Choosing the right go-to-market (GTM) strategy for most SaaS companies is a competitive advantage. Having the right GTM motion often accelerates your product-market fit, helps you avoid costly mistakes, improves sales conversion, and reduces potential customer churn.
Enterprises like Workday and ServiceNow rule the roost because of their systematic, high-touch sales strategies. On the other hand, HubSpot took the inbound marketing route. And then you have companies like Slack, Zoom, and DropBox that took the product-led GTM motion.
In the recent few years, many SaaS companies have started to take the product-led route—which is great. But very few realize that product-led growth (PLG) alone may not always deliver the best results.
We started with the idea of wanting to be product-led. It all went well until we were at 250 K with the touchless model, but we realized we needed to bring in sales experts. And the moment we had our assistive sales motion in place, in about 18 months, we rocketed past $10 million in ARR. So that helped us realize the power of bringing on sales just at the right time in the customer journey.
— David Cancel, CEO, Drift (Source: The ABM Conversations Podcast )
If you are in SaaS with an active product led motion, there's a huge opportunity to layer a sales-assisted motion on its top. But setting up the right balance between PLG and offering sales assistance in the real world is a lot harder than it sounds—unless you have a clear process.
In this post, we will discuss the following topics and lay out a process on how to layer the two GTM strategies together for better impact.
👉 What’s a self-serve flywheel?
👉 Challenges of relying only on PLG as a GTM motion
👉 Should you consider adding sales-assistance to your PLG motion?
👉 What does sales-assisted really mean?
👉 3 key pillars that make product-led+sales-assisted model successful
👉 When exactly should you reach out to offer sales assistance?
👉 What adding a sales-assisted layer brings to the table?
👉 Most importantly -- Steps to build a product-led, sales-assisted GTM motion
What’s a self-serve flywheel?
The self-serve flywheel is the growth momentum you get when PLG becomes the biggest source of customer acquisition and growth for your business. PLG often involves a sales process that focuses heavily on the end-user, leverages a seamless product experience to reduce the 'time to value' in solving a customer problem and thereby enriching the sales pipeline.
The PLG-driven process looks somewhat like this in action:
It's a process where customers directly sign up to trial your product and can ultimately end up buying a paid subscription of your product without ever talking to your sales team. So, in theory— at least—the product-led sales process diminishes the role of sales from the sales process. And this is why taking a PLG route is a tempting choice for many SaaS companies.
Challenges of relying only on PLG as a GTM motion
The allure of shortening the time to value (ability to show quick ROI), getting customers to self-sign-up in droves, and automating the sales process while improving sales margins is difficult to shake off.
However, relying heavily on the self-serve flywheel to kick in isn't realistic for most companies. Here are a few challenges that limit the PLG model from being the only growth lever.
- No product is perfect from the very start. Every product—especially during its launch and early growth phase—needs a push from other GTM functions like marketing and sales to reach the target audience, expand its footprint, and meet revenue goals.
- Even when PLG is the frontrunner across your GTM functions, you need sales to identify, prioritize, and nurture product-qualified leads (PQLs) to convert free users to paid users.
- You will need to balance your product experience and offerings with other GTM functions to provide a consistent brand experience without compromising growth. In a pure-play product-led model, you don't know where the customers are coming from. You have no control over the potential deal size. Also, you don't know the triggers that get prospects to sign up for your product in the first place. Revenue attribution is a huge part of growth—but it's often a mystery in a PLG setup because the buyer experience is fully automated.
- From a customer experience standpoint, PLG is great for those prospects who don't want to talk to sales. But as the deal size gets bigger, your prospects want to talk to sales to get their questions answered or have an additional level of validation before buying your product. So you can't downplay the role of sales entirely from the process if you want to expand your growth or move upmarket.
- When you rely solely on inbound PQLs, you leave money on the table. You're not leveraging opportunities to increase your average revenue per user (ARPU). And more importantly, the competition in the modern SaaS world is so high that you can't be complacent about customers discovering and expanding their product usage solely on their own.
Should you consider adding sales-assistance to your PLG motion?
