Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Lauryn Isford (Airtable)

As Head of Growth at Airtable, Lauryn Isford owns the Product-Led Sales pipeline development and handoff.

Lauryn Isford
August 8, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Lauryn Isford (Airtable)

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 the latest AMA chat.

Meet Lauryn, Head of Growth @ Airtable 👋

As Head of Growth at Airtable, Lauryn Isford owns the Product-Led Sales pipeline development and handoff. Which makes her the perfect person to talk to as we continue our mission to spread the word and the knowledge about the fast-growing PLS category! She’s also a former  barista and big-time coffee enthusiast.

If that piques your interest, then you won’t want to miss this summary of the high points from our chat with Lauryn, where we learn all about: 

  • What the growth team looks like at Airtable
  • Airtable’s robust lead development & prioritization process 
  • Managing a funnel that hosts both self-serve & sales leads 
  • Applying the right people, tools, & culture for a smooth growth-sales pipeline 

What Do Lauryn and the Growth Team Do at Airtable?

Airtable is a unique organization — and one we’re always stoked to talk to folks from — because their self-serve pipeline was their first revenue stream. And, it still continues to be a meaningful stream today. 

This is why the growth team at Airtable thinks of itself as a product team first. Their reach spreads from new-user signup to enterprise account creation, and within this range they work on everything from activation to onboarding, pricing, packaging, growth post-sign up, and even a partnership with top-of-funnel marketing. 

Day in and day out, keeping the product-led growth (PLG) engine going is key to what Lauryn and her growth team handles. They primarily focus on: 

  • Getting new users in the door to try Airtable
  • Retention on Airtable
  • Eventually converting users, even to a self-serve paid subscription, with or without sales interaction 

Lauryn orients her team into three pillars, focused on three stages of the customer journey: 

  • User activation
  • Conversion
  • Expansion + Sophistication

Since Airtable is a relatively horizontal product that, as Lauryn says, can be useful to “millions of people with all different types of use cases” — it’s a big job doing their best to turn every first-time user possible into an eventual champion. 

It certainly requires some prioritization. 

“Our goal is to compound activation, expansion, and sophistication so that we've created many, many more qualified leads than our sales team can even handle talking to.”  —

How Airtable Prioritizes Leads 🔝

Lauryn feels her team has a responsibility to help as many users as possible find value fast. The goal is to get new users to invite others to their Airtable instance, eventually deepening the usage and sophistication of the team to the point where a sales conversation makes sense.

They’ve developed a workflow that helps them prioritize how they help the many new users who land on their product every day: 

  • First, they focus on making the user successful
  • Then, they focus on making a team successful around its initial use case, which includes deepening use of premium features
  • Finally, they focus on breadth of usage and expanding that use across an organization
  • As this engine compounds, that’s when the sales touch comes in

Within that prioritization flow, they have several lead profiles to whom they pay special attention, including:

  • Lead or single activated team (say, 5-10+ weekly active users)
  • Activated department or large team (30-100+ weekly active users)

The sales team generally starts with organizations that have the broadest and deepest use of Airtable (departments or large teams). However, the pool of smaller teams/leads using the product is big and growing, so they have plenty of options for who to reach out to over time, while maintaining a strong case for mutual value.

Airtable’s Lead Development Process

The journey to developing Airtable’s lead definition all began with their analytics team exploring:

  • What user behaviors correlate with conversion?
  • What correlates with great sales outcomes?
  • What correlates with sophisticated use at the enterprise level?

Today, go-to-market and growth still collaborate regularly (weekly or monthly) on leads. This gives them a chance to work through whether or not enough leads are being generated, the quality of the leads in the pipeline, whether targeting needs to be refined, and so on.

But most importantly during these reviews, they dive into abnormalities to draw out insights. 

For example, if they found a huge spike in self-serve users one week, they would try to trace that back to a specific event. If it was a marketing campaign, they’d try to identify: 

  • What parts of that messaging specifically resonated with users
  • How that learning could be integrated into marketing, sales, and even product (onboarding flows, in-app suggestions, etc.) 
“Regular reviews have created incredibly fruitful feedback loops that ensure everyone who is working on the pre-sales PLG motion is focusing on the right things.” 

