Skyrocketing Your Product Growth: The Ultimate Guide
Have you ever wondered how it’s possible to try so many SaaS products for free? It’s because of something called product-led growth (or product growth for short).
It’s how companies like Slack, Notion, Calendly, and Loom have achieved such viral growth. They use their product as the selling point.
But isn’t that what all companies do?
Not exactly. Product growth specifically makes the product available for free. Users get to experience the value of the product before paying for it. Reducing friction like this naturally leads to more people trying the product—and more people finding they like it. This then contributes to and supercharges virality.
In this ultimate guide for product growth, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about product-led growth and how to implement it for your SaaS.
- Product growth is a go-to-market strategy that uses the product to drive user acquisition, activation, conversion, and retention.
- Being product-led means using product-led marketing like pain point SEO, product-focused sales enablement documents, and case studies showing customer success with your product.
- The evolution of product-led growth has come about as a result of a shift in the buying process at companies whereby non-C-suite employees have more say in buying decisions.
- Benefits of product-led growth include the creation of a marketing flywheel, better-designed products, and more alignment among different teams within a company.
- You can achieve product growth by making sure your marketing is product-led, leading users to activation as quickly as possible, implementing secondary and tertiary onboarding, creating an account expansion strategy, and encouraging user referrals.
- One of the best product growth tools is Userpilot because it lets you implement contextual onboarding with its granular user segmentation features and no-code UI element styling engine.
- Another great product growth tool is Appcues with its wide range of onboarding elements but has become pricey and bloated as a product over the years.
- A Growth Product Manager doesn’t own a specific product like a traditional product manager but is responsible for improving certain business metrics related to product growth.
- The ideal time to hire a Growth Product Manager for your SaaS is once you have an established product in the market and you need to optimize it for growth and scale.
- We’ve compiled a list of two books, two blogs, two podcasts, and three resources on product growth for you.
What is product growth?
Product growth (or product-led growth) is a go-to-market strategy that uses the product itself to drive user acquisition, activation, conversion, and retention. No whitepapers, no demos, no salesperson—just seeing the product in action.
The term was originally coined in the 2010s for self-serve SaaS businesses. And it was massively popularized by Wes Bush’s book Product-Led Growth. Shortly after, Wes founded Product-Led Institute to teach product-led growth to more companies.
This is usually done through a free trial or freemium model. And once the user gets value from the product, it’s easier for them to decide to upgrade to a paid plan.
In both B2B and B2C, buyers want to self-serve. They want to try the product themselves, not learn about it from a salesperson. And as we learned in The Product Adoption Curve in SaaS, a key driver of product innovation is product trialability: how easily users can try a product before they buy it.
So what does being product-led mean in action?
What does it mean to be product-led?
Being product-led mainly applies to self-serve SaaS companies but not always. You can still incorporate product-led growth if you’re not a fully self-serve SaaS.
If you’re product-led, you use product-led marketing:
- Pain-point SEO (prioritizing content ideas for high-intent keywords over high-volume keywords to drive conversions)
- Product-focused sales enablement documents
- Focus on case studies of how customers have solved specific problems with your product
As users continue to get more value from your product, the user adoption flywheel pushes them to upgrade to paid plans and your average customer value (ACV) goes up.
A product-led approach enables you to expose your product to the actual audience that the product is designed for, not just buyers who aren’t familiar with the exact workflows their teams are using. This means your product is more likely to resonate and spread within the company.
Being product-led also means being design-led because the product and its user onboarding need to be designed in a way that delivers on value and experience.
But how did product-led growth come to be? Let’s take a look at how we got here.
The evolution of product-led growth
We’ve come a long way: from the CIO Era to the Exec Era to the End User Era.
In the beginning, software was expensive and purchase decisions were made by highly technical executives. There was a big focus on how the software would fit into the company’s existing tech stack. This was the CIO Era.
Next came the Exec Era when software integrations became less complicated and less expensive. Non-technical executives started making software buying decisions by looking at return on investment and how the new software would help achieve the company’s goals.
