How Template Libraries Unlock Growth for B2B Unicorns and 23% of PLG Startups
By Camille Trent on 9/22/2022
Primary data source: The PLG List
- How Template Libraries Unlock Growth for B2B Unicorns and 23% of PLG Startups
- Templates Fuel Growth for Top PLG Companies
- Framework: The 5 Levels of Template Strategies in SaaS
- Templates aren’t just for PLG…
- Not just for unicorns…
- Not just for designers…
- Level 1: The durable content template
- Templates as a content strategy.
- Templates as a sales strategy.
- Level 2: The product-integrated template
- Templates as a product strategy.
- Level 3: Partner contributed templates
- Templates as a partner strategy.
- Level 4: Community-contributed templates
- Templates as a community strategy.
- Level 5: Community-monetized templates
- Templates as a growth strategy.
- How to create template content for B2B SaaS
- How do you know which templates to prioritize?
- 4 Ways to Create High-Converting Templates for SaaS
- How to distribute templates
- Should your SaaS startup have a template strategy?
Your SaaS startup has product market fit and your go-to-market is starting to work. You're now tasked with doubling or tripling ARR... again.
You're building the PLG motion.
You've got a sales team.
You're investing in content.
You have a community strategy.
You're thinking about partners.
So, where do you double down?
You look for high-leverage opportunities to feed all of the above. You want 1+1=3.
Enter template libraries.
Templates Fuel Growth for Top PLG Companies
Seven of the top 10 fastest-growing apps use templates as an integrated strategy. And the majority of those top apps are considered product-led companies.
Template libraries are a natural fit for many PLG companies because they effectively get all cylinders of the growth engine — product, marketing, customer success, and sales — roaring together.
This article will walk you through common template strategies in SaaS, how they’ve evolved, and when and how to use them in your go-to-market.
Framework: The 5 Levels of Template Strategies in SaaS
A ladder🪜 proved to be a useful framework for breaking down different approaches we found in our research. With each rung, the strategy delivers broader benefits and requires deeper integration across functions. We’ll go through each level of this framework.
But first, let’s bust some preconceived notions you might have about templates as a key GTM tactic.
Templates aren’t just for PLG…
Looking at the 661 companies PLG companies in our index, 23% are using some kind of template strategy. Compared to our broader B2B index, PLG companies are >2X more likely to pursue this strategy.
But this strategy is not exclusive to PLG. We’ve seen templates used as a lead-gen strategy by many sales-led SaaS companies.
Lead-gen content templates (traditional B2B):
Product-integrated templates (PLG)
• HubSpot • Gong • Lattice
• Hugo • Miro • Zapier • Coda • Notion
…Even 90s Microsoft (RIP, Clippy).
Source: Typeform (screenshot by PeerSignal)
Not just for unicorns…
PLG companies pursue template strategies early and often. Even at sub-100 employees, 20% of PLG companies use templates of some kind. For example, Hugo (recently acquired by Calendly) has just 31 employees and built a rich 80+ template library with community contributions.
Not just for designers…
You don’t need to sell design products to leverage a template strategy. We see this pattern in no-code tools, website builders, email marketing platforms, and workflow builders.
Featuring preconfigured form templates across hundreds of use cases in a well-organized library, Typeform is a great role model. They rank for all kinds of relevant searches to help their users "get inspired."
Source: Typeform (screenshot by PeerSignal)
Now that we’ve set some context, let’s step onto our template ladder to break down some examples. Here’s how B2B and PLG companies squeeze more out of templates by integrating with more products, partners, and power users:
Level 1: The durable content template
• Lattice • Gong • Hubspot
2010 called. They want their lead magnets back.
The first useful lead magnet I remember downloading was a template from HubSpot. I had to fill out at least 20 fields. But hey, it was worth it for the multi-file, multi-tab marketing strategy pack.
Under the hood of Hubspot’s template lead-gen strategy (far fewer fields required these days). Note the 30-minute read time required to rank for “marketing email examples.”
Hubspot’s gated content is a perfect example of a durable content template. Gong’s sales template and PDF checklists also qualify. Both feed sales-led machines. The core difference between the two is HubSpot’s approach is distributed through SEO while Gong relies more on ads (and organic social in the early days).
