Localizing Product-Led Growth

Product-led growth (PLG) is here to stay. Many companies have started to realize the benefits of selling to users versus buyers, of giving people direct experience within a product before trying to monetize, and the many advantages of being able to identify specific usage patterns, user intent, and actions that they can link to good-fit customers, in order to surface more of them and accelerate their growth. Creating product-qualified leads (PQLs) is one of the most important goals, as opposed to marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) generated through traditional marketing activities.

In some ways, PLG is like segmentation on steroids. Instead of segmenting by company and contact attributes alone, the way you do with traditional marketing- and sales-led growth, you capture much deeper insights based on actual product usage so you can put those insights to use. Knowing how users behave within your product enables you to continually optimize the varied paths they can take in order to grow with your company, leading them to find value faster, which they’ll presumably pay you for faster too. The beauty of this is that, when done well, with PLG you don’t have to have as heavy of a sales and marketing lift, which means the path to monetization is generally faster. The devil is in the details though, depending on whether you’re targeting B2C or B2B buyers, and what types of products you sell. Depending on those factors, many businesses find that PLG alone isn’t enough, and they need other motions surrounding it or layered on top.

Most companies with a product-led-growth motion are selling not just to a small number of countries, but to users all over the world. So, how can you localize a PLG motion? It’s possible, and in fact, I think it’s critical. But it’s not easy! Here are some tips to help you with localizing your PLG activities:

1. Enable Independent Country and Language Tracking from Your Earliest Days

This may seem obvious, but it’s not something every company thinks to do in a PLG context, especially in the earliest stages. Set up your reporting so that you can segment by either country or language, or by both if you need to. Whatever you do, don’t lump country and language together. Why? Because your user flows often benefit hugely from changes on either the country or the language side. Making changes for users coming from just one country or just one language can often affect your overall growth funnel numbers in outsized ways. A small bit of uplift on just one metric, for just one country, even if it only makes up 20% of the global funnel, can lift the entire global funnel, leading to a higher number of PQLs globally. But conversely, if you don’t decouple country and language, you’ll be limited in what types of optimizations you can make later on.

2. Make Sure All Parts of All Flows Can Be Optimized by Language and/or Country

OK, this is going to get a bit nerdy, but if you want to have the ability to optimize your flows for differences by country and/or language, you’re going to need to ensure that every single piece of every flow actually can be mapped to a given locale, which is a combination of a language and a country. This means that if you want to display something to users in just one country, that you don’t have to change it for every person who speaks the language most commonly associated with that country. In other words, if you want to get the maximum benefit of PLG as you grow globally and over time, make sure you’re not limited to activities you can do in a language that will affect all users of that language. You’ll need flexibility to pinpoint users from one country, or using one language, or both (locale).

For example, let’s say that your product is available in French, but you find out there’s a local regulation in Canada that only applies to French speakers there, and not to French speakers elsewhere. This means you’ll need to highlight your product’s compliance with this in order to get users to take a specific action in one of your flows. The trick is, you’ll need to highlight this in English for Canada, and in French for Canada. If you don’t ensure that every part of your interface is geo-configurable as well as language-configurable, you’re missing out on the opportunity to make this kind of optimization in the first place.

3. Consider Geo and Language in Sampling for UX Research

With PLG, optimizations and experiments can be risky, but they’re necessary to constantly improve conversions at every layer of the growth funnel. As a result, UX research needs to be done at a rapid-fire pace, often before even rolling out a new test. This is usually easy within your core user base, if your UX research team primarily speaks the same language as your users. You can survey, interview, and capture intel in just one language, and take those insights back into your user flows to make quick changes and measure the results.

When you have users from many parts of the world, UX research gets more complicated. You may need to do UX research in other languages that your Product team members do not even speak. When this happens, you’ll likely need to re-evaluate how you’re doing research, which methods you’re employing and how scalable they are into other languages, not to mention how you’re sampling, and even who you’re hiring to conduct UX research, in which languages and countries.

