Growth hacking and sales hacking are all the rage, but do they work?

Everyone wants to hack these days. On the marketing side, everyone is talking about “growth hacking” instead of user acquisition. On the Sales side, everyone is talking about “sales hacking” instead of field

A hacker with a hood with laptop. Online network danger.
A hacker with a hood with laptop. Online network danger.

or sales enablement. Every blog out there is promising a faster way to grow startups through hacking.

First and foremost, I think its great that growth techniques (in both sales and marketing) are now receiving so much attention. 5 years ago most startup teams where subscribing to the “build it and they will come” philosophy and just hoping that users or customers would just come running because of a great product. No one was pro-actively driving and measuring growth, much less revenue. So this is a huge improvement step forward.

The issue is that its a slippery slope.  The obsession with the shiny new toy, “hacking” should not overshadow the simple act of selling.  As Wilson says in his post on growth hacking “people like growth hacking more than anything lead generation or sales related”.  Selling is an extremely effective way to grow your business, even if it’s unpleasant to some, and as we’ll see down below hacking can’t solve everything.

There’s no such thing as a silver bullet

I know its not sexy, and it won’t get me any click-bait traffic for saying it, but my biggest concern is that there’s no such thing as a silver bullet in sales.  “Hacking” as a concept is very appealing because it sounds like there’s a secret trick that can help you avoid all the work.

Sales involves humans, and when humans are involved, things move more slowly.  Even if you have a small team of 10, testing out a new pitch, or testing out a new ideal client profile could take months to get statistically viable evidence.

Steli shares the same sentiment in a LeadGenius blog post about his book the Unscalable startup. He says, “There aren’t any genius growth hacks, viral marketing blitzkriegs or amazing marketing stunts in this book. Instead, it’s really focused on fundamentals. A lot of it seems so obvious that most people overlook it.”

The Robots are not selling… yet

Hacking also focuses on the use of technology to automate things.  Sales in particular is still a manual process, and it requires people. You will not succeed simply by choosing the right sales stack.

At best its 51% human leadership / 49% technology world. If you can’t get your team to use the technology, it won’t make a difference. If you can’t set the technology up correctly, it won’t make a difference. If you can’t get good data into your technology…. it won’t make a difference.

As Steli mentioned in his interview here ” only automate when the pain is high. You should always focus on driving results with your customers first, even if it’s manual. At the beginning you may not even have enough customers to draw insights from the numbers.  Automation tends to be possible much further down the line than people expect.

Why Growth Hacking is important

So this post wasn’t intended to focus on tearing down a trend.  Growth hacking and sales hacking are drawing attention to some huge changes in the world.  One such change is the increasing utility of technology.  The other is the convergence of marketing and sales.

In my post on whether sales is a trade or a profession, I made the case that sales has some catching up to do.  In this new world, the modern sales leader has to learn even more areas of expertise.  They’re expected to know how to lead, they need to know how to generate and understand metrics, they need to know how to drive inbound leads…

Growth and Sales Hacking are calling attention to this shift, and as long as it doesn’t distract us from growing revenue its a great thing.

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