Now we are in the End User Era. Software is much easier and simpler to use and subscription pricing has exploded. This has pushed software purchase decisions further away from executives and closer to employees, who are the real users of the software.
Google has even reported that 81% of non-C-suite employees now have a say in purchase decisions.
SaaS has also made it a lot easier to switch between different tools with convenient monthly plans instead of expensive annual contracts. The landscape has therefore become more competitive and whoever best caters to the needs of the end-user wins.
The role of “growth hacking”
Somewhere along the way, the term “growth hacking” started cropping up. It referred to running creative and cost-effective experiments to identify strategies for acquiring and retaining customers.
The term “hacking” started having negative connotations, so “growth hacking” eventually became “growth marketing.” This “growth” approach made its way into the Growth Product Manager role that adds value to an organization by working toward commercial goals that were previously only executed by sales and marketing teams.
This is all very fitting, given that with product-led growth, the product itself is used to drive more user engagement and retention. So it makes sense for a lot of “growth” responsibilities to fall on a product manager.
Next up, let’s take a look at the benefits of product-led growth.
Benefits of product-led growth
The benefits of product-led growth stem from the fact that it turns the product into a marketing flywheel that sells itself.
This flywheel and product-focused user onboarding lead to a higher Annual Contract Value (ACV) per customer. And since the product sells itself, customer acquisition is low-touch. This lowers the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and shortens sales cycles.
Product-led growth typically leads to better-designed products because of the focus on the product experience. This further drives word-of-mouth referrals, the most reliable organic growth lever.
Another benefit of product-led growth is it leads to more alignment among different teams and departments. Everyone is focused on improving the product so there’s less need to scale individual departments separately.
Finally, the smaller scale inherent in the product-led growth approach means there’s less impact from losing a customer because revenue is diversified.
So how can your team achieve product growth?
How to achieve more product growth?
There are five key elements to consider when transitioning to a product-led growth approach for your SaaS. And every one of those elements is a way of building more momentum into the marketing flywheel of your product.
Here are the five elements:
1. Make sure your marketing is product-led
At the heart of it, buyers are aware vendors want to position their product in the best way possible. In fact, only 3% of consumers trust salespeople and marketers. That’s why with product-led growth, you need to let your product do the marketing.
This means using the actual experience of real customers to market the product. Any content should specify the exact type of customer the product helps and for what specific use case.
Instead of measuring the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs), measure the happiness of your customers with metrics like:
- Time to first response
- Daily/weekly/monthly active users
- Overall customer satisfaction
- Net promoter scores
2. Lead new users to activation as quickly as possible with an interactive and personalized user onboarding
How many times have you used a product and weren’t sure how to do your next action? How long did you spend trying to figure it out before leaving? Did you come back to try it again?
And that’s precisely the point—users will leave your app if it’s not clear what they need to do next.
To get users to activation as quickly as possible, you need to understand exactly what each user is trying to do in your product. This means segmenting your users from the beginning.
Once a new user enters your product, greet them at the welcome screen with a micro survey. You can then customize the product experience around the job they need to get done.
Then pick two or three activation events for each user segment. And build interactive walkthrough experiences to guide users to the activation event.
You can also choose to add an onboarding checklist that groups different events together to improve user activation. A checklist can go a long way to motivate users to complete user onboarding by seeing their progress visually.
3. Use secondary and tertiary onboarding (make sure your onboarding never stops) to build a continuous onboarding loop
Primary onboarding is about getting the user to their first Aha! moment and to activate. However, there’s more to onboarding than that—in fact, it should never stop. The idea is to keep showing users how they can get more value out of the product.
Secondary onboarding is concerned with exposing activated users to secondary features that give them more use cases for the product. This makes the product stickier (since they can do more with it) and enables higher user retention rates. It also leads to fewer disengaged users.
