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…except for the secret silver bullet for growth, because there isn’t one—at least that I’ve figured out (sorry).
In addition to my experience at Qualaroo http://www.qualaroo.com, I’ve held marketing leadership roles at companies such as Dropbox, LogMeIn (led to IPO), Uproar (led to IPO), Eventbrite, and Lookout.
I’m particularly passionate about growth hacking (a phrase I coined three years ago), conversion rate optimization, creating passionate users through a compelling must-have user experience, the importance of discovering and tapping visitor intent, and effectively executing the freemium model when it makes sense. Ask me anything about these topics and anything else growth and marketing related.
I’ll be online between 8am PST and 10am PST. During that time I’ll do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can.
Great to see you here on Inbound.org!
As a massive Dropbox advocate and user, I'm in awe of the fact that you were the first marketer there! What was your marketing strategy for DB? What were some of the tactics and techniques that you implemented? And what did you learn from the experience - i.e. what were the do's and don'ts that you learnt for later roles/projects?
Hi Steve, thanks for the question. It was clear early on that Dropbox was a special product. Most of my focus was on understanding initial user intent and streamlining delivery of a great experience that delivered on that intent. We also tried to make sure that any customer acquisition programs leveraged the growing user base so that they could deliver sustainable results. The incentivized referral program was an important outcome of that goal. But in the big picture, Dropbox is an elegant solution to a big problem and the team has optimized every touchpoint for driving growth.
Thanks for your answer, Sean.
Just noticed Eventbrite in the list, another site I adore! Same questions as before, but about EB instead of DB - what strategy, what tactics/techniques and what did you learn? :-)
Hi Steve, the answer is very similar for Eventbrite. Nailing the product experience has probably been the most important driver of growth there. I spent a lot of time studying the user intent, the must have experience and the onboarding funnel to deliver the experience. We did quite a bit of optimization from there. But Eventbrite benefits from several natural growth levers. First is that many people are exposed to it when they sign up for an event, so it's top of mind if they have an event to organize. Second is that events are naturally social, so they can build great hooks into social networks. And finally their critical mass of events means they are become a great place to discover events in your local area or field of interest. This opens an opportunity for SEO, since people often start looking for relevant events via Google.
Hi Sean - thanks for hosting an AMA here on Inbound!
I have a follow-up question to Eventbrite user growth.
It's easy to see how Eventbrite adoption compounds on itself as more people use it (great "viral" awareness techniques built in, as you've covered). I'd imagine the early days were a big challenge as that critical mass had not presented itself yet.
What was the one initiative you built into Eventbrite that helped build that tipping point early on? (i.e. Inviting influencers, a particular targeted campaign, etc.)
Fantastic - thanks Sean! :-)
Hi Sean,What are your thoughts on a Saas requiring a credit card for a free 30 day trial?
Hi Marvin, I think this is a case of "test it." It many situations it will work best and others it won't be the best approach. The trade off is likely a lower conversion rate from visit to trial, but a higher conversion rate from trial to purchase. We haven't tried it at Qualaroo, but we may be a case when it makes a lot of sense to require a credit card. Our service is often most valuable in the first 30 days when you are trying to answer a specific question. So you would have a lot of motivation to enter a credit card to be able to trial. But I'm hesitant to test it because we have a very high trial to purchase rate and a relatively low visit to trial rate.
Sean, thanks for making yourself available for questions. Much appreciated. Per your comment about effectively executing the freemium model when it makes sense, what is this differentiator in your mind? This is to say, when do you feel the freemium model makes sense (vs. not)? Thanks in advance.
Thanks for the question Jason. Every situation is a bit different, so it's a pretty broad question. But ideally your target customers would be somewhat price sensitive and have a highly rate of evangelism for services that they like. For freemium to work, the free product must be a compelling enough product that people want to spread the word. Generally freemium works best for consumer products and or products that reach up to the micro businesses (10 employees or less). Of course there are always exceptions. Feel free to ask a specific question about your situation.
With regards to paid subscription Saas tools...1. what was the biggest mistake you made or constantly see others make?2. What is the biggest contributor to Saas success that you can't emphasize enough?