If you are depending on product-led alone as a growth motion, you are limiting your customer acquisition and growth potential. In fact, you are betting on your customer to understand your product on their own.
But for a moment think about it—Every customer has 3 fundamental questions while they’re trialing a product:
- Why should they buy?
- Why should they buy your product?
- Why should they buy now?
So, instead of being a typical product-led vendor that expects the customer to adapt to your product, wouldn’t it be a better approach to assist them like a partner?
Fact of the matter is—no one knows more about your product than you. Therefore you should be the one helpfully consulting the customer who’s trialing your product and help them succeed in the goal they’re trying to achieve with your product.
Lastly, if you look at SaaS, it is very much a winner-take-all market that involves “landing and expanding”. And just because someone has landed on your product, it doesn’t guarantee expansion. That’s where sales-assistance comes in.
Here’s a quick overview of revenue uplift when sales-assistance was layered into some of the products well known for being product-led:
But before you consider inserting a sales assistance layer into your PLG motion, let’s understand in detail as to what it entails.
What does sales-assisted really mean?
For starters, sales-assisted growth is different from sales-driven growth. Sales-driven growth is the traditional way of applying sales techniques to acquire and convert new customers.
Whereas sales-assisted is NOT the usual flow of prospect signing up for the demo of your product and going through the sales motion. It’s about offering a personalized customer experience from the get-go—and “assisting" the prospect in their self-discovery without being salesy.
The whole point of offering a 'sales assisted' experience boils down to removing any friction from their buying journey.
Here’s a typical ‘sales-assisted’ sequence:
Step 1: A potential buyer signs up for a free trial of your product and you put them into an automated onboarding sequence.
Step 2: While your prospect is in the automated onboarding workflow, you keep your ears to the ground to see if the prospect would like any assistance to accelerate their ‘time to value’ on your product.
Step 3: If the prospect responds and books an onboarding session with you—your Account Executive (AE) or your Customer Success Manager (CSM) onboards them, helps them accomplish their goals using your product. And once they become a paid customer, they go into the customer success cycle of retention, upselling, cross-selling and maximizing the customer’s lifetime value.
In short, the product-led and sales-assisted process looks somewhat like this:
The key factor to remember is—offering sales assistance is not about reaching out to every single prospect that signs up for your product. It simply means—you offer your customers the freedom of self-serve, combined with the confidence that there’s always someone around to help as and when needed.
Needless to say, it's quite tricky to get it right. So, let’s look at the core pillars of sales assistance.
3 key pillars that make product-led+sales-assisted model successful
Education: Sales knows better than to bother prospects while they research your product. But when asked, they are equipped with a plethora of enablement assets (e.g., comparison docs, blog posts, or case studies) to help them in their decision-making.
Support: During the prospecting stage, sales plays the role of customer success and customer service to help prospects solve their problems or answer their queries, much before they become paid customers.
Feedback: Sales captures important customer feedback about marketing, product, sales, and support experience. They act as an intermediary between customers and the respective team to optimize the buyer experience better.
Therefore, the product still takes the driver's seat, and sales plays the role of an important sidekick to assist the buyers in making informed decisions.
Alright, but when exactly should the person performing the sales-assisted role reach out?
It’s a million-dollar question and I’m trying my best not to start with “it depends.” If you look at most of your bigger deals, you’ll notice that they happened only after the human/sales touch.
So, for starters, the short answer is—whenever you see a potential bigger opportunity.
The level of bottom-up adoption of your product often becomes a key signal for your sales-assistance team to jump in and offer help. For example: Dropbox often looked at 3-10% adoption rate as a threshold for critical mass, and then the sales assistance team would reach out.
But from a process perspective, you can begin with looking out for two key signals:
Opportunity to remove friction
Analyze and understand the buyer journey and their product usage journey. Keep an eye on the adoption and engagement of your product. For instance, if you know that prospects typically go on to sign up for the paid plan after trying a specific set of features, your AE can proactively reach out at the right adoption moment, and offer assistance.
