Product-Led Growth: Panacea or Boondoggle? with AgentSync Co-Founder & CTO Jenn Knight and OpenPhone Co-Founder Daryna Kulya (Pod 538 + Video)

OpenPhone and AgentSync are two SaaS businesses with very different growth strategies, but the same ultimate goal: to continue selling while simultaneously problem-solving for current customers. They are a perfect example of implementing a growth model, mastering it, and then expanding horizons into other growth strategies with strategic testing and experimenting. Contrary to the title of this article, the two brands prove that product-led growth is neither panacea nor boondoggle, but rather a winning strategy for the appropriate product when thoughtfully implemented. 

Jenn Knight, Co-founder and CTO of AgentSync, and Daryna Kulya, Co-founder of OpenPhone, discuss how different approaches have helped each brand reach its target audience and accomplish its goals, the potential of product-led growth, and how to scale growth strategies to yield desirable results.

The Power of PLG

How are you going to sell your service? This is one of the most important questions for founders to answer as they prepare to launch a product. Choosing between a product-led or service-led growth strategy is a decision that is based on multiple factors: 

  • What is your product? 
  • Who is your target audience? 
  • What is their definition of true success? 
  • How will you help them get there?

Many view PLG as the sexier option, as it often results in rapid growth and increases initial offerings. On a deeper level, there are many merits of a product-led growth strategy. These include:

  • High-margin lead generation
  • Name recognition and credibility
  • Unlocking the economics of small business sales
  • Forces product excellence

Product-led growth strategies work exceptionally well for companies selling an easy-to-understand solution that can benefit a broad audience, such as OpenPhone. When your service is straightforward, and the problem they are solving is clear, it is easy to offer a free trial to boost growth. When OpenPhone first launched, they were focused on a sole proprietor, and their ACV was low. Offering a free trial was the most efficient way to get the service in front of both investors and decision-makers, earning name recognition and credibility.

Our go-to-market motion was obvious, we wanted to disrupt our competitors’ go-to-market motion, the only way to do that was with a ‘try for free’ motion.

Earning credibility without a “try it for free” button

While some companies can successfully sell by implementing a “try it for free” button on their homepage, PLG is certainly not for everyone. Companies like AgentSync, who have a much more complex product for a niche audience, knew that a free trial would not bring them the ‌business that would turn into long-lasting partnerships.

So, how did AgentSync build credibility and recognition without offering a free trial upfront? With a selling process that includes procurement and massive RFPs, it was important for AgentSync to get their product experts in front of decision-makers to build their confidence in the product and demonstrate the solutions and success it could bring to their business. 

“Without PLG, we built credibility by making connections, finding the perfect voice for our niche, and figuring out how to perfectly frame conversations with prospects.”

AgentSync put a lot of energy into experimenting with the best ways to demo the product to customers. They landed on a demo from an experienced sales rep that they could eventually hand off to prospective clients, who would spend a sufficient amount of time using the tool and getting a feel for how the product could help them. This sales-led growth strategy was the measure that needed to be taken to ensure AgentSync’s product was getting in front of the right customer.

Evolving the sales motion

AgentSync and OpenPhone launched their services with two completely different growth strategies. Each company chose the path that made the most sense for their product, customer, ACV, and sales volume. Both brands also understand that as their products and services evolve, their sales motion must evolve as well. That’s why the two brands are heavily investing in sales and customer success teams as they ‌tip their toes in new growth strategies.

“Don’t just innovate your product, innovate on best practices”

AgentSync is evolving from a straightforward SLG method to a more hybrid PLG / SLG method because they know that’s how they will need to scale to be able to offer services to larger clients in the long run. This kind of PLG / SLG hybrid is a powerful solution to getting the product in front of customers who are excited about the solutions offered but need to work with a sales team member.

OpenPhone, which started with a PLG method, was slowly forced into implementing an SLG method by inquiring customers. They would receive emails from prospective clients asking for a demo, or a team member to talk to. OpenPhone could see they were losing business on the prospects who wanted a conversation, so they decided to invest in growing their sales team.

As your services grow, your growth strategy must adapt. You can test a PLG “try it free” method, and adjust however needed to best suit your product and target audience. On the other hand, instead of just offering a free trial with no contact, you may need to get the prospective customer in front of a sales team member for a conversation and in-depth demo of the product.

Key Takeaways

So, is PLG a panacea or boondoggle? Well, it depends on who you are talking to. When choosing your growth method, focus on the problem you’re solving and who you are solving it for, not what’s working best for other SaaS brands. For brands with a high ACV and low volume, a sales-led method will usually be most efficient in gaining the attention of prospects, while for brands with a low ACV and high volume, PLG may be the right approach for growth.

Having the flexibility to evolve your set of motions and meet customers where they are will be your most successful growth method.

Published on March 16, 2022

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