How sales-led B2B SaaS can become more product led without freemium or a free trial

Emils Veveris
March 4, 2023

B2B SaaS has a major problem.

Everyone is offering a demo on their website, everyone has ebooks, webinars, and blogs. Everyone is running ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google. Everyone is doing outbound. The bar for entry is so low, and it will rapidly get even lower with AI. 

You have CACs skyrocketing as a result. It becomes increasingly difficult to capture the attention of your prospects every day. 

Arguments about ungated vs. gated, proclaiming MQLs dead, and pushing marketing to report on revenue are just symptoms of a simple root problem: Sales-led and marketing-led GTM playbooks have become a commodity

It's becoming harder and harder to reach targets with the same old playbooks that everyone else is using. 

This is what HubSpot predicted a few years ago: 

“The future of growth belongs to product-driven companies. At HubSpot, we realized this a few years ago, which is why we disrupted our own business model before anyone else could.” 

-Kieran Flanagan, CMO at Zapier, (ex-HubSpot)

However, this is not another article explaining why you need a PLG motion. It's about how: More specifically, how to reach your goal without freemium or free trial.  

Enter product-led marketing.  

Product-led marketing

If you google “product-led marketing”, you won't find a clear definition. The definitions are not different from those of PLG – with the product at the center of your GTM with a free trial or freemium, and product as an acquisition channel. 

But you can do product-led marketing without the product.  

This is not a new idea, and it goes by different names: 

  • Free tools
  • Free content tools 
  • Content products/templates
  • Mini-products
  • Lead generation tools
  • Offer design
  • Product-led content 
  • Ungated product experiences 
  • Engineering as Marketing 

At the very core, it's the same PLG principle – show, don't tell. You help your prospects understand what exactly your product does, why you need it and how it helps through some form of interactive content product or specific use case content. 

“A content product is a small product that either explains a concept that’s adjacent to the main business in an interactive way, or is a tool that can be used to operate something that the main product uses.” 

-Martin Gontovnikas, Co-founder at HyperGrowth Partners 

These micro products come in different shapes and forms, and you'll find real examples in this article, but first we need to separate sales led, marketing led, product led and also open-source products. I've seen these approaches mashed together, despite notable differences when it comes to your GTM motions. 

Sales led vs. product led vs. open source

For PLG companies, this is usually an integral part of the product. Think of the Airtable, Miro, and Canva template galleries.

Miro's template library


Or integrations and apps.  

Slack's app directory


These are CGCD (company generated, company distributed) and UGCD (user generated, company distributed), or integration and partnership growth loops in action. They usually drive a significant portion of new signups and trials.

PeerSignal’s five levels of template strategies in SaaS


There are also open-source tools for developers, designers, and builders. These range  from simple JavaScript snippets to frameworks with which you can build and design complex applications. This is a whole new world and a different philosophy, and not connected to GTM teams. Often, you won't see any branding at all and they’re not tied to growth or performance. These are perfect for building community, goodwill, and ecosystems – but are not for driving growth directly. 

Although it all technically fits under product-led marketing, in this article, you'll see examples of companies that don't have a strong PLG engine or have none at all. Level 1: durable content assets

Does it work for sales-led B2B SaaS?

It will require resources, and time to build. By definition, these are bigger swings; you are building something from scratch and with this comes a high chance of failure. 

In times of high pressure to deliver results, it can easily fall into the “nice to have” category.

But as we already established in the earlier paragraphs, there is more pressure than ever to innovate and stand out.

Before we jump into specific examples, let's look at the objectives first. You want to aim for three types of outcome:  

  • Uncover intent and generate qualified prospects
  • Aha moment outside the product
  • Awareness and SEO

And it's entirely possible to get all three from one content product. Let's explore. 

Uncover intent and generate qualified prospects

“Is there some adjacent tool that helps your customer recognize that they need you?”

- Dharmesh Shah, CTO, HubSpot

The key to making sales and marketing work is setting up sales with highly qualified and serious prospects. This has become incredibly hard to do efficiently with typical B2B marketing tactics like ebooks, webinars, blog posts, paid ads to drive demos, etc. 

I couldn't find good benchmarks on what the average ebook to opportunity CVR is. My rough guess, based on my experience, is probably around 0.1% to 0.3%. A simple heuristic check:  Have you ever seen a sales team happy with ebook leads? There are always exceptions, but I’d bet you haven't. 

