Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Pouyan Salehi (Scratchpad)

CEO & Co-Founder of Scratchpad shares his advice thinking strategy first, sales motion second.

Pouyan Salehi
July 12, 2022
Product-Led Sales (PLS) AMA: Pouyan Salehi (Scratchpad)

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.

Meet Pouyan, CEO & Co-Founder @ Scratchpad 👋

Pouyan Salehi has a long history of founding successful companies. 

Before founding Scratchpad in 2019 alongside CTO Cyrus Karbassiyoonto to build a better workplace for sales people, he also helped found StackMob (acquired by PayPal), PersistIQ (acquired by Wishpond), and Lera Labs.

It’s no surprise that under the guidance of Pouyan and his team, Scratchpad has quickly grown to be a beloved tool among top-performing sales teams. 

But what may be a surprise to learn is that the company really didn’t set out to build a product-led motion — it’s something that has developed naturally over time. 

In this AMA recap, we’ll share what we learned from Pouyan’s unique approach at Scratchpad, including: 

  • How to start with strategy then “back in” to the best sales approach 
  • What Scratchpad’s hybrid motion looks like and how it developed  
  • How to tell if PLS is right for your business
  • Why the conviction to go narrow is so vital 
  • The great reason why Scratchpad stays agile in their approach

Thinking Strategy First, Sales Motion Second at Scratchpad 🧠

Pouyan tells us that being a product-led growth (PLG) organization wasn’t a priority for Scratchpad in the early days.

In fact, he thinks an unhelpful pattern that many founders fall into is setting out to be product-led above all things, even if it doesn’t really make sense for the audience of the product. 

So instead, the Scratchpad team decided to develop their strategy first, which did eventually uncover that a hybrid product-led approach was right for them. 

What was their guiding strategy early on? Focusing on adoption.

One of the most powerful ways they drove adoption was by sidestepping the top-down purchasing flow that was so common at the time. They focused solely on building something that was just for end users. Something that end users could sign up for and start working with right then and there.

“In the sales tech world, there's a graveyard of companies that were built around products that do the same thing we do. What happened to them? Adoption was the key. None of those products ever got adoption. So we focused on that.”

How Startups Can Develop Their Guiding Strategy 

Considering this interesting approach, we had to know how Scratchpad came up with the initial strategy that guided product development.

Pouyan says it’s all about identifying the dimensions that will make a significant difference. 

For his team, they identified some clear pain points in the sales tech world right away: 

  • Most sales tech was not simple for salespeople to use 
  • Many products in the sales space weren’t beautiful 
  • There was a noticeable lack of speed among sales tools

By focusing on solving these common problems, they were able to develop a product, and eventually a product-led sales motion, that differentiated them in the market. 

Pouyan’s best advice for businesses that are developing a GTM strategy is not to start with a solidified idea and then look for ways to force product-market fit, but to begin with listening to the market and then building something that fills the gaps. 

“With Scratchpad that was one of the big lessons learned. You can have your own ideas, and you should have your own ideas, but don't hold on to them too tightly. Listen to what the market is telling you, try to find the gaps, and adjust to that as much as possible.” 

Determining if Sales-Led is the Right GTM Motion 🔭

Pouyan’s advice for early companies that feel pressured (by VCs, especially) to take a product-led approach is to make absolutely sure it’s the motion that’s right for them. If it’s not, he feels it’s not worth doing. 

Why? Because it’s hard and it takes a lot of time to get it right.

It’s not as easy as just spinning up a freemium product, throwing together a few growth hacks, and watching as revenue comes streaming in the door.

And that’s something we of course agree with him on — PLG isn’t for everyone, and it also isn’t easy.

But with that in mind, what can founders do to determine if product-led is something they might want to pursue? 

Pouyan advises approaching that question like a design experiment by thinking about the impact on the business and its customers.

Here are some questions he would ask to get an objective view on whether or not PLS is a good fit for a business: 

  • How will a product-led motion help in this scenario?
  • Who is the consumer who’s going to engage with it?
  • What value will that consumer gain from a PLG motion?
  • Can we lead the consumer to engage with that value quickly enough? 
  • What will a product-first motion enable within our business?

Pouyan warns that you might not get the most obvious indicator that product-led is the ideal approach, but what you may find after thinking through these questions is an inkling that spurs you to explore it further.

“It’s probably not going to be a super clear picture where you can be like ‘Yes, we should go product-led!’ It'll be fuzzy at first, but all you’re looking for is one small entry point that shows if it’s worth experimenting with.”

