21 Best Practices Of Growth Marketing Agencies That Are Crushing It
Once the growth hacking movement gained momentum, it was only a matter of time before dedicated agencies emerged. Some growth hacking and growth marketing agencies have become successful, while others have fizzled, joining the startup graveyard.
What makes some agencies more successful than others? As always, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone’s path to success has been different.
We have distilled 21 best practices from leading growth marketing agencies, so you can learn from them and possibly apply them to your situation.
1. Find your focus to stand out
One way a growth marketing agency can get early traction and differentiate itself in a competitive market is to laser focus on one industry or product vertical. Focusing on a specific area defines your unique value proposition and allows you to become an expert in that niche.
And true expertise is what wins clients. A survey of 150 marketers conducted in 2016 showed that expertise in their industry and expertise with their audience are the most important factors in choosing an agency.
The following successful agencies are cases in point:
- WePlay is the leading agency for the sports sector.
- CRO Metrics focuses on the fast growing SaaS market.
- The Marketing Eye specializes in growth marketing for the fintech industry.
- Blue Stout’s sole specialty is growth marketing for ecommerce companies.
While some growth marketing agencies position themselves as an outsourced growth team, others may offer in-depth expertise in a particular channel or tactic that can be called upon by in-house growth marketers who are looking for expert knowledge and additional execution bandwidth.
Experience is an essential component of building your reputation as a specialist in a particular niche. But what if you are just starting out and don’t have strong expertise in a specific growth area?
Start with where your strengths are, but be flexible about what business to take on. Work hard to achieve a reputation, and over time, your skills and experiences will help you determine how your business can stand out.
2. Nail your customer persona
Customer persona provides a touchstone for crafting your unique value proposition. Understand what your ideal customer wants and figure out how to appeal to them. Get it right and you will see a high ROI on your marketing activities.
Michael Taylor of Ladder in this must-read interview talks about how they struggled to scale their growth marketing agency until they focused on one customer persona – seed stage startups looking to hire their first marketer – and got it right:
Within a few months, we turned a 30% profit. After an initial spike in churn where we parted ways with clients who didn’t fit the new model, our clients stopped leaving us and started referring us new business. I remember thinking, “So this is what product/market fit feels like.”
3. Hustle to get traction
Good sources of early traction include your network, a cold outreach program, and talent marketplaces.
Leverage own network
Getting leads through your network is a good way to start off if you have the right contacts. This allows you to get a foot in the door with smaller projects where you get a chance to showcase your talent and build initial client base.
It also produces a snowball effect – you might start out as a contractor on smaller projects, but as you build your reputation, you will get opportunities to win bigger contracts in terms of brand, prestige, and budget.
Pursue highly targeted outreach
You can also generate early leads by doing outbound sales. Your chances for success with this strategy increase massively with an account-based marketing approach.
Do a research to pre-qualify your leads. Sujan Patel of Web Profits shares a few ways to do that that have worked well for his agency.
For example, you can use CrunchBase or any of the number of similar services to identify companies that recently raised funding or hit a significant growth milestone.
You can also use a tool such as BuiltWith to understand a company’s technology and analytics stack and see if it fits your target client profile.
Then, use LinkedIn to identify the right prospects within a company and reach out with a unique, personalized message. Think in terms of building a relationship as opposed to purely selling your services.
Use a talent marketplace
As you are starting out, marketing activities take a disproportionate amount of your time, leaving limited bandwidth for execution.
Instead of spinning your wheels with marketing yourself to the world, you can use freelance marketplaces, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com to get early clients, which saves you a lot of time and work right from the start.
Another option is Growth Engineers, a dedicated growth talent platform that provides you access to clients who are looking for growth marketing expertise. This managed marketplace ensures that your potential clients are vetted and the process is handled professionally.
Active involvement with a marketplace enables you to grow your expertise in a particular area, build a track record, and strengthen your brand, all without investing much time in marketing activities.
4. Provide value for free
Be creative and offer your prospective clients something of value for free. This could be a tool or a free service that lets you start a dialogue with a potential client.
For example, Rebel Hack, a UK-based agency, offers a free SEO audit.
Avaus, the leading growth marketing agency in the Nordics, offers free B2B and B2C digital maturity assessments.
Also, consider providing consulting services to your potential clients for a few hours, free of charge. Research the client’s situation, point out a specific problem that you see, and provide some ways to solve it. It allows the client to test the waters with you and get a sense for how you can work as part of their team.
This is the tactic used by the founder of Blue Stout. He offers potential clients a free 45-minute session to help them map out a CRO strategy.
5. Practice what you preach
In order to scale, you must succeed in marketing your own agency. The first thing prospective clients will look at is how you represent your brand across various channels.
So, become your own top client. Create a marketing strategy, set targets, allocate resources, and commit to spend time on it.
To put things in perspective, Web Profits spends an estimated $100k per year on marketing.
6. Ask for referrals
For an agency that has built up a strong reputation, recommendations and referrals are one of the main sources of new business.
While this may seem obvious, you need to be proactive about it. Delight your customers and then ask them to recommend you.
