Product Strategy

Product + Growth: Better Together

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How Product and Growth teams can support each other to unlock faster company learnings and successes.

Alex Mitchell:
Hi, everyone. This is Alex Mitchell, and I'm excited to be a part of the Product-Led Summit with you. The topic that I'm talking about today is product and growth and how these two teams, often these two individuals and the other people they work with, are honestly so much better together. All the different ways that product managers can support growth marketers and vice versa, we're going to dive in and talk about today. I'm passionate about this topic from all of my experience with both of these organization types, across several startups and scaling companies, and I'm excited to share that with you all today.

Alex Mitchell:
A little bit on me before we jump in. I'm Alex Mitchell, I'm currently the chief product officer of a company in the ad tech space called ICX Media. You can find a lot for me on Twitter. I also have a YouTube channel, and a brand called the Modern Product Manager, where I help aspiring product managers and product managers looking to level up build their skills, learn from each other, other things like that. You can also find a ton from me on Medium, where I've written quite a bit about product management, about growth, about technology, about startups. Please do check all of that out and learn a little bit more about what I enjoy.

Alex Mitchell:
But jumping back into our topic here, product and growth. What led to this talk is that my experience has just shown that when these two groups work well together, and we'll talk about exactly what that means when they're working well together, but when they work well together at a startup, it's really magical. You see just so many powerful feedback loops emerge, so many ways that they accelerate the company growing and building revenue, among other things. When they don't, it can be really painful. There are all these opportunities to share information that are missed, learnings that are either not even captured to begin with or they don't actually make their way into the product backlog. Ultimately, those missed opportunities, those missing learnings, lead to slower growth of a company, maybe in a best case scenario. Honestly, if they build up over time, they ultimately will kill that startup or kill that company. Just recognize there's so much between these two groups, especially when you're in the earlier stages of a company's growth, that's really important to think about how to make sure these groups are tightly connected, are communicating, are challenging each other among other things.

Alex Mitchell:
That's the spirit of what led to this conversation that we're having today, but before we maybe jump in fully, let's talk about just what is a growth marketer anyway. Growth, at the highest level, starts by ensuring that the product that the product team is building provides value, provides value to the customers, provides value to the company throughout that life cycle. From the time they're exposed to the product, they build that awareness, to the time they activate, to the time that they're actually continuing to use the product and they retain or generate revenue, and then the time that they actually tell other people, they refer. All of those parts of the life cycle, obviously both growth and the product had a hand in.

Alex Mitchell:
The growth team is continually gathering data, qualitative feedback from customers, quantitative feedback from that funnel. They're running experiments, they're talking with customers. They're looking at pretty much everything they can in terms of gathering feedback by running these experiments and they're trying to share that information with not only product, but other stakeholders in the company. Then many other times, these growth teams are trying to take those ideas and test them out in the wild, that might even mean outside of the products, to learn. The keyword of all of this really being experimentation. They're trying new things, they're trying to improve the funnel, they're trying to work with the product team and other stakeholders to test and learn. They're running experiments. This talk is not about growth marketers, it's about growth and product, but it's helpful to start here with this context so that we're all on the same page.

Alex Mitchell:
Product and growth, let's start with the ways that these two groups, and often, as I mentioned before, these two individuals, potentially the head of product, the chief product officer, head of growth, head of growth marketing, titles vary, but how those people in those teams can really support each other.

Alex Mitchell:
One of the first ways that I found, as a person over in product who works often with growth folks, that I can be greatly supported is getting these growth experiments and getting the data from those growth experiments and doing what I'm calling data-driven roadmap additions. Anyone who's been in product management knows, as you're adding things to the roadmap, you have different levels of confidence around those items you're adding. Some may be very heavily justified within product data, you know that X amount of percent of people are likely to use this feature, it's been asked for by a certain percent of people, you know maybe even what the pricing sensitivity is on it. You have a lot of information.

