If you’re in tech, you’ve probably noticed the industry’s newest acronym on the block — PLG, for Product Led Growth. Everyone’s talking about PLG, the CAC friendly SaaS GTM strategy (see what I did there?) in which customers can largely evaluate, try, and buy B2B software on their own, whenever they want.

So now in both their personal and professional lives, these people have been trained to expect instant gratification. Want to play MLB The Show while stuck inside? Click, buy, and play NOW. Want to evaluate a B2B software to make your company better? Forget user reviews, let me click, signup, and start using NOW.

Still, for every B2B company using only self-service tactics to acquire these customers, the majority still rely heavily on consultative humans to bring disruptive products to market, with many using self-service as a complement, rather than a replacement.

In either case, the humans executing Product Led Sales have it rough.  

Not only do human sellers need to sound like experts for a customer that’s better informed and more demanding than ever, but they also need to overcome the product and organizational challenges endemic of any disruptive technology:

product-led-sales-graphicSince a sizable percentage of Guru users — including the likes of Zoom, Slack, Gong and others — are executing Product Led Sales motions, I decided to spend some social distancing time diving into the results of our most recent user survey — sent to over 1,000 sales users — to see what we can learn about the unique challenges faced by these types organizations, and how they’re arming their sellers in response. 


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The 3 characteristics of product led sales organizations; product, customer, and organization

A reminder — while Product Led Growth and Product Led Sales are not mutually exclusive, the companies that are utilizing Product Led Sales fit a broader list of criteria:

  •  PRODUCT:  These companies are bringing a technology product to market that is inherently disruptive, technologically complex, expansive, and rapidly evolving. Selling this type of product-set in and of itself is a difficult task for sales teams, exacerbated by the presence of either (or both) of the two following characteristics. 
  •  CUSTOMER INTERACTION:  Because of the complex nature of these companies’ products, the customers evaluating them are typically incredibly well informed, often technical in nature. Freemium or trial plans add an additional challenge, as customers can raise their hand to engage with sales at any point in their evaluation, including after using the company’s (or a competitor’s) product. In either case, the customer expectation is that when they interact with a seller, the human must be a product expert that delivers value add over and above what the customer could learn on their own. 
  •  ORGANIZATION:  To keep up growth demands, these organizations are typically scaling rapidly, adding headcount that’s often geographically distributed (to maximize talent pool). 

To summarize, Product Led Sales teams are relying on (often newly-hired) sales reps, spread out around the globe, to answer challenging questions on the fly from extremely well-informed customers, about a nuanced product that’s rapidly changing.

So, when we asked which challenges have prevented their sales team from achieving revenue goals, the responses were unsurprising:

59% of sales teams indicated difficulty answering customer questions quickly and accurately.

53% of sales teams noted frequent product changes.

51% of sales teams experienced rapid scaling and geographic distribution among their teams.

It would not be a stretch to say that every sales organization faces at least one of these challenges independently. However, what makes Product Led Sales so uniquely challenging is the compounding impact of two or more of these challenges — Product+Customer, Product+Organization — which becomes more apparent in subsequent responses.

The following sections will highlight how top Product Led Sales organizations face these challenges head on and provide actionable takeaways for you to bring back to your teams.

To answer tough customer questions, product information is critical

Given that buyers typically ask 7-8 questions on discovery calls and reward the sellers that can deliver knowledgeable responses, the first challenge that jumps out from the list above is alarming:

59% of sales teams noted difficulty answering customer questions quickly and accurately were preventing them from achieving their revenue goals. 

Consider the variety of potential scenarios that correspond with the intersection of Product + Customer:

  •  Disruptive product:  Customer questions could be challenging because the product is so different from the status quo.

  •  Technical product:  Questions could be complicated because the buyers themselves are technical by trade.

  •  Rapidly evolving product:  Customer questions might be difficult to address simply because it’s challenging for  the seller to maintain mastery over the product.

  •  Freemium/Experiential product:  Buyers are already so far down the evaluation process that when they reach out to the seller, they then need to catch up and consult on the fly.