Then there’s tertiary onboarding. Tertiary features are only seen through the continued use of a product. For example, analytics only become useful once you have a sufficient amount of data from using the product. But once the ROI of those tertiary features is visible to the users, they’ll keep coming back for more.
The goal is to hold the customer’s hand and make sure they’re getting more and more value out of the product until they become an advocate. Then your job is to keep them as an advocate. This creates a user adoption flywheel that keeps your product growing into the future.
4. Create an account expansion strategy
An account expansion strategy is about asking this question:
How are you going to push upsells?
The most effective way is to push for upsells in the right context—when the user performs an action closely related to the upsell. That way, the upsell offer is relevant to the user’s action and ideally exposes them to how they can do it better. In this way, you can use user analytics to drive upsells at the right time.
The upsell request could come in many forms with the most common being push notifications and in-app slideouts.
For example, Hubspot pushes for an upsell of email templates when it detects the user is copying and pasting a lot of emails.
Another example is from BlockSite. It suggests adding more sites to the user’s block list to further increase productivity.
5. Encourage user referrals
Referral programs are integral to product-led growth as they rely on word-of-mouth, a key part of the user adoption flywheel.
Here are the benefits of running SaaS referral programs:
Faster and more reliable conversions: A high-impact recommendation from someone close to you is up to 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase than a low-impact recommendation from a company.
Increased brand awareness: Word-of-mouth marketing from customers who love your brand builds positive brand awareness and gets more people interested in your brand.
Lower customer acquisition costs (CAC): With referral programs, you only pay for the reward when a referral actually becomes a new customer. A SaaS business can lower their CAC even further by giving something away that’s almost no cost to them like a free month or limited-time upgrade. This can increase the LTV/CAC ratio, an important SaaS metric.
Higher conversion rates: Your users are likely to know specific people who could also benefit from your SaaS. Setting up a referral program simply incentivizes your users to find more people like them to use your product.
Increased customer retention and lifetime value: Referred users are 18% more likely to stay with a brand than those who weren’t referred. This is because people get more attached to brands their friends or acquaintances also really like.
Now that we’ve covered how you can achieve product growth, let’s dive into the best product growth tools and software you can use.
Best product growth tools & software
The best product growth tools and software help you create a personalized user onboarding for every customer segment. We’ve selected two tools to walk you through today: Userpilot and Appcues.
Product growth tools #1: Userpilot — How Userpilot helps Product Growth with contextual onboarding
Userpilot is a product-growth platform made for SaaS companies that helps you get more growth out of your product by letting you:
- Target the right user segments at the right time using user analytics
- Create a personalized onboarding experience for all your users, leading to more activation.
- Push more upsells within your app through slideouts and modals.
- Understand your users and better segment them with in-app feedback tools like micro surveys and NPS.
What makes Userpilot unique is that it offers contextual onboarding. This is about showing the right user the right message at the right time in their user journey.
Targeting disengaged users
You can target a certain segment of disengaged users based on their past actions and create a special onboarding experience for them. Maybe that experience focuses on getting them to perform the very action that’s associated with user activation for your product (e.g. scheduling their first post as in the example below.)
Userpilot makes it really easy to tailor your onboarding to each individual user by letting you trigger onboarding elements based on granular user behavior within your app. It’s the most effective way to get users to activation as fast as possible and sticking around the app in the long run.
Code-free styling in Userpilot
Userpilot also gives you complete control over the styling of your onboarding elements. This lets you blend the onboarding into your product and keep your branding consistent.
The best part? There’s absolutely no coding required to style your onboarding elements!
Look at how granular you can get with styling something like the beacon in an onboarding element:
Monitoring how users are engaging with your app’s elements
The analytics in Userpilot are made for SaaS companies who want to build an onboarding experience for their users based on how they engage with different elements in their app.
To see what users are doing in your app, you have two options. First, you can pass custom events, user attributes and event attributes to denote certain behavior in your app.
Second, you can tag certain UI elements in your app using the simple UI selector and mark them as features you want to track.
