What working in “growth” actually means

December 30, 2020

Ali Rohde


Jessica Li works in growth marketing at ZAGENO, an online life science marketplace where researchers and lab managers go to procure lab supplies.

Jess, welcome! Let’s start with a basic question: what is “growth”?

  • I define growth as anything that drives top-of-funnel leads, aka potential customers that the sales team can take through the sales funnel and hopefully turn into real customers.

As a “growth marketer,” what do you do day-to-day?

  • My company just started building its growth team this year, and right now it’s just me and my boss. As a result, we’re really building our playbook as we go, and I end up working very cross-functionally and touching a lot of different projects. My work includes:
  1. Content marketing. I create blog content and “downloadable content assets” to help establish ZAGENO as a thought leader and to be helpful to our customers. Blog posts are public, whereas downloadable content assets are more use case specific and are “gated” behind a landing page, so visitors need to submit some information (eg name, company, email) to access that content. That contact info then gets added to our customer relationship management (CRM) software to potentially use as leads for sales.

  2. Social media. I manage our presence on Twitter and LinkedIn, make sure we are posting regularly, and use “social listening tools” like Sprout Social and Meltwater to understand our social engagements and the topics and keywords people are searching on.

  3. Partnerships. I work closely with our Director of Partnerships to build partnerships with venture capital funds, startup accelerators, and contract CFOs that might want to partner with us. For instance, we could partner with a startup accelerator by offering their companies a discount on our product, in exchange for us getting to come in and speak with their companies.

  4. Empowering sales through collateral. I create internal sales collateral to help our Account Executives (AEs) and Business Development Representatives (BDRs) get trained on the different personas they’ll be selling into and the different features of our platform. I also create external sales collateral like sales decks that our salespeople can use and share with prospects on their sales calls.

  5. Empowering sales through data. I make sure that we have a comprehensive contact and company database of potential prospects in our CRM, and that the data in there is high quality and constantly expanding, for instance through finding new databases to integrate.

  6. Design. I work closely with our design team to optimize our website and blog for conversion.

  7. Product marketing. Since we don’t have a separate product marketing team, I work with our product, customer success, and operations teams to communicate product updates with customers, showcase our product assets on social media, connect the product to the content we’re publishing, and train our salespeople on the product and new features.

Holy crap. That is a lot of stuff. Is that typical of a growth marketing role?

  • My work is likely more multifaceted than that of most growth marketing teams! Because our growth team is much smaller and newer, we’re still in the creative exploration and experimentation phase, so we work with many different growth channels and initiatives.

Did you expect the role to be so multifaceted when you first joined?

  • Definitely not! Going into the role, I was super content focused, and that’s mostly what I talked about during my interviews, since I had so much experience leading content for Elpha. I hadn’t even really thought about the sales collaboration side of things. Now, I spend a lot of my time doing sales enablement and creating collateral for the sales team to use internally or to share with customer leads. But when I first started, I didn’t even know what “collateral” in a growth context even meant!

You bring up a good point -- in growth, what does “collateral” mean?

  • For me, I spend a lot of time building sales collateral, which are assets like PowerPoint decks, case studies, or training guides, that the sales team can use, either internally or externally, that help zero in on specific customer profiles.

  • For example, historically our typical user has been a scientist or a lab manager. We know this persona well, so selling into them has been pretty intuitive. However, oftentimes the purchasing decision maker is not actually the lab manager, but rather the CFO or procurement manager, who has an entirely different perspective and set of priorities. Over time, it became clear that the sales deck that worked well for lab managers was just not flying with CFOs, so I worked with our product team to build a separate deck that emphasized features that CFOs would really care about, such as our platform’s integration with Quickbooks.

Growth is obviously extremely cross-functional. For those working in growth, what are their typical backgrounds?

  • There are two main archetypes for people in growth, and most people fall somewhere in between the two.

  • The first is someone with a background in content marketing, or product marketing, or as a community manager. They might be a little more right brain-focused, more creative than analytical. This background might be more useful for companies that are really focused on growing their community or increasing brand recognition.

  • The second is more left brain-focused. They might have studied statistics or worked as a data analyst. This is really useful for companies whose growth strategy is more data-intensive. For instance, I know the Head of Growth of Hydrant was looking for growth people with data backgrounds, as the company had a ton of data from all the stores they sell into that they wanted to incorporate into their growth strategy.

  • Interestingly, one trend I’ve seen is people who might otherwise become PMs starting to go into growth. That makes sense to me, since there’s so much crossover between those two roles -- both require an analytical mindset, but you’re not doing engineering or data science. And you also need to be creative, work cross-functionally, focus on outcomes, and know how to manage projects.

If you were hiring someone for a growth role, what would you look for?

  1. Stellar prioritization skills. One common mistake I see is growth marketers relying on a strategy of throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. Sometimes that’s necessary, but, over time, you should be figuring out what works best and then ruthlessly prioritizing those tactics and channels.

  2. Having a framework for generating ideas so you’re consistently coming up with new ideas to explore, rather than relying on one-off strokes of genius.

  3. The ability to operate at a super granular level of detail. A big part of growth marketing is executing and thinking through the minutiae -- what’s our ad copy, our budget, our audience targeting strategy, etc.

  4. Comfort with working with, probing, and contextualizing data.

  5. High emotional intelligence (EQ) for working effectively with people and teams across the company.

You mentioned the importance of being comfortable with data. What tools do growth marketers use to work with data?

  • Aside from Excel, SQL is the go-to tool. For example, with SQL, you can do things like run queries to identify your most profitable customers and run campaigns tailored to that demographic. In general, with SQL, you are more able to analyze your existing customer, campaign, and prospect data to find patterns, insights, and lessons learned without the help of the developer team.

For those looking to learn more -- what resources would you recommend?

  • Hands down my favorite growth resource is the Demand Curve newsletter, by Julian Shapiro. It has a free version, and every edition has tons of unconventional, brilliant growth ideas, as well as really concrete examples.

  • Second, I’d follow growth and marketing people on Twitter, like Amanda Goetz, former VP of Marketing at the Knot.

  • Finally, I’d try to use the time you already spend scrolling on social media to build that growth muscle. Look at what people and companies are posting through a growth lens. This Instagram ad -- how could it be improved? That ad banner -- is it effective?

Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?

  • The last thing is just that I think working in growth is an incredible experience to have, whether or not growth becomes your long-term career.

  • For me, I didn’t have as much operator experience, and so growth has been an incredible vantage point from which I’ve been able to learn more about what everyone else at a startup (sales, design, product, etc.) actually does. Some fields, like engineering, can be quite siloed. Growth is the opposite -- you’re collaborating with different people and different teams all the time.

Thanks so much, Jessica! To learn more, follow Jessica on LinkedIn or Twitter @jessicafeiyali

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