4 experts on the rise of product-led marketing—and their advice for doing it well

Published Aug 30, 2022

Product-led strategies can help nearly every team in an organization leverage the product to fuel—and improve—how they work. One department that quickly comes to mind is marketing. Today, the best marketing teams utilize the product they’re selling as its own sales and marketing tool, allowing users to experience its value first-hand through a free offering. They also bring key marketing communications inside the product to more effectively engage with prospects and customers. This is often referred to as product-led marketing.

In part three of our “Driving product-led transformation” webinar series, we were joined by four marketing leaders from across the industry to discuss the rise of product-led marketing: Evan Woock, VP of customer lifecycle marketing at Zendesk, Elle Woulfe, SVP of marketing at InVision, Aurelia Solomon, senior director of product marketing, customer marketing, and product education at Drift, and Joe Chernov, CMO at Pendo. 

The four of them talked all things product led, and how this shift in strategy is impacting customers’ expectations and marketers’ roles alike. Here are four of the top takeaways from the discussion:

Today’s buyers want to self-serve

The discussion kicked off with a powerful statistic: According to a recent Forrester report, three out of four software buyers would rather self-educate than learn about a product from a sales representative. What does this mean for marketers?

Evan Woock of Zendesk said that it’s all about providing quick time to value. With the availability of information, customers are very capable and willing to find and implement things themselves. As a result, the Zendesk team is working to make sure their free product allows people to accomplish what they want to accomplish—without any added sales pressure. Aurelia Solomon of Drift agreed, and advised marketers to focus on creating value for prospective customers before asking for anything in exchange.

It’s also clear that B2B buyers’ expectations have evolved because B2C products have set the bar so high. People expect the software they use at work to be just as accessible, frictionless, and easy to try out as the applications they use in their personal lives. They also want to try things immediately, without waiting several days after requesting a demo or contacting sales. Elle Woulfe of InVision noted that brands need to remove friction from buyers’ learning process, and that the “Try before you buy” mentality is here to stay. 

Product-led growth initiatives take cross-functional effort

Product-led marketing strategies require collaboration from teams across the organization, which means marketing teams no longer only care about having a strong relationship with the sales team. For product-led growth to be successful, marketers need to be in tight alignment with the product team, too. 

At InVision, Woulfe explained how they operate under a “growth squad” model, with leads from key areas (like marketing, data science, sales, engineering, product) coming together to strategize and ensure the things they want to do (e.g. a change to the free product’s user interface, or UI) get prioritized by the broader team. Solomon shared that at Drift, teams have a number of shared goals at the C-suite level and therefore work cross-functionally from the top down. This helps ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards a common measure of success.

Freemium and free trials serve different purposes

Building a free version of your premium product unlocks a lot of opportunities for marketing teams. Marketers can nurture this pool of free users, helping them understand the product’s value and leading them down the path to conversion. The two main types of free products are freemium and free trials. Freemium products give users access to part of the product for an unlimited amount of time, whereas free trials let users experience a product’s entire functionality for free, but for a limited period of time.

While both freemium and free trials are beneficial, each model serves a different purpose. Chernov explained that at Pendo, we started with freemium and set out to create a community of people who were passionate about the Pendo product. But since we gave away a lot of value in this freemium product, there was no forcing function for sales to get involved. As a result, Pendo recently built a free trial within the freemium experience to help drive urgency around unlocking the full power of Pendo. Solomon shared that at Drift, their free trial is more geared towards existing customers as a way to drive upgrades and expansion, while their freemium product is primarily for prospects.

There’s not just one playbook for product-led marketing

There’s no one “right” way to approach product-led marketing. As Woulfe put it, what works for one company might not work for yours—our products all solve different problems and cater to different types of users. This makes experimentation critical. Teams should constantly test ideas, analyze performance, and iterate on their free product just as you would for your premium product offering.

In other words, the act of having a free trial or freemium product doesn’t guarantee success. Once you build these experiences, it takes ongoing collaboration and iteration to ensure your marketing team (and beyond) truly embraces a product-led mindset.

Want to see Evan, Elle, Aurelia, and Joe’s full discussion? Check out the webinar recording here: