How to Reverse Engineer Your Growth Plan with Jim Huffman

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Overview: Jim Huffman the CEO of GrowthHit walks us through the best practices to reverse engineering your competitors growth plan at the 2021 RevTech Summit.

About the speaker: CEO of GrowthHit, a growth marketing consultancy specializing in CRO. Author of the Amazon best seller, The Growth Marketer’s Playbook, a book that pushed Seth Godin off the #1 spot for 72 hours.) Grown two startups from idea to $10M in sales. Spent over $4M on Facebook ads. Startup mentor at Techstars, General Assembly, and Sephora Accelerator. International speaker that’s lead growth workshops at Fortune 500 brands including FedEx, Hot Wheels, Intuit, Sephora, OREO and more.

Hello, I’m Jim Huffman, I’m excited to be here at the RevTech Summit. Today I’m going to talk about how to reverse engineer your growth plan. So if you’re starting out and you’re trying to go to that next level, start growing your company, where do you start? How can you accelerate your learnings by looking at what’s happening in your industry or what your competitors are doing? And that’s what we’re going to get into today. First, before I dive into that, let me give you some context of who I am. You understand the perspective I’m coming from, as we dive in.  

So first, my name is Jim Huffman, I’m the CEO of GrowthHit we’re a growth marketing agency. Out of Seattle, Washington. We work usually with startups, in their a or b round of funding, they’re looking to really go to that next level. I’ve been fortunate enough to help grow two different startups. Growth marketers playbook.

It was a bestseller on Amazon and my claim to fame. As you can see in that screenshot below. For one weekend, we were ahead of Seth Godin until he started marketing his book, and quickly surpassed us. Also worked with a couple of venture capital firms, TechStars Sephora Accelerators, Circle Up VC and Mesia Ventures and kind of advise as a growth mentor. Then with our agency GrowthHit, we specialize in being kind of your external growth team. We do growth experiments like CRO, conversion rate optimization, social ads, retention marketing, in the form of email marketing, spent quite a bit on Facebook ads, like 4 million bucks.

We’ve helped generate over a quarter billion dollars in sales from running on site experiments. And we’ve worked with over 100 different companies. We kind of sit in that sweet spot of strategy, analytics, and CRO. I give you that background before I dive in. Whenever we take on a new project, a new client, we try and get up to speed as quickly as possible on the industry. What competitors are doing so we can devise a strategy that’s truly unique and authentic to the product and service they have into the persona they’re serving. 

So let’s dive into that. Okay, so the question is how to reverse engineer your growth plan from your competitors. Let’s talk about the four tools that we use to do this. So first one is called funnel tear downs. It’s a content site that is essentially showing what some of the top of most innovative brands and startups are doing whenever they’re designing a funnel. So we’ll look at that. The second thing is, where are your competitors getting traffic?

If you could get into their Google Analytics, what would it say? We’ll talk about the tool, similar web and how you can do that. The third, we’re going to break down their ads. With Facebook ad transparency tool, you can actually see the exact ads that your competitors are running to really get insight into what campaigns they’re pushing. Then finally, there’s a tool called mail charts, where you can actually see the emails, their competitors, and understand the frequency, what days they’re sending to really get a feel for how aggressive they are, whenever they’re trying to activate a potential customer or client.

So before we get into those four tools, because we’re going to do one example in ways we use those tools. I want to talk about what we should look for as we start to reverse engineer strategy. So let’s start with the big picture. It’s very simple, what is the unique value proposition of your competitors? How does it differ from what you’re offering and what you’re putting out there? Then the second thing is the only what is their unique value prop, but what personas are they targeting and how much overlap is there with who you’re targeting. You can really understand the personas they’re going after based on the copy they use on their ads, emails, landing pages, any images or videos that they use.

Third, it’s not just about what their value prop is. What their aspirations are, what their goals are. But how are they trying to activate customers? How are they trying to activate their cold traffic? So what are those leading offers? that they’re going to market? What’s that could be like? Are they doing a free trial? And are they doing a freemium product? Are they leading with content and thought leadership? Could they trying to get you in for a demo, connect you with sales, that can be really eye opening. We’re trying to figure out what’s right for your growth plan. And then finally, as we look at their website, what is the journey they have designed to try and activate you as they’re sending traffic to the site. So those are the four things I want you to keep in mind as we dive into this.  

