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In “The Marketing Imagination Part II,” Theodore Levitt had some golden words for SaaS founders and marketing executives seeking growth.
“Customers attach value to products in proportion to the perceived ability of those products to help solve their problems.”
Want another way to put those wise words?
Do an excellent job shaping prospects’ perceived ability to solve their problems with your product (before they sign up). And you’ll acquire them more easily.
Ahrefs’ CMO, Tim Soulo, used logic similar to Theodore’s advice to grow the company over $40 million.
According to Tim:
“My theory is that people don’t sign up for your [SaaS product] and then learn how to use it.
[It is] that people first learn how to use your [product]. And they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
In order words, here’s what Ahrefs focuses more on.
They shape the perceived value prospects have of their product.
And they do this by teaching potential customers how to use their tool even before they sign up.
The result of doing that?
“Excellent article on long-tail keywords… It also resulted in me signing up for your product. Great work!”
And he’s far from the only one doing this.
Through this tactic, Ahrefs powers its user acquisition game to over 3K new users per week:
Fancy a good name for this excellent (and scalable) SaaS user acquisition tactic?
It’s called Product-Led Storytelling (I coined it by the way 😊).
Sounds interesting, right?
Don’t worry; it’ll get even more interesting as you read on.
Follow my 9 (by 3) content funnel of applying this same tactic, which I’ll show you in this guide, and you’ll scale your customer acquisition efforts too.
First, let’s address what most SaaS companies wrongfully still focus on in this user-driven, Product-Led Growth era.
- Leads! But, Do Leads (or MQLs) Still Generate Product Users?
- With Leads Failing, What Influences Buyers’ Software Purchasing Decisions?
- So, What Are Product-Qualified Leads? And How Are They Better Than MQLs?
- So, What is Product-Led Storytelling?
- How I Coined Product-Led Storytelling
- Conclusion: Ahrefs Answers the Question, Does Product-Led Storytelling Work?
7,700+ words… that’s how long the value stuffed in this masterclass guide is.
So, click on the blue button below to subscribe and download the ebook version for keeps. [You’ll also get a freebie – our guide to building SaaS topical authority sent to your email] — we don’t do spam.
So, what do most SaaS companies still focus on in this user-driven, Product-Led Growth era?
Leads! But, Do Leads (or MQLs) Still Generate Product Users?
Sadly, not really.
I know that’s a bold statement. So, before we dive in, let me ask you (and please be honest).
When you (or someone on your team) bought the last software you’re still using, did you do so because the company started by calling you a lead (or MQL)?
If your answer was no, why do you still focus on generating leads (or MQLs) for your own company?
And let’s face it, even if you nodded yes, how many of those leads do you convert into users?
Admit it; it’s only a few.
I know this, and you can’t deny it because according to Forrester’s study:
“Ninety-five percent (a whole 95%) of website visitors never provide an email address to marketers. Of the 5% who do, only about 20% open the prospecting emails they get afterward.”
The bottom line?
Most SaaS companies convert below 1% of leads (sorry email addresses) accumulated via gated content. And that’s if they manage to.
That’s not scalable.
In fact, it’s even devoid of logical thinking to go against those numbers or try growing your business on them.
It won’t work!
So since SaaS buyers no longer give out email addresses to be tagged as leads (MQLs or SQLs), let’s now find what they look out for.
With Leads Failing, What Influences Buyers’ Software Purchasing Decisions?
TrustRadius asked 1,036 software buyers that question.
Unsurprisingly, their answers were also in support of Theodore’s words years ago.
Hence, another research, a recent one at that, shows potential customers want to experience your product even before they sign up.
Don’t take my word for it.
- When asked what information sources they trusted the most when purchasing software, they said:
- When asked what was most influential in their purchase decisions, it was no different:
Based on these responses, B2B buyers don’t even trust company blogs, case study ebooks, and other marketing collaterals created by you.
In short, for 87% of B2B buyers who responded to TrustRadius’ poll, gated content didn’t motivate them to become a lead.
As you see in the graphs above, those are the lowest trust areas when people buy software products.
The good thing?
All that changes if you can get them to experience your product on their way to becoming a user.
Again, as per Theodore’s words, to perceive it’s value even before they sign up.
No wonder B2B software buyers said what they trust most when buying software are:
- Their own experience with the product.
- Free/trial account.
- Referrals, and
- Product demos were the top four things they considered.
Many high-growth SaaS companies, like Slack, Atlassian, Lessonly, and others, saw this trend quickly.
Doesn’t it explain why they adjusted and dumped the doomed pursuit of leads in favor of Product-Led Growth?
“[If] somebody downloads a template for a training guide, that does not mean they want to buy training software. It just means that they need a guide for training.”
