How to Get Started with PLG
Learn how to increase product-led acquisition, retention, and monetization with PLG tactics and metrics from over 30 industry experts.
What Are PLG Tactics?
Each growth motion—product-led, sales-led, or marketing-led—has different tactics for each customer journey stage. As noted above, you can, and often should, use them in tandem.
Product-led acquisition tactics
Even at this earliest stage of your customer journey, the product itself is key. Its inherent value—and shareability—animates one of the most popular product-led acquisition tactics: virality loops, the phenomenon of continuous customer referrals. These referrals may come through:
- Word-of-mouth: Loyal users who spread the word thanks to delightful product experiences.
- Incentives: Rewards or bonuses for users who invite their friends or teammates.
- Collaboration invitations: Built-in sharing mechanisms to help users bring others into the product to collaborate with them.
- Sharing experiences: Easy ways for users to share their in-product creations with people outside the product. For example, Amplitude improved our analytics platform’s sharing modal and saw a 41% increase in conversion to share an Amplitude chart and a 4% lift in users who shared.
No matter the referral channel, the effect is the same: They all grow new users. Think of how the above examples—Calendly and Zoom—have used the virality loop to achieve explosive growth.
An example virality loop for users who share an Amplitude chart with an insight. New users who view the chart may be inspired to edit it and further explore the insight. They will then share the edited Amplitude chart, continuing the loop.
“Paid user acquisition is extremely difficult and expensive right now. Investment in ‘free’ activities to communicate with our user base and encourage them to promote our product has proven to be a more effective—and cost-effective—channel for us. We're early in our journey, but have already substantially scaled back the limited ad spend that was supporting our early growth in favor of new PLG channels that are beginning to pick up steam.”
Products that leverage network effects become more valuable as more users adopt them. Think of how messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams and collaboration tools like Miro offer users a better experience when their teammates join. That’s because they make the most of connections between users—the network—offering more ways to communicate and collaborate.
Similarly, product artifacts—byproducts of software development that include diagrams or tools—can be a powerful means of attracting new users. Take Notion’s project management templates, which users can share with any colleague, even if they are not already Notion users.
Content is another critical PLG acquisition tactic and can take different forms. These include editorial and support content your business creates to showcase the product's value or help users get started, such as guides, blog posts, or white papers.
Another effective form is programmatic content, a method for generating multiple web pages from one set of core content, using data and pre-programmed rules that dynamically transform the content based on the reader or goal. Ben Williams, former VP of Product at cybersecurity company Snyk and current Product-Led Geek Advisor, noted that Snyk’s programmatic content “brought in large volumes of users into the core use case for the product.” One example is Snyk Advisor, which targets developers searching for packages to include in their software by automatically generating web pages with package health scores and other useful information. These pages continue to bring more than a million monthly visitors to Snyk.
Similarly, Snyk built a pull request feature that automatically scans developer code and provides a pull request to fix security vulnerabilities. Every day, Snyk generates thousands of these pull requests—all of which come with Snyk branding—to acquire new users and re-engage existing ones.
- Benchmark reports: Trend analyses that spotlight data related to your product, like Amplitude’s annual Product Report.
- Product education: Content that helps readers solve problems while showcasing how your product can help. For example, Amplitude has content about calculating a specific metric that shows how to measure it automatically with an Amplitude chart. The content also links to a self-service demo environment where readers can experience the chart firsthand.
Often, users generate—and sometimes even distribute—the most valuable content. One frequently cited example of user-generated content is SurveyMonkey, the platform that allows users to create and share surveys, generating new users for SurveyMonkey.
Product-led retention tactics
PLG is more than a strategy to attract new users: It’s also an effective way to keep them coming back. That’s why it’s so useful for retention—the result of activation and engagement.
Product-led activation tactics
For activation, the product guides users to discover its value on their own—and that might happen long before someone uses your product.
“I like to think of the activation process as something that starts really early, probably before they get to your web presence,” says Williams of Product-Led Geek, noting that particularly memorable blog posts or even billboards can trigger that discovery.
“When you talk about the product in PLG, it encompasses the entire user journey, not just the application,” he says.
And when users reach your site? Williams recommends guiding them to find value and establish habits with the following tactics:
- Foster good friction. Williams believes you should eliminate bad friction but cultivate good friction to keep user motivation high through tactics like gamification. Another tactic is posing thoughtful profiling questions during onboarding that help tailor the user experience or connect users to the right solutions or specialists (see Amplitude's profiling questions in the image below). Snyk used this approach to personalize onboarding by determining the next best action based on what it knew about the user.
