The Product Led Growth stack

Some of the tooling you need to power your PLG initiatives and make PLG a reality.
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Contents
Make user sign-up super easy
WOW your users on their first visit 
Get your users to come back
Prioritize your users and make conversion seamless
Keep your users engaged and supported
Use your data to learn and improve as you go
Avoid silos with a single source of truth

Product Led Growth is a 🔥 topic for SaaS companies across growth and product teams and even among investors. At Iteratively, we’re fully bought into PLG as a go-to-market (GTM) lever and we focus a lot on building a product that can be adopted “bottoms up”.

There’s a ton of content about what PLG is and how to get started, as well as plenty of great PLG success stories from Slack, Atlassian, Zoom and others. “Be more like Slack” they always say! 😅 Personally, I find the Slack example inspiring and motivating, but also a bit frustrating. We don’t all have Slack-like products with built-in virality and ease of use, which is why we need to invest more time and resources (and creativity!) into making PLG a reality.

OpenView, ProductLed and others are leading the charge on the PLG content front and their work is extremely helpful, but I sometimes find myself searching for something a bit more actionable. For example, what tooling do I need to put in place to become product-led? Whether you’re starting from scratch, pivoting your GTM strategy, or adding PLG as a growth lever, you’ll need to make changes and additions to your stack. 

As I’ve spent the last six months at Iteratively doing exactly that - setting up a PLG stack - I figured that writing about it is bound to help others embarking on that same journey. There’s a lot to cover, but my focus for this post will be on what you need to consider from a tooling perspective if you want to make a “no humans in the funnel” outcome more likely.

Source: OpenView Partners

So, let’s look at some of the tools you need to make it easy for users to get started and become activated, and empower you to actually find success through PLG. The following is my take on what has worked for us at Iteratively. If you’ve had your own experiences with this, I’d love to hear about them 👂.

Make user sign-up super easy

Arguably the first step towards successful PLG is making it easy for users to sign up for your product. That includes making “sign up” or “try now” your most prominent call-to-action. I’ve seen many companies offer a free trial or even a free plan without making it obvious that they do so – interested users have to navigate to a pricing page or even request a trial by signing up for a demo. I get the reasoning, but you’re losing out on people who just want to take a look around before exploring further, and if any of your competitors do a better job at this stage, you’re likely out of the mix. 

At Iteratively, we recently added a secondary CTA (“Get a demo”) for users who prefer to speak to a human, and we do have companies who onboard with us that way. But our main CTA will always encourage users to create an account with us. Why? Leaving aside the fact that “Get a demo” is secondary and less grabby, the ratio of sign-ups to demo requests is around 25:1 😱 I would never want to mess with that!

Another important aspect of the sign-up process is how you let your users register with you. Asking for tons of details will deter people from signing up. Giving users a way to sign up with their existing accounts (Google, GitHub, LinkedIn, etc.) really helps streamline the process. At Iteratively, we use Cognito for this (and there are alternatives on the market, e.g. Auth0).

⚠️ Make sure you still give users the option to sign up by creating an account too. They might not be using a provider you integrate with or maybe their authentication options are limited by company policy. For manual account creation, try to make the disruption minimal by keeping the signup form lightweight, and perhaps by postponing account verification (at Iteratively we do verify accounts up front but so far we haven’t seen significant drop-off from this, so we haven’t yet prioritized a more seamless approach).

Tools worth a mention

WOW your users on their first visit 

A first visit often begins before the user lands in your actual product, with an onboarding flow that might include some questions and configuration. This part is usually owned by product and engineering, and I haven’t seen any tooling out there that helps growth teams own this (if you have, let me know!). Be sure to work closely with your product teams and experiment with this flow to optimize for engagement and activation. 

Once the user lands in your product, the natural next step is to show them around using a flow builder. There are tons of tools on the market that help you build these kinds of tours and during my time at Iteratively, I’ve already churned through a few of the vendors – seems like a tough product to get right!? Userpilot and Appcues are the big names here, but we couldn’t build the kind of experience we wanted (dynamic CSS struggles). We started on Intercom (we were already using them for chat and so it seemed natural, but their product tours product is still WIP). I ended up going with Userflow – overall their product performed the best and they have awesome features like easy toggling between dev and prod, and version history 🤩. 

Another helpful feature that all flow builders have is a checklist. Presenting a list of things the user can do next helps orient them, and it’s a super powerful way for you to nudge users towards the actions that best illustrate your product’s value (getting them to those beautiful “aha” moments). 

At Iteratively, our product team still owns this checklist, but during our next release we’ll be pulling it out of the product. That way, the Growth team can manage it and run experiments without taking engineering’s time. Currently, every onboarding checklist item we have is clickable and opens a product tour. The user can opt to go complete that, or read more in our documentation. 

If you’re looking for inspiration about what to do to delight your users during their first visit, I found growth.design’s case studies really helpful (and fun).

Tools worth a mention

Get your users to come back

Now the hard part starts – how do you get a new user to come back into the product to continue their activation? Depending on your process, you might assign new sign-ups directly to your sales team or you leverage nurture emails to encourage a hands-free, self-serve user experience. 

At Iteratively, we’ve set up a comprehensive nurture program for new user sign-ups that spans the 30-day free trial we currently offer. We try to personalize the emails based on user activity and we throw in a mix of case studies, useful documentation, and CTAs to speak with a human (get a demo). Depending on your team size and resources, you can get really granular here and personalize the activation journey significantly. So far, we’ve kept it simple and we’re still learning what’s working and what’s not in terms of cadence, type of content, subject lines, etc.

There are a huge number of tools to power this. We’re currently using Intercom and their Series feature. I would have much preferred to use HubSpot for this but then I wouldn’t be able to personalize the emails based on user actions (we’re not sending our event data to HubSpot yet - more on that later). 

