At product-led growth (PLG) companies, an entire customer journey can happen without talking to a single salesperson. But according to Alexa Grabell, a product-led sales (PLS) approach can uncover a host of potential customers within an existing user base — your sales team just needs the right tools and insights to reach them.
Alexa Grabell is the CEO and co-founder of Pocus, a PLS platform that helps go-to-market teams turn product data into revenue without the need for engineers. It’s a solution for nontechnical sales teams and a tool to cope with a changing buyer landscape.
PLG-driven strategies tend to treat sales as an optional add-on — sales decks and demos are developed as separate sales enablement tools rather than as a library of integrated solutions that clarify product value for the user. By contrast, PLS takes more of a hybrid approach, where sales teams are able to leverage product data to mitigate churn, prospect more proactively, and find upsell opportunities. PLS teams integrate product data into sales tools, such as their pitch decks and product demos, to make them more relevant and resonant.
In this Q&A, Alexa shares her insights into the nascent product-led sales landscape. She offers approaches for building effective sales collateral and sales decks, as well as ideas for improving sales processes.
Many people think that PLG companies don’t have sales teams — but you bust this myth in your go-to-market insights. Then there’s product-led sales, a hybrid approach that’s still in its infancy. Can you conceptually walk us through how PLG-plus-sales works compared to PLS?
Alexa: Many PLG companies that aim to move “upmarket” will add a traditional sales team to their bottom-up PLG motion, where the product speaks directly to the needs of end users. But these companies often struggle to connect the dots between a self-serve motion, where an entire customer journey can happen without any one-to-one interaction between the customer and business, and a top-down enterprise sales motion.
Now compare that to PLS, where you add a sales team to leverage the goldmine of potential customers in your existing self-serve user base. This approach doesn’t simply layer on sales as an entirely separate motion. Instead, you’re equipping sales teams with valuable product usage data about existing users, so they can target the right opportunities with the right message at the right time.
What are some common PLS buying patterns you’ve encountered?
Alexa: The majority of companies in our 2021 benchmark survey said they have some kind of self-serve path for their users — whether that’s a freemium, free trial, or low-cost approach. This signals a broader trend toward adding product interactions earlier on in the user journey.
Anecdotally speaking, we’re seeing more and more traditionally sales-led businesses start to think about how they can offer product interactions earlier in their sales cycle — either through a free trial or freemium product, or even through proof of concepts, pilots, and interactive demos.
We’re excited to see how this might change in our 2022 benchmark report. Look out for that in the coming months!
What types of buyers go down the “contact sales” path?
Alexa: Most PLG businesses — even the poster children for PLG — still don’t allow customers to self-serve on enterprise plans. You typically have to go down the contact sales path. Almost 58% of the benchmark survey respondents require customers to contact sales for an enterprise plan, while 23% offer both contact sales and a self-serve option. Very few companies (7%) only offer a self-serve path.
How can sales teams adapt to the changing buyer landscape? Where does an account executive (AE) fit into the buyer’s journey, especially for companies that started out with PLG?
Alexa: What we’re seeing with our early customers and companies in the Pocus PLS community is the emergence of the sales-assist role. This new front-line role does most of the initial prospecting with high-potential accounts before passing them off to an AE who will take the conversation further.
We’ve seen this role deployed in a few ways. Some sales-assist teams act more like customer success representatives — their primary focus is unblocking users. Then, they try to identify if someone’s ready to convert into a paid user, add more seats, or move to an enterprise expansion.
A great example is Zapier, who’s had a PLG strategy for years. They’ve recently started to invest in the sales-assist team to uncover new opportunities within their existing user base.
Given your new PLS findings, how do sales decks now support this role? What are the key features of these decks?
Alexa: In an outbound enterprise sales motion, you’d start with a sales deck that follows a standard format — establishing the problem, solution, proof points, and more. In a PLS world, on the other hand, you really don’t need most of that initial context setting. By the time someone is interacting with a salesperson, they should have already experienced some aspect of the product and have a foundational understanding of the problem and how your product addresses it.
We see more and more AEs in a PLS world leveraging product usage data to sell to senior-level economic buyers. In this case, a deck should contain more personalized information about how these users have been engaging with the product — and include suggestions for the best ways to sell depending on their engagement.
Can you walk us through the kind of sales collateral a team might create if they’re moving from, say, PLG to PLG-plus-sales to PLS?
Alexa: Let’s assume you’re starting with zero sellers. In PLG, your product and website are the sales collateral. Your website is your best sales development representative (SDR), and your product is your best AE. Together, they should be doing all the heavy lifting of selling the product. There’s probably a product tour, onboarding flow, and some documentation that acts as your front-line support team. Maybe you have a few customer service managers, so there might be some training collateral for how to engage with a user who’s experiencing problems.
PLG-plus-sales might look very similar to traditional enterprise sales. Since this model doesn’t blend the two go-to-market motions, PLG remains the same. However, the sales apparatus would require things like sales decks, demos, discounting policies, and more.
In PLS, you have a hybrid approach — sales has product usage insights and playbooks that focus on value, not just sales decks and product demos promising new features.
On a related note, can you share how AEs might shift focus as their companies mature and their sales teams become more sophisticated?
Alexa: The number one thing AEs can do to help their companies mature their go-to-market motion is to become more data-driven. There’s a mountain of valuable data and insights that exist outside of conventional sales tools. AEs need to access this information so they can level up their strategy.
As these sales teams grow, how can they continue to build materials collaboratively? Do you have any examples of how AEs can get input from SDR or customer support (CS) colleagues to build more informative, tailored decks that close deals?
Alexa: Feedback loops are even more critical in a PLS motion. Customer-facing materials shouldn’t just include insights about customers’ actual product usage — they should also highlight any insights gathered from the CS team during their last support conversation as well as SDR feedback.
How can sales teams become more efficient and effective? Where are you seeing optimizations that translate into deals?
Alexa: An internal template on how to get buy-in for your product is becoming essential for companies with a PLS motion. It should include the relevant insights and product usage data points your product champions need to make the case for expansion or upgrades. Templates that share user insights with potential buyers in existing accounts are also a handy resource. They highlight the value that potential buyers are currently getting from your product.
Finally, can you suggest any sales materials or feedback cycles to help sales teams improve their processes?
Alexa: Holding bi-weekly, cross-functional meetings with your product, marketing, and CS teams ensure that insights are shared with everyone. Sales teams usually have invaluable information that can help improve the product by removing friction or improving the messaging. All of this feeds back into the sales collateral and how sellers pitch product value to new customers.
Want to impress — and convince — new prospects? Create your own compelling sales deck in minutes with one of Pitch’s free templates. For more inspiration, check out our curated selection of field-tested sales pitches in the presentation gallery.