Touchpoints 16.08.2022

The 10 Principles of a Sustainable Product-Led Sales Model

Product-led sales might be the new direction for heads of sales and chief revenue officers, but how can their teams meet these ambitions?

Product led sales cover image with yellow background and red stripes

By now, you’ve probably seen many SaaS companies that have become huge successes without sales teams. Product-led growth (PLG) models have seemingly revolutionized how we sell, with customers doing all the legwork for sales.

Many idolize these SaaS companies, despite the massive competition that they’ve brought to the industry. It’s never a bad idea to emulate a well-known product-led company, but we’d caution against neglecting sales, regardless of the current sales trends.

Sure, the user experience has a far greater place and impetus in current sales cycles. But before you ax your sales teams, we’ve got an incredibly effective way to merge the customer journey with sales operations.

Product-led sales (PLS) is a model that allows you to integrate your sales teams with a product-led strategy. This innovative market strategy borrows many elements from a solid product team, but PLS has a concretely unique setup.

Heads of sales and chief revenue officers (CROs) looking to lower your customer acquisition costs, a product-led approach to sales is for you. PLS ensures that your customer base enjoys maximum lifetime value (LTV).

The modern sales rep is integral for a smooth and enjoyable customer experience. This new and improved sales funnel sounds incredible, but there are several essential principles that your product-led sales strategy should implement.

Before jumping into the guide, it’s important to understand what PLS is and how SaaS has progressed to this point.

PLS as the user revolution champion

As a seasoned sales leader, you can probably recount your product experience across the years. Fresher reps might not appreciate how easy they have it compared to their veteran counterparts.

“Back in my day, you couldn’t just download and use an app. Someone had to come into the office and build the damned thing for you!”

Seriously, a “self-service model.” didn’t exist. Far from it, and we’ve come a long way.

The dawn of SaaS

Our SaaS journey began in the 80s, when chief information officers (CIOs) oversaw the on-premise construction of vast (and hugely expensive) software infrastructures.

This was the classic era for sales-led organizations and growth.

Sales organizations depended on these blocky and costly instruments that often cost millions. IT techies were the VIPs of these intense sales processes, and the actual software users had little say in the matter.

The beginning of the 21st century saw the rise of disruptive technologies like the cloud, and companies like Salesforce steered lead scoring. Suddenly, sales targeted executives through a consultative sales process rather than IT.

This exec-centered sales function made leadership the focus of the buying process, and the cloud facilitated a less intrusive installation. SaaS vendors practiced a consultative selling style where non-technical bosses were plied with promises of glowing KPIs and high ROI.

Marketing strategy and marketing-led growth became the new standard, and marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) replaced SQLs.

The new age of product-led growth strategies

Toward the 2010s, the executive supremacy was finally challenged by its subjects. Employees that were historically exempt from higher-level decision-making made selling somewhat convoluted.

Despite this new selling challenge, SaaS began transforming from unwieldy and arcane to incredibly user-friendly.

PLG made its revolutionary debut around the mid-2010s, and growth strategies began shedding the marketing or sales-led approach.

Product-led businesses started sprouting everywhere. A liberating market shift swapped hands-off, marketing-led growth for thoughtful, in-depth insights and needs-based or solution-based selling.

Today, the end user and their buying intent are integral to the current customer-centric method. A clunky user experience is the death knell of any SaaS company looking to join an account’s PLG tech stack.

With the customer acquisition model, product-led growth companies have removed as many barriers to entry as possible.

Sales teams grow alongside their products, and the sales-led strategy lost its appeal. At least that’s what PLG heavyweights want you to believe.

A sales civil war is raging beneath all the surface-level customer success and hyper-revenue growth. One that will decide the fate of SaaS sales

OK, it’s not that bad. But there’s undoubtedly some friction between the traditional sales approach and the product-led environment.

Settling the sales-led vs. product-led showdown

If you had to Google “sales-led sales vs product-led sales,” you’d find heaps of rhetorical content from both sides of the fence. We’re not going to pick a side. Rather, we want to offer a middle ground for you and your sales teams.

