EP. 15: How to prioritize your growth ideas

by | Feb 24, 2021 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS

As a founder, you probably think of new growth ideas everyday. But how many of the ideas do you follow through on? Deciding how to prioritize your growth ideas is the critical first step to implementing them.

In this episode of InDemand, Asia Orangio, founder of DemandMaven, walks through the different frameworks you can use to evaluate your growth ideas and decide which you will prioritize.

Extra Resources

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    • 1:40 – It’s hard to find the best lever for growth. As a founder you’ve got lots of ideas about growth projects, but you might not have the structure for how to evaluate which project or idea is the best investment of resources.
    • 4:15 – Short-term vs long-term prioritization. More often than not, early stage companies prioritize short-term projects and let long-term projects fall down the priority list.
    • 10:10 – Frameworks for evaluating projects and ideas. The first framework is I.C.E. (Impact, Confidence, and Ease)
      • Create a spreadsheet with all of your growth ideas, then in three columns to the side, on a scale of 1-5, rate each idea for each category and then calculate the average. This overall rating should give you a sense for which is the most effective project to focus on now.
    • 13:50 – The I.R.C. Framework ( Impact, Risk, and Control) is a similar framework that Asia uses to asses that risk that goes along with certain growth projects
    • 18:05 – The time to revenue framework. This is simply evaluating how quickly can you expect to see revenue from the growth ideas. How important this is will depend on your individual situation, but you always want to ask and have an estimate of how long the project will take to have an impact on revenue.
    • 19:30 – Reversing the funnel – Our tendency is to focus on improving a sales funnel from the top down. But if you start from the bottom of the funnel and optimize for conversation at each stage going up you will be more effective. To do this start by identifying where the weakest part of your funnel is and then prioritize the ideas and projects that focus on that stage.
    • 25:00 – Building your own growth prioritization framework. After you’ve tried and used a few different frameworks, then use what works best for you to create your own.


What’s up founders! And welcome back to the In Demand podcast where we talk all about how to reach your first $1m ARR. I’m your host Asia Orangio and I’m the founder of DemandMaven where we work with early-stage SaaS companies on reaching their very first growth milestones.

I’m super pumped to talk about this particular topic because it is something that comes up just about every single time I talked to a founder about their ideas, about the projects they want to execute, prioritize, and do. It ultimately ends up coming down to the fundamental question, which is…

I have all of these ideas; how do I actually prioritize them? Which ones should ultimately come first? And this is where I would say it depends on the stage of the growth process, you’re in.
So, for example, if you are early stage versus maybe you’re in attraction stage, like you’re a series B or series C, and you’ve got these really big growth idea and projects to execute versus maybe some others where they’re much smaller, but you have fewer resources it’s going to, it’s going to vary. However, there are certainly some frameworks that we’re of course going to talk about and just some really quick and dirty tips and tricks.

And then of course, just, you know, my hot take when it comes to how to prioritize those ideas based off of where you’re at in your journey. All right, let’s go. First of all, it completely makes sense. Growth is extremely overwhelming. Even for me, sometimes growth is one of those things where it is my job to think about it’s, it’s my job to really brainstorm, to plan, to measure, and to really, really understand what are the growth levers that are available to us and which ones do we pull at which times there’s also just a billion ideas all the time. And especially as CEO, as founder, as team leader, you are constantly getting exposed to all kinds of different tactics and strategies and practices and opportunities that can help you and others that might slow you down, just depending on your approach. Part of our job as strategists is to really figure out which ones are the ones that are going to help us accomplish our goals, generate revenue, build an incredible team, whatever it is that you are trying to achieve.

I’m going to start by breaking out two really fundamental concepts when it comes to prioritizing specifically for growth. And this is really just based off of my own personal experience. The first aspect of this is going to be short-term and long-term prioritization. So how do we prioritize ideas for the near term? So within the next three to six months versus long-term, six months and beyond, and then the other facet of this is the stage of growth that you’re currently in. Whether you are very early stage, maybe you are still really honing in or solidifying product market fit. Maybe you’ve achieved a certain level of product market fit within a, within a part of the market, but now we need to move into traction. And then of course, maybe you’re in the attraction phase. You are, you are growing very, um, maybe very fast, but it might not be efficient.

