How to set up a Product-Led Growth Strategy

Introduction

Let me start by telling you a story about product-led growth. If you like good stories, then you are absolutely going to love this one. This story aims towards compelling you in building a robust product led growth marketing strategy. Without further do, let’s delve into the story.

2011 saw the start of a company in an overly crowded industry. The company was going to be competing against already-established ‘big boys’ in the industry. I’m referring to companies like Cisco, Adobe, Microsoft, Polycom. You see, the big boys. It seems almost impossible for any new company to stand a chance against these giants – at least that’s what many people thought. Fast forward two years later, in 2013, three million people used the service. One year later, that number rose to thirty million. In 2015, just four years after the start of the service, the number of users was a staggering hundred million. This unprecedented success culminated in the IPO of the company in 2019, with a market cap of almost 16 billion dollars.

This is a story about Zoom. Well, as far as stories go, you have to admit this is a pretty good one. What am I driving at, though? The success of Zoom can be attributed to a perfectly executed product-led growth strategy.

This article is going to walk you through how you can create a beautiful story for yourself; this article is going to walk you through a product led growth marketing strategy. Here’s everything you need to know.

Product led growth strategy

Before we dive right in, let’s briefly examine what a growth strategy is.

A growth strategy is one that is aimed at winning a larger market share than a company already has, even at the expense of short-term earnings. Consider it as a method that allows a company to expand its business. That’s an overly simplified definition, but you get the point.

With that said, product-led growth (PLG) is a go-to-market strategy that relies on the product itself as the primary driver of user acquisition, conversion, and expansion. It is the value of the company’s product, more than anything else, that enables the company to attain rapid growth.

The whole concept of PLG may seem unfamiliar, but trust me, it isn’t. If it doesn’t ring a bell? Think of freemium, free-trial, try-before-you-buy. How about now?

PLG is simply giving users a taste of the product before asking them to make a purchase. PLG changes, or should I say revamps, the customer acquisition model. This is the reason why it is critical to building a robust product led growth platform.

The acquisition model you are used to probably looks something like this: The marketing team of a company attracts attention to a product through paid ads on platforms like Facebook and Google. They usually do this by creating content that will catch the eye of potential customers.

Upon showing interest in the product by a prospect, the marketing team reviews the prospect, and if the results are promising, tags that prospect as a lead. Or, more specifically, a Market Qualified Lead (MQL).

The MQL is then passed to the sales team, and they try to win the prospect over. If they do this successfully, the prospect is converted into a customer. The next team that comes into play is the customer success team. This team is concerned with helping the customer get the full hang of the product. They help the customer learn how to use and maximize the product. Some other companies have design and engineering teams too.

After going through all these, the company can then hope the customer becomes an advocate. This model relies heavily on the sales team to make every sale, and this is quite disadvantageous. This go-to-market strategy is sales-led.

In product led growth marketing, the model, on the other hand, requires the product to lead the initial customer experience. Product-led businesses lead with the product at every level. The marketing team is concerned with how to use the product as the primary way to attract leads. Your sales team develops means to utilize the product to qualify potential customers, ensuring that the leads that are pursued are those that already understand the value of the company. The customer success team finds ways to create a product that users can use easily without relying on their help. As you can see, the product leads all departments to provide the best possible experience for the customer.

Source: Productled.org

PLG widens your marketing funnel, meaning your product will be exposed to a high number of potential customers early on. If you play your cards right, you can convert many of them into paying customers.

The freemium and free-trial models are perhaps the most recognizable forms of PLG. With PLG, you need to understand that you are selling to users and not just any buyers. PLG reaches the end-user directly, more reason why you have to make sure your product can deliver value. We’ll get to that later.

Free trials are simpler than freemiums. They may come as the user using the product for a limited time, typically two weeks or a month, or as the user using the product up till a certain point. Freemiums, on the other hand, grants users the opportunity to use the products for as long as they wish but not to the fullest capacity. The restrictions may be on the features, the extent to which it can be used, or on support documents or customer service. Some companies may have more than one or even all three.
Now that you are well acquainted with how to build a robust product led growth marketing strategy, let’s dive into the reasons to switch to a product led growth strategy

Why switch to a product led growth strategy?

  1. Buyers prefer it
    Why else do you have a business if not to satisfy your buyers? And if buyers prefer this model, it only makes sense to stick with it. Forrester claims that three out of four B2B buyers will rather self-educate than talk to sale reps when learning about products. And that’s not surprising.

    Assume you are trying to subscribe to a software product you know little about, and there are two options. First: you see and use the product and then decide on whether or not to buy the product. Second: you wait to be qualified by a marketing team, sent to a sales rep, and then a business development rep who gives you a lengthy explanation on why the product is best for you. Which would you prefer?

    I know which I prefer, and it’s definitely not the latter. Most people prefer seeing and actually using a product before deciding on making a purchase, rather than going through that lengthy sales process and then spending hours speaking to representatives. Trying out the product through a free-trial seems like the smarter option for most people.
  2. The cost of getting customers is increasing
    This is one of the most significant reasons to set up a Product Led Growth Strategy. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is getting more expensive by the day. Building SaaS companies now is cheap, meaning many people can easily start one up. This has caused competition to rise. Think about it. There are many companies out there for a limited number of customers; of course, the cost to acquire a customer by a company will increase.

