Your Guide to PLG for Complex Products
As product-led growth (PLG) becomes more popular, we’re starting to see companies apply PLG techniques in totally new and different settings where they hadn’t been before.
One example I’ve been following: QuotaPath, the sales compensation and commission tracking software. There are a bunch of reasons why you wouldn’t expect QuotaPath to embrace PLG:
- Complexity: Commission tracking is a complex problem with multiple stakeholders and involves sensitive data. Legacy vendors in the space (e.g. Xactly) required fairly lengthy and services-heavy implementation.
- Buyer: The buyer for QuotaPath sits within the sales organization, and might naturally prefer to talk to a fellow sales rep during the buying process.
- Founder: AJ Bruno, an expert in enterprise selling, founded QuotaPath, rather than someone with an engineering or product upbringing. (More on AJ in a moment.)
And yet, QuotaPath—backed by a $41 million Series B in April 2022—has been doubling down on PLG efforts to fuel continued growth and competitive differentiation. I sat down with AJ to discuss how he went from enterprise seller to PLG founder, how QuotaPath navigates applying PLG to a complex product category, and his top PLG advice for other founders.
Unleash the power within: from enterprise seller to PLG founder
AJ’s founder journey began in an unlikely place: a Tony Robbins seminar (Unleash the Power Within). While he joined that seminar at the urging of a former sales manager, it inspired AJ to set a goal of starting his own company.
By late 2012, AJ founded TrendKite, a PR attribution company focused on the world’s biggest brands. AJ ran all growth and GTM operations at TrendKite for five years (in addition to founding the company), scaling the GTM team to 120 people, and growing revenue from $0 to $30 million ARR. “It was a very sales-led motion,” AJ confided. TrendKite managed to acquire customers across one-third of the Fortune 500.
During that journey, AJ began running into challenges with commissions. Reps complained about incorrect payouts. So AJ’s team sought help from the incumbent software solution in the market—Xactly—which took his team a sluggish eight months to implement. He believed there had to be a better way.
When Cision acquired TrendKite in January 2019 (for a not-too-shabby $225 million), AJ jumped headfirst into solving this pain point and founded QuotaPath.
Ever the “glutton for punishment” (his words), AJ was eager to build the type of product his team would’ve wanted and apply a bottom-up, product-led approach to sales compensation software.
The challenges—and opportunities—of a PLG strategy for a complex product
I asked AJ what excited him about the PLG opportunity for this product space.
His first answer: customer retention.
AJ noticed that retention for sales-led companies was extremely challenging in out-years unless you focused on building an amazing product experience. He looked to companies like Slack, Figma, and Airtable, and noticed that they had such great products that their users became bottom-up champions and superfans inside an organization.
If AJ could bring this type of product experience to QuotaPath, retention would never become an issue in the future.
Besides the retention benefit of PLG, AJ hypothesized that RevOps pros would be surprisingly receptive to PLG products if they had the opportunity to do so.
“The community of RevOps folks are at the forefront of all things tech and these people are always iterating and testing,” AJ said. “Our Head of RevOps, for instance, is very hands on and wants to try products for himself.”
The third reason for QuotaPath’s focus on PLG involved the need for flexibility and adaptability in a sales compensation solution.
Sales comp plans change regularly as organizations create new teams and roles, adjust business objectives, and uncover new trends around sales cycles and average contract values. On one hand, folks wouldn’t want to manage all of this complexity on spreadsheets. It’s error-prone and a heavy manual lift. On the other, a rigid, top-down tool would become shelfware over time—while giving the software category a bad name.
The strategy for PLG made sense. However, putting it into practice proved much harder.
AJ walked through some of the specific challenges with applying PLG at QuotaPath:
- Multiple personas. Compensation is a team sport and multiple personas are involved in the purchase including “front of the house” (sales reps) and “back of the house” (RevOps, finance) personas. AJ decided to start by focusing on the “front of the house” side. If a sales rep could build their comp plan on their own, QuotaPath would’ve cracked the code (or so AJ thought). While the focus on the rep remains, AJ’s team has realized that getting product-led adoption means making sure QuotaPath addresses all the personas who might jump in for the first time.
