Talking Growth Frameworks with HubSpot’s Chris Miller
Growth is a big topic at any organization—and it inevitably generates a lot of questions. What can you do to drive growth? Who is in charge of it? How might different teams collaborate on accelerating growth?
On a recent episode of the OV BUILD podcast, we heard from Chris Miller, Director of Product, Growth at HubSpot. He shared some helpful insights about the differences between the growth function on marketing and product teams. He also outlined a couple of key growth-related frameworks that HubSpot uses: the “Three Ds” framework for solving growth problems, and the Learn/Collect/Apply framework for setting up effective audience segmentation (something that was critical to HubSpot’s success).
Throughout his conversation with host Blake Bartlett, there was a running thread about the importance of well-structured cross-functional collaboration. Listen to the episode below, or scroll down to read the rest of this story.
Who’s who? Growth marketers versus growth-focused product managers
One of the growth questions OpenView is asked most often is about the difference between growth marketers and growth-focused product managers. These two roles have a lot more in common than most people think.
As Chris pointed out, growth marketers and growth-focused product managers basically have the same goal—more customers—but they just manage different parts of the customer relationship and use different tools to engage that audience.
Growth marketers focus on how to reach and engage the largest percentage of the total addressable market. To grow the user base, they use conversational, email and other channels to drive adoption via onramps and offramps that help them bring the marginal user into the fold.
This is a critical role because, as Chris explained, “You can build the greatest tool the world has ever seen, but if people struggle to get it configured so they can use it, you’re leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.”
Growth-focused product managers
Growth-focused product managers, on the other hand, spend their time building core value for users. This role is responsible for bringing the product to the “dream state” that delivers on customers’ desired outcomes. This team uses things like in-app onboarding flows and other tools to integrate learning into the product experience and drive adoption.
Related read: Building a System for Growth
In addition to empowering both these teams to pursue their adoption goals, a successful growth strategy must also include seamless collaboration between the groups.
“It’s an easy trap to fall into to think that a customer sees everything you build,” said Chris. “But the reality is that customers are only human. They have real lives. They bounce in and out of focus on whatever’s in front of them. They switch from phone to laptop to tablet.”
This is why it’s so important to address growth in an omnichannel way—both online and offline, both in the product and outside of the product. And throughout the entire buyer and customer journey, you need to maintain consistent messaging. You need to provide easy-to-understand markers that keep customers from becoming disoriented. You need to acknowledge that you might send a marketing email to a prospect who has already forgotten why they clicked that initial CTA in the first place.
Your job, as a collaborative marketing and product growth team, is to work together to create a really consistent and continuous journey that makes it easy for buyers and customers alike to take the next step forward.
Framework #1: The Three Ds of Growth
Even the most innovative and buttoned-up cross-functional growth teams are going to run into challenges. For those situations, Chris recommends what HubSpot calls the “Three Ds of Growth” framework.
This is a method and an order of operations that helps their teams solve problems much more quickly and efficiently than if they tried to reinvent the wheel every time they hit a growth speed bump. The process involves asking an ordered series of questions that address shortcomings and opportunities.
The first question has to do with whether the user can find the thing they need to take the action that will help them find success with your product. Chris acknowledged that this is really basic, but you might be surprised at how often a problem can be solved by simply making a call to action or tool easier to find.
There are, in fact, many factors that play into discoverability. Any visual element, for instance, will be enhanced or hurt by the design decisions you make, the hierarchy of elements on the screen, the location and orientation on various devices and screen sizes, and so forth.
“When you can triangulate these details to figure out if there’s a discoverability issue, it’s usually a pretty simple fix. That’s why we like to start there,” Chris said.
At the next level, you’re looking at a situation where discoverability has been solved, but people still aren’t taking action.
You need to sort out why they’re failing to act. Are they unable to see the value? Do they assume the action will lock them into a big commitment? Are they not authorized to take the next step?
Mastering desirability is about really understanding people’s motivations, fears, anxieties and processes. This usulaly requires more than simple A/B testing because the issue is deeper than the color of a button. You need to get inside the customer’s head and see things from their perspective.
Once you have a solid understanding of the actual issue, you can come up with a set of testable hypotheses. Often, this has to do with how you’re communicating key information about your product or process. It might be a messaging issue or an informational issue, or you might be talking to the wrong person.
The important thing is to marry the appropriate solution to each problem. Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail.
Finally, when people can find the thing and they want to take action on it, the last question is whether you’ve made the task too hard to complete.
“You can spend a lot of really well-spent product calories simply making things easier to complete,” said Chris.
Look for situations where people get started and then drop off. What caused them to lose momentum? How can you remove friction from the process?
Framework #2: Learn/Collect/Apply
In the startup world, we’re kind of addicted to creating new categories, but we can (younger companies, especially) wind up diluting the value of a product by zooming out too far. HubSpot took a different approach. They zoomed in, and—through segmentation—defined their product value in terms that were very specific, even to the level of an individual person and the task that person is trying to accomplish.
