I’ve run four SaaS businesses in the last decade and two things have happened at each of them: 1) I’ve reported to the Founder & CEO (always brought in by them and the board), and 2) I’ve grown the top line revenue quickly. I’ve built a reputation around this and since 2016, Founders and CEOs have regularly asked me one-question: “How do you grow a business quickly?”
If you’re running a business today, the advice you’re getting isn’t working. You’re learning on the job and learning from blogs and YouTube videos. Some of them might be very popular. Every Founder and CEO has a desire to grow their business, and the advice that some get is to choose revenue growth at all costs and then fix the rest of the problems later (okay, more than some – most). So they do this and it is both painful and it doesn’t deliver the desired result. Even though this is generally accepted advice it should not be followed. I’ve observed the best path for success is to focus on customer success early, clarify what drives success through a few key indicators of success that are measurable over time, and then layer the go-to-market strategy over it based on clear segmentation.
Did you know the rate of failure – as defined by a company’s inability to return funds back to investors – for Series A companies and Series C companies is the same. (Yes, you should read that again.) Does this make sense? It gets worse. The rate of failure for both groups is 75% This doesn’t make sense to me at first, but it told me that we as a community are really messing up the curve.
I dug into this and created and tested a framework with 50+ SaaS companies in the last 3 years. I want to share it, I want you to have it, work with it, and improve it.
The G.R.O.W. Framework
When applied, the G.R.O.W. Framework I’ve created for SaaS companies consistently helps Founders & CEOs increase clarity for the team (and build alignment), increase confidence (e.g. obtain a win in at least one part of the customer funnel within 30 days), and ultimately healthy revenue acceleration that has allowed my clients to raise their next round or complete the sale of their business.
There are four pillars that support the G.R.O.W. framework:
- Get Ready Assets
- Real Indicators
- Operational Cadence
- Weave in the Go-to-market.
Get Ready Assets drive clarity
You are unique and your customer is unique. There are nuances among startup companies that often get lost. This harms startup companies: it’s a silent killer. When things work in your favor and your business grows you will begin solving problems for different customer segments, the underlying harm is compounded (this is part of the reason why the failure rate above is the same for both companies). While many companies create documents that contain the Ideal Customer Profile and the Buyer’s Journey, these same assets are often obsolete by the time I show up to help.
To make matters worse, most people in the company cannot find the assets easily.
Get Ready Assets are foundational documents that are living, editable, revisable, challenged, and, most importantly, easy to find/see and should be reviewed when having a discussion about sales, marketing, or product.
Let’s say a sales rep is reviewing their current Get Ready Assets prior to a sales call. During the call, she quickly learns that the decision maker with whom she is speaking is ready to buy, but is also considering an alternative solution. Two scenarios can play out here:
- Her assets clearly have the questions and discussion points she needs to move the conversations along, or
- Her assets are missing this vital information. Either way, she has feedback for the business and the asset is strengthened, or modified.
In the first outcome, the rep has a higher likelihood of winning the business and can confirm for the business that the playbook works. With the second outcome, her likelihood of winning decreased (she might have lost the deal) and can communicate this missing piece of much needed information to the business. Imagine if 10, 20 or 30 of your reps each experiences the second outcome and not only did they not say anything, but they never even had assets to point to what the issue was.
If these assets would be helpful to you, I’ve placed a Get Ready Assets TEMPLATE pack online and you can download them here.
Real Indicators give you a crystal ball
SaaS companies in 2020 have a means to understand (and understand early) which customers are successfully buying, deploying, and winning with their purchases. But so many SaaS companies use churn as an indicator of success.
Churn is a worthless indicator of anything because it is lagging. What will you do once you lose the customer? What will you change? How will this help you increase retention? Churn will not help you clearly understand what to change in your business to have customers stay and spend more.
Companies need Real Indicators to properly measure their success over time. You have to determine what indicator is best to measure your growth; examples of Real Indicators include: number of messages sent, number of meetings booked, used at least 5 features in 30 days.
Many companies sign annual or multi-year agreements and think they’ve made it. It can seem like they are successful because of the awesomeness of their new business/revenue trajectory. But, when it comes time to renew the contract, these same companies that were celebrating their success are seeing 40%, 50%, even 60% churn. Can you imagine coming up on a year where you will ask a majority of your clients to renew and you’re flying blind as to whether they are successful since having purchased your solution? There were no Real Indicators.
