Embracing Sales in a Product-Led Company
Integrating sales into a product-led company isn’t always easy. And while we’ve developed our own way of doing sales at Wistia, I wasn’t always a believer. In fact, I had almost religious beliefs about sticking to a strict self-serve model. At that time, my perception of sales was very black and white. Today, it’s clear to me that there’s actually quite a bit of gray on that spectrum.
Wistia is a video software service that helps small and medium-sized businesses grow with video. We’re an angel-funded company that’s been in business for a little over twelve years now, and we’re proud to say that we’re profitable. Being independently funded has given us the freedom to be true to who we are and take risks that prioritize the long-term employee and customer experience over short-term revenue growth. This has made a huge difference in the kind of company we’ve become over the years.
That dedication to sticking to our company values has trickled down to the way we run our sales program here as well. We’ve learned that being committed to our way of doing things usually turns out to be the best for our business and our customers.
A Little Background – Profile of a PLG Company
It’s helpful to understand that Wistia has always been a product-led company, but our approach to leveraging that model has evolved over time. In the beginning, we offered a free trial/demo that we assumed would be a great way for prospects to get to know our product. The problem was that the trial was for a limited time, which meant that once it ended, whatever video the prospect had uploaded would be taken down. As you can imagine, that created a pretty unfortunate customer experience that didn’t sit too well with our audience.
After we’d been in business for about seven years, we felt like we had enough experience and customer insight to take the risk of adding a free plan. Lucky for us, this move ended up being a phenomenal success. It delivered an exponential increase in the number of people who were willing to give our product a try now that there wasn’t a time limit on how long their video would remain on the platform.
Today, the free plan continues to be a great way to get new prospects engaged with our products. Typically, most people discover us through our educational content, which includes blog posts and—of course—videos. Many small and medium-sized business owners and marketers lack confidence when it comes to using video. They’re intimidated by the medium and unsure how to shoot video, edit it, distribute it, and so on. Beyond the execution, they’re afraid that if they miss the mark with their content, they can really hurt their brand—and they’re not wrong.
This knowledge-gap actually gives Wistia the opportunity to provide people with truly helpful how-to content that answers their most pressing questions about video. At the end of the day, sharing this type of content is a long-term play—we don’t expect everyone to sign on as customers right away. For example, one of our most successful videos is a tutorial on how to turn a conference room into a video studio. People loved this video so much that they’d share pictures of them in their “Wisita studios” on social, but then they’d upload their videos to YouTube (because no one gets fired for using YouTube). At first, that felt like a failure, but we’ve come to realize that content is an important way for us to educate and build our audience.
Sales comes into play in this scenario when someone in that audience we’ve built has needs that are too complex to be handled by our self-serve onboarding experience.
Sales Strategy – It Doesn’t Have to Be All Polyester Suits and High-pressure Tactics
As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t on board with sales at the start. Like many product-led founders, I had my doubts (that verged on outright aversion). I wasn’t initially able to see past the negative stereotype of a pushy salesperson trying to convince the prospect to buy. It didn’t take me long for me to realize, however, that there are many different flavors of sales, and you can choose which one is right for your company.
The right sales approach should be an expression of your company values. Don’t assume you have to do sales like everyone else does sales. Instead of worrying about what might go wrong, ask yourself what could go right. Reframe things by thinking about how the right sales approach can make things better for your company, your customers and your prospects.
Our products were completely self-service when we introduced sales about three years ago. The first thing we noticed after bringing sales into the mix was that our total monthly number for self-serve customers went down slightly. This initially caused a little panic that maybe we’d made the wrong decision, but we quickly realized that the drop in self-serve was natural. The truth was that there had always been people who wanted to talk to a salesperson, and now they could get their questions answered up front instead of diving immediately into the self-serve onboarding process. Ultimately, integrating sales was a value-add for these prospects.