One of the best ways to understand something novel like a product-led funnel is to contextualize it in general sales activity.

The hybrid sales approach

Certainly, some companies did exceptionally well with PLG, with little in the way of sales teams. But that hyper-growth era is over, and your sales reps are just as important as your customer success team.

  • Slack might be a PLG icon, but 20% of its current staff currently work in sales.
  • Zoom’s brand enabled its meteoric bottom-up motion to the point that a sales-led model was completely redundant. Today, 28% of its thousands of employees are salespeople.
  • Zendesk reached the 5,000 customer milestone without a single sales pitch. Its current consultative sales method is enabled by 21% of its workforce.

PLS is an intuitive and intelligent blend of sales-led and product-led growth. This model blends your product with sales, allowing reps to become champions of any complex product and the customer journey.

This consultative sales approach gives users enough room to enjoy your product in a freemium or demo environment independently.

A typical PLS sales conversation revolves around human assistance and customer success rather than promoting possible business benefits.

Salespeople are now directly involved in an exceptional customer experience. Building stronger customer relationships is key to maximizing LTV.

“Unlocking your true customer potential” sounds rather lofty without a grounded framework. Let’s unpack the standards of sales-empowered customer success.

Unpacking the ten principles of PLS

Here are the ten fundamental values for the PLS approach to growth. Treat these tenets as a good starting point for your PLS transformation, and you should dive deeper into each one.

1. Consolidate your data

The PLS methodology is ultimately a data-focused one. Sure, but isn’t any modern business practice? Well, there’s data, and then there’s data.

You need to divorce yourself from the sales-led fixation on firmographic data and its ability to generate reams of tepid prospects. Don’t get us wrong, firmographic data is important, but it’s just one facet of any deep and complex account.

Sales team members are finally starting to appreciate the data streams of their product team colleagues.

Data like product usage, customer experiences, and leads’ keystone brand interactions. Nothing is stopping you from diving into every insight your company enjoys.

Beyond all the hype surrounding the product-led wave, this is, at its core, a scientifically sound business direction.

PLS is the intelligent and practical analysis, integration, and wielding of every customer-relevant datastream in your entire business.

Good customer knowledge is only achievable with the correct data. Firmographics, usage data, and revenue models are challenging to manage without the right platform.

We built Breyta as a customer discovery base of operations that lets you integrate:

  • Firmographic data activation platforms like Clearbit
  • Usage data sources like Segment
  • Subscription management systems like Chargebee

Ordered user data allows your sales reps to identify and engage with product-qualified leads (PQLs).

2. Embrace self-serve

We touched on this earlier, but the combination of a self-serve product design combined with sales is a great way to guarantee a strong LTV.

Knowing where you stand in this dynamic depends on your company size. Your sales reps should stick to their respectful and appropriate engagement triggers.

For example, an SMB’s sales reps should generally identify and focus on their best-fit accounts and engage them once they’re activated.

If you’re part of an enterprise, then you can direct your salespeople toward your users once they’ve signed up.

Breyta’s Customer Fit score lets SMBs find their best-fit accounts and activate them. For large enterprises, Breyta will show you which users just signed up and when is the best time to engage.

3. Value and train your sales reps

Your sales team members need to be appreciated and trained appropriately to become key driving forces in the customer journey. They need to know your product and users inside and out, ready to jump in at any stage of the customer lifecycle.

Breyta allows your salespeople to track and engage with each user’s customer journey. They’ll know exactly where each lead is in their journey, from signups to colleague invitations, and plan upgrades.

You want every department working together as a well-oiled customer success machine.

None of this goodness is possible without properly ordered and simplified behavioral data. The average SaaS business handles large amounts of data daily, with sales reps' involvement and appreciation often neglected.

Your sales reps need to access and understand this data on the go, which is almost impossible if you store it all in silos or unintegrated analytical tools. Nothing kills sales efficiency worse than reps plowing through clunky databases.

Modern problems require modern solutions, and Breyta’s integrations unify your user and customer data so your reps can enjoy a single base of sales operations.

