How to Implement PLG for Complex Products? [Tips and Examples]

How to Implement PLG for Complex Products? [Tips and Examples] cover

What makes PLG for complex products challenging? And how can you overcome them?

These are the main questions we tackle in this article. We also look at examples of companies that have managed to ace product-led growth for complex software solutions.

Let’s get right to it!


What is the product-led growth strategy?

Product-led growth (PLG) is a go-to-market strategy that leverages the product as the main driver of customer acquisition, retention, and account expansion.

The strategy is based on the assumption that good products that satisfy genuine user needs speak for themselves.

In short, the approach allows users to explore the product for free, via a free trial or freemium model, to discover its value. Once this happens, they adopt the product as a go-to solution to their problems and eventually convert into paying customers.

As their satisfaction grows, they turn into product champions and promote the product via referral programs or word-of-mouth marketing.

What is the difference between product-led growth and sales-led growth?

The fact that users play an important role in product promotion is one thing that distinguishes PLG from sales-led growth. That’s because the latter approach relies heavily on marketing to acquire customers.

What are the other differences?

In PLG, the role of sales teams is reduced as well because a lot of the conversions happen via self-service channels. The majority of users sign up for the product online and upgrade to higher plans by credit card without any contact with a sales rep whatsoever.

That’s also how they access support. Instead of forcing users to contact customer support or customer success teams, product-led businesses offer users on-demand support through knowledge bases, resource centers, and in-app guidance.

Such reduced reliance on sales and support staff results in lower customer acquisition costs, which is one of the main advantages of PLG.

Sounds perfect, right? Well, the product-led strategy doesn’t work for all products and so many companies have to use a hybrid approach made up of both PLG and sales tactics, sometimes called product-led sales.

PLG vs sales-led growth
PLG vs sales-led growth.

Challenges of the product-led model for complex products

Complex products are one case where a pure PLG doesn’t cut it.

Let me explain:

Very technical solutions normally come with a steep learning curve. This means that it’s very difficult to experience their value through freemium or free trials. Similarly, a full self-service support strategy might not work.

In other words, the product-qualified leads don’t get that well-qualified.

What’s the result?

Aspiring PLG companies have to resort to sales tactics like product demos and presentations to acquire customers.

Product-led Growth is tricky with complex products because resorting to a human selling it is usually easier. – Leah Tharin

To view how PLG for complex products is challenging, check out the webinar below from PLG specialist Leah Tharin.

Leah Tharin: PLG for Complex Products.

How to integrate the product-led approach in complex products?

The fact that it’s difficult for potential customers to experience the value of a complex product via self-service channels doesn’t mean that your company won’t benefit from PLG strategies.

Here are a few ways you can use them to improve customer experience and boost product growth.

Create a personalized onboarding for new users to shorten TTV

Personalized onboarding allows users to experience the product value in less time.

Instead of introducing all the available features, it focuses only on the key functionality that is relevant to their use cases. In this way, users need less time to start using the product without getting overwhelmed with unimportant information.

Start onboarding with a welcome survey and use the responses to tailor the onboarding journey for different user personas.

Onboarding builder
Userpilot onboarding flow builder.

Trigger contextual messages to help existing customers discover features

Once users get confident using the basic functionality, it may be time to start introducing the more complex features. This will allow them to complete their tasks more efficiently and keep them engaged.

Contextual onboarding messages are an excellent tool for the job!

Let’s imagine you have a social media app that allows users to upload videos. It’s Friday, so why not trigger a tooltip or slideout to help new users discover the scheduling feature so that they don’t have to upload them manually at the weekend?

Contextual messages work great for introducing new features to existing users as well.

New feature announcement
A new feature announcement created in Userpilot.

Offer both self-service and full-service customer support

While the majority of users would rather not speak to a support agent, some problems are simply to deal with via the resource center or chatbot, no matter how good it is.

This is particularly true for complex products because it’s impossible to cover all the possible variables and eventualities in the self-support resources.

What’s the solution?

Offer both self-service and full-service as well.

In this way, you’re giving users a chance to solve their issues on their own and a lifeline in case it’s not enough.

Resource center
Resource center in Userpilot.

Trigger upsell messages for expansion revenue growth

In-app messages aren’t just to aid feature discovery. You can also use them to drive account expansion vis upsells and cross-sells.

For example, if the customer has reached their usage limit, you can trigger a modal encouraging them to upgrade!

Such contextual prompts are effective at driving conversions because they offer users a solution exactly when the problem arises.

Upsell message
Upsell message built in Userpilot.

Use onboarding gamification to engage and retain customers

Software companies use gamification to keep their users engaged during the onboarding process.

This can come in many forms, onboarding checklists being one.

Think about the dopamine hit you get every time you tick off a task from a checklist. Does it make you feel like stopping? I bet not!

The same thing happens when you get a congratulatory message, a shiny new badge, or hit the top of the leaderboard.

By embedding elements of gamification, you reduce the risk of users dropping off during onboarding and this translates into high user activation and retention.

Celebration modal
Celebration modal.

Analyze the customer journey to remove friction

Talking of drop-offs…they’re normally caused by friction.

