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Cris Thome on the role of Marketing in PLG, and metrics-based collaboration
Product State Q&A
Cris Thome is a growth marketing leader, former VP of Marketing & Growth for Certn and former Director of Growth, Retention for Hootsuite.
EC: What are key ways in which Marketing teams support product-led growth?
CT: In a product-led-growth motion, growth marketing teams play a key role in promoting product growth across acquisition, retention (activation / onboarding / engagement) and monetization.
In a nutshell, growth marketing teams can — in most cases — run experiments more cost effectively, without taking time from engineers. The quantitative or qualitative learning/signals from experiments should be passed to Product to further build in-product tests, validate hypotheses and fuel growth.
Let me provide some examples, starting with acquisition. Until a product is at a stage that can drive acquisition at scale, through user invite to collaborate, referrals, advocacy or word of mouth, the acquisition model should be marketing-led. Marketing-led acquisition should have a brand promise very well aligned with the product value proposition. If the quality of the sign-ups is not great, meaning, if the brand promise, targeting or messaging are not attracting the right users with the right expectation and motivation (to have a problem solved with your product) — there is a serious risk that you can get sign-ups who never get to onboarding or never get to value or never get to monetization simply because they were the wrong type of users to your product.
It doesn't matter how much value your product can provide or how great your onboarding is if the quality of acquisition is not high. So the first step is to make sure marketing is aligned with product teams on a Go-to-marketing motion for PLG, including metrics/KPIs.
Moving into the next stage of the user lifecycle, we have user activation and onboarding. Here is where the cross-collaboration between growth marketing and product gets deeper. Here it is also the biggest opportunity to improve user retention, so a strategic cross-collaboration is essential for the growth of the business. During this stage it is very important to collect user data to understand the segments of users that are landing into your product and then personalize the product onboarding experience accordingly (by use case, role, industry, company size etc). However, before product teams invest in personalizing the onboarding experience, Growth marketing can help by testing the performance of personalized onboarding emails and by sharing with the product what type of personalization is moving the needle. Another example, for products that are more complex and require some sort of integration or that users need some sort of content or resources to get to value (AHA), growth marketing can run out-of-product experiments to identify what types of guides/education/resources users need and in which moment they need it the most. This can be tested through emails, webinars, and live events with customers. The learnings of what is working can be passed to the product before any build starts. Another way of cross-collaboration is human-assist onboarding, where growth marketing teams can offer users a live session with a ‘product advocate’, who can unblock any users who might need a hand or give a concierge service to superpower users, helping users get to value faster.
For the engagement phase, when you have users who got to value and are forming Habit and coming to product often, it is beneficial to build some sort of user community, where users can meet peers, share challenges and benchmarks. This is a marketing strategy that can strengthen the user relationship with the product further, increase retention, promote upgrades/expansion and help brands find advocates.
These are examples of marketing learnings that could be eventually productized for scale. There are tons of ways this cross-collaboration can happen; the secret sauce is to make sure both marketing and product teams are aligned to achieve the same goal: acquire the right users (ICP), promote product usage and increase retention and monetization.
EC: How do you know when Marketing and Product teams are collaborating effectively?
CT: I know when both teams are collaborating effectively when they are measured by the same metrics, when learnings are flowing and also when I see out of product initiatives, that have high value to users, being promoted via in-product communications.
As a real-life example, a registration rate to a live educational event may increase from 4%, when invitation was sent by email only, to 18%, when the invitation was sent both by email and served in-product (for target users only, at the right time, at the right place).
It is a win-win for both teams, and for the business.
EC: What are examples of how a deep understanding of customers can shape a product at different stages of the customer lifecycle?
CT: A common challenge for many PLG companies is early churn which normally happens during onboarding, before users get to their AHA moment. Through dissecting activation and onboarding with usage data combined with customer interviews, we learnt that early churn was due to an overwhelming and frictional experience during account set up/activation and product homepage.
The more features you show during onboarding, with the intention to educate your users in everything your product can offer, the more you overwhelm users.
By learning deeply about our users' challenges, fears, anxiety, motivations, we significantly simplified the onboarding experience - both in and outside the product.
Another fantastic way to shape your product and innovate is through deeply understanding why customers go into dormancy and why they eventually opt to cancel their subscription. We learned about customers' frustrations not only through cancellation surveys, but also via interviews with churned customers.
The goal is not to reach out to churned users to try to win them back, but simply to ask their help to improve the product for others like them. This learning led us to rethink our price and packaging, our ICP, and our GTM strategy. It also provided high value insights about partners for integration, and the list goes on.
“It doesn't matter how much value your product can provide or how great your onboarding is if the quality of acquisition is not high.”
- Cris Thome
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