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Product-led Growth: How To Build A Product That Sells Itself

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When Zoom entered the market, it almost effortlessly overtook established giants like Skype and Microsoft Teams. The transition was so sudden that even CollegeHumor made a hilarious sketch about it.

Skype used to be synonymous with video calling. When someone said “Let’s Skype”, you would know what it meant. But now Zoom has that crown.

To be fair with Skype, Zooms isn’t just a video conferencing software. It also features instant messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) tools.

Zoom’s focus on video conferencing just captured a big share of the market.

And how could it not? It offered an intuitive and efficient interface that appealed even to those who are not tech-savvy. And with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people all around the world clamored for a platform to hold virtual meetings, classes, and simple get-togethers.

What’s amazing is that it took off without much effort from a sales team. It’s a good bet that even you might’ve installed Zoom without a sales team urging you.

In other words, the product sold itself.

And that is what product-led growth is all about.

 

What Is Product Led Growth?

 

Product-led growth is a business methodology wherein the product is the biggest factor for growth. Every part of the customer journey is driven by the product. That includes customer acquisition, conversion, and retention.

Let’s differentiate sales-led growth and product-led growth.

Sales led growth relies heavily on… well… sales. You need a team to generate leads, nurture those leads, and close the deal.

And you need an effective sales strategy to make sure each part of the sales process does what it’s supposed to.

In the world of SaaS, a sales led company has a pricing page that has a “talk to sales” or “request a quote” link. You would have to go through a demo or receive a quotation before you make your purchase.

The product led approach, on the other hand, doesn’t need a sales team. It’s a well-oiled machine for attracting customers, getting them to buy, and bringing in more users.

Product led growth companies are those with “plug and play” types of products. You just let users go to your website, create an account, and voila! You just got a new user.

Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

It’s a huge challenge to actually get users’ attention in the first place. More so on getting them to buy your product and keep using it in the long term.

At least with a sales-led method, you get to play a more active role in getting customers. What’s more, you have a chance to win over those who are not yet fully convinced to buy your product.

Product-led growth gives you very little room to do that.

But even so, it has been a rising trend in the SaaS industry. What’s more, it has brought a lot of SaaS startups through the ranks and helped them grab a huge chunk of the market.

Let’s talk about how they did that.

 

Rise Of The End-user: What Makes Product-led Growth Work

 

One factor for the success of product-led growth is the buying initiative of end-users.

They no longer wait around for their higher-ups to get them the SaaS tools they need. They do it themselves.

It’s quite a story, how that came to be. You could divide it between three time periods marked by the ideal buyer personas of those times: the technical executive, the non-technical executive, and the end-user.

 

Technical Executive

 

Before SaaS existed, all B2B software was hosted locally in the buyer company’s servers. Adopting new software took months before you could roll it out to your employees.

This was a time when sales-led growth was the only way to go. Salespeople had to reach out to technical executives, such as CIOs and CTOs. These executives had the power to buy B2B solutions for their companies.

At the time, software providers also prioritized enterprise markets. Huge companies were the only ones who could afford their own servers and long-term relationships with software businesses.

But that changed when SaaS entered the picture.

 

Non-Technical Executive

 

With the rapid development of internet technology came the rise of SaaS. And with the rise of SaaS also came the shift of power to the non-technical executives.

Business software transitioned from local server rooms into the cloud. It became possible to share a server with other customers.

As a result, more and more small and midsize businesses (SMBs) started using SaaS solutions. Startup SaaS companies had other startups as their first customers.

The first SaaS providers focused their outbound sales on non-technical executives.

These bosses may have not known the nitty-gritty of those new SaaS products. But they knew key performance indicators (KPIs) and return on investment (ROI). They cared whether or not a SaaS solution would bring value to their company.

So sales teams focused on that.

To sell their product, they first needed to convince executives that it adds value to their company and that it brings a quick ROI. And it happened through sales efforts like demos and product tours.

That may ring a bell. After all, a lot of SaaS companies still do that today. That’s because it still works.

But a new trend has been emerging since the 2010s. End-users have taken the stage when it comes to buying SaaS solutions.

 

End-user

 

As SaaS technology progressed, more and more SaaS companies designed small-scale products and offered them at affordable prices. Others adopted a freemium model, which often led to their brands going viral.

As a result, end-users have been empowered to make their own buying decisions.

Sure, executives still have a big say, especially on the SaaS solutions that serve as backbones for their operations. But employees now have the ability and initiative to buy software that would streamline their individual workflow.

Most end-users today prefer to do their own research in choosing what tools to use. They want to educate themselves rather than reach out to a sales rep.

As the SaaS solutions make life better for the end-users, they tell their friends and colleagues about it. Moreover, their competitive teammates would envy their work process and desire the solution they’re using.

They buy the product even without a sales team selling it to them.

Product. Led. Growth.

 

Product Led Growth Strategy

 

Now, let’s talk about how you can come up with a strategy to make product-led growth work for your SaaS company.

Remember that the ability and willingness of end-users to buy SaaS solutions isn’t the only factor to the success of product-led growth.

Sure, it’s a huge aspect of it. But it’s also important to make your product easy to access and use.

Here are some things you can start doing for your product led growth strategy.

 

User-based Design

 

Since the end-users are the ones keeping the wheels rolling on product-led growth, they are the target buyer persona that you want to focus on. And if you want a product that sells itself to them, you need to build your product around their needs.

Of course, you may have an idea what kind of software you want to develop. But if your decision isn’t informed by verifiable data, prepare to lose your resources.

The key to a user-based design is to know your target market first.

What pain points do they have?

What are the current trends in their respective industries?

