The SaaS sales process typically falls into one of two buckets:
The pure self-serve bucket, where there is a small — or no — sales team. Virality is the main source of new sign-ups. These SaaS products are affordable and easy enough to use that end-users can get to value quickly (with or without paying). You know the type: Zoom, Figma, Canva, etc.
The fully sales-led bucket, where traditional sales teams create demand through outbound or qualify inbound leads created by marketing. Often this motion is top-down i.e. selling directly to the economic buyers. Sales reps will typically work the economic buyers within an account to guide the complex purchasing and onboarding process.
What if we told you there was another approach?
Product-Led Sales (PLS) is a modern go-to-market motion for revenue teams that combines the best of both strategies. Connecting the science of product usage data and the art of sales.
Our 2022 Product-Led Sales Benchmarks Report, which includes insights from 200+ companies in the SaaS industry, found that every single company included was taking some sort of hybrid sales approach in 2022 and beyond.
This article will uncover the details behind this hybrid motion and how to apply it to a traditional, sales-led business to accelerate SaaS revenue.
Product-Led Sales, explained 🔍
To understand the product-led approach, first we need to take you back to the golden years of the 2010s when SaaS companies like Slack and Dropbox exploded into the collective consciousness with huge raises and valuations.
These product-led growth (PLG) superstars set the stage for easy-to-adopt and easy-to-use software that was purchased directly by the people who were using it — with seemingly no sales teams in sight.
However, the lack of sales teams within PLG organizations was and still is a myth.
Today — Slack, Dropbox, and the majority of successful PLG companies have large sales teams.
In fact, almost all PLG companies fall somewhere on the product-led growth spectrum which, at all but the most extreme points, requires sales in some form in order to be successful.
Product-Led Sales is a modern approach that bridges the gap between the pure-play PLG motion and a traditional sales-led approach to drive conversions and expansions after the initial land.
We define PLS as a go-to-market (GTM) motion where, sales (including sales-assist), customer success and marketing work cross functionally to engage with existing product users to grow revenue, conversion, upsell, cross-sells, and expansion.
This hybrid approach enables SaaS organizations, whether they’re product-led or sales-led, to equip reps with product usage insights so they can reach out to customers with a well timed human touch.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to adopt a PLS motion to modernize the sales cycle at those businesses that fall further on the traditional, sales-led side of the spectrum.
(If PLS is new to you, check out our introduction to Product-Led Sales to help you understand the language before you read on!)
Why it’s time to update your traditional sales-led motion ⏰
Let’s be clear: For some SaaS businesses, a traditional B2B SaaS sales approach is absolutely the way to go.
➡️ If you’re primarily in the enterprise sales space where a sale isn’t as simple as a credit card swipe — the traditional flow with full attention from sales folks is probably the best process for you. Customer self-service might not be a lever worth investing in right now.
➡️ Your target audience is split. If your end-user isn’t the buyer, PLS success takes longer. You’ll probably want to engage experienced B2B reps who can speak to how your product adds business value for economic buyers.
➡️ If users finding value within your product is road blocked by complex processes — installation, onboarding, payments, etc. — a hands-on sales-led process may be required to move users through your intricate system.
Still not sure if you should update your GTM approach? Explore more insights on whether to pursue a product-led growth or sales-led motion — or some blend of the two.
If you don’t fall into any of the above categories, there are several great business reasons to strengthen and modernize your SaaS sales process with a data-driven PLS motion:
Improve cost efficiency in the SaaS sales cycle
Building a full-on traditional sales team is pricey — especially if they’re spending the bulk of their time going after new customers who aren’t ready to commit to paid subscriptions or enterprise contracts.
Product usage data — which is what we specialize here at Pocus 🔮 — is a core element of the Product-Led Sales strategy. With clear insight into sales-ready product-qualified leads (PQLs), salespeople are able to focus on high-propensity opportunities, spending their time problem solving and adding value.
By surfacing PQLs based on signals around customer fit, product usage and/or buying intent the PLS motion creates efficiency in sales, reducing customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Create a delightful customer experience
Because PLS is about adapting to meet customers’ unique needs, SaaS sales teams can always be sure they’re meeting customers right where they are.
A sales rep who has PLS data on their side can skip the tedious discovery questions — they already know the customer’s usage patterns! — and get right to the part where they’re helping the person solve their problem.