Measure your NPS to see how well you are doing. CRO Metrics, for example, scores an impressive 87 from 44 clients over the last year, so it is no wonder that its phenomenal roster of clients continues to expand.
Referrals are the bread-and-butter of a small agency, but you need to utilize other channels if you want to scale your business.
7. Crush it with inbound marketing
Blog with authority
Content marketing is a great way to market your expertise in a particular growth area and generate leads. Become an authority in your niche by producing detailed, long-form content pieces and use them to offer an additional proof of your competence to prospective clients.
This type of content requires a significant investment of time, but it has a huge, long-term payoff. A generic blog is unlikely to be the primary driver of traffic to your website and will just suck up your limited resources and time.
As an example, Pierre Lechelle, a growth marketing consultant, runs an authoritative blog on SaaS growth marketing and growth teams that has led him to be recognized as one of the top growth hacking bloggers worldwide.
Contribute to other publications
Maximize your guest blogging opportunities by contributing high-quality content to relevant publications. The benefits are threefold.
First, guest posts on popular blogs drive strong referral traffic. Second, you get to build quality links to your agency’s site to improve SEO. Third, you boost your brand’s credibility and visibility by authoring articles in reputable publications.
Produce 10x content
Sujan Patel regularly produces epic guides, like this one on customer advocacy, that lead to significant growth in traffic, brand awareness, SEO rankings, and most importantly, sales leads.
Your 10x content does not always have to be in the form of a guide or an e-book. Ladder, for example, offers a growth hacking playbook with over 700 tactics.
After being launched on Product Hunt, it generated 30 agency leads and 750 newsletter subscribers for Ladder, even though the playbook is ungated.
Stand out with audio and video content
Audio and video are forms of passive content that provide a leisurely experience for the user. Think about your own content consumption habits, and you can see why they are getting increasingly popular.
A 2016 survey revealed that 21% of Americans listened to a podcast in the last month. That’s a huge audience.
Podcasts and videos can be successfully leveraged for building awareness and getting leads for your growth marketing agency. Notable examples include Sujan Patel’s Growth Mapping Podcast and Eric Siu’s Growth Everywhere.
Of course, podcasts and videos require a significant time commitment, but doing what others aren’t willing to do is what gets you ahead. This is a great way to build a relationship with your audience and elevate your authority and brand.
8. Generate leads offline
Reach audience through speaking engagements
Public speaking is a great way to start your sales process. Speaking at conferences, meetups or other events provides you with a perfect setting to address a large captive target audience.
By sharing your experiences, strategies, and client success stories, you are in effect pitching both potential clients and employees. Ask attendees to contact you for slides to ensure an opportunity for a follow-up.
Vincent Dignan of Magnific and Sujan Patel of Web Profits are doing it on a global scale, with regular speaking engagements at locations across the world.
Teaching is about sharing your knowledge and giving back to the community, while also increasing your visibility in the market, for both client sourcing and hiring purposes.
9. Offer training and consulting services
Yet another way to broaden your marketing reach is to offer training to clients, which may translate into longer term engagements. GrowthRocks, for example, conducts workshops and training sessions for both corporates and startups.
Consulting or advisory services are also a good way to develop leads for full scope work. GrowthRocks is offering consulting on-demand through its own platform, whereas Pierre Lechelle, Sujan Patel, and other notable growth hackers make themselves available for short-term consulting gigs through ClarityFM.
10. Partner for growth
A large traditional advertising agency can be a great partner for a growth marketing agency. Lacking growth marketing capabilities in-house, an ad agency can cross-sell their partner’s services into their client base.
For Ladder, the partnership with BBH, a subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, brought it Fortune 500 clients and has been a game changer for its business.
Another tactic is to connect with other businesses that serve the same target market, such as software development agencies, and leverage their customer base.
If done right, partnerships can be an effective, scalable strategy that will result in a strong lead flow.
11. Showcase your work
Case studies increase your credibility as well as show off your successes. It is a great way to market your service to potential customers in a storytelling fashion. Create multiple case studies based on client personas.
Case studies provide multiple utility. They can be used as an information material for prospective clients, a form of content marketing that can be repurposed, and a tool for publicity.
In addition to publishing them on your website, distribute them through multiple channels, like ROIworks does.
The Framework We Used to Grow Soothe 600+% in 1 year
12. Vet your clients
While it is tempting to take on any business that comes your way, especially early on, agencies must be thoughtful of who they choose to work with in order to maximize their chances of success and minimize wasted effort and potential conflicts.
Seek clients that have a growth mindset, realistic expectations, and focus on the right KPI’s. Many companies are still looking for agencies to produce a quick boost in vanity metrics, which have no bearing on the long-term success of the business.
Your clients must understand that growth is a process that requires product development and retention work alongside top level awareness and acquisition. For that, you will need to be closely integrated into their team.
Avoid companies looking for the latest growth hacking tricks and quick wins. Work with those companies that are willing to invest in the process and embrace failure as part of it. Results won’t come overnight; success takes time and consistent effort.
Take on clients who understand and believe in your approach. After all, it’s a long-term partnership.
