January 26, 2023

Pump Up the Product-Led Growth!

To the extent that you can create a self-guided buying experience, the happier your customers and potential customers will be. That’s one of the big ideas that drive Product-Led Growth (PLG for short), the topic we cover in this episode featuring CMOs Michael Callahan of Acronis and Allyson Havener of TrustRadius.  

Michael and Allyson’s insights into marketing’s role in driving PLG are a must-listen for marketers no matter who you work for and how you go to market. Tune in to learn how to optimize your PLG efforts to nurture prospects, drive adoption and upsell, and bring your B2B organization to new heights! 

What You’ll Learn  

  • How to get product led growth right 
  • How to nurture PLG prospects and drive upsell/adoption  
  • Why self-serve products still need marketing 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 329 on YouTube 

Resources Mentioned 


  • [3:50] Michael Callahan: Engineering to MBA to CMO  
  • [5:09] 20 gallons of soy sauce  
  • [6:44] Why PLG in B2B?  
  • [8:34] PLG & Problem Marketing at Acronis  
  • [14:33] Allyson Havener: Ice cream shop lessons  
  • [16:41] PLG at TrustRadius  
  • [21:19] Marketing free and paid models  
  • [26:05] On CMO Huddles  
  • [29:27] The benefits of PLG strategy for SaaS brands  
  • [31:18] Aligning with Product and Sales   
  • [40:32] Do self-serve products need Marketing?   
  • [43:42] Dos and don’ts: Getting PLG right 

Highlighted Quotes  

“If you can get customers to use the other things in the product that they're not using today, that leads to great growth.” —@CallahanMrkting @Acronis Click To Tweet “Don't just describe what you're doing and having the person figure out how it means something to them. Narrow in on the problem.” —@CallahanMrkting @Acronis Click To Tweet

“Once you get that freemium base, you have to continually interact with them, nurture them, & educate them on driving adoption. If people are not adopting your product that's a recipe for failure.” —Allyson Havener @trustradius Click To Tweet 

“When you can get people in the door, you don’t necessarily have to do so much to work to convince them and get that first deal negotiation off the ground. In my mind, you’re creating your own top of funnel.” —Allyson Havener @trustradius Click To Tweet

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Allyson Havener & Michael Callahan


Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew. And I’m guessing that as a podcast listener, you will also enjoy audiobooks. Well in that case, did you know the audio version of Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands, was recently ranked the number one new B2B audio book by Book Authority. Kind of cool, right? Anyway, you can find my book on Audible or your favorite audio book platform.

And speaking of audio before we get into today’s show, I do want to do a shout out to the professionals that Share Your Genius. We started working with them several months ago to make this show even better, and have been blown away by their strategic and executional prowess. If you’re thinking about starting a podcast or want to turbocharge your current show, be sure to talk to Rachel Downey at shareyourgenius.com and tell her Drew sent you.

Okay, let’s get on with today’s episode.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade Drew Neisser.

Drew Neisser: This time we’ve got a conversation with Michael Callahan of Acronis and Allyson Havener of TrustRadius on product lead growth. Otherwise known as PLG. Let’s dive in.

I’m your host Drew Neisser from my home studio in NYC.  If you work at a start-up in Silicon Valley, there is a very good chance your investors or founders admire if not worship at the altar of product-led growth. Put simply, the idea of product-led growth or PLG is that user acquisition, expansion, conversion and retention are all driven primarily by the product itself.  Famous examples include Slack, Dropbox and SurveyMonkey.  All of these brands seemingly grew organically, adding free users who shared it with others who then became users and shared it,  leading to logarithmic growth. Many PLG companies have a sizeable base of free users, a percentage of whom become paid users when wanting to unlock more usage options from the product itself.  In fact, that’s exactly how Renegade and CMO Huddles became paid users of these three brands. BUT, like everything else in marketing, PLG is easier discussed than implemented which is why we have two amazing CMOs today to walk us through PLG. One other note – even if there is no way your brand can take the classic PLG approach (offering a free trial) you’ll still want to track this discussion carefully. Why? Because today’s enterprise customer is in self-service mode all day, buying personal products and services online without ever talking to a salesperson.  So to the extent that you can create a self-guided buying experience regardless of what your selling, the happier most of your potential customers will be.

And with that, let’s bring on Michael Callahan, CMO of Acronis, a cybersecurity company. Hey, Michael, how are you?

Michael Callahan: Hello, Drew, I’m doing great.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so now I looked at your LinkedIn profile. And notice that you went from engineering at Ohio State to getting an MBA at Darla Moore School in South Carolina. Can you connect those dots for us?

Michael Callahan: Yeah, so I would like to say that it was all completely intentional. And part of it was, but not all of it. When I was younger, math and science came easy to me, I was always interested in fixing things, building things. And so the engineering piece kind of came naturally to me.

