Attack tough growth problems with simplicity

I hate reality TV, but one of my favorite shows right now is called the Profit. In each episode, Marcus Lemonis (the CEO of Camping World) is tasked with going into a struggling business, investing time and money, and (hopefully) eliminating the problems that hampered company growth.

While the show is coated with a veneer of reality tv, there’s a variety of extremely useful lessons packed into each show. One thing Marcus mentions over and over is that company problems typically stem from 1) People 2) Process 3) Product.

What makes this framework so compelling is how Marcus identifies problems using what appears to be a stupidly simple framework. Almost every time this framework is mentioned, the owner appears (at least to me) to be critical. My reasoning is that the owner is too involved in the day-to-day tactics and forgets to step back, and look holistically at the company.

I think we’re seeing the same thing with the growth hacking movement. People are obsessed with tactics; they want to track every interaction on a website, they optimize for k-factor, and hunt around to find the “secret” to growth. This type of thinking is not helpful. Tactics matter, but they need direction.

Here’s another example of simplicity – watch Andy Johns (Director of Revenue @ Wealthfront) talk about a simple growth equation (6:20).

And another example – look at what Chamath Palihapitiya, the former Head of Growth at Facebook says:

“Users are only ever in three states — they’ve never heard about it; they’ve tried it; and they use it. What you’re managing is state change. So the framework is, what causes these changes? The answer should be rooted more in preference, choice and psychology than in some quantitative thing.”

I don’t think there’s a perfect answer about what framework one should use as long as it’s easy to understand, and tailored to parts of the business that REALLY matter. I personally use this framework when tackling growth challenges. While a framework may seem like a minor detail, it actually matters a lot. Here’s why…

Company Alignment

There’s a lot of growth people that pretend like they’re a master of the dark arts. In practice this is unhelpful and detrimental to the organization. Growth is a team sport; it requires that all departments align efforts around a common, understandable goal. If there’s one person or team that knows what they’re doing, but the rest of the organization doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, your efforts are useless.

In soccer, the team has a single objective – to score more goals then they allow. Tactically, a defender must prevent goals from being scored, while an attacker must score. While roles vary, the objective is crystal clear and understandable by everyone.

Growth people have an opportunity to model this behavior. Adding complexity or voodoo to a growth equation is great for someone’s ego, but not for the rest of the organization. Aim for understandability.

Breaking down complexity

It’s common to see a growth problem (let’s say retention) and become overwhelmed when trying to think of ways to fix it. The problem with this approach is buried in the last sentence – “Trying to think of ways to fix it.”

The person who attacks the problem through a lens of simplicity,  may take a step back, and say, “customers are people, let’s talk to them first instead of staring at analytics and see what we find.” Contrast that with someone who is mired in complexity, who approaches problems and forgets that those data points are living, breathing humans.

It keeps you humble

I’ve said before that the best marketers are humble. I really believe that how you communicate is a direct reflection of this. If a coworker asks you to help with a problem, and you speak like you just received a PhD in growth studies,  it may make you seem smart, but once again, is that really helping anything other than your ego?

Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met can break down tough problems into bite-sized pieces for the average user. They also can dive into extreme amounts of detail, but they choose not to.

Here’s a litmus test: if you work in growth, how do you explain your job to your non-technical friends and family?

A final note: I’ll write more about this in a future post, but the end-user doesn’t care about viral coefficients, or funnels, or whatever growth tactic you use. They care about an outcome.

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