Alex Mitchell:
Then on the other end of the spectrum, you might have items on your product roadmap that are not very validated, they're intuition, they're based on where the industry's going, they're based on where you guys think there's an opportunity. What growth can provide is a way to add additional data to those items that are maybe a little bit less certain about. You're thinking about this project, let's say, for the next quarter. It will take one team of a few developers a couple of months to build. You have some proof, but really you would feel more comfortable if you could validate piece A, B and C a little bit more. It's great to lean on your growth team, challenge them with this problem you have, and see what experiments they can put out there into the real world to get you rapid feedback on those items.

Alex Mitchell:
Then that'll help you, if they're doing a few of these pieces of feedback on a few different concepts you have as a product manager, to help you prioritize those a bit more intelligently. Again, instead of leaning maybe 80% on intuition, maybe you're able to now fill that and you're only 50% on intuition. You have a little bit more data and you've pre-validated some of these concepts a bit more. Again, it doesn't have to be exact. If you're collecting more feedback around these concepts, if you're collecting some data, some quantitative information from surveying or from landing page testing that's going on in the growth team, that all is helpful, as a product manager. Support each other through these data-driven roadmap additions. As a product person, ask the growth team for help here with validating those items that might not have as much backing on your roadmap. If you're a growth person, look for those opportunities to help your product colleagues by coming up with those interesting experiments and quick experiments that can be tested.

Alex Mitchell:
Another one is for product to actually go the other way and unlock growth testing opportunities. Growth teams, growth marketers, will have their own ideas about different areas of potential opportunity inside of the product, inside of the market that you guys are operating in. Products, having the control and access to engineering, can help growth test on those opportunities. It's great if growth can test without any development resources, but often, maybe they'll get zero to one on that, but maybe if you have to go from one to 10, or 10 to 100, they'll need some resources from the product and engineering team. It's really the goal and the necessity of product to build, along with engineering, what I call that small features that are just real enough. These are ones that maybe they're not perfect features, maybe they're not something you would want to have out there in the market for too long, but they're just real enough that growth can initiate some of their testing on those features.

Alex Mitchell:
More importantly, product also should think, along with engineering, what's the way that we can make this product that we're building for our growth team more of a platform for testing, so that it's not only going to serve this one tiny testing need that the growth team has, but it'll give them some levers, some knobs to turn or pull so that they can get maybe 10 tests out of this, 20 tests out of this in short order. Essentially, you're trying to build something quick, just real enough with a lot of levers and knobs for your growth team, and really generate something that can unlock dozens of tests for that team. Support each other by product unlocking these high-value, high-leverage, growth testing opportunities.

Alex Mitchell:
Product and growth work closely together at a lot of companies, but it's important to have a little bit of structure around the way these teams work together. In your product manager and in your growth marketer, you have probably two of the most creative, fast-thinking, idea-generating people at your company, so it's important that these teams come together often to brainstorm ideas. In some of the companies I've worked at, this can be a weekly meeting where growth hosts the meeting, they share the output of some of the tests from that past week, they share some of their concepts for testing in the next week, and they invite other ideas from products, they invite product to share what's coming on the roadmap, so that you can get this idea explosion together by bringing product and growth into the same room.

Alex Mitchell:
One word of caution here, that idea explosion, it's a blessing and a curse to bring together two of the most creative people or two the most creative idea-generating teams. It's usually important to focus on a specific piece of the funnel. Maybe activation is the most important part of the business at the moment, or maybe revenue is the most important part of the business at the moment, focus on those things, put your lens of focus there so that you don't generate ideas all over the place that are disjointed, and also so that you do have the opportunity, going back to the past topic, for product to potentially build a small feature or features that could benefit that growth testing in a certain piece of the funnel. Brainstorm hypotheses together, definitely important.

Alex Mitchell:
Another way to support each other is sharing ownership of the funnel. I have been talking about this AARRR popular funnel without actually naming it out here with pirate metrics in my talk so far, but it's really important that you define ownership, and you sometimes share it with the growth teams. That growth and product understand what they're responsible for, they understand what areas they're working in, and also, importantly, they understand the metrics that matter at each stage. In short, product and growth need to be on the same page with the funnel, the metrics, the performance, and again, that weekly check-in with growth and product is a great place to review those metrics. You want this to be visible, you want to be communicating in the same language to each other, and you want to be very, very clear about who's working where and who owns what. I've seen many times, across different companies I've been at, some confusion over ownership. Make sure you're communicating, make sure you are on the same page here.