But what I did see as I was getting into the early part of my undergrad career, that people that were successful in business had this nice combination of both the technology and business. And so I had set one of the potential paths on getting the engineering degree and then following it up a few years later with a business degree and things worked and I ended up doing that.

Drew Neisser: And how’d you like go to school in South Carolina.

Michael Callahan: It was hot, right? Compared to Ohio. It’s a little hotter. But I enjoyed it.

I had a couple years of work between undergrad and graduate school where I was in sales. It was hugely helpful to have that background in just how hard it is to sell. I mean, it’s like, every day, you’re getting up and having to prove it. But using that background in some of the discussions you have with classmates or case studies was incredibly valuable.

Drew Neisser: So before we get into the show, was there a worst job that you ever had?

Michael Callahan: I’ll give you an example. So the jobs that I had when I was selling floors. And I would say, like all of my jobs, I’ve tried to make the best of it, right? So there wasn’t anything, it was terrible. In high school, I worked in the produce department. And so that wasn’t awesome. But it wasn’t terrible. But I will give you an example, I was installing a—we position it as a high performance floor, right? It was just a floor. But, of course, you’re marketing it so you’re selling it as a high performance floor. And it was in a soy sauce factory. And it was on the production floor. And so the way that they make soy sauce is they dehydrate it, so it’s just a powder. And so you kind of have like this soy sauce powder floating around the plant all the time. Well, there’s one particular we were working in had a hole in the roof. And it started raining, the water was going to come in. And I needed to protect the floor, it was an epoxy floor. And if the water came in, it would ruin it. So I climb up above this thing we were using that we were protecting, we had this huge tarp that’s full of water. And I get up underneath it. And it’s full of soy sauce at this point, right? So it’s like 20 gallons of soy sauce. So I get up underneath it and I push it up over the railing. And the person who had contracted me to do the job—really who the customer was—was walking out of their door at the same time. So I completely drenched them in soy sauce. And he had a good attitude about it. But that was probably maybe the funniest worst experience sort of at the same time.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, you know, you’ll never have sushi the same way again.

Michael Callahan: That’s right. After you’ve been doused in 20 gallons of soy sauce.

Drew Neisser: Oh my god, I think that could be… That would be it! If there are people who don’t think it’s very good for you anyway, once you get drenched in it, you say, Okay, that’s it!”

That was probably not a good example of product like growth. But let’s get to that now. What was your first exposure to this approach, and sort of when did the light bulb go off that this was smart?

Michael Callahan: I’ve been in technology for the last 20 years. And one of the things that I noticed early on was how enamored technology companies get with the product, right? They just love it. And they want to talk so much about the product, you end up losing the thread talking so much about the technology. But you have this incredible asset, right, that you want to take advantage of, because it is the reason that you exist is because of this product. And what I saw was, if you could get people—if you can stop talking about the product, talk more about the benefits of what it can do for you or the use that they can be or the value they can be, you’ll have better growth. But you also want to have people use it. That’s the goal. They’re using it, they see the product, you’re gonna see the growth from it.

And in particular, there’s one trick—and this is a little bit different than the examples you gave where they’re almost more consumer-y a little bit where this is in that enterprise, or the B2B side is if you can get people using it. And then within the product, you build in this idea of what the product can do, you end up seeing growth. So super basic example, right? Maybe we got a directive on the side of the console that has 15 things this might do. Maybe the person bought one of them. But you have them grade in or maybe enabled for a short period of time, and they’re using the product, or they’re using that feature or that functionality, and ends up leading to more growth. Because they’re using it, right? So they see how the product can benefit them. And you end up with this product lead growth. And I think that’s another kind of flavor of product lead growth, not just like a free trial of you know, “Try Dropbox.” But this idea of embedding in the product, some of the functionalities, people can see it and try it from there.

Drew Neisser: Right. Interesting. And so is Acronis product lead?

Michael Callahan: I think we are, right? I mean, within the product, you have the ability to turn on or off feature. So in our case, there’s about 14 different services,—14 or 15 different services, depending how you define them—that are all in this integrated agent that someone would push out to an end user. And they usually start with one, right? So they have one service. But as they’re in there, they see, “Alright, I might be doing ransomware protection, since we’re in security. I could do patch management too. I could update just by flipping this switch? It’s that simple?”

And so we are absolutely lead like that. And I think, it’s like you said, I think it’s a different. It’s another perspective on product led growth that because we’re selling to businesses it’s in the product. And if you can get them to use the other things in the product that maybe they’re not using today, it leads to great growth.

Drew Neisser: And I would imagine then some of the science here is they’re using one product and through years of experience, whether it’s AI, you might know based on their behavior that of these 13 this is the most likely that they would do it and when. So it’s like you don’t want to do it day one1 but you don’t want to wait till day 120. And so part of this is sort of sophisticatedly figuring out how to expose them to the other 13.

