Mastering Product Experience (in SaaS) with Product-Led Go-to-Market Strategy

Mastering Product Experience (in SaaS) With Product-led Strategy

How to Deliver Personalized Product Experiences with a Product-led Strategy

Myk Pono
The Marketing Playbook
14 min readOct 3, 2017

Written by the team at Aptrinsic:
Nick Bonfiglio, Mickey Alon, and with Myk Pono


Your success as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company is completely dependent on acquiring and keeping users in your product. But if you’re using traditional marketing tactics, you’re likely struggling to scale your business quickly. That’s because conventional marketing techniques focus on engaging prospects and users outside of the product.

It’s far more efficient and effective to drive adoption and usage from inside the product.

In other words, to use your product to acquire, retain, and grow your user base. That’s precisely the secret to the meteoric rise and industry success of companies including Dropbox, Slack, and Atlassian.

As the SaaS business model becomes par for the course, your survival depends on delivering personalized in-product customer experience. Doing so requires a deep understanding of and ability to influence user behaviors inside your product. It also requires a completely new product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy that guides marketing, sales, customer success, and product teams to put customers front and center.

This book shows you how to transition to a product-led GTM, put in place all necessary elements, and capitalize on your product as a primary go-to-market channel.

Table of Contents:

Opening Thoughts by Nick Bonfiglio

SaaS Product Managers Must Overthrow Traditional Marketing

If you are a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product manager whose company relies on a traditional go-to-market (GTM) strategy, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That’s because a traditional GTM rooted in engaging prospective and existing customers through marketing channels is useless when it comes to the in-product user experience. And that makes it incredibly difficult for you to ensure that users not only try but keep using your product over time. Fortunately, a new approach and GTM strategy centered on the product has been proven to effectively drive user adoption and revenue growth at scale.

Opening Thoughts by Mickey Alon

The New Path to SaaS Company Success

I know why and how Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies are stymied as they try to quickly and effectively scale their businesses. And my insights are based on firsthand experience founding and driving business growth at a SaaS company that was ultimately acquired by Marketo. Even multi-billion dollar SaaS companies like Marketo can face the same challenges as any SaaS startup. Delivering intrinsic value to their customers while operating in a competitive market. Success comes down to whether customers will recognize this value. The key is delivering an engaging experience throughout the customer lifecycle.

PART I The Importance of Customer Experience

Going forward, delivering a personalized, in-product customer experience will be crucial for every Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company. Such an approach enables companies to build a competitive advantage and optimize how they drive revenue, customer acquisition cost (CAC) efficiency, renewals, and intelligent product development decisions. Those companies that excel by harnessing digital transformation will find themselves standing apart in the market.

CHAPTER 1: Welcome to the Customer Experience Era

The Third Wave of SaaS — Focused on Customer Experience

Digital transformation has brought all businesses online, so even though Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses are already digital and service-based, they now need to prioritize the customer experience to succeed. Fortunately, digital transformation makes it possible for companies to reimagine that experience and more efficiently and effectively engage users and customers in the product. In a world where frictionless experiences are on the rise, forward-thinking (SaaS) companies are reinventing themselves with a user-centric, in-product approach that spans the customer lifecycle.

CHAPTER 2: Defining Customer Experience

It’s All About What Happens in the Product

Word of a bad customer experience can spread quickly and send Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies on a downward spiral. But meaningful, memorable customer experiences can rapidly lead to growth and even market domination. As is true with consumer products, customer interactions, and behaviors with an enterprise product are fundamental to delivering better customer experience. That’s why a growing number of SaaS companies offer self-service freemium products and free trials. By doing so, they gain insight into how users explore, navigate, and actually use their product. And that provides every department and process across the organization with the fuel needed to deliver a personalized in-product customer experience.

Part II

How to Become a Customer-Experience-Focused Organization

To deliver great customer experiences today, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies must understand the full customer lifecycle, unify customer data, and track their customers’ personal journey through their products. This is only possible with a product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy that centers on providing access to the product earlier in the buying cycle (via free trials or freemium). To succeed with this approach, SaaS companies must align their marketing, sales, product, and customer success departments around relevant goals and metrics. Then they must equip them with the right tools and data to deliver personalized experiences that advance prospects and customers from one stage to the next.

CHAPTER 3: Show, Don’t Tell

Nurture and Personalize Based on Product Usage

The subscription economy has changed the customer acquisition model to one providing the immediate option to sign up for a product freemium or free trial. Allowing prospects to try a product improves the buying experience and provides Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies with relevant behavioral data that helps them further personalize that experience.

