likely be, “But what about all those cool tools that don’t integrate with Segment?”  

We have an answer to that as well.  We’ve built a custom Zapier app that allows us to connect any Zapier-enabled tool to Segment.  Check it out here, and request an invitation to our private Zapier app.

 

3. Playbooks

Growth Hackers have “growth hacks”, Funnel Hackers have “playbooks”.  While a growth hack’s effectiveness is often short-lived, a playbook’s lifetime is unbound and less susceptible to the changing tides.

A playbook is a way to document a process to achieve an outcome for one or more stages in the Customer Funnel.  A playbook will show the end-to-end process and how each of the tools interact with each other (solving Startup Problem #4: The Cohesion Vacuum). 

You can find our publicly available playbooks here to get an idea.

All playbooks are triggered by a specific event.  This triggering event is most likely sourced by an event coming out of your platform, but it may also be sourced from one of your key tools, like your billing system or NPS tool.  

Example playbook diagram sourced from the Funnel Ventures Blog

A Funnel Hacker must identify all the events and data to be sent from the startup’s platform.

It takes a certain amount of understanding of the current and future goals of each startup to construct these events in the most optimal way, so that they work for now but also for the future, when your product, marketing and success team members want to implement an initiative to achieve their goals, without developer intervention.  

This article from Amplitude provides some good insights into how to construct them best for analytics purposes.

Of course, there are several end systems that will receive these events and profile data, so a good Funnel Hacker will factor in the needs of all of the receiving systems in designing the data taxonomy.

 

4. Single View of a Customer

The concept of being able to collate everything about a customer into a cohesive view is not new.  It’s been a goal for many years, if not decades.  

But it has always seemed somewhat out of reach, especially to startups that are relatively cash strapped.

Now that we can integrate our systems via integration tools like Segment and Zapier, this goal is no longer out of reach.  

There are several tools you could use to create this single view of a customer. The image below is extracted from one of my favorite tools, Drip, and represents all the events that have been applied to a customer:

By collating all of a customer’s actions and their profile data into a tool like this, we’re now able to build highly personalized flows that can achieve any number of the goals in our customer funnel including the following: convert a customer during trial, upsell an existing customer, re-engage and retain a customer, ask a customer for a referral.

 

Wrapping Up

So that’s an introduction to Funnel Hacking. If you’re wondering how all of these Startup Problems identified here are addressed by the Funnel Hacker’s toolkit, here’s a matrix that sums it all up:

Matrix

3 Startup Growth Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

  You raised your first seed round. Formed a kickass team of 5 people. And now you’re ready to build the best company out there. But here comes the big challenge. You have to build a great product that people love (aka Product/Market Fit) as fast as possible, and at the same time grow like […]

 

You raised your first seed round. Formed a kickass team of 5 people. And now you’re ready to build the best company out there.

But here comes the big challenge. You have to build a great product that people love (aka Product/Market Fit) as fast as possible, and at the same time grow like crazy. Because this is what startups are all about, right?

You need to grow around 30% MoM to prove that you have something and be able to sell your sexy growth curve. Because as The Hustle puts it, this might not be the predictor for success, but it’s definitely an indicator.

 

The Obstacles

The first time you’re building a new company, it’s not easy to know what it takes to grow it fast enough. And maybe you’re not so lucky — or don’t have the budget — to hire a ready-to-nail-it growth marketer.

In the beginning, as a founder, you’re in charge of growth and your medium-level growth marketer helps you execute. Hopefully, the time to lead the way will come soon enough.

growth-hacking-resources

But you have an advantage that startups didn’t have a few years ago. A bunch of knowledge and great resources are available on the web. Just go to Google and you’ll find:

 

So, what is the problem?

 

 

But there is something you can do about it…

 

Build a strong foundation for startup growth

Brian Balfour wrote an in-depth article about the core principles of growth. He mentions that if you want to be a growth marketer, you need to build a strong foundation first. Then you should build up your skills on specific marketing channels and tactics, like SEO and referral marketing.

growth-marketing-foundations

If you want to start mastering these principles you need to:

  1. Read, read, read
  2. Practice, practice, practice

Quantitative Modeling Resources

Data Analysis Resources

Storytelling Resources

User Psychology Resources

 

Put a process in place and make it a habit

The key to growing a product is to follow a specific process of how you run your experiments. Growth tactics are not enough.

growth-hacking-process

But don’t worry about it. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Steal like an artist and follow these two frameworks:

  • high-tempo testing so you can execute as many experiments as possible every week. This way you increase the chances of succeeding. Even if you fail, you’ll learn a ton of lessons for running educated marketing experiments.
  • a growth framework for generating ideas, prioritization and automation.

But, the most important aspect is execution. You should commit to your company’s growth. No excuses.

Early stage companies should prioritize their experiments and execute aggressively.

We just talked for 2 of the 3 main obstacles an early stage company faces with their growth efforts. The next one is the hardest one. Lack of experience.

This doesn’t mean that you’re in your twenties and you just started your first company. You may come from another industry or environment. For example, you may be a consultant who decided to run his own SaaS company.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any courses or books that can teach you that. The only way is to make your own mistakes.

