Why Are Salespeople So Afraid of Change?

April 20, 2021

It breaks my heart when salespeople are resistant to change.

We’ve seen it happen again and again: A new trend emerges. LinkedIn lights up with hot takes from thought leaders. Every vendor within a 100-mile radius tries to put their spin on it and turn it into a reason you need their product. We beat it to death and then you tune it out.

Think back to the account-based marketing (ABM) movement from a few years ago. Millions in VC funding went into ABM vendors, and the hype machine went into overdrive. Do you remember sales latching on and making changes to their approach? I don’t. I remember salespeople saying things like “Account-based is just marketing finally catching up with what sales knew all along. We always worked the entire account!”

Related read: Your Product Sells Itself. Now Hire Sales.

So an entire industry of salespeople disregarded the account-based movement. We failed to think through the changes our marketing teams were going to make, how that would impact our pipeline, and then what behavioral change we should make as a result. We didn’t invest the time to help build our territories, we didn’t participate in writing the nurture drips, we didn’t react to the new lead intel, and so on.

Where does this resistance to change come from?

First, salespeople have a profile. Headstrong and confident; we don’t need your approval. We’re the “figure it out” team. This personality type can struggle with new ideas, especially when it comes to how we do our job.

Second, few salespeople went to school for this. We majored in management, marketing, finance, or the arts. Then we landed in sales close to or after graduation, based on our natural disposition and skill set. The result? We don’t need to change—this is what we were born to do!

Then, our leadership is to blame. Look up one or two levels on your sales org. Am I describing your leader? Headstrong, brash, and pre-wired for action. We’re taking our cue from the top, and the top is not listening. They were the ones who laughed at marketing’s adoption of the ABM rally cry. And they’re about to do the same with the product-led growth (PLG) movement.

Sales reps are going to miss PLG just like they missed ABM. And their paychecks and their customers are going to suffer.

Product-led growth was an emerging trend in B2B SaaS long before COVID-19 rapidly accelerated the transition.

Companies like Slack first made headlines by offering a freemium solution and growing massive billion-dollar organizations as a result. The market? We all said product-led is just freemium. And that it wouldn’t work for my business—we’re too complicated.

Plus, we’re facing the fear and frustration of salespeople potentially being replaced. Even though it’s been proven time and time again that we don’t actually lose our jobs because of robots, people still get mad at them out of fear.

The reality: Product-led growth is taking over because it’s how humans want to shop.

They don’t care how complicated your tech is, they don’t care what your process is, they don’t care what your training taught you to do. They’re defaulting to their natural behavior, which comes from experience. And 95% of tech purchases are B2C-driven B2C, not B2B-driven. So B2C tech dictates the buying trend, not B2B.

“Sales reps are going to miss PLG just like they missed ABM. And their paychecks and their customers are going to suffer.”

And the way it works in B2C is live on your iPhone with a touch of a button. My mom installed Uber to see if cars were available in her neighborhood. Now she uses it all the time instead of a taxi.

My aunt installed Airbnb to look at the listings and then deleted the app without making a purchase—she’s more comfortable in a hotel versus as a guest in a stranger’s home.

And don’t get me started on Amazon.

The point is people are now accustomed to seeing and touching your app as step one. In fact, they now expect to be able to do this.

That’s what’s driving PLG: Your buyers want it this way.

“Product-led growth is taking over because it’s how human beings want to shop.”

We’ve had this sales dogma drilled into our heads over our entire careers. Don’t feature-sell. Discovery before demo. Control the process. But it’s not how sales works anymore. It’s not what your buyers want. Legacy sales logic has gone out the window with PLG.

Compounding these changes was COVID-19. All of humanity changed the way they lived their lives and used your products.

Buyers (and everyone else) are asynchronous and they’re remote. They’re self-led. And as a result all the VC, all the smart money, all the advisors, are telling their portfolio companies to “get more product-led.” That because being more product-led:

  • Drives down your cost of acquisition
  • Increases your customer NPS score
  • Expands your customers faster

And if you follow the money, it means more SaaS companies are going to be product-led. It’s part of fundraising now.

What can you learn from this if you’re a salesperson?

How do you not throw the product-led trend away just because it doesn’t immediately speak to you? How could you as a salesperson adapt your style to be in line with what’s happening in the world and not be the last legacy holdout wishing this change wasn’t upon us?

Here are the ways that I, as a career VP of sales, have adapted my go-to-market strategy to be more product-led. And by the way—none of them include merely offering a freemium point solution.

  • I have a GIF, screenshot, or video on my website at all times. You’ll know exactly what we do without asking. And I’m not alone—go check out Slack, Salesforce, HubSpot, Jira, Troops, and Pendo if you want to see that this is the new standard for SaaS websites.
  • I use customer examples (which are all clickable experiences) in most of my marketing content and outbound emails. You don’t need to meet me to know what I do.
  • I offer a demo on the first call—no keeping secrets. My follow-up email has a video recording of our demo so champions can sell for me without bringing their boss to the next meeting.
  • I offer trials. If you don’t buy, I let you keep what you built to slowly build adoption.
  • I offer extremely favorable year-one deals to remove friction. I trust my product will deliver and you’ll buy the full set next time.

Yes, you still need Sales with PLG

Product-led is not about your product and marketing teams trying to replace the sales team. It’s about removing friction for your buyers every chance you get. It’s not a binary decision (go free trial or talk to sales).

It’s about every single interaction you hope your market has with you: Should it always be gated behind another meeting with sales or can it be self-led? What experiences are you maintaining complete control over, versus enabling the buyer to drive for once?

  • Put the product on your website instead of behind a sales meeting
  • Demo on a first call instead of just doing 60 minutes of disco
  • Quote it before meeting power—just give a ballpark
  • Start the trial before the success criteria is agreed to, and learn more as the trial progresses
  • Sell favorable year-one deals with the trust your product will deliver
  • Let customers use add on SKUs before asking them to buy

Your job was supposed to be shepherding people through. When did that turn into blocking them until they were bent to your desires?

Give-to-get has become get-before-you-give. The market is sick of it. The rest of the SaaS tech stack is starting to notice. This is one trend that sales should not ignore.

Continue reading about product-led growth: The 3 Pillars of PLG

Co-founder at Reprise

Joe’s a seasoned SaaS technology sales leader with over 20 years of experience scaling teams at companies like InsightSquared, Chorus as a VP, and now co-founder at Reprise.