The Product Experience as North Star for Growth

Product Experience SaaS Growth

I’ve seen many things in startup marketing that work—or don’t work. One thing I’ve learned is that using the product experience as your North Star—from positioning to onboarding and customer advocacy—helps startups to focus and scale. In this article, I want to share my learnings and explain three things:

  • How the focus on the product experience helps to reach more with fewer resources
  • How to align product, sales, marketing and customer success teams and their goals
  • How the product experience interacts with Market, Brand and Growth to scale the customer journey

Why focusing on the Product Experience is essential for startups and SaaS teams

SaaS companies want to grow rapidly to build a sustainable business. Marketing is challenged with a variety of channels and tactics to generate revenue. Rather than focusing on where customers experience the value and using this as the foundation for brand and growth, marketing is often disconnected from the product experience and leaves the customer journey far too early which leads to a waste of resources and slow growth.

It’s not enough to build a great product. It’s about building a great product experience and to scale every stage of the customer journey. The old way of building customer journeys where one team hands over to another is outdated. Teams pass the baton from stage to stage and fail to create a unified journey and scale it for growth and brand. Overwhelmed by the myriad of marketing approaches and strategies, companies waste valuable time and resources with:

  • Marketing channels that are not focused on the product experience,
  • Positioning company and products at the same time (often not aligned),
  • Leaving the customer journey far too early before the retention phase (hand-over problem),
  • Missing to scale every piece in the journey (especially the onboarding experience),
  • Creating unnecessary negative friction in the buyers’ journey through building a lengthy process.

Product Experience Mindset and Product-led Growth

The product experience mindset solves this problem by having a clear focus on utilizing the product experience as one of the most powerful marketing tools. Growth and revenue come from users and customers—and the better the product experience, the easier it is for marketing, product, customer success, and sales teams to make customers happy—hence, the more revenue companies can generate.

The only channel you ultimately control is the experience of your users and whether you can successfully scale them to acquire more. 

Shaun Clowes, SVP Product Management, MuleSoft

If you have used products like Slack, Figma, or Superhuman, you’ve experienced product experience marketing without realizing it. You use the product and trust the brand—probably without knowing anything about the company.

Building a great product experience is essential for companies with a Product-led Growth strategy where the product serves as the key vehicle for marketing and sales (My favorite sources and answers for Product-led Growth).

I believe that every SaaS company should build the Go-to-Market plan around the product experience and focus on buyers AND users.

How to connect Market, Brand and Growth

The three key marketing areas are market, brand and growth. The market part provides the basis for implementing the startup vision: problem, use case, user. On this basis, positioning, messaging and the story for the brand is created (Brand as a demand accelerator). The growth model is based on market information and is supported by the brand.

Imagine you have a spotlight and focus it on your customer touch points. You focus on where you have the biggest levers to scale and you discover areas that you haven’t considered before.

Product experience in this context is not only about the actual use of the product. It is rather about the experience a customer has around the product. It is about questions like what problem exists in the market, how it can be solved, in which context the product is positioned, how aware the customer is for the solution or our product, and what it takes for the buying process.

It helps marketing and growth teams become aware of what they are primarily focused on, and to allocate limited resources to the product experience and grow around the user as quickly as possible.

How to expand the marketing involvement and scale every piece of the customer journey for brand and growth

So far, it’s mostly product and customer success teams that take care of the product experience. Marketing has valuable insights and data about the market, the alternatives, and the users but shows a decreasing involvement in the customer journey.

This is a common mistake. Exactly when it comes to creating growth in the core and using the feedback and the voices of the customers for the brand, marketing drops out. A typical problem of handover between Marketing, Sales, Product and Customer Success based on traditional patterns.

Modern go-to-market and growth strategies unite the disciplines around the product experience and scale every opportunity. Marketing-led, product-led, sales-led: in the acquisition phase hybrid models deliver most value. In the classic retention phase, it is decided where customers are headed and how the habits of users can be influenced. In the final loyalty phase, customers become fans, which is valuable input.

Therefore, the focus in a product-led strategy is to expand the involvement of marketing in the apply, rate and share stage and to scale for topics like onboarding, user feedback for positioning and customer advocacy.

Read more about the stages and loop setup in the 5 STARS Growth Framework.

Let’s link the areas to exploit the full potential of the product experience. Here’s how SaaS companies benefit:

  • Strategy and goals are focused around product and users, marketing budgets are allocated more efficiently with a product experience focus
  • Product, sales, customers success and marketing teams are aligned around the product experience
  • Product gets valuable insights and support from marketing, user feedback and beta groups drive product experience improvements
  • Onboarding is improving user adoption and helps to build the brand with the product experience as its foundation
  • Bolder positioning and clearer messaging through a focus on the product experience, story and brand is connected to the product experience
  • Content converts better by understanding problem, vision, and product in detail, thought leadership helps to own the perception
  • Trust and credibility are built with a solid foundation and evidence, virality and word-of-mouth can be fully used for marketing purposes

Modern SaaS brands are built around the experience

The product experience as the North Star helps to be laser-focused on building a go-to-market strategy that drives user adoption and growth. This includes describing the problem in the market, being aware of existing alternatives, and targeting the addressable market. The input from marketing, sales and product to turn the vision into a product is the starting point of the loop.

By using the product experience, marketing can build the story and brand around it. The users help to build the perception of the product and drive virality and word-of-mouth. Trust and credibility are much easier to build and topics like evidence and economic value are a no-brainer.

A Product-based brand gives sales and customer success a solid basis for happy customers and growing revenue. The growth results in form of revenue and new users and customers will be re-invested in the customer and user experience to close the loop and increase velocity.

Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dirk Schart is Director Growth & Marketing of PTC’s Vuforia business and former CMO of the No. 1 Enterprise AR startup RE’FLEKT. He is a brand and growth leader and focuses on bringing B2B software and SaaS products to market —from zero to hero. Dirk is the former Director of SaaS Products at HyperloopTT, and helped scale SkyWork from 30 to 200+ in less than 18 months. He mentors startups at the German Accelerator in Silicon Valley and is the author of “Augmented Reality for Marketing”.