August 6, 2020
Growth

The 3 pillars of enterprise growth

Enterprise companies that have historically been all about traditional sales are now adopting self-service models in higher and higher numbers. This shift is driven in part by a desire to compete against disruptive startups that are tapping in new and growing mid-market segments. It also has to do with far-reaching changes in how companies buy technology. The old process of selling to a gatekeeper is far from the norm these days. In many cases, technology adoption happens from the bottom up with actual users signing up for free trials and then influencing eventual enterprise contracts. 

Any company—large or small—stepping into self-serve territory must also develop a strong growth practice. You really can’t have one without the other. Growth lives alongside product management whether you’re a renegade startup or a well-established enterprise, but the ultimate purpose and goal of the growth team varies depending on a company’s size and maturity. 

In a startup, the entire team is focused on growth, rapid experimentation, product feature changes, testing, and so forth. The growth effort is all about execution, and the goal is to grow the user base and/or drive revenue growth. In an enterprise, on the other hand, the growth team is focused on establishing a cultural foundation for data-driven experimentation. This involves education, enablement, and adoption; and the primary objective is to expand the growth practice across the organization. 

Enterprises stepping into the self-serve space and launching their growth practice need to first build a strong foundation on three pillars: technical, organizational, and operational. Each of these pillars plays a specific role, and each can only drive desirable outcomes if the other two are in place. 

Technical Pillar – Build a Strong Foundation

Without the right growth stack, you can’t have a growth practice. These tools—your customer data platform, communication tool, data warehouse, and so forth—are the hammer and nails that allow you to build out the rest of the practice. In order to have a growth-driven enterprise, you need to enable everyone within the organization to perform growth tasks. You need to democratize a lot of the relevant capabilities, and you need to accelerate the speed of experimentation. Both of these can only be achieved through technology. 

For example, few product managers know enough data science to run a regression analysis, but you can still empower them to do their own analysis using tools like Amplitude. And the right technology can shave days (if not weeks) off the process of doing initial analysis, setting up experiments, and getting follow-up analysis. Without the right technology, you’d be lucky to get one experiment done each quarter. 

The ultimate goal of your growth tech stack is to enable as many people as possible to find and act on growth opportunities quickly and efficiently. The most critical component of your growth stack is your customer data platform (CDP). This is the tool that aggregates all your data sources and destinations and allows you to push data out to different tools with the click of a button. This is a very powerful capability, and one you can’t live without in this day and age.

In essence, the CDP keeps all your other tools well integrated and connected. It allows them to talk to each other so you can create a more complete picture of what’s happening and also create a consistent omnichannel experience for your customer. For example, your CDP is what allows you to identify all users that have interacted with you via Intercom and also came in through a specific Facebook Ad campaign.

There are a number of CDP platforms to choose from. Determining which one is best suited to your needs requires looking closely at a three key areas:

  • Integrations of Data Ingestion and Storage: Is the data coming in real time? Does the platform support both structured and unstructured data?
  • Data Quality and Enrichment: Does the CDP include a built-in data cleansing functionality, or do you need to incorporate a separate tool before the data is imported? (It’s better to have a built-in capability.)
  • Identify Unification: Identity unification provides a 360-degree user view based on attributes and data points that you collect directly. Part of the reason the CDP is so important is that it enables you to get away from using cookies, and instead start building user and account identities based on data you have gathered. Getting away from relying on cookies is very, very important because it’s rumored that Google is phasing out third-party cookies. It’s also important to know if the CDP can anonymize data when necessary, which comes into play for GDPR compliance.

In addition to these three key areas, you should also assess potential CDP solutions by looking at their capabilities around data segmentation, reporting capabilities, data actioning, data security, and—of course—core considerations like performance, scalability, and pricing. 

Beyond the CDP, there are four additional elements to a working growth stack: data warehouse, analytics, marketing, and customer communication. Working together, these components give your teams the tools and technology they need to pursue a growth practice.

Organizational Pillar – Democratize and Centralize

The way you organize your growth team plays a big role in how you establish a culture of data-driven growth experimentation. Will you establish an external team to execute product experiments, or will you assemble a growth team to educate and enable your product managers so they can become growth practitioners themselves. These are two very different approaches. For an enterprise organization, the best strategy lies in the middle with a centralized approach that is owned by an experimentation guild.

