Full Funnel Product-Led Growth

Usha Vadapalli
December 17, 2021

There are many different funnels out there. We have seen and used differently mapped and illustrated funnels to visualize our buyer’s journey. You might have a variety of stages and different funnels for ABM or demand. But, most of these basic buyer stages can be mapped as illustrated.

Figure 1: Sales-Led Funnel (Source: Jenn Steele)

In the traditional sales-led model, we only rely a lot on the product in two stages. One, when the Sales team shows a live demo, and two, when during an upsell or cross-sell or expansion.

The prospect won’t get to see the product in action until the evaluation stage and may have to wait for a second call with Sales to get a feel of what your product can do.  We can only pray that the prospect still has the patience to stick around and not shop at a competitor’s.

Your product takes center stage in product-led growth. It is omnipresent in your funnel. There’s no escaping it! The PLG model can look different for different products and companies. It can be much more complex, but many folks in Jenn’s experience introduce the product and hope for a sign-up in the consideration or intent stage of the funnel.

Figure 2: PLG Funnel (Source: Jenn Steele)

By the time a prospect reaches the purchase stage, they are already familiar with your product, hopefully, championed it, and are ready with a credit card. You still pray that the customers want to give you more money and you continue to expand, upsell, and cross-sell.

The problem is with companies and teams treating PLG like the underpants gnome. PLG plus something adds up to profits! And, there are researches out there highlighting the buyer intent to gravitate to rep-free experiences inducing fear and job insecurity in the sales teams.

Jenn Steele, the VP of Marketing at Reprise brought over her 20 years of marketing experience including senior leadership roles at companies like HubSpot, Bizible (acquired by Marketo during her tenure), and Amazon makes a case for how product-led growth can help us do better in all the funnel stages.

The Full Funnel

Ah, the familiar funnel! I am sure you’ve seen many ways the funnel can be, but we’ll go ahead with Jenn’s version. PLG contributes to every single stage of the funnel. Here’s how

Awareness: This is where we try to educate the users that we can solve their problems. We produce a lot of educational content to build awareness. In PLG, the same branded educational content is around the product. Don’t only tell, but also show.

Jenn recounts when Dave Rigotti and their team at Bizible did a phenomenal job at creating awareness through a white paper, or webinar showing how the product can solve a problem, sometimes invited a customer to talk about their use case. At this stage, it is all educational content and the product happens to be there.

Interest: The goal here is to get the prospects interested in your brand and the solution you provide. People are largely tactile. They want to get a feel of the user experience. Use light-weight product tours to show the shiny bells and whistles of your product. The caveat here and basically in all the funnel stages is to make it useful for the user. The prospect continues to the next stage only when they see the value. Look at how Pendo does it, for inspiration.

Consideration: You want to get folks to communicate and take action. Hello, free trial (or free version)! At this stage, they start thinking about your product, specifically.

The prospect gets a free trial or a lightweight interactive version of the product as opposed to showing them in a few clicks how it might look like in the old way. Enable the user to get their hands dirty.

Intent: Jenn talked bout two scenarios. Think of someone who has clicked on your website many times, downloaded different types of thought leadership content, maybe gone to a sales dinner and golfing; and, someone who has used, touched high-value features, and engaged with your product? Who among these two is has a stronger intent to buy? Jenn would argue it’s the latter.

In traditional B2B, at the intent stage, we move prospects over the fence after they’ve filled in requests, downloaded enough content, attended enough webinars, etc., and signal to the sales team. This is a construction of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). In PLG the scenario is a bit different. PLG model gives you a Product Qualified Lead (PQL).

Wait! There’s more you can do at this stage! You can send emails with product choices, tours, and screenshots, nurture with your product and inside your product, have CTAs to contact sales from inside the product, and so on. Your product gives you the strongest signals of intent in PLG.

Evaluation: Let's get to the sales part of the funnel! The goal of evaluation is to drive prospects down the opportunity funnel to close. When you are product-led, the prospect has already seen your product in four different stages by now. The screenshots, product tours, perhaps a freemium version too.

At this stage, you share the product usage information with your sales team so they know what features the prospect spent time on and what features they didn’t play with. In the disco demo, sales can ask specific product-related questions and can directly jump into showing the features or use cases the user might be actually interested in.

Another important aspect of the evaluation stage is the takeaways. They’ve already used the product for a while and a one-pager might be too little too late at this point. An even better takeaway is to offer a feature that’s not in the freemium version (if you can) or send a link to an exclusive tour of the product.

These takeaways again encourage the user to engage with the product and carry much more value than a one-pager. The cool thing about this takeaway is that it enables a much stronger internal sales motion. This way, ideally, your deals close faster! Good news for the Sales team, right?

Purchase: Well, they are buying your product. Ka-ching!

Expand/Upsell/Cross-sell: Now is the time for the Customer team to shine. Our goal is to make more money. You already know this part. Communicate value inside the product. Use your product in a lot of the same way you did in the funnel stages with marketing and your sales team did in the later stages. Like, showing disabled features they may want to use.

You can use the signals to create expansion PQLs, and then you can offer takeaways. Jenn gave an example of what their Customer team did, “When we do a new feature release that one of our clients or customers is going to want to see, we create a snack-able piece of the product and shoot an email.” So, this is exactly the same as the sales takeaway that Jenn talked about earlier in the funnel.

And of course, the product has to be good for expansion, upselling, and cross-selling. Product-led growth depends a lot on your product. So, you HAVE to trust your product. This is most important during your expansion motion.

Possible Objections

Jenn hears a lot of these when talking about PLG and has some suggestions to work through these objections.  

  • Our competition will know what we're doing. It’s likely that your competition already knows a lot about your product, and probably has listened to a few demos. Jenn said (a bit cynically), “Anybody who thinks their competition doesn't have a copy of their sales deck is crazy.” Think again, if you don't want to show your product just to keep it a secret from the competition, it’s already too late and you might have already lost a few deals to your competition.  
  • Marketing doesn't necessarily know the product. This happens obviously more with products that marketing doesn't touch, right? Jenn believes, “In theory, if you have good product marketers, absolutely no one in your company knows the value and is as familiar with the product as them.” So, this is where we all start thinking about creating that educational content while showing what the product can do.
  • Sales Team’s Fears. You might encounter job insecurity and distrust of the product among other feelings from the sales folks. The way through this is to enable your sales team, train them, make them feel confident about using the product in their process.
  • More people have to come to the orchestration party. You've got to bring both sales and product into the room. Because, having a cognitive dissonance between marketing and sales messaging can result in an undesired difference in product experience. And, you're going to depend more on your product and probably on engineering too. This means bigger teams and more change management but, Jenn argues that this means better decision making by the whole company with Sales-Marketing-Product-CS alignment.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, Jenn reiterates, “Your product is awesome, you should use it. And if you feel uncertain about it, think about your customers, there's a reason you have product champions — talk to them and learn their use cases. They'll make you see how awesome your product is.”

You can sprinkle your product into your marketing and do a one-off webinar, sales enablement can use a takeaway around the product but, at some point if you really want a cohesive strategy, with the messaging and the product. Product-led is a big change and you will need to do some change management.

Jenn Steels emphasizes that it is possible to do full-funnel PLG. Listen to her complete session at Blastoff! 2021.