Kyle went further, saying:
“And it took a lot of energy for us to just say we’re okay with getting less leads. But what we’ve found is that we’re actually getting more than what we thought, and they’re more qualified.”
Remember I told you this was going to get more interesting as we go on?
What Kyle is saying is:
When they stopped focusing on leads (or email addresses disguised as MQLs), their product attracted more qualified prospects.
Does this line, “…product attracted more qualified prospects,” sound familiar?
In this end-user driven, Product-Led Growth era, we call it Product-Qualified Leads, or PQLs for short.
Should we explore it before we go over to how Product-Led Storytelling gets you more PQLs?
So, What Are Product-Qualified Leads? And How Are They Better Than MQLs?
I put that question to Wes Bush.
He is the Founder of the Product-Led Institute and Author of the Product-Led Growth book.
Wes’ answer (which is also Google’s top result for this query) went thus:
“Product-Qualified Leads (or PQLs for short) are more likely to become a customer than other leads. Unlike Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), which base buying intent on arbitrary factors like email opens, whitepaper downloads, and webpage visits, PQLs are tied to a meaningful value.”
That’s more like the benefits of PQLs, right?
So, in search of a more direct definition of PQLs, I looked into how Wes (and other experts) defined it. It goes thus:
“A product qualified lead (PQL) is a [prospective paying customer] who has experienced meaningful value using your product through a free trial or freemium model.”
Did you notice something from the definition of PQLs?
You ONLY tag PQLs to prospects if, AND ONLY IF, they have experienced your product.
It’s close to Theodore’s wise words of using your product’s value to attract potential clients. But, there are vital areas PQLs don’t address.
And they go thus:
- How do you attract prospects to perceive the value of your product in the first place?
- And how do you do this in a way that’ll make them sign up and become a PQL of your product?
You have two options here.
One is that your product is so good that people talk about it, tell friends, colleagues, and their network, helping you achieve a viral loop.
For example, how Blake Bartlett of OpenView talked about Slack’s virality:
But, there’s a catch to this kind of user-dependent virality.
- What if they don’t talk about it?
- What if they don’t share the good news of your product to friends and colleagues in ways to lure them into trial-ing your SaaS tool?
And if this is your case, should you wait for such virality to set in by itself?
Should You Wait for Your Product to Go Viral?
Yeah, I know they say good things come to those who wait.
In short, a saying in Nigeria where I come from is that “patient dogs eat the fattest bone.”
But let’s face it.
There’s ever-increasing competition in the SaaS industry. I mean, over 15,529 companies and there’s no sign of this slowing down soon:
Will you fold your hands and wait for fate to attract customers to you when competitors are happily taking it to them?
If you answered no, which is the right thing to do, I got good news.
There’s a way to drive growth without waiting to go viral:
How You Drive Growth in This Product-Led Growth Era Without Going Viral
In this PLG era, Product-Led Storytelling is a dependable (and scalable) way to get new product users without waiting to go viral.
In short, implement this tactic to the letter. and it will:
- Help you shape your prospects’ perception of your product.
- Show potential customers your product’s value by getting them to experience how it can solve their problems first-hand.
The good thing?
With Product-Led Storytelling, you’re achieving all that as people consume your SaaS content pieces.
And as Theodore advised, get prospects to perceive using your product will solve their problems, and you can more easily convert them into product users.
Product-Led Storytelling does this exceptionally.
On the one hand, it helps you to hold your prospects’ attention with engaging stories.
On the other, you’ll be teaching and showing them how to use your product before they even sign up as Ahrefs does.
As you’ll see, that’s a tonic for compelling people to sign up and start trial-ing your SaaS tool.
I’m not saying all these to feed my ego.
I’m also not trying to sound like Product-Led Storytelling is a one-size-fits-all hack that’ll solve all your company’s woes (just because I coined the term).
What I’m holding on to, however, is this:
If you have a great product (that is, one people truly need to solve their problems), this tactic is a reliable and easy way to attract and convert them into users.
As I said in the intro to this guide, I’ve conducted in-depth research to validate this concept.
Besides, if you’re still reading, that’s your first sign that this tactic works.
Well, if you haven’t noticed, what I’ve been sharing so far are stories.
You want to see it play out in a SaaS product?
Okay, let’s revisit Lessonly, one of the PLG brands I mentioned earlier.
Kyle Lacy, their VP of Marketing, didn’t say they hoped to become viral after dumping the unproductive pursuit of MQLs.
“There’s just way too many competitors; the market is wide open. It’s your ability to tell a story that delivers a different value to somebody than just a feature set.”
Notice he said it’s your ability to tell a story that drives your product’s value home?
Even after recognizing this, Lessonly didn’t fold their hands and hope heaven blesses them with a virality.
They crafted and canned their product in that story.