- Leverage social proof and use cases. Demonstrating how your product solves problems for customers with similar use cases can help you relate to new users and improve trust. You can use profiling to target and showcase the right social proof and use cases at the right point in their journey.
- Chart user progress. Visualizing user progress during the onboarding phase can be a powerful motivator, inspiring users to complete the process and unlock the product’s full value. Williams cited Airtable’s progress bar, which lets users know where they are in their onboarding. LinkedIn employs a similar tactic with a progress bar at the top of a user’s profile to remind them that their profile is incomplete.
Another effective way to drive activation is by awarding users skills certifications for completing trainings, which encourages other users to increase their own engagement. Finance app INDMoney saw results with this tactic when it created its IND Learn program, which helps users learn finance skills and get certified in five minutes. The initiative lifted INDMoney’s activation rates and boosted acquisition as users shared their certifications online.
“The best way to solve for activation is to educate the user,” says Tej Pandya, Associate Director, Product and Growth, INDMoney. “It builds trust, and an educated user is always more likely to activate.”
Amplitude VP of Product Ibrahim Bashir agreed, citing certifications as a way to reward power users by turning their usage into something beneficial to them. Two notable examples are Salesforce Admins and AWS Certifications.
How we boost activation
At Amplitude, we care a lot about activation and have used a number of PLG tactics to target this key stage of the customer journey. Here are the ongoing bets we make in our product to improve our activation rate:
- Simplified the onboarding journey so users can experience product value and reach their “aha” moments more quickly. We reduced the number of pages in our new user signup flow, leading to a 60% increase in conversion from signup to account creation.
- Piloted a Sales Assist Program to help users during the setup moment.
- Added questions about what users want to achieve to our onboarding and customized the user journey accordingly.
- Invested in goal-oriented activation email nurture flows.
- Created the Amplitude Academy, a free resource offering Amplitude skills and training, and the Amplitude Community, an online forum for Amplitude users to share questions and ideas.
- Continue to invest in one-click integrations with data sources to speed up the setup process.
Personalized and goal-based onboarding for product-led activation
Getting activation right is essential for a successful product-led growth strategy, and it all begins with onboarding. Without a strong onboarding experience, there’s little chance you’ll be able to achieve the engagement, conversion, and retention rates you need to sustain your business.
Onboarding—introducing users to your product, helping them understand how it works, and guiding them to complete the essential steps—is your chance to show off the value of your product and leave a lasting impression on users. By perfecting the onboarding process, you can establish trust and credibility, making users feel confident they can achieve their goals with your product.
In-product guides such as product tours, checklists, pop-up messages, and chatbots are instrumental in spotlighting your product features and fostering engagement. Timely push notifications are great for grabbing user attention. Emails are useful to gently nudge users back to the product and build a comprehensive experience.
Many onboarding tools exist, but what secret ingredients make the process truly effective?
The best onboarding processes are always tailored to the user. Personalization based on product event data and firmographics provides a well-rounded experience for your end user.
The million-dollar question: How do you do it?
You may not know much about your users, but you can solve that puzzle with these approaches:
- Conduct a micro-survey when the user signs up to understand what they hope your product will help them achieve and guide them through a curated onboarding journey.
- Use historical data from similar customer demographics (company size, user role, etc.) to send them on a more relevant onboarding path.
Either way, you are making the most of your current and historical product and CRM data to personalize your onboarding messaging instead of pushing users through a generic time-based flow.
Use in-product interactive guides, push notifications, and email reminders to nudge users to finish a task and move on to the next step.
To ensure the right goal-oriented messaging, connect your customer data platform (CDP) to your email marketing platform. You can do this with Amplitude's Marketo connector or a dedicated marketing automation system like Inflection.
We practice goal-based onboarding at Inflection. When we onboard users, our initial goal is for users to connect their product data and CRM to our platform. If they don’t complete that goal, we send them email reminders.
Inflection’s onboarding workflow: Users who complete the product data connection (“TRUE”) move on to the next step—the Salesforce connection—whereas those who don’t (“FALSE”) receive email reminders with helpful resources.
With goal-based onboarding, you can guide users through the product with clear objectives that align with their needs and expectations.
A continuation of the Inflection onboarding journey that nudges users to the next meaningful goals (“Create first campaign” and “Salesforce connection”)
Onboarding doesn’t stop here. As your users convert to paid plans and eventually expand to higher tiers, they should still be on personalized and goal-based onboarding paths relevant to their lifecycle stage.
Your onboarding experience has to evolve to be effective. When starting out, design the onboarding experience based on your ideal customer profile (ICP). Keep tabs on the user journey post-onboarding to improve, customize, and expand the journey according to your data.
