Each week it seems like there’s a new X-Led Growth framework popping up in the wild.
One day it’s Community-Led Growth, the next it’s Event-Led Growth or Founder-Led Growth. The word is still out on Growth-Led Growth where a company grows by growing. (Meta! 🙃)
Product-Led Growth has been around for a little over five years and yet there’s still a lot of conversation going on about how to implement it properly. We say this after having read over 500+ LinkedIn posts mentioning "product-led growth" and gleaning some interesting insights into the minds of marketers across the globe.
In this post, we’re going to tell you what we learned—as well as give you resources that will guide you toward clearing up some of the confusion surrounding PLG.
1. There’s still a lot of conflicting information
After being coined in 2016 by OpenView, PLG went on to become a major driving force in SaaS organizations of all types. Despite its history though, there's still a lot of confusion around where to get the best PLG resources and what the actual definition of PLG is.
The top 15 most engaged posts (with a whopping 40K engagements in total) all sought to define what PLG is, what it’s not, who to follow, and what companies are doing it “right”. While there were overall trends, each post was really just each marketer's opinion.
Our takeaway: Despite the underlying understanding that a better customer experience leads to faster and more profitable growth, there's still a lively debate on exactly how to approach it
Here’s what we recommend: Instead of getting insights from every marketer with an opinion (aka all of them), look to the practitioners who have published their experiences—whether that's in books, courses, case studies, or podcasts. You want to hear from experts who've gotten their hands dirty and executed a PLG strategy first-hand. This includes the seminal Product-Led Onboarding by Wes Bush and Ramli John. (P.S. Ramli works as a Content Programming Director here at Appcues and regularly interviews SaaS companies on his podcast, Behind The Experience).
2. PLG isn’t a fit for every stage of business
At its core, PLG is a playbook and a larger function of overall growth. Some playbooks work better than others for certain organizations depending on their size, stage of growth, leadership, hierarchy, and any other number of factors.
Yet many marketers opinions on the topic were very either/or. Either you implement PLG or you’re doing something wrong. It is a lot like the way Mando thinks of the Mandalorian creed:
Truth is, there is no single silver bullet in marketing. Sales-Led Growth can work for some businesses and not work for others. More often than not, we see a lot of organizations implementing hybrid growth models blending a product-led and sales-led approach—and it works great!
PLG can work wonders for some organizations, but it’s not the only factor that leads to growth.
The best marketing leaders understand that scalable growth at SaaS companies is about evolution, not revolution.
It takes time and effort and those expecting quick wins are going to be disappointed.
Our takeaway: PLG is just one of many ways for organizations to grow—and when done properly, it can be a solid strategy (though one that takes time).
Here’s what we recommend: Regardless of where you are in your PLG journey, it’s important to continue internal education up and down the chain of command. Having a solid roadmap in place for both the product and how that aligns to growth similarly can help disarm questions around why things aren’t working “now”.
Extra credit: We dig deep into helping companies understand when PLG is right for their business over on the Product-Led Growth Collective—you can get a sneak peak of some questions to ask yourself in the infographic below.
3. Common struggles and difficulties in PLG
If there is one thing that most PLG approaches have in common, it’s that research and development spend tend to be very high. Designing a product that makes it simple and easy for users to get value out of takes a lot of work—and as a result, a lot of budget. According to data shared by VC investor Tomasz Tunguz noted that one leader of PLG, “Atlassian spent 35% of revenue on R&D.” However, he continued, they also spent only “15% on sales & marketing, the lowest of its peers.”
One key bit to keep in mind that this is Atlassian. They are a well established organization with a 20+ year history in creating extremely popular products. While they’ve definitely made changes to become more agile overall, they were supported in the beginning like Huel was in that one scene of Breaking Bad.
Newly established companies and startups don’t have years of capital (social or actual) or vast teams to rely on. So, it’s no surprise that many of the posts we read reported that executives were looking for “quick wins”—with more of a focus on keeping up momentum by moving forward while adding in tracking or other key things later.
Finally, there was a lot of discussions around what KPIs to track. Many executives are stuck in the traditional sales-led growth model of funnels and leads and MQLs not realizing that applying metrics like these to PLG is just going to be an exercise in futility. While there's no one set of metrics to rule them all, we've identified a core set of product-led growth metrics used by hundreds of PLG companies.
Our takeaway: If you feel like your PLG motion should be going perfectly, you’re in for a bad time. As your product and brand grows, there’s going to be additional complications like needing an enterprise sales team for more complicated sales. Whether it's PLG or any other type of growth motion, organizations need to accept that there’ll always be something to fix.
Here’s what we recommend: Having the right metrics is key. Align everyone on business objectives. As marketer Priya Bhatia wrote,
“Make those minor tweaks, show results, build credibility, and then move on to the larger bets.”Continually educate your senior leadership team to recognize incremental wins and report on them regularly to them."
Finally, add tracking as soon as possible to provide insights. You can’t just add tracking later. Your data must be flowing even at the MVP stage.
PLG is all about designing a user-first experience—and when economic and global conditions are changing as often as they are, customer expectations and needs are changing with it.
In fact, in our recent survey of 350 SaaS professionals, 82% believe product-led experience user expectations have risen in the past 2 years.
Capital efficiency is a must whether you’re VC funded or bootstrapped.
That means focusing on the areas your product and business need it to be spent in order to drive growth. For many PLG organizations, that means making onboarding those initial users as seamless as possible.
And not to humble brag, or anything, but we know just the people to help you with that—so reach out to one of our Appcues experts today.