5 Common Product-Led Sales Playbooks

Must have playbooks to activate your PLS motion in 2023
Sandy Mangat
January 10, 2023
5 Common Product-Led Sales Playbooks

RIP good times (again 2008-2022) 

That was the famous title of the deck sent out by Sequoia Capital to its portfolio companies after the 2008 economic crisis. It seems we’re back to a new reality for the SaaS market. 

We’ve all been riding the good time wave, as more tech companies got funded, existing companies grew, so did their software usage and buying patterns. 

As SaaS companies tighten their belts to weather the incoming storm, selling software will become an uphill battle. This is especially hitting PLG businesses hard, which grew astronomically during the pandemic, this chart from Tomasz Tunguz shows that net income margins for PLG SaaS have fallen dramatically. 

Source: Tomasz Tunguz

So what should you do? 

It’s time to do more with less and find the high-impact playbooks that will help you not only weather the storm but come out of the other side ahead. 

In this blog, we dive into the following: 

  • What doing more with less means for go-to-market teams 
  • The importance of product usage data 
  • Why PQLs won’t save you (alone) 
  • The advantages of a Product-Led Sales (PLS) motion
  • 5 common playbooks to activate your PLS motion

Do more with less

The worst thing go-to-market teams can do in the current economic climate is waste time and energy on deals with a low likelihood of closing. 

Here’s a list of things you should absolutely avoid in 2023:

  • Reaching out to every sign-up 
  • Chasing opportunities that have zero buying intent 
  • Spending big on costly cold outbound without ROI 
  • Buying tools that sales reps don’t love 
  • Blindly spending on low-value sign ups 
  • Ignoring product usage data 

All of these activities have one thing in common - data.

Without data, you can’t narrow your focus or find efficiency. 

Product usage data as a competitive advantage

To find focus and an efficient go-to-market approach, turn to your data. In particular, product usage data is the key to unlocking efficiency across sales, customer success, and marketing. 

Product usage data is critical for PLG companies looking to grow more profitably and for non-PLG companies trying to find expansion opportunities within their existing accounts.

Without product data, your teams are flying blind without an understanding of how to segment cohorts of customers, how to prioritize high-potential customers or triage customers at risk of churn. 

This is a Product-Led Sales approach. Use product adoption to accelerate sales and vice versa.

Operationalize Product-Led Sales in 2022

There is a common misconception that a Product-Led Sales strategy hinges on one thing - the PQL or Product-Qualified Lead score. 

Debunking the myth of a single PQL

Based on what we’ve observed at Pocus for the last 18 months, there is more to a Product-Led Sales (PLS) motion than just creating a single Product-Qualified Lead (PQL) score and tossing that over the fence to your GTM team. 

This doesn’t work for a few reasons: 

  1. It doesn’t factor the nonlinear nature of a real customer journey. There isn’t a single magical moment when a customer becomes product qualified. 
  2. It only looks at a single point in time on the customer journey instead of calculating a score at various stages. 
  3. It often is built as a data science model that is not transparent to the go-to-market team making it difficult to trust fully. 

Customer journeys are complex, and as users enter different stages of that journey, their needs change. Their behavior in the product is the best indicator of what your team should offer the customer to help. If they are a new free user that is a perfect ICP fit, you might want to offer white glove onboarding, or if an account suddenly adds several new senior users, you may want your sales team to step in and build the relationship. These two scenarios could not be more different, and a single score would not be helpful to your team to understand what to do next or when to take action. 

Go-to-market teams need additional context into the customer journey stage, goals for that cohort of customers, and instructions for the next best action - this is the only way to truly operationalize the Product-Led Sales motion. 

Unlock revenue growth with Product-Led Sales playbooks

PQLs or Product Qualified Accounts (PQAs) are a helpful tool when operationalizing Product-Led Sales, but we have found that playbooks more accurately capture the goals of a go-to-market team. 

The key to operationalizing PLS and unlocking revenue growth is in defining your playbooks. 

Playbooks are just one component of a holistic PLS strategy 

It’s important that the overall strategy and playbooks are all aligned to your company’s priorities. Start with objectives to align the sales motions you’ll pursue, what teams to hire, the playbooks those teams will run, and how you’ll measure their success. 

What is a PLS playbook?

A playbook, in the context of PLS, is a prescriptive workflow that defines a specific goal for a cohort of customers and defines a set of plays your team should run to get closer to that goal. 

Learn more about Product-Led Sales Playbooks

5 Common PLS Playbooks you need in your GTM motion

Since rolling out Magic Playbooks with customers earlier this year, we’ve started to see some patterns emerge with how teams are setting up their Product-Led Sales playbooks in Pocus. 

All playbooks built-in Pocus map to these top 5 most common: 

#1 Assist 

Playbook overview

  • Customer: New freemium or free trial users 
  • Goal: Get to value or aha moment
  • Team responsible: Sales-Assist or Product Specialist 

The assist playbook is all about getting customers who need your help to value quickly. This playbook typically targets new freemium or free trial users (first 7 days or 30 days, depending on the length of your onboarding and trial), with a goal to get these users to hit a particular milestone in the product that would demonstrate enough value to them. 

