RevOps and PLS: Challenges, misconceptions, and the ideal state with Peter Ikladious

Peter Ikladious, Co-Founder and Partner at Unlocking Growth shares RevOps challenges, best practices, the steps to launch a Product-Led Sales motion, and tips on PLS tactics.

Peter Ikladious
September 28, 2023
RevOps and PLS: Challenges, misconceptions, and the ideal state with Peter Ikladious

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 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.

Keep reading for a recap of what we discussed with Peter Ikladious, Co-Founder and Partner of Unlocking Growth, in our latest AMA chat.

Meet Peter, Co-Founder and Partner of Unlocking Growth

​Peter Ikladious is a product-led growth pioneer who has been championing PLG for the past decade. As Co-Founder and Partner at Unlocking Growth, a consulting and training business specializing in product-led transformation, he’s successfully helped organizations around the globe unlock their revenue potential.

In this recap of our AMA conversation with Peter we’ll share the high points of our discussion, including:

  • The ideal definition and role of RevOps
  • Overcoming the RevOps ownership challenge
  • 4 step process to launch Product-Led Sales (PLS)
  • Tactical PLS advice: defining activation, standardizing data, and balancing experimentation with repeatability

First thing’s first: What is RevOps?

Ideally, RevOps is responsible for aligning all revenue-generating operations (what needs to get done? What gaps need to be filled?) to improve efficiency across go-to-market. They’re focused on operationalizing the big picture goals— usually determined by the CRO— across sales, marketing, and customer success.

It’s a complex function to manage, but it’s a critical role for modern go-to-market teams balancing multiple pipelines (i.e self-serve and sales-guided). Gartner predicts that 75% of high-growth tech companies will employ RevOps for “end-to-end revenue production” by 2025.

The role of RevOps in Product-Led Sales (in an ideal world)

We asked Peter to share how the most successful RevOps teams operate within PLG orgs. According to Peter, RevOps is responsible for three main GTM pillars:

#1 Operational accountability

RevOps is tasked with setting up the systems required to execute the GTM motion at scale. To operationalize these systems, RevOps should own the entire go-to-market platform strategy. This strategy includes the tech stack, but also ensuring a shared data language across functions, workflows, and the processes that keep each GTM unit accountable.

#2 Managing core business metrics

RevOps typically supports the CRO by owning the month-by-month forecast across all revenue goals. They analyze data to help define core PLS metrics and create budgets to support them.  For example, RevOps is looking to answer questions like “How many users drop off at certain stages of the journey?” “How many users progress and what do they have in common?” and using this data to inform areas of investment. 

#3 Ensuring GTM alignment

As the liaison between data and GTM teams, RevOps identifies key growth levers according to the company’s North Star. For example, if the company North Star is to double expansion and enterprise acquisition over the next 12 months, RevOps is responsible for aligning go-to-market to make it happen. How? By setting shared goals for each team (i.e increasing sales win rates, optimizing lead routing, improving qualification rates for PQAs, etc). Besides goaling, they should work on setting lead prioritization standards, facilitating feedback loops, surfacing the right data, and smoothing out cross-functional processes.

RevOps drives cross-functional alignment across multiple sales motions

Overcoming a common RevOps challenge: Ownership

Often the three GTM pillars above are owned by different functions and typically vary from company to company. 

Peter shared an example that captures this wide variation: 

“When I was working at a company that was acquired by Stripe, the ownership was primarily between the CMO and the COO's office. Currently, I'm working with another company where the data team owns it, but the CRO is actively driving it. The CRO is leading the data team, while marketing and sales jointly own the initiatives.”

The challenge with distributed ownership across the funnel is that it usually leads to lack of clarity on who is responsible for each stage of the customer journey. As a result, RevOps may not have full control and have a fragmented view of the pipeline. This lack of visibility leads to misalignment on what is actually needed to run a Product-Led Sales motion in terms of tooling, data, and process.