So, what can we learn about how effective Product Led Sales organizations are navigating these challenging Product+Customer scenarios?

For the group that noted difficulty answering customer questions quickly and accurately, a whopping 47% responded that they use Product Information multiple times per day, more than double the next highest type of information (Sales playbooks, processes, and messaging at 22%).

This makes sense when considering that most Product Led Sales organizations are on the leading edge of an industry shift toward virtual interactions. Gartner predicts 75% of all meetings will be virtual by 2024, and chat solutions like Intercom and Drift are gaining an increasing foothold in tech sales motions.

Unlike in-person meetings, these digital sales interactions do present a small window of opportunity (typically 10-20 seconds) during which a seller could overcome knowledge gaps by accessing information in real time and find answers to these kinds of complex questions.

 

For a seller to sound like a product expert, they need help from product experts

Product Led Sellers leverage product information on the fly in order to deliver a value add to customers. However, 53% of sales teams noted frequent product changes were preventing them from achieving their revenue goals. So, what do these sellers do to effectively communicate amidst rapid product growth?

Typically, they’ll run to experts directly, with varying degrees of success. Does this scenario sound familiar?

A customer asks a nuanced question about a new feature;

Sales rep isn’t 100% sure of the answer;

Sales rep private messages the product manager for that feature, who works in a different time zone and is currently offline;

After a few minutes of no response, the Sales rep shares the question in a group channel of 50 peers;

5 different peers share 5 partial truths;

The rep — feeling pressure to get an answer back to the prospect shares a partially incorrect answer.

This not only puts the potential deal in jeopardy, it threatens your credibility as a whole and risks that the other fifty reps on the same Slack channel will see those half-truths and repeat those partially incorrect answers. 

Unfortunately for these types of evolving organizations, there is rarely a singular person or business unit which has all of the expertise needed by the sales team. In fact, 70% of all sales users reported needing information from 4 or more subject matter expert teams.

More specifically, the top two teams that Product Led Sales reps look to for answers on frequent product changes are: 

82% look for information from product teams while  78% seek answers from customer support teams. 

In the absence of a scalable process connecting the sellers with the product information they need, these subject matter experts (SMEs) spend a significant portion of their day on top of their primary job fielding questions from frantic sales reps, expending effort delivering a “quick” one off answer that has minimal reusable value.

Sales enablement builds the infrastructure to connect sellers and product experts

As evidenced by the results above, in most Product Led Sales organizations, the Sales Enablement team is probably not the foremost technical expert; that distinction goes to Product and Customer Support / Success teams.

Still, their desire to do whatever it takes to help their sellers win often sucks enablement leaders into an unscalable rhythm of taking questions from sellers (“I need content!”), running to technical experts for information, crafting an asset, running the asset over to sales … only to have the asset downloaded, then out of date, propagating the next ping from the sales rep. And the cycle continues.

By contrast, in successful Product Led Sales orgs, sales enablement focuses on building the conduit rather than being the conduit, between sellers and subject matter experts.

For top Product Led Sales organizations,  this change in approach has dramatic implications for sales enablement and their teams alike. First, by giving away their legos and building for scale, the sales enablement leaders we surveyed reallocated their time from low value content jockeying to two critically important activities:

57% of sales, ops, and enablement leaders redeployed time saved to training initiatives.

50% of sales, ops, and enablement leaders allocated their time saved to strategic planning.

On the flip side, of the teams that have built a scalable knowledge infrastructure:

72% said it’s helped their sales reps spend less time pinging subject matter experts directly for information. 

61% said their sellers have increased confidence when interacting with customers.

Product led sales key takeaways

It’s clear that even in an increasingly product-led world, being a well-informed sales human is both harder and more important than ever.

Learn from the companies that are leaning into these challenges, and using them as opportunities to meet customer demands and ultimately separate themselves from their competitors. 

To continue learning from the best, here are some of the Product Led Sales organizations whose blogs I’ve been following along with: 

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