What's the one thing every organization is trying to achieve?
It doesn't matter if you’re currently running a plucky SaaS startup or if you manage a Fortune 500 company; if you’re a business owner, you're always trying to increase brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and ultimately sales.
It’s for this very reason that many business owners have come to appreciate a new kind of framework: the product-led growth flywheel.
Breaking Things Down
Let’s start this discussion by breaking down this likely unfamiliar term into two questions:
What exactly is Product-Led Growth?
What is a flywheel?
According to the Product-Led Growth Collective, product-led growth (PLG) is:
"A business methodology in which user acquisition, expansion, conversion, and retention are all driven primarily by the product itself. It creates company-wide alignment across teams — from engineering to sales and marketing — around the product as the largest source of sustainable, scalable business growth."
In other words, Product-Led Growth is about harnessing the power and focus of your entire company to create better products and ultimately, experiences for your target audience.
Now to tackle the flywheel part—
Think about the traditional model of a marketing and sales funnel. Potential buyers start at the top as strangers, filter down into leads, and then hopefully they eventually become paying customers. But what comes next?
Unfortunately, the answer in most cases is nothing… customers become an afterthought.
This presents a dilemma, as the post-sale experience can serve as a major launchpad for customers to evangelize your brand and share their experience with others. 92% of people say they trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of advertising, so neglecting the customer after the fact is really just a missed opportunity. Modern companies need to engage their current customers so that they’re inclined to spread the word about their experience.
Word of mouth can be so powerful in instilling brand loyalty and generating momentum. Enter: the flywheel.
A flywheel in the literal sense is just a very heavy wheel that takes significant effort to push or get started, but once it gets going, the wheel eventually can propel itself almost entirely through its own momentum. Apply this concept to your business model and you can pretty easily see the metaphor.
By viewing your current customers’ experience as a vital piece of future growth as opposed to putting them on the back-burner, you can create a self-propelling flywheel fueled primarily by the organic promotion and word of mouth of your already existing customers.
So in case the point isn’t clear, it’s worth it to put the effort into your active customers’ experience.
The Product-Led Growth Flywheel
In combining what we’ve just learned we arrive at the Product-Led Growth Flywheel. This business strategy prioritizes phenomenal product experiences to generate customer advocacy and, in turn, company growth.
The product-led growth flywheel is made up of four user segments, let's take a quick look at each:
- Evaluators: These folks are interested in your product, aware of your brand, but are not yet ready to commit. They're potentially still weighing their options, researching competitors, and wondering if your offerings are actually a solution to their problem. If you offer a free trial, an Evaluator would likely be willing to give you a shot, but they aren't fully invested in your solution at this point.
- Beginners: People in the Beginner segment understand how your product can help them — and they're frankly pretty jazzed about it. These users may or may not be paying customers. Either way, they're spending a lot of time learning the nuances of your offering and integrating it into their workflows.
- Regulars: A Regular is someone who uses your product consistently and views it as a key component to their success. They may not have the same enthusiasm for your offering as they did in the beginning. But they have no desire to use a competing solution and they are content. This is because your product gets them at least satisfactory results and they know how to use it.
- Champions: The final user segment is made up of Champions. Users in this elite group are your company's ultimate fans. They don't just love using your products, they feel invested in the success of your company. Because of this, Champions take the time to refer their friends, family, and colleagues to your business. They are the impetus to your company flywheel.
How to Implement the Product-Led Growth Flywheel
Now that we have an in-depth understanding of the product-led growth flywheel, let's talk about how to implement it. Simply follow these four steps and you'll learn how to be product-led:
1. Offer Top-Quality Products
If the growth of your company is going to center around product quality, you should make sure that said products are something your customers find worthy of talking about.
Ask yourself, "what major challenges do my customers need to overcome?" Your best bet is to minimize as much friction as possible. There are a few different things you can do today to work towards offering a product you’re proud of.
User experience surveys can be a great option in understanding more about your customers and how your products can be improved. Creating a UX survey does not have to take significant time or resources, and with its help, you can receive a plethora of feedback that could be integral to the success of your brand.
Paying close attention to the data surrounding friction points in your growth flywheel can also be invaluable. There are many analytics programs you can use to keep tabs on your customers and how responsive they are to marketing efforts, continued product offerings, and much more. You can’t fix your problems without knowing what they are, so taking just a little time today to evaluate your weak points could pay major dividends in the days to come.
Creating (and then delivering) a disciplined feature release schedule can be a helpful tool in building hype for your product and forming a culture of loyalty around your brand. When you think about it, the best brands on the planet are the ones constantly engaging their customers. And while you might not have Apple or Nike’s product teams and marketing budgets, taking some incremental steps to plan out your feature release schedule and then presenting that to customers, is a great starting point and can serve as a great impetus to your flywheel.
2. Make it Easy to Become a Customer
If people don't use your product, you'll never get your flywheel in motion. That's why it's so important to make things as easy as possible for potential customers. By removing as much friction as possible between your potential users and your product, you are maximizing your company’s chance for growth.