Onboard advisors who ran a similar company successfully in the past. Read other people’s lessons learned. Reach out to great growth marketers and ask for advice. Execute as fast as you can and try not to fail.

 

5 growth levers that move the needle

1. Every team member should focus on your top-level KPI

Monthly Recurring Revenue, Activation Rate, Conversion Rate, MRR Expansion, Retention, Churn, Engagement, Usage Metrics, Traffic, Uniques, Active Users. There are a ton of metrics you should measure and improve.

The problem is that if you try to work on all these at once, you won’t have the impact you need. You’re a small team and everyone should work on what matters now. What will actually move the needle.

In Viral Loops, we had a major issue with conversion rate from trial to paid. In the beginning, our team was working all over the place. And even we’re just 6 people, we didn’t focus on the one meaningful thing at that time.

But a startup doesn’t have the time to be ineffective. So we set the conversion rate as our top-level KPI and put a 30-day target. Then everyone started working towards that.

viral-loops-team

Our engineers started improving our integration and make it easier for the users. Our Product Lead redesigned our onboarding. I and our growth marketer were spending most of our time talking to our users, hosting demos, webinars and publishing case studies.

We held a brainstorming session, prioritized and executed experiments around our top-level KPI.

For tracking our metrics we use Amplitude and Segment. For communicating our progress we use a spreadsheet template by Andy Young.

This approach helped us increase our conversion rate from 1% to 8% in 30 days. We now shoot for 15%. Not a bad start.

Of course, you shouldn’t stick to the same KPI forever.

AdEspresso uses a simple framework to help them decide what matters most.

First, they ask if this contributes to hitting their Month-over-Month growth goal. If the answer is yes to several things, they then ask themselves which one which one requires the lowest effort and the shortest time to generate the biggest impact with the highest chance of success.

 

2. Talk to every single user that signs up

This is so important. When you’re just starting out you don’t need a sophisticated email onboarding flow. Just talk to every single user that signs up. This approach has two great gains.

1. You will start understanding your customers early on. Listen to them and then talk. But please first listen.

2. People will connect your product with a person. Because you had a chat with them. Most probably your competitors don’t do that.

Even if you spend your time to non-qualified users, you will get great insights. For example, you will see the quality of your user acquisition channels.

viral-loops-chats-on-slack

We do that by integrating Intercom with Slack. This way we get a notification immediately when a new user signs up.

Then we try to email or call him in the next 2 hours. We stole this tactic from Aircall.

After that, you can segment your users and email list and scale through marketing automation.

 

3. Don’t shoot for a growth rate. Build your growth bottom up instead

A startup prepares a business plan assuming a growth rate, say 25–30% MoM. Then the team executes the marketing and sales plan to try to reach it.

But this is vanity. In Andrew Chen’s words:

We’re lucky enough that Theo, my co-founder, is an ex-corporate animal and runs sales for the last 20 years. So even before we set up our CRM, a simple spreadsheet helped us built up our growth bottom up.

growth-forecast-bottom-up

For each prospect, we assign a probability of closing. If you multiply this with the expected MRR, you have a weighted revenue goal that you can reach. If the total is good enough to reach your growth rate, then:

1. Do whatever it takes to close these potential customers.

2. Boost your customer acquisition efforts if needed to generate more qualified leads.

 

4. Always have the sense of urgency

Time flies! You think that you have time and it’s fine to postpone a demo or call a prospect tomorrow. No! You should do it today. Tomorrow something else will happen and you won’t do it again.

Set your deadlines and deliver. Focus and screw things that just make you feel better. It’s fine if your home page is not perfect. What it’s not fine, is when you want to launch your new campaign on Thursday but it goes for next week. You just lose money and growth.

This is hard. I know it.

If you think you have the sense of urgency just look at your numbers. If you get most of your growth during the third or fourth week of each month, chances are that you don’t push things early on.

As Apostolos from Venture Friends mentions, success comes when the whole team, and not just the founders, feels the urgency and works hard to reach the company goals.

growth-is-a-continuous-sprint

 

5. Build your company’s growth inside your product

This is what everyone tells you. And they’re right. If you don’t have an exceptional product, your company will never skyrocket. Even if you have a top-notch and experienced growth and sales team with a huge budget.

secret-growth-in-product

Some signs that will help you confirm this is when people stuck to your product and pay for it even before it’s ready. If they tell you that they would pay for it only if you had that one feature, then you should worry.


There are more reasons why an early stage company can fail to grow. And more things you can do about it. What is the one tactic or approach you believe is crucial? Post it in the comments or Tweet me your answer.

Virtual Assistants: How Startups Can Get More Done for Less

Time is not your friend in the beginning phases of a startup. You’re working hard and fast and juggling more tasks than you can handle, which is why only 10% of startups actually make it, and most fail within a year. In order to be successful, you need to spending your time being productive instead […]

Time is not your friend in the beginning phases of a startup.

You’re working hard and fast and juggling more tasks than you can handle, which is why only 10% of startups actually make it, and most fail within a year.

In order to be successful, you need to spending your time being productive instead of busy, which is sometimes hard to decipher when you’re in the early startup phases.