Michael Callahan: And not overwhelming, right? Because you can’t just throw everything at someone all the time, you want to be able to say, “Hey, you know, people that have ransomware protection, they also use URL filtering,” right? It’s kind of like when you go to Amazon, right? And it says, “Here’s some other things that people typically bundled together. Not only do they buy the spray to make your tires nice and shiny, but they also buy a mitt to help you wash your car. You might want to package these things together.” It’s similar to that. And you kind of walk them through the typical roadmap or a typical experience that people have.

Drew Neisser: So from a marketing perspective, you still have to get them, in your case, because the first product is still a paid product. You have to get them to 1 of those 14 doors, right? You have to get them in the door. So I’m imagining then that part of your strategy is figuring out what’s easiest way to get them started, right? And so part of product lead growth is what’s the simplest way to get someone to start using a product? And obviously free is the easiest. But short of that. I’m just curious, how does knowing that the goal is to just get them in one door, get them started, and then we can upsell and cross sell them until we’ve really built that. How does that impact your marketing strategy?

Michael Callahan: Drew, we use something that I’ve introduced to the team that I call, “Problem Marketing.” And the idea behind it is, don’t just describe what you’re doing, and having the person figure out how it means something to them, narrow in on the problem. And so what we’ve been able to do is, if I can be really tight on that problem, that gets them in the door, right? If I can, for example, we know that one of the problems that our customers have is they can’t find talent. In the security space, you may seen stats, it’s like 3.5 million open security jobs. And so the people that are buying our products have a really hard time finding skilled staff. So that’s our problem. That’s the problem. We talked when we say, “Hard time finding staff? We can simplify your training. If you know it for once, you know it for everything, you don’t have to find a different skill sets for different parts of the solution.”

So we get him in with that problem. That’s like our, I would say maybe our secret sauce. And that is if you can connect to a problem they have, then you get them in the door, then the rest of the stuff, they end up trusting you and you can do the additional sales or turn on the additional features that they might need.

Drew Neisser: And so still, they could have a lot of problems, right? And one of them is recruiting right now. How do you decide—I mean, they could have 5 or 10 problems. And one of the problems is there a zillion cybersecurity problems. It’s a little hard to sort through. How do you think through and get to this? I mean, obviously, recruiting is a huge one. But how do you decide which is the priority one that you’re going to focus on, that’s going to lead to product.

Michael Callahan: So I mean, some of it is the reports or the metrics we can run internally, right? So we see where there’s more or less interest in something. So we think that’s probably some place where we should focus. But I would say even more importantly, I do a lot of work with our current customers, right? We have these partner advisory councils, I will talk to them multiple times a week, either live or through email, or through chat or whatever, and validate that these are the problems affecting them.

We just went through this exercise last quarter. And from the—I would say 50 different problems that we might solve for someone, we narrowed it down to 7, right? And those 7 are the ones that we continue to reinforce. And so those are the ones that grabbed the most attention. And they may all have the same problem. But they may have it at different times. But what we just talked about was how do they find talent? How do they grow their margins? How did they make sure they don’t have a catastrophic failure? How did they make sure that they are getting a fast backup if they happen to lose data. It was those type of problems that we’ve narrowed in on. And so we market to those instead of all of them to a set of 7?

Drew Neisser: Well, and I really appreciate it. I’m so glad that we got there because, for anyone listening, if you’re gonna leave this show right now—which I don’t want you to do, but if you did—the lesson you would learn is talk to your customers! I mean, Michael just said he talked to his customers 3X a week with their advisory board. If you don’t have a customer advisory board, I have to ask, why not? I’m going to put another punctuation and say customer marketing is going to become more important in 2023 than it ever has been if the recession that everybody’s talking about ends up coming our way. So, talk to your customers. Talk to your customers. Talk to your customers! Narrow it down.

Okay, Michael, thank you for that. Let’s bring in Allyson Havener, Vice President of Marketing at TrustRadius and star of episode 27 of this show. So Allyson, when you were on the show last time we spoke about your dancing experience in Abu Dhabi, which of course sounded like a lot of fun. Let’s skip that and get to the worst job you ever had and what you learn from that experience.

Allyson Havener: Yeah, great question. You know, I think I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had a terrible job. But one that I think I learned a lot from was when I was really young, I worked at an ice cream shop and everything was homemade. And so I was the one that kind of did like the mise en place to prep all the extracts for all the different flavors of ice cream that we were making.

And I learned a lot because I had this person who was very meticulous that ran the ice cream shop he was very conscious of the quality and everything was done in a very specific way. And I really liked his attention to detail. It taught me about the quality of your work, and really putting yourself and being passionate about what you’re doing. And so it was just a really good learning experience. And it was fun, right? You’re working in this really great ice cream shop. And I worked probably the most out of everybody because I was the youngest. So they’re like, “Great, you have to do all the grunt work.” And that was the other thing too, that I learned is that, “Okay, I don’t want to be the one that’s doing all the grunt work. So how do I, you know, really stay focused and driven.” So I think that was one job that was probably one of my earlier jobs that I learned a lot from that really shaped my thought process and mindset going forward.

