Communicating Complexity in PLG Pricing: What We Learned From 18 Usage-Based Pricing Pages
By Kevin Elliott on 9/29/2022
Primary data source: The PLG List
Ahrefs switched to a usage-based pricing model recently. They transitioned from a subscription-only model to start charging users for exceeding product limits.
The change caught some off guard.
On a short episode of his show Marketing Mantra, podcaster Sandeep Mallya suggested ambiguity from Ahrefs themselves clouded the issue. “Ahrefs has been very vague in terms of how they’ve approached this,” he said. Their messaging “is really confusing” and “not many people are able to understand” how the new pricing model works.
Lots of B2B companies complicate how they explain their pricing models, mostly inadvertently, but many out of habit. Usage-based pricing models in SaaS can be inherently complex.
It’s important for B2B SaaS companies to get this right. Buyers expect more transparency as product-led growth (PLG) companies have pushed the adoption rate of usage-based pricing in SaaS from 27% in 2018 to 56% in 2022.
It got us thinking, how are PLG companies with usage-based pricing models communicating—or not communicating—details on perhaps their most important piece of pricing collateral, their website’s pricing page?
We dug into PLG pricing models recently and analyzed, among other things, what percentage of companies charge by usage, either by unit, through tiering or both.
This article extends that analysis to look specifically at what PLG companies with usage-based pricing models are doing on their pricing pages.
We found some pretty interesting stuff.
What Types of PLG Companies We Studied
From our PLG pricing dataset of 125 companies, we isolated 18 with usage-based pricing.
Of those 18, ten exclusively have usage-based tiering (UBT), bucketing usage into tiers, and the remaining eight blend UBT with simple usage-based pricing (UBP), which charges by units of measurement.
Spread out across various sectors (Business-Dev Tech & SalesTech, Dev/Product Tech, Project Management Tech and MarTech), these 18 companies also cover a wide range of growth stages, from venture startups of less than 100 employees to fully scaled businesses of over 1,000 employees.
What trends do we see? The challenge, of course, is the struggle to communicate what these pricing models mean. How do companies overcome complexity on their pricing pages?
We found 3 themes:
- Leading With Free
- Thoughtful FAQs
- Visualize the Math
Let’s dig into each theme with some examples from our research…
1.) Leading With Free
Everybody loves free. It’s a benefit from a simple selling tactic in every salesperson’s arsenal: removing risk from the buyer’s mind.
Many SaaS pricing pages lead with taglines that range from variations of “Start Free” to language about a free trial.
Other examples are less explicit, but imply a free start or no commitment upfront by emphasizing the scalability of their pricing models.
The key is to push complex details below the fold and start by providing comfort to buyers.
Take Framer and Unbounce as two examples.
Both mention aspects of their pricing model—no charge until deployment for Framer and a free trial for Unbounce—that highlight a risk-free product adoption for users.
Other PLG companies ease potential buyers in by targeting their desire to scale. Here, instead of explicating a free start, some shift the focus to what buyers can build up to after a free start.
Honing in on this desire when communicating a usage-based pricing model is emerging as a trend in B2B SaaS because messaging about scalability complements UBP structures almost beat for beat.
SaaS companies get to kill two birds with one stone, showing they identify with an audience desire while also hinting at how their pricing model works.
What does this look like? Let’s study a few examples. Below are snippets of pricing pages from, in order, Datadog, Smartsheet, Clarifai, Plivo, Omnisend, New Relic and Make.
Only three explicitly mention “scale” above the fold—but at a higher level, all seven convey both that you’ll scale with the product and that price points scale in tandem.
The microlanguage here is telling: “fit your scale,” “grow with your business,” “pay as you grow,” “pay-as-you-grow pricing” & “committed spend as you scale,” “upgrade as you grow,” “only pay for what you use” and “scale as you grow.”
The messaging communicates the scalability itself of usage-based pricing as the main benefit.
In other words, the more units you use, the more you’ll scale and the more the price will scale.
In general, leading with free doesn’t combat pricing-model complexity as much as it walks around it with benefit-driven taglines.
Start Free! No Risk! Scale as You Grow! What Have You Got to Lose?
SaaS companies leverage a benefit from the pricing model to sell, not explain, the model. They’re conquering complexity by leaning into it.
But which companies? Where is this trend surging? Turns out, leading with free is most popular in MarTech.
This is perhaps unsurprising. Most MarTech products require less education than Dev/Product Tech tools, for example. And marketers who sell to other marketers love hyping benefits.
The same strategy extends to CTAs as well. Check out Framer’s and Unbounce’s CTA text.
