Introduction to Growth Surfaces

What Are Your Product’s Growth Surfaces?

Successful product managers identify key features that are “growth surfaces” that drive user engagement and other business metrics. In this article, you will learn:

Growth skills are essential for product teams

Product management, like every career in the technology field, has become a complex role that requires more than making decisions about which features to add or drop. Today, a successful product manager needs to assume ownership of a key responsibility: getting users to spend more time with a product and help drive top-line revenue.

Achieving that goal requires adopting the growth hacking techniques that are currently used by many companies large and small. Even enterprise-level organizations understand that, like a quickly-growing organism in a petri dish, they must simultaneously spread their efforts across multiple growth surfaces and leverage all opportunities to increase their users’ engagement, conversion, and retention rates.

What is a growth surface?

A growth surface is a feature or interaction that’s intrinsic to your product and drives business growth by encouraging users to:

  • Spend more time with your product
  • Broaden their use with new interaction patterns
  • Extend their engagement into additional product lines

The operative word is “intrinsic.” You’re not trying to drum up demand from new users. You’re looking for existing users to show you new ways to use your product, so you can quickly take advantage of those growth surfaces and increase engagement.

You may want to anticipate growth surfaces from the beginning of development, such as the classic free-to-play videogame model that gets players hooked on the action and prompts them to spend money on upgrades or other features that help them be more successful.

The same technique also prompts users of free business accounting or CRM platforms to upgrade to a paid model because they eventually find that they need more sophisticated features.

Whether or not you bake a forward-looking approach into your feature roadmap, always keep in mind that your users may surprise you with the choices they make. Consider Facebook, which realized that its users were often using their status updates to share links to news articles.

Facebook recognized a growth surface that could increase user engagement and invested in that part of its product, adding such features as link previews and related news stories. Then it began encouraging news sites to publish their articles directly on Facebook.

Notifications are a core growth surface

When you identify a new growth surface, make sure you’re ready to test and measure your efforts. Pay attention to engagement, conversion, and retention stats and don’t be afraid to follow the paths they reveal, even if they’re ones you hadn’t anticipated.

Your growth marketing efforts should work hand-in-hand with your product development plans. For example, consider ways to increase stickiness with multiple notification channels, including in-app, email, push, and perhaps SMS.

There are several use cases for developing effective notification strategies and using them to drive new growth surfaces by encouraging them to return to your product.

  • Account activation: You want to verify the email address a new user provided and remind them that they can get started using your product.
  • Onboarding: Make sure you help new users hit the ground running.
  • Content sharing and user invites: Whether your product has a B2C or B2B focus, there are many ways you can get new users to bring friends or colleagues along for the ride.
  • Activity: Let users know about others’ interactions with their use of your product, or even remind them to finish completing a profile or task. You can also integrate social media hooks so users can share their activity with friends and help bring them into the fold.
  • Stats: How much interaction did a user receive? Many people love to see how they’re doing.
  • Security notifications: Make sure you notify users when they change their passwords, long in from an unrecognized device, and so forth. They appreciate knowing that you’re looking out for them. And make sure you require two-factor authentication, so it’s harder for the bad guys to cause you unneeded headaches.
Email notifications have become a key growth surface for today’s SaaS products.

All of those efforts should drive plenty of data for you to peruse, especially when you add A/B testing to the mix. For example, see if users respond better when you give them a slightly negative slant (“The deadline for finishing your report is almost here!”) versus a slightly positive one (“Wrap up your report to complete your next goal!”).

Make sure you pay close attention to your notification volume and give users ways to mute channels. There’s a fine line between keeping users engaged and irritating them, so use caution until you figure out where it is in your product.

Growth is a team effort

The days of siloed job functions are over too. Your engineering and marketing teams should closely work with you to ensure that all your efforts are tightly aligned. There should be a constant flow of data and anecdotal information between the teams. For example, if engineering needs three months to implement a feature, you’re ready to nudge their efforts if new growth surfaces appear or existing ones begin to lose traction.

As you solidify your strategies (make sure they’re not too rigid), make sure everyone is in sync with the best practices, expectations, and benchmarks that have been set by you in collaboration with the engineers and marketers. Then you can implement the right experiments that will help you start identifying growth surfaces.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t conclude by noting that you should view your users as collaborators too. Not only will their actions produce all that valuable data, but there are many ways you can solicit their opinions, such as an in-app dialog that asks a quick yes-or-no question, or a more in-depth survey that promises rewards to a few respondents drawn at random.

Armed with these basics, you should have no problem implementing a growth strategy that improves your product’s chances for success while building your career.

UP NEXT: How to Discover Growth Features with Customer Interviews

Anticipating the needs of your SaaS product’s customers is critical to your future success. You won’t get it right if you don’t ask questions that get the heart of what really matters.

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