Product-Led Sales Community Wisdom Highlights 2021

Our top 10 insights from the PLS community
Alexa Grabell
December 21, 2021
Product-Led Sales Community Wisdom Highlights 2021

A little over six months ago we started the Product-Led Sales community as an experiment. We had spoken to hundreds of go-to-market leaders and realized that everyone was feeling the same pain points and challenges. So, we wanted to create the space where these leaders could seek advice and share insights. What started as a small group of 20 soon turned into 100 and now we’re over 530 strong and growing everyday.

I am always impressed by the folks in our community, especially those who are blazing new trails with their Product-Led Sales efforts. Whether you’re brand new to PLS or have been figuring things out on your own for the last few years, the Product-Led Sales community is a place to get help from your peers and share your own knowledge.

We’ve had a ton of amazing conversations in the last six months, some were fleeting but a few topics continued to brew, so we wanted to highlight the best conversations somewhere permanent and easy to find.

Below is a collection of our top 10 pieces of community wisdom for 2021:

#1 Setting up the 'Sales-Assist' team

The Questions

Does anyone have experience setting up & scaling a sales assist/product specialist/customer experience team? Who should you hire? When should you hire for this role? 

Top responses on defining ‘Sales-Assist’…

“The goal of the Sales-Assist team should be primarily to answer user questions as quickly as possible then put them back into self-serve motion. If users are getting stuck in the product and churning, despite having strong product usage indicators - you should consider adding a human touchpoint like the sales-assist role.”

“When people reach out to us we can't hop on a phone and have a sales process every time, it cuts counter to what we were trying to do. Instead, we train sales-assist on what we call the core four which is to 1) identify the use case of friction 2) remove the friction 3) guide next steps, and then 4) aggregate insights for other teams. So these are the four tasks sales-assist completes in their low touch motion.”

“We have three sales-assist motions:

1) Free trial assist: exactly what it sounds like

2) Account consolidation: i.e. use a light touch to move 7-10 paid accounts to centralized or annual billing

3) Inside sales: low touch sales - Where you have a longer onboarding period (30 days) and have 3 calls with the customer - 1-2 calls on education and onboarding and a 3rd around expansion.” 

Top reasons for why you should add Sales-Assist…

  1. Pull forward expansion
  2. Improve customer experience 
  3. Identify new sales opportunities early 
  4. Increase Net Dollar Retention (NDR)
  5. Become subject matter experts on users and use cases which: (1) helps the product, marketing, and growth team with qualitative insights (2) sets up a great career path that is not only sales-focused (i.e. sales-assist folks can become product managers, product marketers, etc.)
  6. Create feedback loops — capture feedback from customers and route to product, marketing, sales, etc. (much better than an FAQ page)

# 2 Product-Led Sales: Going from zero to one 

The Questions

How do you start layering in sales at a PLG company? How do you compensate PLS sales reps? How to find the right metrics to share with reps? What tools do you use to operationalize PLS? 

The response on going from zero to one…

“Ensure that your company is willing to make the significant investment in adding a sales structure on top of their existing self-serve PLG model.”

“Don’t reinvent the wheel. Hire execution experts with existing playbooks for roles like sales ops. Reserve innovation for the strategy side.” 

“Invest in customer success but keep it separate from sales. This helps maintain a relentless focus on revenue for sales and allows customer success to continue focusing on end-user and customer value.” 

The response on rep compensation…

“To avoid competition between our self-serve business and sales orgs, we decided to compensate reps based on the existing self-serve contract plus what the rep sold on top of that. Although this strategy had a higher upfront cost, it put reps in a position where they knew they were always doing right by the customer.”

“We are a usage-based pricing company so the first thing we did before figuring out PLS rep compensation was to annualize our model by looking at the data. This gave us a starting point to figure out rep compensation.”

Top responses on choosing the right tools…

“Be wary of overwhelming your sales reps with too much information. Cull your prioritized lists and use just enough science in scoring for credibility, but don’t overwhelm with too much complexity all at once. “

“Don’t jump to fancy tools first. By just using excel, we were able to determine the metrics and signals that indicated an account was ready for sales. Then we systematized it within your tools.”

