How Airtable keeps product and sales in sync

Q&A with Daniel Levine and Sam Werboff: Powering PLG by aligning product and sales

Alexa Grabell
June 30, 2022
How Airtable keeps product and sales in sync

This piece originally appeared in Pocus’ Product-Led Sales playbook , download your copy here.

Just like product-led and sales-led motions should work together to fuel growth, so should the product and sales teams. 

Sam Weboff, Director & Head of Expansion Sales at Airtable, works closely with Daniel Levine, a PM at Airtable, to maintain a partnership between product and sales that powers Product-Led Sales.

In this Q&A session with Sam and Daniel, we’ll talk about how Airtable approaches this product and sales relationship to create a robust go-to-market strategy. We’ll dive into tactics to get your teams on the same page, advice for working together to create a company-wide go-to-market strategy, and more so that you, too, can layer in a product-led motion that accelerates sales. 

About our interviewees

Sam Werboff — Building and overseeing the Product-Led Sales motion at Airtable as the Director & Head of Expansion Sales.

Daniel Levine — Creating the future of Airtable for enterprise customers as a Product Manager.

Determining the Foundational Elements of the Product and Sales Relationship

Alexa: Let’s get started by defining the overarching theme we’re talking about today: the product and sales relationship. For PLG organizations that want to leverage product data to inform sales playbooks, what should the relationship between product and sales look like?

Sam: First, in order for a product-led motion to work, there needs to be strategic alignment on where the business is going.

In a traditional enterprise business, the classic structure is separated into two silos — product and engineering, and then sales and marketing. But a product-led motion changes that structure to product and sales working together. So first and foremost, those teams have to align on whether the go-to-market (GTM) strategy is focused on a certain vertical, on a certain persona, on a certain company size, etc. If that's not happening, the whole product-led thing doesn’t work. Communication and alignment is really the first most important thing for me in terms of the sales and product partnership. 

And secondly, from a tactical standpoint, you want to make sure product and sales are collaborating on common, tangible goals.

For example, if product’s goal is to activate as many people as possible but the sales organization is specifically aiming to produce revenue from companies over 5,000 employees, you’re clearly not working toward the same thing. In cases like this, you see things like the product team building features that are not aligned with the sales team’s go-to-market plan. 

So the relationship isn’t only about focusing on the all-encompassing strategy, it’s also about agreement on the day-to-day sales and product tasks that impact your go-to-market strategy. 

Daniel: I’ll add to that from my perspective on the product side of Airtable. 

I wholeheartedly agree that alignment is key. At Airtable, the relationship between product and sales is truly built on feedback loops and collaboration. 

The feedback loop is a key part of the sales and product relationship because it enables product to get feedback from the salespeople who talk to customers all day long. I can do all the customer research and analyze all the customer data in the world and it still wouldn’t be as revealing as the feedback we can get directly from sales. So, developing that feedback loop between sales and product is very important for the product development process.

We are also hyper-focused on building tools that salespeople want to see, so product also collaborates with sales on that front. My team works with sales to prioritize, validate, and build the tools and features that help them close deals. 

Tips for Getting Product and Sales to Drive Toward the Same Outcome

Alexa: A question we get a lot from our Product-Led Sales community is what processes can facilitate alignment between product and sales. What’s worked for you at Airtable?

Sam: When I was building the onboarding specialist team at Airtable — which is tasked with educating users on the nuances of the product to help unlock value during onboarding and improving user adoption/activation — we went through many iterations before we landed on the key performance indicator (KPI) we were driving towards.

When we finally decided the KPI was user activation, we went a layer deeper and we created what we called the “four-week MUA.” We wanted to see multiple users working together in an Airtable workspace a month after activation. 

For us, the process was having sales and product work closely together to get completely aligned on that single metric. That and experimentation. At this point, I had formed a partnership with the product team, which worked with me to build experiments around converting people to activation and leading them back to the onboarding specialist team if they were hitting blockers.

Daniel: As we’ve scaled at Airtable, we have put some much-needed processes and structure in place that operationalize the communication and feedback loops we’re talking about here. 

One process for me is using Airtable for managing our product roadmap. I think it’s a great product for that. I can use it to link to Slack threads about customer and sales feedback and requests. This allows me to document and understand the context behind why something needs to be built, and who I should reach out and talk to when we start thinking about that feature. It also makes it easy to have a single source of truth for our roadmap that can be shared with our customer-facing teams. 

Another process we use at Airtable that I highly recommend is a cadence for touching base with sales to talk about their most-received feedback. Monthly or quarterly, as long as it’s regular, you want to have sales provide you with a list of the top pieces of feedback they hear from customers. Then, sales has a clear way to provide input into the product team’s roadmap to prioritize the items that drive the most impact. 

For more Enterprise-focused features, we can then take this input and understand how we can best move the needle for growth with our customers. For example, if we learn that a new feature will allow us to reach five new large Enterprise customers, that may be enough reason for us to build it. On the other hand, if a feature applies to dozens of customers but doesn't really move the needle for any of them, we may drop it in priority. We try to look at both the data and the more qualitative feedback in the prioritization process.

How to Develop a Unifying Go-To-Market Strategy 

Alexa: I couldn’t agree more that it's crucial to develop tactics that align the go-to-market team and strategy in a PLG organization. To explore that further, can you talk about who’s really driving that effort at Airtable? How do you balance when sales and product want to prioritize different features or segments? 

