July 15, 2021

When To Add A Sales Team To Your PLG Company

Sales teams can supercharge your self-serve machine, but you must be thoughtful about timing

Alexa Grabell
CEO of Pocus

Before you start thinking about how to structure your product-led sales (PLS) team, it’s important to think about timing, and ensure that your PLG company is ready to add on a sales team. 

How do you know if you’re ready to add on a Product-Led Sales team?

Your company needs to have a self-serve, product-led flywheel before you consider layering on a PLS team. The reason is that, in order for a PLS motion to work, you need a healthy amount of inbound customers from the self-serve growth engine. If you add a sales team before that point, it’s going to look a lot more like a traditional top-down sales motion, not a PLS motion. 

So, how exactly do you define what “a healthy self-serve flywheel” looks like?

The reality is: it’s not one size fits all, and it really depends on the specifics of an individual business. Below are a few examples of key indicators that PLG companies use to determine their readiness for a PLS motion.

1. Annual recurring revenue greater than ~$10-15M.  

Chris De Vylder, Global Head of Sales Strategy & Ops at Atlassian, says,

“A PLG company really needs to be able to get to $10-15M in ARR without a sales team, to prove traction with the product, and build up a customer base that can be mined with sales".

This is a good general rule of thumb. If a PLG company can achieve $10-15M in ARR, that means the self-serve flywheel is efficient and the sales team will have a healthy funnel of inbound users. Although PLG companies can experiment with sales at any point, $10M is a solid benchmark for when they should definitely start thinking about it.

2. Users raise their hands.

If customers start raising their hands to talk to a human because they have complex questions and needs, it’s a sign that you should  add on a sales team. Melissa Ross, Sales Leader at Clockwise says,

“When your product reaches a certain level of complexity, and your support team is starting to get questions like ‘how do I deploy this product for 1000 people,’ it’s probably a good time to consider layering on a sales team.”

A common reason a user will raise their hand is that users want to roll up their individual licenses to a team-wide license with centralized billing. Steeve Vakeeswaran, Head of Self-Serve Assist Sales at Zapier, noted that,

“We knew we needed a sales support team when we had dozens of individual users from the same company signing up for Zapier that needed to be rolled up into a team account with centralized billing, and they wouldn’t buy the product without talking to someone.”

3. Your team is already working directly with individual customers in new ways.

In many situations, your employees in growth, marketing, or support will naturally expand their responsibilities in order to help the customer on their journey from onboarding successfully, through to committing to a broader, more complex deployment. Eli Weiner, VP Sales & Success Strategy & Ops at Slack, says,

“In addition to a large support organization responsible for helping all users find success, there was a small but growing SWAT team of customer-facing athletes helping a subset of larger customers expand usage, navigate their own internal processes, and increase investment. Slack's enterprise product launch was also on the horizon, so it was clear the company was ready to move beyond half-measures.”

As you can see, understanding when your company’s self-serve motion is running smoothly and identifying the right time to add on a sales team is different for each company. Although there is no one universal indicator that applies to every business, it is important to closely monitor your company’s revenue, user metrics, and customer relationships after the self-serve flywheel is running effectively.  You should:

  1. Monitor your company’s ARR.
  2. Track users’ feedback and determine if the requests are beyond the scope of a traditional support team (ie. centralized billing, security requests, etc.).
  3. Recognize any natural evolution of your customer-facing teams, and when they begin helping individual customers expand usage in differentiated ways.

If you feel confident that the time is right for a PLS team, or you’re gearing up for your company to enter its next stage of growth, keep reading to learn the best practices for building out a top-notch PLS team.

Thank you to Sara Archer (ChartMogul), Ben Davis (Coda), Chris De Vylder (Atlassian), Aaron Geller (Cypress), Mike Geurtin (Notion), Francesca Krihely (Snyk), Daniel Levine (Airtable), GC Lionetti (Confluent, Dropbox, Atlassian), Karishma Rajaratnam (Vidyard), Melissa Ross (Clockwise), Garrett Scott (Calendly), Steeve Vakeeswaran (Zapier), Eli Weiner (Slack), and Barr Yaron (dbt) for your insights and to Meka Asonye, Leeor Mushin, Allison Pickens, Vik Ramakrishnan, and Camille Ricketts for your thoughtful feedback.

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