In-app feedback surveys
You also have the option to implement in-app feedback surveys like NPS with Userpilot and trigger it to be displayed to users based on specific in-app behavior.
There’s also the option to create embeddable micro surveys within your app with Userpilot.
Creating a resource center for your SaaS
Finally, Userpilot is the only alternative to Pendo that lets you create a Resource Center: a self-serve documentation hub for the user to search help docs, knowledge base articles, and educational videos all in-app. You can even link to external links from within the Resource Center.
Do you like what you’re seeing? Jump on a free consultation with us!
Great news! For up to 2,500 monthly active users, Userpilot is only $249 per month.
The Userpilot pricing plans include:
- All features without limits
- Free on-demand live chat support (average response time is 8 minutes!)
- 3 onboarding calls with the Customer Success team
- Access to Live Webinars about Userpilot and onboarding
Installing Userpilot involves minimal coding and takes just a few minutes.
If you want to create custom events for your onboarding, your developer will need to pass those custom events through your app. Then you’ll be able to target your audience based on custom in-app events.
Setting up user onboarding flows is easy, too. Userpilot has a visual drag-and-drop tool resembling a simple website builder that lets you build onboarding UI elements.
Within minutes, you can build onboarding flows with Userpilot’s builder—no technical skills required!
Userpilot is an excellent choice for SaaS companies who want to use their product to drive more growth. Its simple (almost code-free) installation and ability to build contextual onboarding gives you the control you need over how your users engage with your product.
If in-depth analytics aren’t a top priority for you, Userpilot is a far more cost-effective option to choose compared to Pendo.
Next, let’s take a look at Appcues, another product growth tool.
Product growth tools #2: Appcues — For a wide range of onboarding elements
Appcues made a significant dent in the world of user onboarding. Before Appcues, SaaS companies had to use complicated on-premise products like WalkMe to build simple in-app user experiences.
Appcues was the first to introduce a wide range of onboarding elements like tooltips, checklists, and slideouts. Using their vast range of elements, you can craft the exact onboarding experience you want.
However, Appcues has been around since 2013 and is a little behind on their offering, unlike the newer and more affordable Userpilot. Appcues offers fewer UI elements and only one action, while Userpilot offers four actions to choose from for your onboarding:
In-app styling with Appcues is quite limited. The only way to completely style onboarding elements in Appcues is through the use of CSS.
With Userpilot, you don’t need CSS to style various UI elements like beacons and widgets.
Appcues is definitely more affordable than Pendo, but there’s something to consider. Its cheapest plan for up to 2,500 monthly active users is the same price as Userpilot’s lowest plan ($249 per month) but the feature set is limited.
If you need to build more onboarding flows in the future for the same number of monthly active users or need more than five customer segments, you’ll have to upgrade to Appcues’ Growth Plan for $879 per month.
Appcues is one of the leaders in onboarding software and it has a substantial library of resources and useful content. Its wide range of elements can help you craft the exact product experience you want for your users.
But because it’s been around for a long time, the product has gotten a little dusty and quite expensive.
Should you hire a Growth Product Manager? Product growth roles in product-led companies
A Growth Product Manager can be a great asset to have but should you hire one for your SaaS right now? Let’s find out what a Growth Product Manager is exactly and whether it’s time to hire one.
Who is a Growth Product Manager?
A Growth Product Manager is different from a traditional product manager. They don’t own a specific product and instead are responsible for improving a specific business metric related to product growth.
Based on the company’s goals, the Growth Product Manager will form a business case around what specific problem to solve. They’ll then form hypotheses, run short-term experiments, and measure results. As soon as an approach achieves results, they’ll double down on that strategy to drive product growth.
Here are some of the activities a Growth Product Manager might do:
- Customer segmentation based on behaviour and demographics
- A/B testing
- Multivariate testing
- Funnel analysis
- Conversion optimization
- Data analysis & visualization
- Growth strategy design
- Price plan design
- Project management
- User onboarding design
There aren’t many roles that work as cross-functionally as the Growth Product Manager. They interact and work with the following roles:
- Technical engineers
- Data analysts
- Product analysts
- UI/UX designers
- Business stakeholders
Should you hire a Growth Product Manager for your Saas?