Traditional vs. New (product-led) Customer Acquisition Process

CHAPTER 4: Taking an Outside-In Perspective of the Customer Lifecycle

Organizing Around the Buying Journey

Most Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies focus on their sales process, not the customer’s buying journey. When companies use a customer lifecycle framework rather than a product lifecycle or marketing/sales funnel, they can re-evaluate their own processes to ensure that organizational goals are aligned with customer needs and expectations. This framework enables companies to use in-product behaviors to deliver relevant experiences to each user, which helps acquire, retain, and grow the customer base.

Customer Lifecycle Framework

CHAPTER 5: Understanding the Whole Customer Journey

Getting to Initial Product Value

Instead of looking at just part of a transaction or experience, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer. In-product customer journeys are the most effective way for prospective customers to experience true value from the product as they move along their customer lifecycle. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies must carefully design the journey toward realizing initial value as it is one of the most important journeys. The shorter the time to initial value, the more likely it is that a prospect will stay long enough to become a customer.

Value (Golden) Features and Value Gap

CHAPTER 6: From Silos to a Cross-functional Focus on Customer Experience

Aligning Around Customer Lifetime Value

Many Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies are still organized around a complex go-to-market (GTM) and sales process divided among specialized departments: marketing, sales, and customer success. To deliver a personalized customer experience, companies need to incorporate the product department into the GTM and customer acquisition process. They must align goals around the customer experience, prioritize the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) metric across departments, and find a way to aggregate customer data across multiple technologies. By taking these steps, SaaS companies are better positioned to design and deliver personalized customer engagements.

Customer Handoffs in the Customer Lifecycle

CHAPTER 7: From a Traditional Go-To-Market to a Product-led Go-To-Market Strategy

Moving from Marketing Qualified to Product Qualified Leads

As the product becomes a channel for acquiring, retaining, and growing customers, the traditional go-to-market (GTM) strategy fundamentally changes. Instead of driving prospects to lead forms, a product-led GTM strategy drives prospects to sign up for a product or free trial. Rather than generating marketing qualified leads (MQLs), all departments focus on delivering product qualified leads (PQLs) to create sales-ready accounts and more active customers.

Product-led Customer Acquisition Model

Part III

Implementing a Product-led Go-to-Market Strategy

To succeed with a product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies must adapt their processes, tactics, and metrics to support a customer focus. Following the suggestions and guidance in this section will help companies establish a solid foundation for their new approach.

CHAPTER 8: Product-led Go-To-Market Strategy Overview

Defining a New Customer Acquisition Process

While a product-led approach impacts every part of a go-to-market (GTM) strategy, it has a transformational effect on the customer acquisition process. Developing an effective product-led GTM strategy requires companies to analyze four must-have elements that come together to form the new customer acquisition process. By optimizing this process, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies can reach ideal customers in a scalable, repeatable, and profitable way.

Product-led Go-to-Market (GTM) Strategy

CHAPTER 9: Driving Customer Acquisition and Adoption with a Product-Led Strategy

Putting the Foundation in Place

With a product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies approach the four major phases of the customer lifecycle — acquisition, adoption, retention, and expansion — in a new way. To support this approach, they need to design their free trial process or freemium offer, create onboarding experiences, drive prospects to try their product, reach product qualified leads, and convert them to customers. One of the most important steps is deciding whether a freemium or free trial is the best option for the company.

User Onboarding vs. Customer Onboarding

CHAPTER 10: Product-led Customer Retention and Expansion

Embracing Organization-Wide Accountability for Customer Success

With a product-led approach, customer success accountability spans the entire customer lifecycle and is supported by cross-functional teams, including product, marketing, sales, and customer success. By combining efforts and following best practices, these teams can improve their customer retention and expansion efforts.

CHAPTER 11: The Anatomy of Personalized Customer Engagement

Laying the Groundwork for Scalable, Repeatable Customer Acquisition

A product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy is focused on optimizing the customer acquisition process through personalized customer experiences and engagements. Designing those personalized customer experiences the right way is key to scaling and making the customer acquisition process more repeatable. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies can achieve this by combining customer segmentation, customer journeys, and nurturing.

The Structure of Contextual Engagement

CHAPTER 12: The Anatomy of a Product-led Organization

Calling Upon New Playbooks

A product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy requires a complete alignment of product, marketing, sales, and customer success teams in an organization. These teams have to adjust their playbooks to successfully deliver personalized customer experiences based on in-product behavior and usage patterns.