There are many phases in the startup lifecycle, from what problem you’re solving to the maturity of the business. One of the biggest secrets about highly productive people is that they don’t try to do everything themselves. Extreme multi-tasking is one of the most common causes of burnout and a component in startups failing.

its-not-enough-to-be

Thoreau Quote

Another reason startups fail is because they run out of money.

You can’t do everything yourself, yet hiring employees and having the space and equipment for them can get very expensive. You need a versatile team in order to be in the 10% of startups that succeed, and it makes sense to hire people who possess more than one skill or talent.

So, who are you going to delegate tasks to?

In comes the virtual assistant

VAs work from their home offices so you’re not providing them space or equipment. They can work for you a few hours each month, a few hours each week or full-time. They are relatively less expensive than an employee when you consider the following:

  • A VA will already have a home office in place which will save you and your startup money from having to purchase any additional equipment.
  • You won’t have to worry about conflicting work schedules. You can assign your tasks or projects with a deadline and your work will be ready. Sometimes, having someone in a different time zone allows a VA to either be working before you’re out of bed, or past the time you’ve already left.
  • A VA only charges for the time they’ve spent working for you, not for the time spent with in-office distractions.
  • VAs are proficient with the latest technology and can typically jump into a project with little direction needed.
  • A VA is typically an independent contractor whether they’re working through an agency or freelancing. They take pride in their work because it’s their reputation on the line as well as yours.
  • There are no commuting issues with a VA. Your work will always be done regardless of snow storms or traffic delays.
  • With a VA there is no paid leave, sick time or vacation time. Virtual Assistants are only paid for the time they work.
  • VAs have a very low turnover rate. One of the main reasons people are leaving the 9-5 workday is due to obligations at home. A VA can still work efficiently from their home office and be available when necessary.

Many founders wait until they are falling behind before getting help…

Waiting until you’re buried often leads to being desperate which leads to rash decisions that may not be good for you or your startup. One of the reasons you’re hiring a VA is to help so you DON’T get to that point.

help is on the way

How do you know a virtual assistant is the right choice for your company?

  1. You can’t afford and utilize a full-time employee.
  2. The work you need help with doesn’t require someone to be in your office.
  3. You are spending more time organizing rather than executing.

Anything worthwhile takes time and effort.

Although time is what you’re lacking as a startup, it is important to sit down and think through what areas you need help with and what you want your VA to do for you. Before you start out on your search, take time to sit down and:

  1. Make a list. Take at least 1 week and start writing down the things that come up on a regular basis that you need help with or can’t find the time to do. If you are working with another party or employees, ask them to do the same. Virtual Assistants can not only be an asset to your startup but also in aiding your team in project assistance or other responsibilities they can’t find the time to do.
  2. From the list, decide which areas are teachable. If you can teach someone to do a task then you can outsource it and move on to bigger things.
  3. From what is teachable, find which is the most time consuming. There are many things we do on a daily basis that although they are important in the support of your business, may not be worth your time doing if it’s not directly related to generating income.
  4. Pick the tasks that you enjoy least. Why would you keep doing things you don’t like doing? If it falls into the category of being teachable then it’s a responsibility a VA can do for you.

Many startups want to use a VA and know they can be a worthwhile investment but are unsure of how they can be utilized.

Virtual Assistants can be personal assistants, executive assistants, project managers or assist on team projects. They can also run social media and digital marketing campaigns at a much lower cost than an agency.

Most have left the corporate world for a more flexible work schedule, but experience in their related fields makes them a tremendous resource for startups. Some areas that are easy to outsource to a VA are:

CUSTOMER SERVICE/CALENDAR & EMAIL MANAGEMENT

  1. Sort through emails/mark what’s important/sort through spam
  2. Reply to customer/client inquiries
  3. Chat Support
  4. Calendar management/appointment reminders
  5. Schedule appointments

GENERAL ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS

Although the administrative tasks are never-ending, some general administrative tasks are:

  1. Travel Planning
  2. Internet Research
  3. Client Gifts (purchasing & sending)
  4. Personal Errands
  5. Data Entry
  6. Database Management
  7. Task Management
  8. Event Planning
  9. Reporting
  10. Expense Reporting
  11. Bookkeeping
  12. Organize Meetings/Conference Calls
  13. PowerPoint  Presentations

DIGITAL MARKETING

The world of digital marketing is big, and only getting bigger.

Just when you think you’ve mastered one social channel, there’s another one that is proving to be better. Trying to stay on top of learning the ins & outs of digital marketing, whether it’s the latest email programs, hosting platforms or the hottest social channel to advertise on, can be overwhelming.

Some areas you can outsource to a Virtual Assistant that will help promote you and your business are:

  1. Create & schedule email campaigns
  2. Create & send newsletters
  3. Social Media Management (create campaigns for each channel/schedule posts)
  4. Moderate & reply to comments on different channels
  5. Help with blog postings (finding images, editing, posting)
  6. General Website management (html coding/manage subscribers)
  7. Testing different channels to see what will work for your startup.

Every startup will have its own list of outsourcing needs, but these areas are interchangeable regardless of your industry or company size.

