Special thanks to Tristan Eid and Laura Rosca for helping compile this research.
Back in the the 1980s, software was sold on the golf course. Field sales was the norm and Oracle reigned supreme. In the early 2000s, Salesforce and a host of others disrupted that model with outbound sales over the phone, which promised a similarly high close rate at one-third the cost and one-third the amount of time. Fast forward a few years and the late 2000s saw the rise of marketing-led sales, driven by content marketing, social selling, and automation.
The next frontier of go-to-market is Product Led Growth (PLG). Companies with a PLG strategy – think Slack, Expensify, Atlassian, and Dropbox – rely on product features and usage as their primary drivers of customer acquisition, retention and expansion. It’s through this strategy that companies are able to grow faster and with less cash. They forgo spending large sums on traditional marketing and sales activities. Instead, they rely on the products themselves to supply a pipeline of satisfied users to convert to paying customers.
Product Led Growth is often synonymous with viral, freemium, and bottoms up sales. But it’s much more than that. Any company – even those selling to large Enterprises or operating in niche vertical markets – can adopt PLG principles to improve user experiences and increase go-to-market efficiency.
We’ve assembled this guide to provide a single center of truth for the most informative and innovative PLG resources. Included is a holistic breakdown of what PLG means and how every department in a SaaS company should be adapted to embrace Product Led Growth. There are inside stories of operating practices among companies that have been PLG from the start as well as companies that pivoted to embrace a PLG strategy later on. The content is taken from OpenView and also PLG thought leaders around the world, including HubSpot, Intercom, Aptrinsic, InVision, Appcues, and many more.
This is a living guide and will be updated as we find new thought leadership about Product Led Growth. Did we miss any of your favorite articles? Let us know in the comments!
Table of Contents
- PLG Overview & Best Practices
- Acquisition strategies and product virality
- Conversion and monetization strategies
- Building great product experiences
- Stories of successful PLG companies
- Stories of pivoting towards a more PLG approach
PLG Overview & Best Practices
The Product Led Growth Playbook
OpenView’s exclusive Product Led Growth Playbook is your one-stop-shop for everything PLG. It provides a detailed framework for businesses looking to optimize their product, marketing, pricing, and sales against PLG standards. The playbook also offers insights for traditional sales-led businesses and larger corporations that may have a harder time adapting to PLG in an agile manner. The playbook is a must-read for PLG novices and experts alike.
Product Led Growth Maturity Calculator
Where are you on your product led growth journey? In just 5 to 10 minutes, we’ll gather a snapshot of your current PLG strategy and rate your maturity. Based on your score, we’ll provide recommendations on how you can further orient your company around PLG in order to increase acquisition, conversion and expansion. As we collect more data, we’ll benchmark your PLG sophistication against similar companies to give you a robust understanding of where you’re excelling and where you have room to improve.
Your Product Is Your Go-To-Market Strategy
Product is now the centerpiece of go-to-market and Scott Maxwell, Founder of OpenView, walks us through the timeline that brought us to this stage. From “a-ha” moments, to freemium versus free trial, to driving virality, expect to learn about how you can best educate your product team on PLG priorities.
Product Led Growth Market Map
Have you ever wondered about who has successfully adopted Product Led Growth? Or are you looking for a PLG role model in your industry? Check out the PLG Market Map, representing the best PLG companies across four SaaS categories: Developer & Product Tools, Back Office & Operations, Customer Engagement, and Productivity & Collaboration. If your name should be on there, be sure to leave a note!
30 Ways to Experiment with Acquisition, Product, and Virality to Get More Growth
Growth means different things during different points of the user journey, so it’s important to recognize the goals of experimenting at each stage. From acquisition to product growth to virality, it’s important to treat each step of the journey with equal attention. Ty Magnin of Appcues shares thirty techniques you can incorporate into your users’ lifecycle to scale their initial interest, engagement and loyalty.
Product Led Growth: The Secret To Becoming A Top Quartile Public Company
PLG companies deliver a superior product experience and their products are extremely sticky – people log in regularly, users share their products with colleagues and friends, and these businesses tend to boast amazing NPS scores. With so much goodwill built up among their users, it’s easier for PLG businesses to accelerate growth via cross-sell / upsell over time. In this article, Sean Fanning of OpenView connects these components to driving revenue growth and ultimately preparing for a successful IPO.
