Top 12 books on SaaS product-led growth
In the past few years, the concept of Product-led Growth (PLG) has become more and more popular in the B2B world. At its core, PLG is about leveraging products to reach, acquire, activate, convert, retain and expand your customer base and grow your revenue. Product is not only a set of features created to solve customer use cases and pain points, but also a Go-to-market (GTM) strategy and channel on its own. And if done right, PLG is proven to be an effective motion with a broader reach and higher efficiency, making it perfect to penetrate a new or competitive market and combat the ever-increasing Sales & Marketing costs.
Witnessing the success of PLG companies, many B2B startups start with PLG as their primary GTM channel. Even established B2B players such as ServiceNow & VMware are trying to add PLG motion on top of their sales-led growth channel to increase GTM efficiency.
Source: Bessemerman Venture Partners
Since PLG is relatively new, it’s really hard to find relevant and practical books covering this topic. In addition, because PLG is a new GTM strategy developed on top of Sales-led growth (SLG) in the B2B space, it touches not only funnel/product/experiments/data which are in the traditional B2C growth realm, but also expands into customer success/sales/marketing/org design since PLG and SLG ultimately need to work together.
During my time as head of growth at GitLab, I was trying to figure out many PLG questions myself:
- What does PLG mean? What is the “checklist” to be checked off for a SaaS product to start a PLG motion?
- What are the key levers to drive PLG? Where should a new growth team find early wins?
- How to build a successful B2B PLG growth team? What kind of infrastructure & skill sets are needed?
- How should a growth team work with marketing, customer success & sales teams in B2B? Where are the synergies? What to watch out for?
I quickly learned that, as a B2B PLG growth leader, you need to understand not only growth but the entire B2B organization. As a result, I sourced together a PLG curriculum for myself, which helped me tremendously in the process of establishing the PLG motion and starting a B2B growth team.
In this post, I want to share the top 12 books (plus a couple of bonus reads) I recommend to SaaS founders, leaders, and practitioners who want to learn about Product-led Growth. I categorized them into 4 buckets:
- Product-led Growth Foundation
- Key Product-led Growth levers
- Product-led Growth Skill Sets
- B2B Funnel Design: Sales-led and Product-led Growth
I hope you find them valuable.
Product-led Growth Foundation
If you want to start a PLG motion for your SaaS product, you first need to understand what PLG is and is not. Growth is a result of many things, and I’ve seen people confuse the outcome with discipline and strategy. These 3 books below can help you set up the right foundation.
No 1. Product-led Growth
Author: Wes Bush
If you know little about PLG, this is the book you need to read first, period.
It covers the fundamentals of PLG. For example, for your product to be out there as a growth lever, you need to have a weapon. Chapter 2 of this book talks about how to choose between a free trial, freemium, or demo. It provides a really handy and practical framework to start a PLG motion for your SaaS business. It is very applicable to SaaS startups targeting SMB and Mid market.
Target audience: SaaS Startup founders, SMB/Mid Market
Tags: #PLG concepts, #B2B, #Fundamentals
No 2. Mastering Product-Led Growth in SaaS
by Nick Bonfiglio & Mickey Alon
This is the most in-depth book available in the market about implementing a product-led GTM strategy for a SaaS product.
It emphasizes the importance of breaking the functional silos and understanding the whole customer journey. As a formal B2C growth practitioner now working in B2B growth, I echo that. In B2C products, the growth marketing team and growth product team work very closely, because acquisition, activation, and conversion can happen within 5 minutes (In fact, I managed both teams at Acorns). However, due to the long sales cycle in B2B, the marketing team, sales team, and product team may not speak with each other very often — which won’t work in a PLG motion.
This book also explains how to architect and leverage data to help design a SaaS customer journey, which can help companies to think through the data infrastructure needed to scale a PLG motion.
Target audience: SaaS CEO/Executives/Founders, SMB/Mid Market/Enterprise
Tags: #PLG concepts, #B2B, #Advanced, #Data
No 3. Hacking Growth
by Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown
If you haven’t read this one, you are seriously missing out.
Even though Hacking Growth is not specifically targeted at PLG & B2B, the framework it laid out is still highly applicable. It talks about how to set up a growth team, how to implement a growth process of analyze, ideate, prioritize and test, and how to use data and surveys to find insights, etc.
Target audience: Founders/CEO, PM, Data, Growth & Marketing Practitioners
Tags: #Growth team, #Growth frameworks, #B2B, #B2C, ##Fundamentals
- A Practitioner’s guide to growth by Hila Qu
I was lucky to have personally worked with Sean and Morgan as the first PM growth at Growthhackers.com, and inspired by them, I wrote a best-seller growth book myself. If you want to learn Chinese and Growth at the same time, here is your opportunity 😉
Key Product-led Growth Levers
Growth goes beyond just acquiring new users, the levers can exist across the full funnel: acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, referral, and expansion (SaaS). The 3 books below cover three key PLG Growth levers: activation, retention, and pricing, and can help you appreciate the broad scope of growth.