Drew Neisser: I love it. And I imagine part of the benefits is that you had to taste the product with regularity.

Allyson Havener: Yeah, Drew, there were a lot of great flavors. Like there was like a beer flavor one time, lavender & honey, like it was very creative. So it was really fun. And like the creativity part of it was really cool.

Drew Neisser: You know, what could be better than beer ice cream on a hot day? I don’t know. Talking about product led growth. Wow. Okay, beer ice cream I hadn’t thought about that. Next thing, you know, we’re gonna have a gin ice cream.

So let’s talk about TrustRadius. Is it a product lead growth company? And if so, what makes it that?

Allyson Havener: Yeah, so I definitely think TrustRadius is a product led growth company. We have a freemium offering. So any tech provider can come to TrustRadius, they can list their product on TrustRadius, they can get access to a vendor portal where they can update content, like pricing, logo, whatever content they want for their profile, all through the vendor portal. They can generate customer reviews and they can win awards, accolades based on the sentiment and recency of those words. So you can totally interact with TrustRadius with never interacting with our sales team, never paying a dime. And I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. Because like you said, In the beginning, buyers are wanting to self serve, right? Tech buyers want that real hands on experience with the product. And they want to validate your marketing and sales claims with actual users and their peers. And so a big part of our strategy is like, we want people to be listed on TrustRadius, we want them to generate those customer reviews, because we want buyers to get all the information that they need to make the best purchase decision possible for their company. And so we want that freemium engine running, to make that information readily available.

Because, you know, as we see also in our research, buyers don’t want to talk to salespeople anymore. They really want to find that information on their own. They don’t want to be cold called. For all the marketers that are listening to this and that get a ton of cold calls and emails. It’s really, really hard to break through. So I think you have to have a strategy where twofold for us where we create that marketplace where it’s like we want a freemium offering, because we want all that information for buyers, and we want buyers on our site and using that information make a purchase decision.

Drew Neisser: So given that there’s this free product, if you will, that as a company, you can go put a listing. And obviously it’s free to anybody who comes in to review the reviews, if you will, how does this sort of impact your marketing strategy? Because ultimately, the goal of any company is to drive revenue. How do you look at marketing? Because in some ways, someone in product development could just say, “Well, we don’t need marketing at all, because the marketplace is the marketing.” So talk about marketing in this context.

Allyson Havener: Yeah, definitely. And so I started at TrustRadius, about a year ago. And so in my mind, it was threefold. So I came in and I was like, “Okay, let’s understand what our freemium customer base is right now.” And how like, at that time, there wasn’t a lot going on, in terms of nurturing them and educating them. So in terms of product lead growth, a big piece of it is like once you get that freemium base, you have to continually interact with them and nurture them and educate them on driving adoption. I think that’s the biggest piece of product led growth. If people are not adopting your product, they could just be signing up but they’re actually not using it. That’s a recipe for failure. That was the step one, let’s create this nurture program, let’s get people interacting with our brand. And let’s start driving adoption.

The second piece is an acquisition standpoint. So once you have that nurture and education kind of program and content in place, how are you acquiring more of those freemium users. And so that’s a big piece of it, where you want to get them in the door, once they’re in the door, then they enter that nurture program and it  becomes cyclical.

And then the last piece of this is reporting, right? So what are the indicators that marketing, product, and sales can work on. Because it’s a different model, than what most people are used to are like, okay, great. Marketing has the leads, they qualify them, they send them to the sales team, they move those sales teams follow up, it starts the sales cycle. And it’s very different, because what you’re starting to look at is, what are the triggers within the product? And how does that either trigger a marketing motion? How do you look at that in terms of passing that off to your sales team, knowing that they’ve reached a threshold, or they’ve done XY&Z with your products that they should be part of your paid offering. And so that’s kind of how I look at it is it’s that nurturing program, it’s an acquisition program, and then it’s that reporting to then move those people to a paid offering.

Drew Neisser: So the nurture stream, as we talk about this for a second, one could argue that that’s like customer success, that’s customer engagement, how is in your company, at least, but where does marketing begin and end in this process in customer, if there is such a thing.

Allyson Havener: At TrustRadius, the paid offering you that’s when you get customer success, right? That’s when you have a customer success manager, that’s the person that really helps you with all the paid products that you get post. And marketing thats scale, right? Customer success people are expensive. And so when you’re thinking about the freemium offering, it’s marketing can do it at scale, and at a lower cost point.