Going further, Kyle added:
“If you can tell a story differently, they’re going to listen to you. And we just happen to be able to tell a story differently in a way that works.”
In order words, Lessonly attributes its ability to attract prospects and product users to the differentiating story it tells.
As you’ll see, it’s not only them using this overlooked growth tactic.
How is it overlooked, you ask?
- First, as per research by Stanford University, stories make it 2,200% easier for prospects to remember the technical aspects of your product.
- And Ben Horowitz, who is an influential VC to SaaS brands like Optimizely, Asana, Instacart, and dozens more, said:
“Storytelling is a very underrated skill…
You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts [your] company into motion.”
Using stories to attract and hold people’s attention isn’t a new thing, however. It has been going on since time memorial.
Infusing your product into well-crafted stories to attract, convert your ideal customers, and drive growth.
And, as I’ve found after critical observations, another way to call that is Product-Led Storytelling.
Don’t worry; this research has enough to feed your curiosity and guide you accordingly.
I’ve detailed the step-by-step process you need to make Product-Led Storytelling work for you, so you can also move beyond “leads” or “MQLs.”
But, if we’re going to move beyond MQLs, we also must reexamine what produces them:
The traditional SaaS sales funnel.
How Does the SaaS Sales Funnel Fit Into Product-Led Growth & PQLs Era?
It doesn’t fit.
It needs refinement. And those are not my words.
An in-depth study by Gaping Void and LinkedIn also called for a new funnel anchored on stories.
Their research found that:
“The new funnel requires a new approach to marketing. [And] this is where your story begins.”
Put another way, the kind of sales funnels that’ll work in this user-driven era isn’t the traditional one.
The one that’ll work (ie. drive user growth) begins and revolves around your product’s story.
This research also observed that:
“The funnel [that’ll work in this era] isn’t a funnel at all. It’s a journey.
Now you have to think holistically with a full-funnel solution that can deliver content, drive real results, and offer mutual value to your business and to customers at the same time.”
This call to re-imagine the sales funnels, so it offers mutual value to you and your customers, was critical.
I mean, take a look at the SaaS sales funnel below and tell me what you think:
As if that wasn’t confusing enough, what follows is even more complicated:
No doubt, a lot of thought went into the creation of these high-level, analytics-driven funnels. I have nothing but respect for the experts behind them.
But again, let’s be true to ourselves.
You think your prospects want to pass through all those hiccups before they even have a taste of your product?
TrustRadius’ research confirmed this. It confirmed that people want to experience your product, even before they commit.
If I subjected you to all those steps just so you could pay for my SaaS product, will you be happy to do so?
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are core functions of the sales funnel that aren’t going away.
These core functions help us understand customer buying stages and intent based on organic search queries.
And when adjusted correctly, these core functions play a very critical business-driving role.
They help SaaS companies build topical authority (or create new categories). You can do this, using the SaaS Content Topic Clusters’ Strategy, CTCS:
What needs to go away is the mindset we’ve had towards sales funnels. Also, you need to do away with what you hope to get from it:
Leads (MQLs or SQLs).
Now, your sales funnel needs to produce PQLs.
And PQLs aren’t some ego-boosting metrics.
They represent real people who have ALREADY signed up to trial your product.
As you saw in the definition of PQLs, these are the ones more likely to become paying customers because they’ve experienced value.
The only problem?
- How do you attract people likely to become PQLs in the first place?
- And what funnel do you now need to turn them from prospects looking to solve their problem into those who find joy using your product to solve those problems?
Gaping Void and LinkedIn’s excellent study also had the answers:
“Let’s evolve from content marketing to an era of meaningful engagement and experiences. It’s time to engage customers throughout the entire buyer’s journey because that’s what people want.”
In order words, even SaaS content marketing needs to evolve, too.
So, What Should SaaS Content Marketing in the Product-Led Growth Era Be Like?
When the research by Gaping Void says, “evolve from content marketing to an era of meaningful engagement and experiences,” here’s what I see:
- Content is still king. It’s never going away. This explains why more than 4.6 billion content pieces (and counting) get produced per day.
- Content, however, must evolve (or adjust) into experiences that engage prospects. People now prioritize experiences over all else.
- And it shouldn’t force prospects into becoming leads (be it MQLs or SQLs). You know why? Potential customers don’t care about those tags because it doesn’t add any value to them (and you).
First, let’s see if content is still king and isn’t going away anytime soon. So, is there hard data to support these claims?
Furthermore, B2B brands that use content marketing (in the form of blogging) generate 67% more leads monthly than those who don’t.
What about experiences?
Since content marketing is still potent, but people now yield to it differently, is it possible to adjust it into what prospects really want?
According to the research by LinkedIn and Gaping Void, you should:
“Create more relevant experiences throughout the buyer’s journey to rise above the noise. Rethink the future of content marketing by competing for attention instead of memes.”
