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Product-Led Sales (PLS) Vendor Spotlight: Appcues

Interview with Ramli John, Head of Content at Appcues
Sandy Mangat
March 22, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) Vendor Spotlight: Appcues

As we at Pocus have worked to build the first-ever Product-Led Sales (PLS) platform — and the playbooks and communities that bring it to life — we’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with many vendors who are pivotal in this new category. 

In this series, we’re highlighting these vendors with a breakdown of what they do, which problems they’re on a mission to solve, and more. 

Looking for a way to connect with these vendors and other top thinkers in the PLS and product-led growth (PLG) space? Join the lively conversation in Pocus’ Slack-based community

Watch the spotlight interview below or keep reading ⬇️

Meet Ramli — Director of Content at Appcues 👋

Ramli John is an icon in the PLG world. 

Not only has he helped build the product led community to where it is today, he literally wrote the book on product-led onboarding. Currently, Ramli is a PLG advisor as well as the director of content at Appcues.

You can learn more about Ramli’s thoughts on product-led onboarding in this recap of the AMA session we had with him. But for now, let’s dive into our vendor spotlight on Appcues. 

What is Appcues?

According to Ramli, Appcues is a simple way to create product adoption patterns inside your app. 

“People are probably familiar with product tours, hotspots, tool tips, etc. — all helpful elements that should be included in building a good onboarding strategy,” Ramli says. 
“With Appcues, you can do all of that without knowing any code. Appcues is an easy, no-code tool that product, marketing, or even the customer success teams, can use to own the in-app experience, rather than having to bother the engineering team.”

What is the Core Problem Appcues Solves for Users?

Appcues solves several challenges for go-to-market (GTM) professionals. 

“The core problem that we’re addressing is the challenge that traditionally you have to know how to code to even create some kind of onboarding experience. Appcues provides a no-code experience for non-technical GTM teams,” Ramli says. 
“On top of that, creating onboarding experiences usually takes so much time. It can also take a lot of maintenance. For example, you might want to experiment and A/B test inside the product tour — like switching the messaging a little bit to describe the benefit in a different way, or something like that. All of that used to require the engineering team’s time and upkeep. So Appcues presents an easy way to measure and launch onboarding experiences without all of that.” 

Where Does Appcues Fit Into the Build vs. Buy Debate? 🥊

In the PLS community, a lot of businesses that are new to the PLG space discuss whether they should build or buy the tools they need to make their onboarding flows more frictionless. So we asked Ramli what advice he had for businesses facing this challenge. 

His answer boils down to two questions you have to ask yourself:

  1. What is the goal? To have more control or speed? Each answer requires a different approach. If you want more control, you’ll always have more control if you build it yourself. If you want something faster and less resource intensive, then buying a tool like Appcues would be best.
  2. How complex is the existing tech stack? If you have a relatively new or custom backend database or unique approach to manage your APIs and data, an off the shelf tool may not work perfectly with your product. 
“There are a few things to consider in terms of the question of whether to build yourself or use a tool like Appcues,” Ramli says.
“I think the first one is if you want more control of  how your onboarding experience shows up. You will always have more control if you build it out yourself. So if you want to do something really custom, you might want to consider building it from scratch.
“The second thing to consider is if you have a really complicated tech stack. So if you want to connect a complex backend and display a bunch of different data, that all requires elaborate connectivity. And our API is pretty robust — we connect with Segment — but if you have some unknown or custom backend or want you to see data flow all the way through your database, then you might want to consider building your own onboarding tools. 
“But of course you have to remember — everything has a trade off. The biggest trade off to building instead of buying is time and maintenance costs. Every time you release a new product feature and you want to do a walkthrough, that's another time you have to go to engineering. They have to spend time creating that experience and you have to spend time managing that resource. That's the trade off that you're making to gain control. You're giving up flexibility and speed of execution. If that's something you’re OK with, then building it out might be better. But if you're looking for something that's robust yet easy to build and doesn’t require any technical chops, then a tool like Appcues might be the best fit for you.” 

When Should PLG Organizations Start Considering a Tool Like Appcues? 

TL;DR? Onboarding should be one of the first things you should think about but don’t jump into buying tools until you have your user journey mapped out completely.

