In recent years, product-led growth (PLG) has gained traction as an effective go-to-market strategy for B2B SaaS startups, and for good reason. The PLG approach means you focus on selling through your product offerings, relying solely on the user experience and the strength of the product itself to drive growth - no sales people required. Instead of allocating budget to the sales team, PLG companies typically invest in driving visitors to the website using SEO, ads, and social media.
It all sounds great in practice, but how do you actually get from signups to paying (and upsold) customers? But how do you get your self-serve customers to upgrade in the absence of sales and customer success teams? How do you keep user retention and conversions high? No matter what your target PLG metrics are, the core concepts remain the same.
In this post, we'll explore how to master upselling self-serve SaaS customers to upgrade their plan within the PLG model. The goal is for boosting expansion revenue while improving customer loyalty and (yes, it sounds too good to be true) lower customer acquisition costs (CAC) in the process.
Understanding PLG and Self-Serve Upgrades
Before diving deeper, let's recap what we mean by PLG products and self-serve upgrades. The PLG motion is a growth strategy the product itself drives user acquisition (and in theory, upselling and user retention) by focusing on the core value the product offers its users, rather than relying on traditional high touch sales and marketing efforts. The philosophy emphasizes providing immediate value, a seamless user journey, and continuous product improvement to attract and retain customers.
Without a sales team involved, a new user in this model is typically signing themselves up from a public portal or pricing page, hence the term "self-serve." Self-serve upgrades, then, are where a customer voluntarily switches from a cheaper pricing tier to a more expensive one or adds additional resources (such as seats) within their existing pricing tier. This upgrade is initiated by the customer themselves, without the direct involvement of a customer success or sales representative.
Whereas in a traditional high-touch growth model, a customer success or sales manager would reach out to customers to sell them an upgrade, in the PLG model, customers are given the tools and resources to upgrade their own plans.
This shift in responsibility creates a unique set of challenges, including optimizing the user experience (UX), effectively communicating the value of higher-tier plans, and ensuring a frictionless upgrade process.
Give Users Compelling Reasons to Upgrade to Your Higher Tiers
One of the critical aspects of upselling self-serve SaaS customers is providing them with compelling reasons to upgrade, which typically means converting to a higher-tier plan, or for some PLG products, purchasing additional units or usage. (Not sure if your SaaS business is right for tiered pricing? Read about this here
.) Ideally, the value provided matches the price your customers are paying for each price point or tier, leading to a shorter sales cycle for every ICP.
Understand Customer Needs
You'll need to do your research to identify the most pressing needs and pain points of these customers. By understanding their requirements and preferences, you can then tailor the features and benefits of your higher-tier plans to address these needs effectively, and know what prices make sense.
Offer Differentiated Features and Benefits
Take a look at what competitors offer, and what each of your tiers offer. On your website, spell out the exclusive features and benefits that your customers will only access in the higher-tier plans. It should be crystal-clear how these additional features can help users achieve their goals, solve specific problems, or enhance their overall experience with your product.
Communicate the Value Proposition
Make sure your pricing page
clearly articulates the value your higher-tier plans offers, in a way that's easily understood by your customers. Best practice is to provide a clear, concise, and compelling feature list that communicates what customers get when signing up for each of your tiers.
Showcase Customer Success Stories
If you can, showcase some case studies and testimonials from customers who have experienced tangible benefits specifically from the offerings on the higher-tier plans — hours saved using an AI automation, for example. These stories can help build trust and provide real-world examples of the value offered by your more expensive plans.
Make Upgrading Easy on Users (Improve Your Upgrade UX!)
Another critical yet often overlooked aspect of upselling SaaS customers via PLG is providing a seamless and user-friendly upgrade experience. Self-serve upgrades can be offered in email campaigns, promoted by notifications in your product, or simply be performed through your self-serve billing portal. However you do it, the self-serve billing and upgrade process should be as simple and frictionless as possible, so anyone can easily upgrade on their own when they're ready, and don't experience any hiccups.
Intuitive Upgrade Process
Design your upgrade process to be straightforward and easy to navigate. Minimize the number of steps required to complete the upgrade, and ensure that users can access upgrade options quickly and without hassle. Make sure your users have a clear understanding of the available upgrade options, associated costs, and the benefits of each plan. This knowledge empowers users to make informed decisions about the best plan for their needs. (This is easier said than done, so you may want to consider using third party tools to help you
Seamless Billing Integration
Your billing system should integrate smoothly with the upgrade process so users can view and manage their billing information within the same interface. This reduces friction and improves the overall user experience.
Understand Your Customer Journey and Segment Users
One of the first steps to upsell your SaaS products is to have a deep understanding of the customer journey of each of your customer segments. Identify your key metrics, such as daily active users, churn rate, and feature adoption rate, that influence these customers' decisions to upgrade. Don't overthink things and make use of third party tools that can help you with that such as Warmly
, which can help you segment your website visitors. Use this information to personalize the upselling experience further.
Optimize User Engagement and Experience
Increasing user engagement is critical for upselling in the PLG model. To do so, invest in improving the user experience and actively engage customers through personalized onboarding, product tours, and targeted communication. By providing a great user experience, you maximize the chances of converting free trial users and free users to higher-tier plans.
Free trial? Deliver Immediate Value
If you're utilizing a free version or freemium model for your SaaS company, it's important to showcase the value of your offerings as quickly as possible during the free trial period to speed along product adoption rate. Customers should be able to experience the full potential of your product during the free trial, making it more likely for them to upgrade to paid once the trial period ends
. Provide a structured onboarding process with an onboarding checklist to guide customers through the product features and ensure they receive immediate value.
