I often get asked by founders of B2B SaaS companies how they should go about building their company’s first ‘Growth Team’. This is not an easy question to answer as what a growth team is chartered with achieving, where they fit in the org, what the team makeup looks like vary so widely from company to company.
In order to hopefully provide a helpful framework to think about this challenge, I’m writing a multi-part series on building out a growth team. The parts will include:
- What is the growth team’s charter?
- Where does the growth team fit in the org?
- What will the makeup of the team look like?
- Hiring the right people for the team
Step 2: Where does the growth team fit in the org?
This is a question that every founder building their first growth team struggles with. The best answer largely depends on what the growth’s team charter is and how the wider company is set up to operate.
I think the best way to explore this question is to start with the most common configurations and explain the situations in which I’ve seen each work best. There are of course other models besides the 4 below that can and do work, but one of these will be the best fit for most founders.
1. Make the growth team part of marketing
This structure often works well when the existing marketing team is focused on traditional marketing disciplines such as demand generation and brand and needs a growth team that will largely be focused on product led growth.
In this setup the growth team’s charter will include goals such as optimizing the onboarding and upgrade experience, leveraging invites and other viral growth tactics, and addressing issues with retention.
I’ve seen cases where this growth team becomes a sort of special forces team within the marketing team that will experiment with new growth tactics and take on the more complicated marketing initiaitves. This can work very well if the right team is hired and there is clarity that this is the job of the growth team.
If the point is to focus on product led growth, why not just make them part of product? Well that is certainly a valid option as well as we’ll discuss shortly. The easiest way to think about if the growth team should be part of marketing or product is look back at your growth team charter and ask yourself which team you want executing on these types of activities. There’s not a right or wrong answer, but this exercise usually makes it clear with model will work best for your team.
2. Make the growth team the marketing team
I’ve seen this work very well with several early stage companies that are pursuing an aggressive product led growth strategy (aka no sales team) and actually implemented this model myself at CircleCI.
When it’s clear that for at least the next year or so you will not build a traditional marketing team, but you want a team that is focused on growing your user base, this is a great model. Rather than building out a demand gen, PR, brand, and other traditional marketing functions, the team is typically much more technical and capable of running a lot of AB tests across the website, product, and potentially some paid channels.
As your company scales you will eventually need to build additional marketing functions but this model can often work well until you get to around 10m in ARR.
3. Make the growth team part of product
If you are early stage, functionally this is often very similar to the model above (having growth be your marketing team). The types of things they work on will be very similar, but rather than having them report up to the executive level as their own standalone team, in this model they report in to product.
The advantage of this model is that it is easy for the growth team to have strong alignment with product which is super valuable. The potential downside is that they will have less freedom and flexibility to explore growth opportunities that are not part of the product roadmap.
I think this model works best for early stage companies when you have a very strong, experienced product team that understands how important product strategy is to growth.
For later stage companies who’s growth is not heavily sales focused this is probably the most popular and successful model. Growth gets to sit with product so that that they are closely aligned and even have access to engineering resources (if they don’t have have them on the team already) while also often having the autonomy and visibility needed to pursue their charter.
4. Make growth a standalone team that reports to the CEO
There are a couple sub-models that typically play out when growth is their own team with a direct line to the CEO. For early stage companies this often means that ‘growth’ is the early sales and marketing teams combined. This is usually most affective when the bulk of your growth strategy is focused on community and product-led growth but you also want to start experimenting with how you will build a repeatable sales process. With the right leadership and team both of these things can often be achieved by the same team as they are both hyper-focused on gaining a deep understanding of your customer.
For later stage companies, say > $30m ARR, this model works best when you have a specific reason for growth to be distinct from marketing or product. Maybe product has a well defined roadmap they are working on and the growth initiatives would be better pursued independently. Maybe the marketing team has been built to have a strong enterprise demand generation focus and now you want to pursue a community growth strategy simultaneously. While this can work very well in a B2B product company it seems to be more common at B2C companies.
Whatever the reason is, it should be good one to warrant creating an entirely new team which of course comes with the cost of added organizational complexity.
Ultimately the most important thing to consider when deciding on where to put the growth team in the organization is what resources and data they will need to successfully execute on their charter. Position them in the org where they will have the most unfettered access to those resources and data and then focus on hiring a kick ass team.