- Sensitive data. QuotaPath manages complex and sensitive data (compensation data). Being trusted by companies would be critical to success. To help establish credibility, QuotaPath has invested in platform security and has adopted a “sales-assist” motion rather than going too far down the path of self-service purchasing. The sales-assist motion helps build trust through a consultative approach.
- Lack of PLG experience. AJ was cognizant that he didn’t have extensive PLG experience (he was seen as a “Sales CEO”), which became a challenge when looking for early investors. He’s compensated (sorry, couldn’t resist!) by finding PLG expert advisors who he can turn to as issues come up (shoutout to Ben Williams!).
QuotaPath’s PLG strategy
So, how did AJ and his team address those PLG challenges? By taking a full-funnel approach with a roadmap tied to three key outcomes: acquisition, activation and retention.
On the acquisition side, QuotaPath built a library of adjustable comp plan templates to meet users during the first stage of the sales compensation process: the design of a comp plan. Called Compensation Hub, this free resource invites any go-to-market team to find best-in-class practices for AE and SDR roles—with more roles coming soon.
The Compensation Hub MVP launched in October 2022. It lets folks visualize and customize what their compensation plans would look like in a completely ungated way.
“Our investors were like ‘you’re giving this way for free?’” AJ mentioned. “But we wanted to make it easy for people to play around with it, share it, and create user-generated content.”
Compensation Hub is the tip-of-the-spear for QuotaPath’s PLG strategy.
After someone picks their preferred compensation template they can easily share it via Slack, LinkedIn and Twitter, or copy the shareable link with all of the stakeholders involved in compensation plan decisions. From there, folks can sign up for a free trial to see their plan automated in QuotaPath.
The ideal user journey looks something like this:
- Discover and play around with new comp plan structures (Compensation Hub)
- Save your preferred plan and automate it (sign up for free trial)
- Take advantage of collaborative and transparent workflows to align your team
- Set up real-time integrations with your existing stack (HubSpot, Salesforce, etc.)
- Pay out your team
What’s next for PLG at QuotaPath
Looking ahead, QuotaPath’s two product growth teams will continue to evaluate how folks convert from page to page after entering the app and design interventions to remove friction.
AJ said, “It’s not B2C growth where it’s about moving a button or changing colors. It’s about defining the user journey as you’re changing comp plans, which is a fairly challenging and complicated problem to solve.”
When asked what’s next for QuotaPath, AJ sees a big opportunity to better arm their organization for their PLG strategy. “Originally we resourced the organization around the sales rep, but we needed to reorient the PLG motion around the RevOps persona,” AJ said.
Another top priority: ensuring the PLG motion creates real efficiency in QuotaPath’s business model. AJ pointed out that there’s a notion that PLG adds efficiency overnight. More often than not, this isn’t the case. There needs to be investment in experimentation from marketing to product, design, communications, and data management. Product marketing and sales enablement also continue to be key pillars in the PLG process.
“In the short-term, adding PLG actually makes CAC worse. It takes time to see the benefit,” AJ said. “You need to ensure the sales team and sales leadership is on the same page. Sales reps shouldn’t blow up the nice PLG funnel that you’ve just created.”
Wrap up: AJ’s advice for aspiring PLG entrepreneurs
Reflecting on QuotaPath’s PLG journey, AJ had three pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
- Get laser-focused on your customer. “As you scale and grow, you’re going to have lots of data inputs from sales, customers, and so on. You need to have the painful conversations about what’s not going well and step through it with them.”
- Apply PLG to the right persona. QuotaPath’s initial focus on the “front of the house” (sales rep) persona wasn’t as effective as focusing on a PLG motion for the “back of the house” (RevOps) persona.
- PLG advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. “You need to apply PLG to your set of problems and your set of customers.”
To chat with AJ, you can connect with him on LinkedIn, and to learn more about QuotaPath, visit www.quotapath.com.