Is your current sales approach simply not cutting it?
You're not alone.
It's getting harder to scale revenue in a world of increasing competition and uber-savvy consumers who will do anything to avoid cold calls and emails.
There's room today for another strategy that accelerates growth while tapping into changing consumer preferences — the product-led growth (PLG) motion.
This article is for sales execs, customer success managers, and other go-to-market (GTM) leaders who are ready to look at sales and their product from a fresh perspective and layer in an approach that has the potential to change the trajectory of their companies forever.
Keep reading to learn:
- What is a product-led growth (PLG) motion
- 9 steps to integrating PLG into your existing GTM strategy
- Benefits and challenges of going after PLG
- Where to get real-life PLG examples and advice from GTM experts
The ins and outs of the PLG motion
First up — what exactly is a product-led growth approach?
The product-led growth motion is ultimately a strategy in which companies leverage the product itself to acquire and keep customers.
Adding a PLG approach to your go-to-market motion is about building everything — from teams to business models to the product itself — around getting new users to find value with as little friction as possible. The goal is to help these users convert to paying customers early on, as they've already seen how your product solves key pain points.
A PLG motion differs from a sales-led approach, which is what we think of when we think of the "traditional" buying journey. In a sales-led world, users must interact with a salesperson before they see and touch the product, delaying their understanding of the product's value.
Layering in a PLG motion doesn't have to squeeze the sales-led motion out of your GTM strategy. It simply adds another channel or lever for scaling your business. It is especially impactful for SaaS businesses that are already laser-focused on product usability and often shoot for rapid growth.
🪄Looking for inspiration? To see PLG in action, read Product-led growth companies that crushed it in 2022.
Determining if a PLG strategy is right for you ✅
Before we go down this path, an important question to ask yourself is: Is my company to implement a PLG motion?
To help you answer it, here are some features that define the most successful PLG-focused companies:
Your product is self-serve compatible
Self-serve doesn't just mean users can sign up and use your product. It's certainly part of it, but if that were the case, then the 40-60% drop-off rate (on the second day!) at the average SaaS company wouldn't be the harsh reality.
Yet, more than 80% of consumers wish for more self-serve options!
Going product-led is a fantastic way to give consumers what they want — the ability to take a product for a value-adding spin without any friction, blockers, or unnecessary interruptions from sales support.
To know if your product is ready to be self-serve, it's helpful to think about the tools you use regularly, then ones where you just signed up, started using it right away, and at some point input your credit card info to get premium features (or because your trial was ending).
Products like Asana, Notion, Canva, Slack. What do they all have in common?
- Users can sign up without talking to sales.
- They have ready-to-use templates: think of Slack channel suggestions or Notion's template library — As Kyle Poyar from OpenView put it: the user isn't entering a completely blank slate.
- They offer clear and transparent pricing depending on usage, features, or seats (don't worry if you've got a whole different deal for Enterprise licensing, as long as you have a self-serve version as well).
- They've got onboarding down to a science. They know where users usually get stuck and have resources to help them on the path to value.
- Their value proposition is clear. They know what pain points they're solving, and they communicate it effectively across every channel, including inside their product.
It's intuitive for new users to get started
New users should be able to hop in and immediately utilize your product, clearly seeing its value without someone — a salesperson — needing to hold their hand and explain how it operates.
Think of your product as an SDR or AE, guiding users through embracing and incorporating your intuitive product into their life until it simply becomes embedded. There are a few things you can add to your product to make sure it's really self-serve:
In-app guidance: Have you noticed moments or features where most users get stuck? Create checklists and call-outs inside your product to help users find their way and get the most out of your features. Shout out to Superhuman — they knew that for users to unlock one of their biggest value props: saving time by using quick shortcuts, it would require consistency and user education. Superhuman customers get a little call-out each time they use their mouse or trackpad, signaling what shortcut they can use to perform the same action.
Onboarding flows: You can start simple, with one onboarding flow for everyone who self-serves but ask questions that will help you eventually segment your users. Then, you can create targeted onboarding depending on your segments' goals. For inspiration on onboarding segmentation, check out Appcues' Treasure Hunt Framework.
Help docs library: Since you're trying to reduce the amount of customer success and sales time spent on self-serve, having a robust library with product explainers, answers to FAQs and how-to guides is necessary, even for the most intuitive of tools. Hot tip: Ask marketing and customer success to collaborate to create technical content that is easy to understand.
Users can reach value before hitting a paywall
Usually, users convert once they've experienced tangible product value.