Peter says that to get this evolving function up to its full potential, RevOps leaders need access to the entire funnel. This doesn’t mean RevOps has to own pipeline, but it does mean they’ll need buy-in from GTM leaders to ensure alignment and leeway to pull growth levers owned by different functions. Additionally, ensuring a technology foundation which is shared across all GTM and product teams, provides RevOps leaders with the necessary insights into operational effectiveness across the customer journey.

How to get leadership on your side and secure exec-buy in

Whether you’re reporting to the CRO, CMO, or both— Peter advises to validate your motion through small-scale experimentation, focusing on just one area of the funnel. As you experiment, you’ll probably have to make some compromises, negotiating with multiple leaders — until you prove out your thesis.

Here’s a template you can use to plan your proposal, set up your experiment, and make your case. With leadership on your side, you’ll be able to work cross-functionally across GTM to scale the motion, set up new workflows and systems, experiment, and iterate.

Now that you’ve got a good idea about the role of RevOps in a Product-Led Sales motion, let’s talk about how to get PLS up and running.

Peter’s 4 step process to launch PLS

A PLS launch starts with identifying the problems you're trying to solve. From there, add in product usage data to help you determine what you should build, the playbooks you should run, and the infrastructure required to support a sales-guided path on top of a fully self-serve motion. 

This exercise will help you identify the tools you need to buy, the roles you need to fill, and how to build out the full strategy.

Let’s break it down with Peter’s 4 step framework:

Step 1: Identify the problems you’re trying to solve

Don't start with "I want to add a self-serve product/sales touchpoints" or "I want to do PLS." Instead, start with a set of problems you're trying to solve.

Digging deep into the why of your PLS motion is an essential step to structure your playbooks and get everybody on board. What areas of your current customer journey could PLS significantly improve? Is it at the top of the funnel? Is it more about retention? Analyze your pipeline metrics and pick one revenue goal you want to focus on, for example, net new revenue acquisition (ARR), expansion, net revenue retention (NRR), or churn prevention.

This initial goal will help you build your case, validate success, and eventually; branch out into other areas of the funnel based on your findings.

Step 2: Experiment with PLS in select pockets of the organization to test and validate the motion and get cross-functional buy-in.

"When we started at IBM, there were 400,000 people. It was a very large organization with many players on board. We started in pockets and niches, proving ourselves and scaling it out gradually. At some point, we gained the buy-in of senior VPs, who understood and supported our initiative. This led to the scaling of the initiative across the company and all of our clients."

At Pocus, we call these pockets your tiger team. Your tiger team is a small group of trusted individuals across all of the relevant functions that test the motion (RevOps, sales, data, and marketing), set up initial playbooks, experiment with different signals and tactics, and then evangelize across the company during full roll-out.

At this stage you’re laying the foundations to run PLS. By establishing feedback loops with your tiger team, you can understand your users on an individual and account level; and iterate on the product signals that indicate buying intent.

Step 3: Based on your learnings, determine how you’ll fill process gaps to scale PLS.

PLS is all about using signals about your prospects / customers to inform the GTM strategy.

Signals come from various channels, like product (eg. how users engage with a product), marketing (eg. hand-raisers, visitors to pricing page, attended a webinar), sales conversations, support tickets, etc. Advanced PLS teams develop playbooks for every stage of the customer journey that consider data across all of these channels.

But, orchestrating these workflows is complex. Work backward from your current resources to determine what you need to launch a Product-Led Sales motion that supports every stage of the customer journey.

Unlocking Growth's Customer Journey Architecture

The Customer Journey Architecture represents the elements needed to build a holistic RevOps stack. You don’t need to implement all these elements at once. Peter recommends taking a phased approach by building up sophistication as your motion evolves.

Tooling: Can GTM easily access and action data about their customers and prospects? (Check us out! We can help.)


Training: Do your sales reps know how to leverage product usage data to tie end-user benefits to business ROI?

Hiring: Do you need to bring in new talent — like PLS enablement specialists, or enterprise sales reps — to flesh out your PLS motion?

