When you’re a startup, the ethos of “move fast and break things” reigns supreme. But when you’re operating at enterprise scale, that becomes a little more complicated.
Where startups can afford to be nimble, enterprises need stability. Where startups embrace experimentation, enterprises must weigh every risk and calculate the impact of every decision on their stakeholders or shareholders. And where startup product teams can build fast and release often, working in an enterprise requires a more regimented approach. Even established organizations that didn’t go through this kind of rapid scale-up (or those that did so decades ago) have plenty to learn from the quick-clip startup mindset.
As businesses mature, it becomes almost impossible for them to operate with the same agility and fluidity they once did when they were small and scrappy. Silos emerge, innovation slows, and feedback becomes harder to act on. Left unaddressed, the symptoms of these organizational growing pains can wreak havoc on the most important deliverable the company provides—its product experience—and result in unmitigated software as a service (SaaS) sprawl internally.
But around the world, the most successful companies aren’t allowing their size to stall their efforts or hinder their ability to build and deliver the best experiences possible for their customers and employees. Companies like Citrix, LabCorp, Elsevier, and more are challenging the big business status quo with product-led strategies—and they’re thriving.
These organizations are aligning their entire business around the experiences their products deliver, unifying their teams with a shared source of product or user data, and using quantitative and qualitative insights to shape their customer and employee engagement strategies. For example:
- Product teams are making the product the focal point of each stage of the customer or employee journey to drive adoption and deliver a consistent experience
- Operations teams are democratizing product data and sharing relevant insights with the right teams to improve decision making throughout the business
- Marketing teams are creating timely and personalized in-app campaigns to inspire, persuade, and delight customers and employees throughout the lifecycle
- Sales teams are accelerating deals and reducing overhead by demonstrating the value of the product, inside the product itself
- Customer success teams are leveraging the product to deliver tailored guidance throughout the user journey, while encouraging cross-sell and upsell opportunities
- IT teams are gaining visibility into how the apps they build and buy are used across the company so they can make better use of resources and encourage ideal behaviors
Ultimately, product-led approaches like these help both internal- and external-facing teams deliver better digital experiences, drive adoption and delight, and win long-term customer and employee loyalty.
But becoming product led doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey from which all companies, regardless of industry and size, can learn a thing or two. And the more you train your product-led muscle, the more ways you find to flex it throughout your organization. Because the reality is: If you’re not leveraging product-led strategies, you’re leaving millions of dollars on the table.
The unique challenges of the enterprise
Operationally, enterprise-scale organizations are much more complex than their smaller or earlier-stage counterparts. In general, they have highly segmented teams, complex approval processes, and multiple chains of command that must be consulted before decisions are made. While this structure creates a greater division in responsibilities and leads to more specialized roles, it also makes it more cumbersome for groups to collaborate cross-functionally.
Enterprise organizations also typically have large and varied tech stacks—making it unlikely that teams across the organization will use the same tools for the same purposes, or make decisions based on the same understanding of the customer or employee experience. These operational divisions also make it nearly impossible for leaders to maintain visibility into product performance across the entire portfolio.
At enterprise scale, companies must also cater to a wide array of stakeholder groups and customer types—both external customers buying software and internal customers using software within the company. And more often than not, the buyers of that software aren’t actually the users of the software. As product portfolios grow more complex, so do the needs and preferences of the people who use them. Large organizations must find compelling and personalized ways to demonstrate value, deliver tailored enablement, and delight their varied buyer and user audiences.
As the organization’s employee headcount and book of business grow, staying in close contact with these different groups becomes more challenging, too. For example, at startup scale, product managers (PMs) generally have the luxury of working directly with customers to understand their wants and needs—reducing the risk of requests getting lost in translation, and enabling development teams to respond to changing requirements more quickly. But in the enterprise, PMs don’t typically have this same degree of flexibility or access, so they must rely on other customer-facing teams to serve as their eyes and ears.
Finally, many enterprises simply have too much data (and too much software), without clear systems and processes to manage it at scale. Large organizations need governance to help them effectively find insights in all the information at their disposal—and tools to help them avoid unwanted tech sprawl.
Let’s take a look at each of these challenges in more detail, and explore how product-led strategies help turn them into opportunities for growth, optimization, and efficiency.
Enterprises must balance stability with agility
It’s no secret that big businesses tend to move slowly. Part of this challenge stems from their sheer size: It simply takes longer for projects to come to fruition and for the right teams who will tackle them to be assembled. Another contributing factor is bureaucracy—decisions must be approved at varying levels of the organization before they’re ever acted on. Working through these many layers of communication and buy-in-building creates latency which, in the world of software, can result in slow-to-release features or outdated functionality.
