“Product-led growth is a game-changer... Rather than stuffing leads into a leaky funnel, you are retaining happy customers who spread the word to others.”
Product-led growth probably won’t have a direct impact on your own agency. But it could be the missing piece that helps your clients grow and keeps them coming back for more.
As you continue refining your marketing project management, it’s worth looking at whether the product-led growth model is relevant for any of your agency’s clients. If a client should be using it and isn’t, it could be the most meaningful piece of consultancy you ever give.
Below, we’ll cover what product-led growth is, what it looks like, and how seven leading PLG companies have used the strategy to win big.
What is product-led growth?
Product-led growth is a business model or approach that uses the product itself, more than any other element, to bring in customers. The product is compelling on its own. It’s intuitive and user-friendly — something that users can pick right up and learn with little to no effort.
Product-led growth is also scalable. Because the product, not sales teams or marketing or customer success teams, drives adoption, processes work roughly the same with 10 users as with 1,000.
With these three traits (compelling, intuitive, and scalable), it’s easy to see why many SaaS and software companies use the product-led growth (PLG) model.
Key characteristics of product led-growth
While PLG can include many components (and not everyone using PLG will exhibit all of them), most companies and products following this model will have these five notable qualities.
With product-led growth, the product is front and center. It’s the thing doing the selling, so every bit of focus and energy is channeled into the product itself.
This stands in contrast to other approaches, like the sales-led approach or customer-centric approach that’s common in high-touch, high-complexity products or services.
For a product to do the selling, it has to be intuitive enough for people to start using it without a lot of assistance. In other words, a self-serve product. Scroll down to our list of PLG examples, and you’ll see what we mean. Some of these products you already use and know they had practically zero learning curve.
Other PLG products do take some time to learn, but those learning materials are also self-service. For example, a product might include tutorials new users can watch at their own pace.
The freemium model is extremely popular in product-led growth because it gives end users a way to experience the product before the sale. It’s a whole lot easier for products to sell themselves when people can try them out without much risk.
The free trial is another related approach. If a product doesn’t make sense to be tiered (e.g. a limited free experience wouldn’t be useful or beneficial), then a time-limited trial of the full product accomplishes the same thing.
In-app onboarding and education
Another hallmark of product-led growth is placing onboarding and education materials within the app or product itself.
Apps like Slack and web services like Canva are great examples of this. The first time you explore a specific feature or area, you’re greeted with a popover tutorial box that walks you through how to use that feature.
Customer feedback loops
Customer feedback loops are another frequent characteristic of products and teams using a PLG model. Customer feedback loops are a cyclical process of gathering, analyzing, and applying feedback, then testing those changes and following up to gather more feedback.
Because most PLG products are SaaS tools, collecting feedback on user needs, pain points, and customer experience can be built into the product itself, making it nearly automatic.
Slack is a great example of a PLG product that uses customer feedback loops. Especially in the early days, Slack was constantly requesting feedback from its users — and then building what those users wanted in response.
The result was a level of growth so significant that nearly everyone you interact with in a work capacity knows what Slack is.
Benefits of a product-led growth strategy
Using a product-led growth strategy delivers numerous benefits to businesses with the right sorts of products — potentially some of your agency’s clients.
If you work with SaaS companies or others offering similar service-oriented products, PLG has the potential to unlock benefits like these.
Lower customer acquisition costs (CAC): When the product sells itself, companies are less dependent on big advertising and sales budgets.
Stronger retention and customer satisfaction: For a product to sell itself, it has to be good. By focusing resources on making the product good, a business will naturally drive retention and customer satisfaction.
Virality: An intuitive, attractive product that turns customers into raving fans is a product with a high chance of going viral. When a product makes a big impact, people tend to talk about it, creating a network effect. As raving fans tell their friends and professional contacts about the product via word-of-mouth, it spreads.
Singular focus: Across teams, project deliverables, and business functions, the singular focus is never in doubt. Everything serves the product.
7 key examples of product-led growth
The best way to get a better understanding of product-led growth is to see it in action. These seven companies (and their flagship products) are strong examples of why PLG is so effective, especially for software and SaaS products.
Teamwork.com is the all-in-one platform for agencies and client work, offering complete operations control and powerful project management under one roof. It’s a great example of product-led growth — anyone can explore its feature set thanks to a free tier, and using and learning the platform is intuitive and self-serve.