That's why offering value before they hit a barrier (like a paywall) is a powerful growth tool in a PLG motion.
Get started by testing different variations of your onboarding workflow so new users can smoothly try out your product before you prompt them for their credit card info.
There's a host of self-serve models you can try until you land on the one (or combination) that most positively impacts your new user revenue acquisition.
Self-serve sign-up models:
Freemium: With this model, users can sign up for free — and it will remain free forever, but it's gated in some way. Paywalls can be after a certain number of users, access to data, or premium features. It's a limited version of your product, but enough to prove value.
i.e., Slack! Check out this message they include at the bottom of their weekly analytics email:
Free trial: This time-boxed model gives users free access to your product for a limited time. You can offer free trials for any tier, from the most basic to the most expensive. Free trials are gated since users have to input their billing information during sign-up, even though they won't be billed during the time you've set for the free trial (14 days is pretty standard). Often free trials are opt-out, meaning users have to deactivate their accounts to prevent being billed. There's no free version they can keep using after the trial ends.
Reverse trial: This model is a combination of freemium and free trial. Users get started for free on the pro plan (the one with all the premium features!) and then get downgraded to a free version if they don't purchase after whatever time limit you set.
⚠️A word of caution with reverse trials: you have to be extra careful and transparent in your messaging. If users feel like they didn't know which features they'd be losing, this can generate negative feelings and churn from users who otherwise could have converted. If you choose a reverse trial, we suggest setting the limit on the longer side (30 days). This will give users enough time to explore all those premium features and not feel pressured about losing progress with a closely looming payment deadline.
Ungated trial: This one works like the free trial, but it's completely ungated — no credit card required. The catch? Since there's no free version to keep using after the trial ends and no billing info from the user; if you're not calling it out enough, users could lose access to their account when maybe they just forgot to update their billing.
i.e., Asana! They offer free and full access to their team plan for 30 days. Check out this call-out inside their dashboard, signaling how many free days are left and inviting users to input their billing info before the trial expires.
There is potential for viral expansion
Virality means your product can spread effortlessly within an organization.
By building virality into your product, you'll be in an excellent place to spur expansion within the companies that try it out.
One way to do this is to ensure users get more value when they add more colleagues to their team. If your user experience is self-serve compatible, easy to get started with, and hits many of the other points discussed in this section — there's a good chance for viral adoption.
How to adopt a PLG motion in 9 steps 🪜
Sound doable for your business?
Perfect. Then it's time to hit the high points of creating a PLG motion for your business.
It's important to remember that you're going to have to adjust all of our tips here to fit your unique situation and carve out a path to PLG success.
1. Encourage internal buy-in
As we'll talk about later when we cover some of the main challenges with going product-led, change can be difficult to enact across an entire company.
To set yourself up for success, it all starts with making sure stakeholders are on board.
The process for this is two-fold:
#1 Establish PLG objectives that are in line with your overarching business OKRs (that's, objectives and key results). The goal is to ensure decision-makers understand how your PLG efforts will also drive overall business OKRs.
#2 Highlight where a PLG approach can fill existing business gaps. Take, for example, that one feature that new users can never figure out — which regularly costs customer support time. Adding a product-led motion will ensure this feature gets smoothed out, reducing CS costs and possibly speeding up the sales cycle.
2. Define new roles and ownership
We've seen this scenario play out in business settings: If it's everyone's responsibility, it's no one's responsibility.
This makes it critical to define new teams and roles and how each will contribute to the development of the PLG motion. A successful PLG approach is a cross-functional effort, but everyone has a defined role with specific responsibilities and ownership.
For example, the product team can be responsible for the initial user acquisition and adoption before sales get involved.
Then sales, product, and marketing can work together to define PQLs: at what point will users go from just using the product to interacting with a salesperson? And that's the point where sales take full ownership, whether it's an AE, SDR, or Sales-Assist.
But all those decisions get tackled as a cross-functional team during the early planning stages.
3. Outline updated tools, metrics, and workflows
As well as new roles and team structure, you'll find yourself needing new tools, metrics, and workflows.
Take your time here thinking through and documenting these changes, as well as any training sessions and resources that might be necessary to get everyone on the same page. A PLG approach requires different tooling. A typical sales CRM won't give your GTM team the visibility they need into product usage.