One way to identify friction points in the user journey is through funnel analytics.

A funnel chart visualizes how many users progress from one stage of the journey to another. If there is excessive friction at any stage, you will see it immediately.

Of course, this is just a start.

Once you know where the friction is, you need to analyze the user interactions at the particular touchpoint to find the real cause of the problem. For example, you may watch session recordings of users engaging with a particular feature or product page.

Funnel analysis
Funnel analysis in Userpilot.

Implement a customer feedback loop to improve product experiences

Another way to figure out what is causing friction and spoiling the product experience for users is through customer feedback.

In-app user surveys take little time to create and you can use them to target specific user segments, for example, those who started an action but never completed it.

Don’t take your user responses for granted. Whenever they respond to the survey, acknowledge it with an automated message.

Whether you decide to implement their suggestions or not, make sure to keep them in the loop as you’re dealing with issues so that they know you’re really listening to their voice.

In-app survey
In-app survey made in Userpilot.

Create customer communities to encourage knowledge-sharing

Building customer communities is a great way to outsource customer support.

Think of it:

Whatever the issue that the customer is facing, there’s a big chance that somebody else has experienced it before them, and they will be happy to share what they learned.

All you have to do is give them a venue to share their experiences, troubleshooting advice, or success stories, like a forum.

Bonus points if you provide them with a facility to upload their templates and resources. In this way, you not only take the load off the support teams but also increase the product value and build a moat that will protect you from competitors.

Examples of product-led companies with complex products

How do PLG companies implement the above strategies to facilitate the growth of their complex products?

Here are a few examples!

Zendesk personalizes experiences with a survey

Zendesk is a customer support platform that requires a fairly complex setup and user onboarding.

To flatten the learning curve, the company kicks off the onboarding process with a survey. It collects information about users’ previous Zendesk experience, the support channels they use, and who they support.

Such data allows Zendesk to customize the onboarding experience for the user and reduce their TTV.

PLG for complex products: Zendesk welcome survey
PLG for complex products: Zendesk welcome survey.

Userpilot increases feature adoption through in-app messages

Userpilot is an onboarding tool, so no wonder it uses in-app messages to drive feature discovery and adoption.

For instance, the company uses pop-up modals to announce its new analytics features.

The messages contained brief instructions on how to use the features along with a visual and a CTA button.

The latter triggers an interactive walkthrough which guides users through the process of creating reports, step-by-step.

PLG for complex products: Userpilot in-app message
PLG for complex products: Userpilot in-app message.

Ahrefs boosts expansion revenue via upsell messages

Ahrefs is a well-known SEO suite that uses in-app messages to drive revenue expansion.

That’s exactly what they did to encourage users on their legacy pricing plans to upgrade to new ones.

The upsell message contained information about the main extra features included in the new plans. There was also a CTA encouraging users to explore them in detail.

PLG for complex products: Ahrefs upsells
PLG for complex products: Ahrefs upsells.

Osano provides in-app customer support

Osano is a customer privacy platform that allows teams to manage their privacy programs and automate data compliance tasks.

Sound complicated? Quite.

To provide quality support to its customers, the company has a dedicated customer support team as well as a resource center with comprehensive product documentation.

Our products are complex so we need to make sure people understand our team is there to help them, and that we have great documentation – that’s why the Resource Center became really helpful. – Arlo Gilbert, Founder and CEO

How effective is the resource center?

By introducing the resource center made through Userpilot, Osano has managed to reduce the number of support chat requests by a whopping 25%.

PLG for complex products: Osano resource center
PLG for complex products: Osano resource center.

Asana engages users through gamification

Asana is a popular project management solution trusted by teams across different industries.

To constantly motivate and engage their users, Asana uses gamification.

Whenever a user completes a task, a celebratory animation featuring an animal appears on the screen.

And not just any animal!

Seeing a unicorn, a yeti, or a phoenix flying across the dashboard after completing a particularly demanding task or in the middle of a stressful day is just priceless.

PLG for complex products: Asana celebrations
PLG for complex products: Asana celebrations.

HubSpot encourages engagement via a community

HubSpot, the popular marketing, sales, and customer data platform, started off as a sales-led organization.

No wonder! Setting it up and managing is not exactly straightforward.

And yet, HubSpot has transformed into a product-led company.

One PLG tactic that it uses is the HubSpot community where users can connect and build their HubSpot expertise.

PLG for complex products: Hubspot community
PLG for complex products: HubSpot community.

How Userpilot can help SaaS companies become product-led?

As mentioned, Userpilot is a product growth platform that can help you implement your PLG strategy, no matter how complex your product is.

What features does it offer?

Analytics for data-driven decision-making:


  • In-app surveys
  • Template library
  • Feedback widget

User engagement:

Would you like to see how you can use Userpilot to improve your product experience and drive product growth? Book a demo to learn more.


Product-led growth may not always work for complex products. Demos or presentations are often much more effective at communicating their value.

However, PLG tactics can still improve the product experience and reduce customer support costs.

Book the demo to see how Userpilot can help you do it at your SaaS business.

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