Once you’ve decided on using a Virtual Assistant, then you need to find one.

Finding a VA for your startupdecision

There are pros and cons to both freelance VAs and utilizing an agency. Much depends on what you’re looking for, how much time you have to invest in the process, and how much money your budget allows.

Research the agencies wisely.

Some will assign you one dedicated VA while others will use a “team” of multiple virtual assistants. Agencies that tend to rotate VAs often have higher turnover rates and the project can lend itself to more confusion. Some agencies work with only US based assistants while others work with VAs from overseas.

When deciding between choosing a virtual assistant who’s located in the United States versus hiring a VA from abroad, consider how important is it for the person to be available while you work, how aware of American culture you need the person to be, and if the language barrier will be a problem.

Whether you decide to use a US based Virtual Assistant Agency or overseas, there are several benefits an agency provides, such as:

  1. Consulting. Most agencies will provide an initial consultation to help them place you with the right VA, help decide what types of tasks the VA can handle for maximum efficiency, and how many hours you need on a monthly basis.
  2. Experienced Virtual Assistants. Having experience working as a VA is important in understanding how a virtual relationship works and the different programs and apps to use for virtual success.
  3. Back-Up. Life is not perfect, and neither is every virtual relationship. There are times that the relationship between a client and virtual assistant may not work out for whatever reason, or maybe they move on at some point to do other things. Instead of having to start from square one, agencies will have other experienced VAs that will be able to jump in as soon as the next day and get started.
  4. Training. Many times the agency offers training for their VAs to keep up-to-date with the latest apps and programs.
  5. Hiring & Screening Process is done for you. Conducting a search alone for a virtual assistant can be overwhelming. With an Agency they will do the hiring, screening and contracting process for you and either choose a VA that matches your needs based on their skills or allow you the opportunity to interview a couple for you to make the decision yourself.
  6. Contracts. You can come up with your own contract for your virtual relationship, but an agency will have a contract that is in place with both the VA and the client. This is not only to protect the VA, but to protect the agency as well. Also, this contract will protect the client’s information and maintain confidentiality.

If you decide to use a freelance Virtual Assistant, there are many places they can post their information whether you use a service like Upwork or search through LinkedIn.

Keep in mind when going the freelance route, you are  responsible for the interviewing, reference checking, hiring and paying of the VA.

Once you’re up and running with your virtual assistant, you enter the next phase of managing and delegating to your Virtual Assistant.

Managing your virtual employees

Although most VAs have years of experience in their respected fields, you still need to take some time to teach them what you want accomplished, how you like things done and be clear on your expectations.

Virtual assistants are human and make the same mistakes we all do. The #1 failure of all virtual relationships (actually any relationship) is lack of communication. From Day 1, it’s best to decide on what form of communication will work best for both of you, how often you will communicate or give updates and that you take the time to review the updates that are given to you.

When collaborating with a virtual assistant and depending on the tasks they’re doing for you, you’ll need to be able to share your files, company information, etc. There are more tools than you can imagine that allow you to work with a VA.

Some of my favorite tools for VA management are:

  • GSuite: Formerly Google Apps for Work, this offer professional email, online storage, shared calendars, video meetings and more. The apps are designed for business and teams to share and collaborate securely, making it a great tool to use with your virtual assistant.
google_apps_image

GSuite

  • Dropbox: Easily and securely store all of your documents which you have access to on your desktop and mobile devices and is great for sharing large files.
  • World Time Buddy: Being a startup can mean that you’re at one end of the world at times while your VA is at the other. World Time Buddy is great to effortlessly compare multiple time zones, plan conference call, webinars, international phone calls and web meeting.
  • Streak: This is a great CRM right inside of Gmail. You and your VA can manage your clients effectively and efficiently.
  • Hellosign for Gmail: With this you can sign documents in 30 seconds or less and do it all within Gmail as well as send, retrieve and save without having to print.
  • Google Voice: Google voice is a great tool to use with your virtual assistant. They can use it to make free calls and as an after-hours voicemail.

For Digital Marketing Needs:

Digital marketing virtual assistant

  • MailChimp: Design and schedule great looking emails or newsletters. Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers and offer great analytics to gauge your campaigns.
  • Hootsuite: You can schedule up to 3 channels free on Hootsuite, save drafts you can repurpose later and view multiple feeds. You can create posts or save links you find online in Hootsuite and save them as drafts for your VA to use at a later date.
  • Canva: Create stunning graphics is easy and free with Canva (unless you use Canva for Work). You can find photos you would like to use for posts and upload them in Canva for your VA.
  • Pixabay: A great site for free online photo’s to use for your blogs or social media campaigns.

Management Help:

  • Myhours: Myhours is a time tracking software that is great not only for you to see where your virtual assistant’s time is spent, but for them too. Your VA is able to log the tasks and projects so you can see how much time is spent on each area.

Password Managers:

There are many Password Manager programs that allow virtual assistants to login into all of your accounts without seeing your passwords. The usernames and passwords are encrypted in the program itself, keeping all of your information in one place. Your Virtual Assistant can log into the program and navigate to the websites you have put in place.

