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Sustainable growth can be broken down into three major phases: traction, profit, scale.
Each phase requires a different approach and a varying array of resources. If you’re interested, you can find out more about the three-step process of traction, profit, scale in another blog post. But today, we’re going to talk exclusively about the first step: traction.
For many folks we talk to, it’s tempting to want to fly by the traction phase, skip straight into profit and scale, and build an eCommerce empire that will start making millions in revenue right away. But without properly achieving traction, your eCommerce empire has a foundation on sand, not solid ground.
Have you ever seen a baby giraffe learning to stand and walk for the first time?
That’s what it’s like getting a successful eCommerce business off the ground (well, it’s a little cuter, if we’re being honest). You have all the right tools and the basic instincts are there but the process is still...shaky.
And that’s normal.
While there are many stages of growth where founders might feel a little wobbly, the most challenging has to be the traction phase.
New brands with limited (or zero) experience marketing to cold traffic (aka audiences that are unfamiliar with your brand) absolutely need to invest time and resources into getting traction. Without spending the time gathering all of the information you’ll learn during the traction phase, you’re pretty much setting yourself up to walk like a baby giraffe for the rest of your business’ life.
But if you get traction? Oh, your business will be set up to run like a graceful adult giraffe. (Or like a cheetah or wildebeest, or whatever animal you think looks the coolest while running!)
Getting traction means achieving a pattern of desired behavior occurring in a consistent, somewhat predictable fashion. This means different things for different businesses. It could be generating quality leads, signing up new customers for an app, getting email subscribers—anything that aligns with your business goals.
Most likely, for eCommerce businesses, gaining traction will mean finding the formula for getting completed purchases.
To get traction, you need to find the answers to these two questions:
When you’re gaining traction you’re validating that your service or product can sell by figuring out your audience and the correct ad creative and offer.
Once you find the right answers to these two questions, you’re golden because you’ve found your footing. You have determined who to target, how to target them, and what compels them to convert.
But you can only find the answers to these questions through extensive testing. If you skip this crucial step, you’ll be running ads based on incomplete data...and that means spending more money to learn less over time. This turns your marketing efforts into a big ol’ waste of money, unfortunately.
Testing involves forming and testing hypotheses about what will get your results. For newer companies especially, testing is critical! When you don’t have much data already on hand, the number of potential tests you could start running is extensive.
Check out all of these marketing components you could (and should) be testing:
And when it comes down to it, a thorough, effective testing process will look something like this:
(You might be thinking “no way do I need to test this much for my store!” Guess what? This is what our team does for every client to find the winning combination of audience and offer that increases sales. Gaining traction is a lot of work!)
Testing takes time because finding traction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Factors like competition and seasonality can impact the success of testing. We’ve found that in general, it takes 3-6 months to find traction with cold outreach.
The time it takes to find traction is largely driven by:
Another important component of the traction phase is identifying opportunities to improve your funnel. At this point in growth, you need to be able to identify the blockers in your conversion funnel and find solutions to overcome them.
The blockers in your funnel will help you determine the direction of testing. You wouldn’t keep filling up a bucket that you know has holes in it, right? So why would you keep pouring more resources into a sales funnel that has leaks?
Even a healthy funnel will experience drop-off between the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel traffic (that’s to be expected)—but you can help prevent losing customers at different stages of the funnel.
Fix a leaky funnel strategically by considering questions like:
Now that you know the basics of getting traction, let’s walk through two different hypothetical scenarios for a brand hoping to achieve growth through digital advertising.
Our fictional brand, Felix’s Feetie Heaties, is a luxury sock brand specializing in toasty socks for cooler weather.
They know they have an awesome product (who wants cold toes?!) and they’ve been able to get decent traffic from organic social and SEO, but it’s just not converting. They’re ready to get more sales, but they’re not sure where to start.
They need to find the audiences that will actually buy their luxury socks, not just check out their website for a few seconds before leaving.
What should they do now?
Without investing in the traction phase, our sock brand’s future looks a little like this:
Felix’s Feetie Heaties starts running paid ads.
It seems like a good idea at the time because ads get eyes on their product, and views get sales, right?
They don’t have time or expertise in market research so they make some assumptions:
But after a few months, they’re still only getting traffic, not conversions. After spending so much time, money, and creative energy on paid ads, they don’t have much bandwidth for anything else.
By deciding to invest in the traction phase, our sock brand’s future looks much different:
Felix’s Feetie Heaties starts running paid ads with a testing mindset.
They realize that they can use ads to get quick data about what performs and what doesn’t and save themselves a lot of grief in the long run.
They start by making educated assumptions about their target audience based on competitor research and deep-diving their historical data.
They run ads via paid social that quickly reveal:
If anyone ever tells you that marketing is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks—run!
Growth marketing is a series of activities built upon research, testing, and observation. It should look more like the scientific method than a food fight. (Seriously, we don’t believe in wasting money on bad marketing practices, and we definitely don’t believe in wasting spaghetti.)
Your growth needs to happen in these three steps: traction, profit, scale. That’s the not-so-secret secret recipe for success. It isn’t always easy or fast, but it gets results.