It’s also not uncommon for different groups across the enterprise to feel as though they’re tracking towards disparate goals and outcomes, particularly when they don’t see how their work contributes to the company’s overarching vision. Without this shared foundation, it’s easy for teams to get frustrated or to focus on the wrong things—causing them to over-index on minutiae and miss the big picture “why.”
The smartest enterprises are reclaiming their agility—and strengthening their long-term strategy—by becoming product led. These tactics are helping them put their product experience at the center of their customer experience so they can more effectively engage with users and better allocate their time and resources. Product-led practices are also helping these companies build greater internal resilience by prioritizing an optimized employee experience in their digital workplace tools.
Roadmaps help the organization communicate long-term strategy
The product roadmap is a vital tool in any enterprise PM’s strategic arsenal. Roadmaps demonstrate the intended future direction of your products. Unlike release plans, which outline the specific features the product team has committed to building and launching in the coming weeks and months, roadmaps paint a picture of the product’s long-term vision. Done right, they communicate each product’s “why,” help teams prioritize their development and go-to-market efforts, and unify the business around a shared purpose—all while leveraging customer and user feedback to determine what gets built, and when.
By communicating the long-term strategy for each product across the portfolio, roadmaps also help quiet the noise of competing priorities throughout the organization and help PMs make the case for budget or resources. The result? Instead of enterprise PMs feeling pressured to continually churn out new features for the sake of demonstrating progress or appeasing stakeholders, they can use their roadmaps to say “no” to projects that don’t align with the company’s overarching strategy and narrow their focus to the initiatives that will actually contribute to long-term growth.
Internally, IT teams can use digital transformation roadmaps for similar ends. These types of roadmaps define the organization’s strategy for migrating from legacy tools or processes to new tools or processes. By aligning the organization around shared digital adoption and transformation priorities, IT teams can more easily advocate for resources, build buy-in across the business, and improve transparency and trust throughout the organization.
Digital transformation and product roadmaps are also critical for internal alignment. Particularly in enterprise organizations with complex portfolios and sprawling teams, well-executed roadmaps encourage a sort of “cross-pollination” of ideas across product lines, which helps mitigate operational duplicity and speeds innovation. This portfolio-wide visibility also ultimately leads to a more consistent experience for customers (and in the case of internal tools, employees), as functional or user interface (UI) elements are carried across product lines.
Perhaps most importantly, a good roadmap gives enterprise buyers (and internally, organizational leaders) confidence in the future of your product or digital transformation project. It can help convince wary prospects or internal stakeholders to come along with you—even if your solution doesn’t yet meet every one of their needs—by giving them a clear sense of where you’re heading and allowing them to see how your long-term efforts align with their own goals.
Director of Product Feedback at Filevine
Real-time product data and in-app communication allows teams to react quickly
Product-led companies rely heavily on product data to stay agile and make more informed decisions. They do this with product analytics, which provides critical insight into user behaviors and product performance. Without this information, product and business leaders have no way of knowing what’s working well for customers or employees, where they’re finding value, or where they’re struggling and falling off in their journey—resulting in wasted resources across all areas of the business and a higher likelihood of customer and employee churn.
Product analytics empowers enterprises to become more proactive by allowing them to spot and stay ahead of troubling behaviors and performance issues—rather than waiting for lagging indicators from surveys or anecdotal feedback from business reviews.
Analytics also helps product and IT leaders understand how customers move between products, and how employees work across their internal app suite. This allows them to benchmark the health and performance of each product across the portfolio, easily identify which apps need attention or should be sunset, and make better decisions about where to invest their teams’ time and resources.
In-app messaging and guidance is another way for enterprise organizations to stay agile and respond quickly to user needs and behavioral trends—without interfering with the company’s predetermined communication strategy. In-app guides allow teams to communicate with prospects and customers within the context of the product (while they’re fully captive and most receptive) and are particularly useful for sharing urgent updates or workarounds without needing to wait for the next scheduled product release. Internally, in-app guides also help IT teams onboard new employees, navigate workflows, and provide other means of ongoing workplace support.
Vice President of Product Management at Cisco Cloudlock
Leveraging a unified in-app guidance strategy across the enterprise (complete with the right governance to ensure consistency across, and mitigate duplicity within, products) helps teams across the business—from product to customer success to IT—stay ahead of customer or employee frustration and respond quickly to developing situations.