A few to try are:

Building a relationship with your VA

feedback

Depending on how you choose to use your virtual assistant, whether it’s to take over a few tasks or they become your right hand, encourage them to offer you feedback, lending more warmth to the remote-work arrangement.

Assistants might not provide feedback unless you ask not wanting to overstep any bounds, yet their ideas are often spot-on given their proximity to the work.

Ultimately, a virtual assistant is not just another cog in your business machine, but a representative of your business and even a direct extension of you.

Like anything, the more clear and concise you are on your expectations with your VA from the start will lend to a long and worthwhile relationship. Communicate effectively and often to get the most out of your virtual assistant experience.

Growth Hacking Strategies: 6 Tactics That Always Work

  When it comes to achieving growth for companies, new tricks always seem to keep popping up. But, there are a few tactics of growth hacking that almost always are able to provide positive results. There are tons of tips and tactics that work as well for startups as they do for established businesses (so long […]

 

When it comes to achieving growth for companies, new tricks always seem to keep popping up. But, there are a few tactics of growth hacking that almost always are able to provide positive results. There are tons of tips and tactics that work as well for startups as they do for established businesses (so long as they have a startup mindset).

And right now is a very good time for building growth for startups

But, for achieving marketing success, here are some of these sacred tactics and tools that always render positive results.

Before I jump in though, I wish to add my two cents about why growth marketing and growth hacking is doing wonders in the business world, and consequently, why startups must believe in it.

A Word about Startups First

No matter what continent we refer to at the moment, startups spell the present and the future. Unlike a decade ago, these sorts of enterprises and entrepreneurs are neither dissuaded, nor laughed upon, and this is why they are only looking ahead.

We see the example of how Hotmail sold itself to Microsoft just one and a half year after its launch, it already had 12 million users (out of 70 million), and we are astounded by these results:

image211

Marketing is a big factor in startup success, and growth marketing even bigger.

And of course, there are definitely some more reasons for startup success, but for now, let’s consider just this one.

 

Why Startups Should Put their Faith in Growth Hacking

The number one reason is that growth hacking is not a novel concept at all. It is probably one of the most traditional ideas when it comes to marketing.

The truth is that it growth hacking is a concept that intelligently fuses and merges traditional marketing, new marketing tools, strategies and ideas that work wonderfully well for the growth of any organization – new or old; startup or established.

But, the results are awesome.

 

Then What Makes It any Different from Marketing?

growth-hacking

Growth Hackers, as Sean Ellis christened these specialists in a 2010 blog post about startup marketing, are much more than marketers for each endeavor of theirs is targeted only towards growth; towards growth that is scalable.

They do the work of two – a marketer, and a coder as well. The job is not just about making growth strategies, but constantly monitoring them, drawing conclusions with processes like A/B testing, and tools like viral factor, landing pages, etc make this growth better, faster, and even better, and even faster.

I do not say this because I fit into this profile myself; I say this because this kind of endeavor is much more durable, and much wider spanning than the ordinary brand of marketing. And I have seen growth hackers who have no degree in marketing at all, but are doing a wonderful job at it. I, myself, do not belong to a management or a marketing background, but it is my entrepreneurial thirst that brought me to this arena.

So, here are some of the tried and true growth hacking tactics that have stood the test of time, and will probably continue to do so for a long time.

 

1. Welcoming the New Trends with Open Arms

This age loves the viral stuff, and I know you agree with me. Trends come in and make a mark, even if as fads. Facebook came in as a fad but it is a phenomenon now. What startups may usually fall into is what we call ignorance. And, no matter how much Alexander Pope believed in ignorance as bliss, it is definitely not bliss when it comes to entrepreneurship.

businessman

No.1 – You’ve got to be aware of what’s trending.

No.2 – Embrace new trends with open arms.

Doing the first mentioned task, followed by the last mentioned, you will definitely be one step ahead in marketing your brand.

I will explain this with an example. Suppose you

Suppose you are, say, a travel business. Now, no matter how platforms like Pinterest are suited to the promotion of your business, since you do not know much about it, or do not tend to like it, you may not include it in your social media program. Or, say, you don’t think very highly of Instagram, and exclude it too, you may be missing a chance to reach thousands of more customers.

Options wherein people can simply login to your site through platforms Facebook, or Google Plus always work. The point is that they have mass appeal, even if you find them to be unnecessary.

The best marketing companies will always recommend embracing the latest of the marketing trends. So, be open to them, and see your reach grow by leaps and bounds.

 

2. Landing Pages are Still the Favorite Trick

Any business with an online presence will not be able to do without it. And yes, it is one of the simplest yet one of the most effective ways to market your brand well.

advantage-of-dedicated-landing-page

Making landing pages is one growth strategy that is almost unrivaled for initial client acquisition. No matter how impressive and user-friendly your website is, in absence of landing pages, you may not get too far in making and keeping customers.

Not only each product or service of yours needs a landing page, all new launches and offers deserve one too.

Suppose you need to launch a new line of clothes in your exiting business. A mere mention on your website is not enough! You need a dedicated landing page that announces the launch, before the product or category can actually be launched. This will promote signups prior to the launch, and will prove to be a very handy marketing tool for creating the much-needed buzz about your brand.

