You can—and should—always improve the customer experience; it’s not something you can achieve and put aside. Customer expectations change constantly, and switching costs are typically low, even in enterprise markets. That brings us to the core element of product strategy: go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
A GTM strategy usually includes these elements:
• The market conditions and competitive positioning
• The target customer
• Product offering and pricing
• Customer-acquisition process and channels
Combined, these elements outline a customer-acquisition process, which is how the company will attract and convert buyers. The definition of a traditional GTM strategy is an action plan that describes repeatable and scalable processes for how a company acquires, retains and grows customers.
So, what impact does GTM strategy have on customer experience, and why is it crucial for companies to change their strategy if they want to improve customer experience?
Customer experience requires organizations to go beyond demographics and firmographic data to understand customer needs, values and expectations. These insights will help your organization personalize its product offering, pricing and message to improve the customer experience. They will also help you understand what journeys, channels and processes best match customer expectations.
Every organization serious about focusing on customer experience has to evaluate and optimize its GTM strategy to align with a vision of delivering a better customer experience.
A GTM Strategy Must be Repeatable and Scalable.
Repeatable means that the organization can expect similar results when executing against a particular GTM playbook. Scalable means the company can hire and train new employees using the GTM playbook and see proportional revenue growth in acquiring customers.
Traditionally, a GTM strategy highlights channels as the fourth essential element. But now, prospective customers can switch from one channel to another in seconds, so channels themselves have become somewhat less important. What matters more is the overall customer-acquisition process, which is intertwined with every aspect of a GTM strategy.
In other words, the customer-acquisition process is changing because of changing customer expectations and the increasing number of channels through which prospective customers can be reached.
The Difference Between Traditional and Product-Led GTM
Enterprise buyers expect to try and evaluate software in an easy, frictionless way. As a result, a new approach to customer acquisition has emerged in which the product itself becomes a channel for acquiring, retaining and growing customers. This approach fundamentally changes the traditional GTM strategy by elevating product as one of the primary channels. This new strategy is referred to as a product-led GTM strategy. The name suggests the importance of product as a tool and channel to attract, retain and grow customers.
Product-led GTM strategy is an action plan that describes repeatable and scalable processes for how a company acquires, retains, and grows customers, driven by in-product customer behavior, feedback, product usage and analytics.
In a product-led GTM strategy, the product becomes a crucial and irreplaceable part of every step of your company’s preparation to reach and engage prospective customers.
One of the major benefits of this approach is receiving in-product user behavioral data that can then be used to change or adapt the whole GTM process. How prospective customers interact with your product early in the buying process could help your company decide what features to build next. You could adjust marketing messages based on in-product behaviors to highlight values and features that correlate with a higher probability of a prospect becoming a customer.
A product-led GTM enables companies to focus more on effective product-growth strategies and incorporate real-time, in-product customer behavioral data to create meaningful engagement across multiple channels and devices.
Is there anything more relevant and valuable (from a GTM perspective) for a company to improve the customer experience than data showing how prospective customers engage with its product?
How valuable would it be for you and your extended team to fully understand how and why a single customer (or segment of customers) uses your product, given their unique customer attributes and journeys?
Product-Led GTM Strategy Doesn’t Emphasize Gated Content
Let’s examine one other main difference between a traditional and product-led GTM. In the latter, companies focus on driving prospects to try their product instead of driving them to lead forms and then bombarding them with a bunch of nurturing emails. This strategy goes nowhere without prospects filling out lead forms, and one study found that lead forms are filled out on average only 11 percent of the time.
Gating content as a way to generate leads has become increasingly less effective. Aside from the fact that prospects do not want to share contact information and would rather evaluate a product via a trial or freemium option, lead forms create inefficiencies in the customer-acquisition process. Many leads are prospects that will never be your customers: people who research the subject, students and prospects that don’t fit your ideal customer profile.
This fills your database with bad lead data, which can be a big problem. Bad data clutter your marketing automation and CRM solutions with duplicates and bogus data. Depending on how you slice and dice SaaS industry data, the average conversion rate from visitor to lead is around 5 to 15 percent. While the research findings vary, the conversion rate from lead to a won deal ranges from 1 to 10 percent.
