Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Julia Gilinets

How to sell without "selling" to developers

Julia Gilinets
May 10, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Julia Gilinets

Alexa, CEO of Pocus, hosts Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMAs with PLS experts to share best practices, frameworks, and insights on this emerging category. These AMAs are an opportunity to ask PLS leaders any question — ranging from hiring to sales compensation to tech stack — in a casual environment.

The PLS AMAs are for members of Pocus’ Product-Led Sales community, the go-to-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.

Now let’s dive into a recap of what we discussed with this week’s interesting AMA guest.

Introducing Julia, VP Sales and Partnerships at CodeSee 👋

Today’s Ask Me Anything guest Julia Gilinets took an unconventional path to become a sales executive. 

Julia began her career as a software engineer. When her team of just three eventually ended up supporting 30k developers, she realized it was time to get good at prioritization. This was her first exposure to the business side of things. 

As time went on, Julia took on leading account management, customer success, and various other business teams that were responsible for revenue generation, and she finally found herself at home. 

Eventually, Julia joined Sourcegraph, a developer tools company, where she built out a product-led growth and sales motion before that approach even had a name, helping Sourcegraph earn its unicorn status (now multiple times over).

Today, Julia is the VP of Sales and Partnerships at CodeSee, a visual way to understand and onboard onto large codebases. Selling technical products and services lines up perfectly with her knowledge of technology and her passion for creating customer value. 

In this AMA recap, I’ll cover some of my favorite parts of my discussion with Julia, including: 

  • How and why to cater your sales playbook to your audience
  • What leading with value actually means 
  • Ins and outs of the technical sales script 
  • How to help less-technical sales people connect with a technical audience
  • The process of shifting from end users to economic buyers

The Importance of Catering Your Sales Playbook to Your Audience

Perhaps surprisingly, the sales playbook at Sourcegraph was: don’t sell

According to Julia, developers — her target niche at the time — are “allergic” to sales. And she can say that because she’s a developer herself!

Julia says it’s deeply important to be hyper-aware of the personality of your customer and prospect base, and cater your sales scripts and templates to match. 

Julia: “If the personality you're talking to is someone who, for example, doesn't want to hop on a call, maybe you can start out by sending them everything you want them to know via email and just give them a Google form to fill out instead. Even providing this as an option makes them feel seen and heard.” 

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re experiencing low response rates or high attrition, Julia has a few steps you can take to improve sales momentum:

  1. Don’t counter a low response rate with a higher email volume 
  2. Zoom in on the category or categories your target audience falls into - more extroverted, more introverted, more analytical, etc. 
  3. Put yourself in their shoes and ask “What would I need to hear at this point in order to move forward?” 
  4. Create sales playbooks that operationalize what you’ve learned about your audience(s)
  5. Keep experimenting
“Creating playbooks for your specific audience and experimenting to see what works can go a long way.” 

What Does Leading With Value Actually Look Like?

“Leading with value” is something we talk about a lot in the PLG space. So we wanted to get Julia’s thoughts on what that means in a tactical sense. 

Her advice on creating early value, especially in a technical sales situation, includes: 

  • Create low-pressure sales conversations with an “out”
  • Address the “elephant in the room” by being upfront that you’re selling something and that you’re ready to connect with a decision-maker if your product is a good fit
  • Give prospects agency by enabling them to experience your product and empowering them to decide if it provides value based on their criteria (just make sure you learn what that is!)
Julia’s first rule of thumb is to start every sales conversation with an out, which can help remove tension and make for a more honest interaction.

“My motto is: always have an ‘or’ so no one feels like you are pushing something onto them that they can’t get out of.” 

Julia also learned when selling to developers, who tend to be an introverted and direct audience, to address the elephant in the room quickly. She trained her sales team to come right out and say “We hope you will love Sourcegraph. If you do, who will we need to talk to sign your company up?” 

No dodgy tricks are needed to extract information about the decision-maker or, equally important, their decision criteria. This gets distractions and politics off the table so you can get right to running your pilot or proof of concept and be aligned on the outcome. The people you’re engaging with can then always feel in control of whether they see value and whether they want to take your product to a decision-maker, based on their criteria. This approach gives prospects agency — something we all crave to some degree. 

Julia: “We're all human, nobody wants to get anything pushed down their throat. We all want agency.” 

What Comes After “Or”? 

You know how Julia said every sales conversation should have an “or”? Well, we wanted to know — what follows the “or”?