The most common problems with a non-centralized approach in an enterprise  organization have to do with ownership, overlap, and communication. For instance, in an enterprise company, a simple web page can be owned by many different people including individuals from product, marketing, and corporate HQ. If the growth tools aren’t centralized, you could have fifteen different experiments running on that single page. That kind of situation not only creates territorial disputes, it can potentially render results difficult or impossible to verify. 

To avoid these kinds of problems, the most effective approach is to democratize growth across multiple teams, but establish an experimentation guild to standardize processes and coordinate efforts. This guild is essentially the group that turns each experiment on. They provide critical oversight without creating a bottleneck. People across the organization are enabled to come up with hypotheses and experiment concepts, which they then deliver to the guild for execution and management. 

This organizational structure is key to creating a culture of growth within an enterprise organization for two reasons. First, it’s an effective way to wrangle what could easily turn into chaos. Second, it maximizes opportunities for success by encouraging inclusivity that allows everyone to come to the table with ideas. You want everyone to understand and be thinking about growth. Great ideas can come from anywhere. 

Another important element of a strong growth culture is emphasizing education, exposure, and enablement. Give people access to the information and support they need, and share successes widely and enthusiastically. Be there (via a Slack channel or office hours) when people have questions. And take the time to highlight people and outcomes in weekly communications via newsletter or vlog. Get your learnings out there to inspire and guide others. Growth can become almost addictive one people see through the feedback loop that numbers are actually moving. It’s exciting, helps to get buy in, and ultimately helps you evangelize the growth mindset and culture across the entire organization. 

Operational Pillar – Drive Efficiency

The operational pillar is made up of rat processes you need in place to have a successful growth organization, namely knowledge management, reporting, experiment submission, and a common data source. Overall, this pillar is about operationalizing and standardizing the technology and organizational elements for maximum efficiency. This is the pillar that sets the machine in motion and allows it to continue working with as little manual management (or reinvention of the wheel) as possible.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is one of the most important elements of operations. This includes having a transparent log of all the experiments that are running, not only so everyone knows what’s happening, but also so that they can see what’s working and what’s not. It also helps avoid duplication of efforts. 

Reporting

In a similar vein, reporting is about keeping people apprised of growth initiatives, and it comes in two flavors: executive and peer. Reports prepared for executive or senior management focus on high-level strategies and outcomes, while reports for peers are designed to provide actionable insights and guidance. 

Experiment Submission

Experiment submission is the process by which different individuals and teams within the organization can submit experiments to the centralized growth guild for execution. This process encompasses not only the experiment design, but also the hypothesis and the analysis that led to the assumptions that drove that hypothesis. 

Single Source of Truth

Finally, it’s critical to establish a single source of truth when it comes to data analysis. If you aren’t able to define a universal source of truth, you will wind up mediating arguments between teams who bring conflicting data to the table. To avoid this, pick your poison early on and stick with it. Whether you choose Amplitude or Looker or Pearl, you just need to make sure everyone is on board.

Final Thoughts: Have a Vision

The worst case for enterprise organizations that fail to follow this three-pillar framework is a lot of wasted time, money, and effort. Without this supporting structure, experiment quality will decline, resulting in a lot of backtracking and do overs (more wasted time and effort). Conversely, looking at growth through the lens of these three pillars—technological, organizational, and operational—will allow you to develop a long-term vision that will sustain you on your mission. 

Done right, an enterprise growth practice will create ripple effects that change the entire mentality and trajectory of the company. It accelerates the speed of self-serve digital transformation, allowing the organization to become more agile, more data driven, and better able to take full advantage of a culture of experimentation to maximize positive outcomes. A growth practice built on these three pillars supports the creation of higher quality experiments that can evolve into best practices and standardized processes. These standardized processes can then be applied to products across the portfolio in a very efficient way. Ultimately, this strategy helps to drive higher revenue by improving efficiency and outcomes across the entire organization. 

That is, after all, what growth is ultimately all about. Each experiment comes down to raising revenue. This three-pillar framework is a way for the enterprise to democratize the analysis and experiment conceptualization while at the same time centralizing the processes and operation. It’s the best of both worlds.

These days, Zoltan is a Growth Lead PM at IBM for the Data & AI Portfolio. Previously a startup founder of the shared workspace app Croissant, where he led growth from inception to over 20,000+ customers. Zoltan enjoys advising startups and helping enterprise leaders approach growth for their respective organizations.

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