Crafting the Perfect Product-Led User Journey

What to consider before you decide to transition to a PLG motion.

Jenn Steele
Jenn Steele
CEO, Kissmetrics
Playbook Overview

As a marketer, I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with some pretty incredible high-growth companies like HubSpot, Amazon, Bizible (now Marketo/Adobe), Madison Logic, and of course, Reprise.

Admittedly, I’m a little biased but Reprise is especially near and dear to my product-led marketing heart.When I first launched my career, the organizations I worked with relied heavily on sales and marketing to craft benefit-oriented narratives that would capture the interest of prospects. We were data-driven and all that jazz, so outreach was (mostly) highly targeted and on-point. But we created our collateral, pitches, and sales decks for organizational roles that were often five steps removed from their actual end-users. So it has been incredibly exciting for me to see end-users progress from secondary players to the decision-makers and key influencers they are today.

The Era of The End-User

End-users began playing a larger decision-making role once software companies started using freemium business models, free, limited versions of their product with an upgrade path. This product-led motion gained traction as companies like Slack and Skype found success with it.

Today, it’s an end user’s world and we’re just living in it.The precedent to try before you buy has been irreversibly set by the market. Of course, sales and marketing still tout product benefits, but a product-led business model has made those benefits exponentially more demonstrable. If your company hasn’t committed to becoming product-led but wants to, or if you have but suspect there’s more you can do, this article is for you. Below, I’ve shared what I’ve learned about Product-Led Growth (PLG), how it differs from a traditional sales model, and why adopting a product-led approach requires an all-in mentality.

First of All, You Can Use Your Product to Sell Your Product

When setting out to craft a product-led user journey, the first thing I want you to do is to overcome the misconception that your user journey can’t be product-led. If you have a product, you can use your product to sell your product. Full stop. Today’s product-led tool box has expanded tremendously in recent years, and now includes (much) more than just freemium models. This means that companies with complex software offerings or companies that don’t have the engineering resources to build out a free trial or freemium offer can now be product-led.

Still not convinced that product-led is the way forward? Let me paint a picture for you.

Think of your product as if it’s a car.

Technically, you could go online and purchase a car sight-unseen. But realistically, it’s a large enough expense that you want to see it, touch it, and take it for a test drive before committing to the purchase. Imagine if the dealership you went to didn’t let you interact with the car before purchasing it, and just described its features to you instead. You’d probably walk away.

So why do we as companies treat our software products this way? Why ask potential customers to take our word for it, rather than allow them to see for themselves? Why promise them it’s all shiny and wonderful but refuse to let them see that for themselves upfront?

Experiencing the car is what helps sell the car. Just like experiencing software is what helps sell software. Creating that experience is the goal of a product-led user journey. Now, let’s dive into building that journey.

Achieving Product-LedGrowth (PLG) Requires Organizational Change

When organizations commit to becoming product-led, their first challenge will be to recognize that it requires some change management.

When you let your product sell itself, you move the point at which users experience the product to a vastly different place in the funnel — much closer to the top than ever before. This model is a massive change for sales and marketing teams that pitch first, and share later. An approach that doesn’t align with a PLG model.

Adopting PLG also requires a reevaluation of internal processes. For example, the criteria your company uses to determine what a qualified lead looks like will likely change once you’re product-led.

Sales engagement is delayed so that end-users have time to get to know your product. This creates better qualified buyers, and once they book a meeting, a salesperson can use the first call to discover more about the prospect’s identified needs instead of general pain points. Prepare your team for these changes with plenty of communication, new playbooks, and training around their updated position in the self-serve journey.

Overcome Concerns: Marketing

A common concern that I see with marketers who are new to PLG is the fear that competitors will steal their product secrets once they open the doors to their product.

To squash those fears, your team has to realize that your biggest competitors have already seen your product. They’ve already secret shopped you — or they’ve hired somebody who has used your product before.

Marketers should think of their product as if it’s a piece of content—it’s something that you want people to see, so marketing can nurture based on it and generate leads. In fact, an open product door is better than a piece of content because it’s not static. A product can provide usage data and user feedback in a way that a whitepaper cannot.