Alex Mitchell:
Another way that growth can really support product, and this is something I've absolutely loved in some of the companies I've worked for, is growth can just so rapidly collect and share customer feedback. They're running so many experiments, they're creating what I call the fire hose of feedback. Make sure that that fire hose gets pointed, or at least the insights from that fire hose sometimes get pointed, back to the product team. This, in my mind, is one of the most valuable creations of the growth marketing team, is this rapid feedback of qualitative, quantitative nature, that product can just make better decisions, better roadmaps, better planning decisions around. Rapidly gathering up feedback is so valuable. You've got to make sure that it's shared, it's discussed, and that insights are gathered from it as well, as both the product and growth team.

Alex Mitchell:
I've also mentioned these growth step functions. There's these step functions that a growth team goes through when they're coming up with new hypotheses and testing them. You start at zero, of course. Going from zero to one, it's very manual. You're just trying to see, honestly, if there's something there, if there's some potential in the idea, if it's even worth talking about more or working on more. Usually, that happens without product. As you go the next step, one to 10, sometimes product and engineering get involved. At least product gets involved from my brainstorming perspective, trying to help refine that growth test, learn from it, but growth is very self-sufficient in those first two stages, typically. As they go 10 to 100, this is where engineering and product become involved to actually build out that feature, that just-real-enough feature that maybe is a platform that can be tested on, that could be improved on, and work its way towards that optimization mode.

Alex Mitchell:
Again, communication is incredibly important here between product and growth. I've even seen growth teams share which ideas are in which stage and then what's going to either advance it to the next stage or kill that idea, and that being distributed, that being discussed with product and other stakeholders. Communication about step functions of growth, very important so you both know what things are becoming more real, what are we learning, what is getting close to that productization, engineering resources stage, and what things are getting killed and why. Important to follow these step functions and understand what is happening in each of them in any given week between your product and growth teams.

Alex Mitchell:
Those are all the things you should do, but here are some of the anti-patterns, as I call them, for product and growth. These are all based on real experience, these are all things I've seen happen that that really harm the relationship between product and growth.

Alex Mitchell:
The first one, the opposite of what we were just talking about there is this failure to share learnings or feedback. Growth teams and product teams are often moving so quick and they have so many things to do and they're trying to communicate maybe to all of their stakeholders, but they might not be talking with each other. A test failed? That test failed, let's move on, let's not waste time sharing it with others. Bad decision. These failures to share learnings and feedback, they might not hurt one time or two times, but it adds up. Eventually, the product team will start make making suboptimal choices. I've even seen the case where tests are run multiple times because it wasn't socialized before the results of a test, so sometimes you just waste tests. Ultimately, you slow the growth of a company because you're not learning what's coming out of these tests, good, bad, or neutral. That information needs to be shared. It needs to be understood because it impacts the product roadmap, it impacts the direction of the organization, it impacts pretty much everything. Make sure those learnings and feedback are shared.

Alex Mitchell:
Another anti-pattern is failing to actually test product ideas. I've been guilty of this. You have such a strong product intuition, you think this new feature is going to be well received by everyone, but devil's in the details. With any new feature, there are so many pieces of that feature often that you're taking guesses on. They might be educated guesses, but why not take advantage of this growth team you have to test some of those aspects of the idea to really help you confirm not only that the feature is worth building or not, but what degree do you need to build? What is that minimum viable product, to use an overused term, but where is the sensitivity there? What are the sub-features that actually matter and that get people excited and retained or activated, and what are the ones that are a little bit more distant, maybe not as valuable?

Alex Mitchell:
Leverage your growth team, let them help you shape how this feature develops. Most importantly, let them help you not waste your developers precious, precious time by building the right thing the first time and giving yourself more of a chance of that by pre-validating some of the roadmap.