Hi Marvin, I think the biggest mistake I've made and see others make with SaaS tools is always trying to get the big win customer acquisition channel rather than doing the disciplined work of managing all of the growth levers. SaaS is something that can become a 20%-50% M/M growth rate through hundreds of micro optimizations across every part of the business. Disciplined patience growing a business at 20%-50% M/M revenue growth gets really big after a couple years. And with SaaS multiples, within a couple years you can become worth 100s of millions of dollars. SaaS is not a get rich quick scheme, but if you are delivering true value in a disciplined way, you can build a very valuable business.
Excellent and inspiring advice. " Disciplined patience" ...love it :)
Many thanks for doing this :) A hypothetical situation...
You've been tasked with becoming someone's "growth hacking trainer". That someone is smart, but has absolutely no prior experience in marketing, programming, design and copywriting. Your mission is to help them become the most formidable, highly-effective growth hacker imaginable in just 3 months. You can call in anyone, any number of resources in any location you like. In the meantime, Qualaroo, San Francisco and the web will be frozen in time so you can devote 100% of your headspace :)
What would you do?
Hi Ed, First I'd spend at least a month finding the right person. I recently recruited a new graduate from Virginia Tech to join my team in SoCal after a very rigorous process of narrowing down the right candidate. Effective growth hacking requires creativity, relentlessness, discipline and a reasonably good analytical mind. I can't train creativity, so this was essential to getting started. I also can't train relentlessness. I can train discipline and the tools to analyze, so that's where most of my focus is. From there we spend a lot of time brainstorming and prioritizing tests. But the guy I hired is very focused on self learning so he is heads down 12-14 hours per day studying growth across companies and channels. Hope this helps.
That's great to hear -- what exactly do you mean by 'studying growth across companies and channels'. Looking through websites? Interviewing folks at those companies? Digging through public data about those websites?
This was fantastic and just released. http://www.quicksprout.com/the-definitive-guide-to-growth-hacking/
Agree it's good. The half a dozen pop-ups however... ;)
Keen to Sean's answer to the question above though.
I like what Qualaroo is doing for qualitatively determining intent. On the quantitative side, though, what do you feel like analytics tools are lacking when it comes to determining intent and optimizing conversion?
Hi Ben, I think understanding intent is one of the biggest untapped opportunities for marketers. In a world of so much clutter (average person sees 3000 ads per day), intent is a force that can be harnessed to drive conversions. The problem with today's conversion rate optimization is that we are optimizing for the average intent. But often this misses the mark when someone has an unusual target use case for a product. Qualaroo Convert can route unique intent uncovered in a survey question toward the right experience, but that is still only helping the 4-6% that respond to a survey (or lower in some cases). Long term we hope to be able to route the majority of users to a gratifying experience for the intent. That brings up another key point, just because a person has intent, doesn't mean the product can deliver a must have experience related to that intent. So I always start with understanding the must have experience and which intent can possibly map to it. This response is kind of a brain dump, but I am very interested in the topic of harnessing intent to drive conversions. Just think of all the value lost in unconverted intent across the websites of the world!
The nice thing about qualitative responses is that although you may only a 4-6% response rate, many of those responses can be generalized to the remaining 96% of customers.
Most of my open source work is around behavioral analytics and trying to understand behavioral flow and intent. I've been fascinated lately by understanding the implicit state of users (new visitor, registered, trialing, paid, churning, etc), how that affects their behavior, and what events/actions within a product lead to drop off. It's definitely an untapped opportunity.
Thanks for the response!
What's your process of optimizing landing pages? I typically "paint with broad strokes" first and really try to focus on messaging, and then hone in on specifics later down the road.
Is there a process that you follow time and time again?
Hi Luke, I agree that starting with big changes first makes a lot of sense. As I just mentioned in my response to Ben, I also like to reverse engineer my most loyal customers to understand their "must have experience" and the original intent that they had. Ultimately maximizing the number of users that have a great experience with the product is how you build great companies. Landing page optimization should be guided by this desire to build a value delivery machine. Too often it is guided by minimizing bounce rates. Many of the people that bounce probably don't have a need for your product anyway. Converting the right people really matters. So process wise, I start by understanding the must have experience and the intent of visitors to the website, then I take broad strokes of tests that try to connect those dots and then I finally do micro optimizations. Of course optimizing through the funnel is critical too.