Sam: I've been a part of companies that want to fully drive the product without listening to the market. And I’ve also seen the other side, where companies are reactive and only build in response to customers. I think if you only do one or the other, you're going to fail. If you're building a product without any feedback, you're not considering customer needs. And if you're solely reactive instead of proactive, you won’t be able to outpace competitors. 

At Airtable, we try really to balance these approaches when identifying our go-to-market strategy. We look at data from sales and product that tells us which users are responsive to the product, what they’re willing to pay for it, and who's adopting it at the highest quantity. 

Then we layer in the vision element — where do we want to take our product? We see ourselves as leaders in this category from a product perspective. And in order to remain a leader, we have to keep thinking about driving the category forward when creating our GTM strategy.  

Daniel: In addition, when we’re thinking about overarching product strategy, we’re also considering how to build compounding value into our product. A great example of this is Salesforce — they started with a core customer data set and then layered on more and more value over time. We want to find ways to go beyond solving individual user problems, small team problems, and even multi-team problems. We want to solve departmental and company-wide problems that can add exponential value to organizations!

In a product-led motion, customers are oftentimes landing with a very small team or set of teams. So I’m looking at how we can use our unique attributes as a product and unique attributes in this market to compound the value that we drive for these customers — and compound our returns. This is another way we look at prioritizing features or segments that align with the GTM strategy. 

The Land and Expand Motion is Both Human- and Product-Led   

Alexa: I definitely see a natural fit for the sales team in terms of compounding value. How do you recommend teams execute on that? How can sales go from that initial land to expanding into more of the use cases that help their product proliferate across a larger organization?

Sam: I think it’s important to point out here that product-driven sales is not a substitute for a sales-led motion. Product-led growth is an enablement to the sales motion. It powers and accelerates the sales motion. So when it comes to the land and expand motion, it's not about if you’re using a sales-led or product-led approach, it’s ultimately about engaging with your customers proactively, in the ways they desire.

It’s about getting into new business units (BUs) and uncovering which business units can experience value with your product. As Daniel mentioned, Airtable more often than not will land with a single BU. So our goal is to leverage this BU to expand and become viral within the company. In many ways, this is a human-led motion. We’re trying to engage with and provide value for new BUs. The key though is that the product should be leading that discussion. This is where product-led comes in. This multifaceted approach defines the modern, successful land and expand motion. 

For example, a new user in a new BU at an existing account might start using Airtable. It would be foolish for us to use the sales motions of the '90s and start spraying cold calls across the business. Why would we do that when we could be informed by the product usage data about who is interested in our product based on their behaviors? 

Ultimately, the sales motion in many ways remains the same. We're still reaching out. We're still engaging. We're still trying to understand where we add value. But by layering in a product-led motion, we're also informed by the product.

Daniel: Airtable is an extremely horizontal product, which makes it unique in the SaaS world. Airtable can be effective for just about any use case for any team in any industry. When we’re aiming to grow an initial land so that it starts proliferating across the larger organization, data becomes extremely important. The data we dig into most often is where interest is coming from within organizations and which teams we’re landing with most often. We extrapolate patterns from those data points. 

Additionally, while Airtable is a highly viral product, for some people it can take longer to get their teams onboarded and deliver value for their organization. This is why having people who can step in, teach you how to use it, show you best practices, and so on is critical for Airtable and similar PLG brands. The product-focused approach can be supercharged by a human touch. 

Creating a Cross-Functional “PQL Council”  

Alexa: In many sales-led enterprises, there’s still such a focus on finding your champions within an organization. And like you said, a PLS motion doesn’t replace that, it creates a vehicle that accelerates the creation of those champions by handing them access to the product. They don’t have to wait for you to guide them through several weeks of trials and demos. However, this doesn’t mean sales should never get involved with bringing leads to value and converting accounts to more expensive tiers. How do you see product-led companies defining these workflows and identifying high-value leads today?  

Sam: We see the product-led motion as a vehicle for bringing more leads to our product. To sort those, we have what we call a PQL Council at Airtable. It consists of someone from sales (that’s me) as well as data, product, and operations. We work together to figure out what the definition of a product-qualified lead (PQL) is and how to surface that to the go-to-market team. 

We've created this somewhat complex algorithm around the different elements that qualify someone as a PQL. But at the same time, many of the elements that we’ve found correlate with high-value opportunities are the same as they are for many SaaS sales organizations — logins, pricing page views, and complexity of the use case.

I think the next level for us when it comes to PQLs is getting super refined around truly identifying the highest converting leads that exist — and then training the sales organization on how to execute on this information. But I still find it so interesting that there are just some fundamental user behaviors that, even without data and without trials, will almost always correlate with qualified leads.

Where Marketing Dovetails with Product and Sales 

Alexa: As we wind down here, I want to quickly touch on marketing. Where does marketing fit into the feedback loop between product and sales? How does product interact with marketing, especially? 

Daniel: I work closely with the product marketing team, especially anytime we're releasing new product features. We work together to communicate our launches to customers, as well as to prepare customer-facing teams to communicate updates to customers. And I’ve also found that brand marketing and top-of-funnel marketing acquisition materials are also useful as sales enablement materials. 

You Have the Power to Layer in PLS

We hope you enjoyed this conversation between product and sales enthusiasts who want to see every company build strong product and sales relationships, unified GTM strategies, and clear PQLs that create the foundation for effective PLS motions. 

Alexa Grabell
Co-Founder & CEO at Pocus
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