How Scratchpad Settled on a Hybrid Approach

In the early days, after developing a simple checkout process that enabled consumers to self-serve, the Scratchpad team became worried that flow wasn’t going to empower them to grow at their desired pace.

So, despite conventional wisdom telling them to double down on the self-serve flow, they also implemented a sales team early on. 

In the beginning, this team focused heavily on outbound sales. And while Pouyan thought it did a lot to help them sharpen their messaging and positioning, they weren’t getting the results they wanted considering all the intention and design they were putting into the motion. 

So they decided to pull back on outbound a bit and focus on the inbound leads that were already coming from their self-serve flywheel. Eventually, they started to see this channel generating the mid-market and enterprise leads they wanted. As a small team, instead of spreading themselves too thin, they pivoted in a way that allowed them to focus heavily on this hybrid product-led and sales-assisted motion (i.e. Product-Led Sales). 

Today, they have elements of both bottom-up and top-down sales approaches within their organization — a system they found works for them after experimenting and listening to their market and customers.

The First Sales Hire at Scratchpad

Pouyan is a big believer in founder-led sales. He says you don’t have to be the best salesperson, but as a founder you should get your boots on the ground and sell as a way to develop a deep understanding of your market.

So the first sales person at Scratchpad was, technically, him! 

From there, for his first sales hire he wanted to find someone who could compliment his skills and help fill in the gaps where he was less strong. For him, that meant looking for someone who was adept and fast at closing sales. 

Here’s his advice for hiring early sales folks in a bottom-up environment: Don’t start with SDRs or a VP, look for generalists who can teach you and find someone you can spend a lot of time with - you’ll be working super closely with them.

Have the Conviction to Narrow Your Scope 💪

For Pouyan, all things go back to the user. 

At Scratchpad, the focus isn’t on how they can make their PLG motion better. That isn’t their North Star Metric. What they focus on instead is building a good business and creating delightful experiences.

To communicate this to his team, Pouyan tells them to think of themselves as if they’re in the hospitality industry. Yes, they’re a SaaS company, but what they’re trying to do is deliver an interaction so delightful that everyone who experiences it just has to talk about it — the way you would about a great restaurant.

And to do that, they can’t take their eyes off of their one, narrow use case: the salesperson who wants to work with Salesforce faster. 

This is why, even though Puoyan acknowledges they aren’t always totally focused on the self-serve motion, the primary call-to-action on their website homepage is an “Add to Chrome” button. 

They’ve determined that this is what kicks off a great experience for their target audience. Sales people often don’t have a choice in the tools they get to use, so putting this action in their hands and delivering value in 30 seconds or less is hugely delightful for them. Pouyan says his team is confident that once a new user enters this flow, they can then apply their playbooks to expand the relationship upward toward decision-makers.

“Have the conviction to go very narrow. Going narrow will actually help you get to where you ultimately want to go.” 

We’ll See You at the Next PLS AMA 🔮

Our conversation with Puoyan was full of POV-shifting insights, friendly debate, and actionable advice for founders and sales folks alike.

To make sure you don’t miss another AMA like this one, request to join Pocus’ PLS community.

In the community, you’ll have the chance to engage with plenty of experts and attend every AMA in real-time to get your own questions answered by awesome PLG and PLS pros. 

About the author
Pouyan Salehi
CEO & Co-Founder, Scratchpad
Keep Reading
Introducing Pocus’ Signal Marketplace

Making it easier than ever to find and action all of the most important signals for your GTM team in one place.

Meredith McManus
June 25, 2024
How Superhuman Moved Upmarket With Pocus Playbooks

Learn about how Superhuman was able to navigate moving upmarket through data-backed playbooks.

Meredith McManus
June 18, 2024
Introducing AI Prospector

Streamline your prospecting workflows with the power of AI.

Sandy Mangat
June 5, 2024
Evolving from PLG to PLS with Lisa Schrumpf (Intercom)

How did Lisa take Intercom from purely PLG to a hybrid PLS motion? A 4-step strategy.

Meredith McManus
May 21, 2024

See the magic for yourself

Watch how Pocus makes it easy to
drive conversion, retention, and optimization.

The Revenue Data Platform for go-to-market teams
Schedule a call with a GTM specialist to talk about your GTM motion, goals, and how Pocus can help turn product data into revenue.
Join the #1 place to learn about PLS and modern go-to-market strategy
Join our invite-only Slack community to learn firsthand from experts who have built and scaled hybrid revenue engines and connect with peers who are just figuring things out.
See how Pocus combines product usage and customer data to get a 360° view of your hottest opportunities.
Take the product tour