No 4. Onboarding Matters
Author: Donna Weber
Onboarding is such a critical lever for PLG SaaS products. Without great onboarding to activate new users, your freemium products are essentially “wasted”, because new users who don’t see value won’t eventually purchase your product. Onboarding is also critical to enable newly paid customers to see the ROI of your products quickly.
This book is written by a customer success expert and is very helpful for B2B growth practitioners to understand that onboarding for B2B SaaS products is often more complex than for B2C products, and different personas even require different onboarding. Therefore, multiple B2B teams need to be involved in onboarding.
This book emphasizes the importance of “orchestrated onboarding” which describes a workable process that facilitates communication across internal teams as well with customers to break the silos and deliver the seamless journey customers crave. The author also adds that a truly successful onboarding program needs to scale by using the onboarding toolbox's product, technology, and automation.
Target audience: Head of Growth, Growth PM, Customer success
Tags: #Growth Levers, #Activation, #Customer Success, #B2B
- Product Led Onboarding by Ramli John (product growth perspective)
- Better onboarding by Krystal Higgins (design perspective)
The moral of the story is that growth, product, cs, and design teams need to work together to make onboarding successful, rather than just relying on their own expertise.
No 5. Fighting Churn with Data
Author: Carl Gold
This is the book I wished someone had written for a long time. So when I discovered it, I became so excited and reached out to the author @Carl Gold and he generously joined one of our Growth coffee & learn sessions at GitLab.
Churn is the single biggest “silent killer” for B2B growth and when it happens, it is often too late. Therefore, it is important to identify leading indicators of churn and do something ahead of time. For digital and software products with a relatively large user base, data provides an extremely efficient and effective way to allow you to capture early signals of churn. The key is to understand user behaviors, detect changes in patterns to predict churn, take actions to intervene and get them back on the right track.
With the analysis framework listed in this book, you don’t need to hire a data science team right away, you can start to fight churn via actionable data analysis.
Target audience: Head of Growth, Growth PM, Analyst, CS/Renewal team
Tags: #Growth Levers, #Retention, #Churn, #Renewal, #B2B, #B2C, #Subcription
No 6. Monetization Innovation
Author: Madhavan Ramanujam & Georg Tacke
When I began to work on growth, I quickly realized that monetization and pricing is such an under-utilized lever. In B2B SaaS & PLG, pricing is even more critical, because you need to have a free version or free trial to lower the barrier to entry and grow the user base, but then you also need to design the pricing tier and feature packaging properly to create that path to upgrade. The success of your PLG motion relies on both.
SaaS pricing is also a very different game, the traditional approach of cost-based pricing or competition-based pricing doesn’t apply that well here. The good news is that you have more control and flexibility. Because your pricing is highly dependent on your customers’ willingness to pay and you can design your product feature set & packaging & pricing tier to capture that willingness to pay. The bad news is that SaaS pricing is often set early on based on the founder’s intuition and it is a highly sensitive area to test and change later. So many SaaS companies avoid or delay to touch pricing, which is such as missed opportunity.
Monetization Innovation is a great book that touches on the foundation of pricing and monetization: from strategy, model design, customer interviews to quantitative data analysis. Hat tip to growth/pricing leader @John Adams who recommended this book to me.
Target audience: CEO/Executive, Head of Growth, Pricing, Analyst, B2B, B2C
Tags: #Growth Levers, #Pricing, #Monetization
- Pricing to Scale by Ajit Ghuman
It is a great complimentary read to dive deeper into SaaS pricing. The author interviewed 8 pricing professionals from high-growth SaaS companies — the book is packed with first-hand pricing insights and experiments learnings.
Product-led Growth Skill Set
Growth is multi-disciplinary: to start a growth team, you need to have a mix of skill sets and the necessary toolsets. These 3 books cover the top three must-haves: Experimentation, User psychology/Design, and Data.
No 7. Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments
Author: Ron Kohavi, Diane Tang & Ya Xu
The three authors had over decades of experience running AB testing on a large scale at companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft.
Experimentation is foundational to growth, and the adoption of experimentation among B2B/SaaS products is lagging significantly compared to its B2C peers.
This book can help the growth product and engineer team to understand the rigorousness of experimentation. For those teams who consider a build vs buy decision, this book is a must-read to help the team understand the resources/efforts it takes to build a trustworthy home-grown experimentation platform, which is usually underestimated.
