“Most startups don’t fail because they can’t build a product. Most startups fail because they can’t get traction.”
That’s a small but powerful statement made by Justin Mares, co-author of the book Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.
As an eCommerce business, you already have a well-thought out product, maybe even a few. But coming up with a quality product is only half the battle. The other half is getting traction—or in other words quantitative evidence of customer demand—to your product. Companies often struggle to find a traction channel that delivers success and spend time jumping from one strategy or tact to another. This not only wastes a ton of money and resources, it comes at a high cost of not finding and focusing on the strategies that actually drive growth for the business.
Before You Can Get Traction
Every company wants and needs growth. But before you can gain any kind of traction, you first have to do two things:
- Define what traction means to your business.
- Set a specific goal.
There are hundreds of resources on what to track for your business. From ROAS and CPA to high level metrics like traffic source and revenue, it can be hard to decide what to focus on. I would suggest you start by determining your critical number. There should be three to five metrics you can look at weekly to determine the overall health of your business.
For a massive retailer like Starbucks, one critical number they monitor daily is sales per store. This allows them to pinpoint where potential problems are happening in order to make the necessary adjustments to the stores that serve their customers. Some critical numbers can include margins on products, average order value, % or repeat transactions compared to total transactions and many more.
Once you’ve clearly outlined what traction means to your business, which in most eCommerce cases means your number of customers and products sold is growing, you need to set a specific and attainable goal to work toward. Like with any strategy, unless you have an end goal in mind, how will you know if your efforts and strategy are successful? How will you know what efforts to even take?
The 19 Traction Channels
Yes, there really are 19 different traction channels you can use. Here they are:
- Targeting blogs
- Unconventional PR
- Search engine marketing
- Social and display ads
- Offline ads
- Search engine optimization
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Viral marketing
- Engineering as marketing
- Business development
- Affiliate marketing
- Existing platforms
- Offline events
- Speaking engagements
- Community building
You’ll never use all these traction channels at a single time—you shouldn’t even try to. Your business should strive to focus on 2-3 traction channels at once and then run tests to see which one sticks and is the most effective solution for driving sales.
But through a specialized process, you can figure out which channels will get your business the most traction.
The Framework for Finding Your Traction Channel
To find your optimum traction channel, adopt the bullseye mindset. The bullseye metaphor means you’re looking for that one traction channel that’s going to unlock your next customer growth stage, i.e. trying to hit the bullseye.
How do you do this? You take your business through five steps.
Your objective here is to come up with at least one good strategy for each traction channel. Most people approach each channel with some type of bias that makes them think they don’t need to think of any ideas for a certain channel because it probably won’t work. This step is meant to help you nix those biases.
Before brainstorming, do some industry research. Find out what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for others in your industry. Find out how companies have gotten more customers and how companies wasted their marketing budgets. Look online and ask other eCommerce businesses you have a good working relationship with.
This step is where you organize your brainstorming efforts; where you do some critical thinking about each channel.
To do this, divide your traction channels into three groups by asking the following questions:
- Which channels seem the most promising right now?
- Which ones seem like they could possibly work?
- Which ones are long shots?
After dividing each channel into one of those three groups, look at only the ones you put into the most promising group. Out of that group, select your top two or three most promising channels. This is what’s referred to as your inner circle.
For the next step, you want more than one channel, but you don’t want too many. Too many channels will waste your time and efforts, and you’ll lack focus. Two or three is a good number.
Testing your two or three prioritized traction channels tells you which channel in your inner circle you should really focus on. But don’t go overboard with your testing. Stick to smaller-scale efforts, like running five Facebook ads rather than 50, and only spend a few hundred dollars per channel.
Base your cheap tests on the following questions:
- What’s it going to cost us to get new customers through this channel?
- How many customers are actually available through this channel?
- Are these customers the ones we want at this time?
Your goal isn’t to get a ton of traction during this phase. You’re just trying to see if these test channels will work for your company and focusing on how to optimize growth with each.
If you want to try content marketing, hire a content marketing agency. Have them create a blog post or two a week for you, promote those content pieces and then evaluate how those topics, content types and promotional efforts worked. With SEO, depending on the industry, it’s usually a four to eight month period before you see some good results. But in those first few months of testing, you should be able to see steady growth, like is shown in the graph below.
In most cases, testing involves mainly paid traction channels. And according to Neil Patel, when testing paid channels, you should increase your spend until you break even, but you never want to be more than 5-10% in the red. With organic channels, he says don’t plan on seeing a return on investment for at least six months.
5. Focus on What Works
Testing should give you one main traction channel to focus your efforts on. Once you have that channel, it’s time to get to work, doing everything you can to get all the traction you can out of that channel. This means you’ll have to continually experiment until you figure out how to optimize growth via that channel. Once you find out what works—do more of it.
One of the great things about this process is that it’s a repeatable process. So after you’ve selected a traction channel and when you’ve finally maxed out your efforts on that one channel, you can go back through steps one through four to find another promising channel.