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Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Kim Walsh

Get insight into the early days of sales at Hubspot and their pioneering work in building out a sales-assist motion.

Kim Walsh
December 12, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Kim Walsh

Alexa, CEO of Pocus, hosts Product-Led Sales (PLS) “Ask Me Anything” sessions 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 low-key, casual environment.

The PLS AMAs are for members of the 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, keep reading for a recap of what we discussed in our latest AMA chat.

Meet Kim: SVP of Sales, Partnerships, and Customer Success @ Apollo 👋

Kim Walsh is a lot of things: the Senior Vice President of Sales, Partnerships, and Customer Success at Apollo; a former long-time HubSpot employee where she worked her way up to Global VP of GTM Partnerships; an investor; and a proud Canadian who has resided in the U.S. for the past few decades. 

In this AMA chat we caught up with Kim about how awesome Canada is, of course, and a lot more. 

Keep reading to dive into the high points of our call with Kim, including: 

  • HubSpot’s pioneering work in the consultative, sales-assist approach
  • How to hire and measure success in a consultative sales culture
  • The playbook for starting your own PLS partnerships

HubSpot’s Early, Consultative Sales Assist Motion 

Kim joined HubSpot’s sales team in 2010 when the company had around 80 people and 10 million in revenue. At the time, she worked closely with former HubSpot CRO (and current advisor) Mark Roberge to create and run the upmarket, hybrid, and proactive GTM motions that shaped and grew the sales organization in its formative years. 

Back then, “sales assist” wasn’t a recognized term like it is today. Even if it was, HubSpot might not have used it anyway. 

One of Mark’s ideas was to call salespeople "growth specialists,” in line with the “not sales-y” culture at HubSpot. 

Instead, the focus for sales was on being consultative.

One of the best ways they achieved this approach was by asking a question Kim still recommends marketing companies ask today: What is your biggest marketing challenge? 

The answer told her, and other sales reps, what amount of time and care each lead needed. With this question in play, Kim says reps regularly closed from 15 to 20 new deals every month. 

Here are the steps that helped this consultative, sales assist-like motion succeed at HubSpot: 

  1. Lean on your inbound motion: HubSpot set up inbound flows that A. identified ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and B. segmented them by challenge (e.g. lead gen, marketing analytics, marketing automation, etc.).
  2. Initiate discovery with ICPs, go in informed but curious: Once high-value leads were identified, HubSpot’s growth specialists set up 30-minute qualifying calls known as  Inbound Marketing Assessments. They went into these calls knowing the lead’s contact history and with a good idea of their main challenge. (Today, they’d also have PLS signals with a tool like Pocus!) The first question was always “How can I help you today?” 
  3. Set up the next step — demo — for success: HubSpot figured out that the most effective discovery > demo > deal flow happened when they had no less than five different roles from the lead’s side on the call. Holding out for this further helped solidify purchasing intent, saved on number of demos done, and helped shorten the sales cycle. 
  4. Measure demo-to-close rate: For HubSpot, the demo-to-close rate was the measure of sales success.
"It was really important to us at HubSpot that we were always helping, being super consultative, and building trust. That was our number-one thing.”

Does Consultative = No Sales Metrics? (It Doesn’t!) ⚖️

It’s fair to think that taking a culture-led, consultative approach means you don’t measure success using cold, hard sales metrics. 

However, that was not the case at HubSpot. They had honed their techniques so well at this point that they knew their consultative approach was what would enable sales to hit their quotas. 

Sales leaders stayed very informed of the rates at which their teams were closing PQLs, MQLs, and other leads. In addition, Kim mentions they also tracked many of the same sales metrics we still use today: 

  • Calls made 
  • Emails sent 
  • Talk time 
  • Discovery calls 
  • Demos 
  • Win rate 
  • Days to close 
  • Annual contract value

HubSpot also published a visible waterfall chart that was updated daily, giving the whole team transparency into sales performance. 

So while it was certainly a helpful, consultative environment, the measurement was real and the bar was high — and performance plans were enacted for anyone falling behind. 

Hiring and Training Non-Traditional Sales Consultants 

Looking to build a highly consultative sales team with a less aggressive approach that’s still successful — like the above?

According to Kim, the key profile is not a traditional salesperson. 

HubSpot often hired folks who had never done sales, such as teachers, people who worked in non-profits, and the like. 

The profile for a consultative salesperson was someone who was:

  • Coachable 
  • Hungry for knowledge 
  • Ambitious
  • Curious 

Training and onboarding was very academic to ensure every hire had deep product expertise. 

Every person working at HubSpot then had to learn HubSpot inside and out during their 30-day onboarding period. They had to come up with a business idea, rank for keywords related to this idea, get HubSpot certified, learn how to set up sequences and use other features, take an inbound marketing test, and more. 

Kim still encourages a thorough process similar to this to ensure the people selling your product are indeed product experts. 

“The mantra was: It doesn't matter what we sell, it's how we sell it. It was so fun to sell at HubSpot because you never felt like you were shoving something down someone's throat.” 

The Secret to Successful Product-Led Sales: The People 🫶

What’s one of the things Kim enjoys the most about the PLS approach? 

The human element. (Love it!)

She saw it at HubSpot and now sees at Apollo how much the human touch can accelerate sales. 

How much of your self-serve revenue is renewing — without the human touch? How many users have discovered all the features of your product — without the human touch? How many of them learned about all the different products your company has that could be of use to them — without the human touch? 

You can build an amazing self-serve business, but for most companies there are limitations to what can be done through just automation within the product. When applied at this limit, sales folks are pivotal in accelerating sales.

Last years inaugural Product-Led Sales Benchmark Report found that 97% of PLG companies either had a sales team or were planning to build one. Learn more about PLS Benchmarks here.

“The secret to an amazing PLS company is a really intelligent, data-driven go-to-market team. No one's ever going to convince me that that's not true.” 

The Playbook for PLS Partnerships

We wanted to talk to Kim about an interesting approach both HubSpot and Apollo have taken: partnerships. 

The cool thing about partnering up with other businesses is the fresh, unique marketing that results. Partners typically do things like share messaging about your company, use your product in a public-facing way, create co-marketing with you, feature you in their marketplace, and recommend you as one of their trusted associates.

At HubSpot, the partnership approach was treated like a separate business within the org. Within partnerships, 60% of the revenue was a result of self-serve leads coming in from that partner marketing. Another 10% came from the sales-assist motion and the last 30% was rep-driven.

It just goes to show how smart partnerships can kick off the PLS flywheel. 

What’s the playbook for getting your partnership program off the ground? Let’s talk about what it looks like if you’re building your integration partnerships: 

1.  Choose your partnership type(s). Agency consultants, startup partners, tech integration partners, and affiliate partners are the popular options.

2. How do you know which integration partnerships you want to form? Look for overlap and value by asking: 

  • Does this fit into our industry? 
  • Do our customers know and trust this tool?
  • Will this partnership positively impact our customer base? 
  •  Will this help us tap into a new channel or market?

3. With that list in hand, start somewhere like G2 to find partners that line up with your values and goals. 

4. Launch the marketplace or other ecosystem where you’re going to feature these partners, then dive into outreach with these companies to begin relationship building.

See You in the Pocus Community! 🔮

Wanna learn from more go-to-market legends like Kim?

Request to join Pocus’ PLS community

Join us to see what it’s like to be a member of the only Product-Led Sales community that’s sharing real knowledge straight from leaders at places like Atlassian, Airtable, ClickUp, MongoDB, and more. 

Kim Walsh
SVP Sales, Partnerships, and Customer Success at Apollo
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