Evolving from PLG to PLS with Lisa Schrumpf (Intercom)

Meredith McManus
May 21, 2024
Evolving from PLG to PLS with Lisa Schrumpf (Intercom)

Alexa, CEO of Pocus, hosts “Ask Me Anything” sessions with GTM experts to share best practices, frameworks, and insights on this emerging category. These AMAs are an opportunity to ask leaders any question — ranging from hiring to sales compensation to tech stack — in a low-key, casual environment.

The AMAs are for members of the Pocus Go-To-Market Community, the place to learn, discuss, and connect with go-to-market (GTM) leaders at product-led companies. The goal of the community is to bring together the most thoughtful and innovative GTM leaders to build the next generation of sales together.

Interested in joining? Request an invite here.

Meet Lisa Schrumpf, SVP of Global Sales at Intercom 👋

Lisa Schrumpf has spent the past twenty years exploring her love of technology. She’s held leadership roles at IBM, SAP, DataStax, and is currently Senior Vice President for Global Sales at Intercom. In this role, Lisa is responsible for core sales, partnerships, sales development, and enablement. She is focused on working closely with clients to create the best customer service experience. With over 20 years of industry experience, Lisa has a record of creating positive impact with companies of all sizes.

We sat down with Lisa for a Pocus community AMA to learn more about her journey taking Intercom from purely PLG to a hybrid PLS motion. In our AMA we talked with Lisa about:

  • Standing up a PLS motion, step by step — including how to get executive buy-in
  • Mapping the buyer journey in detail
  • Negotiating the division of leads between sales and growth marketing

Evolving from PLG to PLS

Intercom launched its AI-first customer service platform in 2011, embracing a fully PLG motion. When a sales team was eventually added in 2014, both self-serve and sales-led customers were owned by one CS team, relationship managers. As Intercom’s self-serve user base grew, they realized that dividing accounts between a newly-formed customer growth team and a dedicated outbound sales team would help unlock additional revenue from upmarket customers. 

Customer growth focused on trying to upsell monthly customers to annual contracts, with a specific focus on hand raisers. Meanwhile, sales continued to own all annual contracts as well as prospecting and outbound to target accounts. This shift enabled sales to focus exclusively on proactively targeting higher ACV accounts, while customer growth acted as a sales-assist team, helping self-serve customers discover value.

Lisa and team noticed customer growth was succeeding in monthly-to-annual conversions using PLS tactics and decided to merge growth with sales, formally doubling down on the shift to PLS.

“That’s when we truly kicked off more of a focus on PLS. Our goal was to be more proactive in identifying the right customers at the right time, give them a perfectly crafted message, and help them along their journey.”

Building Executive Buy-In for PLS

In order to kick off the move from PLG to PLS, Lisa needed executive buy-in and support. Lisa and her team knew there was more they could be doing to “get the GTM machine humming.” So, she partnered with the Head of Growth to figure out how they could maximize their PLS potential.

Mapping out the buyer’s journey for both self-serve and sales-owned accounts was the first step. Lisa worked closely with the BizOps team to build the journey map of Intercom’s buyer. They focused on understanding how buyers enter their sales funnel and which teams are interacting with them at each stage of the journey.

In order to identify areas of opportunity and improvement, they assigned metrics to each specific journey stage. Again, taking a consultative, customer-focused approach paid off, with the team asking themselves, “How can we make each part of the journey better for the customer?” Seeing the opportunities for improvement at each stage and how progress would be measured gave the executive team the confidence to endorse Lisa and the Head of Growth’s recommended changes. 

The second piece of the equation was partnering with finance to provide proof that the team would be targeting the right customers at the right moment. One of the most important metrics they tracked was LTV-to-CAC, which would prove that Lisa’s PLS motion was driving higher revenue over the life of the customer. By providing hard data that her team was creating incremental growth, she was able to win executive support for the project.

Routing Leads: Deciding Who Sales Owns

When Intercom initially brought the growth and sales teams back together, all leads essentially went back into the same pot. Sales was spending a lot of time on small customers who didn’t need white glove service. In fact, the majority of these customers wanted to self-serve and were frustrated about having to go through a formal sales process just to use Intercom’s product.

