This article mostly applies to product-led startups or companies. Meaning firms who have some kind of trial or freemium model baked into their go-to-market strategy (and hence, where product influences a good chunk of the customer journey).
The question in the title comes up over and over, whether it was during my time as an in-house marketer or now when working with clients. So I went on a research-rabbit hole and came out the other end with a few answers I lay out in this article.
Inspiration drawn from: Naman Khan, CMO at Zeplin; Kevan Lee, Head of Marketing at Polly; Sam Richard, Sr. Director of Growth at OpenView; and Andrew Capland, Head of Growth at Postscript (as well as a few articles from Reforge).
For all the progress we have made breaking the departmental silos within our organizations, there is still a tug-of-war going raging, on who owns growth.
But in my opinion this is also the wrong question to ask. A better question would be:
What’s the role of Product vs. Marketing vs. Growth in influencing the growth of a company?
First of all, all teams should share one unifying goal: Increasing annual recurring revenue (ARR). Or more succinctly: Everyone has a responsibility to think about reducing friction at every point in the customer journey (pre-signup to post-signup).
- Product owns everything that happens inside of the app: Product quality, UI and UX design, active usage metrics, etc.
- Marketing owns everything outside of the app. We are talking social media, email, brand messaging, (paid) search etc., as well as sales-assisted deals enablement.
- Growth owns, and I quote Kyle "in-app activation (i.e., getting users to see value in the product) and conversion including in-app onboarding, checkout, billing, and paid conversion experiences. You can think of them as responsible for the in-app experience as it relates to helping users quickly discover and experience the value that Product has created, which then leads to commercial impact." Thank you Kyle.
Where things get tricky aka: Areas with room for collaboration
Okay, so far so good. Now the reason we have this discussion in the first place are the blurred lines and boundaries around a bunch of topics which are less clear-cut. And boundaries are important because decisions need to be taken and people need to be held accountable, else we land in the Wild Wild West and somebody gets hurt.
- Website - Ah, the website discussion. There is no way around collaboration here. The website a) needs to fulfill its education purpose, i.e. where potential customers learn about the product, sign up for webinars, read case studies etc. (Marketing), but also b) needs to have a sign-up flow that is distraction free and quickly converts people who want to try the product (Product and Growth).
- Customer Research - Let's agree that all three teams must do customer research. It's the backbone of every go-to-market-strategy. We want our strategy to be based on actual user needs and not opinions. The “tricky”, collaborative aspect surfaces around sharing those insights across teams. I've seen wiki-style user research insight databases and regular "customer-roundtable" meetings work really well in this area.
- Lead quality - Is it marketing's fault that bad leads sign up for a trial? Or is it growth who can't show the value fast enough? Or is the UX of the product just too cumbersome? What are the criteria by which we define a good vs. a bad lead? All questions that need to be contended with as a team.
- Dev-Resources - How do you prioritize engineering resources? Both new growth efforts and new product feature development needs the precious time of developers. Ideally you have a dedicated developer on the growth and / or marketing team, but that is usually only possible for later-stage companies.
So you see, there is no clear-cut answer on who owns growth. And there shouldn't be. It's a team effort. But it makes sense to draw some boundaries and clearly define how teams work together in the areas where there is inevitable overlap. Because if you don't, valuable resources are wasted in endless discussions and land-grabs. And it's good to remind ourselves one more time that we all have the same goal in growing our SaaS company: Increasing annual recurring revenue.