We see “Get started for free today” & “Try for free” from Framer and repeated uses of “Start building for free” from Unbounce. Of course, MarTech CTAs are the least likely from our data to prioritize asking visitors to contact a sales team.
Takeaway? When targeting marketers with a usage-based pricing model, it’s all about that benefit-driven product messaging.
2.) Thoughtful FAQs
FAQs are powerful because they’re a one-stop shop for visitors to go when nothing else on a pricing page makes sense.
That’s why website marketers love them, because they’re helpful for buyers (and essential for snippet markups). When done right, they explain away complexities of usage-based pricing models.
Perhaps that’s why all 18 of the companies we analyzed feature FAQs on their pricing pages.
What is a unit of measurement? Does this count against my limit? What if I have this many users for this tier but am using this many reports from this other tier?
These are all questions we’ve noticed PLG companies attempt to answer on their pricing pages.
Some FAQs have questions that speak to the pricing model directly, like ClickUp’s and Vercel’s, below.
Other companies have tinkered with their layouts to get really creative.
Chargebee links out from an FAQ preview on their pricing page to a dedicated FAQ page with all questions categorized via a custom nav-bar (including a “Pricing” category).
Karbon flips the script and aligns their FAQs with their brand positioning and product messaging.
For example, instead of asking, “How does your pricing work?” they ask, “Why is your solution better than the competition given your prices?”
It’s a solution that acknowledges relatively high price points. Instead of shying away from an expensive offering or diverting around it by delineating their pricing model, they focus instead on benefits.
They even label their FAQ section as “10 reasons firms hesitate” and provide ten questions & answers that directly address hesitations potential buyers might have.
This is an illuminating approach. By speaking to buyer hesitations, Karbon seizes their audience’s anxieties and runs with them.
The result? An FAQ page that tackles pricing complexity by creatively preempting objections.
3.) Visualize the Math
They say a picture is worth a thousand words….
In website marketing, that means sometimes a solution to communicating complexity lies at the intersection of user-interface & user-experience design.
Which companies are visually laying out messages or creating interactive elements on their pricing pages to convey hard-to-understand details about pricing models—and how?
Textually explaining x times y units in a tier with b upgrade exhausts website visitors. Instead, lots of PLG companies in B2B SaaS look to their brand marketers and website designers to visualize equations and concepts to potential buyers.
New Relic devoted a section with a unique template layout on their pricing page that shows the pricing-model concept itself visually as an equation.
OnScale added an actual graphic to an answer in their FAQ section to educate their pricing-page visitors about what their pricing units even are!
Though some PLG SaaS companies have to articulate more than just pricing units. Once you cross-reference units with tiers and/or subproducts and/or product editions and/or addons you start to…oh my, my head hurts already from writing this sentence.
How can visual layouts help express this information to potential buyers on pricing pages?
Pipedrive offers lots of à la carte product upgrades. They lay out their addons with price points in a grid format so webpage visitors can quickly digest their options.
But what happens when usage-based pricing options are so diversely customizable that they start multiplying exponentially? Surely that can’t be helpful for buyers.
That’s exactly the challenge that Webflow faces. How do they overcome this barrier and nurture their pricing-page visitors through such a hazardous minefield? With a curated preview of different pricing combinations that’s also interactive to enable additional customization opportunities—that’s how!
Webflow even introduces these visual boxes with a helpful introduction that starts with the header, “Need some guidance?” This way, users know exactly what to expect from their experience.
But ultimately, a now-longstanding trend of visualizing pricing math is the pricing calculator.
Campaign Monitor’s pricing page features a classic iteration: the sliding scale. Simply adjust the volume of units on a scale to see the effect on price points.
And because Campaign Monitor’s usage-based pricing model combines both UBP & UBT, cross-referencing units with tiers, you see three different price-point options.
But can pricing calculators go beyond price adjustments? What about more intricate math that factors different product features for a build-your-own pricing tier?
This is what DigitalOcean has built for users on their pricing page. Visitors can customize their package via a drag-and-drop visual tool, moving different features of the product into a checkout that delivers an itemized “Estimated Cost.”
By visualizing information through inventive combinations of design and functionality, PLG companies can take on the difficulties in demonstrating how their usage-based pricing models work.
Demystifying Usage-Based Pricing
Usage-based pricing is a labyrinth sometimes. Measuring units, bucketing tiers…sometimes both?!
PLG companies tackle these pricing-model mazes by leading with free, constructing thoughtful FAQs and visualizing the math.
Are there any trends that we’re missing? What else can be gleaned from PLG pricing pages?
Explore more data & examples with the PLG List. It’s free.
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