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I’ve gone through a few transitions in my life. I'm a lawyer by training but a product marketer by passion and trade. I’m Czech by origin, but after living in London and Brussels, I’ve settled in France. Most recently, I transitioned from a market-led company to a product-led company. This is the transition I want to talk about in this article.

Before I transitioned into product-led growth, I had a ton of misconceptions. When I heard “product-led growth,” I thought it meant PM-led growth, and I was worried that my career would take a downturn; the only question was how quickly. In reality, product-led growth is full of exciting opportunities.

Today, I'm thrilled to be working for Spendesk, a B2B spend management company. We help 3,500 companies spend smarter. Just this year, we handled €2 billion on our platform. We also raised our Series C funding, and we were voted the best FinTech company to work for in Europe.

In this article, I'll be focusing on:

The evolution of product-led growth

Before I get into the differences you’ll come up against as a product marketer switching from marketing-led to product-led growth, I should probably explain the concepts.

Let’s start at the very beginning. In the 1980s, software was just these big on-prem boxes. Back then, sales-led growth was the main model. Reps would go on the road, dining and playing golf with CTOs, and that's how software was sold. It was based on trust between the sales rep and the CTO.

Then, Salesforce and the like entered the scene, and they started to focus on non-tech execs.

That's where marketing started to take the lead in growing the funnel. There was a big focus on KPIs, ROI, and the value that software can bring to different business departments across the company. The goal was to sell through value.

Now, we’re seeing the rise of product-led growth, which focuses on the user’s experience and pain points. Because the cloud has gotten super cheap, we can offer our product for free, which allows users to try it and see its value before they decide to buy it.

Marketing-led growth vs. product-led growth

Let’s look at what it means to be a product marketer switching from a marketing-led to a product-led company. In my experience, there are five key differences:

Key difference #1: Customer retention

The first difference is that we’re moving from the funnel, which is typical in market-led growth, to the flywheel, which is typical in product-led growth. What's key here is that the funnel maps the acquisition process and the journey a lead goes on before they become a customer, whereas the flywheel is all about experience and retention.

As product marketers, we’re usually obsessed with product launches and entering new markets. In other words, we're fixated on the top of the funnel. In my previous jobs, once we got to the purchase stage, I moved on to the next sales campaign for the next product. As for retention, we only focused on it if it was a huge problem.

On the flip side, customer retention and experience are at the heart of the product-led growth model. Everything is based on how the end user interacts with the product. We want to make sure they have an awesome experience that makes them want to become a paying user and refer other people to the flywheel.

Key difference #2: Personas

Big difference number two is that as a product marketer, you focus on a totally different persona. That’s because marketing-led growth is all about buying committees.

According to Gartner, each buying committee is made up of six to 10 people, including execs, budget holders, and people representing various business and technical departments. These committees tend to be hyper-focused on ROI and KPIs.

The user has very little power in this sales model. They may provide their input or help shortlist the solutions, but they don't have budgets or relationships with the vendors.

On top of all that, in the marketing-led model, product marketers study the buyers and the buying journey, and we have a key role in discovering who the buyer is and how to sell to them. Those sales are also extremely complex; they can easily take a couple of years, depending on how complex the software we're selling is.

When we move to product-led growth, it's all about a single user, and that single user has the power. We want to create a frictionless experience for them. What's interesting from a product marketing perspective is that it’s the user research department that does the work to better understand the user.

Key difference #3: Content

We’ve all moved through our careers with the idea that we should write with the target audience in mind, so it's no surprise that our content is completely different when we focus on a different persona.

In my old job in a marketing-led growth company, it was all about producing as much content as possible and reaching potential buyers via every possible channel.

With product-led growth, your end users are a captive audience. They're in your product, which is amazing because it’s so easy to reach them. They read your messages, and you have their contact details.

Easy as it is to reach your audience, you cannot abuse that. Your communication has to be targeted and your messages have to be extremely helpful because if they’re not, the end user is just going to send them to the spam folder and maybe even stop using your product.

There’s a very fine balance to strike between communicating and over-communicating.

Key difference #4: The team

Difference number four is your colleagues – they're going to change. You may work with some people less, some people more, and some people you may never see again.

For example, analyst relations are key for enterprise sales because they influence how your potential buyer shortlists solutions.

However, in product-led roles, it's very unlikely you'll work with them a lot because that's just not how your buyers make their decisions. If your product is so complex you need a pre-sales team, it's very unlikely that you’ll succeed as a product-led company.

There are also functions that you will continue to work with but in a different way. In my old job, I worked with product managers who were assigned to a specific product, whereas now I work with product managers who are assigned to a specific part of the journey, such as onboarding.

In a product-led company, you'll also work a lot more closely with customer success teams, and you’ll also work on trying to scale them through the product.

This can be tricky because you don't want to have any barriers in terms of human resources, but it's also extremely costly to have a large customer care team when you may have thousands upon thousands of users who don't pay for the product.

Sales is always a very specific category, and I think a lot of people hope that they won’t have to work with sales again. However, that's not the case in product-led growth. You still have sales; you just introduce them at a different stage of the customer journey.

Because your customer is the end user, customer care leads the first part of the journey. Later, if you have a lot of users within one company but the company doesn't have a deal with you, you can find yourself fighting through red tape. That’s when it’s time to introduce salespeople.

Key difference #5: Usage metrics

The last difference is the usage metrics. In marketing-led growth, it's all about whether people are buying your product, so the focus is on MQLs and SQLs.

In product-led growth, there’s more focus on making sure people are getting value from your product, so you're more concerned with PQLs and how adoption is growing.

Also, instead of focusing on how quickly deals are happening, you'll focus on customers getting quick time to value. In marketing-led growth, there’s a big focus on renewal rate, whereas product-led is more around helping customers reach maturity in your product.

I think the biggest difference and the key metric for a lot of product-led growth companies is NPS. That’s because the key to success is your customers recommending you to others.

Universal truths of product marketing

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Although there are differences for product marketers working in these different models, there are three key things that stay the same:

  1. Go-to-market strategy. Even in product-led growth, we still have to figure out the pricing and packaging, we have to figure out what goes into the free product, and we have to figure out how to get customers to move from the free to the paying product. For all this, it’s essential that we position our product’s value.
  2. Enablement. Whichever model we’re working in, we have to enable everyone to talk about the product and explain our value proposition.
  3. Demand generation. Finally, we still have to get people interested in our product, so demand generation remains a core part of a product marketer’s role, even in a product-led company.

If you’re moving from a marketing led-company to a product-led company, don’t worry. While there are key differences in the day-to-day job, the framework of the job stays the same.