No Customer Segmentation for Leads? 🤔

You might have noticed that Lauryn didn’t mention any kind of customer segmentation in her lead definitions. That’s because Airtable views themselves as a deliberately horizontal platform. Their aim is to provide value to as many different types of users as possible. While segmentation is important, many segments of users find value in Airtable. They want to create space for that broad value across many use cases.

They do still collect signals from users to help if they need to do any quick prioritization. For example, they may determine what vertical or function a user is in: product, marketing, etc. 

Who Owns Leads? 

At Airtable, Lauryn gives all the credit for defining leads to the analysts on her growth team. 

But as to whom she generally sees as the overall owner of the lead pipeline, it’s sales. 

The accountability sales faces to meet targets is the perfect activation energy needed for inspiring a whole company to work on the Product-Led Sales motion. She says an amazing CRO driving the organization to generate more leads ASAP is clarifying and motivating. The knowledge and drive behind sales makes it the perfect function to own the lead pipeline.

Why not growth? Primarily just because it takes many companies a really long time to build that growth arm. By the time there is a growth org in place, sales or a similar team has already been owning leads for years. Growth is a critical partner in service of that same goal.

The same is true for marketing. In general, it can be challenging to arm marketing with the product data needed in a short timeframe to evaluate the quality of a product signup. But as non-complex tooling that gives marketing leaders the product usage insights they need to refine their pre-signup messaging becomes mainstream, this should evolve. 

The Fluidity of Self-Serve & Sales All in One Funnel 🌊

Lauryn says that at one point at Airtable, just like at many PLG companies, they thought of their self-serve and enterprise pipelines as two different sides of the business.

However, once they fully understood that self-serve users were the seeds of future expansions, and the engine of future business, they started to think of it as just one funnel. 

The concern for many in this one-funnel approach is cannibalization. At Airtable, they did the math on how much sales revenue was generated on top of initial revenue from self-serve. They decided that what worked best for them was to continue to create space for both self-serve and enterprise outcomes, and to focus first on driving broader and deeper usage (user growth) across the business. Product and GTM work as one team to help people progress further and further inside Airtable. 

“Using the word ‘self-serve’ is a little bit dangerous, I think. At the end of the day, many of our self-serve users are the seeds of potential expansion into an enterprise account.” 

People, Tools, Culture: Smoothing the Growth-Sales Pipeline 🧰

If it sounds like Airtable has a pretty great growth-sales relationship, that’s because they do. 

Lauryn says there are a few mechanisms powering the smooth transition of information from growth to sales. 

First, there are the teams and tooling. Airtable has a strong analytics team who have the tools they need to pass information from growth to sales, making sure the right data gets into Salesforce so that messaging is always personalized exactly the way it needs to be. Fortunately, as Lauryn mentions, tools like Pocus are making these smooth transitions possible even for smaller teams and startups today.

In addition to people and tools, Airtable has built a culture around “strong opinions, changed with new information” according to Lauryn. So if sales lets growth know that their newest lead definition isn’t working, there is no hesitation around iterating based on that feedback immediately. This culture and behavior results in an environment where everyone is really excited about and really trusting of the data. 

Expansion Today and in the Future 

Right now, Lauryn’s growth team primarily focuses on supporting enterprise lands by expanding to broader and deeper use cases. Then, customer experience largely takes over growth once a contract closes. That means getting from the initial 100 seats to 1,000, for example, is a human-assisted motion.

Down the road, Lauryn has her sights set on growth helping this motion, too. Changes like making it easier for any product manager to invite their entire team onto Airtable — no human required — will produce great opportunities for expansion both before and after deals are closed. Lauryn is excited for a future in which expansion becomes more of a cross-team effort. 

“I'd love to get to a place where expansion is as natural a motion to us as activation.”

Will You Join Our Next PLS AMA? 🔮

If you want to get your own questions answered by a PLS expert like Lauryn, request to join Pocus’ PLS community and never miss another riveting discussion. 

Lauryn Isford
Head of Growth at Airtable
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