🪄For guidance on what you need, check out this list of product-led growth tools to build a modern tech stack
A product-led approach comes with a culture shift towards value-driven sales. And that means tweaking (let's be honest, completely revamping) your workflows. To reach out to the right users at the right time, you need insights about their usage and who they are, a way to surface those insights within your sales teams workflow (i.e., alerts and updates), and finally, a way to make those insights actionable (i.e., determine the form of outreach based on data).
Solving this equation is not easy — especially when you are new to product-led growth and trying to do it manually. The universe of possible workflows and actions is vast and is often very specific to a company, product, and its goals.
🪄Get inspiration from these 3 types of Product-Led Sales workflows
When it comes to PLG metrics, be realistic and realize that ongoing iteration will be the name of the game. Scale in a PLG environment is steady, not flashy — so you probably won't charge out of the gate with a huge, immediate revenue boost.
To ensure everyone understands this and that your new strategy doesn't get shut down before it gains traction, create a roadmap that outlines key checkpoints and the success KPIs at each phase.
Not sure what to measure? The 2022 PLS Benchmark Report can help. Data from over 200 companies shows that PLG orgs are tracking product-qualified leads (PQLs) or accounts (PQAs) surfaced, how those leads were actioned, and whether there was a meaningful lift in revenue, conversions, or any other goal as a result.
Check out the full report for more info, from hiring and comp to revenue attribution and tactical insights on when to add human touch points — and more!
4. Map the full user journey
By now, most of us are familiar with the traditional sales funnel. A separate team handles each step of the user journey — marketing (and outbound sales) funnel leads, those leads get qualified into marketing or sales nurture, sales closes deals, then hands off to customer success, who manages onboarding, and so on.
In this step, you're diving deep into this flow to identify friction points by asking questions like:
- Where are new users getting stuck onboarding onto the product?
- Are stuck users able to get help?
- How do they prefer to ask for help?
- Is there a point at which users usually bounce and don't return?
- Are you always providing value as quickly as you'd like?
- Where are all touchpoints with human agents? Are they all necessary?
In a PLG approach, you will rethink this user journey to solve as many areas of friction as possible. It's probably not going to be as linear as the traditional funnel, and it will require teams to work together establishing constant feedback loops in a more cross-functional approach.
5. Align your ICP and end-user to your sales motion
When the person trying and eventually buying your product is the same person who's going to use it day in and day out, it's a whole lot easier to help them understand the value of your offering and convert them rapidly.
But even if your end-user isn't the buyer, you can still find success with PLG. You'll just have to run more sophisticated playbooks that rely on multithreading and expansion. One strategy could be creating thoughtful incentives through pricing and packaging — something buyers prioritize in the decision-making process, especially in the enterprise space.
🪄Get the playbook template Clockwise uses to spot and convert free users with enterprise potential
6. Confirm with data
Any assumptions you've made about friction points and other elements of product usage — be sure you're backing those up with data wherever possible.
A successful PLG motion really hinges on data. Data is what helps find unknown user pain points, address them, and monitor user behavior to ensure your fixes work. This process should be done on a loop as users, and tech trends change to keep your approach fresh and successful.
But how can you collect, analyze, and track all this data?
Using a Product-Led Sales platform like Pocus supports non-technical GTM teams in collating product usage and customer data to generate revenue like magic. 🔮
Between Magic Playbooks, integrations to your data sources, smart scoring, easy data modeling, and a no-code dashboard that RevOps can fully control — Pocus sets up GTM teams to eliminate friction and take fast action on the best opportunities.
7. Start experimenting
You've got the data and the new tools, and you know where you want to adjust the user journey to move toward a successful PLG motion.
Time to start building out some experiments that help you get closer to your desired outcomes!
For example, let's say you've determined that not enough folks are finishing new-user onboarding and are thus never reaching value within your product.
There are a few things you could experiment with here:
- Inject a sales or support person into the flow who's easy to reach via a hand-raise action — such as the user opening a live chat box from an onboarding screen.
- Implement buttons throughout the onboarding process that take the user to knowledge resources.
Test how users interact with these options and, based on that, choose which direction you should continue to invest in.
8. Build the roadmap and the team
With a list of experiments you want to deploy to create a functional PLG approach, it's time to lay them out using a roadmap. This roadmap should be accessible to decision-makers and anyone on the team who will enact it. A good place to start? Formulate and test your first PQL hypothesis.
Here's a template to get you started.
Check out this guide for detailed information on how to set up and action PQLs.
Speaking of the team, making this roadmap work will require the right one.
If you don't have enough people for all the roles that will make your new PLG motion tick, it's time to do some resourcing.