What possible new problems may arise from that trend?

That’s your reference point for building your product.

Let’s take Zoom for example. Its current CEO Eric Yuan used to work for WebEx, a web conferencing platform. It was then acquired by Cisco.

Existing video conferencing services at the time were inefficient and lacked mobile compatibility.

Yuan recognized that pain point. So he pitched a streamlined and mobile-friendly platform to his new executives at Cisco.

Cisco made the mistake of rejecting him. So he left the company and built the software himself.

Thus, Zoom was born. And we all know how that turned out.

The key to this is establishing a good product-market fit. This means that your product is a suitable solution to a prevalent problem existing in your target market.

This comes with a lot of research. You need to find out what your target market is saying about the SaaS solutions that they’re currently using.

As you listen to them, you will know what kind of services have a high demand.

Additionally, you may also want to look out for pain points that no SaaS solution is currently addressing. That would be an opportunity for a blue ocean strategy, where you have an uncontested share of the market.

Another thing to note is your marketing efforts.

Product led growth marketing has the end-user as a target persona. Your content and marketing channels must be designed specifically for your user.

 

Deliver Value As Quickly As Possible

 

Even if you have a SaaS solution that is so tailor-fit to your users’ needs, there is still the challenge of getting them to try your product.

Most product-led SaaS companies use a freemium model or a free trial to get the attention of their target audience. Either way, you can give users a sneak peek of what it’s like to use your product.

While they are in that trial phase, you need to deliver value to them. You need to give them a product experience that takes them to the “A-ha!” moment, where they realize the value of your product.

The thing is, you never know how long they will keep engaging with a free account or free trial. That’s why you need to deliver that value as quickly as possible, with as few clicks as possible.

 

Strategically Sell A Paid Subscription

 

Let’s say you have successfully captured the attention of your user base and have delivered value to them. They are enjoying all the benefits for free.

But there is still the matter of getting value from this deal.

At this point in the customer journey, you run the risk of not getting them to upgrade into a paid subscription. Or worse, stop using your product altogether.

But then again, many relationships start out that way, don’t they? You introduce yourself. You buy them a drink. But you never really know if they would go out with you.

That’s why, for product-led growth to work, that step has to be strategic.

It’s about making the users want more of your product. For free trials, the expiration has to be at a time when they have had their “A-ha!” moment and want more of it.

If you’re selling a freemium product, it’s a bit trickier. Yes, you need to deliver value immediately with a free plan. But there has to be more value waiting for them on the other side of that paywall.

Many software and mobile apps do this by putting ads on free accounts. And I couldn’t think of a better example than Spotify. Unless you pay for a premium account, you will have audio ads in between songs.

One upside to this method is that you get paid either way. If you’re not getting revenue from paid plans, you’re getting it from the ads.

The downside, however, is that the ads may annoy your users. And it can go two ways: you could annoy them into getting a paid plan or you could end up losing them entirely.

Another way to sell freemium software is to have more inclusions and advanced features on the other side of that paywall.

Hubspot does this so well.

The customer relationship management (CRM) software by itself is a free product. But to get access to comprehensive tools, like social media integration and sales analytics, you need to subscribe to their paid products.

Other SaaS providers do this by limiting the inclusions on the free plan.

Let’s take Zoom, our favorite example for today. A free Zoom account can only host meetings for a maximum of 40 minutes for no more than 100 participants.

For people who use Zoom for personal reasons, that would be enough, if not generous.

However, businesses looking to hold meetings for more than an hour for hundreds of people can sign up for one of its paid plans.

 

Get Your Users To Talk About Your Product

 

Another element that product-led growth needs is virality.

If your product is going to sell itself, it must be so good that your users are telling other people about it. That’s why it is really important that you deliver genuine value to them.

One thing SaaS providers do is to incentivize referrals. I’m not just talking about referral marketing. It’s also rewarding the regular end-user for inviting others to try the product.

If you have credit-based pricing, you can give out free credits for referrals.

If you have storage-based pricing, you can give out free GBs.
If you have a tiered pricing model, you can offer a free temporary upgrade.

Still, there are ways to get your users to bring in more customers without the need for incentives. But your product has to be a major game-changer in whatever industry you are working on.

Moreover, you need to get creative in delivering, or at least showing, its value to other people.

Zoom is a master of this. Of course, considering the nature of Zoom’s service, this is already a given. Others can immediately and organically see its value when they click the meeting link and join a Zoom room.

Another example is Calendly. It’s not just a calendar management platform.

Calendly provides a user-friendly experience for scheduling appointments just by clicking a link and choosing a time slot.

See a pattern there?

Both of the examples above involve clicking a link. One vital key to becoming viral is easy sharing.

Links just happen to be one of the fastest ways you can access something online. So take advantage of it to increase your chance of acquiring more users.

 

Product-Led Growth: Prioritizing End-Users

 

Product-led growth is a new trend that enables SaaS businesses to bring in customers even without a sales team. It’s possible because end-users now play a more active role in buying SaaS solutions.

They do their own research and choose which products would make their lives easier.

For a SaaS company to start implementing product-led growth, everything needs to be strategically centered around the end-user.

The product has to genuinely address the user’s pain points. You need to deliver value as quickly as you can, usually through free trials or freemium models. And you need to make your product viral to organically bring in new customers.

Still, to balance everything out, this growth model is not a silver bullet for growing a SaaS company.

Remember that it focuses on the end-user. If you’re moving upmarket or selling to enterprises, the executives would still be your target buyer persona. The sales-led approach would still be the way to go.

For more strategies on growing your SaaS company, visit our blog here.

 

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Ken Moo
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