With the traditional cold sales motion, the buying process can feel too transactional. When you can provide a customer experience that’s informed and focused on meeting their needs, it’s going to be more memorable and more effective. The SaaS market, even in the enterprise realm, is rapidly shifting from the “sales call” mindset and focusing on solving pain points rather than selling.
Sales-assist, a key tenet of a successful PLS motion, is all about collecting customer feedback and spotting opportunities for value-based sales techniques to reduce churn rate, increase retention, convert, and expand accounts.
🪄Learn more about how to launch sales-assist with this 7-week guide.
In addition to memorable and effective, delightful customer experiences are shareable.
Having a level of virality is core to making a PLS motion work without a full, traditional sales team.
You want your product — and the process of working with your company, aka the customer experience — to be so darn good people want to talk about it and share it with colleagues and peers.
Improve the product
We like to think of PLS as a team sport. ⚽
Within a PLS motion, the full GTM function — marketing, sales, customer success, product, etc. — works together to provide a low-friction experience that accelerates revenue.
This collaboration is powered largely by feedback loops. Feedback loops in the PLS approach are enabled by sales or sales-adjacent roles (sales-assist, product specialists, etc.) who work closely with users. As they do this, they collect feedback that can then be shared with the rest of the GTM team to improve the experience as well as inform the product roadmap to more accurately reflect user needs and pain-points.
This product improvement cycle is important because as the product gets easier to use, customers can self-serve and upgrade their plans more easily — which all goes back to building more modern sales teams that are tight and effective.
How to implement PLS into your SaaS sales model 🎨
Finally, allow us to walk you through how to adopt Product-Led Sales as part of your SaaS sales model.
Outline PLS goals
To make sure your new PLS motion has the impact you’re looking for, start by asking yourself two questions:
1. Where can a PLS motion add to your business’ OKRs?
Usually, where PLS goals have the most impact is on revenue. Set your PLS goals with that in mind, aiming for things like decreased churn, enterprise expansion, free-to-paid conversions, and so on.
2. Where can a PLS motion help fill in existing business gaps?
Since a PLS motion brings product usage data to the party, it can help identify friction points and other gaps. Product improvement and sales-assist touches can close these gaps, accelerating sales.
Addressing goals and business gaps early in your adoption strategy doesn’t just motivate and align your GTM team — this information is also critical to winning over your internal decision-makers to improve buy-in on PLS.
Define your self-serve model
There are many ways to open up the gates to an inbound user lead pool. If you’re shifting towards a hybrid approach from a sales-led motion, chances are you don’t have a self-serve version of your product right now.
Depending on the complexity of your product and your ICP you might opt against it. But, it’s definitely a crucial lever of the PLS motion. While you can still implement PLS playbooks in other areas of your sales pipeline within existing accounts, like expansion and retention; the self-serve flywheel is your entry point towards higher rates of net new MRR at lower CAC.
You don’t have to make your full product available for self-serve, but considering your buyer personas, ICP, and revenue goals, you can explore freemium or free trial models as a lead generation tool. Think about the customers that would rather try the product on their own, instead of scheduling a product demo.
The most important part of this step is making sure that whatever version of your product you decide to open will enable your self-serve segment to unlock value fast.
Freemium: Users can sign up for free — and it will remain free forever, but it's gated in some way. A freemium model works for any pricing tier, from the most basic to the most expensive.
🔮Real-life example: Slack.
Free trial: This time-boxed model gives users free access to your product for a limited time. You can offer free trials for any tier, from the most basic to the most expensive. Real-life example:
🔮Real-life example: Asana.
Reverse trial: This model is a combination of freemium and free trial. Users get started for free on the pro plan (the one with all the premium features!) and then get downgraded to a free version if they don't purchase after the trial period is over.
🔮Real-life example: Airtable.
This product-led lever should only be pulled after deep analysis of how existing users interact with your product. If done right, you’ll see free to paid conversion rate almost double the traditional MQL to SQL pipeline. When focusing on self-serve conversions you’re not reaching out to “leads” but rather users of your product who are high potential customers. In PLS we call these warm opportunities Product-Qualified Leads (PQLs) or Product-Qualified Accounts (PQAs).
Learn more about PLS lead scoring and other common Product-Led Sales definitions.
Identify where PLS actions will be most effective
PLS is all about right touch and right time. That means being very thoughtful about where to use sales interactions across the user journey instead of the full-blitz tactics traditional sales teams tend to use.