The ideal time to hire a Growth Product Manager is when your product is entering its growth phase. It’s your company’s shot at establishing itself in the market and getting to profitability. And you need to scale your product effectively to get there.
Don’t hire a Growth Product Manager in the very early days of your SaaS. You should focus on building a stable product and validating you’ve found a big enough problem to solve (and for who.)
Growth Product Managers are most effective when you have an existing product that has not yet been optimized for growth.
Since Growth Product Managers heavily rely on metrics to do their job and optimize product growth, you absolutely need to have product and marketing metrics in place before hiring one. You can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Lastly, you should not hire a Growth Product Manager until you’ve hired at least a few product managers. This is because Growth Product Managers and regular product managers are peers who work together. The product manager is responsible for product functionality and solving users’ problems. They create the value and then the Growth Product Manager optimizes that value and scales it.
Next up is a list of product growth books, blogs and resources we’ve put together for you.
Product growth books, blogs, podcasts, and resources
We’ve put together a list of books, blogs and resources on product growth so you can learn more.
Product growth books to read
There are two great books on product growth for you to read.
#1 – Product-Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself
The author of Product-Led Growth is Wes Bush, the founder and CEO of ProductLed, an organization that teaches companies product-led growth. It’s also a global community in the SaaS space.
Bush is known for going against the traditional SaaS sales playbook with product-led growth. He believes the best products should sell themselves.
In Product-Led Growth, you’ll learn why product-led growth is the best way to acquire and retain customers and what’s broken with the traditional sales model. The book outlines Bush’s method for implementing product-led growth to create fast-growing products.
It contains real-life examples from the world’s biggest SaaS companies and exact email scripts to use for your SaaS user onboarding.
“Product-Led Growth is about helping your customers experience the ongoing value your product provides…and this book shows you how it’s done.”—Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked and Indistractible
- Implementing a free trial in 24 hours to save 3-6 months of development and thousands of dollars
- A simple framework for turning users into customers Bush has used to drive millions in revenue for various brands
- The 4-letter decision framework for picking a go-to-market strategy and growth model for SaaS
- The “Triple-A” sprint cycle and sustainable growth
- The 3 apocalyptic “tidal waves” in SaaS and how to survive them
- The biggest cause of a leaky funnel and how to fix it
- The 7 people you need to run a successful product-led team
4.6 out of 5
239 global ratings
Where to buy
You can buy Product-Led Growth on Amazon.
Next up is another book by Wes Bush and a co-author.
#2 – Product-Led Onboarding [NEW! 💥]
The authors of Product-Led Onboarding are Ramli John and Wes Bush. They both work at ProductLed, an organization teaching companies product-led growth. They’ve helped some of the world’s fastest-growing companies retain more customers by improving their user onboarding.
John and Bush host the ProductLed podcast and John also hosts the Growth Marketing Today podcast. They’ve interviewed industry leaders like April Dunford and Hiten Shah.
Read their writing at productled.com.
In Product-Led Onboarding, you’ll learn a six-step strategy to retain more customers used by companies like Mixpanel. The strategy focuses on capturing users’ attention from the beginning and designing a delightful customer experience.
The takeaway is that a small change in the rate of product adoption can translate into a significant amount of additional revenue.
- Definition of user onboarding
- Overview of Eureka framework for user onboarding
- 6-step strategy for retaining more customers
- How to build an onboarding team
- How to treat new users
- Analytics for user onboarding
- How to incorporate sales into user onboarding
5 out of 5
4 global ratings
Where to buy
You can buy Product-Led Onboarding on Amazon.
Next up is a list of blogs to read on product growth.
Product growth blogs to read
We’ve found two exceptional blogs for you to read about product growth. Let’s check them out!
