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Harvard Business Review and Gainsight Report on the New Responsibilities for Product Leaders

During times of economic uncertainty, the secret to survival is to double down on your customers. That doesn’t mean just more time with Customer Success (CS) or building great products to meet customer demands. It also means delivering positive product experiences and overall exceptional customer experiences. 

At Gainsight, we’ve seen firsthand that the most successful digitally powered B2B companies focus on delivering a positive product experience (PX) to their customers. Positive PX is an important pillar for any organization looking to deliver a superior customer experience and orient their business toward product-led growth (PLG). That’s because the most direct, efficient, and intuitive interactions with your customer happen within the product. Product adoption is a great example: self-serve onboarding processes and personalized workflows empower the customer to take care of their own journey and become emotionally invested in your product, creating a stickier customer experience. 

Essentially, the product itself takes over the heavy lifting of helping customers to realize value from your offering. And while that puts product managers front and center, it also makes them part of the team along with more customer-facing roles like Customer Success. Product-led growth actually helps focus the entire organization around the customer experience.

What Product Experience Means for Customer-Centric Businesses

PX and PLG have long been areas of focus for SaaS startups, but enterprises are only just beginning to understand their potential to cut costs and drive growth. For established companies, that means product teams are suddenly on the hot seat, with new responsibilities to lead the charge on customer experience outcomes that used to be the purview of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success. 

What organizations need are insights and best practices for how to shift an organization in the direction of product-led growth. With that in mind, Gainsight has sponsored a report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, based on surveys with 275 business leaders who have built digital products at their own companies. 

Here’s what we found.

The PX Revolution Is Already Underway …

Delivering a positive product experience is no longer a “nice to have”—it’s a core priority for any business interested in growth and profitability. According to the report, 86% of respondents have already implemented a digital product experience, or are in the process of doing so. Companies are implementing these strategies because product-led growth leverages the product itself to acquire and retain customers and drive conversion and expansion. This approach is not only more efficient in terms of resources, it is also more effective because it targets customers where their attitudes and decisions are actually being formulated—that is, within the product. 

While the benefits of PLG are clear to industry insiders, implementation is lagging behind. That’s good news for product managers, who still have the potential to gain first-mover status within their sector. There is plenty of room to grow, and companies that start moving now have the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.

… but the Challenges for PLG Implementation Are Real.

The challenge for many companies is that the transformation to PLG is lagging for real reasons. At the top of the list is finding the right people—39% of respondents said that it was hard to find talent with digital product experience, skills, and expertise. Labor shortages caused by the Great Resignation are only exacerbating the lack of qualified product professionals.

Compounding the problems that exist within the Product team are larger organizational capabilities and attitudes toward digital experiences. 33% of respondents said they had difficulty developing a digital product experience-centric culture and mindset. It is often responsible for procuring and managing digital solutions, and they often prioritize technical criteria—such as ease of deployment and operating efficiencies—rather than user-centric considerations.

The Right PLG Strategies Build Positive Product Experiences …

Fortunately, leading organizations are already adopting strategies to make positive experiences a core business capability. One approach is to close the PX knowledge gap by educating Sales, Marketing, and other teams on the 360º customer perspective. 43% of respondents said they were increasing their focus on improving workers’ knowledge of digital product experience. Getting people out of their siloes and helping them visualize the entire customer journey goes a long way toward turning product-led growth into a company-wide, team effort.  

Another strategy that facilitates cross-functional collaboration is putting the right people in charge of product experience. There are many ways to go when it comes to PX leadership, as some companies opt for IT, Customer Success, or some other function to head up the effort. 93% of survey respondents say product teams should have some responsibility for contributing to an organization’s revenue growth. Gainsight agrees with this approach because product teams are usually best positioned to understand how customers are actually using the product.

… and Positive Product Experience Is Built on Data.

Underpinning successful PLG efforts is the extensive use of data-driven PX solutions. Organizations are proactively using data to understand customer behavior and sentiment, giving them vital insights into how to drive product growth, increase conversion, and reduce churn. In fact, 40% of survey respondents are providing product teams with better data insights to deliver a more effective digital product experience. 

Data should be gathered throughout the product experience. That includes both analytics on usage data, as well as qualitative data from user surveys and in-product feedback. These days, there is no shortage of solutions for gathering and processing customer data, so there is no reason for product managers to be in the dark about customer behavior and sentiment.  

Given the effectiveness of data-driven strategies, we anticipate that reliance on data-centric solutions will only increase going forward. 

The Tipping Point for Positive Product Experience? Company Culture.

Our experience indicates that company culture is the single most important factor that predicts the success of product-led growth—and the HBR survey agrees. 95% of respondents strongly agree or agree that a corporate culture that recognizes the value of digital product experience is critical to business success as a whole. While data-driven solutions and other technological capabilities make a huge difference operationally, you need the right people—with the right mindset—to achieve an understanding of customer behaviors and turn that understanding into actions that actually drive revenue.

Product experience culture is built on collaboration, resilience, and agility. PLG is a high-performance environment that constantly challenges the status quo, and it is often more art than science. This innovation-driven culture can be a tough sell for larger enterprises, which is why it is so important that transformation is supported from the top. Senior leadership needs to be all in for PLG initiatives to truly infuse the entire organization. 

Product-led Growth: The Throughline From Product Experience to Revenue

No one said creating positive digital product experiences is easy. But organizations who have done their homework are in a prime position to succeed. With smart strategies in place, the right data-driven solutions, and a commitment to building a customer-centric culture, any organization can be well on their way to achieving greater product experience success. In these times of economic volatility, product-led growth is an opportunity for product managers to reset their organizations for durable growth over the long haul. 

To learn more about creating positive product experience, we invite you to read Achieving Growth With Positive Product Experiences, a Pulse Survey from Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, sponsored by Gainsight.