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There is no product-led growth without experience-led thinking

PLG is a powerful approach, when done right. What can go wrong, then?


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Jemmi Laaninen

a year ago | 4 min read

That’s it, that should be the post.

But do let me elaborate on this.

First, a short and sweet explanation of what we mean by product-led growth. This quote is from Amplitude.

Product-led growth (PLG) isa business strategy and methodology that positions the product as the main driver of customer acquisition, activation, satisfaction, retention, and scalable expansion.

PLG should be a very scalable model for business growth.

Why is then, that we still see a lot of B2B SaaS businesses struggling with ridiculously high acquisition costs, poor retention rates, and difficulties winning over new markets? They say they’re running with the PLG model, so they should be able to scale like crazy, right?

What is going wrong, then?

There can be a plethora of reasons, why PLG isn’t catching wind in an organisation, but often you’ll see at least one of these contributing to the issue:

  • Different departments have different views on what PLG means
  • Different departments have different views on who’s responsibility this is (or how the responsibilities are divided)
  • There is no focus on the 360° user experience with the product
  • PLG isn’t treated as a 360° operating model, but as a marketing-run campaign list

The list could go on endlessly, but all of these contribute to one bigger theme: the user’s experience with the product, and how the product should be enabling growthduring all the different stages of the user’s lifecycle.

Alignment is the core of PLG

No product and business can succeed with PLG if there is no clear alignment across the different departments.

This goes to the very core of the problem: when decisions regarding product development are made with a little-to-no emphasis on the users and their problems, but only from the business’s perspective, you’ll end up in a sticky situation. The product team will be pushed to just deliver new features to meet the stated business needs, and other teams are just struggling to deliver their part.

This will create misaligned departments, who are just trying to do what’s asked of them because the chances are that all of the departments in this situation have separate goals from one another.

This will create completely preventable frictionbetween the departments since every department will be prioritising their own goals, instead of trying to find better ways to work together.

This will create a poor user experience for the productsince there is not enough time and emphasis to ensure it to be top-notch.

Not to mention that this will most likely also start to show in employee retention, because working in misaligned teams where everyone is left to fend for themselves gets really, really hard on you.

Lack of focus on UX: cascading issues

There is usually a quite simple logic to follow when trying to determine where you’re going wrong with your PLG efforts not bringing in the results.

It can look something like this:

  • Poor user experience = poor user activation
  • Poor user activation = poor retention
  • Poor retention = constant focus on acquisition
  • Constant focus on acquisition = constant need to create something new and fancy to outperform the competition and bedazzle the potential users
  • Constantly creating something new = not perfecting what’s already there
  • Not perfecting what’s already there = no focus on the existing UX
  • No focus on existing UX = poor user experience
  • Rinse and repeat

It’s a terrifyingly long list, and not even an exhaustive one.

⚙️Reasons why there is not enough focus on User Experience

  • It hasn’t been clearly tied to any company goals and metrics = no way to prove it has an impact
  • There is no one to effectively take responsibility for it
  • It’s seen as an unnecessary effort, backed by the thinking that you should be able to use whatever data you already have and run with it

The first pointof it not being clearly tied to any company goals and metrics is especially difficult.There are usually goals and metrics for retention, upgrades, and churn,but these are often owned by a team who has no direct power over the product’s user experience design.

This means that it will be very difficult to effectively measure the impact user experience work has on the overall company goals.

Core problem: misaligned company goals, misaligned departments.

Solution: aligned goals between the departments with direct user contact and product development, clear ways of working gathering user feedback, and prioritising user experience work.

The second pointof not having anyone own the user experience of the product (and related goals), is actually relatively common. This can manifest itself by having different departments understand the responsibilities on this differently, and cause more misalignment and dissatisfaction within the organisation and eventually, amongst the users.

If the product development team alone is fully responsible for the user experience of the product, it means that they should have dedicated people to work on the end-to-end 360° lifecycle user experience of the product.

If the product team doesn’t have this, it falls on other teams to provide at least some of the needed user insights. In a misaligned organisation this is a tall order since everyone’s trying to run after their goals and hit their marks.

Core problem: misaligned company goals, lack of dedication

Solution: aligned goals between departments, ensuring there is ownership for user experience, or at least an effective way of working together towards better user experience

The third point, user experience work being seen an as unnecessary effort, is a toxic one. This tells you that the company doesn’t value the people who want to provide the best experiences for their users.

It’s also very difficult to make the most out of the existing data if there are no clear ways for gathering it, and creating actions based on that. This requires an understanding of what data is valuable to gather and use, the different practices of gathering data and user insights, and how to use this data for business growth.

Core problem: misaligned company goals, UX seen as an expense

Solution: aligned goals between departments, ensuring there is ownership for user experience and time to actually work on it, OOOOORRRRRR jump ship and move to a company that appreciates this

There is no product-led growth without experience-led thinking.

Companies that don’t see value in user experience design and true alignment between teams will not see the product-led growth they’re looking to have.

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