You may have heard that there is a new acronym kid on the tech product marketing block; Product Led Growth (PLG). Thank f**k for that, another sales and marketing acronym, but is this a hit or something only its mother will love?

PLG – Product Led Growth

I understand Open Ventures first coined the term PLG (Product Led Growth), and recently Michael Litt, co-founder and CEO of the video platform Vidyard, writing for VentureBeat, described it as “an acronym that will transform software“.

Possibly you are a little weary of our industry’s ability to churn out new acronyms to describe marketing, seemingly as a distraction from actually doing the work of creating awareness and demand. But, let’s get this out straight away; I think there is something in this.

The premise is that SaaS products, like the slightly irritating Calendly, the fabulous Slack, the ubiquitous Zoom or Dropbox, get us hooked in for free, and once we experience a limited version of the product that is tantalisingly almost what we need, snag us with an incredibly reasonably few dollars a month to lift the restriction, and it becomes a part of our day.

For example, the Zoom 40 minutes free account time limit or what I am using to write this, Grammarly’s hint at how much better it could help if you subscribe.

We then become the “sneezers”, as Seth Godin would describe. We spread the product and, even better, march it into our enterprises like a trojan horse.

Use the corporate Microsoft license? F*k off, our team uses Slack, Airtable and Monday now.

Enterprise Trojan Horse

Looking back over my career, I cannot tell you how many B2B software companies I’ve worked for or have advised have longed to be “in the enterprise”. A process that used to involve being anointed by the gatekeepers of procurement and blessed by their guardians at Gartner or Forrester.

That’s now changed, there is a new path to the attention of the CIO, CMO, or whichever head honcho decision-maker you’ve been trying to woo, and this new path is bottom-up, through the user, that products like Slack have proven to work.

As a marketer, hearing “product-led” gives me flashbacks to working with CTOs and founders that prayed at the altar of bullshit that more features alone would sell the product, and there was no need to invest in marketing. Only to discover that if you haven’t built brand trust or at least awareness, ain’t no-one taking a look at those fine, fine features, let alone trust you enough to part with their company’s hard-earned cash.

And you are left with a salesperson crying on your shoulder, gently rocking through the tears to the refrain of “but our product is better” as they come second again to an inferior but sexier or more trusted competitor.

And that comes from someone who has experience in both development and marketing camps. I’ve been a developer, product manager and marketer. It’s at this point a marketer of a certain age might shout from their lawn chair, “remember Betamax!”.

The business of software has changed. The conventional rules of war in B2B sales, the gathering of requirements, the procurement process, IT gatekeepers, the demos, and the moment of purchase are becoming a bit more fluid with these kinds of productivity and communications tools.

It now starts with a Google search and a user or developer saying, “I’ll give that a go”.

The User is King, Sorta…

Which is all jolly super, but being free and SaaS, the lack of friction to get in, means it’s equally frictionless and painless to get out.

If the product isn’t smashing it out of the park from the perky explainer video to becoming a part of this user’s day, then there is always someone else splashing the cash on Adwords, ready to entice this user when they return to their exhaustive vendor selection; the Google search.

This strategy reminds me of the core tenant of content marketing: delivering value before receiving anything for it in return, at least not at the point of consumption. Arguing for this is tough enough in a traditional business; publish a whitepaper or case study without demanding payment of an email address by gating it behind a registration? Are you insane? Let alone give the product away as an incentive to buy.

I’ve digressed. The argument in this new world of business software is that the user is now king (it’s a slightly flawed argument that I can personally attest to as for my day job; I open f**king Microsft Teams on Monday morning, not Slack).

Yes, corporate IT still has some sway, but user adoption has always been the key to the long term stickiness of enterprise software in organizations. It’s just now the time frames are shorter, and a user on your freemium product becomes your champion for creating disruption, shifting the dominance of the incumbent.

Therefore today the product should be as much a part of a go-to-marketing strategy as marketing and sales. However, for a long time in software companies, the marketing and product teams were not connected, aside from being locked in a battle for who gets the budget. This thinking needs to shift.

But.. product led growth?

An Everything Strategy

Perhaps, like any new faddy acronym, there is a risk that the pendulum might swing too far, especially for the kind of CEO that hears this is what the cool kids are doing, and doesn’t dig too deeply, about the kind of company and product PLG needs, and thinks that it means placing all their chips on product development (back to the crying salesperson).

The words that make up the acronym don’t reflect that it’s a partnership, an “everything” strategy, not just a product strategy.

As well as a great product that fits the model, product-led growth still needs demand generation and awareness, a strong commercial direction and some bloody good support and service when it all goes a bit wobbly.

Plus, marketing can also contribute to innovation.

Chatting with an experienced B2C marketer for my podcast about her experience in the drinks industry, she talked about ideas for developing products and innovation coming from marketing and agencies. I realize that the successful launch of a spiced rum is not the same as launching a new feature on Slack, but good marketers, have plenty of data and a connection with the consumer whose insight can positively drive product development.

Yeehaah… Faster Horses?

Ah yes, listening to customers, and I am now obliged under the marketer’s code to say something about Henry Ford and customers wanting faster horses or Steve Jobs. But, in a PLG strategy, with users moments away from churning to another solution, a keen ear for what they want is critical and that can come from marketing.

So while “Product led” gives me the heeby-geebies, I do like that “product” and “growth” are in the same sentence. In B2B we’ve been through solutions selling, “reengineering the buyer’s vision”, being marketing-led or sales-led organizations, seemingly a focus on a sales/marketing Jedi mind trick to flog undifferentiated so-so products. Good to see the product as the star.

In conclusion, this sounds like a good thing, a sales and marketing strategy of Provide Something Immediately Useful, Before Getting Value.

PSIUBGV?

I can see why they don’t invite me to the acronym meetings;

PLG it is then…

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