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 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 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.
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Marie is the former VP of Growth at Confluent where she led PLG & cloud self-serve, sales development (inbound & outbound motions globally), lifecycle marketing, and digital (paid, SEO, web optimization). Prior to Confluent, Marie was a sales and product leader at Box. Marie has an incredibly unique perspective as she has led sales, marketing, and product teams in PLG organizations. Marie worked alongside another one of our favorite PLS experts GC Lionetti - catch up on our conversation with him here.
In this AMA, Marie discusses:
Customer segmentation is key to sales compensation.
Marie mentioned that it’s much more important to think about the sales compensation framework rather than the exact percentage split between base and variable compensation in a product-led world. To be more specific, Marie mentions the importance of thinking through customer segmentation prior to jumping into compensation. Segmentation and sales compensation go hand-in-hand in a PLG world.
Companies must decide where to segment between self-serve and sales as the foundation.
This could be based on a variety of metrics including company size, dollars spent, pricing plan, etc. In product-led companies, self-serve / free trial users become a pool that the sales team can fish from. It's very important that leadership positions the self-serve business as a source of pipeline for the sales team, and not as competition.
The idea is for more expensive resources (i.e. account executives) to be focused on the highest potential accounts. They should prioritize upselling strategic customers, focusing on enterprise expansion, not on handholding low potential customers that could be nurtured in a self-serve way. SDRs can be very effective in Product-Led Sales, both in guiding self-serve users and collecting insights on areas of friction to feed back into the company. Marie mentioned “people don’t like talking about ‘expensive resources’... but you need to address it upfront to think through sales / marketing efficiency”.
Marie enlightened us about some experiments she ran with sales compensation at Box - there were some things that worked and others that did not...
❌ Didn’t work: Compensating Account Executives (AEs) if they interacted with an account. AEs could game this easily and it incentivized the wrong behavior to put a ton of touches on accounts that may not have had long-term potential.
✅ Did work: Compensating AEs if and when their account reached a set threshold in ARR ($5K at the time).
Let’s dive into why this worked…
Although this might seem overly simple, there are a number of interesting nuances. AEs have to think “will this account one day get above the $5K threshold?” - if yes, it’s worth their time, if not, the AE should leave the account in the self-serve funnel.
So, AEs had to evaluate the account and whether there was a chance it could be a high-value customer. For example, a big company may only spend $200/year, but based on their use case and other attributes, they are likely worth an AEs time because they will get to $5K or more in the next 6 or so months.
This strategy aligned the business incentives with the AE incentives. This strategy also helped Box hire the right AEs as they should always be thinking about an account's long-term potential and rather than how to close quick deals that should have been left in self-serve.
Deploy resources against the customer segments you identify as you go upmarket. Identify the less strategic tasks and automate them for self-serve users. Then, as you go more upmarket, get more and more strategic and personalized with outreach.
Layers of the cake:
Although efficiency is always top of mind for Marie, she mentioned that all of this advice goes out of the window if you’re an early stage company. If you're at an early stage, you need to prioritize feedback loops over efficiency. So, you should put your best salespeople on deals where you can learn about the users and inform the future of the business.
For example, at Confluent in the early days, they spun up anSDR team focused solely on activating their smallest customers. This was not very efficient, but they were still figuring out the go-to-market motion, pricing, product features, onboarding, and more. So, Confluent needed SDRs to work on small accounts to capture learnings and feedback, even though they weren't necessarily resulting in large deals. Although the team did not at first generate significant revenue, they found ways to automate certain touch points, improve the experience with Confluent and ultimately make the process more efficient and drive long-term revenue.
When building the Cloud SDR team at Confluent, Marie hired a different SDR profile to focus on capturing feedback, driving customer happiness, and hand-holding activation… they were not traditional enterprise SDRs
Marie identified two characteristics of being a successful Product-Led Sales SDR:
Separately, Marie mentioned they hired ex-military folks and some Flockjay graduates for the SDR teams at Confluent, and they were some of the most successful reps on the team.
Marie excitedly mentioned that “I’m a huge fan of SDRs… they are such a fun team and they become an integral part of the company”.
SDRs can take various career paths - the “Cloud SDR” could fit better with a Sales Engineer role than a traditional Enterprise AE career path. Marie often worked with SDRs to find the next role they could jump into.
PLS SDRs have an advantage in that they have been both quite technical and customer facing, so many teams were willing to “give them a shot”. Some career paths that Marie has seen for SDRs:
Marie mentions that free users in regular SaaS businesses can be thought of similarly as adopters of open-source software… and for OSS-based businesses, this can be viewed as the TAM.
Especially in open-source, if users are not adopting the open-source product, they are unlikely to buy your software (so it’s not worth spending any time on them). At Confluent, they dedicated a lot of effort in building the OSS community, and separately had teams focusing on converting OSS adopters to Confluent customers.
Marie emphasizes the importance of having a user play with your product before trying to sell.
Through an analysis at Confluent, Marie saw that the consumption rate of accounts that started using the product before engaging with the sales team were far higher than those that talked to the sales team first. This was her favorite metric to advocate for product-led sales.
Although, at the time, Box didn’t use the term PQLs, they were tracking the same metrics. There were 2 types of motions sometimes both occurring in the same account
Confluent’s qualified leads depended on a number of factors, including:
Confluent came up with qualified leads through a lot of trial & error and internal feedback. They analyzed historical data and found correlation between certain metrics / attributes and conversion to paid accounts. Marie admits this was not always an easy exercise, with some misfires.
The cloud activation metric at Confluent was called the “production active orgs” which was 7 straight days of data streaming through the platform. This measured that the account was using the product in a regular way. It’s important to find an activation metric unique to a company, that is a milestone that is correlated with longer term user retention.
Marie states that activation metrics are an input into PQLs. Certain features or usage thresholds (activation metrics) can be an indication that a user / account is ready to spend more or upgrade, and they should therefore be routed to sales.
Marie admits that she tried to do this at Box, but it did not work that well… “which is why Pocus is so dope”.
She mentioned that it’s hard to actually surface information to the sales team once you determine PQLs. For example, if you wanted to be alerted every time an account increased usage in the last 7 days, the information could be made available, but it was often hard for sales teams to find. Sales teams had to dig through various internal tools and Tableau or other visualization tools were never sticky enough for the sales teams to continue to use. AEs have a lot to do, and they don’t want to spend time digging through data when they could be talking to customers. Although growth / analytics / product teams love dashboards, it’s very hard to get in the hands of sales teams.
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