Hootsuite.  Slack. Toggl. Dropbox. All of these Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions have one thing common.  They are all examples of consumer-grade solutions. B2B solutions designed to be intuitive, create a user-friendly experience, require no human interaction to implement and use, and immediately deliver value.  They illustrate what is known as a product-led growth strategy (PLG). 

A product-led growth strategy is a result of a shift in the expectations and requirements of B2B users.  Today’s users demand software that is powerful, easy to use, and affordable.  The trend toward a product-led strategy has been underway since Forrester’s 2015 report which found that “B2B buyers now favor do-it-yourself online options for researching and buying products and services.” In the past few years, this has expanded beyond research and buying, to do-it yourself implementation and usage. This shift has forced software solution companies to rethink their processes, from design to marketing to sales to customer support.   

2 Key Elements of a Product Led Growth Strategy

Value is the battleground for a PLG strategy to succeed.   You must achieve the high ground for two key elements in a product-led growth strategy. 

First, focus on giving customers access to your product at any time, so they can experience it and the value of the product for themselves on their own schedule. This has significant implications to design and development.  

Yes, I Want My Growth Idea

Second, a customer needs to understand the value of a product upfront and quickly receive value from using it. This impacts how you position, market, and sell the solution.  

Without these two elements, your SaaS solution will face an uphill battle for market traction and adoption.   

Now, let’s talk about the benefits and challenges of a product-led growth strategy.  And explore how you create one and 7 ways to measure the success. 

2 Primary Benefits of the Product-Led Growth Strategy

There are two very important benefits associated with the PLG strategy. 

First, a successful product-led growth strategy means that the customer can quickly ascertain the value and immediately go to trial.  No sales or human interaction required.  This means there are very few visible steps in the “buying” process. From website to demo to trial or straight from website to trial. You don’t need dozens of people to demo the product, qualify the prospect and then close the deal. Steps that provide visibility into the buying journey.  The benefit, however, is faster time to acquisition.   

Second, because the buying process entails “just a few” clicks, customers onboard themselves.  With fewer people on your team involved in the acquisition process, the cost to acquire customers is less. Rather than investing in salespeople, onboarding and customer service become the primary areas where your organization needs to invest. 

It’s All about Always On, Instant Gratification and Value

This is a demand-driven strategy. Successful implementation of PLG requires that you mobilize your team to create a product that customers instantly understand and instantly experience value. That’s the operative word. Instantly.  With this strategy you shift your focus on how the product itself, it, and it alone, attracts more customers, that is, end users.  

Yes, you will need to have great features and benefits. But you will need more than that. You will need to deliver on outcomes and experience.  

In a product-led growth strategy, the product is accountable for acquiring, retaining, and growing new and existing customers. This strategy counts on the product — its features, performance, and virality—to do the “heavy lifting.”  To achieve adoption, the product must produce outcomes that are of immediate value to the user. This means you must know with certainty from the moment of product conception 

  • What core tasks the customers need to complete 
  • How they want to feel (or avoid feeling) while executing the task and 
  • How they want others to perceive them as a result of using your product 

Second, stellar product experience is the only avenue to success. The lines between user experience and customer experience are blurred in this strategy.  The user experience team must think beyond the user interface. They must work side-by-side with the customer experience team to integrate the product with all of the digital and physical touchpoints that affect the customer experience.  

Is a Product-Led Growth Strategy the Right Fit for You?

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While there are many benefits for SaaS companies to employ a PLG strategy, it’s not for every software company.  Here are 4 instances where this strategy is not a good fit and where you will find yourself engaged in an uphill battle. 

 

  1. If your focus is annual contract with high dollar values and high lifetime value customers. Enterprise Resource Management software falls into this category.   
  2. You have a complex solution that requires both a high-touch sales model and implementation services, such as a large technology-led transformation initiative.  
  3. You have a targeted market that is relatively small, and business is built on the quality of sales relationships. An example might be software for specific life science applications.  
  4. You are creating a new category.  New categories require education.  Typically, you are educating people how to do things differently. You and your team need to learn and understand the customer’s pain points, objections, primary reasons/drivers for your solution.  This often requires engaging in conversations with prospective customers.  

All four of these scenarios require human interaction. If human interaction is a vital component of the any key process, reconsider implementing a product-led growth strategy. 

How to Make Sure Your Product Doesn’t Face an Uphill Battle

Every battle-tested strategist will tell you that the best way to fight an uphill battle is not to do so.  Unless the hill is the mission, these veterans will recommend that you avoid contact, go around the enemy’s position, pull back and call-in air support, or if you proceed revise your plan of attack to disguise your approach.  

Here are 5 customer-centric things to keep in mind should you want to embrace this strategy without ending up facing an uphill battle. 

  • Create an aha! moment. Make it clear (instantly) that you understand the users’ problem and can offer them a clear pathto solving it. Keep in mind, prospective users are probably evaluating several options.  Be sure they can gauge the tradeoffs between your solution and those of your competitors.  
  • It’s all about activation. In this approach, it’s essential that customers receive and experience something of value for free. As a result, most companies deploying a product-led growth strategy offer a free trial or freemium models. This approach provides users the ability to “try before they buy,” which improves activation rates.  In-product support, opt-in walkthroughs, or a user-friendly self-service help center need to baked in from the start.  
  • Can’t live without it. You need to know your customers’ workflows. The best way to secure usage and renewal is for your customers to incorporate your product into their daily tasks. Once your customers are successfully completing key tasks with minimal friction and exploring your product’s range of functionality, you are moving into the realm of adoption. Product adoption means customers come to depend on your solution. As a result, they want to take advantage of all the product has to offer. 
  • Make them want more. To drive revenue however, customers must want to upgrade to a paid version to access or unlock other features that may be of even more value.  Make sure the “more” is perceived as “more” by the customer. And since this strategy is based on zero human interaction; your pricing plans must be transparent and match the value of the product. Confusing revenue models create friction and will discourage sign ups.  
  • Turn adopters into advocates. Word of mouth is essential to the success of a PLG strategy.  You want users to become advocates, champions for your product and want to want to actively participate in creating the future of product. Create ways for users to bring more users who bring more users who bring more users…  

As you can, success depends on both a customer-centric and product-led growth strategy mind-set as a core component of the company culture.  

Lastly, since results and measurement are always top of mind for me, I want to share 7 key measures that are tied to this strategy:  

Product-led growth is all about adoption, activation, renewal, and expansion.  So, these are the first four measures: activation rate, adoption rate, renewal rate, and upgrade/expansion rate. Current users are essential to acquiring new users, therefore it is imperative to measure referral rates. The last two are a result of effectively implementing the strategy, category growth rate and customer lifetime value.   

A brief podcast cannot possibly cover everything you need to know to implement a product-led growth strategy.  It’s worthy of a book.  In fact, there is a book. In his book, Product-Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself, Wes Bush, admits that implementing a successful product-led Go-to-Market strategy is not as simple as giving people the option to try your product before they buy. He emphasizes that “your entire approach as an organization needs to shift.”  We concur.   

Should you be exploring this option, here is one question for each major function within your organization to answer.   

  1. Product Development: “How can we create a product with a quick time-to-value?” 
  2. Marketing: “How can we use our product as the #1 lead magnet?” 
  3. Sales: “How can we use the product to qualify our prospects for us?”  
  4. Customer Success: “How can we create a product that helps customers become successful without our help?”  

Need help walking through the answers?  Let’s talk 

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