Drew Neisser: And so really, even though they’re on the site, they’re still a prospect, because they haven’t been paid. And I gotta imagine that a large part of this is out of 100 people, 20 of them probably will ever become paid. And so knowing who those potential people are, and that’s probably really understanding current customers and paid customers and sort of working backwards, right?

Allyson Havener: You made a good point around your customer base, and really understanding them. And I think that goes back to the reporting. So what actions were they—and it depends, like, I think PLG, like with anything, there’s a maturity model. And so there’s companies that have probably that have these triggers are like, okay, they do a lot of analysis where, okay, when they’ve done XY and Z, they’re ready to move to a paid model, or maybe it’s a usage threshold or something along those lines. But I think there’s varying degrees of maturity, when it comes to what are those triggers? Or what are those thresholds, that you know, someone’s ready to move to a paid agreement? And that’s what you really need to partner with your sales, product and marketing to get that done.

Drew Neisser: And I’m wondering from a time standpoint, I mean, how much usage or I’m imagining it’s an interaction as well, right? Beyond the site, they have to use it, they have to appreciate it. As you’re looking at this thing, is it like they use it for a month, then they heavily engaged as how do you manage this because you could have this long, long closure to where they finally move up. And I imagine there are people in sales who want, “No no no we need something this month.” So talk a little bit about transitioning from free to paid.

Allyson Havener: And I think that’s my biggest challenge right now. Because you can drive a lot of value with TrustRadius, without ever paying less. And I think this goes back to what Michael was talking about was driving value the fastest. And so where you see people interacting with our product, they’re either generating a lot of reviews, you can start to see how they’re potentially using some of the content from the reviews, or like their award badges that they get, and they start using it into their own content and things like that. So what we tried to do is like, we have products that, okay, well automate all of that. So you can use all of the content from the reviews in your own marketing channels, in your sales channels, etc. You can license that content and it is all dynamic, and you can use it across, like I said, your own marketing and sales channels.

And so that’s like the piece of knowing exactly when someone’s going to really want that. And what we’re doing is we’re putting that into our education program. Where it’s like, “Hey, you’re seeing all this really great content on TrustRadius. Don’t just check the box, “Hey, this content lives just on TrustRadius.” This should be used across all of your marketing, because buyers today want that social proof, and they want that validation from their peers. But don’t just use it on one single site, use it across everywhere, right? That’s one area.

The other thing that we look at too is the traffic. When we see high volumes of traffic for like a certain category, or maybe a lot of people go into your product page, that all turns into intent signals that we can then monetize. So we’re saying like, “Hey, here are all these logos, that are all these new accounts that are looking at your product or looking at your competitors. Wouldn’t you want this data so you can either target them in advertising or have your sales team go after them or whatever, for your ABM strategy? We’re starting to figure that out where it’s like, Okay, what are these key indicators of a really successful profile and TrustRadius? And then how do we drive value for whoever we’re talking to at that company?

Drew Neisser: Right, which fits into so many other strategies on their end. Whether it’s intent signals in their ABM. So all that makes sense.

Okay, it’s time for me to plug CMO Huddles. Launched in 2020, CMO Huddles is an exclusive community of over 100 highly effective B2B CMOs who share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Everything about CMO Huddles is designed to be a force multiplier, helping you to make faster, better, and more informed decisions. Where one inspiring hour a month delivers 10 hours of perspiration saved. 

Since no CMO can outwork their job, CMO Huddles is here to help you outsmart it.

So Michael, Allyson, you’re both huddlers. Allyson, you’ve been around a little bit. Michael, you’re a little new. Maybe you can share what your experience with CMO Huddles.

Allyson Havener: It’s a really great community to be a part of. As any marketing, especially senior marketing leader know, it can be a little lonely in the marketing department. And so I think it’s a great mind share with a lot of people that bring a lot of different perspectives and come from all different industries. But it’s really about that mind share for me and not feeling kind of like you’re on an island at your own company. Especially with all of us working remote. So it’s really nice to get together with other people and share ideas. And also hear the same challenges. You’ve kind of feel sometimes they’re like, “Am I the only person that is experiencing this.” And then you know, you hear 10 other CMOs that are feeling the same way. And then you workshop it together. So I think it’s about that community environment, that mindshare, and not feeling like you’re on an island.

Drew Neisser: You know, I love that. Thank you for sharing that. It’s so funny because we start every huddle—if you’ve never been to a huddle, we start every huddle, most of the time with what’s working and what’s not, or does anybody have a pressing problem? And as people share what’s not working It’s like—what we call Mar kya tree, because it’s like, “Oh you have that problem, too? Oh, my God!” So anyway, Michael, anything you want to add? What’s your observation? I know, you’re still relatively new to huddles.

Michael Callahan: Yeah, you know, you’ve really built a great, great platform and a great community. I’ve looked for—it seems like for years—trying different things. Like different websites or different groups to get that peer-to-peer insight and bouncing ideas off people with—this may sound strange—but in a safe environment, right?

