RST Software
Editorial Team
Ross Krawczyk
Reviewed by a tech expert

Product-led growth 101: the key to sustainable success in SaaS

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In the bottomless sea of business concepts and metrics, a number of them seem to stand out, as they refer to the ultimate commercial goal of selling as much as possible while minimizing the effort input. The terms being referred to here in particular are customer acquisition, retention, and expansion of the user base. If only there was a sustainable SaaS growth strategy that addressed all three of those… Wait, but there is! The idea of product-led growth (PLG) is becoming increasingly popular among software companies and there’s a number of good reasons for this. Stick with us if you're eager to discover how the PLG approach can transform your business, as we discuss its key principles, benefits, and implementation strategies.

Product led growth is a strategy that aims to not only help you acquire new customers but also fosters lasting relationships with them, turning them into lifelong advocates for your business. By prioritizing the experience and empowering users to explore what you offer in full, you're not just drawing in new ones, you're nurturing a loyal community that eagerly spreads the word about your software.

One of the most compelling aspects of PLG is its ability to drive organic expansion. When your product speaks for itself and delivers exceptional value, the word spreads like wildfire. Soon, you may notice your user base growing without the need for aggressive sales tactics. Customers will remain loyal and actively seek out opportunities to upgrade and explore additional features, becoming the force fueling your growth.

Admittedly, these are pretty big promises, so let’s break down the topic at hand to see what really lies beneath them.

What is product-led growth (PLG)?

Product-led growth is a modern business strategy that centers around the product itself as the primary driver of growth, rather than relying heavily on traditional marketing and sales efforts. In a PLG approach, the product is designed in a way that encourages users to experience its value upfront, allowing them to explore and understand its features without any barriers. By providing a seamless, delightful user experience, the product fosters organic customer acquisition, user adoption, and ultimately, customer retention – all of which sit at the top of any business’ priority list.

Where did PLG come from?

Product-led growth strategies emerged as a response to the changing dynamics of the digital economy and consumer behavior. In the past, companies often relied on sales-led or marketing-led strategies, focusing on aggressive tactics and elaborate campaigns to attract customers. While these may have had their merits, they often fell short in providing a customer-centric experience and fostering long-term loyalty.

The origins of PLG can be traced back to pioneering technology companies that recognized the power of hands-on product experiences. SaaS startups in particular played a crucial role in shaping the concept. They found that by offering free or trial versions of their software, potential customers could explore the product's value before making a purchase decision. This try-before-you-buy approach became a key tenet of PLG.

With the rise of the internet and social media, word-of-mouth and product recommendations took center stage in influencing consumer choices. Companies noticed that happy users became natural advocates, spreading the word about their positive experiences, leading to a snowball effect of growth. This way, product-led growth harnessed the power of virality and user-driven expansion, further differentiating itself from traditional growth strategies.

As more companies began embracing PLG, they discovered that the approach not only attracted more customers, but also led to higher customer satisfaction and increased customer lifetime value. Satisfied users were more likely to upgrade to premium versions, purchase additional features, and even refer product to others, creating a self-sustaining growth loop.

5 big benefits of product-led growth strategy for SaaS companies

The product-led growth strategy assumes a multifaceted approach designed to maximize the chances of success for SaaS companies. By placing the product at the center of the expansion efforts, businesses aim to attract, retain, and broaden their user base with unmatched efficiency. Making PLG your core philosophy allows you to not merely operate, but flourish in fiercely competitive markets, propelling sustained growth and turning customers into brand advocates.

Benefit 1: Seamless customer acquisition

Attracting new customers is the lifeblood of any business, and PLG bumps this process up a notch. By offering free or trial versions of the product, SaaS companies can remove the entry barriers and invite potential customers to directly experience the software's value. This hands-on approach establishes a sense of trust and confidence, making it easier for prospects to convert into paying customers.

Benefit 2: Enhanced customer retention

In a competitive market, customer retention is crucial for long-term success. The product-led growth approach fosters loyalty by providing users with a captivating product experience from the get-go. When customers discover real value and tangible benefits, they are more likely to stay committed to the platform and renew their subscriptions. The product itself becomes a driving force in reducing churn rates and maximizing customer lifetime value.

Benefit 3: Virality and organic growth

One of the most remarkable aspects of the product led growth model is its potential for virality. Satisfied customers are compelled to share their positive experiences with others, leading to organic word-of-mouth growth. The product becomes the catalyst for a loop, where happy users draw in new ones, who, in turn, become advocates themselves. This natural expansion cycle not only cuts down marketing costs, but also builds a community of engaged users who actively contribute to the product's success.

Benefit 4: Data-driven optimization

PLG emphasizes a data-driven approach to decision-making. By closely monitoring user behavior and feedback, SaaS companies gain valuable insights into what drives adoption and retention. This steady stream of data empowers businesses to make informed changes and improvements, continuously enhancing the product's performance and user experience.

Benefit 5: Efficient monetization

The freemium model, a pillar of the product led growth strategy, opens doors to efficient monetization methods. As users experience the product's value at no cost, they become more willing to invest in premium features or upgrades that fit with their specific needs. This user-driven approach to upselling creates a win-win situation, where customers happily pay for enhanced functionality, knowing they've already experienced the product's benefits firsthand.