13. Take on an operational role
Growth marketing can succeed only if you have the deep-dive knowledge of the product and data. As a growth marketing agency, you must demonstrate to the client that you are willing to roll up your sleeves, dive in, and become part of the team. Startups do not need consultants or coaches; they need people who can get things done.
So, you need to become an insider. Be prepared to work extra hours, go into the trenches, and fail or win together with the client. You also need to operate at the same speed as the client, pushing experiments at high tempo.
The following case study from DigitalLitmus is a case in point. They took full ownership of the growth process and became an extension of the client’s in-house team to drive massive results.
14. Be transparent
Building on the previous point, you need transparency about your growth experimentation process in order to build trust with the client. Explain your process to the client in detail. It should be clear, repeatable, and always based on data.
Ladder took it one step further and put a detailed description of their growth process on their blog. This openness about their growth process has been an important point of differentiation for them in a competitive market.
15. Create a structure to scale
As your agency scales, you need to set up an organizational structure to handle the increasing number of clients.
Appoint key client-facing people who have a good technical understanding of growth marketing and are great at communicating and managing projects. At Web Profits and Ladder these people are called strategists.
Strategists are able to translate client needs into a growth strategy roadmap and, conversely, translate insights from experiment data into a plan of action for the client.
At Web Profits, a strategist manages a mini-team of siloed specialists to execute on the strategy for each client. Ladder is unique in that it has automated most of the execution through its Planner tool.
16. Set up systems and processes early on
While getting clients and executing are your top priorities, do not make the same mistake that many startups and small growth marketing agencies make. Take the time to become efficient and scalable before you are in a crunch.
Put in place the right processes, systems, and documentation around project management, communication, and reporting, so you are well-equipped to scale your business. Create and document a repeatable onboarding process for clients and employees, so that your team can focus on the actual work.
In this terrific podcast, Sujan Patel shares his story of how he grew his first agency from zero to 30 staff and $3 million in revenue, but not building ahead the necessary operational infrastructure eventually caused him to burn out and sell it.
From Selling an Agency & Burning Out to Launching SaaS & Giving Away $1M Worth of Free T-Shirts (Sujan Patel, WebProfits)
17. Find your optimal pricing model
Align your agency’s and client’s interests when choosing a pricing model for your services.
Michael Taylor of Ladder discusses how they experimented with different pricing models:
We’ve tried everything. Flat fees, performance-based contracts, hourly consulting, day-long workshops, percent of ad spend. A retainer relationship [tied to the number of growth tests executed] was really the only one that worked for us that didn’t give us bad incentives to distort our work, like other agencies have to do.
Sean Ellis also suggests that a tiered pricing structure based on the number of experiments run per month may be optimal for a growth marketing agency. Select and run the highest potential experiments within that target number.
18. Stay lean with freelance talent
Hiring and retaining growth talent is a top challenge in scaling a growth marketing agency.
Getting the staffing levels right is also tricky, given the irregular nature of client work and timelines. Hiring full-time staff without a guarantee of future projects is too expensive, while declining work because you don’t have enough hands on deck limits your ability to scale.
The best solution is to supplement your core team with outsourced freelance talent. Again, a dedicated talent marketplace like Growth Engineers may be the best place to source proven growth talent for your team.
Deploying freelance talent allows you to scale your agency faster and more efficiently. It also lets you access specific expertise in emerging platforms, tools or technologies on an as-needed basis.
And it is quite possible that some of the freelancers can turn into your permanent hires as your business grows.
19. Go remote
Another way to address the challenge of hiring growth talent is to hire remote. The benefits of remote work are well known.
If you are willing to go remote, you will be able to source the best candidates from a global talent pool.
Remote work environment is great for creative growth marketers who challenge the old way of doing things, so offering this flexibility is a good way to attract top growth talent.
And there is absolutely no reason why growth marketing cannot work remotely. As long as you have the right processes and tools in place, communicate regularly, and make an effort to build a culture, you will find you can be more productive and have a happier team.
Growth marketing agencies have proven that achieving success with a partly remote or an all-remote team is possible.
Ladder employs remote talent in the UK and Poland. Data Score’s core team in San Francisco is augmented by growth marketers in Washington, New York, and Boston.
CRO Metrics has been very successful with a completely distributed team. And these are just a few examples.
20. Unlock value through side projects
Side projects are great. Creative minds love working on new things, so be sure to set aside time for your growth marketers to work on side projects. They can serve as a testing ground for new ideas, and there’s a chance they can grow into something big.
21. Build your brand
Brand overlays your approach and everything you do as an agency, so it needs to be of the highest quality from day one. A strong brand helps you stand out in the market and gain industry recognition. It helps you close deals and attract employees.
Building a brand that’s memorable and conveys what you stand for is hard. One tried-and-true approach from the ad agency world is to brand the agency around the founder with a strong personality. Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, and Raymond Rubicam are just a few classic examples of founders who acted as statesmen for their agencies.
In today’s world of growth marketing agencies, Vincent Dignan and Sujan Patel are once again proving that highly visible founders can make all the difference in the success of their businesses.
As with most things, there is no “right way” to build a growth marketing agency. Evaluate your unique situation, goals, and strengths. Be inspired by what others have done and then go out and find your own path to success.
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