As a CMO, you may ask questions to your community that you’re not going to ask to to other people’s, especially in the business, because it’s your job to know everything, right? But it really helps. It helps having that group there. There’s a Slack channel that we have. And what I’ve learned, like most things is you get out of it, what you put into it. And if you’re engaged and you’re not just asking, but you’re also helping it’s great, right? There may be no benefit to me. But if someone says, “What do you think about events, what’s the next 12 months look like?” And I get my perspective, without any expectation that I’m doing it for me. It feels more authentic, more genuine, and it’s actually a real community. You’ve done a great job and I’m very happy to be part of it

Drew Neisser: By the way, we really appreciate you appreciating that insight, which it is a gift to get community. If you get onto our Slack channel and you participate it comes back. Karma’s a boomerang. So thank you for that, Michael. All right.

So from your perspective, what’s the best part about working with a product lead growth strategy versus in a normal SaaS world?

Michael Callahan: I would say maybe it’s the tangibility. You’re there, you’re in it, you’re using it, you’re right in the middle, and you’re using that to gain loyalty and have people become more familiar with that. If you’re pushing and focus on the product to lead your growth. You’re in the middle. You get to show up, show off the product more.

Allyson Havener: In that same vein when you can get people in the door, you don’t have to necessarily do so much work to convince them and get that signed contract to get that first, you know, deal and negotiation off the ground. And so I think that, in my mind, I’m kind of creating my own top of funnel, right? It’s just getting them in the door, getting them something easy. And what you really want to think about is all those barriers to entry making them as low as possible, if non existed. And so the more that you can kind of create that your own top of funnel, and then also the way you create that mechanism to create your own steady pipeline. And so I think it’s almost like that autonomy, in a sense. That’s what I think about from like a marketing perspective,

Michael Callahan: I’ve used TrustRadius at 2 companies now and the one prior to where I’m now we use it more extensively. But I came in very simple, it was just, let’s look at reviews, and then you guys did a really good job from that top funnel like getting us to see it, and giving us some incredible statistics. And if you put a review, on a reg page, your conversion rate is gonna be 60% higher. And that stuck with me forever. It was a soft sell on your site. Because you didn’t have to beat me in the head with it, it was more, “Hey, this is what you can do now that you’re in.” And then, “Oh, by the way, it’s a platform and you can actually integrate it.” It was a really positive experience.

Drew Neisser: What’s so interesting, to me, about this conversation is—we talk a lot about it in huddles is—where the friction is in the buying process. And how you can remove the friction. If you have a free product, obviously, that’s one way to remove friction, because people can sort of get started. Or you have an entry level product that makes it easier for them. The marketing challenge changes completely, it’s right, okay, we got your free. And then in theory, particularly with examples of Slack, Dropbox, and Survey Monkey every time you use Survey Monkey, and you put that survey out, everybody who touches that platform knows that you use Survey Monkey. And so you have this exponential growth.

Anyway, I want to also put this in the context, because I did promise at the top of the show, every marketer needs to be thinking about removing friction from the buying process. I don’t care whether you’re selling $100,000 Enterprise product or not. Chances are, and the research keeps reinforcing, that your customer is going to be looking for the way that they can do this as effortlessly and as on their schedule, with the content that they need at whatever moment it is. And that may or may not ever be talking to a salesperson, right? And so what you can learn from this self guided experience is how can you, whatever you’re selling, create a self guided experience. Because I feel like you need to have it almost no matter what. At some point a CFO might call you and say. “I need to negotiate because we’re going to do 1000 licenses.” Or a technical person might call you to say, “What’s the security protocols here?” Right? They’re going to need more details, or they’re going to want to know about integration. But those are the good calls, because they’re already educated. They’re already down the pipeline. So anyway, I think this is an important thing that every marketer needs to understand. But I’m curious, from both of your standpoints, you know, with every good, there’s some bad, what’s the downside of PLG?

Allyson Havener: I think it’s if you don’t have alignment with your product and your sales team. A lot of people, like I said earlier, everything’s on a maturity curve. But if your product team isn’t really building a product that can lead to grow and have that be automated, it leads to a lot of manual processes and pulling reporting. And it just becomes very, very clunky very, very quickly. And so I think that’s something that is just always a continuous conversation. And that marketing needs to have a seat at the table is to be thinking about, “Okay, this is not just how we develop a product, this is how we develop a product to drive growth for the company. So marketing has to be in that conversation. So I think that’s the downside, if you’re not super aligned with your product team, and they’re developing and you’re not in that conversation and thinking about the use cases from a marketing perspective.