Target audience: Head of Growth, Growth PM, Analyst, Growth engineers
Tags: #PLG infrastructure, #AB test, #experimentation
No 8. Designing for Behavior Change
Author: Stephen Wendel
When I was VP of Growth at Acorns, I got to work with Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler, Shlomo Benartzi, and other leading behavioral economists. I helped them launch experiments and witnessed the power of applying psychology and behavior science to influence user behavior.
This book was recommended to me by a great friend and data leader @Jike Chong, and it specifically talks about how to design the user experience to influence behavior. Even though not directly related to B2B PLG, it is foundational for any growth practitioner to read — especially growth designers and PMs.
Target audience: Head of Growth, Growth PM, Growth designer
Tags: #PLG Skills, #user psychology, #UX design
№9 The Product-led Organization
Author: Todd Olson
This book is written by Todd Olson (CEO of Pendo) and is a great read to help you think through the metrics for a SaaS product and which KPIs each team should carry to maximize the collaboration and output of an organization. It also includes analysis frameworks for SaaS products to help people new to PLG get started.
Target audience: Growth PM, analyst, beginner
Tags: #PLG Skills, #analytics, #metrics
B2B Funnel Design: Sales-led and Product-led Growth
Sales-led Growth and Product-led Growth are not mutually exclusive, in fact, many PLG startups “graduate” into adding SLG, and the best SaaS company adopts both. Therefore, SaaS founders and growth leaders also need to understand how B2B marketing, sales & CS functions work, and design the organization’s processes and metrics to purposefully break the silos and maximize the synergy between PLG and SLG.
№10 The Customer Success Economy
Author: Nick Mehta & Allison Pickens
When I started to build a growth team at GitLab and worked on initiatives such as onboarding, expansion, and renewal, I quickly realized that the customer success team is trying to achieve the same goal, just with a more human-centric approach. With that in mind, Growth and CS teams intentionally began to share user behavior insights and form cross-functional working groups. Actually, this book is recommended to me by my wonderful CS counterparts at GitLab @Jeff Beaumont and @Sherrod Patching.
This book is written by Nick Mehta (CEO of Gainsight) and is a great read for anyone working in B2B. It refers to CS and product as the “new sales and marketing”, because together they are responsible for the engagement, retention, and expansion of the customers. It pointed out that the product/growth team and CS team should collaborate closely, and a key step is to make sure they are looking at the same customer and usage data.
Essentially “Digital CS” and product-led onboarding/retention/expansion are the same: just 2 teams approaching the same goal from different angles and with different approaches. This is especially important when you have a lot of SMB clients and you can’t assign dedicated CSM to each of them, so you have to use product, data, and automation to scale “customer success”.
Target audience: Head of Growth, Growth PM, Customer Success
Tags: #Growth Levers, #Retention, #Churn, #Renewal, #Expansion
№11 Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization
Author: Jacco vanderKooij & Fernando Pizarro
This book is part of a 6-book series published by the B2B sales consultancy Winning by design. If you are like me coming from B2C background and want to quickly understand sales organization and workflow in B2B, this is a great read.
This is critical because as a growth leader when you are establishing a product-led growth motion, you need to think about how your PQL system (product-qualified leads) and the self-service funnel will integrate with MQL (marketing-qualified leads) & SQL (sales-qualified leads) process.
Target audience: SaaS founders/leaders, Head of Growth, Head of online/SMB sales
Tags: #B2B Org design, #sales, #GTM, #B2B
№12 T2D3: How Some Software Startups Scale, Where Many Fail
Author: Stijn Hendrikse & Mike Northfield
To be honest, I struggled to find a good book on B2B marketing. Many books focus on just a specific channel or feel outdated.
I discovered this book after glancing through many others. What I liked a lot is that the book breaks down SaaS growth into 4 stages: MVP, PMF, T2D3, and $100M ARR, and then talks about marketing strategies and tactics SaaS founders and marketers can follow in each stage. This makes the book much more actionable because describing an ideal end state is great, but what founders and marketers need is a practical framework to get to the next stage. What you do at 1M ARR is very different from 50M ARR.
BTW, if you wonder, T2D3 means tripling your ARR for two consecutive years (T2) and then doubling it consecutively for three (D3). T2D3 is now widely accepted as the benchmark for SaaS success for early ventures.
Target audience: SaaS founders/leaders, CMO, Head of Growth
Tags: #marketing, #GTM, #B2B
That’s it. If I were a product-led growth professor (my dream job), the above will be my recommended book list for SaaS founders, leaders, and growth practitioners. If you have another great growth book to recommend, let me know 🖐
About me: I am a former Growth leader at GitLab & Acorns, and currently, a Growth advisor that helps startups with growth strategy, data/experiments, processes, and team. You can contact me via Linkedin or email: hui.qu.2009 at gmail.com