Lisa knew the sales team was an investment and she needed to drive ROI on that investment. The buyer journey mapping uncovered opportunities for a smoother customer experience while finance’s metrics proved that Lisa’s team was most impactful when focusing on larger contracts. With these two pieces of information, it was clear to Lisa that leads should be divided based on potential deal size, with sales only managing those with high ACV potential. In Pocus’ experience, we agree. Your expensive sales resources are best used to navigate larger, more complex enterprise deals, while smaller customers are often happy to be fully self-serve.

Taking any leads away from sales was a potentially controversial move that could result in some turmoil with the sales team. Lisa knew this had to be communicated with care so sales understood this was a net benefit to them. Lisa focused her message on three things:

  • Clearly messaging the change to her team, including an explanation of why this shift in lead ownership was being made. 
  • Investing in skills development and training on value-based sales methodology for her team so that they were fully prepared for the focus on high ACV customers.
  • Positioning the big deals as more interesting, complex, strategic, and profitable for her team.

The result was a resilient sales team who embraced the change.

So, with executive buy-in secured and her sales team on her side, how did Lisa help Intercom stand up a more formal PLS motion? She broke it down for us in a few simple steps.

Standing Up a PLS Motion, Step By Step

Moving a historically PLG company over to a hybrid PLS motion can be a bit like turning the Titanic. Lisa’s process, outlined below, focuses on creating comprehensive playbooks and building momentum with quick MVP wins. 

  1. Understand Your Customer’s Motivation: Lisa worked closely with the Intercom research team to gather detailed information on what motivated a self-serve, monthly customer to move upmarket to an annual contract. Through this research, she was able to pinpoint signals like product usage or account tenure that would identify a PQA with potential to expand.
  2. Pick A Few Key Plays: It can be easy to become overwhelmed by analysis paralysis when adopting a new growth strategy, like PLS. Lisa and her counterpart on growth had a long list of ideas they wanted to try, but narrowed in on 3 key plays to get started. This simplified PLS MVP helped them get the vision off the ground quickly.
  3. Test With a Tiger Team: Once the key signals and motivators for expansion were identified, Lisa’s sales team owned testing and iterating on the best actions and messages. In Lisa’s words they “measured, learned, and refined along the way” to create the most effective playbooks possible.
  4. Build Repeatable Playbooks: After identifying winning strategies, Lisa had her team build the playbooks in their system to ensure they were scalable and repeatable with minimal oversight. Playbooks were built around specific signals, like “high product usage but no automation” and included specific, tested messaging for sales to use in outreach.

One of Lisa’s biggest keys to success during the shift to PLS was coaching her team to use a more consultative approach. Customers were significantly more receptive to outbound when the messaging was focused on educating them on how they could get more out of the product. 

“It wasn't just cold outreach. It was, ‘We see that you have increased your utilization in this manner and you're using the product in this way. We think we can really help by adding automation,’ as an example. The reaction was great. Customers were like, ‘Wow, I didn't think about that! Yes, let's schedule a call.’ The response rate was so much higher.”

Quick Wins During PLS Implementation

Reflecting back on her experience of migrating Intercom from PLG to PLS, Lisa identified several wins during the process:

  • By moving quickly on planning and deploying signal-based playbooks, Lisa’s team had a sizable backlog of customers who were ready for warm outbound. This helped ensure her team hit the ground running rather than having to wait for their “bucket of leads” to fill up. 
  • Lisa partners with the Head of Growth to continually evaluate where the cut-off should be between self-serve and sales-assist.
  • There will always be customers who just want to self-serve and try the product on their own. Lisa knows that enabling this self-serve motion means that when sales eventually reaches out down the road, the customer is primed and more ready for the conversation.
  • In order to ensure self-serve customers can receive support without bogging down the sales team, Intercom implemented roles like “product specialists” to help build trust and get customers to value, even if they aren’t the right fit for a sales conversation.

Learn more about implementing signal-based playbooks

Interested in learning more about how other go-to-market experts are using signals to power their PLS playbooks?

There’s no better place to rub elbows with leaders from OpenView, Slack, Notion, Asana, Atlassian, and more than in the Pocus community. Request to join today.

Meredith McManus
Content + Product Marketing at Pocus
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