4. Build Your Product Team Directly In Your Target Markets

Generally, you should try to hire not only UX research team members, but also Product team members, in the core countries where your customers are located, if you can. The closer you are to them, geographically and linguistically, the better they’ll be able to build a Product that encompasses your users’ needs. They don’t need to be hired in equal measure in all geos. Often, just giving the customer a local voice directly on the Product side can make a huge impact.

Let’s take this classic example from Google Maps. In the early days, Google Maps was not only a very US-centric product, but a California-centric product, because of where the developers lived who originally built it. Google Maps started out giving driving directions, given that people in California would likely be traveling by automobile. This wasn’t the case in every part of the world.

So, when some of the Google Product teams in other places got involved, such as London, New York and Paris, the need to add data for people walking was added in 2008. The need to add mass transit users trains, subways and metro systems became obvious. It wasn’t natural for Product teams in California to consider those use cases, but it was obvious to people in other places that the product simply couldn’t succeed without this feature in many major cities. Later, teams in Amsterdam flagged the need to cover cyclists. And so, in 2010, this too was incorporated into the product.

While this Google Maps example is from core Product, I think perhaps it’s even more important to have team members in country for PLG scenarios, because of the need to iterate even more quickly. With PLG, there often is even more pressure and less time to do deep UX research, so having Product team members based directly in the country, and who speak the language, can often help tremendously versus wasting time doing UX research on questions that are pretty obvious to anyone local.

5. Actually Talk to Users in Other Languages and Countries

It can be tempting to take the results of an experiment and apply them across all countries and languages at once. Often, findings are universal in nature and can be applied to the entire global funnel without any problem. However, the deeper you go into new markets, the more you’ll learn about the specifics of each market, and how you need to address the unique needs of users based on their geography. This obviously depends on what you’re selling. If you’re in a highly regulated industry, it gets tricky very quickly. But even if you’re not, you have to be aware of differences by country and language. Even seemingly simple things that marketers use all the time, like title groups and company size ranges, often vary hugely from one country to another.

There is no replacement for talking to users in other languages and countries. Often, when I say this, people become paralyzed with fear about how to introduce vast complexity into processes that are already complex. In reality, if you build with this in mind from early on, it’s not that hard.

6. Make Sure PLG Activities Are Aligned with International Strategy

The biggest problem companies face with not including users from various geos in their research is not that teams don’t want to do this, but that the goals are not specific enough in this regard. Goals for PLG always need to be aligned with the company’s international growth strategy, but silos can quickly form, and teams can easily become out of sync on this front.

Align your PLG activities with your international strategy and set clear goals. For example:

  • For high-risk experiments, we’ll start in reverse order of countries based on Install Base size, watching for any discrepancies in conversion rate changes that might be country-specific in nature
  • For every UX research study, we’ll involve users from our top 5 countries based on ARR
  • We’ll hire at least 1 UX researcher in Japan for every 8 we have in English-speaking countries, due to our planned ARR growth there in the next 3 years

Note: each of these examples is tied to a business metric related to the company’s overall growth strategy and international strategy, such as ARR growth or IB size by country.

In Summary, Get Thinking Early About Localizing Product-Led Growth

Product-led growth is exciting (and fun!). It’s incredible how invested Product teams become when they have a hand in directing the growth of their company. What I love is that PLG also brings product and revenue functions closer together than ever before. But things are still a little early with PLG, with many companies still working on figuring out the basics.

An important step, if you’re a scale-up working to intensify your presence and go deeper into new markets (or even if you’re just a highly multi-national start-up), is to align your international goals with your PLG efforts, and to truly localize product-led growth efforts to enable maximum impact in each country you’re targeting. There’s a lot more that goes into localizing PLG than just the topics covered above, but hopefully these tips can spark some curiosity (and more importantly, enable some growth uplift!) for those many teams out there who are focused on it at the moment.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly is VP Localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse executive roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. Her latest book is "Take Your Company Global" (Berrett-Koehler). She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and global business. Nataly works remotely from New England, having lived in Quito (Ecuador), Donegal (Ireland) and the rural Midwest where she grew up.

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