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The Missing Link in Your Product-Led Growth Strategy

Product-Led Growth (PLG) is using your product as an active element in your go-to market strategy.

Jarie Bolander
Jarie Bolander

By now, most founders have heard the term "product-led growth.” But they're not necessarily sure how to implement it. The idea is simple: focus on your product by constantly improving its functionality, design and user experience. With a well-designed product that people want to use, you'll see more customers come through your doors over time. What’s missing from an effective product-led growth strategy is the glue that holds it all together across the entire company. This missing link is what we’ll discuss in a minute but first, lets level set on what we mean by product-led growth.

A Quick Recap On Product-led Growth

Product-Led Growth (PLG) is using your product as an active element in your go-to market strategy. Historically, access to software companies' products was only possible through a traditional sales process. That changes with PLG.

If you ever tried software for free or had a limited trial, you have experienced a PLG strategy. The core of the idea is bringing the actual product directly into all stages of the customer journey from prospecting, customer acquisition, and advocacy. By focusing on growth, leading with value, optimizing the customer experience, and being data driven, you can build the kinds of products that customers want quickly.

The Adoption Slippery Slope

The best way to think about PLG is that it’s driven bottoms up as opposed to top down. What exactly does that mean?

Traditional software sales requires some sort of C-level champion (top down) to drive the sales process. If you could not get someone that controls the budget to agree, then you were doomed. PLG turns that on its head.

Instead of waiting for the C-suite to make a decision, PLG makes the “try before you buy” so Sesame Street Simple that it creates something called a Viral Growth Loop (among other things). This shift creates a more end-user, self-serve model that makes adoption a lot easier so that the product sells itself. Some folks even say it's more customer led, since you're really super-serving the customer from a bottoms up perspective instead of tops down.

A Viral Growth Flywheel

This whole idea of the product selling itself is at the heart of a PLG strategy. It’s this drive to make adoption easy that generates a viral growth flywheel. A flywheel gains momentum (and stores momentum) as it gains speed. Once a flywheel gets going, it’s hard to stop but easy to continue one.

PLG uses this flywheel concept in concert with a Revenue Operations (RevOps) team to ensure the consistent delivery of a stellar user experience. Connecting these two pieces of the growth flywheel is having a clear, concise, and compelling story that the whole company can align behind.

The reason it becomes viral is that the story that the product tells it’s end users is so simple and clear that each and every satisfied customer tells their friends and family. This is what happened with PLG companies like DropBox, Zoom, Canva, and Slack. All of those companies also had the missing link.

The Missing Link is Getting Your Story Straight

Story structure is baked into our DNA and we recognize this structure in the stories that are told to us. If you have ever convinced someone to do something, you clearly had to tell them a story. It’s through this structure that brands can scale and grow their message to hook prospects, build customers, and pay off advocates. If you have seen any movie, read any book, or saw any play, you have seen this story structure first hand.

The most common one is the three act structure, which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Seems obvious and it is. If you think about it, any story you have told has a beginning (hook), middle (build), and an end (payoff). If you miss any, then the story feels incomplete. For a brand, this structure matters because we are trying to persuade a prospect to be a customer and then a customer to be an advocate.

The Power of Persuasion

At the core of all good brand stories, lies persuasion. The whole goal of a good story is to stir us to action and/or gain some knowledge without having to experience the danger ourselves. Aristotle came up with the most widely used method of persuasion that is used in all stories to this day some 2,000 years ago. His framework is the basis of The Story Funnel methodology and consists of pathos (emotion), logos (logic), and ethos (credibility). When you put these three together in a story, you get the missing link in your PLG Strategy. This link is an important aspect of a successful PLG strategy since one of the hardest things to do is change the behavior of an organization. For us, we have found the best way to change behavior is to tell better stories. The first story your brand should get straight is your brand’s Thru-line.

Your Brand’s Story Thru-line

A leader's job is to define the vision of where the team is going, give the team the tools to get there, and remove roadblocks along the way. Leaders do this by telling a story of their vision of the world and convincing others to come along for the ride. That’s exactly what your Brand’s Story Thur-line has to do for your prospects, customers, and advocates. By crafting a full story arch, you can also align your entire company (not just Product-led) behind a clear, concise,and compelling narrative that can scale because it’s so easy to tell. As with all stories, your thru-line has three parts:

  • Hook Prospects (Beginning): A hook is all about the emotional appeal, which is pathos. Pull on an emotion and you can get your story heard above the noise.
  • Build Customers (Middle): Once someone buys, their experience is of paramount importance. While emotion does play a role, at this stage, you want a logical and repeatable way to onboard and get using your product.
  • Payoff Advocates (End): The best marketing is word of mouth marketing where someone tells you “wow, you need to try this!” That’s the whole goal of paying off an advocate for both you and your customers. It’s this credibility from existing customers (ethos) that drives long term growth.

Connect Your Company Through Story

PLG is only one component of a successful company. In order for PLG to be successful, it needs the infrastructure to deliver said something. That’s why having a Brand Thru-line can help align your PLG efforts and RevOps to build what customers want. It’s through storytelling that scale and growth can be achieved. Yes, you need systems and processes to execute the tactics to deliver results but that’s only when you know what to scale.

Your brand’s story is the tip of your scaling spear. Without a clear, concise, and compelling story, no amount of software, processes, digital ads, or features will scale your company. You’ll end up blowing budgets, annoying customers, and creeping features because you’re not aligned. Getting your story straight gives you the best chance at aligning your PLG and growing a brand that people want to buy. That’s our mission here at The Story Funnel.

blogproduct-led growth

Jarie Bolander

Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature with over 25 years of startup experience. He has also written 6 books about business and entrepreneurship.