What is the sales-assist role?

Defining this emerging Product-Led Sales role

Alexa Grabell
November 9, 2021
What is the sales-assist role?

Since Product-Led Sales (PLS) is relatively new and the teams built to support the motion are also new, we’re still in the wild west stage of titles.

We recently polled our PLS community about this role and asked how each team refers to the role within their company. The answer was surprising - product specialist was the most popular answer. While our data team want to make clear this is NOT statistically significant, it is interesting nonetheless...

Another way to look at this is that Sales-Assist is the function, whereas the other names are the titles.

Rob Falcone sums it up nicely here...

For example, Vidyard calls their sales-assist team the “Video Coach” team and Superhuman calls this team their “onboarding specialists."

What we learned from this exercise is that Product-Led Sales is still evolving and we’re all building the playbooks as we go along. Naming can be important but what is most important is the scope of responsibilities assigned to this role. 

But what is exactly the sales-assist teams charter?

In this blog, we’ll dive into:

  1. The scope of responsibility for sales-assist teams 
  2. When to add a sales-assist team to your GTM motion
  3. How to measure the success of this team
  4. Hiring profiles that excel in this role 
  5. Bonus: PLS community sourced job description template

What is the sales-assist role?

Put quite simply, the sales-assist role is exactly what it sounds like…help/assist a user in their journey, whether that means they are ready to purchase or have hit a point of friction and everything in between. The sales-assist team offers a human touchpoint for users who are potentially good sales opportunities and need help solving their problem, getting value out of the product, or making a purchase decision. 

We can break the sales-assist role down into three key components:

  • Sales support. Helping users (usually hand-raisers) with upgrade decisions, pricing inquiries, and generally trying to remove friction in the sales process.  These questions are typically more complex than typical support questions (ie. “how do I reset my password”) but less complex than enterprise sales questions (ie. “how do I purchase an enterprise-wide agreement”). Sometimes, the sales-assist teams will receive questions like these, in which they route the user to the support or enterprise sales teams. 
  • Education + Enablement. Educating users on product features to deepen their engagement, unblock them, and showcase the value of features beyond the paywall.
  • Feedback loop. Empathizing with individual users to capture feedback and funnel the feedback to sales, product, marketing, and growth teams. In particular, feedback about how to remove friction is very beneficial because it can help product / growth teams make improvements so that future users can self-serve into higher plans without a human touchpoint. 

The role of sales-assist should not be to talk to every single user that comes through the self-serve funnel. This role is designed to help accelerate revenue by identifying opportunities to refer to sales and to remove friction from a user’s journey (if the self-serve channel cannot). 

This may look different depending on your go-to-market, product, and company-wide goals. But, in general, across PLG companies' sales-assist teams have responsibilities in these three categories. For a specific example of how GC Lionetti implemented this within the sales-assist team at dropbox, read our recent AMA recap here

Hence, the sales-assist role has these three components, but some conversations might skew towards sales and others toward support and enablement. But, the feedback loop should always be present. 

When should you add a sales-assist team?

Short answer: it depends. 

Long answer: there are a few scenarios where you may want to add a sales-assist team (hint: it’s not always just when you’re focused on making a sale) 

  1. Reactive outreach to hand-raisers. If you’re starting to see a high volume of hand-raisers within potentially high-value accounts, you may want to shift the responsibility from your Customer Success / Support team to sales-assist.
  2. Friction in the self-serve process. The friction could be causing drop-off or it might be preventing users from seeing the value of paid plans. If you see stagnation in your conversion rates, you might want to experiment with sales-assist. 

How to get started? 

As always - start with an experiment. 

#1 Analyze the user journey. Look at your onboarding flow or the overall user journey and try to pick out areas of friction or areas where the expected value and product value don’t match up. 

#2 Choose a focus area. When starting out with this new role, pick a very specific area of the journey or goal to tackle. 

For example, if you see drop-off before users get to meaningful value in the product try offering a 1:1 onboarding session to every user that signs up (shoutout to Superhuman!)

#3 Deploy the person/team. Once you’ve defined an area and a goal, equip your sales-assist team or person with a clear playbook to follow. 

How to measure the success of the team?

The goal of sales-assist isn’t to push a sale, but to pull forward revenue.

So measuring the success of your sales-assist team can’t just focus on closed/won revenue. 

In our AMA with GC Lionetti, he offered a model for sales-assist compensation that we believe captures the various facets of the role:

#1 ARR: ability to influence/drive revenue or pipeline

How to measure? Track opportunities referred from the sales-assist team

#2 Feedback loops: ability to extract what is in the minds of customers

How to measure? Ask your sales-assist team to keep track of their feedback in a slack channel or shared document. If the product or growth team action any of that feedback, then you can tie it back to this document.

#3 Efficiency: ability to be as efficient as possible with their time and send users back into the self-serve funnel if they did not need human assistance. 

How to measure? This is the hardest to measure with accuracy but looking at where the team spent time will help you understand whether they are talking to the right opportunities and routing them to the best next step. 

Hiring the right profile

After several conversations and interviews with members of the PLS community, we discovered that the sales-assist role requires a unique set of skills across a few different areas. Looking at these skill sets you may think - “each one of these could be its own role” and perhaps in the future that may be the case.

If you are just starting out, look for the following skills and attributes as you hire:

  • Experimental. Ability to test ideas rapidly
  • Technical. Curiosity about the product. Has the ability to go deep in the product. 
  • Collaborative. Can work well cross-functionally 
  • Communicator. Ability to communicate effectively, distill feedback, and synthesize ideas
  • Data-driven. Comfortable with data and can demonstrate ability to identify why data is important to the role.

As always, there is no one size fits all approach here. The ideal candidate for the sales-assist role will largely depend on your business, GTM motion, and goals. For example, a product for developers or open-source tool may want to hire more technical resources that lean toward customer success/support, while a less technical product may use sales-assist to compliment the SDR or BDR team so they would be more traditional sales profiles.

Need more inspiration?

Check out these sales-assist job descriptions from top PLG companies. 

Want more PLS insights like these directly to you inbox every Tuesday? Sign up for the newsletter here.

Alexa Grabell
Co-Founder & CEO at Pocus
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