Then the finger-pointing starts. Sometimes blame is placed on the Customer Success team because they “didn’t do any work during the time of contract” while sometimes the product vision that was sold couldn’t actually be delivered.
The best way to get ahead of this is to set up Real Indicators that will tell you whether the customer will be successful. Don’t make this too difficult. Do you have a customer success call with the client? Do you hold multiple? Track whether the client shows up. Is product tracking usage behavior? Find all the metrics/criteria you can and see which ones make sense to really track. Maybe the Founder, Head of Product, or customer support person has input. These answers do exist and can be tracked.
You want to be proactive, measuring, and sharing your learnings weekly or monthly. You may learn Product needs new/different features, Sales needs to change a part of their playbook, Marketing needs to adjust language, Product has related jobs that are not being addressed by the current version of the product.
Operational Cadence give you executional superpowers
Operational Cadence may by far be the most critical pillar of the entire framework. The entire success of the business is predicated on the right behavior. As with any VC-backed SaaS company, the team can be learning so much. I’ve observed that the most successful Founders and the most successful teams learn fast. If you want to reverse engineer the cadence then you, too, need to learn fast.
Setting up an experimentation cadence based on the scientific method is perfect for this. Each week bring together key leaders across marketing, sales, product, engineering, and people, and look at what you want to improve. Draft experiments, look at which ones will have the most impact, which ones will be the most expensive, which ones will be the toughest to do. Rank them.
Experiments naturally have hypotheses. Review your hypotheses weekly. If there was one part of this framework I would do, without question, it is this one. Every CEO that I observed succeeding is also learning continuously. This pillar pretty much guarantees it.
I recommend implementing a cross functional growth team. I have seen successful teams create a culture of brainstorming, hypothesis creation, and most importantly failure acceptance. Organizing the team of people that includes product, marketing, design, engineering, analytics, and sales will allow you to leverage work across all functions. More importantly though, you will be able to take one problem, examine it through multiple lenses, focus on a number of experiments each week from these different lenses and achieve learning and outcomes faster.
Here’s some tactical advice. Each week, each person reports out in a brief document and in the meeting answers to questions like:
- What experiments did I run last week?
- What happened?
- What did I learn? What success did I have this week?
- What will I do next week?
Operational Cadence is critical because it speaks to the daily and weekly behaviors your team exhibits. You started this business and are running this business because you wanted to create disruption in the market and solve a need for a specific customer in a better way. You may find the need to pivot in small or big ways along the journey. Better to be armed with the ability to face failure with a smile and have a record of what you’ve tried, what’s worked, and what’s not worked. Build your own Operational Cadence.
Weave in the Go-to-market to accelerate revenue
With the pillars for success and customer value creation in place, you can now weave in sales and marketing, and align the go to market with your Real Indicators.
Like baking a cake, it’s beautiful to watch the dough rise.
While the Operational Cadence is clearly actionably and applicable, the Weave in the Go-to-market pillar is a bit unique. Each company will have a unique flavor to their go-to-market motion. Some will heavily lean toward enterprise sales which will dictate a specific sales methodology, some will heavily rely on marketing and possibly a deeper focus on paid acquisition channels, others will find that a product-led growth strategy is better. Regardless of the specifics, the objective is the same: weave in the go-to-market (sales and marketing) to support helping the customer achieve success.
If you know what outcomes you want the client to achieve in the first 30, 60, 90 days then you want to make sure that sales supports you achieve those metrics. If you want sales to have success bringing in new business/revenue then you want to think about how marketing can leverage the success your clients have had to navigate them on the path.
Weaving in the go-to-market is a mix of art and science. I have observed a lot of failure at this stage, but if you are thoughtful about what marketing is promising, the discovery call guide for sales, the presentation guide for sales, and the role the Get Ready Assets play, you can make it far more effective than it would have been otherwise.
My intention with this essay was to give you a perspective on how to grow a business quickly. If you align with my thinking, drop me a note on Twitter. Let’s connect and discuss how we can improve this.
If this paradigm is new to you, or challenges your thinking I hope it gave you at least one tactical item you can deploy in the next week.
If you want to learn more or are stuck, feel free to schedule some time and I assure you 30 minutes with me will be worth more than all the time you’ll spend not taking action or browsing the web for more content.
I am wishing more success for you because I know the courage it takes to start something and stay focused on it.
If you found this post helpful, feel free to share it with a Founder or CEO who might find this useful.
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