Hence, like sales funnels, you can’t do away with content marketing.
Instead, you need to evolve it into assets that create experiences for prospects. It’s how you use it to generate Product-Qualified Leads (and not MQLs).
Doing this corresponds to Theodore’s wise words:
It helps potential “customers [to] attach value to products in proportion to the perceived ability of those products to help solve their problems.”
And it also aligns with Ahrefs’ theory of using content to educate prospects on how to use their tool even before they sign up for a trial:
“[Ahrefs]’ theory is that people don’t sign up for your [SaaS product] and then learn how to use it.
[It is] that people first learn how to use your [product]. And they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
Now, how do you do all of that in one swell swoop?
How do you reimagine regular SaaS content marketing, inject your product’s story into it (as Lessonly did), and create experiences for prospects?
This is where Product-Led Storytelling shines. This is where it takes the wheel.
If you’ve made it this far, I can hear you saying:
So, What is Product-Led Storytelling?
I’ve defined this in my piece published on OpenView Partners, and it goes thus:
At its core, Product-Led Storytelling, as the name goes, is a product-focused form of SaaS content marketing.
In more detail, it’s the art of crafting discoverable stories to attract and turn engaged readers into trial users, PQLs, and paying customers.Victor Eduoh.
When I published my first take on this concept, a client (and now friend) and others jumped on it, saying:
Want to see why he was excited about implementing it in his business?
With Product-led Storytelling, you can use a single SaaS content piece to achieve three things:
- Attract your target audience and filter your ideal customer personas (ICPs) at the same time.
- Engage filtered ICPs with relevant stories, while creating experiences that show (and not tell) them how to solve their problems with your SaaS product. Think product use cases, reviews, testimonials, etc.
- And finally, persuade them to become users by CTA-ing them to take your product for a spin. This one is the final piece of the puzzle and works, requiring excellent SaaS copywriting skills.
These three things, if you observe well, turn your SaaS content pieces into user-acquiring funnels.
And this is made possible, using the 9-step formula of Product-Led Storytelling.
In order words, with Product-Led Storytelling, conversion happens on each content piece and not with MQL-generating SaaS funnels:
Put another way, your articles become what creates an experience for prospects, tells the story of your product, and funnels readers into trial-ing your product.
And as you see above, you can drive traffic from anywhere to your product-led story. You only need to know where your target audiences hang out.
But, as I noted in my OpenView article:
Product-led storytelling evolved from SaaS content marketing. It is not revolutionary.
It’s critical to keep this in mind because you MUST create these stories with content marketing best practices.
These best practices ensure you keep the strategy, discoverability, distribution, and promotion of each product-led story you create in mind.
Also, content marketing fundamentals keep you aligned with topics, keywords, as well as TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU queries.
This way, you’ll understand the stages prospects are in their purchase journeys and craft your product-led story accordingly.
For example, let’s say you wanted to create content to attract users for the AI sales assistant feature of your SaaS product.
Let’s call this feature F1.
In this case, your TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU queries will direct what product-led stories to create and align with these search terms:
Where Product-Led Storytelling is different, however, is in the execution of each content piece.
And getting this execution follows 9 steps.
The 9-Step Product-Led Storytelling Formula
The Product-Led Storytelling formula is the intuitive creation and layout of SaaS content pieces to engage targeted readers and turn them into product users.
This formula has nine steps and divides into three funnel steps to form the 9 (by 3) complete execution process.
As you saw earlier, the “3” in this mix creates the funnel experience typical of a SaaS sales funnel:
Do you want to see the entire Product-Led Storytelling outline and how it helps to generate PQLs?
The nine-step outline and corresponding execution process are as follows:
-  Write a benefit-driven title for your story. As your headline, use this to promise prospects that your content will show them how to solve a problem.
-  Use story-driven introductory paragraphs to hook readers. At the same time, ensure you set the context right off the bat by calling out the ICPs (ideal customer personas) the content is intended for. Doing this helps you align your business goals with theirs, as well as filter non-fits.
-  Right after you’ve lost a handful of readers who left because your product-led story wasn’t for them, use media to augment your intro paragraphs. Your goal here is to show your tool in action, making it easy to solve the problem addressed in the article for the ICP you wrote it for. This point is also where you get a reader to say, “aha! I can’t wait to see how I can achieve this with this SaaS product.”
-  In the fourth section, follow up with more story-driven paragraphs. Here, you need to distinguish yourself (and SaaS product) by adding your point of view (PoV), facts, quotes, stats, social proof, etc.
-  If you’ve managed to keep the readers to this point, they’ll start visualizing the possibility of using your product to solve the problem the article addresses. To pique their interest, insert media of your product, solving the problem for an ICP similar to the one the content targets.