Enterprises must sell and appeal to many audiences
Most startups and small companies are founded on the premise of solving a very specific problem for a very specific audience. But as the organization grows and new cross-functional use cases for the product are discovered, that once-small audience also grows and becomes increasingly more complex. Plus, as the company’s product portfolio expands, so does their total addressable market and pool of potential buyers.
Business Systems Director, Professional Hygiene Division at Essity
At enterprise-scale, businesses rarely ever sell to a single audience or persona group. Their marketing campaigns, sales processes, onboarding motions, and support programs must appeal to a broad array of user types across many roles and business functions. So product and portfolio leaders must think strategically about how they target and engage each of these audiences at every stage of the product journey—from pre-sales to onboarding to renewal—to encourage the right behaviors and help the business maximize the return on its investment.
The same is true for the tools the company leverages internally. With organizational growth comes an influx of new, more specialized roles, filled by employees who need equally specialized software to do their work. This creates a diverse array of internal personas the IT team must cater to, all with varying degrees of technical proficiency.
Similar challenges carry over for companies selling into the enterprise: Enterprise buyers are not typically target end users. So not only does the product need to clearly (and quickly) communicate the value it will deliver to users on a daily basis, it also needs to demonstrate the value it will create for the business as a whole. To most effectively engage with these diverse audiences, enterprises are leveraging product-led strategies to personalize all the key touchpoints throughout the buyer and user journey.
Segmentation empowers teams to personalize the customer and employee experience
The best product experiences are personalized product experiences—not one-size-fits-all. Particularly in the enterprise, where products cater to a wide array of use cases, helping employees and customers understand exactly how the tool meets their specific needs is vital for adoption and long-term success.
Product-led enterprises use segments within their product analytics tool to dig into the behaviors of specific cohorts of users. Understanding usage patterns by customer type allows product and IT teams to identify whether any problems they’re seeing are systemic (requiring a product update or bug fix) or unique to a particular audience (potentially indicating gaps in enablement or admin issues) so they can intervene appropriately. Segments also allow product and IT leaders to evaluate performance and engagement across the portfolio, based on criteria like user proficiency, roles, plan levels, time in the product, or satisfaction—all insights which help inform strategy across all areas of the business, from pricing and packaging to enablement and onboarding.
Segmentation is also a powerful way for teams across the enterprise to tailor their messaging for specific audiences and user groups. For example, if a customer success manager (CSM) notices that new admin-level users aren’t taking advantage of a key reporting feature in a product, they can add a step in those individuals’ in-app onboarding flows to better enable users with similar roles on that functionality—or deploy a targeted in-app guide walking them through the key benefits of the feature and showing them how to use it.
The same principles apply for software used internally across the enterprise. For example, IT leaders can use metadata to segment support guides so they only appear for new employees or those who are struggling with a key workflow—allowing them to leave their most successful, established users to work without interruption. They can also use segmentation to deliver personalized onboarding based on roles or titles—for example, demonstrating key administrative tasks only to employees at a certain level of management.
Personalized and tailored in-app guides are also a powerful way for organizations to communicate with new users or employees following mergers or acquisitions. Enterprise product and IT leaders can use guides to inform users about upcoming changes to the product as a result of the merger or acquisition (or reassure acquired employees or customers of what won’t change), or to even help users navigate the new product until more permanent brand or UI changes can be made.
Product-led strategies allow buyers to experience the product’s value for themselves
Enterprise-scale purchases are significant (often multi-million dollar) investments, typically accompanied by time- and labor-intensive implementations. Understandably, the buyers responsible for these decisions need assurances that their vendors will also serve as long-term strategic partners. And they need to know how the tools they’re investing heavily in will deliver immediate value to the business.
Product-led tactics like freemium plans, free trials, and product tours allow businesses to demonstrate the value of their products to both buyers and users in a very hands-on way—before decision makers ever have to sign on the dotted line.
- Freemium products give users access to part of the product with limited features and functionality for an unlimited amount of time—demonstrating value while still leaving the user wanting more
- Free trials let users experience a product’s entire functionality for free, but for a limited period of time—creating a sense of urgency and subtly encouraging users to convert
- Product tours offer prospective customers a guided walkthrough of your product, accessible at any time—exposing people to your product without requiring any sort of commitment
These approaches are particularly valuable for enterprise-scale deals because they present a low risk for buyers, while allowing users to experience the product first-hand.
In-product Marketing Specialist at Citrix
Because these immersive, product-led tactics allow prospects to see the product’s functionality for themselves, they’re more persuasive than marketing pitches alone. On average, enterprises who leverage product-led strategies generate 30% more qualified leads (The business value of being product led, Pendo). These warmer leads are not only more likely to convert after experiencing the product for themselves, they’re also more likely to move through the sales process more quickly and ultimately have a better onboarding experience once they get started.
