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Josh StephensCTO

Turning Products Into Powerful Growth Engines: A Conversation with Wes Bush

The way we buy and sell software has shifted away from hours-long presentations to executives and toward easy-to-navigate free trials for users. Why? In an era of democratized tech, you need to impress the person actually using your product to stand out.

This strategic focus on the end-user experience is often referred to as product-led growth. At Elsewhere, we take the idea one step further to pragmatic product-led growth (PPLG), which focuses on adding value across the organization—from individual product users all the way up to the C-Suite, and gives founders the tools they need to start their product-led journey regardless of how much capital they’ve raised. Once you start thinking product-first, you won’t just create a product that sells itself; you’ll begin reimagining your entire business, from evolving your sales and marketing efforts to launching entirely new offerings.

That’s what happened for Wes Bush, best-selling author, creator of the ProductLed community, and the latest guest on our podcast Capital GEEK. After working in traditional lead gen sales for B2B SaaS companies, his understanding of “product” evolved: A product is not just something you sell, it’s also about how you serve people. Since then, he’s focused his entire career on turning products into powerful growth engines.

We chatted about the impact of pragmatic product-led growth on the SaaS world, and how companies can adopt a PPLG strategy. Here are three main takeaways from our conversation.

Define your product growth game plan

Are you trying to build the dominant product, the most disruptive product, or a differentiated product? Determining your high-level product goals will help you determine whether PPLG is right for you.

Building a dominant product is hard to pull off, because you really need to have the best product at the best price. For a disruptive product, you might not need to do everything, but you need to do a few things in a very accessible way. And to be a differentiator, you need to solve a very unique problem that all of the other one-size-fits-all dominant players don’t have time to do.

As Wes asks, “What game are you playing?” After considering the size of your market and how much you can realistically bite into, you can define the go-to-market strategy that best works for you.

From my experience, founders that deeply understand a specific problem—usually people who have really lived the role of their end-user—are a perfect fit for PPLG. I think the future will be largely defined by medium-sized tech companies (the disruptors and the differentiators) solving specific problems with great products, rather than giant companies trying to own an entire space.

Get your entire team on board

While product-led growth is often seen as a top-of-funnel activity, pragmatic product-led growth has the potential to be your entire business strategy. But it’s hard to go on this journey alone—you need to get your entire team on board with prioritizing the entire enterprise’s experience.

When Wes first started taking a product-led approach in his career, he quickly got excited by the fact that every team could start thinking differently: The marketing team could use product user data to shape campaigns, sales could use data to inform their pitch meetings, and customer success could use data to propose entirely new product features.

“What kind of got and sustained me [in product-led growth] is this fascination with how far it could go,” says Wes. “It’s still being defined, and I think the next five years are going to create the playbook for everyone.”

He offered Atlassian as an example of a company taking a pragmatic product-led approach to customer success. The company actually looks at common support requests as “bugs” in their product: Rather than simply addressing the request or growing their support team to deal with more requests, they think about how to proactively improve the product to prevent those requests in the future.

As Wes says, “Your user’s success will eventually become your success.”

Build a pragmatic product-led growth stack

Pragmatic product-led growth ultimately comes back to your user data, and the capacity of your analytics determines your ability to fully pursue a product-first mentality. So, what tools do you need to get started?

According to Wes, there are three main layers in a PPLG growth stack.

General Insights

As the first layer, he recommends investing in an underlying product analytics tool, such as Heap, Mixpanel, or Amplitude, to provide general insight into what’s going on with your product. Depending on the complexity of your product, you may also want to consider a customer data platform to get a full picture of how end-users are using your tools, such as Hull or mParticle.

Product Bumpers

These tools, like App Cues and Pendo, enable you to guide your users through the product without a ton of development time. Wes thinks of user onboarding kind of like bowling: The first time someone plays, they want to knock down all the pins, but they’re probably going to end up in the gutter. Your “product bumper” helps users achieve optimum time-to-value. You’re guiding them to their first strike.

Conversion Drivers

As the final layer, Wes recommends a “conversation bumper” tool. Once you have product data, you can pump it into tools such as Customer.io or User List to identify opportunities for proactive customer support. If people are dropping off at a certain point in your funnel, for example, you can set up an automatic email with the help they need.

“You need this to be smart, and trigger-based,” says Wes. Rather than sending everyone who signs up for your free trial the same seven-day email drip campaign, personalize those emails based on their actual product behavior.

Pragmatic Product-Led Growth is Ever Evolving

As Wes noted during our conversation, the most exciting thing about pragmatic product-led growth is that it continues to evolve. I think of it as a real movement in software: It’s a way for us to ask ourselves, “How can we be more authentic in our goal to provide great technology for technical users to accomplish their jobs in better ways?”

Even more exciting, there’s a community of other product-led advocates waiting for you to join the movement at Product Led, started by Wes. Check out his courses and resources, and listen to the full podcast episode if you want to learn more.

To hear our full conversation, go to Apple Podcasts and download “Wes Bush, founder and CEO of ProductLed and bestselling author of Product-Led Growth.”

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About the Author

Josh Stephens

Josh is CTO at Elsewhere, supporting the investment pipeline and providing portfolio companies operational and domain expertise beyond capital investment. He has been an Elsewhere Operating Advisor since 2015 and advised numerous companies including Vyopta, ActivTrak, BurstIQ, and others. Hear more from Josh on his podcast CapitalGEEK and Twitter.