Marketing teams spend most of their resources and efforts nurturing leads that will never convert. If you still use lead forms and MQLs to generate leads, ask yourself, “What percentage of your lead data is garbage (bogus data provided by those filling out your lead forms)?” In other words, how much of it is inaccurate data or from people who aren’t truly prospective customers? What percentage of your MQLs fall outside your ideal customer profile (e.g., two-person startups, students, or maybe even competitors)?
A poor lead conversion rate is partly due to a very low buying intent among prospects that fill out a lead form. On the other hand, signing up for a free trial or freemium product shows a higher interest in your product. Also, a free trial entices prospects to use accurate credentials since the confirmation process is often a required step for getting meaningful access to the product.
What about lead nurturing and lead scoring?
Companies such as Marketo and HubSpot, which popularized a marketing-led customer acquisition approach, also introduced lead scoring and nurturing techniques to help marketers improve conversion rates and bring some kind of prioritization to the process.
In this approach, lead nurturing based only on the contact information (demographic data) and marketing activities (opened email, visited web pages). As a result, Nurturing and scoring techniques become arbitrary marketing, automating and personalizing interactions with prospects based on data that is only minimally correlated with buying intent. Plus, most organizations cannot personalize email nurturing campaigns because they lack customer in-product behavioral data.
One quick point on ungated content:
Just think about how much marketing attention you are losing by gating your content. When you don’t gate your content, readers can share it and contribute to spreading your message across target markets, even if they aren’t part of your ideal customer profile. But people rarely link or refer to gated content.
Let’s be clear: A content strategy around thought leadership is still important for organizations to drive awareness and demand. It has become one of the most efficient ways for companies to engage with prospects, by educating target audiences (prospects and customers) on industry trends, new strategies, and tactics. Sound content strategy is key to growth, but your assets should not hide behind a form. Even more important, your content should be delivered to prospects and customers contextually to move them through the life cycle.
Addressing the Marketing Sales Gap
Companies using the traditional GTM strategies experience a much-talked-about marketing-sales gap, where marketers pass prospects to sales that aren’t ready to buy and sales complain about lead quality. As an industry, we have to admit that marketing-sales misalignment is due to ineffective lead-generation strategies that emphasize quantity of leads over quality. What has made things even more convoluted is that MQLs are not qualified for pipeline forecasting. As a result, sales teams spend time working on and further qualifying these leads as SQLs. This not only makes things inefficient, but it also increases the customer-acquisition cost.
Many teams that shifted to a product-led GTM strategy have abandoned the traditional approach to customer acquisition and MQLs. Some of the fastest-growing companies in recent years do not put lead-generation forms on their websites and instead invite prospects to try their products. This list includes Zoom.us, Asana, InVision, and Slack—and it’s growing. Prospects search for and find product reviews and other valuable information; after all, they don’t want to hear marketing messages that use too much jargon, hyperbole, superlatives or buzzwords.
What Are Product-Qualified Leads?
One of the earliest mentions of the PQL concept is in an article by Tomasz Tunguz from early 2013, “The Product Qualified Lead (PQL).” It describes a natural progression from MQLs to PQLs. However, the PQL only makes sense as part of a larger, product-led GTM strategy. Product-qualified leads are prospects that signed up and demonstrated buying intent based on product interest, usage and behavioral data.
We believe PQLs are a better way for cross-functional teams to create sales-ready accounts and more active customers. PQLs provide a more accurate method of tracking customer journeys. This is a key metric for any company that’s transitioning to a product-led GTM strategy.
Instead of driving prospects to lead forms, a product-led GTM strategy drives prospects to sign up for a product or free trial. From that moment on, marketing teams can analyze how prospects use the product to nurture or reengage them until they are ready to buy.
A product-led GTM strategy streamlines the customer-acquisition process for SaaS organizations by focusing on one entry point for prospects. When prospective customers sign up for a freemium or free trial, they show a higher buying intent. They also allow the company’s teams to analyze how prospects interact with the product in their natural environment.
Product-led GTM makes it possible for companies to personalize the onboarding experience and collect insight into what features drive the most value. It also helps pinpoint steps in customer journeys that cause a negative customer experience and result in product abandonment. Furthermore, marketing teams using behavioral data can reengage customers that have left the product and haven’t returned.
Product-Led GTM Provides Valuable Data for Sales Teams
Today’s sales process rarely incorporates an efficient way for sales development reps and account execs to apply product usage data to prioritize their workflow and outreach to prospects. However, sales processes can change when the organization focuses on PQLs instead of MQLs/SQLs. Sales teams can use behavioral data to prioritize better and forecast. Product leaders can get early feedback on what features drive product growth, what in-product journeys are more effective, and what onboarding process results in higher product adoption. Simply put, this approach works for both the company and prospects by enabling a frictionless buying experience.