- [S6] Follow [S5] with the first, subtle CTA inviting readers to trial/demo your product. Add more content as necessary. Keep it about them, but don’t deviate from using relevant stories.
- [S7] Include a relevant use case of your product, testimonial (with outcomes), or review by a client similar to the ICP your product-led story targets.
- [S8] Your concluding paragraphs and the activation of your SaaS copywriting skills starts here. Don’t end by asking readers a question. Invite them to start solving the problem addressed in the article with your product. Doing this paves the way for [S9].
- [S9] End each piece with a CTA to trial/demo your product and start solving the problem addressed in the article. Remember, if you don’t ask, they may forget to take action.
The summarized version of the Product-Led Storytelling content outline looks like this:
Do an excellent job, and you’ll onboard new SaaS users each time an ICP your content piece targets finds it.
I know you’ll be asking, aren’t all these theories?
This isn’t a fad or me trying to appear too smart.
It’s common sense when you observe all the statistics surrounding the SaaS industry.
Of course, what better way to foolproof this concept than to put it to the test.
When I first published my observation of Product-Led Storytelling, Wes Bush, a Product-Led Growth evangelist, said:
And when I went more in-depth in my article published on OpenView Partners, it did everything I say it does.
Product-Qualified Leads (you can replace “product” for “service” in my case):
And a career-high for me at the time: An invitation to Speak at the 2020 Product-Led Summit alongside tech executives I admired from miles off:
Now, why were all of these possible?
Well, because every content piece I craft adheres to all 9 steps of Product-Led Storytelling.
Take this one you’re reading, for example.
- My title was a promise: I’ll show you how to acquire SaaS users directly from content.
- My intro paragraphs was a filter: Theodore’s words didn’t mention SaaS founders or marketing executives. But because they’re my ICPs, I called them out right off the bat.
- And so on, even up to this point.
Why You Should Prioritize Product-Led Storytelling
First, it doesn’t produce email addresses disguised as leads or MQLs.
And that’s because this tactic is user-driven.
It aims to get prospects to experience your product and feel its value as they consume your content.
Secondly, it decreases internal silos in your company, as all eyes will be on giving customers a smooth product experience.
No longer will your marketing team focus on hitting vanity metrics like impressions, traffic, and accumulating email addresses they pass on to sales as “leads.”
Instead, they’ll focus on crafting excellent content and improving product messaging that only attract and convert targeted prospects.
And if prospects still need additional follow up from your sales team before they close (say enterprise or large accounts), they’ll do this with more confidence.
Because they won’t be chasing people who downloaded an ebook and tagged as “leads” or MQLs for an “ultimate” guide they never opened.
Instead, they’ll be talking to people who have trial-ed your product, but need more coercing to adopt it in their large organization.
It doesn’t end there.
Your product and support teams can concentrate on product use cases and ensure users are successful with your product; thereby, reducing churn.
So, in summary, you should prioritize Product-Led Storytelling for three reasons.
- It’s a user acquisition tactic that pulls all your teams together to focus on one single point of truth: The product:
- It is what your prospects want:
Over 87% of B2B buyers no longer get motivated by lead-generating gated content on their way to buying software, according to TrustRadius’ study.
- And for the third reason, it’s the right thing to do, according to LinkedIn and Gaping Void’s research:
“There’s a greater return when strategies and outcomes align with what people value. And, the mutual value doesn’t happen by mistake. It’s driven by purpose and intention. That’s real engagement!”
Do you want to see how some companies apply this tactic (knowingly or unknowingly) to drive growth?
First, let’s see how I came about this concept.
How I Coined Product-Led Storytelling
In an earlier piece, I examined how three SaaS brands proved Product-Led Storytelling trumped PLG.
Then, I didn’t buy into the idea that you could drive SaaS growth by being product-led.
It didn’t make sense to me that a company could grow without marketing and sales teams.
I’m still not sold.
I agree having a great product can create an organic viral loop and help a company drive growth without investing in marketing or sales.
But, this rarely happens.
And if it does, it sure happens once in a blue moon.
However, my criticism of the PLG concept being an all-in-one growth lever reduced when I looked critically at how Slack, Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, etc., adopted it to drive growth.
Then, something else happened to me.
I desperately needed to retrieve a Gmail after I forgot to attach an important file to a cold outreach campaign I launched.
As a typical SaaS prospect would do, I did not type “how to retrieve emails in Gmail with DocSend,” because at first, I didn’t know DocSend existed.
Instead, the screenshot below shows what I typed into Google’s search bar:
From this search, I discovered this content from a SaaS tool, DocSend (which I’d never heard about), and went on to check it out.
Long story short, this content empathized with me, as if the author knew how desperate I was to retrieve an email.
It also used engaging storytelling to calm me down, making me feel like all hope was not lost.