“You’ll need more than just your CRM and data warehouse, you’ll need other platforms but that doesn’t mean you shouldn't use a CRM. The emerging best practices say that using just CRM native is not recommended from a data volume standpoint.”

Top takeaways from David Apple (CRO ZingTree) on setting up Product-Led Sales…

  1. Create the right incentive structures for your go-to-market teams. It’s important to create an incentive structure so that customer success and sales work together, rather than being territorial. You don’t want sales and customer success teams fighting over who gets credit for a deal; instead, they must be on the same team and both teams should win together.
  2. Set clear boundaries. Sales teams should only talk to customers that will likely not close via self-serve (usually above a certain headcount and PQL metric) and/or with a high enough deal size that it justifies the cost of human intervention. An example of this type of boundary is that sales only talks with accounts that have more than 100 employees.
  3. Clearly define where sales get their leads. In Product-Led Sales, the most common sources of leads for the sales team should be “contact us” from the website, escalation from support, and PQLs.  

#3 Product-Qualified Leads

The Questions

What are Product-Qualified Leads (PQLs)? How do you define them? Should PLG companies combine their PQL and MQLs scores into one?

Pocus POV

A good PQL definition should capture signals from these three categories: (1) customer fit (2) product usage (3) and buying intent:

  1. Customer fit: how closely the account and user match your Ideal Customer Profile or ICP (eg. industry, geography, company size, user role/title)
  2. Product usage: account and user-level interactions with the product  (eg. DAU, frequency, recency, time spent, free: paid ratio, feature usage, virality, invites sent)
  3. Buying intent: buyer shows indication of making a purchase or spending more (eg. visited pricing page, clicked "talk to sales", new seats added to account)

Read more about the Pocus PQL framework here.

Top responses for PQL scoring approaches…

"Right now for us, MQLs and PQLs are distinct categories of qualified leads. The designation is based on the last activity that pushed the lead over the threshold. So if a user signs up for a Free account, doesn't complete the core activation steps, and then attends two webinars, they will MQL" 

"Determining your PQL is both intuitive and scientific. Start with a hypothesis of who a "good" customer is based on the product usage and their persona. If you are a good salesperson and always listening to your customer, you should have a good sense of whether a user is ready to convert to a paid contract. Then, as you build out a bigger team (including a data team), you can start running more robust analytics to more scientifically define the PQL. As you grow, make sure to iterate your process as your ICP matures."

#4 Usage-Based Pricing

The Questions

Who's pricing based on usage right now? Did you have usage-based from scratch or did you make the switch? Was it well received by customers? How did it impact your sales teams and predictability in their quotas/comp?

Top responses on sales compensation and usage-based pricing…

“The key decision is the balance between new deals vs. consumption-based commissions. This is to reward account growth and to avoid misaligned incentives where a customer doesn’t renew if the initial committed usage is too high. I think New Relic was pretty bold in doing away with commitment-based commissions entirely, it's more common for companies to have a mix from what I've seen — eg. 50/50 or 70/30 (but highly dependent on company).”

“AWS does an interesting model where they comp AEs based on the MRR of the account, which is totally based on consumption”

“Seen testing around… (1) Offering a bounty or SPIFF for closing a logo (adjust this based on the industry or size) or (2) Forecasted ARR i.e. what is the expected revenue (adjust up or down based on actuals)”

Top responses on hiring the right sales profiles…

“At New Relic the reps that did well were different from the traditional persona. Less up front process around demos and relationship building and more focused on product and getting the user to value.”

Top takeaways from Kyle Poyar (Partner at OpenView) on usage-based pricing…

  1. Get internal and external buy-in. Make sure you have business-wide buy-in for usage-based pricing before making too many investments into the model. Especially for more mature organizations with big revenue numbers, you want to ensure buy-in exists both internally and with customers before launching. 
  2. Align pricing to product value. Usage-based pricing should always align with your product value and how users/customers experience that value. UBP is not for every SaaS product, just like PLG is not for every SaaS business. 
  3. Adapt your sales processes, tools, and roles. Usage-based pricing will impact your sales compensation, hiring, and culture. Have a plan for how you will adapt your current processes, tools, and roles to adapt. 
  4. Start small then expand. Start small by deploying UBP with only a handful of new customers to work out the kinks before rolling out to your entire customer base.