5 Traits of Successful Product Led Growth Companies
Drew Beechler of High Alpha and Blake Bartlett of OpenView walk us through the standout traits that define outstanding PLG companies. For example, PLG companies often leverage a consumer-like virality component. They invest heavily in user research, UX/UI design, and product marketing. And these companies tend to have an incredibly easy sign-up process to deliver value quickly to new users. Read on for the full list and how you can adapt to exhibit these traits yourself.
Acquisition strategies and product virality
Peek Inside Slack’s Multi-Million Dollar SaaS Growth Strategy
Slack gets 100,000,000 website visitors every month. That’s more than Salesforce, HubSpot, Intercom, Zendesk, Mailchimp, Shopify and every other software company in the world. But that’s not what it’s all about. Slack is a role model for what it takes to build a software product loved by both small businesses and Fortune 100 companies alike. Chris Von Wilpert, CEO and Founder of Rocketship Agency, breaks down their secret to growth.
Typeform: How to Scale a Global SaaS Platform
Attaining virality is only the first step. The next step is to amplify it. That’s where Typeform’s strategy of Product Growth comes in. This strategy involves aligning marketers and developers in order to make product changes that increase top-of-funnel and optimize conversion. Read on to learn advanced techniques for scaling your SaaS platform to the global stage.
Mixmax’s CEO on How to Achieve Viral Growth
Learn about Mixmax’s journey to a near-zero CAC. Olof Mathé, CEO and Founder of Mixmax, attributes this accomplishment to taking advantage of five different types of virality. The email enrichment service founded in 2014 is a prime role model for PLG companies looking to make virality the centerpiece of their growth strategy and reduce CAC to all-time lows.
5 Research-Backed Methods of Achieving Product Virality (and 6 Stories of Companies That Did It)
HubSpot’s Sophia Bernazzani breaks down virality into an executable mathematic equation. Solve for the variables, adapt your business, and watch your product grow on its own. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Bernazzani defines the different types of virality and how to go about creating them. This article also includes six great examples of companies leveraging virality to its fullest.
How to Build Your Product for Viral Growth: Lessons from Datadog & ZipRecruiter
Companies like Slack, Expensify, ZipRecruiter and Datadog are radically changing the approach of growth, by focusing first and foremost on delivering a great product. Users don’t want to have to sit through hours of product onboarding or training videos to get started. Kyle Poyar, Senior Director of Market Strategy at OpenView, explains how to guide users to complete key functions they need in the context of what they want to do.
SaaS Growth Series (Part 2): How to Build Traction for Your New SaaS Product?
So you spent weeks or months building your SaaS product. How do you then go about building traction and virality for your product? How do you get those first 100 paying customers? Arpit Rai takes a deep dive into planning your initial traction strategies and growing from there.
Conversion and monetization strategies
Why Product Qualified Leads Are Rapidly Being Adopted in SaaS
Spoiled by their experiences using consumer applications, B2B buyers now prefer access to business software earlier in the buying cycle via free trials or freemium pricing models. PQLs are the key model for SaaS companies moving forward. Read the perspective of Mickey Alon, CEO and Founder of Aptrinsic, on how to leverage PQLs to optimize for customer acquisition.
Product qualified leads: why trial users are so valuable in B2B sales
Just because someone ignores a webinar offer or a specific part of your marketing program, it doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t be interested in test-driving your product. The shortcomings of the marketing qualified lead framework have inspired a paradigm shift in the B2B sales cycle, as more companies have begun to focus on product qualified leads. This article explores a way of getting the ‘best of both worlds’ from both marketing and product qualified leads.
Why You Should Sell To Users, Not Buyers: A Product Led Approach to Marketing
As you adopt a product led GTM, your focus should be to incorporate real-time, in-product customer behavioral data to create meaningful engagement across multiple channels and devices. This article, by Ashley Minogue of OpenView, discusses how to unravel the data to glean insightful conclusions.
Product led Go-To-Market Strategy Overview
All four aspects of a GTM strategy — customer, market, product, and channels —should be optimized against PLG standards to create repeatable and scalable strategies. This article from Aptrinsic provides instructions for a product led GTM that will ensure you have the proper foundation for conversion and monetization.
Building great product experiences
Product Led User Engagement (What B2Bs Are Learning from B2Cs)
B2B businesses are starting to shift towards building customer engagement into the product itself. Jonathan Kim, CEO and Founder of Appcues, takes learnings from companies like Facebook and Snapchat on how to create sales models, products, and user experiences that drive customers to use the product more. Dive in t0 learn how PLG user experiences are created.