Product-led engagement tactics
When it comes to engagement, it’s a matter of making product use become a habit. Williams pointed to such tactics as:
- Push notifications that remind users to return to the product. The meditation app Calm, for example, found that prompting users to set a daily reminder notification increased retention by 3X.
- Game mechanics that motivate users to stick with the product by rewarding them with a sense of accomplishment.
- Personalized experiences, which align with users’ needs and expectations. Williams cited project management software maker Wrike’s dashboards as an example, noting that it customizes the dashboards for each user and augments them with AI-recommended tasks.
- Communities where users can exchange advice and ideas and find a sense of belonging that brings them back to the product. Amplitude’s Cohort community is one example.
- Incentives that entice users to come back to the product. Mailchimp, for instance, gives users credit to use against their bills. What makes the strategy so effective, Williams observed, is that the credit expires, so users are incentivized to use the product before they lose the offer.
How WeMoney increased retention by 20%
Using Amplitude, Australia-based personal financial app WeMoney noticed that users who set money goals within the first three days of onboarding had a higher retention rate at the 12-month mark than those who didn’t. WeMoney’s solution? The company built goal-setting into its initial onboarding process and used Amplitude to build lookalike audiences to find more people pursuing similar goals and pathways. The result: a 20% increase in retention. The company also reduced customer acquisition costs by 2x.
You can also cultivate engagement through integration. Think of the way Atlassian is designed to work with other products, including those in its platform.
The more reasons users have for leveraging the product, the better. Integrations are one way to do that. In-app messages or marketing content that informs users of how they can maximize the product are others. For example, many B2B companies use tools like Intercom to reach their users with in-app messages, product tours, and surveys.
At-scale customer success for product-led engagement
By Dave Rigotti, Co-founder, Inflection.io
Customer success in a product-led world goes far beyond issue resolution and technical support. It means building a long-lasting relationship with the customer, designed around providing them with maximum value.
The trick is doing that at scale.
In a PLG model, customer success leaders play an important role on growth teams, along with their marketing and product peers. Inflection’s recent State of PLG survey report confirms that the success team primarily owns customer retention and expansion.
The roadblock customer success leaders most often cite: “scaling.”
“Managing customers at scale is the hardest capability to execute well,” says Vic Davis, SVP of Customer Success, Inflection.io.
Davis notes: “We tend to over-pivot towards high-touch programs aimed at high-value customers… executed through superhuman customer success managers. Solving for scale is what drives value when and where humans can't.”
Understanding and using product data is a huge win for customer success teams. A great example is sending an automated quarterly business review (QBR) email. Here’s why an automated QBR works so well:
- Serves as an effective tactic for spotlighting value for teams and executive sponsors alike.
- Reminds your customers of the success they are having with your product.
- Drives engagement and the next best action through personalization based on usage.
StackMoxie sends a weekly automated QBR email using Inflection.io. This email includes personalized value metrics curated for users and executive sponsors. It answers important customer questions and inspires users with ideas to get more out of the StackMoxie product.
Sending nicely packaged email communications with meaningful metrics weekly or monthly can help you deliver an at-scale customer success program.
Product-led monetization tactics
With PLG, the road to monetization begins long before users type their credit card numbers into a checkout page.
Verna points to trial-based, freemium, or reverse-trial models as tactics for turning new users into paying ones.
- Trial-based models offer a version of a paid product for a limited time. After the trial ends, the customer pays or must stop using the product. There are two kinds of trials:
- Credit card trials, which require a credit card number upfront that is automatically charged when the trial ends.
- Free trials, which allow customers to use the product without providing payment information.
- Freemium models offer a limited version of the product for free, forever. The customer may upgrade to a paid plan to access additional features, more usage, or special benefits like priority support.
- Reverse-trial models put customers in a freemium experience with a limited-time, free trial with access to paid capabilities. The experience reverts to a traditional freemium plan after the free trial ends.
Trial, freemium, and reverse trial models with typical conversion rates Verna has seen from various companies
Although their approaches vary, what these models have in common is a way of offering users a chance to experience the product before committing, a must-have in today’s market.
LinkedIn’s InMail Messages feature offers an interesting case study. The feature allows users to send direct messages to other LinkedIn members even if they’re not connected. But the number of InMails you can send depends on your LinkedIn plan. A free plan doesn’t allow you to send any InMails, whereas other plans can range from five to 50 InMails per month.
LinkedIn’s approach with InMail Messages reflects a hybrid of philosophies, and it works well at targeting customers at different stages of their journey. These include free users looking to reach prospects outside of their connections and users with lower-tier paid subscriptions who want to upgrade to a plan that allows them to send more messages.
