Why You Should Sell to Users, Not Buyers: A Product Led Approach to Marketing

May 16, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt of OpenView’s PLG Playbook. Download the eBook here.

If you’re deploying a product led growth (PLG) strategy for your business, you’ve likely got a killer product that solves one, if not many, customer pain points. You might be tempted then to rely on your product and word of mouth as driving forces for growth. Beware though, this approach could leave you exposed to competitors. On the flip side, you don’t want to open the floodgates on expensive marketing campaigns given the need to run a capital-efficient business. That’s where a product led approach to marketing comes in.

It’s all about striking the right balance of smart, yet significant growth that complements your broader PLG strategy. While no two companies are the same, there are commonalities across the most successful product led growth companies when it comes to messaging, targeting and marketing that we’ll discuss in this article. You’ll learn how to tweak these methods to meet your own needs and tailor the best strategies to fit your product and market.

Target Your Users, Not Buyers

The backbone of any marketing strategy should be a streamlined message explaining exactly what your product does. According to Ian Siegel, CEO at ZipRecruiter, “Every business only sells one thing.” So, if you surveyed your customers, what would they say you sold? If you spent more than 60 seconds trying to answer this question – or if you’ve never validated your assumptions, go ask them! For PLG companies like Asana and Expensify, their product and customer experience truly live up to their taglines, “Teamwork without email” and “Expense reports that don’t suck.”

So what do these taglines have in common? They speak directly to would-be users, not buyers. This subtle difference is a core pillar of product led growth marketing. Unlike traditional companies that market to buyers and rely on a top-down approach, product led growth companies build their user base from the ground up, relying on virality and shadow IT to bring the product to entire organization.

You must construct your brand messaging and voice to resonate with end users – those whose daily life will be improved because of your product. Your goal should be to build an army of champions that will drive change in their organizations. Take Expensify for example – they’ve built their business by focusing on a goal of making their users’ lives better, or ‘suck less’ – however you want to look at it. To do that though, they haven’t relied on costly paid advertising campaigns targeting heads of accounting departments nor do they have sales reps cold calling CFOs spewing ROI stats. CEO David Barrett states, “Our users outnumber the buyers 100:1. They are the ones with the power.” And that says it all. PLG companies need to rely on a ground up strategy, which brings not only cost-efficiency, but builds trust.

Expensify’s end-user-first mentality has led to tremendous growth in part because those satisfied users in turn become such strong advocates for the product and convince accounting managers and CFOs to purchase the product for entire companies. Correctly implementing a PLG marketing strategy allows your users to essentially market and sell your product for you.

But this is no easy feat. To accomplish this, keep in mind winning over users isn’t just about a building a killer product, but also a killer brand to go along with it. The voice of your brand should be relatable and trustworthy – one that’s focused on making the working lives of users better. Slack has done this especially well, as Drift explains here:

“It’s as if the founders of Slack understood what it’s like to work in an office, on a team. So instead of blasting us with jargon, they developed a brand voice that sounds like the voice of a trusted friend or colleague — someone who’s in the trenches with us, but who isn’t afraid to crack a joke and have some fun every now and then. This playful-yet-helpful style carries over seamlessly into the product, where the colors, micro-copy, signature “knock knock” notification sound, and fun features like Slackbot all contribute to a cohesive (and lovable) brand experience. So instead of blasting us with jargon, they developed a brand voice that sounds like the voice of a trusted friend or colleague — someone who’s in the trenches with us, but who isn’t afraid to crack a joke and have some fun every now and then.”