Step 4: Ensure all GTM functions are aligned to your PLS motion

In a PLS GTM team, sales, marketing, and success work together — managing multiple sales motions (top-down, bottom-up, inbound, and increasingly outbound).

Businesses moving to this hybrid model may be wondering how they’re going to support both a sales team and in-product growth. It’s true that it’s a larger prioritization set, but it also means more options. Not everyone will want to buy through a sales team — and not everyone will want to buy through the product. PLS gives you more options at the end of the funnel, which makes the hard work worth it. 

 🪄Learn more about each step: The complete guide to launch your PLS motion.

Tactical advice: Activation, data, and experimentation in PLS

Let’s bring it home with some tactical advice on the nitty gritty elements of PLS. The community asked Peter how to define the product milestones that signal activation, his recommendations on how much data PLS teams need, and how to promote experimentation while ensuring consistent results.

Here’s what he had to say:

How do you define an active user?

According to Peter, when defining what qualifies as an active user, there are two important factors:

#1 The "aha" moment: A single event that signals the user fully understands your product.

For example, for an events platform like Hopin, the "aha" moment could be when the user successfully runs their first event.

#2 True activation: When a user becomes fully engaged and “hooked” on your product — they surpass a certain threshold that indicates they are actively using and benefiting from your product (and you’re likely to retain them.)

For example, Hopin may find that users who create events with 400 or more attendees are more likely to continue using the platform. In that case, hosting an event with 400 attendees signals true activation.

👉Activation vs. ‘aha’: Another quick example - Facebook

In the past, Facebook defined their "aha" moment as adding one friend. But, activation was when a user had at least seven friends, because that meant they were much more likely to keep coming back to Facebook (aka being an active user).

“To define true activation, analyze your data and look for signals that are predictive of users coming back to use your product more frequently. This combination of signals can then be used as your activation event.”

Is there such a thing as too much data?

The answer to that question is yes and no.

“I'm a big fan of democratizing data and analytics and giving everyone that power. However, the reverse challenge of that is that everyone just inundates themselves with numbers. The worst thing that can happen is that everyone creates a chart or a set of data just to support their own story — you can always find data to build your story.”

This is another area where RevOps can help by developing a standard set of metrics everyone is accountable for.

#1 Establish a standard set of metrics across go-to-market. These are the company-wide, board-reportable metrics that everyone should already be using (number of leads, amount of revenue, churn rate, etc.), even if they don't do detailed tracking.

#2 Establish company-wide efficiency metrics. These metrics focus on the steps users take across the funnel (i.e onboarding, activation, renewal). For example, what are the three or four milestones that signal a user has been successfully onboarded? How do you define activation?

“By defining these metrics and declaring them as company-wide, you remove any ambiguity and avoid individuals creating their own definitions of what a successful acquisition looks like.” 

How do you balance experimentation with repeatability?

Rep input and experimentation is crucial for the success of a PLS motion. If you’re only looking at pipeline metrics, you’re not seeing how those numbers actually play out in the real world sales cycle. 

Peter says once you have the overall efficiency matrix for the business, you can empower GTM teams by providing them with the tools to visualize and act on data — while giving them room for independent research and discovering new potential signals, within the guardrails you've set.

How do you set those guardrails? Working with sales leadership to create playbooks based on the core business metrics you want to move forward. Then, iterate on those playbooks with feedback from sales reps on PQL triggers, lead qualification, and conversion likelihood. 

🚨Warning: As organizations grow larger, leaving room for experimentation while still executing on what's proven to work becomes more challenging. This is why setting guardrails and providing extensive training on how to use product data is so important. Don’t underestimate the need for sales enablement!

🪄Watch: Miro’s guide to scaling Product-Led Sales.

Join the PLS Community for more 🔮

Apply to join the only Product-Led Sales community sharing real, hard-earned knowledge straight from PLS experts themselves — and get a chance to connect with and participate in AMA discussions just like this one!


Peter Ikladious
Co-Founder and Partner at Unlocking Growth
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