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11 min read

Product-led growth: How to get a seat at the table and prove success as a PMM

Membership content | Product-Led

This article originates from Madison's presentation at the Product Marketing Summit in Chicago, 2022. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

Hello, my name is Madison Leonard, and I'm currently leading PLG Product Marketing at Vanta. Today we're going to talk about product-led growth (PLG) and what it means for a PMM to not only get a seat at the table but also to prove success.

I've spent a lot of my career at PLG companies, and I'm really excited to share my learnings with you.

I’m going to cover:

  • What PLG is (and isn’t!),
  • What it means to be a PMM in a product-led organization,
  • How to get a seat at the table in a product-led organization, and
  • How to prove success once you get there.

Intro to PLG

First, let’s get into what PLG is. PLG stands for product-led growth, which is essentially a fancy way of saying that the user gets to experience value from the platform on their own without talking to sales.

I believe that this is the future of all B2B selling and buying, and we're already seeing this come to fruition: Figma, a product-led company, was just acquired for $20 billion by Adobe.

However, there's an interesting point here that often gets overlooked. If you take just one point with you today, make it this one: PLG is not owned by marketing or product – it’s a company-wide strategy.

Perceived value vs experienced value

What I love about PLG is that it closes the gap between perceived value and experienced value. Perceived value comes from things like seeing screenshots of the product and reading copy about it.

It's also in the narrative you hear throughout the sales cycle. Experienced value, however, only comes once you get into the platform and start using it on your own, hopefully getting to that 'aha' moment and then habitually coming back to the product.

Now, in more traditional sales-led growth motions, you only have perceived value, which comes from what the sales reps are telling you and maybe a product demo; the experienced value doesn't come until later.

Meanwhile, in PLG, you still have perceived value, whether it comes from the website or marketing you see on social media, but there’s less of a gap between that and what you experience once you get into the product. This is the unique selling point of PLG.

PLG is a spectrum

PLG is a spectrum - image of a spectrum with product-led on the left end and sales-led on the right end. In between from left to right it reads, freemium/reverse trial, limited trial, demo trial, sneaky trial, and no PLG.

I like to think of PLG as being on a spectrum. At one end, you have purely product-led motions, and at the other, it’s totally sales-led. As I mentioned, with sales-led growth, you don’t get to experience the product on your own while you’re in the sales cycle. At best, a sales rep might do a demo to help you visualize it a little bit.

A little further along the spectrum, there's something I like to call the sneaky trial. This comes about when sales reps are up against a competitor and they don't know if they're going to win the deal. Sometimes they'll manually add in a trial, which while helpful is not scalable or standard across the cycle.

Then there's something called the demo trial, in which the customer essentially gets a demo on your website. They don’t create an account, so it's not personalized to them, but it helps walk them through what the product could look like for them once it's all set up. It's a great way to experience some of that value.

On the product-led end of the spectrum, limited, freemium, and reverse trials come into play. Limited trials allow the user to create an account on their own and see value in real time.

However, there’s a time limit. It might be after 14 days or 30 days, but eventually, they'll be kicked out if they don’t swipe their credit card. Limited trials have a decent conversion rate, but a majority of people still fall off.

Then we have freemium and reverse trials. We're all very familiar with freemium today – there's a basic product that's free forever, plus self-serve options to upgrade for more features.

Reverse trials form part of the new wave of PLG by combining freemium and limited trials. With a reverse trial, you come to the platform and create an account, but instead of being kicked out of the platform altogether if you don’t pay, you're just downgraded to the freemium account.

This makes it really easy for people to continue to see the value and upgrade when they want, which adds to the word-of-mouth value that PLG provides.


Now let's talk about the difference between how product-led growth companies and sales-led growth (SLG) companies measure success.

Product-led companies focus on delivering value and a great user experience, whereas the mindset in a sales-led company is more focused on winning and closing deals. This all means that there are three main KPIs that are used very differently in PLG and SLG.

The first concerns acquisition. In PLG, word of mouth is huge. We want users to acquire other users, so making sure that we have ways for users to share the product and engage with people who don't have accounts yet is a key part of how we get people coming back.

Meanwhile, acquisition in a sales-led company is much more focused on generating leads.

Monetization works very differently too. In PLG, we want people to be able to swipe their credit cards on their own without talking to sales. In SLG, the sales team is getting people into the sales funnel and working with them to close contracts.

Lastly in PLG, we want to make sure that people are habitually coming back into the product, day after day and week after week, so we look at retention through very small windows of time – seven-day and 30-day retention are common metrics.

However, with sales-led, you might not even know if someone's retained until you go to renew their contract. That can make renewal conversations and QBRs (quarterly business reviews) pretty awkward.

Why is PLG important in today's B2B selling environment?

There are so many factors that make PLG important in today's B2B selling environment. Not only do we have a competitive market that only has expanded as more and more people have started working remotely, but we also have tighter budgets.

Under these circumstances, we’ll have to really fight for a seat at the table to win deals through sales-led motions, so PLG is a smart option.

However, my favorite reason for PLG’s importance is that we have a new generation of buyers. Millennials hold 60% of the purchasing power in today’s B2B environment.

They grew up on technology and are used to self-serve products. Making them try the software in a totally different way would be a huge challenge for everyone involved. That’s why PLG is the future – we want to make it as easy as possible for new buyers to get started on our platforms on their own.

Product marketing in a PLG company

Now that we've gone over what PLG looks like, we're going to talk about product marketing in a PLG company. At first glance, product marketing in a PLG company looks similar to product marketing in any other company.

PMMs deal with alignment, go-to-market strategy, launches, and execution. However, the way you do all this very much differs.

PLG product marketing - target audience, individual user, messagig, simple and focused on solving user pain points, value prop, do the job better/faster. Sales led product marketing - target audience, buyer, messaging, positioning as a thought-leader focused on the future, value proper - more revenue, save time/money.

The major differences are in the way you approach your target audience, your messaging, and your value prop. In a PLG company, you're focused on the individual user, who is responsible for doing their job effectively to contribute to the company goals.

Written by:

Madison Leonard

Madison Leonard

Madison is currently leading PLG Product Marketing at Vanta.

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Product-led growth: How to get a seat at the table and prove success as a PMM