SaaS product tour trends: How great companies onboard users in 2018
A great user interface can make or break your SaaS business. Visitors start evaluating a SaaS company right at its homepage, first impressions matter! This article, published by InVision, dissects the importance of product tours and the best methods of implementing them.
The Secret Sauce of Great SaaS UI/UX
The best products today are stripped down to their core essentials, enabling users to get to where they want to be as fast as possible. This HackerNoon post discusses how to achieve the ‘simple yet elegant’ ideal within PLG design strategies. User expectations have never been higher and the need to have flawless design has risen alongside them.
Design Principles for SaaS Products
Web design practices have inherently influenced SaaS products as they are delivered over the Web. Usability, aesthetics, and functionality are important for all user experiences, from mobile applications built for Android devices to downloaded software products that function exclusively on Windows. Read on to understand modern web design practices that must be incorporated in PLG products.
SaaS UX Bible: 7 Must-Have User Experience Principles From The Experts At InVision
InVision is featured again, this time providing the top seven user experience principles you should be valuing during your design process. From frictionless signups to simple onboarding and readily available support, here are the seven principles that will reform the way you create products.
Stories of successful PLG companies
How Slack Became the Fastest Growing B2B SaaS Business (Maybe) Ever
So, what has Slack done to stack the odds so monumentally in the favor of growth? Let’s take a look at what they did early on to set the stage for success, including defining their market space and user pain, nailing the product experience by focusing on doing a few things exceptionally well, and using a freemium model that fueled bottom-up word of mouth growth. Dive in to learn how to bring these lessons into your own planning.
Dropbox grew 3900% with a simple referral program. Here’s how!
A referral program can be the defining point of your PLG strategy and Dropbox’s referral program is likely the most famous case of referral marketing done right. Almost a decade later, it’s still used in numerous case studies showcasing how referral programs can contribute to a company’s growth engine – or even be the engine itself. See for yourself what went wrong and what went right to bring Dropbox’s growth up to 3900% in 15 months.
Intercom’s Viral Growth, LTV Expansion and Network Effects
Intercom shared some of its numbers in a company blog post, revealing that it’s one of the fastest growing SaaS companies of the past few years (growing from $1 to $50M ARR within 3 years). The company says they currently have 100,000 monthly active users, ranging from startups to small businesses to mid-sized and larger tech companies. Explore this summary of how Intercom utilizes ‘viral loops’ within products in order to foster such high growth.
Smartsheet, a leading provider of collaboration and communication software, filed for a $100M IPO earlier this year. Many of the company’s paying users initially started as free users and most of the revenue comes from self-serve and inside sales. This article breaks down their S-1 filing and discusses how PLG strategies have skyrocketed their growth.
Evernote – The $0 Growth Engine
This article discusses Evernote’s rapid growth up to 6 million users, adding the last million in only 52 days. Evernote has over 19,000 sign ups every day and a key part of their growth is their freemium model. You may be surprised to hear the company was founded as early as 2000, yet has only become the behemoth it is in recent years. Read on to understand the workings of a $0 growth engine.
Stories of pivoting towards a more PLG approach
HubSpot – Product is the Future of Growth – Here’s Why
Once HubSpot added freemium as part of its go-to market strategy, product qualified leads became a key source for both touchless sales and leads for the sales team. The PQL dashboard showed them the performance of each PQL point within their freemium products, showing how many times people interacted with them, how many upgrades they generated and the average selling price for each one. Kieran Flanagan, VP of Growth at HubSpot, dives into how these changes impacted the company for the better.
CrowdRiff – How we are becoming a product led company
CrowdRiff, an AI-powered content marketing platform, holds its product as the distribution center, competitive advantage, and key driver of customer loyalty. In this article, CrowdRiff reveals five key approaches they took towards keeping the entire team aligned on PLG goals. PLG is a company-wide strategy and not only for product teams to focus on.
TradeGecko – Here’s how we’re moving to product led growth and why you should do the same
TradeGecko made the transition to PLG by beginning to see all customer engagement as a funnel. With the ultimate goal of doubling B2B adoption, TradeGecko went about experiments aimed at consolidating the funnel and focusing product managers on key growth KPIs. As the article describes, the lessons they learned helped, but also provided more and more areas for experimentation, providing light on the ‘continuous improvement’ aspect of Product Led Growth.