It might actually be very wasteful growth. It could also be growth in other ways that are more than just revenue, which is growing the team or identifying other market opportunities. So with these two aspects of growth combined, it adds, it adds a few different layers and there are certainly tools and tricks and things that we can do and use in any of these scenarios. But I just wanted to give you just the overarching mindset, if you will, that you should be in if you’re in one or more of these buckets. So if you’re coming to this from a place of, I’ve got a bunch of ideas and I don’t really know how to prioritize them, or we’d have a bunch of projects, but we don’t know which ones should ultimately come first. The first spectrum, if you will, that I’ll give you is what’s short term versus what what’s long term.

And the trick here is you’re going to need a balance of both. It’s a very common oversight to focus too much on short term project prioritization. So we’re going to, we’re going to do all of the growth activities that only give us short term results versus prioritizing the ones that are long-term. And more often than not most CEOs and founders will prioritize short term projects and not always to their detriment, but sometimes to their detriment where they don’t have enough long-term projects going on that carry the short-term projects through the next few years. Even a common classic example of this is focusing on short term, which would be, let’s say marketing wise, we are going to spin up ads. We want to spend a bat as if that’s one of our growth ideas we’re going to do paid advertising. It’s like, okay, great. That’s a short-term long-term however, we are going to, as, as we do paid acquisition, we’re going to use that to learn about organic search SEO and content marketing, except what ends up happening is you start the short-term projects, but you never prioritize the long-term ones.

And that’s kind of where a lot of businesses get in trouble. They start the short-term projects and then never add long-term ones to their weekly and monthly cadences or sprints. And then six months a year later, they’ve got no, except for what they pay for. And the now they’ve got to figure out, okay, well, how do we suddenly get organic traffic? I laugh, but it’s common. It’s really common. It’s really, really common and SEO versus paid advertising and organic search. Like that’s just one example.

There are countless others. So that’s one framework or mindset to be in is how much of what’s on your plate growth wise? How much of that is short-term versus long-term and what are some of the other implications that require those things? Do we need to focus on the short-term because we have to, because we don’t have a whole lot of runway. That’s the case then that already changes or influences what our short term projects might be, or do we have runway? Do we have time? Is that something that we have available to us? Because that means that we can do both in some cases, and we should prioritize both. There you’ll need a balance of both in order to ensure that you get the best bang for anything that you do, too many short-term projects, you might risk burning out, not getting the results you need. And then of course, you end up working a lot harder, not necessarily smarter, and then too many long-term projects. And you might not see the short-term spikes that give you the confidence that you’re heading in the right direction in the first place it’s possible happens. It’s also normal, I would say, but ideally you want to get a balance. Balance is key here.

The second has much more to do with the phase of growth that you’re currently in. And a lot of this has to do with the stage of the business. We always want to be respectful of where we’re at in the process and in the cycle of growing the business. Again, you could be very early stage, very early on and growth projects early on. A lot of it is very tactical and at the same exact time, there are some strategic projects that happen at that phase, but execution is usually pretty critical and being able to execute and being on blocked pretty important. I find when it comes to prioritization because so many of the growth projects are very highly tactical. There’s very rarely any dependency, meaning a lot of it can be done async with other projects sometimes not always, you know, not always that’s, uh, I hate to say that’s definitely just like the blanket rule, but usually in the early days, the ability to execute and execute fast is usually far more important.

And then of course, layering on some really strategic plays that are vetted in that are very well thought out and designed. It’s usually much more important when you get to the later stages of growth, you get to more traction stages and then just high growth. We start looking at much more strategic plays. I find it’s far more important to have more strategically aligned projects. And you usually are able to execute. It’s much more about how do we really steer the ship and make sure that all of our ships are pointing in the same direction. It becomes much more about leading and guiding the teams. And then also when prioritizing projects, it also just becomes about ensuring that everyone’s enabled, aligned, focused, and incentivized to accomplish the projects. It’s a very different flavor. Here is where I would say prioritization frameworks are incredibly helpful and order definitely does tend to matter for the most part.