4. Use your ideal customer profile (ICP) as a filter

The average product-led organization can list select accounts in its user base that make up most of its ARR. A selective approach to sales ensures that only your most valuable accounts are prioritized.

Your ICP can help you sort the chaff from the wheat. Use Breyta’s Customer Fit scoring to filter your existing customers according to valuable industries, employee size, revenue level, and current plans.

While your sales reps are bound to encounter all manner of exciting accounts, they should always reference prospects against your ICP before qualifying them. Just because you encounter someone from a big, juicy company doesn’t mean they tick your ICP’s boxes.

We can’t stress enough how vital it is that your reps should make your ICP their scoring code and doctrine. Accounts that don’t fit your ideal mode are more often than not a huge waste of valuable rep time.

5. Be transparent with your pricing

Remember that users need full value for their money and are only happy to pay for the services they use.

We know that pricing is often a touchy subject for sales-led companies, but being cagey with your pricing can quickly grind the customer journey to a halt. You don’t want otherwise engaged freemium users being scared off after a promotional product discovery call.

Find out what your ICP leads are comfortable with paying for, and then adjust your pricing accordingly.

You might not be at the stage where you’re comfortable with free trials or freemium models. Not to worry, as product tours or demos are reasonable compromises.

But know that freemium or free trials are incredible converting resources as users enjoy an intimate appreciation that demos miss out on. This hands-on appraisal creates the kind of stickiness that drives your conversion rate optimization.

6. Your product must demonstrate the value

Your users will generally find the value in your product themselves, so long as the value proposition you’re selling is self-evident. Modern users are pretty discerning and would rather evaluate your product independently, without sales instruction.

Your users must experience the difference between promised value vs. experienced value before sales reps have a chance to talk to them. Sales reps need to know when this happens and which milestones should trigger engagement.

Your users should enjoy a practical understanding of their experienced value before sales reps approach them with promised value. You should know which milestones reflect a high-level engagement that also trigger sales engagement.

7. Emphasize user education

Your salespeople should also play a significant role in customer training. You should ensure that all your self-education resources like webinars, eBooks, and tutorials are centrally placed on your website and related platforms.

Sales can look at user data to understand which features individual customers are most engaged with, and then deliver the appropriate resources.

8. Well-activated users are your product champions

Well-versed users will experience less friction throughout the customer journey. They’ll also show their higher decision-makers the ropes, motivating an enterprise-level subscription.

This key customer is your land and expand commando.

Your sales reps can then approach account leaders with all the help and resources they need to fill in the blanks.

9. AEs need to tailor their approaches

Your AEs are vital for building personalized relationships with your prospects. These connections are forged through a sincere appreciation of the content that appeals to individuals.

One of the best ways to gain insights into your prospects’ worlds is to facilitate a comprehensive onboarding process. Try to gain as much qualitative information and enriched data from users as possible.

Your AEs can then easily educate your users on the most appealing features and benefits as if they developed them themselves. You don’t always need this 1:1 intimacy if you create and provide your users with relevant in-depth use cases.

Usage data is invaluable for creating tailored support resources that any of your reps or users can use as references.

10. Conversion is not the end of the customer journey

The customer journey is an ongoing process. Ensuring your users remain satisfied with your product is essential for keeping churn at bay.

Your sales teams don’t have to maintain your customers’ expectations alone. In fact, your sales reps can happily hand your users over to customer success post-conversion, provided this exchange is seamless.

Your customer success pros need the valuable usage data your salespeople put together so diligently. Your customer success reps need the same level of insight before meeting their assigned customers. A streamlined handover is an educated one.

With Breyta, all of your teams can keep track of customers in a single platform, allowing them to collaborate on customer opportunities and pain points. We’ll recommend upsell opportunities and allow you to keep track of customers’ upsell opportunities.

Put your PLS principles into action

Transitioning into the PLG model with a PLS strategy is essential to remain competitive in the modern SaaS industry. The PLS principles we listed will help your sales teams transition comfortably and smoothly.

Breyta is the ideal platform for your transformation, ensuring that all your data and accounts are properly unified and easily accessible. You can ensure that your reps are totally focused on the customer journey and can independently act on triggers.

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