And I think the second thing is with your sales team. Because the sales team is always going to go to their instinct is the shortest path to revenue. And so when you’re trying to think about, okay, I’m trying to build this freemium customer base, I’m nurturing them, okay, based on these, it’s a lot for a salesperson to like, kind of wrap their mind around when they’re like, I’m just gonna go after this person and I’m going to sell to them. The downside is if you don’t have both of those people at the table when you guys are discussing this and you’re super aligned on how like okay, sales like this is how we’re going to do the reporting. This is how you’re going to get your leads to follow up on etc. And it becomes very, very difficult. And it just becomes kind of a mess.

Michael Callahan: We worked with our sales team, it’s a trial conversion process—I’ll call it that—but we would we would get people in, they want to try it, they click on a reg page, they give us your name. And then the next step was give us your credit card. And as you can imagine, we saw almost no completions there, right? Because nobody wants to just give you a credit card immediately. So we work with the sales team and said, “What are the objections that you have? Or where’s the friction along the way?” And so we built that into it. Contrary to typical B2B Reg pages, we went from one step where it was 1 step, and then a credit card to 7 steps. But we had a much higher conversion factor, it was like 100/200%, higher conversions when you got to the credit card piece, because we had worked with the sales team and said, “What are the questions they have? So when they bail out in the first scenario when they were bailing out? And then they would talk to you? What was it?” And they would say, “Well, they’d have questions about what are the different licensing types? Or what, how much does it cost? Or how do I roll it out?” Whatever it might be. And so we included that in the process. And so it removed the friction, and we had a much higher conversion rate.

The other side, though, was like when they were doing a free trial. And this is to your point about the product team. The friction, there was—Okay, so you got them in now they’re using it, but it’s still just a trial, they’re not paying… How do you get him to pay? Well, you don’t want them to have to like call someone, right? You just want it to be there at that moment. So that moment they go, “Yeah, this is working for me.” So you work with the product team is and so we have just it’s a toggle switch, they go convert from trial. And it just happens. And it’s simple. All the payment information is done, automatically. We have these three legs of the stool, right? It’s the marketing, sales, and product and we all have to work together. And if you build some of this with in partnership that works well.

Drew Neisser: And I wonder this is the sort of ignorant question here, because it’s called product lead growth. And the product people may think, “Hey, we’re the stars here. What are you even doing in the room?” And, Allyson, I’m just wondering, is the reason that they don’t invite you in is because they have this sort of sense of we got this, we know, we’re the ones. And they’re not really thinking that marketing has a place in this,

Allyson Havener: It’s a little bit different at TrustRadius, I think I have, you know, one of the reasons I went to TrustRadius. And I love it there’s so much because I have such a great relationship with the product team and the product team is super strong. And I do have that seat at the table. But I do think that deter is from a product standpoint, like in their head, you know, it’s like, of course, we should be thinking about growth, like, why would we build products that don’t lead to growth of the company. But I think it’s the automation of that, or the self service of it, where it’s—and we’ve been talking about this a lot where those barriers to entry. So from a marketing perspective, my lowest conversion rate is at the bottom of the funnel, right? As soon as someone needs to put their signature on a piece of paper and pay us, that is where we see the biggest drop off. The other thing that could also happen that I’ve seen is that you have a really good freemium product. And you didn’t really create those thresholds where people are like, “Why should I pay you?”

Drew Neisser: Right. The free account is just fine. Thank you very much.

Allyson Havener: Yeah, this is great. And so I think that’s the other pieces that you need that feedback from the product standpoint, and the customer use cases, because your product team could be developing and they’re like, “Oh, this is the coolest thing.” And they’re not thinking about the whole GTM. And thinking about, “Okay, what are those thresholds that we want to actually start making people pay.” And that’s just a perspective that you have to bring from the field from the marketing POV.

Michael Callahan: To add onto that. I think one of the things that I always try to think of in this is, I’ll use the product team as an example here, but it’s anyone that you’re talking with, or trying to persuade or convince. The product people are really proud of what they’ve built, right. And they want it to shine. And it’s super hard. In fact, it’s like one of the hardest roles in the company and it’s also like the most creative. I know, I’ve had discussions with developers before and said, “You are probably more creative than the marketing team. Because you start with nothing, you start with a blank computer screen. And then all of a sudden, by typing these different things, wow, there’s a product!” It’s incredible. So they’re really proud of it. And so what we what we try to do is not patronize them, but say, “This is going to help show off your product. This is going to help people buy it more if we can work together if we can build these things because we have an idea of what motivates people. And that motivation is what’s going to get your product adopted.” And it builds a real nice partnership and relationship so that you’re both kind of working toward the same goal.

Drew Neisser: And it feels like that’s the real key thing here is that, you know, in other companies where it’s very clear what marketing’s job is here, you have to negotiate with your product people and with the sales people. It’s a little bit different than some of the others.

Okay, before we continue, of course, we have to ask because this is the part of the show where we ask what would Ben Franklin say? I’m not going to get into why we always ask this question. But we do ask this question on this show. And one of the interesting things that we keep coming back to is that the product is central to the story, it is a demonstration of value. And so I think Franklin might say, “A good example, is the best sermon.” Now you’re gonna have to work on that a little bit to understand how these things are connected. But a good example, is the best sermon.

