Does “Growth Hacking” Actually Work for B2B Startups?

February 11, 2014

9:00 am

A couple of weeks ago, I chatted with a co-founder of a content management SMB looking for a growth hacker with tech skills. So I asked, you mean a VP of Marketing with a data-driven mindset? And it got me thinking. Where did marketing’s latest buzzword – growth hacker/hacking come from? How does it apply for B2B startups?

Sean Ellis, first chief marketer at Dropbox coined the term 3.5 years ago. But it was Andrew Chen who popularized the term in Silicon Valley.  In this post, Andrew states that growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of how do I get customers for my product and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factors, email and open graph. Wikipedia summarizes it succinctly: “Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups that uses creativity, analytics and social metrics to sell products.” They are simply good at using techniques such as search engine optimization, web site analytics, content marketing and A/B testing, which are already mainstream.

So if you are a B2B startup, do you need growth hacking?

SAAS/Marketplace businesses with low dollar/low touch commoditized products – Yes. High dollar, high touch businesses – depends – it’s one of many tools. “Growth hacking,” aka quantitative marketing, is a mainstream concept. Do you need it as prescribed by Silicon Valley? It’s safe to assume that what worked for Linkedin, Twitter and Dropbox is not necessarily going to work for you. The analytical approach will. The more important question is the hiring one. Who do you bring in to lead marketing? A strategic VP with strong industry/client connections, an engineer type with some marketing chops, or a sales rockstar? All three can do the job. It depends on who your customers are, what the business model is, and how technical the product is. Andrew Chen argues that rather than a VP Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to him, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers. How about a strategic or sales-driven VP marketing leading a combo of sales plus data-driven marketers? You will need them anyway to hack/provide content in the sales funnel to acquire users. Then, there is activation, retention and referral in the progression to think of. The larger the customers – high average revenue per unit (ARPU), the more retention and referral becomes key, which play to the strength of sales-y and strategic VP marketing types.

So get in on the debate, what has worked for your startup?

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Chaney is Founder and CEO of VendorMach, a supply chain trust scoring platform. Former technology integration and risk product lead at Humana Inc, he is a sought after speaker on big data and AI trends. He has degrees from Booth, Kings College London and Howard University.