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Product Led Growth? Isn’t That Just Free Trials?

As the term Product-Led Growth gained traction over the last couple of years, a common reaction from SaaS marketers was “isn’t this just offering free trials?”.

Admittedly, my reaction was similar. It was easy to dismiss the term as the newest buzzword of choice for marketers who don’t want to say that they do marketing.

As the term has matured into a nascent category with startups building CRMs and other tooling for product-led orgs, the nuances of how PLG is different from simply offering free trials are becoming clearer. PLG is a cultural change, not just a tactic.

A similar dynamic appeared with the Customer Success category in its early years. It was easy to dismiss as a buzzword; “Silicon Valley discovers customer support”.

The details of how exactly Customer Success differs from customer support is beyond the scope of this post, but one critical difference is that Customer Success is proactive, while support is reactive.

With PLG, the main cultural change I’ve noticed is that roles beyond PM and Engineering now have more of a say in how products are built.

Back in 2015, I led marketing for an early-stage B2B SaaS startup that offered free trials. Part of my role was to improve our conversion rate from trial to paid customer.

My arsenal comprised of lifecycle emails, in-app messages, product tours, and free trial extensions. My strategy was to reach free trial users at specific points in their trial, based both on how far they are into the trial and in-product milestones they’ve hit.

At no point did I change the actual experience of using the free trial or what was included in the trial as the product experience itself was not a part of my role. I’m fairly sure I could have easily gotten buy-in to make changes to the free trial experience, but at the time it just wasn’t top-of-mind. Marketing is emails, messaging, ads, etc; free trials were product’s responsibility.