Segmentation is one of the keys that unlocks better activation, so Blake asked Chris about what that looked like for HubSpot.
“When you’re thinking about an activation or onboarding problem, there are some basic truths you really need to know,” Chris explained. “You need to know who’s coming in the front door, what they’re looking for, and what their desired outcomes are. And then you need to make sure that the steps you’re asking people to take align with those truths and, ultimately, those outcomes.”
The challenge HubSpot faced, like many other technology companies, was that they didn’t have a singular answer to those questions. Early on, they were stuck in the trap of trying to be everything to everyone, and it wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped.
“We knew that no design overhaul was going to solve this challenge,” Chris recalled. “What we really needed to do was build an experience that felt personal for core blocks of our target audience and personas.”
Embracing segmentation fully can be a scary moment in a company’s evolution because the discrete experiences for different segments incur long-term maintenance costs. For this and other reasons, it’s important to approach segmentation strategically. One framework HubSpot uses is the Learn/Collect/Apply framework, which provides a methodology for determining what the right amount of segmentation could look like.
The learn stage is just what it sounds like: doing your research to understand how customers make decisions at each point in your product funnel.
“Know what they’re looking for and what they’ll respond to most when they’re on your sign-up page and looking for justification to hand over their information to create an account,” Chris said.
When you understand the vectors involved in a person’s decision process, you know how to prioritize information to help them make the decision you want them to make. If, for instance, you personalize your sign-up experience based on geographic location, but nobody is organically looking for that information, you’re missing the boat.
Pay attention to the signals and then build your segments around them.
As an example: Once you’ve determined the right industry vertical, to deliver relevant personalization and a delightful experience, you need to have reliable data at scale.
Where will you get that data? Will you collect first-party declared data? If so, how will that affect the friction level of the do-ability aspect of your product? Can you acquire data through enrichment and data partners, or infer it from firmographic or demographic information that’s part of your sign-up flow?
Finally, with the right vectors of segmentation and data at scale, you’re ready to figure out what segmentation actually looks like in the buyer and customer experience. At this stage, HubSpot reverts to their standard process of rapid experimentation and hypothesis-driven product development. But because they’ve done their due diligence in the learn and collect phases, they’re assured of better success in their engineering cycles.
A cross-functional team drives the Learn/Collect/Apply framework. UX researchers and product data analysts handle the Learn phase, product managers and designers come into play during the Collect phase, and engineers join the team for the Apply phase.
Another strategy HubSpot employed was asking a series of “lowest common denominator” questions. This exercise helps you figure out how to properly introduce someone to your product in a way that’s relevant to their specific situation and needs.
The three key questions they asked were:
- What department do you represent?
- What’s your role in that department?
- What’s your experience level?
These questions make a lot of sense. For instance, a marketing person will have very different concerns and questions than a salesperson.
And even within a department, roles will dictate an additional layer of nuance—a sales rep might be interested in sales cycle acceleration while a sales manager might be interested in reporting solutions.
The final question about experience level proved to be a game-changer for HubSpot.
“It seems so obvious now, but experience level is a really important thing to consider,” explained Chris. “If someone is coming to you from one of your large competitors, they’re probably thinking about how to map their process from their legacy system to your product. If someone is coming to you without any prior experience with a product like yours, you’ll need to start with the basics.”
“People were much more successful getting activated on the product when we started using language that resonated with where they were at the time of sign up and unboxing,” Chris continued. “The key is to be really mindful about just how much segmentation you need in order to remove the desirability and do-ability friction from your funnel.”
Bonus growth secret: An intentional, well-structured, cross-functional approach
Everything Chris and Blake discussed touched on the theme of taking a well-structured, cross-functional approach to growth.
This doesn’t happen by accident. You need to be intentional about it, build the underlying organizational foundation, and get buy-in from the appropriate teams.
In addition, Chris recommends that the system you design to field and collect ideas and hypotheses is fully democratized so that everyone has a seat at the table. He also strongly advocates for creating a high degree of psychological safety.
“You need to make sure that every voice in the room is heard, everyone is playing by the same set of prioritization rules and the goal posts don’t move,” he said.
And, to complement that, he suggests establishing someone as the tie-breaker, a person who can make the final call across all functions.
Related read: This is What it Takes to Become Product Led—According to HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar
A cross-functional approach helps you put the customer first. It keeps you from falling into the trap of thinking about your funnel and experience as an assembly line with distinct and discrete parts of the journey. When you think about the journey in separate chunks, the customer can sense this. The process feels disjointed and disingenuous.
To create a continuous and seamless journey, you need to take your teams out of their silos, create a shared roadmap and—this is important—make sure you’re all working with the same definition of success.
Working together toward common goals, keeping the customer front and center, and taking advantage of proven frameworks—this is a solid recipe for growth success no matter who you are.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and was updated in January 2021.