How Parabol increased paid plan conversion
Parabol began offering AI summaries of user-generated content as part of its free trial. This feature aimed to create value that would retain users and increase paid plan conversion when users realized that value. Since this was an experimental feature, the Parabol team tracked the number of AI summary requests after launch, AI summary-related upgrades, and customer feedback. They found that including the AI summary feature in their free trial prompted more users to convert to paid plans.
Time-based or credit-based trial strategies for product-led monetization
By Dave Rigotti, Co-founder, Inflection.io
There’s a lot of variety when it comes to free trials. Time-based trials (30 days free) and usage-based trials ($1,000 in credits) are two popular options.
Deciding which is right for your organization requires analyzing your product, target audience, and business objectives. The following are additional factors to consider:
Most PLG companies employ a product analytics tool like Amplitude to understand product usage patterns. Look at your analytics tool to understand if your product’s usage or consumption patterns are relatively consistent across user profiles. If yes, a time-based free trial might be best for you.
Consumption-based models make more sense when there is significant variation in usage levels among different customers, allowing for more tailored pricing based on actual consumption.
If your product has a short adoption cycle—users can quickly see the value and make a purchase decision—a time-based free trial can be effective. This is especially true for products with immediate and tangible benefits that users can experience quickly.
For more complex products with varied use cases and longer product adoption cycles, offering free credits or a longer trial period is the way to go.
Conversion rate optimization
By offering a specific trial period, you create a sense of urgency and encourage users to explore the product intensively within that time frame, potentially leading to higher conversion rates than a consumption-based model.
But if the value of your product is tied to deeper product adoption and engagement, users may feel rushed to evaluate the product, potentially impacting their decision-making process.
Hybrid pricing strategy
The popularity of usage-based pricing in SaaS is on the rise. If you have a pure usage or consumption-based pricing strategy, offer credits for trying out the product.
But if you have a hybrid pricing strategy that combines usage with tier or per-seat pricing, a time-based free trial provides a simpler and more transparent experience. It allows the customer to have some traction with your product before the time expires.
Choosing the right trial strategy
The choice between free credits (a usage-based pricing model) and free trial (a time-based model) depends on your business' specific context and goals. Consider your target audience, product complexity, and revenue goals to determine which strategy aligns best with your growth objectives.
How CleverTap identified its ideal free trial period
CleverTap is the all-in-one customer engagement platform that helps brands personalize and optimize all consumer touch points to improve user engagement, retention, and lifetime value. The CleverTap team experimented to find the right duration for their time-based free trial, looking at the percentage of users who integrated out of those who signed up and the percentage of users who canceled their trials. After several iterations, they landed on 30 days, enough time for users to discover how valuable the platform can be, but it still comes with a sense of urgency.
“You can apply PLG tactics to many stages of the customer lifecycle—acquisition, retention, monetization, and so on,” says Abhinay Jain, Director of PLG at CleverTap, who recommends organizations start with “one stage and do as many iterations as possible for that stage alone.”
As Jain observed: “This way, it is easier to track. We do not end up doing too many things across the stages without knowing which one worked or not.”
Other useful monetization tactics include:
- Use case awareness. Williams discussed highlighting paywalled features that unlock different use cases. Of course, he added, it is best suited to multi-use case products and should be deployed carefully to avoid spamming users with irrelevant information or, worse still, information about features they’ve already used.
- Product-led sales. Product usage signals (e.g., usage spikes, advanced feature usage, or user behavior changes) let GTM teams know when to engage with a customer. Trial plans are a particularly valuable source of information, which is why Amplitude launched a free trial of our most popular Growth plan feature. We also empower our sales team with product usage data on free users and a product qualified account (PQA) score to identify the most promising accounts. We found that sales is three times more likely to convert those PQAs than any other lead.
- Pricing updates. Because PLG takes a land-and-expand approach with free or low-cost entry plans that fill a pipeline of users for later conversion to enterprise deals, finding the lowest sustainable price is essential. A good rule of thumb from Verna: Choose a price that is less than the perceived value minus friction. After experimenting with PLG pricing, FlexiSAF Head of Growth Usman Ibrahim saw a reduced payback period—six months compared to 10-12 months with a sales-led approach.
Jumbo Interactive delivers personalization to lift conversions and revenue
Jumbo Interactive runs Oz Lotteries, a platform that resells Australian National Lottery products like Oz Lotto, Powerball, and Lucky Lotteries’ Super and Mega Jackpots. With Amplitude Analytics and Audiences, Jumbo created cohorts based on customers’ on-site behaviors. It then generated personalized recommendations and messages encouraging them to further engage with the platform. Within two months of Jumbo’s personalized recommendations, the company experienced a 158% lift in conversions on one checkout page. That translates to an extra $500,000 in new revenue opportunities yearly.