Operationally, product-led sales strategies also help enterprise organizations scale their selling motions by reducing the number of man-hours needed for outbound activities (like routine product demo), freeing up seller resources to nurture higher value opportunities.
Analytics and in-app communication improves internal efficiency
For internal IT teams, product-led strategies like personalized onboarding, targeted in-app guidance, and always-available support have similar positive effects—and are highly effective ways to help the business do more with less while catering to the needs of all types of users.
By automating and bringing routine employee onboarding and ongoing support activities inside the product, IT teams are able to free up their own time and resources to focus on more urgent or business-critical tasks. Plus, delivering onboarding and support in-app ensures better long-term outcomes for users and reduces the likelihood that training will need to be repeated down the road.
Finally, product analytics also empowers IT leaders to understand and cater to the needs of various user types and levels of proficiency. Using product usage and behavioral data, IT teams can easily identify super users and adoption champions, dig into their common attributes, and identify the resources or workflows they were exposed to that contributed to their success. IT and organizational leaders can then replicate these activities across other employee cohorts or product lines to help more users become more productive, more quickly.
Enterprises need to be efficient, but not impersonal
While it’s true that enterprise organizations generally have more resources at their disposal than their smaller counterparts, they face the daunting challenge of scaling up their motions to meet the demands of larger customers and more diverse and nuanced audiences—including their own workforce.
Traditionally, routine activities like onboarding, support, and feedback collection have been predominantly human-led endeavors. But for enterprises catering to hundreds—or even thousands—of customers, relying solely on salespeople, CSMs, and support specialists to personally see to all these needs isn’t sustainable, nor is it a good use of the organization’s resources and talent. Enterprise leaders must consider how their teams deliver these key customer touchpoints at scale, without sacrificing personal service or connection.
For enterprise companies, it’s also not uncommon for deals, customer outreach programs, and marketing activities to happen in siloes, where the teams responsible for different product lines don’t interact or share insights with each other by default. According to Salesforce, in 2021, 60% of business buyers generally reported feeling like they’re communicating with different departments (not a unified company) during most of their purchasing experiences.
But this lack of shared data and insight leads to duplicative and wasted effort across the organization. For customers, this disjointed experience causes frustration and diminished trust. And for internal teams, similarly siloed digital transformation efforts place a huge onus on IT to single handedly drive adoption of internal-facing software—ultimately dooming it to failure.
The smartest enterprises are unifying their organization around a shared understanding of the product experience. And they’re bringing many of the manual tasks they once relied on these disparate teams to complete inside the product to help serve their customers and employees more efficiently.
In-app guidance helps internal teams reach users in the moments that matter
Today, most of us suffer from at least some degree of inbox fatigue. It’s not uncommon for product-related notices, updates, or announcements to get lost or go unheeded when they’re delivered to us via email. So rather than emailing users and employees about new features and hoping they’ll go into the product to check them out, product-led companies leverage in-app guides to deliver contextual and timely messages in the moments when (and in areas of the application where) they’ll have the greatest impact.
Bringing these kinds of communications inside the product not only increases the likelihood that they’ll be seen and acted on, but also helps departments across the organization—including product, sales, IT, marketing, and customer success—scale their outreach efforts with little to no reliance on other teams or systems.
In-app Help Administrator at Nelnet
For example, rather than sending individual emails to customers who are approaching their renewal dates, CSMs can segment their customers and use in-app guides to encourage the buyers at those organizations to renew or get in touch with their CSM—without ever having to navigate away from the product. Internal HR teams can benefit from a similar strategy. They can use in-app guides to remind employees to enter or verify important information in platforms like Workday or ADP—without needing to send external notifications via email or other messaging platforms—thus increasing the likelihood that users will actually do it.
In-app onboarding and support get users to value faster
Customers and employees increasingly expect the ability to self-serve many aspects of their product experience. According to Salesforce, over 57% of customers prefer to engage with vendors via digital channels rather than human-led interactions—and this number is only likely to climb as younger generations come of age and take up leadership roles. The same is true for workplace technologies. Employees now expect the same ease of use from the software they use at work as they do from the software they use as consumers.
By bringing foundational processes like onboarding inside the product, enterprise organizations can drive user proficiency within the context of the product from day one.