“In terms of when you should start thinking about onboarding, I would say start thinking as soon as possible,” Ramli advises.
“But when should you start thinking about onboarding tools? I'm a big fan of mapping out your user journey and figuring out who your users really are and what they really want when they’re  signing up for your product before you start thinking about tools.
“So if someone were to ask me ‘When should I bring on Appcues?’ I would actually have a few questions for them: Do you know who your users are? Do you know why they're signing up? What are the three main jobs to be done that they're coming on to your product for? And what is their number one goal once they sign up for your product?
“Once you know all of that and have figured out the features users need to achieve success, then start thinking about adding a tool like Appcues. For me the right time to start thinking about tools is when all the groundwork and foundational stuff has been ironed out.” 

Ramli’s Favorite Appcues Success Story 📈

Next, we talked about Ramli’s favorite customer story that highlights how important onboarding experiences are when it comes to activating and retaining users. 

“One of the amazing case studies that we have, and they’re still a customer, is ProfitWell,” Ramli begins. 
“ProfitWell provides analytics tools for SaaS companies to figure out how the company is doing in terms of retention. They were originally trying to build out onboarding themselves, and they were facing that same speed of execution challenge I mentioned earlier. Their main product manager was spending so much time with the engineers to figure out and design product tours and welcome messages. But when they brought on Appcues, within about two months, they were able to improve their activation rate by 20%.
“That's a big bump! There's data from ProfitWell themselves that if you improve first-week retention, that usually snowballs into higher retention years later. So, they understood that if they could get a user to come back after the first week, there was a huge chance of that user becoming a lifelong customer. They were able to do that with Appcues. They were able to provide this amazing first impression. That's a really great win that the Appcues team is really proud of.” 

Tell Us About Appcues’ Sales Motion 

Appcues being a PLG company itself, we thought it would be helpful to give our audience a peek inside how their sales motion works. As it turns out, a combination of content marketing, free trials, and assistance from a highly consultative sales team is what powers Appcues’ hybrid, PLS approach.

“I feel like one of the biggest misconceptions about product-led is that it only works for low annual contract value,” Ramli says.
“People think product-led is just for small and medium businesses. But recently, we closed a customer with a $100K annual contract value. For us, that’s an enterprise deal. And they started from a free trial. So I think that just proves that the free trial journey really can work for any type of deal — small, medium, or enterprise.
“That specific deal required a sales-assisted human touch. Once the lead installed Appcues into their app, our sales team reached out and took a consultative approach. They connected the lead with our support engineering team. They helped make sure that all the pieces were plugging into each other and that the lead was seeing value, all before they closed that contract. 
“That's how we take more of a sales-assisted approach for larger enterprise companies. Our sales team really, truly wants to help users. They help with setting up, with showing success, with proving the business case before making the sale. They actually push really hard against the old mantra that you always have to be closing. Instead they think of it as they always have to be consulting. They always have to be providing value.
“So that's been our approach. It’s more hybrid rather than pure product-led. We do have some customers come through our self-serve funnel and make a purchase. But lately the sales team has been ramping up in providing value. Interestingly enough, 90 to 95% of the leads sales interacts with come from free trials. That speaks to how important content and SEO are at the top of the funnel to get users to sign up for a free trial in the first place.” 

What do You See for the Future of Product-Led Growth and Product-Led Sales? 🔮 

Ramli sees the same part-product-led, part-sales-led strategy that Appcues’ sales team has taken growing more and more widespread in the coming years. 

Why wouldn’t it, when the returns are undeniable? And we’re not just saying that because we’re also a vendor in the space, but because we’ve talked to enough product-led pros, like Ramli, to know that it’s true in the majority of cases.

“There's data from First Point Ventures and other places that compares the traditional self-serve approach to a hybrid sales approach and has found that you’re going to get higher conversions with a hybrid, sales-assisted motion,” Ramli informs us.
“I think more and more people are going to be talking about Product-Led Sales in 2022. And they’re going to be looking for tools that connect product and sales to make a hybrid approach work in their own companies. This may sound like I'm plugging Pocus because you just put out that amazing Product-Led Sales resource, but I actually wrote this down as a prediction at ProductLed in December, 2021. I really do believe that there's movement here. There's capital that is moving toward this space.
“In addition, I think more people in product-led growth are looking beyond using self-serve to close deals and thinking about how they’re going to pursue expansion and retention. I think that's where we’ll see sales motions being adopted to really add value.” 

Keep Connecting with other Vendors in the PLS Community

If you enjoyed this vendor spotlight with Appcues and their director of content Ramli John — just know there’s more where that came from. 

To get exclusive invites and access to chats like these, request to join Pocus’ Slack-based PLS community. Looking to nominate a vendor to be featured in this spotlight series? Find Sandy on Slack. 

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Sandy Mangat
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