Building product-led sales teams
A product-led growth (PLG) approach can make it easier to attract new users, but turning those signups into meaningful, recurring revenue can be tricky. As a sales leader, your challenge is to create a sales motion that works with a product-led funnel and culture. Here’s how I’ve seen it work best, from my time at CircleCI, Stripe, and now Pitch.
PLG has transformed the way teams bring software products to market. Scoring a first touchpoint with your ideal customer has never been easier — in fact, when done right, it happens automatically. But then comes the hard part: Even your product's most enthusiastic champions need to run an internal gauntlet of procurement, pricing, onboarding, training, and more. This is where a sales team can make all the difference. As much as 25% of conversions from free to paid users can be led by sales in a PLG company, versus 18% from the product.
To create a sales team that delivers value in a PLG-driven motion, you need to know:
- When — and who — to hire
- How to work in sync with demand generation and product teams
- How to create enablement materials that will make your team more efficient
Know when to hire your team
PLG remains your company’s bread and butter, so you should only scale hiring once you can prove the value of your new sales roles. To understand what you’re aiming for, build a clear sales model that demonstrates how the inputs of your new function, like team size, will impact outcomes, like projected Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR).
Your model will be based on the number of leads your team receives from your bottom-up PLG motion. Sales funnel driver metrics should include the number of product-qualified leads, the number and size of deals, and conversion rates per funnel stage. Next, capture outcome metrics like the realistic amount of pipeline your team can create from these leads, win rate, average deal size, and the resulting sales-led ARR.
Plug in industry benchmarks for these metrics to start with, and then refine with real data as you go. With this model, you can justify hiring your first team members — and have goals in place for when they start.
Look for people with sales discovery skills
It may sound obvious, but when building a product-led sales team, hire product-savvy sales reps. Now more than ever, your sales calls double as user and product research interviews. Knowing how to dig into the problems your product doesn’t yet solve and glean useful information — without compromising your sales narrative and risking the deal — is key. Even better? If a sales rep can turn a discovery call into a positive experience that makes closing the deal more likely.
A talented salesperson can also use calls with large companies to identify new personas for marketing teams to target. These personas might include important stakeholders who aren’t part of the user group, but who still have influence over the purchasing decision. A great sales rep can generate a fresh stream of pain points and feature requests through these additional personas. Your team will also hear about new billing demands — for instance, maybe a large company would rather receive an internationally compliant invoice and pay by wire transfer than with a credit card.
Triage your product-qualified leads
Qualification is an ongoing process of discovery, and this is never more true than in product-led sales. But your sales team can’t (and shouldn’t) speak to every user. The good news? You already have the data you need to triage the leads they should be connecting with. Here's how to do it:
- Begin with product usage data. Create triggers when a user engages with a premium feature, invites more collaborators, or starts using the product more frequently. But hold off on sending all those leads straight to sales.
- Next, layer in firmographic data so you have a fuller picture of your users’ potential value. Ask them to self-segment based on their role, and add third-party enrichment data from the likes of Crunchbase or Clearbit.
- Then send these high potential, engaged users — your product-qualified leads — to sales for further nurturing.
- Direct engaged leads from smaller companies to self-serve flows in the product.
The best sales processes I’ve implemented have been data-driven, signal-based systems that helped us target and qualify the right leads with the right messaging at the right point in their journey.
Give your team the tools to get to “yes”
You might have a new team of people ready to nurture high-value leads, but it’ll be an uphill battle if you don’t enable them correctly. This isn’t just about product marketing arming them with messaging and collateral — it’s also about the format that collateral takes. Reps will have to deliver demos to groups with varying levels of product familiarity. When early users who are very familiar with your product bring in their CEO, you’ll need to cater to this mixed audience through modular decks and collateral.
First, create a flexible sales deck template. This way, your reps can stay consistent in terms of branding, messaging, and design but can easily customize presentations by including the sections that apply and skipping those that don’t. Then consider which other sales enablement tools will contribute to your productivity — especially those designed with product-led sales teams in mind, such as Pocus, Patch, and Spendesk.
A model that’s greater than the sum of its parts
Building a product-led sales team is one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve encountered as a sales leader. You face the traditional problem of creating, empowering, and nurturing a sales organization. Yet you also need to be more data-driven, experimental, customer-centric, and product-minded than usual.
When this all comes together, it results in a model that’s greater than the sum of its parts. PLG creates a funnel full of sales opportunities. And by winning more “top logos,” sales can yield persuasive testimonials and social proof that attract even more PLG signups.
Sales teams aren’t just an extension of PLG startups — they have a crucial role to play in building a revenue stream that complements and accelerates product-led momentum.