Brian Balfour is the Founder and CEO of Reforge, a membership platform with cohort-based programs for product growth. He was previously the VP of Growth at Hubspot and has started various companies backed by venture capital.
Balfour writes detailed essays about growth, user acquisition, and scaling companies. Here are some essays to get started with:
- Building a Growth Framework Towards a $100 Million Product
- Get Out of the ARPU-CAC Danger Zone with Channel Model Fit
Reforge is a membership-based platform with cohort-based programs that teach product growth and was founded by Brian Balfour (mentioned above.) The platform has attracted big names in the industry like Casey Winters (CPO at Eventbrite) and Ravi Mehta (CPO at Tinder.)
Here’s a great blog post from Reforge written by Crystal Widjaja, the former SVP of Growth and Business Intelligence at Gojek, one of the biggest apps in Southeast Asia:
Let’s now take a look at some of the best podcast episodes on product growth we’ve put together for you.
Product growth podcasts to listen to
Here are two great podcast episodes about how fast-growing companies used product-led growth successfully.
#1 – The Growth TL;DR Podcast: Virality and Product-channel fit: The Story Behind Looms Explosive Growth (Episode 35)
This is an interview with Joe Thomas, the CEO and Co-founder of Loom, a convenient video messaging tool.
The episode covers:
- How the idea for Loom was born
- The benefits of using an incentivized referral program
- What acquisition channels the company plans to invest in
- Why the switch from focusing on acquisition to activation
- What features do they charge for and why
This is an interview with Jay Simons, the President of Atlassian, a widely used project management platform for software development teams.
The episode covers:
- Why the product growth flywheel starts with a remarkable product
- Why the low-touch sales model works
- Atlassian’s distribution flywheel
- The benefits of a transparent pricing model
Next up are some product growth resources for you to bookmark or dig into right away!
Product growth resources
Here are some resources for you to go deeper into what product growth is and how it’s used in practice.
OpenView Partners put together a list of 36 resources in this ultimate guide for product-led growth. The resources are split up into the following categories:
- PLG overview and best practices
- Acquisition strategies and product virality
- Conversion and monetization strategies
- Podcast episodes and videos
- Stories of successful PLG companies
- Stories of pivoting towards a more PLG approach
- Metrics and benchmarks
We really like A New Way To Tell if a Company Is Truly Product-Led (from PLG overview and best practices) and Freemium vs. Free Trial: How to Know Which One to Pick for Your SaaS Startup.
This is a long-form article about product-led growth written by Sujan Patel, the Co-founder of Mailshake, a sales engagement platform. The article covers:
- Whether product-led growth is really new
- The key components of a product-led growth approach
- Examples of companies with product-led growth
- Resources for product-led growth
This guide wouldn’t be complete without calling out some of the alternative opinions around the freemium model which is heavily used in the product-led growth approach. It’s written by Rob Walling, a big name in the SaaS bootstrapping world.
This short post references a guest post written by Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch called “Why Free Plans Don’t Work”. It discusses the small percentage of free users that convert to paid plans and the vast distribution a company needs for a conversion percentage like that to work.
Something to think about—we just want you to have all the information you need to make the right decision for your SaaS.
Wrapping up: product growth
You should now have a good understanding of what product growth is and how it can contribute to a lot of growth for your SaaS. The key that underpins product growth, though, is having a remarkable product. This is what truly creates the marketing flywheel—people simply love your product and want to talk about it.
Once you have a remarkable product, it can sell itself at scale. And most importantly, it sells itself to real users who would use the product, not just executive decision-makers.
To really make the most of product growth, consider hiring a Growth Product Manager who can focus on business metrics for product growth and optimize them. Make sure you already have regular product managers at your company because they are the ones who create the products your Growth Product Manager will be optimizing!
And if you ever get stuck along the way, refer back to this guide for additional resources around product growth. It will set you up for growing your SaaS the right way with product-led growth.
Want to get started with product growth? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can use your beautiful SaaS to attract and retain more customers!