Let’s start with the first tool. This is funnel tear downs. This is a content website that essentially takes some of the top of most innovative startups and sass companies and e commerce companies and breaks down their funnel. The company we’re going to look at today is ConvertKit. If we go here to SaaS, ConvertKit is right here. We’ll click in. And what’s nice about Funnel Teardowns is we can look at their funnel. Look at step by step how they’re activating people. And so the first question, why are we starting with the funnel? First, I like to start with the bottom of the funnel to understand, where the rubber meets the road where they go for the transaction, because once we understand that main offer transaction they’re going for, then let’s start looking at how they’re driving traffic for that.

Kind of a bottoms up approach. Let’s actually expand this. We can look at the funnel. So again, we’re using ConvertKit. This is an email service provider, and let’s go through their funnel. First, their value prop right away tells us the persona, they’re going after audience building for creator. We know they’re going after creators, they are laser focused on it, which I love seeing that. The other thing is their call to action, launch your next project for free. They’re leading with the freemium model. But the free version of the product, which we have had great success with this as well. App queues just did a study on how free trials and freemiums are basically the best acquisition tool you can use.

Alright, so as we go through the funnel, we talked about the low barrier to entry with the free product. And again, a call to actions aligned with that, there’s this idea of an attention ratio. How many buttons you have on your site that lead to various things, and their two main buttons lead to the same thing, which is a positive sign. As we go down the page, they’re also doing something really good, where they’re hitting that persona very hard. They have three case studies, share your creative process, inspire the next generation, turn your side hustle into a career.

So hitting on three key aspirational components, but they have video, testimonials from creators talking about how ConvertKit has helped take their, their kind of side hustle or creative endeavor to a career. We can also look at the product features that they highlight. So they’re talking about ease of use, talking about how the tool connects you with an audience. And they also talk about earning income. So it has a commerce component, where you can actually collect money on this email service provider, which is also unique to some others. 

And again, one thing that is also interesting, the leading with the freemium model, their goal is to get you to use that product. So they’re also doing a guided onboarding. They’re trying to get you to use one of their email templates, because obviously, that’s going to remove any points of friction when it comes to designing your own template. You can get a head start on that. They kind of teased the library of content. The other thing is they really reinforce especially on the pricing page, the free product that you get, whenever you have up to 500 subscribers.

Really pushing on the ease of use. What’s also nice is they show you the calculator of based on how many subscribers you have, how much it’ll cost you. The price transparency definitely helps kind of reduce any anxiety you might have, because like, Oh, they have a free product. But what does that mean, as my list starts to grow. So this way that they can kind of manage expectations and remove any concerns or risk you might have. And so again, reinforcing the template library that they have as they’re looking to get you activated, and they have those nice scan over preview buttons, so you can quickly see it. Here’s what’s really interesting, they not only allow you to preview the templates, but you can start building and customizing your own template without even creating an account.

This is quite fascinating because they’re trying to get you to that magic moment of seeing how easy the product is to use. And then as you’re creating your template actually has these pop ups coming up. It’s like hey, create an account, and it’s triggered whenever you’re saving the template. And they’re also talking about like don’t lose your work. Make sure you save it, and they make it make it somewhat prominent, but not invasive. The upgrade option is always visible. And this is after you have created your free trial. And then the other thing that’s pretty powerful with this as we know like some of the best growth tactics are when you turn customers into marketers.

At the pricing page, whenever you can actually make the purchase, they have their referral mechanism or invite a friend or 10. And for every person that unlocks your invite and becomes a user, you actually get 100 subscribers per referral. So you could constantly move the goalposts back on how long you have the free version going. So that’s pretty powerful. And then they also talk about subscribing for a monthly fee to unlock the features. One thing, anyone that has a freemium version, it’s a matter of like, what are you putting past the gate that they have to pay for this, as your list grows, it’s going to go up in price. I think the incentives are aligned there. But that’s the kind of funnel tear down.

What’s nice is, as we go through the funnel, we understand, you don’t have to pay to play, they have a version that is free that you can use. They’re going all in on letting you start to build something without creating an account. So very aggressive on ease of use going after people that are potentially free users. Okay, so now we know their funnel, we know how they’re activating user with the freemium model, but how do they get traffic. So that’s where we’d want to go to So if you just put in the URL, again, this is a free tool you can use. You go to, we can start to get an idea of how much traffic they’re getting every month.

So this shows us they’re getting 3.4 million users per month, average time on site is quite strong. And what’s five minutes visiting five pages per session. Pretty strong in the US over 50%. As we look at the traffic sources, direct is very strong, it’s 69%. This tells me a couple things. One is probably includes, a lot of repeat visits for people to actually use the product. It also shows me that there’s high brand awareness, they know ConvertKit, and they type it into the URL. The second highest form traffic is search. So that immediately makes me wonder what are the search phrases or keywords they’re going after? And then the third is referral sources.