These early insights combined with a focus on our core company values (long-term thinking, creativity, presentation and simplicity) helped us develop a relationship-driven sales approach that aligns with how we do business. We’ve found that—done properly—sales is a valuable part of the overall brand experience that uses honesty and authenticity to help a prospect figure out if Wistia is a good fit for their business. If it is a fit, we help them through the process. If it’s not a fit, we don’t force it. In fact, we’re so transparent that if a direct competitor is a better fit, we’ll tell the prospect that.
Much of what we do is about earning trust and creating delight. Our goal is to recreate the kind of experience we’ve come to expect from the Apple store—a friendly environment filled with experts who are ready to answer your questions, teach you about products and help you solve your problems. We think of customers not only as people who have purchased our products, but also people who might someday purchase our products.
Sales Tactics – It’s Critical to Find the Right Balance Between Sales and Self-Serve
The vast majority of our sales activity is responding to inbound requests from people who have more complex needs than the average person. It’s basically an informal PQL model in which our sales team is assigned to people who are not yet customers and are tasked with helping them get up to speed on the best way to use Wistia to solve their problems. In essence, our sales approach isn’t that different from our customer success approach. In both cases, we’re just helping people get the most out of our products. It’s just that one group helps existing customers and one group helps prospects.
Knowing when to get a salesperson involved is always a little tricky. One of the reasons we were originally completely self-serve was to keep our prices down so we were within reach of small and mid-sized companies. Taking sales out of the mix was an effective way to reduce overhead. That’s why when it comes to bringing sales back into the equation, it needs to be done in a cost-effective way.
To strike the right balance, we’re always looking for opportunities to expose different parts of the product through our self-serve onboarding experience. We do this by paying attention to the kinds of questions people ask when they work with sales and then identifying instances where a certain feature could be simplified enough to be integrated into our onboarding process. We’re constantly evaluating the trends that are coming up in these conversations to identify when we should change the product itself, update a support resource, developing a video series or connect a prospect with a salesperson. Whichever tactic we choose, the end goal is always the same: help customers find answers to questions faster.
This ongoing evaluation of our approach helps us scale both customer support and success. On the support side of things, we’re constantly expanding the educational resources we have available in our knowledge base, which requires continuous communication with our product team—all of which helps keep the volume of support tickets under control. On the success side, we tend to focus on more complicated parts of Wistia that are usually most relevant to larger customers, like marketing automation integrations. In both cases, our whole team is always on the lookout for opportunities to simplify as much as we can so we can make it more broadly accessible to self-serve customers.
Innovation – It’s Less About Shiny New Objects and More About Just Doing Things Your Way
Wistia has come a long way since we first incorporated sales into our business. Despite not being able to initially envision what sales the “Wistia way” would look, we found the approach that was right for us by building on our core values and not being afraid to do things our own way.
We’re also lucky to be able to take chances throughout all areas of our business. For example, in addition to developing our own sales strategy, we’re also doing some unique things on the marketing front. Our recent collaboration with Sandwich Video, an L.A.-based video production agency that’s worked with brands like Slack, Warby Parker and Square, embodies this spirit. We partnered with Sandwich last year and challenged them to create three video ads with three very different budgets—one for $1,000, one for $10,000 and one for $100,000. We then created a four-part docuseries called One, Ten, One Hundred (now available on Amazon Prime) about the entire process with a focus on how money impacts creativity.
Just like our sales team is focused on helping prospects find the best ways to get the most out of Wistia, One, Ten, One Hundred is focused on actually helping our prospects figure out how to stretch a small budget and still create a top-notch video. So, don’t be afraid to try something different or look at something as traditional as sales through a whole new lens. That’s how you uncover the innovations that make a real difference to your customers and to your business.
A self-serve model compared to a more traditional enterprise sales models seem diametrically opposed, but it’s helped Atlassian redefine how B2B software is sold to enterprise companies. Find out how.
When an earlier stage company typically has a product ready to go, they feel the need to hire their first sales member. Shirin Shahin explains why the core pieces around proper sales training, alignment with product and feedback mechanisms need to be in place either before or very early as your team grows.