Ebooks don't give you anything besides firmographics. And maybe 1% of books available on the internet contain valuable information for the prospects. And almost all of your competitors have one. 

A content product can reveal a lot about the prospect, their fit, and their intent (depending on how you design it). It can also give immediate value with low friction to the prospect (again, depending on how you design it). 

The outcome you are striving for is to connect the best fit prospects, who realize they need you and the value of your main product, to sales. Thus, getting as close as possible to PQL (product-qualified lead).

You need to work backwards and figure out how you can offer value and, at the same time, extract the information you need. 

Hint: Look at the questions and information your AEs need to extract from prospects to create an opportunity. 

And since these tools are outside the product, you can quickly spin up MPVs to validate without worrying about code quality. In most cases, you don't even need engineering and can build with no-code tools (see examples below). 

This can also be a productivity boost for your reps. A tool like this can capture notes and data about the prospect automatically and pass it on to your CRM. 

Case study:

AHA moment outside the product 

We think of AHA moments as something that only happens while trying out the product. But this is not how the human brain works. Sometimes, you get it right away just from consuming a piece of content. Or you get enough Aha to spark curiosity to learn more and engage with the product. 

Combine pain-point SEO with content about your product, and you will help prospects reach an AHA moment before they’ve even signed up for your product or talked to someone.

Fivetran's trial guide


Also, if your onboarding and self-serve aren’t as fine-tuned and intuitive, you can fill the gaps on how best to use your product with content.

This can be your blog, community, videos, on-demand webinars, or an academy. You teach how to do X or solve X with your product. 

Awareness and SEO 

CoSchedule's Headline Analyzer backlink profile in 2020


Depending on your market and relevant search volume, you can turn this into an acquisition channel on its own. You can combine SEO and virality and paid media (incentives to share outcomes or spread the word) to create buzz. 

These tools can also acquire a lot of backlinks.

12 product-led marketing examples for sales-led 

Let's take a closer look at examples from B2B sales-led SaaS. I split them into three categories: 

  • Free tools/Freebies 
  • Interactive product demos
  • Product-led content

Free tools 

Calculators, graders, analyzers, audits, hubs, free product features, and more. 

The Website Grader by HubSpot 

Try it 

Company: HubSpot 

Distribution: Website, SEO 

Main offer: Freemium, demo, free trial 

This is the OG that started it all back in 2007. The goal was to automate prospect evaluation. It ended up generating a lot of buzz, organic/viral traffic, +50k inbound links, and millions of leads for HubSpot's original inbound marketing software. It's still live today and still generating leads. 

HubSpot is now a successful PLG company with multiple products, and they successfully made that transition a few years ago. I suspect this tool had something to do with it. 

Digital maturity audit by Optimizely 

Try it

Company: Optimizely 

Distribution: Website

Main offer: Demo, enterprise 

Optimizely is A/B testing software targeting mid-market and enterprise customers. Experimentation maturity level determines the potential ROI of using a tool like Optimizely. Many SMBs simply don't have the traffic volume necessary for successful experimentation at scale. So, this 19-question survey is a valuable asset for filtering out prospects who fit their criteria while also helping prospects understand where they are on their experimentation journey. 

Capchase runway extension calculator 

Try it 

Company: Capchase

Distribution: Website 

Main offer: Self-serve, demo

Capchase allows companies to sell their future recurring revenue to investors in exchange for immediate funding. This allows companies to access capital quickly and easily, without having to go through a lengthy fundraising process or give up ownership in their business.

You fill out the calculator form and if you qualify, you get access to the sales calendar to book a meeting with one of the AEs.

Revenue Intelligence Maturity Assessment by Gong  

Try it 

Company: Gong

Distribution: Website 

Main offer: Demo, enterprise

A free assessment tool that allows sales leaders and executives to evaluate their team's sales effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. This gives great insights to Gong about their prospects’ sales process, gaps in their sales methodology, and how to optimize their sales performance. At the same time, it provides sales teams with insights on where they need to improve. 

If you fit their ICP profile, you'll get access to a calendar to book a meeting. 