Because the intent behind durable content templates is to build an email list and feed sales leads, these pieces are typically gated and promoted with email, paid ads, or blogs.
So are templates like these more of a content strategy or sales strategy? They’re both. Here’s how it works:
Templates as a content strategy.
B2B audiences foam at the mouth over frameworks.
They're plug-and-play. Actionable. Because despite what your LinkedIn feed might suggest, most people are optimizers, not builders. The idea of going from zero to one is too daunting. But once you’re at one, you have momentum. One to two feels easier. Templates let you start at one.
Template content more than checks the “is it actionable” box. Done right, they’re evergreen, making them ideal for nearly any channel. Depending on your GTM, you can ask for PQLs or MQLs in exchange, making your sales team happy. Well, happier.
Templates as a sales strategy.
You may have heard the average lead magnet converts at 0.1%, so how helpful are templates for leads really, right?
I asked around to find out.
A former marketing employee at a B2B sales tech company you definitely know told me their sales team converted 4% of template downloaders into customers and later, with a tighter sales outreach program, 7%. Not bad. Worth noting: their templates were above average and paired with a strong brand.
On the PQL side, former senior marketing manager at Hypercontext, Hiba Amin, told me a third of their product signups come from templates.
Level 2: The product-integrated template
• Distribution • Product adoption
• ClickUp • Canva • Typeform
Templates as a product strategy.
Can you imagine Canva without a template library? It’s a much less compelling, more confusing product.
Horizontal products, like Canva or Airtable, are great for investor pitches with their big, juicy TAMs, but how do you position a horizontal product that really is for everyone?
You segment vertically with templates.
Airtable makes it easy for anyone in B2B to find a use case that resonates with 200+ templates spanning 22 verticals.
You could argue a good template library IS a product. You can monetize them (shoutout to Harry Dry at Marketing Examples). More on monetizing templates later.
Product-integrated templates let users backdoor into the product by jumping right into a relevant use case. Often, there’s a version of the product’s template library on the marketing site for folks to find and immediately solve a painful problem, rather than starting from scratch.
Level 3: Partner contributed templates
• Distribution • Product adoption • Partner engagement
• Postscript • Zapier
Templates as a partner strategy.
One of the best ways to punch above your weight in SaaS is to partner up. Or to quote partnerships expert and entrepreneur Mark Sochan, dance with elephants.
Who in your space — brand or individual — do your customers trust most? Partnering with those elephants to develop your template library will increase credibility, brand awareness by association, and, if you play your cards right, get your product exposed to their full network.
Zapier used a strategic integration strategy to get the six biggest SaaS brands to promote their product at the same time, leading to 70% more signups.
Any platform with strong developer ecosystems or partner channels stands to benefit most from this template strategy to reinforce those networks. Because they’re an automation tool that integrates with 3K+ apps, Zapier has a “template” (AKA “Zap”) for nearly any automation.
In addition to asking partners themselves to promote the integrations, Zapier ranks for several high-volume, high-relevance app listicles like “best calendar apps” and “best to-do list apps with Google” where they can easily promote their integrations with all tools mentioned.
Level 4: Community-contributed templates
Templates as a community strategy.
Remember earlier when I said few people want to go from zero to one? Without the Miroverse, Miro’s rich experience for template consumers and contributors, Miro is a blank canvas. People don’t actually want a virtual whiteboard, they want to collaborate virtually. They don’t want to think about the structure, they want to swipe a proven framework used by a brand or individual they respect.
Miroverse lets users choose from hundreds of community-contributed templates from both partners and community members, including many high-profile brands like Cisco and H&R Block.
Level 5: Community-monetized templates
You know you’re onto something when creators build six-digit businesses on top of your product. Just one year after selling his first Notion template, a 20-year-old online creator made $180K on Notion templates alone.
Source: easlo.co (screenshot by Peersignal.org)
And he’s not the only one.
A year before, I saw Twitter creator Blake Emal announce a simple SaaS integration to help creators stand up courses on Notion. Today, I came across this creator-made Notion course while looking up Notion’s evaluation ($10B, BTW).
You can’t buy that kind of publicity. People have to love your product and see the vision.
Like Miro and Airtable, Notion helped online creators see the vision — how the tool can help them make money — by creating categories for every major vertical. They also prove they belong in the major leagues by featuring a design template from Figma, marketing template from Netflix, and even templates available for purchase from creators like Easlo.
