AdRoll's Growth Team's Secret Weapon to Drive Conversions

5 minute read

Retargeting ad tech pioneer, AdRoll, has reached the ‘Scale’ stage of growth.

Sean Ellis' Growth Pyramid

In a tech company’s ‘Scale’ stage—which according to Sean Ellis comes long after product-market fit and on the coattails of organic growth—they become focused on optimizing elements of their product to maximize their return.

The tricky part of growing at this stage is that it requires the implementation of new tools and processes. This can be a challenge for companies the size of AdRoll, who continues to expand beyond 500 employees. AdRoll, however, does a great job adopting new mechanisms for growth, and this effort can largely be attributed to one team, Growth, ran by Peter Clark.

Peter Clark — AdRoll's growth team lead

Peter was brought on after AdRoll acquired his company userfox in 2013. Since then, he has tapped both internal and external resources to build and support a growth team focused on implementing small-scale optimizations into the platform. These optimizations are aimed at improving user activation and engagement of AdRoll’s core and new product offerings.

The Structural Constraints of AdRoll’s Growth Team

Although product managers and product marketers work closely with engineers on growth teams at AdRoll, getting engineers involved with running experiments at a high frequency was a bit outside the scope of their work for a few reasons:

  1. The frequency of growth experiments don’t line up well with the frequency of development sprints; growth experiments required more rapid iteration.
  2. Engineers generally add greater value by improving features and products that are core to their user experience than they by implementing growth experiments that are often unsuccessful.

Peter knew he wanted to use a modal window pattern to experiment with communications to users, but he didn’t want to take up engineering resources to build them each time.

At this time Appcues was still in Alpha stage and had not yet gone public with it’s story. Unable to find the right software, Peter considered building a solution to implement scalable in-app tests.

When Peter found Appcues—fresh off its launch with—he was relieved: 

“We were pretty close to building a tool to create and launch modals into AdRoll ourselves! We hadn’t scoped much of the internal tool yet, but I remember starting down the rabbit hole of requirements and finding that the list grew intimidating really quickly. Hurdles like user targeting, permissioning and analytics made the build vs buy decision easy…At some point in scoping our modals out, our VP of Engineering, Patrick Mee, came to me and asked “are you sure this does not exist as a self service product?” I swore to him that I had searched everywhere and found nothing—and I had!—but I agreed to look one last time. And of course instantly found Appcues!
AdRoll Peter Clark Appcues sticker growth team
In the end, investing in Appcues was a drop in the bucket. At this point, it has probably saved us months of engineering time.

How AdRoll’s Growth Team Uses Appcues

The growth team at AdRoll loves Appcues’ modal window pattern. So much so that they’ve given 18 team members access to Appcues and have 33 modal windows—targeted to different user segments—live in their product to-date.

AdRoll uses Appcues for a variety of purposes. They use Appcues to get users to turn on new features such as their Instagram ads, to prompt new users to schedule time with an onboarding expert, to ask for and collect referrals from active users, and to announce new platform integrations such as MailChimp, Salesforce and HubSpot.

AdRoll new ad format feature adoption
AdRoll HubSpot integration
AdRoll beta onboarding program modal

AdRoll does all of this in 5 or more languages, and they roll out new content every week.

“With Appcues, our PMs (product managers) and PMMs (product marketing managers) are able create modals themselves. It doesn’t really even take engineering work, and it doesn’t really take creative work. Appcues is very “drag and drop.” It’s super simple and creating modals takes like 15 minutes rather than a few days.”
Appcues — creating a modal window in wysiwyg editor

A Close-Up: Improving Adoption of AdRoll’s MailChimp Integration

Before using Appcues, AdRoll’s MailChimp integration was sorely under adopted. The week over week growth rate was flat and the amount of customers using it hovered around 400, but no new people each week had turned it on and reaped the benefit of being able to re-target their MailChimp email subscribers with AdRoll retargeting ads.


To get more people to activate the integration, Peter’s team first isolated a list of users of both platforms using a tool called Datanyze, then pasted the list into Appcues, and—since they push their user data into Appcues for targeting purposes—set their content to be shown only to users of both platforms. 

MailChimp Activation targeting via Appcues

They then set the content to appear whenever a user on the list reached their dashboard:

AdRoll MailChimp integration announcement modal via Appcues

As Peter describes, “if you’re putting something in your app, you’re only getting your active people...You’re not sending it out as an email and getting unsubs and pissing people off. And that’s why we’re so keen about in-app messages.”

While AdRoll often chooses to lead with an in-app message, they’re easily able to follow up to inactive users who might miss out on their Appcues content. In the case of the MailChimp announcement, Peter’s team exported a list from Appcues of users that saw the modal, pasted it into their email service provider, and used it as an exclusion list to email users that hadn’t seen the modal after about a week.

AdRoll’s Success Driving Conversions with Appcues

The MailChimp integration announcement yielded a 60% adoption rate, with thousands of users converting after viewing the Appcues modal. This single modal empowered AdRoll users to activate the integration and broaden their target audience for ads and ultimately spend more money with AdRoll. Check out their hockey stick growth curve:


AdRoll has mimicked this success across dozens of other campaigns, such as creating conversion segments, launching Facebook retargeting campaigns, and of course, driving adoption for their dozens of other CRM Retargeting Integrations.

As Peter remarked, “on average, 20% of people that see our Appcues modals go on and complete the goal no matter the nature of it, which is an insanely high completion rate especially when it comes to forms.” Given its direct outcomes on their user behaviors, Peter and his team continue using and experimenting with Appcues for all kinds of growth initiatives.

Finding New Use Cases for Appcues Every Week

AdRoll continues experimenting and testing the limits of modal windows all the time. They are increasingly using modals for user surveys and even experiment with showing modals to internal employees for an entirely different purpose.

Internal communications on changes and updates to the support center are published in an Appcues modal to employees, rather than via another team-wide email.

Adroll support center updates modal internal announcement
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