Support is another area that benefits greatly from product-led approaches. Unlike traditional support models—which are generally labor-intensive and require 1:1 triage and resolution—product-led support relies on in-app guides and resources embedded within the product to proactively address common customer or employee queries. Delivering support in-app helps both internal and external users get to value as quickly as possible (and without needing to wait for help), reduces the volume of support tickets submitted, and enables teams across the business to proactively engage with users around commonly requested topics.
Former Senior User Engagement Specialist at Elsevier
Collecting feedback in-app leads to better social proof
Product-led tactics also help enterprises collect feedback and social proof more efficiently. Particularly when it comes to enterprise-scale deals, buyers often rely heavily on social proof and the experiences of organizations similar to theirs to validate their purchasing decisions. This kind of unbiased, customer-provided feedback—including reviews, ratings, and endorsements—is a powerful tool for persuasion, and ultimately improves the efficacy and reach of the organization’s marketing efforts.
Soliciting this kind of social proof in-app, rather than through external channels like email or web forms, greatly increases the likelihood that customers will actually submit a review or share a rating. It reduces friction for users by not requiring them to leave the product. And it even improves the quality of their commentary because it’s provided while the product experience is top of mind. The same is true for internal use cases. Employees are more likely to leave timely, relevant, and contextual feedback about a product or workflow while they’re using the app vs. when they aren’t.
Senior Product Manager at Henry Schein
Using in-app guides as a vehicle for collecting social proof also affords teams across the organization greater control over incoming reviews or ratings. For example, marketing teams can strategically time solicitations for social proof (like app store ratings) to only appear following the successful completion of a workflow or a moment of delight. This approach ultimately yields much more favorable and contextual feedback—as opposed to usage threshold or nurture drip-based requests sent via email, which don’t factor in real-time product engagement.
Enterprises have a lot of data
Effectively drawing insights from data is a common challenge faced by companies of all sizes. But at enterprise scale, this challenge is compounded as the number of tools used across the organization grows and the volume and variety of data being collected becomes more complex.
On average, enterprise organizations use upwards of 175 different software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications across their business, and this number is only growing each year. This SaaS sprawl leaves organizations swimming in a sea of data, spread across a number of different tools, with no clear way to make sense of it. This sheer volume of information also causes “analysis paralysis.” Without the right processes and governance to bring all these sources together, product and portfolio managers can’t find clear correlations, and have a hard time making informed decisions.
By taking a product-led approach, enterprise organizations put their product—and all the data associated with it—at the center of their business strategy. They use it to guide every decision they make, unifying the customer experience and aligning internal teams around shared measures of success. Internally, they leverage digital adoption tools and analytics to glean insights about how users are working so they can improve employees’ digital experiences.
Product data aligns and empowers internal teams
A core principle of being product led is leveraging data to make more informed decisions. Product-led enterprises unite their entire organization around a single, shared source of product or portfolio analytics, and use those insights to inform and shape the customer or employee experience. They also put teams and processes in place to create clear infrastructure around this data, and establish product operations (product ops) as a core function of their business to ensure it’s acted on appropriately.
Product ops teams are a pillar of the best product-led organizations. Particularly in the enterprise, where PMs across various product lines may not interact with product teams outside their own, product ops plays a pivotal role in proactively collecting, organizing, and analyzing product data from multiple sources across the business (e.g. product usage, Net Promoter Score, and customer sentiment) and making easily accessible for everyone.
Putting product analytics at the center of the organization creates a common language that teams across the business can share. And it empowers groups beyond just product or IT to confidently talk about and influence the customer and employee experience.
The combination of quantitative and qualitative data leads to actionable insights
It’s not enough for enterprise-scale organizations to only collect quantitative data that measures clicks and product engagement. They must also establish voice of the customer (VoC) programs to gather qualitative customer feedback and disseminate it to the right groups across the organization. The best product-led organizations use their product as the primary vehicle through which they solicit and collect input from users. This increases response rates, improves the quality of the feedback provided, and encourages user engagement by enabling 24/7 submissions.
Product Manager at PetDesk
For product and engineering teams, this combination of analytics and feedback is critical for informing ongoing development and ensuring what’s being built will be useful for—and wanted by—customers and employees. Without it, engineers risk wasting valuable time and resources pursuing the wrong initiatives that ultimately won’t return value for the organization. Similarly, the intersection of quantitative analytics and qualitative feedback gives IT teams a clear picture into employees’ digital experiences so that the company can invest in the right tools to make the workforce as successful as possible.
Start building your product-led enterprise
Businesses of all sizes benefit from adopting product-led strategies—but the payoff is magnified tenfold when these tactics are leveraged at enterprise scale.
And whether you’re just getting started or are well on your way to building a product-led practice across your organization, Pendo is here to help.
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