Then, it walked me through how to retrieve an email sent via Gmail, using DocSend:
I went to sign up for a trial to solve my problem. No ebook downloaded. No becoming a “lead” first.
All because DocSend was able to craft a story that showed me how to overcome my problem with their product.
This experience with DocSend and my observation of the growth trajectory of PLG brands like Atlassian, Slack, Calendly, etc., sparked a lightbulb moment in my head.
“There has to be a new way to approach SaaS content marketing, I thought.”
Thus, I fed my curiosity to investigate and understand how content marketing needed to adjust and be relevant in the PLG era.
The result of that investigation?
So, as of this writing, Product-Led Storytelling isn’t a term recognized industry-wide.
I’m not a V.C. I’m not in Silicon Valley. I’m not in Boston, or anywhere where tech giants or VCs could promote this concept.
I’m in Nigeria, where SaaS isn’t even a thing yet.
Thus, there’s no company out there who publicly say they’re using this concept.
So I conducted my research looking for SaaS brands implementing Product-Led Storytelling without even knowing it.
Trust me; you’ll learn a ton from the examples I discovered.
And in the end, you come out with actionable insights to do even better.
Just promise me you’ll apply it to your business.
Three SaaS Brands With Traces of Product-Led Storytelling (and What Can Improve)
As you’ve seen, Product-Led Storytelling works when it adheres to the 3-section content funnel and 9-step outline:
- Create story-driven, discoverable content to attract your ideal customers. This content’s title must have a promise to your prospects – one to give them a valuable outcome. And its introductory sections should set the context, align with your ICPs who’ll find the most value from it, and filter the rest. Steps 1-3.
- Use the next sections to show engaged readers how to solve the problem addressed in the article WITH YOUR PRODUCT. Ideally, your prospects should experience your product and see it’s value as they consume your product-led story. Steps 4-6.
- Finally, end with persuasion. Invite them to sign up for a free trial or request a demo to start solving that problem there and then. Steps 7-9.
I know. It’s not easy to pull off in reality as it sounds on paper.
But, some SaaS companies have got some areas right.
I found many, but I chose three – GetBeamer, GrooveHQ, and Ahrefs.
I’ll show you what each brand does well, the result doing so gets them, and what they could improve on.
Along the way, I’ll also insert relevant examples I found from other SaaS companies.
In the end, you’ll leave with deep insights to implement Product-Led Storytelling to acquire customers directly from your SaaS content pieces.
GetBeamer is a SaaS product businesses use to keep users engaged and updated. Think changelogs, notifications, and in-app widgets.
I first marked them for investigation after an article I was researching led me to one of this SaaS tool’s posts.
Usually, it’s how I find things online. I use Pocket to save interesting finds for when I’m ready to reexamine them, and it’s great.
Of course, the post I found attracted me because it promised value in its title, as that’s the only reason I’ll click.
Going back to Theodore’s words, I perceived value.
In short, most of their blog titles do this very well (step 1 checked):
The introductory sections of these posts slightly did well to settle me in (step 2 semi-checked).
They weren’t really product-led or story-driven but resonated a bit.
The rest of the post was walls of texts, which wasn’t pleasant. It took the shine away from an incredible content and killed my experience.
Always use short paragraphs in your content.
Seek to entertain. Carry your audience along like you’re having a one-on-one conversation.
Make readers feel something. That’s how you engage prospects to the end – where they’ll also feel like trial-ing your product.
Don’t you like this one you’re reading?
Back to GetBeamer.
Like many others on their blog, the post I found didn’t walk me through how to use their product to solve the problems addressed.
I couldn’t feel the product in the content.
Remember, prospects want to experience your product before they sign up.
So, don’t just write theories.
Show them the steps – how to log into your product, load a file, set up a feature, and anything that’ll get people to experience the product as they consume your content.
For example, see how Saleswhale, an AI sales assistant SaaS tool, does it:
GetBeamer didn’t do this.
And because the paragraphs in their content were too long… (steps 3 and 4 missed).
I included them for a reason – the pop up triggered to the left of the screen with a sweet customer review and a CTA (steps 5 and 7 checked):
At first sight, I thought that was nice (and you should borrow a leap from that).
But, when I looked closer, the review wasn’t relevant to the content I was consuming, as I’ve noted on the screenshot above.
Don’t use a review that’s not relevant to the content prospects are consuming. It could be a turnoff and kills context, as it was with me on GetBeamer’s post.
However, although too late, they tried to make up for those flaws.
Towards the end of the article (like many of theirs), they ticked the remaining Product-Led Storytelling checklist (steps 8 and 9 checked):
Areas they could improve on?
- Use shorter paragraphs (call it writing in chunks).