#5 Sales Compensation

The Questions

How does sales compensation shift in PLS? What compensation models lead to the best behaviors? 

Top responses on the best compensation models… 

"Customer segmentation becomes VERY IMPORTANT in PLG. In terms of where you deploy resources and how you compensate them. If your business is at the point where efficiency of sales+marketing spend really matters then you want to spend a lot of time thinking about segmentation and where to deploy AE/SDRs vs. lower touch resources."

"The incentive structure for sales is to engage with the highest LTV accounts only. Sales comp + customer segmentation go hand in hand in a PLG world."

Top takeaways from Marie Gassée (former VP growth, Confluent) on sales compensation… 

  1. Spend time on customer segmentation up front. You can’t do Product-Led Sales well without understanding your customer segmentation. If you don’t understand which customer segments should be routed to sales and which should stay in self-serve, you might end up putting expensive resources on the wrong accounts. This also makes it easier to align your sales compensation and incentive structure. 
  2. Don’t compensate AEs based solely on interactions with an account. AEs could game this easily and it incentivizes the wrong behavior to put a ton of touches on accounts that may not have had long-term potential.
  3. Do compensate AEs if and when their account reaches a set threshold in ARR. For Marie at the time, this number was ~$5K in ARR.

#6 Selling to developers 

The Questions

Because developers prefer a different buyer journey from traditional SaaS (aka don’t normally respond well to sales/marketing), do you have sales & marketing tips on how to communicate with end-users that you know have a high propensity to buy? 

Top responses on helping not ‘selling’…

“Stop selling or asking for referrals to the “manager” or someone higher in the org - big turn off to developers.”

“You’ll never get a corporate-wide deal without the developer being your advocate. They are trying to solve a specific issue.  Help them solve that first.”

“When developers do fall in love with a tool, they often lack the enablement on how to escalate that within the org.  This is where your sales team can once again HELP them. Arm them with materials they can use to present internally.”

Top responses on how to make developers feel loved…

“Everyone loves swag - be generous - help them show off your brand internally.  Make it fun.”

“Never forget to make the developer The Hero.  This isn’t about your company, but the innovation of that developer.”

#7 Going from sales-led to product-led

The Questions

How do you handle the cultural/org structure/technology shifts required when implementing PLS? Do you start with technology and org? Is culture deliberate or does it build over time? 

Top responses on how to get started…

"We started with a pilot of a small group of reps. We wanted to test the motion, comp plan, etc. So far we've built that pilot into a global team and are working on disseminating the learnings of that team to the broader sales org.”

“Because culture is hard to change we're going step by step.. adjusting the motion, playbook, and comp plan over time. There's a lot of inertia to overcome in a sales org, so it was better for us to test on a smaller scale”

“How much revenue is expected from self serve vs. sales? Make sure you are aligned here, or things can get unbalanced quickly and create friction between where sales plays within the organization…” 

“Sometimes, especially when there is a transition to sales joining a predominantly PLG led motion, there can be mixed feelings with sales. It’s important to connect with the appropriate teams to work together and partner rather than in silos. Let folks know that sales is here to help. Solution selling is in, and aggressive selling is OUT!” 

Top responses on who to hire and when…

“We ran it out of my team (Sales Ops) but partnered with one of the sales VPs who hired and managed the first pilot team directly. Also worth mentioning our first hire was a more experienced rep who had relevant experience. He did the IC role for about 3 quarters and eventually has developed to manage the global team. Getting someone in at the beginning who had relevant experience and management upside worked out very well”

Top responses on how to harmonize self-serve and sales…

“The natural tendency for humans in the SL to PL shift is: someone needs help ... get them into a sales process! The last thing you want to do in this shift is pull people who a) want to b) could c) should self serve into a sales process. So what's the human to do?

Try to define really basic paths your humans could send users down when they engage.

I.e. If X: help the customer, then arm them with resources to fish on their own. If Y: help them then outline the benefit of a sales process.