Overcome Concerns: Sales

When introducing PLG to your sales team, be aware that they may be laboring under the misconception that their role will diminish in value. Because this is the furthest thing from the truth, it’s an easy objection to overcome.

There’s a reason PLG organizations enjoy shorter sales cycles. Buyers who interact with your product and discover its advantages for themselves are more receptive to the sales messaging that follows. Especially, if that message is shaped with product usage insights acquired from prospects who've already experienced your product.

Sales Guides, Departments Overlap

When you take a product-led approach to the user journey, sales isn’t only getting involved when it comes time to capture revenue. Now, they’re also helping deepen engagement with the product. They’re adapting customer success traits in a way to help users understand the value.

This is why I love to use “guides” when referring to sales reps. They’re guiding users on their journey, helping them use the product, and answering questions. They’re almost like customer support people who are getting comped on cross-sell or upsell.

On a larger scale, sales, marketing, product, and customer support have broken out of their siloes. They’re layered now. The user journey is no longer a series of gates where they toss functional responsibility over the fence at each gate. Now they’re all working together at the same time, in waves.

Sales is present in the beginning and middle of the user journey, product’s and customer success’ roles bloom as the journey goes on, and marketing’s involvement will swell and shrink depending on your unique marketing approach.

Additional PLG Considerations

Creating Product-Led Personas

A PLG motion is different from traditional AccountBased Marketing (ABM) where sales engagement began with upper-level and C-suite executives. With a product-led approach, sales reps are more likely to make first contact with end-users. Because of this, the buyer personas that your sales team previously relied on to guide sales outreach may no longer be relevant.

For example, let’s look at how a sales entry point persona for a PLG organization might look different from one in a traditional ABM environment.

Your product-led sales team needs to make first contact armed with updated buyer personas. Imagine how helpful it would be for a sales representative to be aware of the fact that they’re going to encounter potential product champions at a larger rate than ever before.

At Reprise, one of the ways our salespeople nurture product champion relationships is by sharing a robust, guided tour with prospects, giving them a resource they can share internally — one that is so much better than a one-pager. As a leader, I can say from experience that I’m much more likely to click through a guided tour than read a one-pager.

Set Aside Plenty of Time to Align with the Product Team

When changing the way your company approaches feature and product launches, you’re in for a transition that will take more time and more operational lift than many people expect. Product teams build for people who have already consumed marketing — not for people who are diving in and uncovering the value for themselves. Your sales, marketing, and customer success teams will need to establish a strong feedback loop with the product.

GTM will need to collaborate with the product team on a few areas:

  • Where to add more in-product guidance
  • How to make sure the free version of your product is not just a limited full version
  • What painful or complex points should be removed or simplified during onboarding to facilitate a self-guided workflow

Product isn’t magically going to start thinking about these things when you move to a product-led approach, so this is another area where you’ll need to guide the change.

Use Your Product to Sell Your Product or Get Left Behind

I will leave you with the same note I started with — if you have a product, you can and must create a product-centric user journey. Not just because it makes sense, but because it's become the price of admission.

To kick off your product-led transformation, my advice is to start with a single area in your organization, which can be a department or a set of sales and marketing processes. The important thing is to choose somewhere you can easily include your product (or feature/screenshot of your product). Sales likely has some recommendations of great places to start.

Take baby steps if you have to. But if you're not thinking about it or moving toward it at all, then your competitors are going to leave you in the dust.Worry less about the fact that competitors will see your product and worry more about the fact that they're going to win if you continue to gate keep it.

Today’s consumers crave a product-led experience that gives them hands-on interaction with very little friction. How will you succeed in this market without a thoughtfully-designed product and a well-trained sales team that's ready to cater to it?

Good luck out there!

About the Author

Jenn Steele — Self-proclaimed “startup junkie,” she is currently CEO at Kissmetrics. Prior to that Jenn held several marketing leadership roles at companies like Reprise, Bizable, Madison Logic, and Amazon.

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