Many SaaS companies do a great job of simplifying the initial user experience. They are paying close attention to every step of the customer journey from first exposure to your brand all the way through onboarding.
Here are a few ideas you can use to eliminate friction for customers:
- Use the Freemium Model: The freemium model allows customers to use a product for free, albeit with limited functionality. This model works for product-led growth strategies because customers can try product features with zero financial risks. It’s up to you to determine which of your features belong in the free version of your product. There needs to be a balance between offering enough features so users can immediately see the value and be encouraged to engage with the product further, but note so inclusive that there’s no incentive to pay.
- Offer Free Trials: With a free trial, customers get access to all product features for a limited time — usually, 7 to 14 days, though 30 days is also common. This model also removes financial risk for customers, making it a great strategy for product-led growth. It is encouraged when offering a free trial that you receive some customer information and payment info upfront. If you are offering a great product, this is not too much to ask from your customers, and they will be more likely to continue using the product as paying customers if this information has already been given. Once again, the product-led growth flywheel is all about momentum.
- Simplify Your Onboarding Process: It doesn't matter how amazing your products are. If customers have to fill out a myriad of forms, install complicated software, etc. they'll bail. Make sure onboarding is a piece of cake. And provide customers with an easy way to contact qualified support representatives if/when they have questions. Many companies have found screenshotting tools to be helpful in their onboarding communications.
3. Prioritize Time to Value & Virality
Once people start using your product, you need to make sure they experience its value as soon as possible. By delivering quick wins, you'll build excitement for your current and future offerings. This can be done in a few different ways:
- In-App Directions: If you sell a software product, consider adding a "tips" section that highlights the most important features for new users.
- Welcome Sequences: Once a new customer has been onboarded, send them periodic emails teaching them how to use your products.
- Customer Support: Make sure your customers always have access to someone on your team. That way they can ask questions about your product when they have them. Then take it a step further and provide your support reps with ways to improve the customer experience. For example, you could equip them with a visual communication tool like CloudApp that includes easy GIF creation, that way they can provide answers to customers in more personal ways with needed context.
Time to value isn't the only thing you need to prioritize. You also want customers to share their love for your products with their friends, family, and colleagues. To encourage this, try:
- Asking: Sometimes all you have to do to encourage virality is ask your current customers to spread the word. If they like what you do, they will.
- Special Offers: Other times an incentive is needed. For example, you could offer customers access to premium features if they refer someone else to your company.
Ultimately, you want to make sure your new customers experience the value of your products quickly. Then give them ways to share their positive experiences with the world.
4. Monitor Growth KPIs
You won't know if your product-led growth flywheel is effective until you measure it. This means you need to track a few key metrics during your product management efforts:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS): As you might already know, Net Promoter Score is a metric used to evaluate CX via quantifying the loyalty of your customers. NPS scores are measured with a single-question survey and reported with a number from -100 to +100, and measures the willingness of customers to recommend your company's products to others. It is helpful in gauging the customer's overall satisfaction with a company's product or service and the customer's loyalty to the brand.
- Total Leads (MQL, PQL, SQL): Lead generation is one of the most important factors in attempting to grow your business, and this can be an especially insightful KPI if you know how to classify each type of lead.
- MQL: A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is a website visitor whose engagement levels indicate that they will likely become your customer. This lead would have displayed some behavior showing interest in your product (think: signing up for a newsletter, subscribing to some form of your content, etc.). Assigned a lead score, an MQL can help you determine where a potential user is in the buying cycle and what you can do to convert.
- PQL: A product qualified lead (PQL) is someone who has already personally experienced the value of your product in some form or another, likely via a free trial or some version of freemium. A PQL requires real-life use of your product, no other metrics.
- SQL: A sales-qualified lead (SQL) is a potential customer who has been engaged by your sales efforts in some way. This could include demos, sales calls, screen recording consultation. This label is applied to a prospect that has gone past the engagement stage and is ready to be pursued for conversion into a full-fledged customer.
- Cost Per Acquisition (CPA): Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) is a marketing KPI that measures the cost to acquire one paying customer. CPA is a vital measurement of your company’s success and is calculated by dividing your total cost by the number of customers acquired from those efforts. This is a great KPI to show whether you’re actually pursuing conversions or just chasing vanity metrics.
- Lifetime Value (LTV): If you want to be a product-led company focused on long-term growth and customer experience, you need to pay attention to your customers’ LTV. LTV is the projected revenue that a customer will generate for your business during their lifetime. There are a variety of ways to calculate your customers’ LTV, check out some of the ways here.
This only scratches the surface of KPIs you could monitor, but it's a great start to getting that flywheel rolling.
By putting the quality of the product at the center of everything, both your company and customers benefit. Hopefully in our time together you’ve learned a little bit more about the Product-Led Growth Flywheel, why it might be a great framework to use for your own business, and how to implement moving forward.