- Their authors need to inject more life into their content. They come off too professional, and that’s a no-no when you’re competing with over 4.6 billion content churned out daily. You won’t engage and retain prospects’ attention doing this.
- And don’t wait to the very end before you start infusing your product’s story in your content. Start as early as possible and do so throughout the piece. We all have short, impatient attention spans. And nothing guarantees readers will stay to the end of your content.
In short, in GetBeamer’s case, their traffic data shows prospects don’t stay long (less than a minute), and the bounce rate is sky-high:
So, yes, GetBeamer does an excellent job, promising to solve a problem in each content piece they create.
Doing this creates perceived value… and traffic.
People follow value, and as I did, I clicked on their article because of its perceived value.
But, once I landed on the blog, it wasn’t engaging.
It didn’t show me how their tool solves the problems these articles address, using product use cases, screenshots, reviews, etc.
In order words, I didn’t experience the product while skimming through their content. And this is critical because people will first scan before they read.
As per my observation, that’s why despite their decent traffic numbers, visitors (and prospects) bounce off in seconds.
What a miss!
In short, at less than one-minute average page view, visitors aren’t even consuming 10% of these content pieces – they’re leaving without feeling the product.
And even when they start talking about their product, it’s selfish.
They only include a snapshot of their product right about when they want readers to click on their CTA.
Do people fall for this?
I didn’t, though. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even enjoy the content.
If I didn’t feel anything, I’ll surely not be alone. What about you, Giphy?
These areas are where GetBeamer (and you) need to improve to infuse Product-Led Storytelling and get users directly from content.
But, I’ll leave this example with a pat on the back for GetBeamer.
Only about 10% of their over 200k traffic comes from organic search.
The major source? Referrals.
And that tells you something critical:
Promote your product-led story where your target audiences hang out.
Over 68% of GetBeamer’s traffic comes from referrals, according to SimilarWeb’s data, showing they know where to dance.
Did you learn anything from GetBeamer’s example?
I included them, not because my research didn’t yield better examples, but to show you how to improve if you already have a going content plan.
They scored 10/10 in that report.
GrooveHQ is one of the tech companies that piqued my curiosity about using stories to drive SaaS growth.
And I must say that discovering GrooveHQ helped me to coin and trust the effectiveness of Product-Led Storytelling as a tool to get customers directly from content.
It started when I was researching my copywriting guide linked above. I couldn’t help but fall in love with GrooverHQ’s storytelling exploits when my research led to one of their articles.
I got lost enjoying several content pieces on their blog — even if it wasn’t why I visited.
Up to date, and several weeks later, I still recall some stories, GrooveHQ’s CEO, Alex Turnbull, shared.
Now, how powerful can that be?
Really, really powerful.
In Alex’s own words, “when we hear stories, our brain acts as if we’re feeling the stories.”
And going this route has worked wonders for GrooveHQ.
First, it’s what helps this SaaS tool keep prospects who consume their content long enough to experience their product (steps 4,6,8 checked):
In short, GrooveHQ does this so well that prospects are happy to share what they read (all steps checked):
And the high traffic volume, low bounce rate, longer duration per visit, and average pages per visit GrooveHQ commands aren’t only jaw-dropping…
They show I’m not the only who gets lost enjoying their content pieces (steps 2-4,6, and 8 checked again):
But, how does GrooveHQ attract visitors to their site – and product, in the first place?
They make a promise to deliver value in the majority of their articles.
Put another way, GrooveHQ creates perceived, inviting value their prospects crave, which their product solves (step 1 checked):
However, there’s just one thing I found GrooveHQ miss out in the Product-Led Storytelling 9-step formula.
They don’t subtly invite readers to trial until the end (step 5 missed).
Instead, they use a popup, which could be intrusive and spoil the experience and feeling for visitors (and prospects), as they consume their content.
As a recommendation, if you decide to follow GrooveHQ’s example, do this.
Instead of using a popup or your sidebars to collect email addresses, use CTAs to invite readers to trial your product contextually.
ContentKing does this exceptionally well:
You know why these subtle CTA insertions make sense?
This article by ContentKing walks its site visitors (and prospects) through how to use their tool to build topical authority.
Deep into the article, and at a well-timed spot, these CTA are literally saying:
“Hey, enjoy what you’re reading about how easy it is to build topical authority? Why not start building yours right now with our tool. Ah! You don’t trust our product? No worries, get started for free!”
Take that into GrooveHQ’s blog posts, and they’ll make the most of their excellent execution, showing (not telling) prospects how their product solves their problems:
But, GrooveHQ made up for this slight omission.
They’ve seen the effectiveness of using discoverable stories to attract visitors (and prospects) to their product, so they hire storytellers:
First, Alex, GrooveHQ’s CEO, is a storyteller by nature.