Examples of product-led companies

Product-led growth is more than a trend – it's a strategy proven time and time again, embraced by industry giants and innovative startups alike. Let's take a look at the success stories of companies you might recognize, showcasing how they leveraged PLG to revolutionize customer acquisition, engagement, and sustained growth.


Atlassian's strength lies in nurturing “internal champions”, individuals who advocate for their products within their organizations. These promoters create a ripple effect, reintroducing the product in their future roles. The company also thrives on end-user feedback, refining its offerings based on suggestions and bug reports. A booming community forum adds another layer of engagement, fostering peer learning and collaboration.


Calendly's prowess in PLG is evident through its rapid ascent. A freemium model combined with a consistent K-factor drives its growth. Each user invitation becomes an opportunity for Calendly to showcase its scheduling solutions, creating a self-perpetuating network effect. The success of their freemium plan, offering free event scheduling, attracts a substantial user base while highlighting the value they deliver.

Source: Intercom


Canva's journey exemplifies the emotional appeal of PLG. By democratizing design and simplifying user experiences, Canva empowers individuals worldwide to create and design effortlessly. Their lightning-fast value delivery fosters engagement and loyalty, resulting in substantial revenue growth year after year.


Dropbox capitalizes on shared folders, referral bonuses, and collaboration features to expand its user base. Its product-led approach enables people to join through file sharing, public links, and affiliation programs. These built-in viral features, coupled with a simple yet effective product, contributed to Dropbox's remarkable achievement of reaching $1 billion in revenue within a decade.


HubSpot's PLG journey emphasizes customer success and data-driven segmentation. Prioritizing quality over quantity, they align their sales team with prospects who truly fit their offerings. This focus on tailored solutions enhances customer engagement, leading to a more efficient user journey and ultimately driving growth.


SurveyMonkey harnesses the inherent virality of surveys to attract users. Each respondent becomes a potential customer, exposed to the brand and product in a natural, non-intrusive manner. This snowball effect of their acquisition model propels the company's consistent year-over-year growth.

Source: Bessemer Venture Partners

Product-led growth metrics

Regardless of the exact purpose your product serves, keeping a finger on the pulse of your performance is paramount. Indicators serve as the compass that guides your journey, offering crucial insights into your software's impact and user engagement. By closely monitoring key SaaS metrics, you can measure the efficacy of your PLG strategy, make informed decisions, and continuously optimize to prevent any growth stunt. Let's explore several vital SaaS KPIs that form the bedrock of a successful product-led growth approach.

1. Number of trials / freemium subscriptions

This metric acts as the initial litmus test of your product's appeal. Tracking the number of trial or freemium subscriptions offers a window into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts in attracting potential customers. A healthy growth in this area indicates that users find enough value in your offering to explore it further. By optimizing your onboarding process and product experience, you can convert trial users into loyal paying customers.

2. Time to value (TTV)

Time to value measures the time it takes for users to experience the core value of your product after signing up. A shorter TTV signifies a seamless onboarding process and a product that quickly fulfills user needs. Reducing this metric is essential, as it increases the likelihood of users staying engaged and ultimately becoming paying customers. Strive to deliver immediate value, guiding users to discover the product's benefits within the shortest possible time frame.

3. Number of paid subscriptions

The number of paid subscriptions is the ultimate indicator of your PLG strategy's success. As users explore your product, it's essential to convert them into paying customers to maintain growth. A steady increase in paid subscriptions signifies that your product-led approach is effective in enticing people to invest in premium features. Continually analyze user feedback and behavior to optimize the product experience and driving more conversions.

4. Monthly recurring revenue (MRR)

Monthly recurring revenue constitutes the backbone of any SaaS business. It measures the total revenue generated from monthly subscriptions. As your product-led growth strategy takes root, MRR should exhibit consistent rise, reflecting a loyal and expanding customer base. Focus on nurturing existing customers, encouraging upsells, and exploring pricing strategies that match your target market's perceived value.

5. Expansion revenue

Expansion revenue represents the additional income generated from existing customers beyond their initial purchase. It includes revenue from upsells, cross-sells, and renewals. In a product-led growth strategy, expansion revenue is a key metric, as it reflects the ability of your product to consistently deliver value, leading to customer loyalty and increased spending. By focusing on this metric, you can nurture existing customer relationships, encourage upgrades, and capitalize on opportunities for revenue growth.

6. Average contract value (ACV)

Average contract value calculates the average revenue earned per customer contract or subscription. A higher ACV indicates that users are willing to invest more in your product, showcasing the benefits it brings them. By understanding ACV, you can tailor pricing strategies, upselling techniques, and marketing efforts to maximize the value delivered to each customer.

7. Average revenue per user (ARPU)

As a core metric in product-led growth, ARPU reflects the overall revenue efficiency of your product. By increasing this metric, you can optimize your pricing model, identify opportunities for product improvements, and refine your product-led growth strategy to drive higher revenue from each user.

8. Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Customer lifetime value estimates the total value a netted user brings to your business over their entire lifecycle. CLV is a critical metric in a product-led growth strategy, as it underscores the importance of retention and loyalty. By enhancing the customer experience, continuously nurturing relationships, and providing ongoing value, you can extend CLV and cultivate a trusty user base that acts as a powerful growth engine for your business.

9. User retention

User retention measures the ability of your product-led growth strategy to keep customers over a specific period. A high rate indicates that your product continually delivers value and keeps customers engaged, reducing churn. By focusing on user retention, you build a user base that becomes your biggest asset for organic growth and advocacy, driving your PLG strategy forward.

10. Net churn

Net churn quantifies the overall change in revenue due to customer losses (churn) and expansions (upsells, cross-sells) over a given time frame. For a successful product-led growth strategy, maintaining a negative or low net churn is vital. A negative value of this metric indicates that expansion revenue outweighs lost revenue, showcasing the ability of your product to drive organic growth and customer loyalty.

11. User referral

User referral measures the number of new customers acquired through existing clients’ word-of-mouth recommendations. In the product-led growth model, satisfied users naturally become brand ambassadors, spreading the word about your product. By fostering a culture of referrals and offering incentives, you can take advantage of this powerful organic growth engine to expand your subscriber pool without hefty marketing expenses.

12. Virality and network effect

Virality and network effect represent the phenomenon where your product's usage and growth increase exponentially as more users join the platform. In a product-led growth setting, the aim is to create a self-perpetuating cycle, where each new user contributes to attracting more people, ultimately driving viral growth. By optimizing user experiences, encouraging sharing, and fostering communities, you can take advantage of the power of virality and network effects.

13. Product-qualified leads (PQLs)

Product-qualified leads are potential customers who have interacted significantly with your product and demonstrated genuine interest in its value. PQLs are different from traditional marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) as they are pre-qualified based on product usage data. A successful product-led growth strategy prioritizes PQLs, allowing you to focus on nurturing prospects who have already experienced your product's value, increasing the likelihood of conversion.

How to implement product-led growth strategy in your company

The implementation of the product-led growth strategy requires commitment, data-driven decision-making, and a relentless focus on the customer. Your product stepping into the forefront and a cultivation of customer success culture will open up a world of opportunities for sustained growth. To get on the right track, make sure you follow the guidelines below.

Step 1: Understand your users

The foundation of any successful PLG strategy lies in understanding your users inside out. Conduct thorough market research, analyze user behavior, and gather valuable feedback to identify pain points, needs, and desires. This deep insight will guide product development and ensure that what you provide caters directly to your target audience.

Step 2: Create an irresistible freemium model

Offering a free version of your product is a powerful way to attract users and encourage them to get familiar with its value. Design the freemium model strategically, providing just enough functionality to present the product's benefits while showing the potential of the premium features that users will be eager to upgrade to.

Step 3: Focus on user onboarding

First impression does matter and you only get to make it once. Optimize your onboarding process so that it's smooth and intuitive for customers to get started with your product. A user-friendly onboarding experience sets the stage for positive engagement that will contribute to retention down the line.

Step 4: Leverage in-app experiences

Your product should speak for itself, and in-app experiences play a crucial role in reaching that goal. Implement interactive guides, tooltips, and tutorials that showcase the product's capabilities and guide users through its features. This hands-on approach fosters a sense of empowerment, achievement, and reduces friction, making sure users quickly realize the product's value.

Step 5: Measure and optimize

Data is your beacon in the world of product-led growth. Monitor user behavior, track key performance indicators, and gather user feedback to gain valuable insights. Use this data to identify areas for improvement, optimize product experience, and address pain points promptly.

Step 6: Foster a user-centric culture

Adopt a company-wide commitment to customer success. Every team member, from product development to customer support, should prioritize user satisfaction and engagement. Create a culture that celebrates customer-centricity and the impact of positive user experiences on the company's growth.

Step 7: Tap into user advocacy

Happy customers become your best marketers. Encourage user advocacy by implementing referral programs, offering incentives for sharing positive experiences, and showcasing customer success stories. By empowering your users to be brand advocates, you'll unlock the potential for organic growth.

Step 8: Continuously innovate

PLG is an iterative process. Stay agile and open to change, continuously innovating and evolving your product based on feedback coming in from users and market trends. Welcome experimentation and A/B testing to figure out the optimal paths for further growth.

Revamp your growth strategy with RST Software

Adaptability has always been a trait promoting first survival and then advancement. In the business context, adjusting your growth strategy is essential for moving and staying ahead. PLG emerges as an innovative approach that pushes businesses to thrive and succeed. By centering your expansion efforts around your product, you foster customer loyalty, attract new users organically, and optimize revenue streams.

If you're ready to implement a product-led growth strategy at your organization, RST Software is here to support you at any and all steps of the way. From switching your approach, to developing a brand-new SaaS product, our expert team will guide you through the journey, making sure the experience you deliver is exceptional. Contact us today and together we'll switch up your thinking about business growth strategy and put everything we've discussed here into action to generate tangible results.

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