Tools worth a mention

Prioritize your users and make conversion seamless

I’m sure you’ve seen this before: drops in engagement, users that opt out of your emails and those that never come back into your product. It always hurts, but that’s how it goes. Only a (small) percentage of any given cohort will go on to adopt your product and you’ve got to make sure you’re focusing on those users that are most likely to convert. 

There are various tools that can help you find and fit users to your ideal customer profile (ICP). For example, Sherlock helps with lead scoring, and Clearbit can enrich your user data to help flag high intent (at Iteratively, we haven’t done much in this area just yet). I'm also waiting for Endgame to officially launch – they seem to be focused on bringing sales and PLG closer together and help with lead scoring and prioritization.

Having a clear overview of who’s in your PLG pipeline makes it easier to prioritize users that best fit your ICP, or who you otherwise deem most likely to convert. At Iteratively, we have two distinct sales pipelines in HubSpot, one for new user sign-ups (PLG) and one for sales-driven leads who come through demo requests or other sources. With the PLG pipeline, we often intervene manually by reaching out with a personalized note and suggesting a call. Often that leads to more conversations and we’ll then move that opportunity to the sales pipeline. 

At some point, you need to get paid! While that seems obvious, I’ve seen many startups and even SMEs who make it unnecessarily hard for their customers to pay them, for example by not having self-serve at checkout. This isn’t a total blocker for PLG, but it does kill the magic of end-to-end self-serve and could deter users from converting. Stripe, Chargebee and others make checkout easy-ish to integrate into your product. An important sidenote: make sure you have clear policies on your website (i.e. Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, etc) – tools like Avo Docs and Iubenda can help make pulling these together a less painful process.

Tools worth a mention

Keep your users engaged and supported

You want to make it super easy for your users to interact with you, ask questions, and access your documentation. Intercom is often the go-to when it comes to in-app support and it’s what we use currently, too. But other tools like Zendesk and HubSpot are also very popular and offer more comprehensive support solutions, including ticketing, analytics, etc.

One thing we’d like to build out eventually is in-product messaging for new feature launches and a more comprehensive in-product knowledge base. Many of the onboarding solutions I mentioned previously offer this. Tooling to communicate future releases to your users is also critical. Feature releases used to require a blog post and an email. However, tools have recently converged to create and host your release notes and announce these changes to your users. Some even have launch workflows built in to ensure you’re adhering to release notes best practices, reaching super targeted audiences with every release, and publishing regular updates to showcase product momentum. Tools like ReleaseNotes or LaunchNotes seem perfect to manage that. 

Tools worth a mention

Use your data to learn and improve as you go

It goes without saying that without solid analytics in place, you won’t be able to understand what’s working and what’s not, and to improve your PLG efforts over time. Analytics for PLG deserves its own blog post, but here I’ll just briefly highlight the tooling we’re leveraging at Iteratively and why. 

I spend a LOT of my time in LogRocket, one of the many session recording tools out there (others include FullStory and Hotjar). It’s a great tool for understanding how your users interact with your product, where they run into issues, and when/how they leave. Analytics like this are really powerful for startups especially: early on, when you have few users, they’re often more meaningful than aggregated dashboards, and they can help inform your roadmap, flag bugs, and more.

Now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we leverage Iteratively at Iteratively 😆. It helps us capture accurate and complete data and send that to our downstream systems. Today we send that data to Segment, Intercom, Amplitude and Mixpanel. We’re building out most of our reporting in Amplitude today (starting with the basics like WAU and core activation and retention metrics). There are many more tools to highlight here like Pendo, Heap, etc. and they all come with their own pros and cons (here’s more about the pros and cons of implicit versus explicit tracking, if you’re weighing up the two).

In the future, the goal is to send all of our data (from Stripe, HubSpot, etc.) to a data warehouse in order to build meaningful reports across our data sources. This requires additional resources and we’re not quite ready for it at our stage, but most of our customers have a data warehouse as their source of truth. 

Tools worth a mention 

Avoid silos with a single source of truth

If you made it all the way here you’ll agree with me that we’ve covered a boatload of tools 🙈. As exciting as the prospect of PLG is, it requires significant resources and you can’t just add it to your growth playbook on a whim. Even if you already have some of the tooling in place, adapting your processes and extending it to include PLG is no easy feat. 

An added danger is that you can easily end up with sprawling tools and no source of truth. For me, that means regularly navigating between LogRocket, Intercom and HubSpot (and sometimes Amplitude and Userflow too) to get the complete overview of a user’s journey and activity. Keep this in mind before getting too far along your PLG journey! 

Early on, you should decide what will be your single source of truth. This will vary greatly from company to company and will depend on your resources, budget, team size and much more. If you’re a PLG team inside a big company, you might decide to create a single source of truth for that team only, and if you’re just getting started and have resources available you might decide the source of truth is the data warehouse. 

At Iteratively, our source of truth is HubSpot – well, it will be (we’re still not sending our event data to HubSpot because we’d need to upgrade to their enterprise plan. It’s an investment we’ll have to make but as a small startup, it’s hard to justify the price tag 😒). With limited resources, a CRM-centric approach makes sense to me: we don’t have a data team (yet) and our engineers are busy building product features, and so we need a solution that’s easy to set up and manage for non-technical people like me. 

CRM is not enough” (great campaign by Segment!) becomes true when your stack gets more sophisticated, and I’m a firm believer in the modern data stack approach of having your data warehouse as your source of truth. 

Whatever approach you end up going with, just ensure you’re considering interoperability and scalability. But don’t be afraid to start small – Rome wasn’t built in a day 😅. I’d love to exchange learnings with anyone else grappling with PLG, so do get in touch!