Shopify Store Grader by Privy 

Try it 

Company: Privy

Distribution: Website, social, partners  

Main offer: Trial, demo 

Similar to HubSpot's Website Grader but for Shopify stores. Besides lead gen, this tool also serves as a great resource for future content as you get insights from prospects that you can convert into a content piece. 


TAM calculator by Clearbit

Try it 

Company: Clearbit

Distribution: Website, paid media, partners, Product Hunt, and more

Main offer: Demo, freemium

You can estimate the size of your potential market using Clearbit's calculator. When you give all the details you are asked to provide your email. Once you get an email with the CSV file, you are invited to do a demo. 

Good Sales Emails by Amplemarket 

Try it 

Company: Amplemarket 

Distribution: Website, SEO 

Main offer: Demo 

A free tool doesn't necessarily have to be interactive. It can also be a directory, a swipe file, or a hub. 

Amplemarket is a sales intelligence platform for prospecting and outreach. Their free tool gives you a collection and a newsletter of sales email templates from other well-known B2B tech companies to help you improve your email outreach. 

Directories have great SEO potential since you have multiple pages. Each template page ranks on Google: 

I don't know the actual search volume, but this is a great example of how you can also get SEO traffic. 

HVAC Duct Calculator by ServiceTitan 

Try it 

Company: ServiceTitan 

Distribution: Website, SEO 

Main offer: Demo

This is a great example from a company whose customers and prospects are not other cloud-based tech B2B companies. ServiceTitan is software for field service businesses (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, garage door, pest control, and other home service companies). HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. 

Interactive product demos

“The next phase of PLG is all about LEADING with product value. Creating interactive product experiences. Embedding them on your website. Letting site visitors use your product – before signing up.”  

Andrew Capland, Founder, Delivering Value

An interactive product tour is a replica of your product that can be shared with others. It provides prospects and customers with a hands-on walk-through experience of your product without the product itself.

You don't need to break the bank to build these. Many providers today, including Navattic, Walnut, Demoboost, and Demostack, allow you to do it fast and without engineering and design resources. 

Amplitude product demo 

Try it 

Company: Amplitude

Distribution: Website, paid media

Offers: Freemium, demo, enterprise  

Amplitude provides product analytics, and the challenge in this market is that there is no standard data immediately available (compared, e.g., to Google Analytics). Every product is unique and requires a unique tracking plan event schema. This is serious upfront work and impacts time to value. 

With this interactive demo you can see the value in easy steps using dummy data. 

Lokalise product demo 

Try it 

Company: Lokalise

Distribution: Website, paid media

Offer: Trial, demo

This was built by yours truly together with Brittany Brown. Lokalise offered a trial from the very beginning; however, for many of the target prospects it was too technical. The primary audience is software engineers, but Lokalise also serves product managers, translators, designers, marketers and localization managers, and business owners. We built a simple demo explaining the basics. Within 30 days, we managed to prove a positive ROI. People who completed the steps were converting into new opportunities. 

Product-led content 

“Product-led content is any type of content that strategically weaves a product into the narrative and uses it to illustrate a point, solve a problem, and/or help the audience accomplish a goal.”

Dr. Fio Dosetto, Editor of all things, Contentfolks

Product-led content is a fairly new term but has been used by product-first companies  (Ahrefs,Hotjar, Webflow and more) long before it was really called product-led content. 

Ahrefs’ case study on how they ranked #1 for “SEO stats” using their own product


However, that doesn't mean it is strictly available for PLG products. Here are some examples from sales-led companies. 

Conversion playbooks by Mutiny 

Try it

Company: Mutiny

Distribution: Website, SEO

Offer: Demo 

What makes this even better is that not only do you have product weaved into this piece of content but also community and in-depth case studies that are actionable and helpful. The marketer gets the credit. Super clever. 

Plus, it ties together well with other free tools.

Playbooks by Metadata

Try it

Company: Metadata

Distribution: Website, paid media

Offer: Demo 


Metadata is doing something similar with their playbooks by giving you step-by-step guides that provide instructions for executing specific B2B marketing strategies using's platform. 

Each playbook is designed to help marketers achieve specific goals, such as generating more leads, improving account-based marketing strategies, and optimizing advertising campaigns.

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Thoughts from a seasoned B2B marketer and world traveller on growing companies, slowmading, surfing and everything else under the sun.

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