In this way, you'll still have the "familiar" feel of human:human interaction, but you start to build the muscle of getting people to succeed on their own!”

“Given the large self-serve side of our business and growing sale-led side of our business, we actually had to appease both sides. For the self-serve side, it was targeted placement of where the leads were coming from and getting comfortable with that...On the sales side, we actually flipped the narrative that this new team was a resource for them to leverage for deals that were typically smaller and less complex. Leveraging this team helped them focus more time on larger deals.”

#8 Future of CRMs 

The Questions

What is the future of CRMs? Should we say goodbye forever to CRMs? Should we continue to invest in making CRMs work better for PLG? Or a hybrid solution?

Top responses on the future of CRMs…

“Part of the issue with [Salesforce] is the budget invested in usability tooling and resources that are in addition to the high license cost of the CRM. When the spend on tools to make the CRM better outpace the cost of the CRM, the CRM platform needs to be re-evaluated. SFDC at its core is still an early 90’s idea of CRM, no matter how much they try to change the front end or integrate acquisitions. Time to see a viable CRM 3.0 option rise up; whatever that ends up looking like.”

“I think if somebody builds a great CRM which is fit for purpose for SaaS businesses you can definitely take on Salesforce. Especially in the SaaS SMB market (and then grow from there).

We are starting to see modern layers being added on top of Salesforce such as Dooly and the PLG tools, but I don't believe add-ons is the best long term solution”

“It's all in the setup! If your CRM actually includes the data/information that sales reps need (and want) in order to do their jobs, then you're in a pretty good shape! The challenge arises when data lives everywhere BUT the CRM and reps just perceive CRM as the place they *have* to go after every call to fill out mandatory fields.”

“[Salesforce] is a massive headache to set up and scale, then making agile adjustments as things change (especially in the tech space!) as you scale becomes way too time consuming, so the adjustments often get neglected”

Pocus POV

There are three core problems with CRMs that prevent them from being the ideal source of truth for sales teams:

  • Data Architecture. The underlying data architecture doesn’t support the kind of data, flexibility, and volume PLG companies need.
  • Visualization & Workflow. The visualization layer is not easily configured for the type of information sales teams at PLG companies need nor flexible enough to be easily configured to a PLS motion. 
  • Maintenance Costs. CRMs penalize you with high costs as you start to bring in even a modest amount of product data volume.

It’s time for a new source of truth for go-to-market teams.

Read our full post on the future of CRMs here.

#9 Best tech stack for PLG

The Questions

What are the best go-to-market tools for PLG companies? What CRM should we use? What Marketing Automation Platform? What product engagement tools? 

Top responses from the PLS benchmark survey…

We surveyed 200+ PLG companies like Asana, Slack, MongoDB and others to understand how they have set up their go-to-market engines. We asked what tools they used and the following are the top responses for each category.

Full report coming soon!

Want to build the ultimate growth stack in 2022? Read our guide on the modern tech stack for PLG companies here

#10 Customer success and PLG

The Questions

Customer success and sales roles are starting to blend in PLG, how do you draw the line between sales and customer success?

Top responses on ways to avoid conflict between the teams…

“We’ve recently developed CSQLs or Customer Success Qualified Leads. Basically we’ve got CS in different parts of the customer journey and they’ll kick over deals to [sales] as they find opportunities that are interesting…”

“We have a sales-assist role. For us, given how technical our product and buyer are, our assist role lives within pre-sales (solutions engineering/architect). Of course the role was designed using feedback from across the org and everyone has a vested interest in its success.” 

“In my last company Customer Success owned renewals and expansion post 1st year and it worked very well. It removed an unnecessary layer that a customer success person needs to intro a sales person for every renewal/expansion chat and in my view it did not create any negative dynamics. All customers were happy having the person supporting them also be the person they should speak renewal and expansion with.”

“Customer Success has expansion duties but only in the SMB and Mid-Market segments. Enterprise CS does not.”

Looking forward to 2022

Looking at the community Slack it looks like we’re on track to see some interesting developments related to sales team structure, the emerging sales-assist role, PLS tech stacks, and metrics.

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Product-Led Sales Community Wisdom Highlights 2021
Alexa Grabell
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