Why deploy this playbook?

  1. Time to value - Onboarding is complex and can take longer than 1 week on average for a customer to get to value. 
  2. Support multiple stakeholders - Getting to value requires more than 1 user. This is the case with communication tools like Slack or data tools that require a technical team to set them up. In these scenarios, a human touch to manage stakeholders can make this process much smoother. 
  3. Manage hand raiser volume - Support ticket volume, especially during onboarding, is high, and many of the requests could be handled by sales. 
  4. Reduce churn risk - There is a significant amount of drop-off during onboarding that could benefit from a human touch point or white glove support. 

#2 Convert 

Playbook overview

  • Customer: New freemium or free trial users 
  • Goal: Convert to paid customer
  • Team responsible: SDR or Sales-Assist/Product Specialist (depends on the company)

The goal of a conversion playbook is similar to Assist but with the explicit goal of converting high-potential free users into paying customers. The goal of this playbook is not to reach out to every free user with better-than-average product usage, your sales team should primarily focus on users with both good or better product usage and very high customer (ICP) fit. 

Why deploy this playbook?

  1. Focus teams effort - Instead of flying blind chasing after every lead that signs up, you can more effectively deploy SDRs to target only the customers who are likely to convert. 
  2. Accelerate conversions - Bring forward revenue from high-potential customers by engaging with them early and providing additional support on the free tier. 

#3 Expand

Playbook overview

  • Customer: Existing paid customers
  • Goal: Increase spend (Upgrade to a higher tier plan, add more seats, etc.)
  • Team responsible: Account Executive or Account Manager

As we enter a tougher economy, expansion playbooks will continue to dominate. For many SaaS companies, it is less costly to drive growth within existing customers than to acquire net new business. As the market focuses more on NDR, sustainable growth, and profit margin efficiency, uncovering expansion opportunities becomes more important than ever. 

The goal of an expansion isn’t to go and upsell every existing customer and simply get more money from them. It’s about helping align more usage of your product to your customer's business objectives. The only way to find these opportunities is to look at their usage patterns and build a business case for expansion that is compelling to your key decision-makers. 

Expansion can mean adding more seats, upgrading to higher-tiered plans that better serve the customer's needs, or introducing new products to new business units within the account. A great example of this playbook is how Hubspot can land with Marketing or Sales teams and expand over time to Success, Support, and Ops with their various product SKUs. 

Customers deploy this playbook for a few reasons: 

  1. Capture account upside - You have many users across many accounts, but account penetration is low. 
  2. Find upsell opportunities - Your users are running up against the paywall of lower-tiered plans often. 
  3. Weather a slow down - Market slowdowns might mean focusing less on new business and more on the expansion of existing customers. 
  4. Drive adoption for new product lines - Introduced new features behind a paywall. Cross-sell to existing customers to expand their use cases and increase usage. 

#4 Consolidate 

Playbook overview

  • Customer: Free users connected to a paying account (domain roll-up)
  • Goal: Consolidate users to one contract
  • Team responsible: AE or AM

Enterprise consolidation is a powerful play for PLG companies with viral growth within their accounts. Products like Airtable, ClickUp, and Zoom can have many pockets of usage of their products siloed across several departments. In many cases, customers have no idea that their colleagues are either on a free version of the same product or perhaps even paying for it. Your goal is to use this as an opportunity to engage decision-makers within these strategic accounts - moving your conversations from tactical support questions to aligning strategic business priorities.

Use widespread usage to your advantage in these conversations by highlighting all the pockets of usage. Then use discounts, streamlined billing, custom terms, and other tools to get your customer to a close. 

Why deploy this playbook?

  1. Get in front of decision-makers - Roll up users and offer a discount to build a strategic relationship with decision-makers in the account. 
  2. Upsell to higher-tiered plans - Use product usage data to support upgrading the account to a higher-tiered plan (with more seats and features). 

#5 Defend aka Churn Prevention

Playbook overview

  • Customer: Existing paid customers
  • Goal: Renewal
  • Team responsible: Customer Success Manager 

It’s no surprise that churn prevention is one of the most common playbooks across all Pocus customers. Without focusing on customer happiness and retention,, a PLG business can’t survive. The goal of this playbook is to move from a reactive model, where you worry about churn three months before renewal, to a proactive model, where you can catch leading indicators that an account needs to be defended. Use signals to alert the Customer Success team proactively that an account may need additional support or attention before they churn, and equip them with product usage data to create a personalized revival plan for that customer. 

Why deploy this playbook?

  1. Reduce number of dissatisfied customers - Proactively tackle lower feature usage and reduction in ARR. 
  2. Manage higher ticket volume - An uptick in support tickets and bugs found by customers likely indicates a downturn in customer happiness. This is an ideal time for your team to reach out with help, discounts, and more to save the account for renewal. 

Need inspiration?

Pocus customers are sharing their winning strategies in our playbook library. Find inspiration for your Product-Led Sales playbooks here

Want to operationalize your PLS playbooks without hassle? Get started with Pocus by requesting a demo

5 Common Product-Led Sales Playbooks
Sandy Mangat
Head of Marketing at Pocus
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