The answer is that it will depend on the situation and desired response, of course. But Julia did provide a few helpful examples of sales messaging that can help elicit the engagement you’re looking for — the key is to always ask yourself what is the goal of your message: 

  • If the goal is to stay top of mind: share something relevant and valuable, like news about an update, an interesting article, a helpful statistic, etc.
  • If the goal is to get a reply: ask a question like “Did you need any help?” “Did you have trouble with setup?” “Did you find that feature I showed you useful?” “Have you been able to install and complete your first action?” etc. 

How Might The Technical Sales Script Sound? 📜

Julia has found that introverts, developers, and people who don’t have a lot of time — in other words, in the niches she often works — simply don't care to go through a lot of discovery steps. 

So with this type of audience, instead of following the typical script, she dives right into: “Thank you for taking the time to chat. What made you jump on the call with me? What are you hoping that this can do for you?” This question extracts what you really want to know: what can I show this person that will prove my product is valuable for their team? 

During this first call, Julia suggests getting to the demo quickly, only five or ten minutes into the discussion. It’s here when Julia likes to weave all her other sales questions into the conversation around the demonstration, such as:

  • Does this look how you expected? (followed by, Why?)
  • What were you hoping to see today? (followed by, Why?)
  • Do you want to get your hands on this? (followed by, Why?)
  • Do you have a certain project with a deadline that you were hoping to use this for? (If not, how else might this be valuable for you?)
Since users and buyers in the technical niche often aren’t big on a lot of back-and-forth calls, this introductory discussion is really your time to address all the “elephants,” gather as much info as you can, and show — not just talk about — product value. 

What to Focus On When Hiring for Technical Product Sales

The struggle between hiring sales folks based on experience vs. fit is a common one.

In Julia’s words, “the world gets a lot smaller” when companies only look for salespeople who have experience with the specific type of product they’re selling. Instead, she recommends hiring based on how well a person can learn about and sell the value of the product. 

Despite her background in development, even Julia leaned on support from a sales engineer when selling for Sourcegraph. 

As for what kind of on-the-job training organizations should provide to make sure non-technical sales folks have the info they need, Julia’s best practice has been to create a dictionary of must-know terms. Her new hires have to find and learn the meaning of each term to the point where they can talk about it easily with her or their “onboarding buddy.”

“The key is really to find someone who can learn the value of the product and what the product means, not necessarily every underlying layer of the product.” 

How a Non-Technical Salesperson Can Connect With a Technical Audience 🤝

How can not-so-technical sales people better connect with a technical audience? Julia has a few tips: 

  • Her number-one rule is to never fake it — don’t use technical terms if you don’t understand them
  • Learn how the product translates to value for each audience, and engage based on that
  • You don’t need to learn development, but you should learn high-level explanations of technologies and products

As for some resources for learning technical explanations that will improve your sales conversation skills, try reading the Technically newsletter or even Googling phrases like “APIs for dummies” to uncover a wealth of information. 

When you can explain the concept coherently to another non-technical person, that’s when Juila says you’ve got a solid understanding of the topic. 

How Should a PLG Org Differentiate Between Self-Serve and Sales-Assisted Leads?

For Julia, there are two main deciding factors when it comes to which leads should remain in the self-serve flow and which should be funnelled to sales. 

The first factor is finding a distinct value lever. For a dev tools company such as CodeSee or Sourcegraph it’s the number of developers in an organization. 

Julia says the idea is to start with a benchmark number of that lever before sales steps in, then experiment with that number to see where you land.

The other factor to consider is what size deal contributes the most to your growth, and put in work to optimize that flow. Follow the volume. 

Moving From End Users to Economic Buyers

The sales motion certainly looks different when targeting the end-user versus the person in an organization with the power to sign on for enterprise-wide adoption. 

We asked Julia what approaches she’s taken to address this challenge. 

1. Create a manager dashboard. This is a way to provide clear value to decision-makers, and can command a higher price tag. 

2. Identify use cases. See what you can extract from your story to create a clear use case for the economic buyer. Then, form your motion around that particular use case to prove value. 

3. Take a stance on land-and-expand. Do you want to go pure land-and-expand, or do you want to focus on signing larger deals — or is there a middle ground? Whatever you decide here is fine, as long as the strategy is clear.

4. Don’t throw every traditional sales methodology out the window. Even within a PLG organization, Julia still uses the MEDDPIC method (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion) to help guide her sales conversations.  

Join Us for the Next PLS AMA 🔮

If you had as much fun as we did learning about the more technical side of sales with Julia, then be sure to join us for the next PLS AMA. 

To be a part of more enlightening conversations just like this one, simply request to join Pocus’ PLS community! Once inside, you’ll be able to engage with plenty of PLG experts and attend AMAs in real-time to ask all your burning questions.

Julia Gilinets
VP Sales and Partnerships at CodeSee
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