May 5, 2020
5 min read
Gino Mangnoesing

Product-Led Growth: how to eliminate time-to-value

If you’re building a SaaS product, chances are that you are trying to implement a product-led growth (PLG) strategy. If not, you might want to consider doing so since relying heavily on sales and marketing to grow a SaaS business is becoming a thing of the past.

Product-led companies like Airtable, Slack, and Figma are changing the way software is (expected to be) sold. They all offer a Try-Before-You-Buy model where users get immediate value. And they all made their product the primary driver behind Acquisition, Retention, and Referral.

But even when you understand the importance of PLG, implementing a product that sells itself doesn't happen overnight.

🧭 The intuition behind PLG

Implementing a PLG strategy involves rethinking various aspects of a SaaS business. It affects product, pricing, marketing, and sales. In this article, we'll take a closer look at how the convincing aspects of sales and marketing move into the product.

Let's start with the sales-side. What doesn't change is that products need to find an audience and deliver value in order to keep growing. What Product-Led companies do differently is to embed the persuasion and network effects into their product. Enabling them to acquire customers cheaper, while keeping them longer, and growing faster.

That shift in execution of sales (and marketing), does not mean that the related skills become obsolete. It simply means that the selling mechanisms need to move into the product. And while that transition happens people in sales will shift their focus on retaining and delivering more value to existing customers, which is more oriented towards customer success.

On the product-side, that transition won't happen on-the-spot, since it requires:

  • deeper understanding of the problem your solving
  • (re)constructing the onboarding experience to deliver value (close to) immediately
  • mechanisms to consistently remove friction and improve the core
  • embedding virality
  • etc..

Simply put, it’s easier said than done. Keep reading to learn how to get started.

🎯 First things first: understand the problem

Your goal is to carve out the most effective and intuitive path from the initial pain or frustration people experience to that “aha moment” inside your product . That all starts with nailing problem understanding.

Since that problem forms the foundation on which your product is built, it makes sense to keep adding to that knowledge. One simple way to do that is by leveraging the ongoing interaction with your customers.

Double, triple-check your assumptions. Ask questions like:

  • How did you find our product?
  • What have you attempted to solve the problem before you found us?
  • How often did you experience that inefficiency or frustration?
  • etc.

Finally, since you probably work on the product with multiple people or even teams, it’s also smart to make your insights shared knowledge.

Tip! Try to frame the problem(s) as Jobs-to-be-Done and put them on a wall.

🤩 Locate the "aha moment" of your product

As soon as people try out your product, the goal is to get people to experience a happy moment where they accomplish something and feel like they get your product, and why it's relevant for them.

To get started, begin by closely studying your most engaged users/customers. Look into their first minutes, hours, days, and weeks of usage:

  • What feature(s) did they use?
  • Which features did they ignore?
  • What did (and didn't) they accomplish?

Now repeat that same process for unsuccessful users. It may be harder, because they stopped using your app, probably feeling disappointed. However, if you time it right, they may feel pleasantly surprised by your pro-active outreach.

As you study the delta between the happy and unhappy flows in your product, you’ll start to get a pretty good feeling for potential aha moments.

🎳 Straight-line onboarding

While there may be multiple aha moments in your product start with just one, and consider that the desired outcome for your user onboarding.

Then, map out all the steps between the time people learn about your product to that desired outcome. Make screenshots if needed.

With that map of the entire journey, start to remove steps where you can until you get a straight line, like a super boring video game.

Getting that straight-line can be tricky so here are some tips.

Hide complexity

Reconsider what information and which features are super critical to achieving the initial bit of value during those first few minutes. Most things are simply not relevant.

Introduce those non-critical things later. You can simply hide features until it makes sense. Questions to ask that might help:

  • Is this feature really a step closer to the desired outcome?
  • It this option, button, piece of copy a potential distraction?

Remove ALL friction

Once you stripped down the steps to the essential ones. Another rigorous and never-ending process begins, which is to…

While it sounds simple, it’s often tricky in practice because it isn’t always obvious and may require substantial effort and empathy to recognize onboarding frictions.

It’s all about having the right vantage point, which is that of your user. To get in the right frame of mind for spotting (unintended) friction, consider the following:

1. Assume people have short attention spans

  • People feel overwhelmed easily (don’t give too many options)
  • People are not going to read (all) your documentation

2. Assume timing is out of your control

  • User onboarding happens completely async. It starts and ends whenever.
  • You can’t always jump-in to help. You may have the biggest support team, but some people simply won't ask for help.

3. Don't assume anything...

  • Carefully consider and test every change to your onboarding experience, because it’s critical. Do user tests and use technologies like Fullstory or Mixpanel to gather behavioural data.
  • Become super receptive to product feedback. Any question or suggestion you get from users early on can point to more friction.

Implement product bumpers

While carving out the best onboarding path is mostly about offering that straight line to the value in your product, it’s also important to help people get back on track. Doing that in a scalable way, can be accomplished with so called “product bumpers”.

The following illustration by Wes Bush depicts that nicely:

Illustration by Wes Bush

Speed up your PLG implementation

Is it your goal is to become a product-led company? Make sure you leverage all the available technology at your disposal to eliminate the time-to-value in your product.

User feedback is invaluable in this process, as users tell you what they love, what confuses them, or what they are trying to accomplish instead. When this becomes shared knowledge in your team, you can drastically speed up your transition into becoming a Product-led company.

Join companies like Zivver and Whereby that use Shipright to constantly optimize their PLG implementation.

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