That’s not to say, however, that frameworks prioritization-wise, at least aren’t going to be helpful. Regardless. In fact, I actually find that a lot of founders, especially if it’s just them in the business, prioritization frameworks help a lot. It helps make it pretty clear what to do next. And the cool part is that there’s usually very little dependency, whereas with a larger business, a larger company, a much more mature growth cycle or growth phase, there’s a lot more to dependency and that’s where it gets a little trickier. So those are the two aspects or mindsets, if you will, that you might be in at any given time and they’re not mutually exclusive. So that context, we’re going to dig into a few of my favorite frameworks that we use to prioritize projects. The first is one that I use all the time and this one was actually recommended by Sean Ellis of hacking growth. A great read, a wonderful book, highly recommended, and it is called ice and just impact confidence and ease. I want you to imagine a spreadsheet, a spreadsheet of, with a list in one column of all of the different growth ideas that you have. And in the next three columns over, you’ve got one column for impact, one column for confidence, one column for ease. And then the last column is going to be the average of all of those three numbers.

Ice can be used on a scale of one to five. It can be used on a scale of one to 10. I prefer one to five. It keeps it much more simple, maybe a little bit less nebulous of going from one to 10. You might find that one to 10 is better for you and your team. One to five might also be better for you as well might be simpler, but on a scale of one to five, you’ll give every single idea a score according to the impact of it, the ease of it. And then of course your confidence level. And then after that, you’ll take the average of those three numbers. Let’s break down impact confidence and ease. So impact really refers to what is the impact of this particular idea. It doesn’t have a direct impact on what it is that we’re hoping to accomplish for the year or the quarter for the business doesn’t have impact.

Is this going to move the needle? And we give it a score of one to five, five, ideally, at least being the absolute highest. So this is going to have a huge impact all the way down to one or even zero, which is actually very little impact. The confidence are we confident?

This is going to work now; I love this one because sometimes growth projects are actually experimenting, and we need to honor the experiment. So if we’re not really confident it’s going to work. It’s an experiment. II hate to say it’s a test, but it’s a test. It’s like, we don’t necessarily know. We’ll have to experiment with it. We have a hypothesis. We’re pretty confident about the hypothesis maybe, but we don’t necessarily, it’s not a guaranteed done deal. So if we have really high confidence, it’s going to work that we put a higher score.

If we have less confidence going to work, but a less or a lower score. And the finally ease, how easy is this for us to execute? Do we have the resources, the skills, the team, the people, the tools, et cetera, the knowledge even to execute this, is this going to be easy for us? Sometimes content marketing. I think of content marketing specifically because a lot of the technical founders really have challenges with creating content regularly. It’s not easy for them. Then they’re confident it’ll work. It’s going to have a really high impact, but the ease is so low. And so then the average of that idea ends up actually kind of being a little bit lower. And this is one of those. This is one of the situations where; depending on the framework or the mindset that you’re in, if you need short term or you need long-term goals or projects, then you might put content marketing in the long-term bucket, but you have to overcome the easy part.

This is how an average can certainly help really highlight some things about how you think about certain projects. And then also what stage you’re in can also impact how you think about it. In a short term world, content marketing might seem like overkill. And then in a long-term world, content marketing is clearly the way to go. So we probably need to figure out how to overcome the ease aspect of it. Another similar framework. This is one that I’ve actually developed internally. This is one that I use at demand may have been for client projects, impact, risk, and control. So a very, a very similar framework. And this one is much more about minimizing certain risky projects, not minimizing in terms of like, we’re not doing them, but just much more minimizing the impact of them. So if there’s going to be a project that we’re going to put up on the list of ideas, that is actually really risky for us to do, it’s important to acknowledge that in this, I would say this is much more relevant to SAAS companies in industries, where they might need to take risks, but it’s uncomfortable.

And so, impactors can control again. It’s not for definitely not for everyone, but this can also be helpful. Similar situation to ice. Will this have a big impact? Is it risky? How, what is, what is really risky to us? Five would be not really risky at all. Whereas one would be incredibly risky. Like maybe let’s reconsider this and then control how in control of this. Are we, are we in control of how much to what degree do we control, like this particular activity or project? And this one might be kind of a weird one to list, but there are some projects or ideas where we really don’t have a whole lot of control over the outcome. And that is where we have to be careful. An example of this was actually one that recently happened in a client project where the client really wanted to launch new pricing.