You’ll find plenty of in-app education with Teamwork.com, with tutorials and guides available for just about every feature. It also has a dedicated Academy hub where users of all abilities can learn about everything from workload management, to setting up workflows. And because Teamwork.com is a product-led platform, it gathers regular customer feedback and continues iterating the product based on the feedback received.
Since Teamwork.com is intuitive and self-serve, it’s perfect for growth teams. Everyone can learn how to use Teamwork.com, not just project managers.
Slack is the original channel-based communication and collaboration platform — but we don’t need to tell you that, do we?
That’s because Slack is one of the ultimate examples of product-led growth. Think back to how you first heard about it or where you saw it the first time. (Notice how we’re just assuming you have — Slack is that ubiquitous.)
For most of us, it wasn’t in an ad. Instead, we found Slack one of these ways:
Saw someone we know using it
Got a personal recommendation from a current user
Got invited to use it by a current user (e.g., joining an existing Slack channel)
It was viral, intuitive, and satisfying, and those customer acquisition costs were next to nothing.
Slack works because it’s so easy to use. Just about anyone can download it and know what to do within seconds of installing it. It’s a self-serve product that teaches users through in-app education so they learn as they go. It uses the freemium model, and it’s stuffed full of customer feedback loops.
Dropbox, a file-sharing service, is another product-led growth company that practically everyone has heard of. Originally founded to solve that pesky file-sharing problem in the mid-2000s, Dropbox took some interesting risks — which paid off big time.
As a cash-poor startup, traditional advertising was too expensive, so the Dropbox team started posting videos to internet forums. Those videos demonstrated everything that makes PLG work: ease of use, in-app education, virality, and so on.
The company took off practically overnight, with the beta list jumping from 5k to 75k (per TechCrunch’s detailed history).
One especially interesting viral tactic: Dropbox was (and is) a paid product, but in those early days, they gave users additional free storage for referral sign-ups or sharing on social media. This fueled the natural viral spread, helping Dropbox become another household tech brand.
Calendly flips the script on scheduling meetings. Instead of going back and forth over email looking for a mutually agreeable time, Calendly users can just set their availability and invite anyone to schedule a meeting at whatever time they like.
Calendly is so obvious and easy to use that it hardly even needs a tutorial. Using it with clients to set up sales meetings or discovery calls is effortless, and even a client who’s never heard of it before will have zero trouble picking a time for their meeting.
Because it’s so easy to use, viral (clients who get invited via Calendly often turn into users themselves), and provides a stellar user experience, Calendly is a clear example of PLG. Using it is frictionless, and its low pricing makes activation less of a hurdle.
Hubspot wasn’t always a product-led company. In fact, it’s widely known as an authority in inbound content marketing, with services it used to sell hard via a small army of salespeople.
But today, HubSpot offers a wide range of products, many of which can be tried for free (or are entirely free). They’re easy to learn, and upgrading to premium (paid) versions is frequently a self-service process.
HubSpot still relies on a sales-driven approach for high-dollar clients. But it gets most of those clients in the door via PLG.
SurveyMonkey is another tool most of us have already seen or used, which is a big clue that the company is taking a PLG approach. The platform allows users to create and send simple surveys, and users can get started with basic surveys for free. (It’s always free to fill out a SurveyMonkey survey too.)
By designing a simple, enjoyable experience, SurveyMonkey created a product people like to use. So when users need greater data collection capabilities than the free tier allows, paying up just makes sense.
Voila: product-led growth.
Zapier is a service that allows users to connect other apps, enabling workflow automations across apps (even when those apps don’t have pre-built integrations).
Depending on your level of tech expertise, you might not agree that Zapier fits the “simple to use” ideal of a PLG strategy. But compared to coding your own app connections, Zapier is certainly simpler!
Zapier stretches the definition of “freemium” — most users won’t get very far without paying up. But it’s easy to understand (in concept, at least), and Zapier allows users to experience quick wins for free, as a sort of proof of concept.
Experience the benefits of PLG-minded task management software with Teamwork.com
A product-led strategy has the potential to create massive business growth for clients with the right sorts of products. If your creative agency works with SaaS or software clients that haven’t yet embraced PLG, helping them make that move could be the best decision your agency can make.
As you help clients embrace PLG, make sure you’re enjoying the benefits of task management software built with PLG principles in mind.
Teamwork.com is task management software built for the way agencies work. And because it was designed using the principles of product-led growth, it operates seamlessly in that model.