4 Steps to Becoming a Product-Led Sales Organization
A dramatic shift is underway. Product-led go-to-market practices across the SaaS spectrum, and the need to deliver stellar customer experiences, are becoming all the more important. Organizations are forced to re‐examine how they drive revenue by using the product as the main growth lever. Companies who adapt to those changes will emerge as winners, while those faithful to the old ways will cease to exist.
Being the lifeblood of new business, sales follows their quota and goals to close as many deals as possible. Before product-led spread like wildfire, sales wasn’t held accountable for any process beyond sealing a deal. The lack of a unified agenda across and within teams, in conjunction with ignorance of in-product behavior, limited the sales organization’s prevalence to top of the funnel activities.
The direct association we made about sales practices until recently was in this order:
Sales outreach → Series of Demos → POC/Controlled trial
Eventually, that buy before you try approach caught up with the SaaS industry. The expectation that seamless product experiences need to be delivered in the B2B space flips the script on every traditional sales process adopted thus far. This could not be truer for sales teams, which now have to nurture and convert product qualified leads (PQLs).
This guide will discuss emerging B2B sales processes, uncovered via a comprehensive research conducted by ReinventGrowth on 40 SaaS organizations, and examine how they can be incentivized with PLG practices and product onboarding.
Step 1: The product-data imperative
For a while now, marketing data has defined SaaS growth, mostly by monitoring a prospect’s online behavior. Organizations rely on enrichment and lead scoring tools, which recognize prospects by industry and size. So, when somebody signs up from a Fortune 500 company, sales teams are alerted and follow up with a personalized approach. The rising importance of product experience however, supports that even when a tailored experience is provided, the work is not done. A viable monitoring process following users’ in-app progression needs to be established to map adoption and engagement levels far beyond subscription.
Product-led organizations already drive stellar experiences by capitalizing on product data and taking advantage of the customer experience gap humans leave behind. A gap that has nothing to do with the lack of exceptional strategic skills. On the contrary, it relates to the undeniable fact that meaningful interactions are driven by product features (in conjunction with product guidance) that leverage the context of usage. The organization’s competitive advantage derives from allowing product data to dictate “where” product engagements should exist and “when” human-assisted activations should be eliminated.
In order to achieve that, sales teams need to claim ownership of trial data and observe user behavior to pinpoint where product experience may be broken or drop-offs occur. While this association may resonate for companies serving high trajectory customers, the increased involvement of sales in self-serve onboarding (40%) suggests otherwise. Setting aside the preferred distribution model, a product-led sales team harmonizes the high tech-touch activations by giving a concerted focus on a prospect’s needs and in-product behavior.
By adopting in-app segmentation criteria and acknowledging where your product experience needs to be refined, sales teams can become proactive when approaching prospects by capitalizing on historic usage patterns and not rely solely on their hypothesis in regards to barriers to entry.
The acknowledgment of product usage patterns in regards to breadth, depth and efficiency of use (indicating team activation, adoption and users’ proficiency levels, respectively) are a good foundation sales teams can adopt when striving to streamline PQL criteria.
In addition, sales teams should consider emerging product metrics in their evaluations. As much as those metrics directly concern product management, their adoption across teams help into the development of a common language and optimization of internal procedures at the same time.
Additional benefits in-app segmentation can offer include:
- Tracking trialists and freemium accounts’ behavior, to realize if they employ PQL characteristics, whether or not they have signed under a corporate domain. This enables sales teams to not to waste their manpower on leads that don’t meet PQL criteria while discovering sales opportunities in disguise.
- Monitoring trialists’ PQL characteristics to determine if they can benefit from the product offering without forcing their way into closing a new deal. To give you an example, Gainsight PX will send a welcome email presenting sales availability, but will not actually force a demo onto a prospect. After the 28-day trial period, and if the prospect has shown signs of significant usage, sales will follow up to schedule the first sales session. This is the point where a completely no-touch approach is merging with a product-assisted sales process, but only after the prospect has turned out to be a product qualified lead. Please note that this is not a golden rule. Gainsight PX has been a product-led organization since its infancy. If an organization is adopting a purely traditional sales model, the shift should be progressive. Sudden changes will most probably cause friction and confusion.
Step 2: Create a consultative sales team
Trying a new product always feels a little like magic. The rise of the customer and hyper-competition have come to put an end on the latter effect. Products have to stay competitive and the sales team needs to embrace customer needs to the very end. Product-led sales teams follow this mentality by acting as consultants based around customer centricity and avoiding aggressive sales tactics when striving to hit their quota.
The research’s results demonstrate that this notion already exists in the market. Take the case of Receptive, where sales acts like an extension of customer success and advises prospects in case there is not a fit. Following the same mindset, Close holds sales accountable for evaluating a prospect use case and, if they are after a different subset of features, advises accordingly. It’s one of the organization’s core values to be against selling the product just for the sake of the sale itself.
