The Startup
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The Startup

Product-Led Frustration

How the freemium model can work against your brand

Product-Led Growth is one of the hottest marketing trends on the block right now.

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay

It’s an approach that places your product front & centre of your go-to-market strategy; it becomes the driving force in acquiring and — more importantly — maintaining a passionate pool of sales prospects.

This flips the traditional paradigm on its head — the product does all the talking (so to speak) whereas Sales & Marketing take on more of a supporting role.

It’s easy to understand why this technique is seeing such widespread adoption; finding the right Sales and Marketing procedures for your organization can sometimes feel like hurling a bloated sack of cash at a wall just to see what sticks.

It’s much easier to make a sale if you’re passively building a dedicated, enthused fanbase who realize the value of your product from the getgo— sometimes more so than the Sales rep who’s about to pick up the phone and pitch them.

Credit: Free-Photos via pixabay

This lightbulb moment is happening across the Tech sector and we’re starting to see product usability becoming one of the most serious areas of organizational investment; It’s why Slack has become a verb and why three-year-olds can use (and are subsequently bought) iPads —Product-Led Growth is a goose that can lay golden eggs, granted your product is easy enough to navigate.

There are, however, some real hurdles that this new wave of freemium providers are coming up against - and they’re stumbling so hard that the metaphorical well is being poisoned; they’re doing irreversible damage to their brand and turning prospects against their solution from the very start.

I’ve defined two camps that these hurdles can be broadly categorised into:

Failure to Launch & Time-Sink Point-of-Sale.

These reflect two of the main pitfalls which you must avoid at all cost if you want to implement a successful Product-Led Growth strategy.

Failure to Launch

This is the lesser of two evils.

Picture this; you’ve just unearthed a cool new freemium product, one that seems easy to pick up and that solves a work-related headache you’ve been having.

Credit: Free-Photos via pixabay

You download it, have a look around the very slick, expensively designed UI and then BAM. Basic, rudimentary processes? Paywall. Killer features? Contact our sales, please.

They’ve just about given you the bread crumbs — features-wise — to sink your teeth into before, moments later, asking you to pay up. These products are non-starters; they’ve failed to comprehend that Product-Led Growth requires actual adoption; what they’re giving you is just window-shopping with extra steps.

An example of this practise I’ve encountered is with a tool called Shift.

Shift is a Work Station software that provides a single application window with a neat UI to intuitively switch between your various work apps — think Gmail, Slack, Asana, etc. all in one window.

This is very handy if you use a lot of tools like I do and have the bad habit of keeping way too many tabs open.

Credit: LoboStudioHamburg via pixabay

I thought to myself “This looks great!”

So I install Shift, sign in to Gmail, get Slack up & running — all good.

But then — oh no — I try to add another app? Time to pay up. I hadn’t been using it for more than 5 minutes before hitting a paywall. Which begs the question: how is this product anything more than just an expensive Google Chrome?

I was genuinely disappointed, but I wasn’t angry — I even took the time to fill out a feedback survey of theirs, explaining as much. I then googled ‘Shift alternatives’ and found a free tool called Station which looks just as nice and works in a similar way.

Freemium products like Shift look & feel great, sure, but when you hit a paywall too early it completely throws you.

It’s a shame, but you move past it.

On the other hand…

Time-Sink Point-of-Sale

This approach is the cardinal sin of Product-Led Growth in my book and will turn me against your brand faster than you can say “ annual subscription”

Once again, I’ll set the scene; you’ve just found an amazing new freemium tool that helps you innovate — via its powerful simplicity, you’re solving a process you’ve really been struggling with at work. You spend an hour or so gleefully working with this new service and your estimation of its vendor swells with each passing moment.

You finish up, and then try to access the thing you’ve spent all this time creating.

Credit: loverpants via pixabay

“Oh, you wanted to download your work? Share it somewhere else? Edit it in another tool? Well, you’re going to need to pay to do that — sorry we didn’t make that clear before you started working!”

The implication becomes all too clear.

“You’ve sunk an hour or two into this piece of work — what else are you going to do? find some other tool and start all over again? Why don’t you just slide us a little bit of cash and all that fear goes away; you’ll even have a nice, shiny new tool to play with in the future too.”

What makes this approach really rub the wrong way is that, in your desperation, you’re tempted. Sometimes you have a budget to play around with, sometimes you’re feeling lazy and it’s just plain easier to fork out.

It’s is why streaming services are a thing; yeah, you can pirate literally any TV show in less than a minute with a quick google search, but we all still pay for Netflix — it’s cheap, easy and reliable.

The difference is, Netflix don’t put up a paywall just as Winona Ryder start freaking out when the Christmas lights begin flickering in Stranger Things.

Credit: afra32 via pixabay

But if you, like me, have a bit of technical nous and take these off-hand, predatory sales tactics as a personal affront — something stirs within you.

“Am I going to pay for this?” you ask yourself. And your response is, in a very real sense:

Fuck. That.

Game on, Freemium Vendor.

The camera cuts, David Fincher style, and some Trent Reznor electronica begins to play as you indulge in your own, much less profitable version of that scene from the opening of The Social Network. You *may* even start listening to the film’s score as you work your magic, attempting to infuse your mindset with just the right amount of Zuckerberg-esque snarkiness.

Case Study 1: I spend half an hour entering data into your document wizard tool only for you to charge me at the end to remove the big red DRAFT scrawled across every page? Let me just open the Chrome developer tools, pull the text code and Google search an HTML tag remover to tidy it all up.

Case Study 2: I record an entire sales training in your webinar tool, only to have you hit me with an additional $300 annual subscription request— all for the privilege of downloading my file, so I can edit it further in Adobe Premiere? How about instead, I download a virtual audio card so I can rip the sound and then screen record it straight from your media player.

Now I can understand you might read this and say something along the lines of:

C’mon Aston — that’s pretty cynical, these companies are just trying to make money like everyone else.

Well to that, dear reader, I’d say if the vendor had been clear & upfront about what I’d need to pay for, I might have weighed up the benefit and considered aiding them in their quest for profit.

But since they decided to wait until the very moment when I had the most to lose, I’d rather focus my efforts than my wallet — doing everything in my power to avoid paying for the work I was duped into producing on their platform.

Credit: geralt via pixabay

Consumer-Led, Product-Wed

To summarise, if you want to implement a Product-Led Growth strategy, make sure you don’t get tunnel vision revolving the product itself; at the end of the day, it’s the consumer experience when they’re still just a prospect which matters the most.

You could adopt an approach like ours at Jahia — we offer both an entirely free, community edition of our Digital Experience Platform as well as a 30-day trial of the enterprise version, with loads of training resources like videos, contextual tutorials and Appcues guided tours.

At the end of the day, your tool can be the most cutting edge, beautifully UI’d software on the market — but if a potential customer hits a paywall before they get a chance to see that, or if they have the rug pulled out from under them after they’ve become invested, you risk turning them against your brand before you’ve even had a chance to properly nurture a relationship.

Never forget, it’s that relationship which will lead to a sale and keep the revenue recurring — your Product’s just there to make the introduction.

Credit: geralt via pixabay



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