Hi Sean,Me again...taking advantage of the access to you :)What tools help with growth hacking? More specifically, I love how dropbox gives you free space by sharing their product? Are there tools that can help with that strategy?
Hey Sean, what do you think are the best opportunities for exposure through earned media today? Which channels are still new enough to be uncrowded / low-noise / low-control from the service (as opposed to say, Facebook), but popular enough to be worthwhile?
Hi Jay, as I've said in a lot of responses, it really depends on the target customers. In the marketing tools space, we are all focused on creating great content for marketers. Ideally that content sets a context where we can introduce the value of our products. This AMA would be an example of that. But I'm also running a four part series in Marketing Profs this week on Conversion Rate Optimization. So I think content marketing (right content, right publications) is probably the best way to get earned media.
I'll add my voice to the chorus of thanks, great AMA so far.
I was hoping you could elaborate more on the process you use for managing so many "micro levers" for SaaS marketing. Any tools or techniques that you've found particularly effective?
Hi Aaron, Essentially every group in the company plays a key role in driving growth - Marketing, Sales and Customer Success help with effective onboarding of customers. The right onboarding is critical to improving conversions rates but also for reducing churn. Product development can help also with retention (addressing the relevant gripes) and can drive negative churn through new product development. David Skok has written some great articles on the subject with specific examples from his SaaS portfolio companies. I'd start with this article: http://www.forentrepreneurs.com/saas-metrics/ .
Sean, thanks for taking the time to answer questions. Here's one:
You've been referenced as the Godfather of Growth Hacking (or maybe i just made that up). Either way, if you were tasked with "hacking growth" for a new startup, what would be some of the first questions you'd ask them to determine your approach and strategy?
And Q2: What content on the web do you think every aspiring growth hacker should read?
Hi Ross, first question I always asked when figuring out if I should take on a growth hacking role is "what do early customer think about the product?" If there is no passion for the product, any growth I drove would be temporary. The way I determined if people were passionate about the product was I surveyed them asking "How would you feel if you could no longer use this product?" I only asked people that had already used the product and I only focused on the people that said they would be "very disappointed" without it. The other choices were "somewhat disappointed" or "not disappointed." Over time I realized I need at least around 40% of users to be very disappointed without the product. If a product couldn't generate that kind of passion, I was very likely to fail as a growth hacker. But once it did generate that passion then I just need to understand the who and the how. The how drove my messaging and onboarding flows and the who drove my outbound efforts. I was usually creative enough to connect the dots to the market. While I was waiting to be inspired, I focused on optimizing the delivery of the must have experience.
I think the best content for learning how to be a growth hacker is studying the growth of other companies. I have some great case studies I've worked on with a few other people that I plan to post soon. Follow me on twitter for more details @seanellis to be announced soon.
Hi Sean, huge fan of your blog posts! Thanks for doing this. In one of them you mentioned that for early stage products pre product/market fit you like to target wide then narrow down. Could you explain that further? For example I have a product that lets people place text over images , we provide from Flickr, and share them out to their social networks. We feel that social media managers, women who like quotes, teens, and business coaches are good demographics to target. Would you from the start just target them all then narrow down? Or focus on one group for an extended period of time? How would you go about either method as a bootstrapped startup? Is tech press better after product/market fit or a way to target wide to start?
Hi Joe, thanks for this question. I think it really gets to the heart of how I like to market a company. It starts with the premise that consumers are very fickle about what they'll adopt and it's nearly impossible to predict if your solution will hit the mark. So my approach is basically about crowdsourcing value. If you can get your service into a broad variety of users hands, then it is likely someone will discover a must have use case that you never intended. You just need to seek out these pockets of user passion and then reorient your solution around them. This includes targeting, messaging and doubling down on functionality that supports the use case.