In the article “Why Product Qualified Leads Are the Answer to a Failing Freemium Model,” Christopher ODonnell explains why PQLs are critical for companies with a freemium business model. However, we believe that product-led GTM strategy and PQLs not only work for the freemium model but are also essential for almost every SaaS company. Prospects expect to see the product early in the buying process. A product-led strategy brings the “don’t tell me, let me try!” idea, while PQLs track and measure buying intent more effectively.
To be clear, prospect nurturing and engagement can happen inside the product via in-product messaging or through other channels such as email, mobile notifications, etc. Customer in-product behavior influences how a company nurtures and reengages customers to come back into the product and also triggers ideas for content strategy and marketing. Customer behavior is a strong signal of what your target audience cares about and provides insight into how best to engage with them further.
The Traditional Approach to Customer Acquisition Process
Companies that use the traditional approach to customer acquisition make it a habit to analyze this process from the company’s perspective. It is important to highlight that a large portion of the traditional customer-acquisition process happens outside the product. This prevents companies from collecting critical behavioral data that can help improve nurturing and customer interaction.
Marketing teams are in charge of the customer life cycle until prospects become MQLs. Sales development reps are responsible for quality marketing leads and generating SQLs. Account execs focus on converting SQLs into won customers and then pass them to the customer success team, whose task is to onboard newly acquired customers and ensure they become active and loyal customers.
A Product-led Approach to the Customer-Acquisition Process
A product-led GTM strategy makes your product an essential part of the acquisition process and significantly reduces the time it takes for prospects to access the product. When compared with the traditional customer-acquisition process, companies focus less on the customer life cycle part outside of product engagement. The customer life cycle shifts more into the elevated axis area, where product behavior becomes essential in guiding customers through the life cycle.
As explained earlier, product usage data can be leveraged by every team to move prospects through the customer acquisition process efficiently. Furthermore, it is easier for sales, marketing, product, and customer success to agree on what defines a PQL. That’s because this metric calls upon more concrete data compared with the way that MQLs/SQLs are defined.
Dropbox is an example of a company that drives prospects directly into the product and nurtures them until they are ready to buy. When prospects approach a percentage of the storage available on their freemium product, Dropbox sends a notification to the desktop app and over email.
Product-led GTM Strategies Provide Several Benefits
In a nutshell, product, marketing, sales, and success teams are more aligned to deliver personalized customer experiences that are more engaging and result in higher conversions, loyalty, and revenue growth. By doing this right, companies reduce their customer-acquisition cost, accelerate trial-to-conversions and increase customer lifetime value.
To deliver great customer experiences today, companies must understand the customer life cycle, unify customer data and track their customers’ journey through their products. This is not possible when following a traditional GTM strategy. However, it is possible when companies embrace a product-led GTM strategy that centers on providing access to the product earlier in the buying cycle via free trials or freemiums.
This approach also enables organizations to become truly customer-experience-focused and provides a clear path for cross-functional teams to align around the buyer’s journey and full customer life cycle. Moreover, it provides product usage insights critical for delivering personalized experiences that advance prospects and customers from one stage to the next. These same insights can guide product teams to understand and determine the most valued features and ways to optimize their products further.
Simply put, your product should be at the center of your GTM strategy—the action plan for how your company acquires, retains and grows customers. To succeed with this approach, every department must align around relevant goals and metrics, and you must equip these teams with the right tools and data.
Book excerpt from Mastering Product Experience: How to Deliver Personalized Product Experiences with Product-Led Go-to-Market Strategy by the Aptrinsic team: Nick Bonfiglio, Mickey Alon, and Myk Pono. Read the full book at intrinsicpoint.com/mastering-product-experience-in-saas.
Learn More About Go-To-Market Strategies With Pragmatic Training
You can learn more about go-to-market approaches at Pragmatic Institute by enrolling in the Market course.
Market helps you gain a thorough understanding of your buyers and how they like to buy so you can build the product marketing strategies that deliver results. Learn how to align across go-to-market teams by effectively sharing and leveraging your buyer knowledge to prioritize the right product marketing strategies. Measure your strategies against the metrics that matter most to your organizations, focusing on outcomes and impact, not vanity.