And the new pricing was going to have a pretty big impact for a very small number of customers, but it was going to be a change regardless, across many different customer accounts. And there were some particular client accounts where the price was going to rise significantly. And I think that there were only like five or 10 of these, but it was a very, it was a, it was definitely risky. Unless of course we got information that made us feel like it wouldn’t, it would absolutely have an, a high, it would have a high impact on growth in general, raising the prices and raising the, the person plans and changing those readjusting. Those was absolutely going to have an impact on growth. It was very obvious where it was a little tricky was the control aspect of it. Well, we weren’t necessarily in control of how these customers were going to react to changing these plans.

It was also during 2020 COVID pandemic year. And it was, it was very, very likely that we could lose some customers maybe more than what we were hoping to gain. And so the risk was, I would say, relatively high and then the control was relatively high. So, in this case, I would give it lower scores, you know, high control score in this case would be we’re super in control of what happens after.

And in this case, I would actually say we were closer maybe to like two or three. We were much less in control. And then the same thing for risk, we weren’t, it was pretty risky. It was going to significantly impact a few customers and it’s definitely risky. So again, lower scores there. And by the average you’d think, Oh, when, well, this idea is great, but if there’s another, that is better than we should do that.

And the, the fun part about this is that while we technically already were, we’d already prioritized all the other ideas and this one was the next one listed tackle. And so my approach to it was, well, if we can reduce the risk and if we can be comfortable or confident in our level of control, then this is a very worthy project, regardless, because it has a high impact. And that is exactly what a framework that helps you prioritize at least helps you do. It helps you have those conversations. So if you’re talking about it with the client, we decided that the best approach would be to, to, to phase out the approach to get feedback first, before we just launched it. And the feedback was positive and that made us increase the control score a little bit. And also the risk score a little bit is suddenly became much less risky and we actually had more control than we thought it was great.

One of the other prioritization frameworks, and this is one that you can tack on to any of these ideas. It could also be one that you use independently, and it’s just time to revenue. How quickly can you expect to see revenue from any of the projects that you have on the list? And this is again, that short-term versus long-term mindset that I mentioned earlier in this episode, some of these projects and ideas that you might have, some of them are very much the short term and others might be over time, over a long period of time, more than six months, which in SAAS or startup world feels like a very long time, but sometimes our projects or ideas, sometimes they do have a revenue path. And that time to revenue is something to keep in mind, especially if it is something that is incredibly worthwhile and can complete the short-term versus long-term requirement.

So again, you can actually add this as a column to any of these frameworks. You can also just use this independently, either one works, but that could also help really give you a sense of based off of the projects that we have, the things that we’re thinking about, our ideas, some of these are going to take a lot longer. Others are going to be hopefully a lot shorter. We’ll be able to learn from them much faster, the next framework to use or prioritization framework. If you will actually has a lot more to do with the funnel itself. This one is much more relevant to early stage SAAS businesses and their founders. Something that comes up often in any kind of growth planning for an early stage company or a company that does not have a marketing team is what do we do first? What do we execute first?

And when it comes to marketing and growth, usually we reverse engineer funnel wise, what growth should look like? There’s a common misconception that you have to go from top of the funnel activity. So you generate awareness first, never thinking about the website performance or how your free trial conversion rates are, or even your retention. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of, uh, assumption that you start top of the funnel, meaning you generate traffic first. And then once you get the traffic, then you figure out how to convert it. And then once you convert it, then you figure out how to optimize your free trial conversion rate or your demo conversion rate. And then you, you know, and so on and so forth, you go from top of the funnel to middle of the funnel. And bottom of the funnel to me, when I find is much more successful for early stage founders, it’s actually reverse this process and to start with making the bottom of the funnel as seamless as it possibly can be, and then moving up to middle of the funnel and then top of the funnel.

And the reason for that is because it’s much more expensive, much more expensive to drive a lot of traffic to a website that doesn’t convert. And then to therefore also not actually convert free trial users. So if you have a very weak onboarding funnel, if you have a very low converting website, it makes much more sense to invest time and activity into those entities first, and then to focus on driving a bunch of traffic. That’s not to say that you don’t drive any traffic that you don’t drive any top of the funnel activity. It’s just much more weighted towards the more middle and bottom of the funnel first. And that’s just purely because if you don’t have a strong middle and bottom of the funnel presence or baseline or foundation, then it’s going to get really challenging to drive traffic and convert them and do that efficiently. The analogy or the metaphor that I give is, I guess it’s really more of analogy, but it’s kind of like burning cash in the front yard. We’re just going to set this money on fire, just picture that. And that is what driving top of the funnel activity before you ever have a strong middle or bottom of the funnel really looks like, and don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you have to experience that in order to really know. And in fact, it’s kind of one of those chicken and the egg scenarios, where, how can you really know if you don’t get any traffic? And I agree with that to some extent, but it’s certainly not the only focus I will say that. So when it comes to prioritizing growth activities or ideas, if we know that we don’t have a strong middle of the funnel or bottom of the funnel, or if we don’t know what we don’t know, then really our activities and projects become around understanding that better.

And then also what are the projects and activities that do strengthen that? Whether that’s copywriting new pages, updating the messaging, creating a much better onboarding flow, creating activation emails. There’s a, the list goes on in terms of what you can do. That’s middle and bottom of the funnel. And then finally, some other ideas might be to do some top of the funnel activity, but maybe more of the activities are bottom and middle of the funnel. This scenario is much more specific to early stage founders, but really any stage business can use bottom of the funnel, middle of the funnel and top of the funnel in terms of how to prioritize activity. So for example, if you actually have the reverse challenge, you really struggle with top of the funnel awareness. You actually have a pretty well-performing funnels so far, meaning your website converts really well.

You actually do convert your free trial or your demo prospects and users who come into the product and you also convert those into customers and they retain then that tells us, Oh, well, let’s focus on top of the funnel activity. So what part of the funnel would you say is weakest in the business? You can use your growth activities and ideas and apply them to different parts of the funnel based off of where it’s weakest at. And then sometimes you might find that you really don’t have a, you’ve got a ton of ideas when it comes to middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel and all of your projects and activities are in those two places. And then it really just becomes a question of what do you have time for what’s realistic. And then you just take it from there because sometimes the answer just is, well, you do all of these things.

And the ones that you do first is really just what you have the bandwidth for. Sometimes that’s totally an acceptable answer. It’s usually an acceptable answer. Actually, if you don’t have the resources, then you know, obviously you can’t, you, you kind of have to abide by the law of scope, time and budget, right? I would say cut yourself some Slack. If you find that you have this big, long list of middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel things and the only person to do it is you definitely some grace here, all right, the last thing I’m going to leave you with, and then we’ll run and then we’ll close it out for today would be to actually build your own building your own growth prioritization framework. It is so much fun. And the more that you use prioritization frameworks, the more that you start picking up on things that you like, things that you don’t like and things that are parts of the framework that help and enable you to guide the team, execute the work, prioritize the projects, and then frameworks that don’t necessarily like there’s something that’s missing about them.
Maybe there’s a particular part of a framework that doesn’t really help you make a decision about something else it’s kind of correlated to it. This is where I would say definitely build your own, especially after trying a few and you get a sense for how each of them work. I use any of these at any given time during my projects with my clients, but sometimes we do end up creating our own just based out of sheer necessity. So I would say, take your time with these. They are absolutely designed to be flexible at the same exact time designed to kind of hold you to some truth and some realism about what makes sense for you to handle for the team to handle resources, skills, capabilities. And then of course the reality of just the business situation you might have to focus on short-term goals. Maybe you do have runway to focus on long-term goals.

It just depends on, on wherever it is a trap, which is of course honored and special and respected so on or wherever it is that you’re at, but then also prioritization frameworks can kind of help you get at your comfort zone, encourage you to do some different things. Okay, great. Thank you so much for listening. I hope this was helpful. It’s definitely something that has been on the list to chat about for a while. I’ll probably write a much longer form article about this because it is a question that comes up all the time about what do I focus on first and why, and what are the implications of that? I would say if you’re an early-stage founder, again, it’s going to be much more about you’ll probably have a lot less dependencies in the business, meaning it’s possible to focus on bottom of the funnel and middle of the funnel synonymously, and it is not too painful to prioritize one versus the other. And then the larger that the businesses, you won’t have a lot more dependencies where you’ve got a lot more moving parts and a lot more implications and contingencies and things do have to move together in a certain way.

As always thank you so much for spending this time with me to learn more about how to reach your growth goals for your SAAS business, head on over to demand maven.io. You’ll find all kinds of free resources, articles, and content. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already and I’ll see you at the next one. Let me know what you think. I am always available on Twitter, @AsiaMatos. Thank you so much again and have an awesome day.