They’re getting a lot of traffic from other blogs or websites. So who are those? That would be very interesting to me. As we start to look at referrals, it starts to answer that question. One is a very notable blog blog, Farnam Street blog. I wonder if they have an affiliate deal. So if I’m a competitor, I might look at if I could get an affiliate deal there. Or other complimentary or competitive blogs that align with that persona, and other creators. As we look at the search traffic. It shows you the keywords that they’re ranking for organically and then the keywords that are paying for. In this view, it’s showing that it’s a lot of branded keywords like ConvertKit ConvertKit, pricing ConvertKit API. You can actually get in more extensible and then might show like email service providers for creators or whatever that would be.

The next question is what is their top social channel for driving traffic? And what’s really interesting here is that it’s not like LinkedIn or Facebook, it’s actually YouTube. So my question would be, what YouTube content are they making? So I go to the ConvertKit, YouTube page and look at people who are posting about ConvertKit on YouTube, and really understand what are they talking about the timeout, the ease of use, the quality of it out, integrates with other tools. This can be great inspiration for making your own content.

You can also get a feel for any display advertising that they’re doing. But I think one thing that’s worth calling out is what websites are people also visiting, they’re going to Canva to also make creative for their social accounts. They are going to teachable, because maybe they’re a creator, or they have a course on teachable. And then you can also see other competitive sites people are looking at, or sites that are similar. People also go into Neil Patel’s blog to maybe learn marketing tactics, going to Wistia to make video content. This does a really good job of painting a picture of where traffic is coming from free or paid from referral sites.

If you’re doing partnerships if you’re doing guest post, this gives you basically a shortlist of where to potentially start. Okay, so the next question is, let’s get into their ad strategy, and specifically paid social ads. What ads are they running? What are they promoting to try and activate potential customers. So if you go to the Facebook ad transparency tool, you can put into ConvertKit up here, and it’ll pull up their account. And if you go to all ads, it’ll show you some most recent ads that they’ve been running. Let’s talk about what we want to look at here.

So what are they really pushing what images what copy what offers. This one’s very aspirational in the future belongs to creators hear their stories. They’re using testimonials and again, they’re laser focused on one clear persona. This one here is pretty interesting, they actually are doing this big kind of campaign where Yes, you can basically win $10,000 it’s the grow your audience challenge. Pushing a giveaway again for creators the values $10,000. I’d be interested in people that are commenting on this. What they say about it, what they don’t like about it, what they do like about it.

And again, they’re pushing their giveaway offer here. So that can be inspiration for you to potentially do your own. They also have other content where they feature creators, and pretty professionally done video testimonials that are pretty nice. So this helps you really understand how they’re going to market and they also are pushing the free product as well in some of the ads. And then the the final tool I like to use is mail charts.

So mail charts allows you to see the email newsletter and drip campaigns and actually did not have ConvertKit. Yet, they’re just now starting to track it. But I thought I’d switch from b2b to b2c example. So let’s say we’re a shoe brand or an athletic brand. And we want to know, hey, what does Nike do with their email strategy? So if you put Nike in here, first, you can see examples of their templates, some of their most recent emails. You can also get insights, how many emails do they send per week. And what’s really interesting is it shows you on average, how many of those emails include promotions or offers.

So at Nike, it’s around 24%. You can even see their most popular terms and subject line so you can get inspiration for what they’re pushing. And for them, it’s very product focus. What’s nice, too, is based on the industry, you can see benchmarks like they send an average of four emails per week with 24% promotions, the average is three emails per week with 48% promotion. So they send a little bit more emails, but not as aggressive with promos. And then you can even see the weekly focus as far as when they send those emails. If it’s weekends, weekdays, they even have some send time analysis.  

So let’s do kind of a recap on that. So hopefully, that’s helpful. As far as tools you can use, you can really get into funnel tear downs to understand, hey, what, what is their funnel? How are they activating? You can go to similar web to see what does that traffic look like if if it’s coming from free from paid from organic from referrals, and then go to the Facebook ad library to really dig into what those ads look like, what’s the creative, what’s the copy, and then finally, using a tool like MailChimp to understand their email, cadence, their email strategy, and the type of templates that they have.

So hopefully this is helpful as you’re trying to devise your own growth plan your own growth strategy. You can use these tools and these tactics to hopefully get an edge over your competition. But again, thank you guys for letting me present today. If you need me, I’m just there’s a link to the book as well as growth markers playbook calm, but thank you and please hit me up if you need anything.