I think an example from the early days at LogMeIn is the best way to demonstrate this... We created a very simple solution to remote control computers with the assumption that busy professionals would like the freedom that it gave them to access their computer from anywhere. Other remote control solutions (ie VNC or PC Anywhere) were really complicated to use and primarily intended for IT support professionals. When it came time to create messaging for our home page I essentially let the engineering/product teams write very feature/function messaging. It wasn't worth the debate of trying to highlight benefits. But it turns out that this general messaging was totally the right thing to do. Within a short period of time, a large portion of the users were IT professionals on a very unintended use case. They enjoyed the ease of use because the customers they were supporting could set it up themselves and allow them to take over to support their computer. This discovery was a big part of what ultimately led to an IPO for the company.
Thanks for the explanation that clears things up quite a bit!
I should add the main use case we are seeing is creating inspirational/emotional quotes
Hey Sean, so nice to see you on here! Growth hacking is definitely a cool thing, and you've got some great ideas. Any suggestions for Content Marketers out there on how to boost visits and views to blogs? This may seem a little different from the other questions, but I've done a lot of testing, created loads of awesome content, and am getting good SEO ... but what growth hacking tips do you have for content marketers?
Great question Maryam, I was going to ask the same :)
Aside from Google/Facebook/Bing/Yahoo, what are your fav sources for paid traffic and why? Any hidden gems/services out there?
Hi Gregory, it really depends on the product I'm trying to market. Fact is, I've had a really hard time finding paid channels that generate a positive ROI at scale beyond the four that you've mentioned. Retargeting would probably be the one exception, but it is constrained by the number of people that visit your site. We're currently testing look-a-like retargeting that should expand the targetable market, but we don't have enough results yet to declare it successful. Appreciate any feedback from others on this topic.
Hi Sean,I saw that you guys raised pricing (I still have legacy) at qualaroo. Are there any tips you can give on a strategic move like that?
Hi Marvin, first, thanks for being a customer :-) My first instinct when we acquired KISSinsights was to make the free product more valuable and drive growth organically. But I quickly realized that there wasn't as much price sensitivity on the product as we expected. So we have been aggressively learning what we uniquely do very well and doubling down on the functionality that makes us even better at those things. One thing we learned was that nothing else matters if you don't nail the customer experience on our customers websites. Companies like Starbucks and Intuit trust us to sit between them and their customer, so we have to get that right. If we are the best in the world at that, then people will pay a premium for it. We've also worked hard to flesh out the depth of technology in the product so you can tie customer input with actual tracked behavior. More technology and API integrations also increase the perceived value. I expect that we'll continue to increase prices as we add more value to the product. Strategy for managing it is that we grandfather customers into plans that don't include the good stuff and offer really good deals to upgrade. New customers aren't anchored in the old prices, so it hasn't been hard to acquire and convert them on the higher prices. The ROI of our product is very strong when people use it the right way, so we are also investing a lot of time into best practice training and materials.
Thank you Sean :)I've ran a small boutique digital marketing agency named The Ocean Agency for 10 years and our sales team we just landed a $5k client using your lead generation form. That paid for your service for the next 3-4 years. : We are very happy. I mentioned this to your customer service department and we've been in contact.I love qualaroo!
Awesome! Really love to hear about the Qualaroo lead gen form driving real value.
Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to answer the questions here at Inbound.
I am Ankit, co-founder @ AdPushup (http://www.adpushup.com) - We're trying to bring the power of Advanced A/B testing to publishers. Apart from content marketing, What (free) technique would you recommend us to reach our target audience comprising of bloggers and small publishers?
Thanks in advance!
A free version with "powered by" links is something that would probably work pretty well for you guys. Bloggers and small publishers are often pretty price sensitive. Powered by links are a big part of what drives growth for my company, so I know the approach works well.
"Powered by" links are great. We use them as well for our free members. HOWEVER, Matt Cutts just released a video a few days ago recommending the nofollow links be used for this kind of link strategy. We are now rethinking whether or not we should do this. Either way, you still get brand awareness and clicks!
Hey Sean, thanks for AMA.
What tools do you use for growth hacking?
Hi Sean! Thanks for the AMA.
I noticed you have Lot's of landings with the different benefits for each type of customer. Does that give you good SEO traffic?
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