    I am not surprised by the CAC increasing. Not at all. What I am surprised about is by how much it is increasing. The cost per mile (1000 people) has increased by 171%, 20%, and 44% on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, respectively.
    There’s more. ProfitWell states that CACs increased by more than 55 percent over five years. Within that time, the willingness to pay by customers has also reduced by 30 percent. The implication of this is that the cost to get customers is increasing, and the willingness of customers to pay is decreasing. You can beat this by switching to PLG.
  3. It is proven
    I cannot possibly overestimate how important this is. It is one thing to have a strategy that looks good on paper, and in theory, it is an entirely different thing for it to actually work in real life. The good news with PLG is that it works. Businesses with PLG as their go-to-market strategy are more than two times more valuable than businesses that don’t. According to a study by Openview, companies that use PLG performed better than companies that do not in almost every category. Revenue growth, gross margin, a revenue multiple, rule of 40, you name it.
    Now you know why is there a need to switch to a product-led growth strategy. It is time to learn about the steps to implementing a product led growth marketing strategy. Read further to know more.

Steps to implementing a product-led growth strategy

I’d be lying if I said implementing PLG is easy. It may take months and even years to switch completely to a product-led growth strategy. You also need to make sure that you are doing it right. Not every product-led company survives, but by taking the right steps, you are putting yourself in a prime position to survive. You still want that beautiful story, don’t you? Good, the following will guide you in developing a great PLG strategy.

  • Ask yourself what your customer needs
    This is the very first thing to do. If you are going to make sales, your product needs to be what customers are looking for. And the way to do this is by predicting the needs of the customer. The more you know about what your customer wants, the better you can satisfy them. Companies that miss it at this stage usually have a problem pinpointing why people are buying their products, or why they are not. They don’t know what the customer wants, so it makes delivering value an arduous task.

    It would be best if you started by providing answers to the following:
    • who your potential customers are,
    • what they are interested in, and
    • what they need.
  • Deliver value before the paywall
    In many cases, this determines whether or not a customer makes a purchase. You shouldn’t drag on too long before delivering value. In fact, you shouldn’t drag on at all. Deliver value immediately.
    After you know what your customer is looking for, you want to show them that you can deliver on that before they lose interest, which is usually around the point where they have to pay.
    Speaking of delivering value, you also need to make sure the value you deliver is what you promised the user. There is what is known as the perceived value and the experienced value.
    Perceived value is basically what you said you could offer when marketing your product, while the experienced value is the actual value that you deliver in the product. Under ideal circumstances, the perceived and experienced value should be the same. This means you have delivered what you promised. This point is where many businesses get it wrong. What they deliver is far below what they promised, and then it signals the start of problems for their product sales. This is why many people prefer to try the product out before making a purchase.

    There is another term you should know about – the value gap. You probably have an idea of what it means from the name. It is simply the gap between the perceived and experienced value. If what you deliver is below what you promised, then the gap will be wide. And this corresponds to fewer sales because most people will not buy a product that underdelivers on its promises. I wouldn’t too.

    The summary of all this is that you make sure what you deliver is what you promised, or brutally close to what you promised in a worst-case scenario and that this value is delivered to the user before they reach the paywall.
  • Minimize frictions
    This is one of the most significant steps in implementing a robust product led growth marketing strategy. Think of frictions as the little – or not-so-little things – that may discourage users from making a purchase. If friction is present, product usage will be limited. Many times, when users get discouraged, it is not because your product cannot deliver the promised value; it may simply be because it is too difficult to get to that value. Customers don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out how to get what they need from your product.

    Some common ways friction manifests in a product are:
    • A complicated sign-up process
    • No training to acclimatize new users with the working of the product
    • Demanding too much from the users in a short period
    • Redundant or useless features
    • Ambiguity in pricing
    • Tight restrictions on collaborative features

I could go on and on. The point is anything that makes usage of the product particularly difficult can be regarded as friction. You want to make sure you eliminate all of these as much as you can. Getting them all out may be difficult, but make sure you try your best to if you want your product to grow.

  • Communicate perceived value to the user
    Unlike the sales-led model, you need to communicate your full value to the user, and I’m talking about the financial aspect. A common sight with the sales-led model is companies keeping their pricing information as hidden away as possible. They want potential customers to come to them for the price, it’s all a way of ‘hooking’ the customers, but this will not cut it with the PLG strategy.

    Ambiguity in pricing can serve as a form of friction to the usage of the product and drive customers away. Communicate your perceived value to customers in plain terms. Tell them the price up-front. Remember, your product leads the way here; if your product is great, you have little to worry about.
  • Hire a sales team last
    This model is not replacing a sales team. Never forget that. The responsibility of a sales team is a bit different from sales-led businesses, though. In this model, instead of the sales team focusing majorly on loading the user with information before-hand, it is more concerned with catering to the individual needs of the customer after trying out the product. The goal is not for the customer to try the freemium and then leave; the ultimate goal is to make sales.

A good sales team will have enough knowledge about the product to educate the customer. They are experts on the product. The sales team collects essential information from the users on the good and bad of the product, and then use this information to promote customer experience by offering important advice.

So, like the sales-led model, you still need a sales team. But unlike the sales-led model, you can hire the sales team last, rather than first, to provide support for users.

Examples of companies implementing a product-led growth strategy

PLG has worked excellently for many companies. I already mentioned Zoom, but there are others.

  • Shopify
  • Dropbox
  • Slack
  • Twilio
  • Atlassian
  • HubSpot
  • Wix
  • Pinterest
  • Typeform

Conclusion

We hope that our story was compelling enough for you to invest in building an effective product led growth marketing strategy. PLG companies, on average, perform better than other companies. It is not just the future; it is also the present. You do not want to be left behind. But you should be aware that PLG isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You need to tread carefully and make sure you don’t make any rash decisions. If you are still reading, then you must want that beautiful story so bad. Well, good luck.

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