Lading pages are key because they ensure more conversions if you know how to set them up properly.

 

3. Learning from the Competitors

Even if you have no marketing skills what so ever, competitor analysis is a natural habit. Competitors will always be there, unless you’re doing something that nobody has dared to venture into yet. You must not take your competition as a threat; rather take is a teacher. You know, to be where your competitors are, you need to learn what they do, and how they do it.

You may call it a sort of reverse engineering. First you find out how they got there and then follow their strategy by engineering it to suit your brand. Find out what worked for them – social media campaign? A new ad campaign? SEO and link building? A redesigned website? Whatever it is, study it well, analyze it, and follow it, but not blindly. Make sure you are always optimizing your campaigns to your specific audience.

And there are certain tools that can help you do this – Google Advanced Search Operators, SimilarWeb, MOAT, etc.

Growth_Hacking

 

4. Being Pro Early Bird

The early bird must always get the worm. Yup, do not forget this lesson that your mother taught you when you were a kid. Any startup should be open to benefitting the initial customers. That is the rule of the thumb, and it never, ever, ever fails.

Mark my word for it.

And, don’t just stop there. Your initial customers should always be made to feel special. Keeping customers is as important as making new ones. This is one important lesson to learn in

Keeping customers is as important as making new ones. This is one key lesson to learn in growth hacking. Offering perks every now and then, or at special occasions or festivals, is a good way to bag their loyalty. Putting an efficient early adopters program in place is a sure shot tactic that works every time.

This will increase your popularity, grow your business by way of referrals, and even get you some customer evangelists, which are a prized commodity during any phase of a business’s lifecycle.

 

5. Fortify the Communication – Hype is the Idea

Today, an enterprise is not an enterprise if people do not know about it. The key to good marketing has always lied in letting people know that you

The key to good marketing has always lied in letting people know that you exist, and that you are doing great already. If there is one element of traditional growth strategy that cannot ever fail, it is email marketing. And yes, it is always about creating hype. This helps effectively in fetching leads and conversions as well. I am not talking of spamming here. Remember, more around 70% of emails worldwide are spam. You should not make yourself a part of that. Email those people to whom your products or services make sense, and keep a check on the frequency.

This helps effectively in fetching leads and conversions as well. I am not talking of spamming here. Remember, more around 70% of emails worldwide are spam. You should not make yourself a part of that. Email those people to whom your products or services make sense, and keep a check on the frequency.

Email those people to whom your products or services make sense, and keep a check on the frequency. Viral marketing is one thing, spamming is another.

It is never a bad idea to use a service like MailChimp for managing your email marketing campaigns. Marketing automation is pretty easy now compared to what it used to be three decades ago…

Also, don’t forget about social media. It plays a vital part in creating the much-needed hype for your business. Likes, shares, retweets while not the most ROI-driven success metrics, are still instrumental in telling you that you are going in the right direction. Creating a hype around your business, product or idea is half the battle. Providing your audience with constant reminders of your brand presence; seeing a company name all over the place on social media; hearing about it everywhere…

That kind of hype really makes a big impact.

 

6. Giving – More than Taking

Any business which believes in only taking cannot sustain for long. But when it comes to startups, this happens so very often. Since the enterprise in new, with limited resources and capital, it may usually be the case, only to earn initially. But that is an approach which can soon lead to stagnation.

Even before you break even, you must give more than you are taking.

This alternatively means, giving back products or services worth more than the value than what they are paying you, if not always, then at least on occasions. Free giveaways have been a winning growth trick forever. You wanna know why? It’s because they work.

But, well, I heard a lot of skeptics saying that growth hacking may soon be dead. But do I believe that?

NO!

Why not? Because that is what I do for a living? Absolutely not! Niet!

Growth Hacking will never “die” because it is process that believes in re-iteration through re-invention. And, it does not use the same growth strategies or marketing tools blindly for every business. New situations necessitate new tools and new hacks. This is exactly how dynamic any efficient growth hacker should be.

Growth Hacking Framework

Devising the ways to shoot up the growth is not just a onetime goal for this sort of marketing. It is a constant goal.

You do it once, and do not come down; you keep devising ways to keep going up; you look at old strategies, make changes to them in new contexts; even make entirely new strategies altogether; in short, all that needs to be done to keep growing.

The point is, and it must be noted if you wish to make any good out of this process, that growth hacking may start with a startup, but doesn’t leave you a startup. It helps you move towards the status of an established business, but still doesn’t become a redundant or obsolete technique for you. It grows with your business and keeps it growing in turn.

This is why companies like Facebook and Pinterest have full-time growth hackers devoted entirely to chalking out growth tactics constantly.

As for those who may think that its death is near, they probably have not yet realized the potential that growth hacking shows. As for me, I fully realize it, and see how I and my clients benefit from it.

As for the tactics that I talked of, those are not all that a growth hacker does. Just like entrepreneurs must do some things and stop doing other things to succeed in business, this procedure also changes with the needs. The tactics I listed are only some of the very basics of growth hacking that barely scratch the surface.

