The brains of the PLG model: onboarding, activation, and sales with Andrew Capland

Andrew Capland is the founder of Delivering Value, where he provides coaching and advising services for PLG (that’s Product-Led Growth) companies.

Andrew Capland
October 13, 2022
The brains of the PLG model: onboarding, activation, and sales with Andrew Capland

Meet Andrew, Founder @ Delivering Value 👋

Andrew Capland is the founder of Delivering Value, where he provides coaching and advising services for PLG (that’s Product-Led Growth) companies. 

Andrew learned everything he knows about the PLS and PLG space from his background serving as Head of Growth at Postscript, Director of Growth at Wistia, Principal Inbound Marketing Consultant at HubSpot, and beyond. 

In this AMA recap, we’ll share with you some of our favorite discussions from our convo with Andrew, including: 

  • Andrew’s journey to becoming a PLG coach and advisor 
  • The “brains” of the PLG model: the new user onboarding experience 
  • Why PLG orgs still need sales teams 
  • The best North Star Metric for early-stage SaaS companies 
  • Andrew’s preferred in-app onboarding tooling

How Andrew fell in love with product-led growth 💘

When Andrew first joined Wistia as an acquisition marketer, the company had tens of thousands of customers — yet no sales team

As he shifted to focusing on growth on the ecommerce side of the company and Wistia started scaling a new sales team, the product-led growth category was created. And they realized that’s exactly where they fit. 

From there, Andrew learned everything he could about the art of balancing self-serve with one-on-one service and how to set up a product-led motion that fed flawlessly into the sales-assisted motion.

It was here he found his passion for PLG and, as head of growth, had a lot of fun dabbling in everything from acquisition to new user onboarding, converting free users to paid subscribers, pricing, and more. 

"The category was created and I started to learn about how to balance self-serve with full-serve and how self-serve could feed the one-to-one sales assistance motion. I just kinda fell in love with this model.” 

The story behind Delivering Value

As Andrew realized he really enjoyed helping individuals succeed in the PLG space, he started his own solopreneur business called Delivering Value. 

Just a side gig at first, Delivering Value grew to become Andrew’s full-time job in 2021.

He specializes in one-to-one coaching for people who lead growth teams. In addition, he also advises product-led SaaS companies. And, he’s also created a suite of digital products that serve both groups.

Diving into “the brains” of the PLG model 🧠

New user onboarding is something Andrew has seen a lot of, which is why he prioritizes helping growth leaders flesh out this experience. 

He sees many companies create the same onboarding experience for every new user, which he considers a waste when he thinks about all the data that can be gathered in the onboarding flow, such as:

  • Use cases 
  • Jobs to be done 
  • Product behavior (helpful for converting users from free ➡️paid) 

That’s why he thinks of the new user experience as “the brains” behind the PLG model. 

There are four main user segments Andrew has seen companies successfully cater to with custom-built onboarding experiences: 

The Conqueror 

These folks first and foremost want to sign in to a totally blank account, upload all of their own resources, do their own customizations, and basically claim their new account as their own from the very beginning.

The Needs-A-Hand

On the other side you have people who prefer to leverage templates or borrow other resources from your business. They don’t mind you giving them a hand to go zero to one faster. 

The Goal-Oriented 

One of Andrew’s favorite approaches is to focus on jobs to be done. So this flow starts with asking people what their goals are for signing up for your product. Based on their answers, the workflow should then help them achieve their specific goals.

The Opinionated 

Some people will actually want sales help from the beginning. A simple way to identify these folks is to ask up front if they want to engage with sales or if they prefer to go through the self-service motion. Then, you layer some of these other approaches into that self-serve option.

Want to be like the baddies of the PLG and PLS space? Andrew advises that all the biggest PLG companies use “different flavors” of the above approaches in their playbooks.

“From what I've learned, the new user experience is like the brains behind the product-led business. This is where you can learn so much about use cases and jobs to be done, and get all the product behavior you need to increase conversions to paid plans.”

How to build and manage multiple onboarding flows 

Andrew has seen companies scale from thousands to hundreds of thousands of sign ups by creating more, customized onboarding experiences. 

But how manageable is it for businesses without limitless resources? 

Turns out, it’s totally achievable when you think of it less as a one-to-one personalized conversation and more as several, customized one-to-many maps

Ultimately, all users want to end up at the same place — the point where they’ve realized value from your product. You’re just creating a few maps that outline the most popular paths to get them there, and collecting data along the way. 

Here’s how to get started building your own maps:  

1. Research

Before you’ve built anything else, use your sign-up form to ask an open-ended question: “Would you mind sharing your main goal for creating an account today?" 

2. Convert research Into goals

Pay attention to the nuances and the words users provide in the research stage. Use this information to narrow down the four or five most common goals people have for signing up for your product. 