Study the current user journey, step through the onboarding flow, and review common customer support complaints to come up with a list of specific areas where a PLS motion will smooth friction and add value.
Product-Led Sales isn’t just about filling your sales funnel with new revenue opportunities, but rather optimizing revenue potential from existing customers, as well as converting new ones. You can rely on automation to nurture PQLs who aren’t yet sales-ready or haven’t shown buying intent, while deploying dedicated sales outreach to PQLs who meet product usage thresholds, fit your ideal customer profile (ICP), and have expressed buying intent.
Your hybrid sales motion should set targets around SaaS sales metrics that give you a holistic view into revenue health.
Some examples include:
- Increasing annual recurring revenue (ARR)
- Maintaining healthy net dollar retention (NDR)
- Increasing sales cycle velocity
- Promoting an optimal customer lifetime value (CLV) average.
Update your GTM structure for PLS success
Once you have an understanding of what parts of your revenue engine you want to optimize with PLS, landed on a self-service model that works for your product, and goals to measure success — you’ll also have to think about adapting the rest of your GTM motion to your Product-Led Sales approach.
For your self-serve flywheel to spin you might need to ramp up brand awareness. Set marketing goals around website traffic, social media growth, and community. Before you open up the gates, you should have a line at the door. This can take a while, organic content marketing is a long game. While your marketing team is busy laying the viral building blocks, your sales team should continue with their outbound efforts.
From siloed ops teams to Revenue Operations
PLS has many stakeholders. For a truly successful motion sales, customer success, product, and marketing need to work together towards a common goal. Ensuring alignment between product marketers, sales managers, inbound tactics, and more — requires someone with visibility across the revenue engine and the data analysis skillset to understand what is working well and what could be improved.
Traditionally, operations have been team based, as in, sales ops, marketing ops, and so forth. RevOps brings these all together, usually under a CRO, but we see wide variations in GTM org structure. Consider making the shift to RevOps to help you connect all those dots and keep everyone on the same page with the right goaling frameworks, incentives, and a company north star metric.
For example, in 2008 Facebook’s north star was “build a communication system that connects everyone in the world.” Every single team, from product to development and engineering had goals to help the company do that. Your north star metric doesn’t have to be as lofty or general and can change periodically. You might want to focus on retention and expansion before new revenue acquisition, so create a metric that reflects that. RevOps can help you figure out what that north star should be.
Apply product usage data
Product usage data gives GTM teams so much more information about the product and customer than they’ve ever had. That means warmer touches and better conversions — all in less time than ever before.
But product usage data is a somewhat new frontier in the sales world. It can be difficult to gather and even harder to figure out how to action.
With Magic Playbooks, a data-powered inbox, best action recommendations, and intelligent scoring — Pocus helps GTM teams understand and act on product usage and customer data in a repeatable and scalable way.
Fill new roles
Next up, fleshing out the GTM team with the people who are going to act on product usage data to meet your PLS goals.
Roles may include sales-assist folks, SDRs, AEs, account managers, and even customer success.
Your product, goals, and the needs of your GTM team will dictate who you end up hiring, but here are some general traits that are good to look for when hiring in a PLS setting:
- Willingness to experiment and iterate on new data and tactics
- Technically capable within the product
- Curious about the product as well as new PLS processes
- Collaborative across teams
- Effective communicator who can synthesize and share feedback
- Ability to understand and work with data on a deep level
Develop and deploy playbooks
Time to bring the elements of your PLS strategy together and communicate goals and practices to your GTM squad.
In other words, time to build out your PLS playbooks.
Many sales orgs choose to create a variety of playbooks. They can target things like different audiences, business goals, product lines, regions, and so on. The number and types of playbooks you build out will depend on the intricacies of your own SaaS sales process.
Wonder what playbooks the best businesses in SaaS use?
Visit the playbook library and get ideas from the best in the game.
Enrich your Product-Led Sales strategy with Pocus 🪄
We believe that PLS is the future for SaaS companies. It’s a natural middle ground that combines elements of both sales-led and product-led motions that the majority of companies can pull off — and, most importantly, benefit from.
To learn even more about the foundational frameworks and best practices behind Product-Led Sales, download the Product-Led Sales Playbook, Volume 1. (And look out for our next volume coming Spring 2023!)
And to fast-track your success with adopting a Product-Led Sales strategy to modernize your SaaS sales model, explore Pocus. We’re standing by to help your GTM team identify the right customers, reach out at the right time, and take the right action.