The Ultimate Product-Led Growth Resources Guide

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on November 1, 2018. 

When we talk about product-led growth (PLG), it’s important to understand how we got here. The way people buy software today is completely different from what it was even a decade ago.

Back in the the 1980s, software was sold on the golf course. Field sales was the norm and Oracle reigned supreme. In the early 2000s, Salesforce and a host of others disrupted that model with outbound sales over the phone, which promised a similarly high close rate at one-third the cost and one-third the amount of time. Fast-forward a few years, and the late 2000s saw the rise of marketing-led sales, driven by content marketing, social selling, and automation.

The next frontier of go-to-market is product-led growth. Companies with a PLG strategy—think Slack, Expensify, Atlassian, and Dropbox—rely on product features and usage as their primary drivers of customer acquisition, retention, and expansion. It’s through this strategy that companies are able to grow faster and with less cash. They forgo spending large sums on traditional marketing and sales activities. Instead, they rely on the products themselves to supply a pipeline of satisfied users to convert to paying customers.

Product-led growth is often synonymous with viral, freemium, and bottoms-up sales. But it’s much more than that. Any company—even those selling to large Enterprises or operating in niche vertical markets—can adopt PLG principles to improve user experiences and increase go-to-market efficiency.

We’ve assembled this guide to provide a single center of truth for the most informative and innovative PLG resources. Included is a holistic breakdown of what PLG means and how every department in a SaaS company should be adapted to embrace product-led growth. There are inside stories of operating practices among companies that have been PLG from the start, as well as companies that pivoted to embrace a PLG strategy later on. The content is  from OpenView as well as PLG thought leaders around the world—including HubSpot, Intercom, Aptrinsic, InVision, Appcues, and many more.

This is a living guide and will be updated as we find new resources. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know on LinkedIn.

Table of Contents

PLG overview and best practices

What is Product-Led Growth? How to Build a Software Company in the End User Era
What exactly is product-led growth? Think about how your company adopted Slack. It’s a very different process from the way software used to be bought and sold. End users want business software to feel like the software they use at home, and they have the budget to buy it for themselves. Product-led growth is your go-to-market strategy for the end user era. Here, Blake Bartlett of OpenView discusses PLG in more detail.

The 3 Pillars of PLG
The three pillars of product led growth—designing for the end user, delivering value before capturing value, and investing in the product with go-to-market intent—are what make PLG businesses so commercially successful. OpenView Partner Mackey Craven compiled wisdom from some of the most exceptional CEOs and executives in the industry—including Calendly’s Tope Awotona, Airtable’s Liat Bycel, JumpCloud’s Rajat Bhargava, and lots more.

Who Actually Owns ‘Growth’ at a PLG Company?
This is a question we get all the time. Is it the Product Team, the Growth Team, or the Marketing Team? Hint: It’s all three. OpenView’s Kyle Poyar defines what these teams should ideally look like in a growing business, what skills to look for when hiring, and the main areas of collaboration.

A New Way To Tell if a Company Is Truly Product-Led
Product-led impostors are among us—most companies have only dipped their toe into the PLG waters rather than diving head first. Figuring out whether a business is truly committed to a product-led growth strategy starts with looking beyond their website or pricing page.

Your Product Sells Itself. Now Hire Sales.
The best PLG companies empower their sales teams to improve the product so that it does an even better job of selling itself. So go hire sales!

Your Product Is Your Go-To-Market Strategy
Product is now the centerpiece of go-to-market, and OpenView Founder Scott Maxwell walks us through the timeline that brought us to this stage. From “aha” moments, to freemium versus free trial, to driving virality, expect to learn about how you can best educate your product team on PLG priorities.

The Product-Led Growth Market Map
Ever wondered about who has successfully adopted product-led growth? Or are you looking for a PLG role model in your industry? Check out our market map, representing the best PLG companies across four SaaS categories: Developer and Product Tools, Back Office and Operations, Customer Engagement, and Productivity and Collaboration.

Acquisition strategies and product virality

How Calendly Harnesses PLG and Virality for Growth
Calendly is one of the greatest examples of a product with a viral loop. Oji Udezue, VP of Product and Design at Calendly, gives us all the details about their powerful strategy—and he also reminds us that at the end of the day, it all comes down to solving your customers’ problems.

5 Examples of SaaS Products With Viral Loops
Think about the first time someone sent you a Zoom link. Odds are that once the meeting ended, you wound up registering for an account so you could start setting up your own meetings. The people you invited to those meetings were then exposed to Zoom—and then, like you, they signed up and started to set up their own meetings. Zoom is just one example in this post by Victor Eduoh—he takes a closer look at Slack, Mailchimp, Calendly, and Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey).

