Product-led Growth (PLG) is magical because it does two things really well:
It reduces the cost of acquiring leads
It reduces friction for prospects evaluating the product
Reducing the cost of acquiring leads means that we make lead generation as automated and efficient as possible. Similarly, reducing friction during evaluation means that we enable these leads to get qualified as efficiently as possible.
This reads and smells like automated demand generation to me… but wait, we’re calling it Product-led Growth now!
Let’s use a case study to see how a well-oiled demand generation engine works.
Auth0 provides SDKs and APIs that enable developers to verify the identity of their application’s end-users. Auth0 has automated their demand generation in a way that traditional enterprise SaaS companies have not. Here’s an early customer anecdote.
In month seven of operating as a SaaS company, Auth0 got a call from the engineering leader of a business unit at a large consulting firm. The consulting firm’s internal IT team had promised to deliver an authentication component that this business unit could use in an upcoming product, but four months before the product launch, the IT team simply shrugged, “Sorry, we won’t have this for another year.”
His back against the wall, the engineering leader began to search for alternatives on Google and came across Auth0 at the top of his search results because of Auth0’s investment in content and resources for developers.
The engineering leader and his team immediately signed up for Auth0’s free plan. Auth0’s initial signup and usage was designed to be as low friction as possible. The free plan offered “free forever” access to make it easy for his engineers to comprehensively evaluate the product.
To get started, Auth0 asked for just an email at registration; there were no questions such as “what’s your company”, “how big is your company”, “what’s your role”, or “what are your buying plans” that can inundate prospects with unwanted sales outreach.
Once registered, the engineers got started with one-click “quick start” modules. Next, they used Auth0’s code samples that were personalized with the right API keys to make it as simple as possible to cut and paste the code.
These quick starts showed how quickly and easily Auth0 worked for common auth scenarios and enabled this engineering team to have a prototype up and running in minutes. This was another key Auth0 insight: the shorter the time to “wow!”, the better the chances of prospects moving to the next stage of their buying decision.
Once the team had built a prototype, the engineering leader reached out to Auth0 to get more information about this apparent “startup” that seemed to have a great online reputation but that he’d never heard of before! Soon he was talking to an Auth0 customer success engineer with prior experience in authentication software. The customer success engineer was another highly credible practitioner advising them on how to use Auth0.
Convinced that Auth0 was a credible vendor, the engineering leader signed a large six figure subscription within four months. He turned into an Auth0 champion, told his friends in other companies about it, and evangelized Auth0 to other teams and within his 100K+ employee company.
That was the customer’s side of the story. Let’s dive into what Auth0 did to make this as smooth as possible.
One of the most powerful forms of marketing is when a trusted friend tells you to try something. Authentic content, linked by credible sources and surfaced by Google, is the online equivalent of a trusted friend recommending a product. Good content explains why the product is worth investing time in. Great content reduces the need to talk to salespeople, making evaluations more efficient and scalable. Holding off sales outreach until prospects have self-qualified also naturally reduces customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Auth0’s sustained investment in content marketing consisted of a focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) through user guides, open source developer resources such as debugging tools for JWT, code samples, and documentation.
A free pricing tier acts as powerful form of content marketing that contributes to low CAC and enables self-qualification. Testing a product in a low-risk situation, say in a small test scenario, enables customers to easily validate the product.
In the example above, the consulting firm’s engineers implemented a “hello world” quick start that Auth0 provided, and then prototyped a test app that demonstrated key auth features in their internal environment. At this point, they were already exhibiting the behavior of a self-qualified lead.
As the engineering leader grew more convinced that Auth0 could be a core component for the upcoming product launch, he reached out to Auth0. This is the point when sales and customer success teams got engaged to bring the prospect the rest of the way through the sales funnel.
Self-qualification for Auth0 meant that humans never slowed down customer evaluation. Humans got involved only when the customer raised their hand to speak with someone.
A low friction option of ‘speaking with humans’ today can be a Slack or Discord channel where developers can hear from other practitioners and chat directly with the engineers building the product.
Finally, Auth0 measured the effectiveness of content marketing and self-qualification with metrics. Importantly, marketing, sales, and product teams all looked at the same metrics and arrived at the same conclusions on what areas must get better.
— In the first 18–24 months of the company, the most critical metric for Auth0 was their search ranking for any reasonable query term in their domain. Their strength in publishing valuable content turned the chaos at the top of the funnel into a lead generation machine.
‘If you’re doing it right, you are offering so much value initially that you will see people will actually pay you to become qualified leads by signing up for a paid self-service account instead of just using the free version. It leads to a far lower CAC (customer acquisition cost) than traditional lead gen such as advertising or paid search.
’ — Jon Gelsey, former CEO, Auth0
2. Leads Generated — While we hear a lot about products that are ‘built for developers, by developers’, developers are generally cynical of new products. For Auth0, the key was getting them to engage with code and see a successful result within minutes using Auth0. This often led developers to the next step of trying a more complex scenario, perhaps a prototype in their own environment.
3. Opportunities — While signups are a positive early indicator of a qualified lead and self-qualified leads have already done the groundwork to reduce the risk perceived by their stakeholders, a credible customer engineering (or solution architect) and a savvy account team can uncover time-bound deliverables with the customer to identify a quantifiable opportunity. For Auth0, the customer’s launch timelines provided the urgency of a business goal and their expected launch volumes pointed to a quantifiable opportunity.
4. Wins — When the customer completes integration and deploys their application in production, they’re committing to using your product and want to pay to ensure reliability, security, and ongoing support. For Auth0, winning this customer’s trust was the beginning of a long term partnership, where a customer turned into an evangelist.
Do you know of a demand generation story that we should highlight? Who does it well and who should we learn from? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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