Ultimately, you can use these ideas for when you are just starting out and create your own combinations of tools, tactics and strategies that may only ever work for your specific business. Who knows? When it comes to growth hacking, there is no set formula. The sky is the limit.

Have any questions for me? Please tweet me or leave them in the comments section.

When Should You Start Optimizing?

A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups Sure, you came up with an outstanding idea for a product, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. This is only the first of the 5 phases of a startup lifecycle. And while it’s important that you get it right, what and […]

A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups

Sure, you came up with an outstanding idea for a product, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet.

This is only the first of the 5 phases of a startup lifecycle. And while it’s important that you get it right, what and how you chose to do next can make or break your business.

To state the obvious, growing a business takes time, dedication and not least some fundamental know-how. It’s the latter we’re going to address in this article.

Knowing when to optimize conversion rates is almost as important as knowing how to do it.

When Should You Start Optimizing?

Rush in and you’ll just be burning money and wasting time with nothing to show for it.

Do it too late and you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities and will be left with an awful lot of things to patch and fix.

According to Morgan Brown, the perfect moment to start optimizing is in the second stage – when you already have an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).When Should You Start Optimizing? A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups | Growth Marketing ConferenceWhile there is no doubt you should put conversion optimization into your strategy as user growth starts to scale out, it’s crucial to remember that what works for a company that has hundreds of thousands of visits per month, won’t work for a startup that barely has 2000.

With this in mind, let’s explore the most effective and accessible ways startups can boost their conversion rates.

  1. Don’t waste time on A/B testing if you don’t have traffic

During the past few years, A/B testing became the most popular Conversion Rate Optimization method among marketers and even though all the hype it received is obviously not for nothing, I have to say that it has been proved many times to be unfit and inefficient for startups.

This happens due to the fact that startups often don’t have enough resources to run split tests.

For one, the procedure can be rather costly, and then there’s also a painful lack of time and traffic.

It’s not a secret that you need a large enough sample size in order to conduct an A/B test, but why is that?

Both variations should be seen by a sufficient number of users, which varies from case to case, before you can attribute your experiment’s success or lack of it, that is, to your hypothesis rather than sheer coincidence.

This is when a sample size calculator might come in handy. Luckily, there are a few tools out there meant to make your life easier: Calculator.net, Survey System, Get Data Driven.

Keep in mind that it’s best to aim for a statistical relevance of minimum 95%.

So the question you should be asking is:

 “How long does it take for one of the variations to outperform the other by 20% ?”

When Should You Start Optimizing? A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups | Growth Marketing ConferenceFor a startup, it can take months for a single A/B test to reach statistical relevance and get validated, so now is not the time and place to experiment with button sizes and colors.

What you can do instead is go for the big impact changes, like testing two completely different landing pages.

While it can seem like a bold move, it will save lots of time you’d otherwise spend waiting to see which button converts better.

The good news is, A/B testing is not the only way to optimize your funnel.

  1. Set up your web analytics tools right

“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it” – Sir William Thomson (First Baron Kelvin)

Setting your Google Account properly and tracking your data is crucial if you want to know where your sales come from and which marketing channels bring the best return of investment.

But these are not the only benefits you should be after.

Other dimensions you should be watching closely are your exit and bounce rates and on which of your website’s pages they peak. This will allow you to identify your pain points and focus on them while optimizing.

Watch out for these bad guys!

At this point, it’s worth mentioning a few of the most common mistakes people and companies make when setting up a Google Analytics account:

  • Not filtering out internal visits

For more accuracy, you should make sure to create a filtered view out of which you exclude your company’s IP address. Just think how many times a day you check your company’s website, and then imagine what impact several people doing that regularly can have on your monthly report.

  • Forgetting to set up goals

Depending on your type of business, your website can have different goals.

Take, for example, a blog. Its conversions would mainly be time spent on page, engagement or maybe signing up for a newsletter.

Things are not the same for an E-commerce website, where the main conversions are purchases or completing a form.

Setting up these goals can give you a much clearer, much needed overview over how your visitors engage with your website and how they progress down the sales funnel.

  • Failing to segment your users

Segmenting your users can give you priceless information about their behavior, demographics and geographical info, things that will come in handy when building your buyer persona.

  • Not making the best use of the UTMs

When Should You Start Optimizing? A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups | Growth Marketing ConferenceUTMs (Urchin Tracking Module) codes are tiny bits of text you can add at the end your links in order to individually track your campaigns.

Each one of them contains information, such as Source, Medium, Content (optional) and Campaign that it communicates to Google Analytics (or other analytics tools).

This way, you are able to see which ads, campaigns, content and marketing channels bring you the best bang for your buck.

 

  1. Collect qualitative data from the website’s visitors

There are two main types of data you can collect and make use of:

  1. Data obtained through quantitative research

  • focuses on numbers and quantifiable insights
  • transforms those numbers into usable statistics
  • it’s thoroughly accurate
  • it’s rigorously structured
  • you can mostly get you hands on it through online polls and peeking into web analytics and heat-maps.

Even though it sounds like an enticing basis for website optimization, it has one major drawback: it needs a larger sample of population, a thing that we already established you don’t have yet.