CHAPTER 13: Metrics: Measuring Success with a Product-led GTM

Prioritize PQLs, CLV, and CAC

A product-led approach changes the focus of what and how Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies measure success and effectiveness. It replaces marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs) with product qualified leads (PQLs). Moreover, it enables teams to track and measure in-product customer behaviors and correlate them with crucial SaaS metrics such as Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC).

SaaS Metrics and KPIs for Product-led GTM Strategy

CHAPTER 14: Three Pillars that Support a Successful Product-led GTM Strategy

Data, Engagement, and Experimentation

A product-led go-to-market (GTM) strategy is the most effective way for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies to deliver personalized customer experiences that are essential for long-term growth and success. Delivering these experiences hinges on the ability to assemble and manage a 360-degree view of customer data, and engage in real-time and consistently on all channels. It also requires the ability to experiment at scale so the company can accelerate how it learns and adapts to customer needs.

The Three Pillars of a Product-led GTM Strategy

CHAPTER 15: Conclusion — The Future of SaaS is the Personalized Product Experience

Becoming Customer Focused, Experience-Driven and Product Led

Today the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model is par for the course. Delivering a personalized customer experience is critical for SaaS company survival, and the transition to a product-led go-to-market (GTM) gives organizations the best chance to succeed. Those SaaS companies that understand what customers are trying to achieve, how they buy, and what experience they want from the product will transform to become truly customer-focused, truly experience-driven, and truly product-led.


Writing a book has proven to be a daunting challenge of research, writing, revisions, and updates. We have referenced more than 90 articles, books, and research items in the book, based on more than 300 articles, books, interviews and other content that we read and analyzed over several months. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this wealth of publicly available knowledge. That’s why we are sharing this book online for free. We don’t even ask for your email address; as we discussed in this book, we don’t believe in lead forms.

We also say thank you to everyone who was in some way involved in creating this book. Especially, we would like to thank our small but very dynamic team at Aptrinsic.

Editors: Steve Schaefer, Stephanie Tilton
Designer and Illustrator: Verena Tam

We were inspired by content created by these industry experts:
David Skok, Tom Tunguz, Lincoln Murphy, Jason M. Lemkin, Tae Hea Nahm, Al Ramadan

Special thanks for providing feedback and helping to create this book: Dan Avida, Tom Wentworth, Travis Kaufman, Bill Portelli, , Aleh Haiko, Marissa Bonfiglio, Erick Mott, David Schlossberg, Phil Fernandez, Lauren Smiley

List of companies mentioned in this book: Amazon, Netflix, Linkedin, Airbnb, eSurance, Salesforce, Marketo, Hubspot, Apttus, Slack, InVision, Asana, Zoom, Dropbox, Trello, Atlassian, Zendesk, Splunk, Expensify, PandaDoc, MailChimp, Rapidminer

Let Us Hear from You

We are sharing this book free of charge. If you find it helpful, please share on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Quora, Reddit and other platforms of your choice. We hope you will share this book with your team and share your own stories about what you have learned. We will add them to the next version of this book.

We encourage you to call upon this book to spark your own discussions and inspire your own blog posts and other content. Please just remember to reference our work.

We are also starting a discussion on how to personalize product experiences with a product-led go-to-market strategy. Please tweet your questions to @aptrinsic and leave comments on Medium. Keep it SaaSy.

Thank you for reading our book. Now go forth and master the product experience!

Fun Facts About This Book

  • 90-ish references
  • 50K-ish words
  • 19 figures
  • 16 tables

Partial Bibliography

This book was inspired by many books, including these:

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Drucker, Peter Ferdinand. The Essential Drucker Selections from the Management Works. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Jiwa, Bernadette. Marketing a Love Story: How to Matter to Your Customers. Charleston, SC: Story of Telling, 2015. Print. Bernadette Jiwa

Kooij, Jacco van der, and Fernando Pizarro. Blueprints For A SaaS Sales Organization. Winning by Design, 2015. Jacco van der Kooij

Levitt, Theodore. Marketing Imagination. Sperling & Kupfer Editori, 1990.

Moore, Geoffrey. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. Print.

Olsen, Dan. The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback. John Wiley & Sons, 2015. Dan Olsen

Ramadan, Al, et al. Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets. Harper Business, 2016. Play Bigger Advisors

Roberge, Mark. The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to Go from $0 to $100 Million. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015. Print. Mark Roberge

Schrage, Michael. Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School, 2012. Print.

Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth. Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are. Bloomsbury, 2017.

Wheeler, Alina. Designing Brand Identity: a Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining Strong Brands. John Wiley, 2006. Alina Wheeler