Now, get rid of that open-ended question and instead allow new users to select from the above goals when signing up. 

3. Map and automate workflow for goals

Work backward from each goal to identify the points users will need to hit within your product to achieve it. That’s your map for that goal! 

Within your product, automate the workflows that take users through each map on their way to achieving value. If you can’t custom build the automation, there is onboarding automation software on the market (Appcues, etc.).

While there are other approaches to segmentation — demographics like industry, company, vertical, etc. are common — Andrew has found focusing on jobs to be done better both for scalability and number of conversions. 

PLG means no sales team, right? (Hint: wrong!)

“I think that there's this misconception in the PLG space that product-led means no sales. And that just isn't the case.” 

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Andrew. 

Building out customized onboarding flows does not replace sales. 

Then why have them? Because they help a lot of people. According to Andrew, across companies, around 85% of new signs up are serviced perfectly by product-led motions. That other 15%? Those are who sales is for. 

When does sales come in?

Andrew sees a few key points:

At sign up

Add value immediately by offering instructions, being available for questions, etc. 

After activation

At this point, users have realized value and are ready to make a decision based on the packages you offer. They may be considering whether to continue with your tool, to sign up to be a free user, or to pay for your tool. This is when sales can look at individual behavior inside the product to see whether or not it's worth engaging and trying to convert. That’s something automation and pre-planned workflows still can’t do. 

In addition to planned sales outreach at these points, Andrew recommends also making it super easy for folks to raise their hands and engage with sales everywhere in the process. 

Defining activation: Key NSM for early-stage SaaS

Andrew explains that he looks at the term “activation” as just another way to say a user has achieved value with your product. 

And he kicks it old school when figuring out whether activation, or value, has been achieved. 

Especially for the earlier businesses with which he tends to work, Andrew recommends some good ol’ qualitative research. 

Ask at least 20 users who recently became paid subscribers when they first felt like they got value from your offering. Eventually, you're going to notice a few common points that keep showing up.

Andrew says these points should become North Star Metrics that everyone in the company becomes obsessed with working toward, because activation is such a powerful lever. He typically sees accounts that activate buy at 4x to 5x compared to accounts that never activate.

Why you should keep tinkering with your pricing ⚙️

What’s an all-too-common mistake Andrew sees PLG companies making in the pricing and packaging department? 

Just picking a price when the company is young and never mixing it up as it grows. 

Andrew’s advice? Tinker. 

He sees a lot of companies live with their pricing, even when they don’t like it, because it feels too difficult and too scary to change. 

You don’t have to make any drastic moves. Andrew recommends continually experimenting with your pricing, just like you would with other really important elements of your business. Thinking about it this way can help shift the mindset around pricing. 

The added bonus with tinkering with pricing is that the feedback loop is nearly instant. You can see what’s working and what isn’t — and iterate — very quickly. 

Any other pricing hacks? You bet Andrew has a few more tips to share from his time advising all over the PLG space: 

  • Having 3 pricing options really seems to drive the most total new customers (the rumors are true!).

  • Clarify each pricing tier using just a sentence or two. Detailed comparisons have a place, but also creating a simpler description up front removes friction for folks who are in a hurry or having trouble pulling the trigger.

  • How you package the features that come with each tier really does make a difference. But you’ll never nail what really resonates with your consumers unless you keep collecting feedback and keep iterating. Remember, all those “We changed one word and unlocked a million in new revenue!” stories don’t show all the missteps, the manual effort, or the time it took. 

Ending on a tactical note: The best in-app onboarding tooling

Andrew has tested loads of methods for boosting engagement throughout the onboarding process. Over time, he’s come to find that checklists are the most effective type of tooling for getting new users all the way through the onboarding workflow.

Why? Well, not only can they remain accessible in a way some pages and pop-ups can’t, humans are just wired to want to complete checklists. 

If you’re going to use a checklist in your product, these are the features he recommends making sure it has: 

  • A very obvious list of what’s done, what’s left to be done, and what’s the best task to tackle next 
  • Each item on the checklist should link directly to the page where the user can get the task done 
  • Minimize easily to get out of the user’s way, but also expand easily when they want to go back to it
  • Accessible from wherever your new user is in their onboarding flow 
“Growth is two things. There are growth teams, which are typically focused on conversion. And there’s also a growth approach, which any team can take. This is the process of collecting data, experimenting, and using those experiments to fuel learnings and insights that help people make better decisions across the company.” 🔥

Don’t miss our next Unlocking Revenue AMA 🔮

Wow, Andrew shared a ton of valuable insight gathered from his time working in growth and coaching PLG businesses! 

Wish you could pick Andrew’s brain? 

Connect with PLS and PLG experts like Andrew and ask your own burning questions in our next virtual AMA call when you join Pocus’ PLS community

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Andrew Capland
Founder of Delivering Value
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