While you can teach core members of your current team, you might also find it helpful to bring in fresh hires with experience in the PLG space.
But what attributes should you be looking for in these hires? We discussed just that in our Product-Led Sales AMA discussion with Pete Prowitt.
9. Always be iterating
Users change, technologies change, everything changes in business — especially for cutting-edge product-led companies like SaaS providers.
To succeed as a PLG company, you have to be prepared to keep up with these changes. That means keeping a close eye on product and user data, so you can shift your approach to stay on top of the trends.
When you're proactive with the customer experience, you won't just see more success with new user acquisition; you should also enjoy increased retention among existing customers who appreciate the new value additions.
How a product-led motion can help you scale
Now, let's discuss a few critical ways in which a PLG motion can help you when it comes to accelerating growth.
Cut costs on customer acquisition
Gaining new customers in a traditional, sales-led approach absolutely requires the involvement of sales folks.
That means your ability to scale in customer growth is directly related to the size and skill of your sales team. And that means money.
With a PLG approach where your product itself helps close sales, you can work with a smaller sales team — ultimately cutting down customer-acquisition cost (CAC).
In addition, a product can work around the clock for you, a sales team cannot.
Altogether, with a PLG approach, you should be able to close more deals with less sales involvement — saving cash that can be invested elsewhere. But less sales involvement doesn't mean no sales. It's a myth that PLG companies don't do sales. Most of them combine a Product-Led Sales motion on top of more traditional outbound motions. The savings come from better spotting where to allocate your sales resources with leads that have already gotten value from your product.
Reach a wider audience
When you knock down the paywall requirements, you may open up your product to new markets you didn't even realize existed.
By layering in a PLG motion, you can continue to apply your sales team to those upmarket enterprise opportunities while also reaching downmarket startups and SMBs who want to put your product through the wringer — at their own pace — before signing up.
Suss out product improvements
Of course, in a PLG motion, product performance is everything.
When you rely on your product to do the talkin' for you, it better be saying exactly what you need new users to hear in order to convert.
And if conversions aren't where you expected? That's why sales folks or sales-assist professionals are still critical to consult with users, collect feedback, and pass that info to the product team for continuous improvement.
On top of this, you can use a Product-Led Sales platform, as we discussed above, that assists GTM teams in turning product usage and customer data into business revenue.
🪄Learn more about the sales-assist role in our Product-Led Sales AMA with Kim Walsh.
Challenges of tackling a new PLG motion 🧰
As with any new business direction, there are also downsides of which to be aware if you're going to pursue a PLG motion.
Company-wide change takes work
Whatever motion or change you're adopting, it's important to realize that it will take significant effort to roll it out throughout your business.
Marketing tactics and messaging, product workflows, engagement points for sales reps, and even financial forecasting will all likely need to shift when you start focusing on a PLG motion.
Your tech stack will need to be refreshed
That company-wide change we mentioned doesn't just impact processes and people — it's also very likely to require you to update the technology you've been using.
After all, you'll be asking technology built in another era for another approach to suddenly work in a new environment. Between new workflows, new team structures, new data inputs, new reporting requirements, and beyond — you may find yourself shopping for new pieces to plug into your tech stack.
🪄Not sure where to start with this tech refresh? Check out Product-led growth tools: The modern tech stack for PLG companies.
May Require Extra Steps for High-ACV Companies
It's not uncommon to believe that businesses targeting high annual contract value (ACV) aren't a good fit for a product-led growth motion. Typically, companies at a higher price point tend to hand-hold customers throughout the sales journey.
However, we've seen the opposite be true, as long as these businesses work to overcome friction and introduce value as early as possible in the buying process.
One way to reduce friction and show value quickly is by creating highly-interactive product tours like Navattic and Reprise do.
Another way to attract users to an expensive product is to create a sister solution that offers value that ties in with your primary product offering. This is often referred to as a "sidecar app" and should be either free or affordable — drawing your target audience into the top of the funnel for your core product.
HubSpot is a great example. It offers plenty of free capabilities that pull users into its universe, where they become more aware of its more powerful paid offerings.
Where to Get Even More Advice on the PLG Approach 💭
We hope the strategies, upsides, and challenges we've covered today help get you started on your new PLG motion.
For more specific advice, download The Product-Led Sales Playbook, Volume 1, to learn about best practices and get real-life examples from actual GTM pros at PLG legends like Slack, Airtable, Atlassian, Dropbox, and beyond.