Peek Inside Slack’s Multi-Million Dollar SaaS Growth Strategy
Slack gets 100,000,000 website visitors every month. That’s more than Salesforce, HubSpot, Intercom, Zendesk, Mailchimp, Shopify, and every other software company in the world. But that’s not what it’s all about. Slack is a role model for what it takes to build a software product loved by both small businesses and Fortune 100 companies alike. Chris Von Wilpert, CEO and Founder of Rocketship Agency, breaks down their secret to growth.

Typeform: How to Scale a Global SaaS Platform
Attaining virality is only the first step. The next step is to amplify it. That’s where Typeform’s strategy of Product Growth comes in. This strategy involves aligning marketers and developers in order to make product changes that increase top-of-funnel and optimize conversion. Read on to learn advanced techniques for scaling your SaaS platform to the global stage.

Mixmax’s CEO on How to Achieve Viral Growth
Learn about Mixmax’s journey to a near-zero CAC. Olof Mathé, CEO and Founder of Mixmax, attributes this accomplishment to taking advantage of five different types of virality. The email enrichment service founded in 2014 is a prime role model for PLG companies looking to make virality the centerpiece of their growth strategy and reduce CAC to all-time lows.

5 Research-Backed Methods of Achieving Product Virality (and 6 Stories of Companies That Did It)
HubSpot’s Sophia Bernazzani breaks down virality into an executable mathematic equation. Solve for the variables, adapt your business, and watch your product grow on its own. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Bernazzani defines the different types of virality and how to go about creating them. This article also includes six great examples of companies leveraging virality to its fullest.

How to Build Your Product for Viral Growth: Lessons from Datadog and ZipRecruiter
Companies like Slack, Expensify, ZipRecruiter and Datadog are radically changing the approach of growth, by focusing first and foremost on delivering a great product. Users don’t want to have to sit through hours of product onboarding or training videos to get started. Kyle Poyar, Senior Director of Market Strategy at OpenView, explains how to guide users to complete key functions they need in the context of what they want to do.

Conversion and monetization strategies

Freemium vs. Free Trial: How to Know Which One to Pick for Your SaaS Startup
Should you start with a free trial to generate urgency for the prospect, or just go freemium? The answer, of course, is that it depends. In this post, learn about the impact of outreach to free accounts, the difference between a freemium funnel and a free trial funnel, and how to make the right choice.

Product Qualified Leads: Why Trial Users are So Valuable in B2B Sales
Just because someone ignores a webinar offer or a specific part of your marketing program, it doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t be interested in test-driving your product. The shortcomings of the marketing qualified lead framework have inspired a paradigm shift in the B2B sales cycle, as more companies have begun to focus on product qualified leads. This article explores a way of getting the ‘best of both worlds’ from both marketing and product qualified leads.

Why You Should Sell To Users, Not Buyers: A Product-Led Approach to Marketing
As you adopt a product-led GTM, your focus should be to incorporate real-time, in-product customer behavioral data to create meaningful engagement across multiple channels and devices. This article, by Ashley Minogue of OpenView, discusses how to unravel the data to glean insightful conclusions.

The Three Rules of Freemium
It may be a tempting proposition, but freemium isn’t the right strategy for every PLG company. Here, Christoph Janz of Point Nine gives a framework for evaluating whether freemium would be right for your business.

Product Qualified Leads: The Ultimate Guide
Product qualification can be a great first step toward a holistic PLG strategy, particularly if your target customer and product do require a sales team. Product data will empower your sales team to focus on the best leads in your funnel. Moritz Dausinger of Refiner walks through how to get started with product qualified leads.

Podcast episodes and videos

🎧 Twilio’s Leandra Fishman on Enterprise vs. Product-Led Sales
Sales models are not one-size-fits-all. There are key differences between traditional enterprise sales, high-volume inside sales, and product-led sales. In her 30 years of experience, Leandra Fishman has led teams in all of these environments. On this episode of OV BUILD, we look at these different models and how to apply best practices of the past to a modern product-led sales model.

🎧 HubSpot’s Kieran Flanagan on the Secret to Success in Product-Led Growth
OV BUILD host Blake Bartlett speaks with Kieran about the importance of Ops roles in a product-led model, the shift occurring in B2B marketing, and how cross-functional teams are the org design secret to success in PLG. Listen to the full episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify or our streaming site.

