When I first caught wind of the trend of companies building “growth teams,” I probably had a similar reaction to a lot of people: “Wait a second, isn’t everyone on the sales and marketing teams at a company already part of the growth team?” Then of course the follow up question: “How about product managers? Aren’t they thinking about how to grow adoption of their products too?”
But now that my company has created a growth team of its own, I’ve come around on the idea. Our growth team has become a crucial partner to our marketing team, it make salespeople’s lives easier, and it helps fill the gaps between product managers.
If you’re having a hard time seeing how you could possibly need a growth team, bare with me. Let’s explore further.
Companies like Airbnb, Facebook, and Uber popularized the concept of growth teams — hybrid practices of technical marketers, engineers, analysts, and product designers working together to create multiplier forces on their business. Put simply, growth teams solve problems that enable further growth through a process of experimentation and analysis. But more deeply, what are they and how do they work?
Here’s what they do
Growth teams help increase the rate of customer acquisition, retention, and revenue by optimizing products and inventing new marketing channels. Most organizations have siloed departments — sales, marketing, and product, for example — that collectively drive growth but don’t always interact with each other perfectly. Much of the benefit of a growth team is having a charter to jump around between these teams and fill gaps. Growth teams are made up of engineers, designers, data scientists, and analysts who constantly identify potential experiments to try out. For example, while customer support teams want to be the best at resolving problems that arise, growth teams think about how to create a support experience and implement tools and technology that encourages would-be customers to sign up.
What are they responsible for?
Growth teams do many things to drive growth. A unique responsibility that often falls between the cracks of an organization is inventing new channels that aid in acquiring customers. Some of these channel inventions may seem minor but have far-reaching impact. Uber, for example, saw a surge in new customers when it simply changed the “share” button in the app to “free rides,” which showed users the value they would receive for soliciting new riders.
The standard unit of a growth team is a growth experiment. Growth experiments can vary in length and can be as short as a few days. Changing the design of a landing page to determine what factors drive higher traffic — often called A/B testing — could be considered a growth experiment. Growth teams move toward goals, such as web traffic conversion or boosting product signups through a partnership. Across growth teams “10x, not 10%” is a common mantra, but it’s important to know that while growth teams aim for incredible results, they most often make a difference through incremental changes that compound to create meaningful growth. So it’s just as valid for a growth team to focus on a series of 5 percent improvements that add up to big gains collectively. Because growth teams experiment with and influence a broad range of business divisions (not simply marketing), they are expected to deliver on and measure against results.
How are they held accountable?
Growth teams are usually held accountable through internal agreements that act as informal contracts. Department heads need to set the expectation that growth teams can significantly change their course of action. One recently IPO’d company president I spoke to has a growth team that can work in any department and change anything they want. However, they have an SLA (service license agreement) with the departments they’re affecting. If they don’t deliver results, as outlined and agreed to by both teams, things revert back to the way they were. This ensures growth teams have a charter to be bold without totally running amuck.
The future of marketing
Growth teams may have originated in Silicon Valley, but their approach to sustainable growth is spreading throughout the country. Consumer brands like ConAgra Foods, Tyson Foods, and The Kellogg Company are turning to chief growth officers to jumpstart innovation and align their teams around growth goals. As large corporations and startups alike look for ways to outpace each other beyond traditional marketing tools, growth teams will become standard. You’ll soon think of them like you do customer support and product teams. Fear not if your company’s new growth team wants to try something new in your department. They’re only trying to help.