Step 3: Make sales part of the onboarding process
The third characteristic of a product-led sales team is that it breaks the shackles of product demos and is actively implicated within the onboarding process. Under that spectrum, the business offers a standard trial or freemium and sales is only involved when strategic guidance is applicable.
There are several advantages that come along with including sales in your customer’s onboarding process:
- Accelerated onboarding. Onboarding is accelerated and customers realize initial value early in the customer lifecycle.
- Eliminate airtime. When sales onboarding includes delivery of targeted data-driven engagements, airtime conversation for product capabilities is eliminated and both parties focus more on fit.
- Insightful customer data. The sales organization offers a useful string of (product) data to customer success which further streamlines its part in the onboarding by:
- Suggesting additional professional services programs and being able to explain the reason why.
- Being aware of the strategic insights they should focus on before syncing with buyers.
- By relying on usage behavior, sales identifies PQLs and compares engagement levels with the expected ROI results.
- Passing feedback to product management. Sales teams are able to streamline the onboarding process by passing the necessary feedback to product management. If for example, prospects are engaging with key features but the steps to initial value are complex, it won’t be long until customers churn. Sales should find those bottlenecks and establish a feedback loop with product management to optimize onboarding touchpoints.
- Product evangelists. The onboarded team(s) can later act later as a product evangelist across the customer’s organization. This helps customer-facing teams deal with the human hurdle, one of the main barriers towards successful adoption, and get the internal buy-in sooner.
The research uncovered multiple occasions where sales might be involved in the onboarding process.
The popular project management S/W, created an in-house sales methodology that’s based around customer centricity and divides its strategy into two parts: Trial Onboarding run by sales and Post-Sale Onboarding run by customer success. The business created this methodology because, when a buyer signs up, she needs to trust in the product offering before showing it off to team members.
During trial onboarding, sales proactively sends automated drip campaigns and, only if there is a fit, a personalized invitation will be sent to move the process forward. In the Post-Sale Onboarding, customer success concludes the process within the first week post-purchase, to offer onboarding services for the entire team.
The leading digital asset management solution, serving mostly the enterprise sector, offers a trial where the customer can use all the features under the guidance of a sales engineer. The sales organization has a customer-centric approach and helps customers get the most out of the product, in order to embrace adoption sooner than later. At the same time, product management tracks users’ first login by the specific FAQ they clicked on or which tutorials are the most popular to further optimize the educational material.
While in a traditional sales strategy, the sales organization barely scratches the surface of product capabilities. With a product-led strategy, customers realize the initial value early on. Despite the fact that we may not be able to say how much sales’ costs are reduced or to what percent the sales cycle is optimized, it is certain that teaming with customer success on the onboarding process will reduce a lot of friction.
Step 4: Merge the lessons learned
The last step revolves around injecting the lessons learned from a self-serve strategy into a human-assisted sales process. In this instance, sales teams can adopt practices arising from self-serve and experiment with scalable targeted in-app activations, which can accelerate the sales process without compromising customer experience.
The popular email management solution, when dealing with high trajectory, had historically used sales to create and maintain the relationship. The hypothesis was that the product was fitting those customers’ needs and, as long as internal teams could provide a decent service, churn would never prevail. Eventually, customer-facing teams discovered that these customers were not the most profitable and many times didn’t align with a mass market mainstream product. Fast forward to now, where the onboarding team has established an ongoing feedback loop with sales to capitalize on the learnings derived from the trial and insert them into its processes.
Yesware is only a successful use case, further considerations can be:
- How sales can lead prospects to initial value faster.
- Where scalable practices have higher impact and when the human factor needs to be involved
If we could make a direct comparison between the activations of a traditional and a product-led sales organization we would arrive at the following conclusions:
- Sales teams adopt a product-led model by capitalizing on product analytics, owning the reins of early adoption and sharing active feedback in regards to product experience optimization.
- Sales takes advantage of sales opportunities (product qualified leads) that may first appear “in disguise” and segments prospects based on usage.
- Sales reps act as consultants based around customer centricity.
- The sales organization actively becomes part of the onboarding process by enabling customers to realize initial value early on and offering a useful string of data to customer success.
- The internal teams exchange insights and best practices to ease the acquisition & onboarding process.
Adopting a product-led strategy fundamentally changes how individual teams function within an organization. Knowing how a product-led GTM approach affects sales is key. As much as the sales organization may be concerned with top funnel activations, the effects of a wrongly sealed deal will negatively affect any organization’s ROI afterward. Successful product-led organizations change that by prioritizing internal alignment across teams and putting the product in the middle of every process. In a world where an organization’s revenue is highly dependent on new customer acquisition, improving customer experience by leveraging the product itself is key to achieving this outcome.
Just like the best politicians craft a compelling vision for the future and take the public along for that journey, sales leaders can do the same for their teams and customers.
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