🎧 How Datadog Generates Over Half a Billion in Revenue with Their Product-led Go-to-Market Strategy
Datadog is known for being the essential monitoring platform for cloud applications. Alex Rosemblat, Datadog’s VP of Marketing, unpacks how to decide which leads get human attention, what team owns success metrics in a PLG model, and the best way to cross-promote your product. Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or our streaming site.

PLG 123 with OpenView’s Blake Bartlett
If you aren’t following Blake on LinkedIn, you’re missing his daily video updates on all things product-led growth—like this one about Loom’s recent news.

Stories of successful PLG companies

How to Bottle Community Lightning Like Datadog
Nobody can convince someone to join a community. They have to want to. Datadog understands this, and it’s why they have one of the strongest developer communities out there. Chris Gillespie goes into why so many user communities fail and what lessons we can take away from Datadog’s wild success.

Inside Cypress’s Playbook for Launching Usage-Based Pricing
Kyle Poyar spoke with Mohammed Coovadia, VP of Customer Success and Sales, about what sparked the transition, how Cypress explored different pricing options, and what led them to a final decision. If you’re considering a switch to usage-based pricing, don’t miss the tips at the end of the post.

How Logz.io Took Self-Service from 0 to 50% of New Customers
What started out as an adaptive move to help Logz.io align with buyer behavior turned out to be a powerful way for them to open up the market and take advantage of incremental opportunities.

An Inside Look at Snyk’s Product-Led Growth Strategy
Francesca Krihely, Senior Director, Developer Experience and Growth at Snyk, told us about how her company uses a freemium model to find new points of entry into enterprise organizations.

How Guru Layers Human Touchpoints Onto a Strong Self-Service Model
Guru has done an exceptional job of bridging the gap between what a product can offer end users at any time and any place, while also enabling a human touch and a tailored experience where and when it’s desired. OpenView’s Sam Richard talked to Guru’s Rob Falcone to dig into the details.

Stories of pivoting towards a more PLG approach

‘Measure Everything’—Pendo’s Todd Olson on Becoming a Product-Led Organization
Todd stopped by the OV BUILD podcast to talk to us about what exactly “product led” means, how a product-led strategy extends way beyond acquisition, and how the less-is-more concept can make a big difference.

HubSpot: Product Is the Future of Growth
Once HubSpot added freemium as part of its go-to market strategy, product qualified leads became a key source for both touchless sales and leads for the sales team. The PQL dashboard showed them the performance of each PQL point within their freemium products, showing how many times people interacted with them, how many upgrades they generated and the average selling price for each one. Kieran Flanagan, VP of Growth at HubSpot, dives into how these changes impacted the company for the better.

The PLG Pivot at MongoDB
MongoDB ranks among the most prominent PLG companies, but it wasn’t always that way. For the most part, MongoDB had adopted a traditional marketing strategy. Here, Laura Borghesi talks through the three key requirements for getting an established company behind a product-led strategy.

Metrics and benchmarks

The 2020 Product Benchmarks Report
Check out insights from CEOs and product leaders at over 150 SaaS companies, benchmarks on best-in-class freemium and free trial conversion funnels, and expert advice on how companies can layer in sales to drive growth. Note: We’re currently working on 2021’s report, to be released in July 2021.

2020 Financial and Operating Benchmarks Report
This report revealed surprising insights about what was on everyone’s mind: How did COVID-19 and the economic downturn affect private SaaS companies? In short: It made SaaS companies even stronger. Get all the details—including data on founder attitudes, the adoption of PLG, and progress on executive diversity—in the report. Want to help with 2021’s report? Take the survey here.

5 Major Takeaways From the 2020 Financial and Operating Benchmarks Report
If you’d rather listen than read, this episode of the OV BUILD podcast features OpenView’s Kyle Poyar and Sean Fanning, the authors of the report. Tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on our website.

Is It Time To Ditch the Old SaaS Metrics?
We’ve grown accustomed to the traditional set of SaaS metrics as just part of how to operate a SaaS business. But here’s the thing: the traditional SaaS metrics playbook can be extremely misleading when it comes to managing a PLG or consumption-based SaaS company.

How to Get Started with Product-Led Startup Metrics
The Docket team explains why every startup needs a measurement mindset from the very beginning.

If you’re building a B2B SaaS company and you’d like to talk strategy or fundraising, we want to hear from you. Please reach out to hello@ov.vc.

Kyle Poyar
Kyle Poyar
VP, Market Strategy
OpenView

Kyle helps OpenView’s portfolio companies accelerate top-line growth through segmentation, value proposition, packaging & pricing, customer insights, channel partner programs, new market entry and go-to-market strategy.
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