 

  1. Data obtained through qualitative research

  • is what you should go for
  • It’s harder to interpret
  • focuses on who your users are and what they expect from your product
  • It’s indispensable to conversion rate optimization
  • helps you build buyer personas
  • helps you adjust your unique value proposition and copy to address your visitors using their own vernacular

Qualitative Research Methods

But how can you actually conduct qualitative research? Below, I listed the most popular and efficient methods.

Online surveys

When it comes to qualitative data, surveys are your best tool in the shed. Used right they can tell you (almost) everything you need to know about who your customers are.

Like with everything in marketing, you should decide what your goals are and craft your question in a way that brings you closer to meeting them.

You can trigger surveys on load, on exit or on scroll and while it’s generally better to keep them short and sweet, there are special cases when this won’t work.

A buyer persona survey is a good example for that.

In order to have a complete grasp on all the aspects surrounding your users, from age and sex to income and lifestyle, you need to address between 10 and 15 questions.

So how do you keep your respondents engaged? The best way is to offer small rewards, like an ebook, a voucher or a discount.

Among the things you should look for are:

  • Friction (what stopped or made the buying process more difficult)
  • What drives their purchase (what problems your product solves for them)
  • What influenced their decision to chose your product (always good to keep an eye on the competition and their answer could give you a complete different vision on your Unique Value Proposition

Some examples of questions you should make sure to ask:

  • What made you chose us?
  • What would you improve at our website if you had the chance?
  • Did you consider buying from any competitors before?
  • What stopped you from purchasing?
  • What would determine you to finish your purchase?

User testing

This is the closest thing to the real deal you can get. Though it’s highly effective and it saves you lots of precious time, this one, can prove to be a little bit over your budget.

Even so, done right, it can have a significant  impact on your conversion rate and it’s likely to shed some light over your users’ behavior.

The whole process consists of crafting a list of specific, but not too detailed tasks and observing someone interacting with your website for the first time, as they comment along.

When Should You Start Optimizing? A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups | Growth Marketing ConferenceHopefully not your users…

There are two type of user testing:

  • Over the shoulder user testing – real-time sessions
  • Remote user testing- observing the user remotely via audio and screen capture technology

Here’s a couple of tools you can work with for this purpose:

Live chat transcripts

If you don’t have live support on your E-commerce website, stop whatever you’re doing and make sure you implement it now!

While most strategies in marketing have promoters and detractors, the benefits of live chat support leave little to debate.

Additionally to topping all other customer service communication media, a mere glance over statistics shows an increase of 38% in purchases and a decrease of  30% in cart abandonment rates.

Pretty swell, right?

The trick is to know how to get the most out of it, once it served its initial purpose. Getting the transcripts, going over them and identifying patterns will provide some precious info on the most encountered:

  • sources of confusion and friction
  • information that might be lacking from your website
  • frequent feature requests

You can even use the information from these transcripts to create FAQs or compelling content for your blog.

So, get your hands on this secret gold mine and start digging for cues! What you’ll find might surprise you.

 

  1. Collect leads using interactive overlays & surveys

As the Lean Marketing Framework (AARRR) shows, your work doesn’t stop after the users made a purchase.

When Should You Start Optimizing? A When, Where and How Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization For Startups | Growth Marketing Conference

Stop for a moment and imagine you meet a great girl or a charming guy and you walk over to say “hi”. They engage in conversation and seem very keen on getting to know more about you, so when you suggest going for a date, they accept straight away.

Now imagine having an amazing dinner by candle light, enjoying your date’s company and not taking their number at the end. Besides it being rude, you also miss out on a lot more fun dates in the future.

Much like in the date analogy above, it’s great you managed to convert your users, but if you want to get the most out of this newly sprung relationship, the ball is in your court.

Acquiring customers is the expensive part. It is much cheaper to spend your efforts on retaining them.

After the initial purchase, it’s up to you to measure their satisfaction through a Net Promoter Score, phone call and prepare the ground for the next purchase.

So how do you get leads?

One of the best ways to do that is by implementing a pop-up (also know as overlay) or widget lead collector on your website.

The moment of truth

This is an example of a lead collector survey on the Marketizator website.

But in the age of information, users know their data’s worth and aren’t exactly looking forward to giving it away.

That’s where 3 very important principles come into play:

  • Honesty

Be honest and straightforward about what your visitors might get if they leave their email address e.g : news about the latest updates, exclusive promotional offers, tutorials.

  • Generosity

Offer discounts or vouchers in exchange for their personal details.

  • Shared knowledge

Not only do books and PDFs help you position yourself on the market as an authority in your domain, but they can also represent a powerful incentive for your users. Ask them for their name and email address and send them your “How To” guide, white papers or “Tips and Tricks.”

Here’s another example of how Marketizator collect leads on the blog:

Two Step Pop Up Experiment for Optimizing

This is a lead collector overlay that pops out when visitors want to exit the page.

What you should take away from this

There’s much more to CRO than A/B tests.

As a startup you should get creative and use the the little time and budget you have wisely, to ensure that when growth starts you will be able to scale.