The Metrics that Matter Most

Just as nailing messaging is crucial, we can’t ignore the metrics. There is a seemingly endless list of metrics marketing teams track with varying levels of accuracy. The most common marketing metrics revolve around lead volume, lead conversion and engagement. What sets PLG companies apart is that they aren’t just focused on the top of the funnel, but the end to end customer experience. The most successful PLG companies don’t stop tracking leads once a BDR is assigned or even once a customer first enters their credit card information. Instead, marketing at PLG companies is centered on customer advocacy with a goal of ensuring that each and every customer is successful in their use and adoption of the product. The best PLG companies realize that paying customers are an extension of the marketing and sales team. Keeping these customers happy will in turn fuel your growth. This is precisely why Slack’s number one metric is net promoter score, as highlighted here by former Slack CMO and CRO Bill Macaitis:

“I tell my team members that their gold standard is not whether customers bought a product, but did they recommend us? It’s a higher bar and a different standard. We also don’t see marketing’s role as getting customers in the door and then wiping our hands and going on to the next one. Marketing’s role is about recommendation, so we spend a lot of time building up playbooks and putting together hints and tips on how to get the most out of Slack.”

More importantly, though, is the need to define and communicate your gold standard – whether that’s net promoter score or another metric. Your team needs to be aligned on the primary metric for which they should be optimizing. Doing so will not only guide your marketing experiments, but also your product development.

Your Product is a Type of Marketing

Your product is a key form of marketing – after all, that is a core tenet of product led growth. So virality should be baked into everything you do. Your product must incentivize users to invite others to use the product by ensuring their experience only becomes more valuable and enjoyable as more of their peers sign on. The idea of your product serving as a means of empowering users to refer other users are core to products like Slack, Dropbox and Typeform – three classic product led growth companies. Both Slack and Dropbox allow users to invite others to the product – Dropbox even incentivized this referral program with free storage. While Typeform updated the footer of their product from “Powered by Typeform” to “Create A Typeform.” Doing so doubled their click-through rate from respondents and led to new user growth.

But the best part of this virality other than continued growth? Users don’t expect to receive a monetary gain in return for inviting others. They are incentivized to refer and invite others because doing so increases the value they get out of the product. Another prime example of this is InVision, an award-winning product design platform. The majority of the referrals they receive are from their users sharing prototypes, rather than their traditional referral program. Allowing your product to serve as a key marketing tool can be a cheap, reliable means to acquiring more customers. The growth could be exponential so don’t skimp on developing viral aspects of your offering.

Prioritizing Your Marketing Channels

Beyond intra-product marketing, where should PLG marketers look to drive growth? Organic channels of course. Users search daily for ways to alleviate their pain points. And you want to be there when they do. To do this, you need a strong content marketing strategy. Your content should educate prospects, free users and existing customers on both direct and complementary topics. And please, quality over quantity! Aim for two epic pieces of content that engage your prospect to the point where they are sharing it with colleagues and friends, rather than 20 pieces of average content. Don’t necessarily gate your content. Your brand should be a trusted advisor, not a gatekeeper of information. Take this idea of knowledge sharing beyond just content marketing via SEO and social. Look to create communities, both online and off.

In the end, your marketing strategy should have a user-first mentality. This means relaying a clear message of exactly what your product does and the pains it can solve. Speak directly to the end user in a relatable, knowledgeable and trustworthy way. Hold your marketing efforts to the highest bar of customer satisfaction – net promoter score. Cultivate communities and provide valuable insights and content. By doing this all of this, you’ll create an army of champions that will multiply your marketing efforts and put your product led company on a clear path to success.

This article is an excerpt of OpenView’s PLG Playbook. Download the entire eBook here

Ashley Minogue

Senior Director of Growth

Ashley is Senior Director of Growth on OpenView's Expansion team. She helps OpenView’s portfolio companies achieve repeatable scale via marketing, sales and pricing strategy optimization. Most frequently, she partners with the portfolio on projects related to improving lead funnel conversion, customer segmentation, sales process, pricing and demand gen. Prior to joining OpenView, Ashley was the Senior Manager of B2B Strategy & Analytics at Her efforts spanned marketing, BDR optimization & funnel analytics to help the B2B business grow by 9x in just a few years. Before, Ashley worked as a consultant for Simon-Kucher & Partners, the global marketing and strategy consulting firm known as the world leader in pricing.