Leverage Product Usage Data and Targeted Communication
Be sure you have the ability to assess your customers' product usage data in real time to identify potential upselling opportunities. For example, if a customer is approaching their usage limit or frequently using specific features, it's a great opportunity to upsell them to a higher-tier plan with expanded functionality. Here, we recommending using highly targeted outreach to inform them about the benefits of upgrading and how it can address their current needs. (Plus, giving your customers a heads up before the reach their limit improves their experience!)
Offer Incentives and Promotions for Upgrades
Offering incentives and promotions can be a powerful way to convert your free trial users or free users to paid customers. Limited-time offers, discounts, and exclusive features act as motivators for customers to upgrade their plans, ultimately resulting in higher customer lifetime value.
Implement Viral Loops and Word-of-Mouth Marketing
In the PLG approach, organic growth plays a significant role in acquiring new customers. By promoting viral loops and encouraging word-of-mouth referrals, you increase your chances of attracting new users who may eventually upgrade their plans. Leverage social media sharing, referral programs, and success stories to create a buzz around your SaaS product and promote the benefits of the upgraded plans.
Don't Trap Your Users - How Not to Do It
When attempting to upsell self-serve SaaS customers, it's important to prioritize customer satisfaction and maintain ethical business practices. Some businesses may resort to using something called "dark patterns" to trick users into upgrading. Dark patterns are basically deceptive design practices intended to mislead users and manipulate their behavior. Think: the hidden fees we all hate.
Examples of such dark patterns include displaying the most expensive option as the default, hiding vital information during the upgrade process, or having a free trial that automatically converts into an unnecessarily expensive tier after the trial phase. While these tactics might temporarily boost revenue, they can backfire in the long run.
Undermining Trust and Customer Satisfaction
Using dark patterns to coerce users into upgrading can lead to a decline in customer satisfaction and trust in your product, and ultimately lead to churn. Customers who feel manipulated or deceived are more likely to unsubscribe, and may leave negative reviews or share their negative experiences on social media.
Customers who have fallen victim to dark patterns may perceive your brand as dishonest or unethical, damaging your reputation and potentially causing potential customers to avoid your product. In the age of social media, word-of-mouth travels fast, and a negative brand perception can significantly impact your growth and success as a SaaS company, so don't risk it.
If you need more reasons to avoid these tactics, regulators and consumer protection agencies are growing increasingly aware of dark patterns and their impact on consumers. Businesses using such tactics may face fines, penalties, or legal consequences. In short, it's not worth the risks any way you cut it.
Instead, focus on providing a fair, transparent and respectful interaction for your customers to encourage them to upgrade.
Clearly communicate the costs, benefits, and features associated with each plan, making sure customers understand what they are paying for and can make informed decisions about upgrading.
Rather than using deceptive tactics to force users to upgrade, encourage them to actively opt-in. This approach respects user autonomy and demonstrates your commitment to upholding ethical business practices.
Open Communication Channels
Offer users easy access to support and assistance when they have questions or need help with the responsive, empathetic support, you foster trust and confidence in your SaaS product, leading to a better customer experience and overall higher customer satisfaction.
Another Solution: Using Both Sales Motions
One approach to addressing the challenges associated with self-serve upgrades is to combine PLG sales motions with traditional high touch sales tactics. By integrating both approaches, you can capitalize on cost efficiencies and flexibility within your sales process, while still maintaining close relationships with high-value customers. Many startups, including those designated as PLG companies, often have customer success managers or customer relationship managers who provide hands-on support and sales assistance to their most self-serve important customers.
By incorporating high-touch sales strategies when necessary, such as reaching out to customers who might require a more personalized approach, you can ensure that you're catering to their unique needs and preferences. This approach can also help customers better understand the value of upgraded plans, helping to maximize upselling opportunities.
Leveraging Hybrid Pricing to Get Self-Serve Customers to Upgrade
Different customer segments often require different product configurations to properly sell (or upsell), and using a single pricing model can sometimes be challenging. Hybrid pricing
, which combines multiple pricing models within a single plan, can be an excellent solution to accommodate the value that various customer subsegments receive.
Hybrid pricing allows SaaS companies to cater to multiple customer profiles, offering different pricing metrics and options within one package. By mapping and scaling pricing according to customer-perceived value, this pricing model can lead to increased conversions and customer retention rates.
By using hybrid pricing models
, such as Flexible Scaling (combining Per-User + Usage-based Pricing), Minimum Pricing with Scaling (Recurring Subscription Fee + Per-User Pricing), Add-on Plans (Flat/Per-User + Add-on Feature-Based Pricing), or Pay-As-You-Grow (Freemium Pricing + Usage-Based Pricing), you can adapt to the value that different customer subsegments receive more efficiently. This approach allows you to maximize both conversion rates and revenue, driving customer satisfaction and long-term success for your SaaS business.
Upselling self-serve customers to higher-tier plans is a crucial aspect of the PLG strategy for SaaS businesses, and if done well, can lead to revenue growth while also lowering customer acquisition cost (CAC). It can't be overlooked, but it's not easy to ace every aspect of it from the get-go.
The core things to remember are: understanding your customer journey, optimizing UX, showcasing your value during early, leveraging product usage data, and offering incentives for upgrades. This might sound like a lot to work on, but it will pay off: Embracing these PLG tactics will empower you to thrive with lower CAC, shorter sales cycles, and a more loyal, satisfied customer base.
Level Up your Frontend Components:
To take your PLG upgrade UX to the next level, consider leveraging out-of-the-box solutions like Wingback's frontend components
. These components are designed to make it as easy as possible for customers to upgrade their plan, no matter which pricing model is being used. Our turnkey frontend components provide you with a smooth and enjoyable upgrade experience that can contribute to higher conversion rates and customer satisfaction without any engineering effort.