Alex Mitchell:
Another anti-pattern is on the growth side. Sometimes when you're doing pricing tests especially, there's a nature of over-complicating the test. We're going to introduce all these different tiers, we're going to change 37 different variables, it's going to take three, four weeks to run because we need enough buyers to come through. While every now and then you may need a test that has a little bit longer duration or one that is a little bit more complex, try and avoid these.

Alex Mitchell:
Slow tests simply prevent you from learning other things. They eat up your testing capacity, they eat up your mental capacity, and honestly, complicated tests mean complicated results. It's going to be harder to sort through, it's not going to be as easy to explain. You might end up more likely with a test result that that is up in one way, down in another. That's not super helpful. Honestly, at most stages of company growth, time is everything. You need quick tests, you need simple tests as much as possible. Product and growth, through that brainstorm phase, can collaborate on ways to make those tests quicker, to make them simpler. Incredibly important to not overcomplicate your testing.

Alex Mitchell:
Another one that I've certainly seen before is playing the blame game. Product growth, especially at earlier stage startups, you're going to be trying so many different things. You're going to be testing so much, you're going to be building lightweight features and putting them out there in the market maybe before they're fully complete. Tests are going to fail more often than they're going to succeed, and it's really important that the product and growth teams challenge each other during those brainstorming stages, challenge each other on the metrics that matter and how to move those metrics, but don't play the blame game when tests fail. They're going to fail more often than they succeed, and honestly, a big fail in a test is actually a great learning. I always say neutral is the worst result for testing. If you have a big fail, you can learn a lot from that, and you can often try the complete opposite thing of what failed to see if you can get a win out of it.

Alex Mitchell:
Startups, it's a silly expression, but it's a team sport. You need to challenge each other, but you're going towards the same goal, you're going towards the same objective. Be on the same page and really support each other, don't play the blame game. Learn from tests, celebrate failures, you can definitely gain a win out of a fail pretty quickly if you approach it the right way.

Alex Mitchell:
One of the last ones here is about those funnel stages. It's definitely an anti-pattern to get overly focused on one stage of the development life cycle or the activation funnel, the pirate metrics that we went over before, but don't neglect the different stages. If you've only been testing in the activation stage or the awareness stage for a quarter, take a look at retention, take a look at referral, take a look at revenue. You probably are missing some low-hanging fruit and these down funnel stages that product can help support growth in. You may find those easier wins, and honestly, just keep the goals of your startup or your business in mind. Those goals will shift. As a startup matures, they might care more about revenue instead of just activation, they might care more about referrals to lower the acquisition costs of new users. Pay attention to those as a product or growth person and make sure you're spending the proportionate amount of time with your testing and with your development in the right funnel stage, in the right pirate metrics that we talked about before.

Alex Mitchell:
I really enjoyed sharing this talk with you. As I mentioned at the beginning, it's one of my favorite topics. I've seen such great things happen when product and growth work well together, and then on the opposite side, things sometimes fall apart when those teams aren't talking, they aren't communicating, they aren't challenging each other and brainstorming together. I hope you've learned a few things on how you can work better with your growth team or your product team, if you're a growth marketer. I have a lot more content, as I mentioned before, in many of these places, especially on The Modern Product Manager, that's at themodernproductmanager.com. If you want to check it out more, including some course materials for both new product managers and product managers looking to level up.

Alex Mitchell:
Last thing I want to share is a special offer, if that's interesting to you to learn about this product course more, and there is a lot of free content out there too to check out. I've got a promo code here, 25PLCONF. If you put that in at modernproductmanager.co, you'll get 25% off any of the courses I have there. I hope you take advantage of at least the free content there, and if you like it, please check out the courses more. But it's been great talking with you today. I hope you enjoyed this talk and I hope you enjoy the rest of the summit. Thank you.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Alex Mitchell
Director of Product at Kin Insurance
Alex Mitchell is passionate about creating and scaling powerful web and mobile products that make a significant impact in millions of people's lives around the world. He is a seasoned startup product leader, founder, advisor, author, and investor.