He writes a lot for his company’s blog and publishes lots of stories on Medium. Of course, he takes this very seriously because it works.
It’s how they drive the most traffic and acquire customers for their product.
What do you think has been the impact of hiring even more storytellers (and not data-driven marketing gurus)?
And when they visit to taste the value GrooveHQ’s articles promise…
…over half of this traffic (54.2%) do not bounce.
Instead, they visit over 8 pages on average; thereby, learning how to solve their problems with GrooveHQ’s tool.
Hence, it’s safe to say that because of how GrooveHQ uses stories to engage and give visitors (and prospects) an experience they can feel (as I did)…
…they stay long until GrooveHQ ends their search-engine-optimized stories with a CTA, inviting them to start solving those problems with a free trial (step 9 checked):
There’s one word I have for how GrooveHQ uses Product-Led Storytelling (even though they don’t call it that) to attract and convert customers:
Do you want more?
Look no further than Ahrefs.
Do you know Ahrefs also uses Product-Led Storytelling to get over 3K new customers per week?
Conclusion: Ahrefs Answers the Question, Does Product-Led Storytelling Work?
Yes, it does.
You need proof?
Below you’ll find an Ahrefs user who didn’t become a lead or MQLs.
Ahrefs product-led articles, which show prospects how to solve problems with Ahrefs, got him to experience the product well enough he became “brand loyal.”
He came out to say he’ll go straight to Ahrefs when ready to buy an SEO tool. Mind you, not because the marketing team passed him as a “lead” or “MQL” to the sales team:
In order words…
Prospects will remember your brand and have you in mind when they’re ready to buy if you use Product-Led Storytelling to:
- Craft benefits-driven stories that promise to solve a problem for them. In order words, prospects should see value in your title.
- Get the context straight right off the bat. Your content mustn’t appeal to everyone. It should target defined ICPs who’ll get the most value from your product-led story.
- Show (and not tell) them your product can solve the problem addressed in the article, which gets keen on exploring your content.
- Make your content entertaining and engaging by infusing your PoV, quotes, stats, etc. Walk prospects through how to solve the problems your article addresses in real-time using relevant stories.
- Insert reviews and contextual CTAs, inviting those who consume your content up to this point to start solving their problems with your tool.
- Add more entertaining stories, as necessary. But, make sure you continue to insert snapshots of your tool in action.
- Use a more-detailed testimonial (with a reasonable outcome) to show that people similar to the ICPs your content targets have used your tool to achieve results.
- Switch on your SaaS copywriting skills and persuade those who engaged your content to this concluding part. Get them to imagine how their lives will be better if they signed up and started using your tool to solve the problems your product-led story walked them through.
- Don’t ask them to become a lead, download an ebook, or use a pop up to disrupt them. Use a prominent CTA box, sweet copy, and button and ask them to trial/demo your product.
When your content piece adheres to the 9 steps above, it will have this outline:
With this outline, your content pieces turn into a 3-step funnel that acquires trial users/demos and PQLs (and not leads or MQLs):
As you see from the illustration above, it all starts with the perceived value – the promise you make to prospects in the title of your articles.
Ahrefs doesn’t fall short in this area (they even get hundreds of shares):
You still need proof that Product-Led Storytelling works?
Ahrefs CMO, Tim Soulo, in an interview with Leedfeeder, said:
“For most of our new users, when they sign up, they tell me: I read your articles. I say how you use Ahres for this, and this made me sign up.”
In short, a customer even went on to tweet about this publicly.
Can you see the words, “excellent content… it also resulted in me signing up for a free trial. Great work,” in the screenshot below?
Now, that’s the power of Product-Led Storytelling.
When this customer visited Ahrefs site to read their content, he did so because of the value the title promised: “..how to get TONS of traffic…”
But, because the content showed and walked him through how to get that value, using Ahrefs, he went on to sign up for a trial:
And as GrooveHQ does, Ahrefs knows what a powerful customer acquisition tool product-led stories are.
You can see this in people they hire — people who can turn a content piece into an art of work with engaging stories.
For example, Helena Stark:
Si Quon Ong and Rebekah Bek:
And others – especially the company’s CMO, Tim Soulo, who’s mindset is:
“My theory is that people don’t sign up for your [SaaS product] and then learn how to use it.
[It is] that people first learn how to use your [product]. And they sign up because they know how to use your tool.”
Of course, people can’t learn how to use your product without experiencing it.
Now, that’s how you get people to see the value of your SaaS tool.
It’s also how you get them to feel something.
And what happens when people feel something?
They take action – sign up for your product, request a demo, or share your product-led story with others.
Trial users, Product-Qualified Leads, PQLs, customers (and fans) directly from content.
Now, that’s the power of Product-Led Storytelling.
Missed my 2020 Product-Led Summit session? Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the recording.