Okay, so let’s get back to it. I’m thinking about this. And again, this naming is everything. And we have this PLG and product led growth, and I’m thinking of investors, venture capital firms, and they’re thinking, we have this PLG company, we’re about to put a lot of money into it. And we’re gonna put most of that capital that we did back into the product, because it’s product lead growth. So help break the myth that surrounding PLG that you don’t really need marketing, because the product essentially markets itself. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s a myth. Can you debunk it, Allyson?

Allyson Havener: Yeah, the essentials of marketing still stand, right? You need to still create a pain point in the market for them to even want the freemium version of that product. The basic principles of marketing still stands. So you have to still find that macro trend in the market that’s—or insert one, that’s creating a pain point for your ideal customer, right? And you need marketing to do that.

And then you need marketing to connect that pain point with your solution. And so you still have to craft that story arc in that narrative and put that out into the market to even get people to that freemium stage. Then what is really great once they get to that stage, you lower that barrier to entry, they get in, and then you continue that nurturing. But marketing is essential to even get them to that first step of signing up.

Drew Neisser: Okay. And, Michael?

Michael Callahan: Yeah, so here’s a way to debunk is the word you use that you get the product sells itself. So I was out on AWS the other day, so people that don’t know it means Amazon Web Services, right, so that you can buy computing, you can buy storage, you can buy whatever you need. And so I’m out there seeing—like how to like—this is totally zero touch, right? There’s no so Amazon salesperson talking to me, I’m just going in. And right on the homepage, you know, you want to do a free trial, there’s paid levels too. But there’s a free piece, which then of course, you get to level then you’ve got to start paying. So I click on the free one, register. I’m in. It takes me like 3 minutes to do it, I now have access to all these different services, like I could register a domain and whatever. All of that experience was marketing. It wasn’t product, right? The product was the ability to connect, like my computer to some server somewhere in the cloud, that gives me storage or some computer that gives me the computing power that I can run an app on. But all of that experience that I had, that was all marketing, and you have to invest in that when it said, “Free trial and whatever.” A marketing person wrote that, right. That’s all marketing on that no touch or that product led experience.

Drew Neisser: And I appreciate that. And I think there are a lot of examples out there. HubSpot might be one of them. You’d say, yeah, that’s PLG because they have a free product and so forth. But they spend a ton of money on marketing. And in fact, there may be a case to be said that you actually end up spending more on marketing, because you have a lower threshold to get trials. So it’s all about driving and getting folks to get in the door. And then the product might be doing the marketing from there.

Okay. So final words of wisdom for marketers. Let’s give them 2 do’s and a don’t for getting that PLG right. So Michael, I’ll let you go first this time.

Michael Callahan: Sure. One, always think about your audience. Audience. Audience. Audience. Audience. That is the first thing. What do they care about?

The second do is make it as simple as you can. Work with the product teams to make it as simple as you can.

And the don’t is don’t try to take what you’ve historically done, which is reg page with a bunch of forms—like the traditional way, don’t do that. Go to the new way where the product is what’s selling story.

Drew Neisser: Cool. Okay, Allyson, 2 do’s and a don’t.

Allyson Havener: I think definitely find the value of your product and really drive that home for your customers. Because I think when they start, you have to find that value proposition that’s going to get them to convert. Because at the end of the day, you can have as many freemium users as you want. But if you don’t have that value point that gets them to convert to paid, you’re kind of in trouble.

And then the second thing I would say, is align with your product and your sales team. Have those conversations and have a seat at the table.

The don’t is, I would say, don’t try to take this on your own. Like from a marketing perspective, you have to have buy-in so it goes back to my do with the alignment piece. But don’t try to push this in your company. If you don’t have backing from others. It’s a big shift and it’s a big mindset shift. So you really have to have a lot of buy-in across your company.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it really isn’t it. And I see it so clearly now, as a result of talking about this. It is about the 3 legged stool: sales, Product Marketing, really working together and recognizing the strengths of this particular system. And this falls apart if you pull marketing out, you don’t have enough customers, you probably don’t have it. You pull sales out, you may not close or figure out. And if you pull product out, well, you don’t have product lead growth. So there it is. All right. Well, thank you, Michael and Allyson, you’re both great sports and so insightful. Thank you, audience for staying with us.

To hear more conversations like this one and submit your own questions while we’re live, join us on the next CMO Huddles Studio. We stream to my LinkedIn profile, that’s Drew Neisser, every other week.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me! This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and our B2B podcast partners Share Your Genius. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro Voice Over is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about B2B branding, CMO Huddles, or my CMO coaching service, check out renegade.com. I’m your host, Drew Neisser. And until next time, keep those Renegade thinking caps on and strong!