Word of mouth is the best type of marketing. And paid templates are essentially a more evolved, more natural form of affiliate marketing. Also, maybe the new gold standard for product-market fit (PMF)?
Old PMF goal: Become a line item in your industry’s tech stack
New PMF goal: creators believe so strongly you will remain in the tech stack that they stake their entire livelihood on the success of your product
Templates as a growth strategy.
But wait, do template-sourced users actually activate in the product and become customers?
You can drive thousands of users into your product through template libraries launched on Product Hunt and creator templates. But how can you be sure they’ll actually stick around? I don’t have a sophisticated way of knowing whether template usage is correlated with activation or retention, but the fact that seven of the ten fastest-growing apps use templates in their marketing bodes well for templates being a factor in acquisition and activation.
Interestingly, Notion — one of the few companies to climb to the top of our template ladder with community-monetized templates — grew ~2.4X faster than Gong in 2022, a sales-led company at the bottom of our template ladder.
How to create template content for B2B SaaS
TL;DR - there are four main ways to create templates for your SaaS company:
- DIY (Ex: How Notion Uses Notion — leverage your own internal experts to create content)
- Work with partners to create, co-create, or integrate with you
- Hire popular creators to make UGC templates
- Champion your power users by making it easy for them to create and monetize templates on your platform
How do you know which templates to prioritize?
Former head of growth at Postscript and founder of Delivering Value, Andrew Capland, recommends asking new users why they signed up and aggregating the 4-5 most common answers.
4 Ways to Create High-Converting Templates for SaaS
How to distribute templates
How you can and should distribute template content will depend on:
- Funding: Bootstrapped or VC?
- Annual contract value (ACV): Does the math work out with paid?
- Your industry & audience: Where is your audience most engaged?
- Opportunity channels: Which channels have high reach and upside?
That said, here are some popular methods of distributing template content:
Log into Ahrefs or SEMRush and check out HubSpot’s blog and Canva landing pages to see flawless SEO execution of template strategy in action.
Canva’s particularly interesting as they optimized for two common ways to search for design templates to capture those who are problem and solution aware.
Problem aware: I need to create/design/make a birthday invitation
Solution aware: I need a design template for a birthday invitation
By working backward from the different ways potential customers might articulate their problems in Google, Canva was able to capture most of the insane demand they’d already validated in the market to experience hypergrowth. In 2021, Canva secured a $40B valuation.
Source: Foundation Inc
VC-funded companies Gong and Coda found success in paid social ads. Though, their approaches are quite different.
Source: LinkedIn (screenshots by PeerSignal.org)
Gong’s ads resemble many B2B ebook ad with “best” or “ultimate” in front of the template name. Coda’s long-running template ad sells Figma’s approach to modern PRDs. Gong leans on their own data and point of view while PLG companies tend to rely more on the community as partners.
Hypercontext taps into their product user data to give users a snapshot of which meeting questions are trending in their weekly newsletter.
Source: Hypercontext (screenshot by PeerSignal)
I talked to OpenPhone cofounder Daryna Kulya about their approach to content as a horizontal product. A business phone app, they found they’re able to reach audiences across verticals with use case template content like “21 professional voicemail greeting examples.” These blogs helped them rake in 30K relevant monthly visitors in six months.
Should your SaaS startup have a template strategy?
I’m going to opt for the classic marketer’s hedge here: it depends.
Are you PLG? Are you horizontal?
If so, the answer is probably yes. If nothing else, a template library will help provide the needed context for your product and give your team focus.
Outside of grounding horizontal products, templates help B2B and PLG SaaS companies:
- Clarify their positioning in the market
- Reduce reliance on paid ads and partners
- Expand distribution exponentially with minimal effort
- Bring in more MQL/SQLs
- Create an evergreen, repeatable content engine
- Help your audience get inspired, onboarded, and activated
Dooly and Pandadoc are good examples of vertical SaaS (sales tech) leveraging product-integrated templates.
Considering the evergreen nature of a template strategy and the rise of PLG, we don’t see this strategy going anywhere but up. At the bare minimum, it provides context and clarity for users. Which can shorten sales cycles and conversion rates as confused customers never buy.
The recurring lesson of PLG: What’s good for the customer, is good for growth.
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