The Growth Engine: fact or fiction?

20th February 2024

Growth starts and ends with the customer. Not the channel. This old way of going about growth serves only to confuse the customer, create vast inefficiencies, and slow growth.


Forrester claims that to win the (increasingly challenging) competition for growth, B2B organizations need a ‘customer-obsessed growth engine’.

Sounds great – but what is a growth engine, and how do you build one?

Virgin Media O2 can tell you. Because they’ve done it.

Over three years, they improved their win rate on marketing sourced opportunities from 5% to 14%, and now generate £29 of closed won revenue for every £1 invested.

Their growth engine is a way of describing how they break down sales, marketing and customer success silos, to focus their firepower on growing market share in a repeatable, coordinated way.

It acknowledges that there’s a fundamental flaw in the way we’ve designed companies to support growth. We silo our customer communication into channels: sales (human/AI) and marketing (digital/visual). And even then, divide them further along the same lines (like splitting your marketing team into brand, social media, demand gen, and so on; or your sales team into direct and indirect).

Growth starts and ends with the customer. Not the channel. This old way of going about growth serves only to confuse the customer, create vast inefficiencies, and slow growth.

So the growth engine is, essentially, a way of flipping the old system and organising skills and investment around the audience and its needs. It starts with data, and ends with channel. And ensures every dollar spent contributes to healthier growth, now and in the future.

It’s not rocket science – but it is science

This is not a radical thought. Many organizations, my own included, have been talking about this for years. But growth has been relatively easy for many B2B organizations for the last 20 years – particularly in tech. So, why change?

Over the last 5 years, growth has (generally) slowed. Even with the ups of COVID and the downs of global instability – average growth rates of B2B tech companies have gone from 25% in 2021 to 14% in 2024 (according to Meritech Capital). To grow we need to work smarter, not harder.

Think of it like designing a Formula 1 car. Years ago, it was all about power. The bigger or better the engine, the faster the car. Over many years, manufacturers learnt that there were other factors that could influence speed, particularly aerodynamics. And within that, hundreds of components that needed to be tweaked for the conditions of each race. The playing field narrowed, as did budgets, and every decision started to matter in a game of marginal gains – from the mental health of the driver, to the speed of the wheel guns. If your aerodynamicists aren't talking to your mechanical engineers, you have a fatal problem.

That is where we are now in B2B sales and marketing. A thousand levers and dials, all to be orchestrated and managed around one single goal: growing the business. Silos are the enemy.

Sounds complex – so how is it done?

Every growth engine looks different. There are millions of variables - variations of customer segments, brand perception, macroeconomic context, channel consumption, and so on.

The point is to design a system that brings people together around the customer, and puts data at the heart. And a system that can handle complexity and unpredictability.

I don’t want to give the secret sauce away because – well, spoiler, that’s what The Marketing Practice is all about – we’ve designed the blueprint. But I will share the principles that sit at the heart of it:

Data is the fuel.

The single most important element of the growth engine is data – or more specifically, customer insight. Not just the quality and breadth, but the ability to analyse and interpret it real-time with the support of AI. Data is the fuel of the engine – without it, nothing moves.

MQA scores are the filters.

Marketing Qualified Account (MQA) scores are a way of analysing data to prioritise effort and energy. Without them, the engine is highly inefficient and needs more and more investment to succeed.

Levers and dials.

Constant review, measurement, optimization and prioritization are vital. Experimentation allows for learning that helps the engine constantly adapt to the conditions it’s presented with.

Culture at the heart.

The engine is nothing without the humans driving the car. Processes, technology and data can only get you so far – you need a culture across departments and responsibilities that lives off constant improvement, and thrives in uncertainty. This bit is not to be underestimated! It’s a lot of work to build that culture.

Creativity provides the ignition.

Creativity isn’t an after-thought, or a way of making things look pretty. One of the most important and hardest dials to get right is brand. Creativity brings the necessary art to the science of building a growth engine. It acts as a force-multiplier – for example it helped Forcepoint turn every $100k of media spend into $174k of engagement.

Make marketing mean more

All of this might sound big and overwhelming. It is – any organization with the ambition to create a growth engine is signing up to a long-term undertaking, with significant reward for it.

But it can and should start smaller. Take one practice or component, like account-based marketing, and use that as your test ground. Build the small house, and move everyone into it over time.

If you’d like to talk about getting started, or learn more about Virgin Media O2’s story, get in touch. There's a case study here too.

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