Help prospects with their support requests
This is a rather reactive approach, but still better to respond reactively than never. Let’s say, you are seeing multiple support requests or questions from the same account—you might want to schedule a meeting with their entire team and assist them with the process in a synchronous manner.
When you’re starting out to offer sales assistance, it’s best to pick one specific goal such as reducing friction and then expand from there on. But make sure that you deploy a person to own this initiative, which can go on to become a function of its own.
All set with your PLG motion? Here’s what adding a sales-assisted layer brings to the table
The sales-assisted PLG unlocks growth opportunities where PLG alone can't. For instance, sales can focus on qualifying the right opportunities and take a hands-on approach to assist high-ticket customers instead of leaving such lucrative opportunities solely to product experience and serendipity.
In addition, there are several other benefits of combining PLG with the sales-assisted approach, such as:
- Better customer experience: Sales can chime in and offer a white-glove, high-touch customer experience.
- Lower customer acquisition cost: By letting the product drive acquisition and sign-ups, you can save the customer acquisition costs and focus on offering a value-driven buying experience.
- Faster time to revenue: The combination of a self-serve flywheel and personalized human touch helps you accelerate your time to revenue.
- Increased annual contract value: Because the product-led, sales-assisted model is high on customer experience, it often results in better customer retention and expansion opportunities.
So far, we've seen why PLG alone isn’t enough, and why you need to add a sales-assisted layer—let’s now look at how to go about building a product-led+sales-assisted model.
Steps to build a product-led, sales-assisted GTM motion
The first step in building a product-led, sales-assisted GTM motion is to stop looking at them as either-or choices. As we discussed earlier, PLG and sales-assisted growth are complementary forces that can give you better yields when combined.
Here is a four-step process to layer sales on top of PLG to realize your full business potential.
1. Build a healthy self-serve flywheel
Going by the business norms, every SaaS product should aim to be the best product in its niche. Product experience is often one of the most powerful differentiating factors in SaaS. Therefore, PLG should be a natural byproduct of building a good product experience and guided onboarding for every SaaS product worth its salt.
A product-led, sales-assisted GTM motion is ineffective without first having a healthy self-service flywheel. The product and the GTM functions in your business like sales, marketing, and customer success need to complement each other.
Building a healthy self-serve product often includes:
- Developing a world-class product UI (user interface)
- Build inherent viral components in your product (Example: When you share your Calendly link, your meeting invitee gets to experience the product even if they’re not a Calendly user)
- Offering a frictionless UX (keeping the product simple for the user)
- Creating helpful content (e.g., interactive product walkthroughs, frequently asked questions, in-app updates) that your users can refer to on their own
- Automating user activation and onboarding
- Optimizing the product better over time
Once you’ve ensured the basics, the clearest evidence to confirm that your self-serve flywheel works is—your topline traction. In other words, a best-in-class product drives viral adoption and early monetization, which in turn continues to expand your user base, despite the limited marketing and sales spend.
2. Lay out the product-led and sales-assisted workflow and expectations clearly
This step is about documenting the strategy, expected outcomes, creating a workflow to achieve the desired outcome. For instance, some of the questions you might want to answer are:
What is your product-led + sales-assisted workflow? Who are the key people in the process?
This is the phase when the two growth motions really start coming together into a single motion. Without this step, you will risk having PLG and sales-assisted as two different approaches within your organization.
Let's discuss an example to understand why this is important. If PLG is driving new sign-ups and acquisition, it likely means that you are getting a lot of PQLs pouring through your sales funnel. But just like how all marketing-qualified leads aren't the right prospects, PQL data isn't always the most reliable source of information.
You would need the sales reps to validate the PQLs to identify the right sales approach for each account. Then, they can inherit the PQLs and sort the right accounts into the right buckets—consolidating some of them into SQLs (sales-qualified leads).
Here’s an example of what the process could look like:
Step 1: Product signup >Self-serve onboarding >Product-assisted nurture >Receive the PQLs
Step 2: The SDR qualifies the potential PQLs>SDR shares the qualified list to the sales-assisted group (AEs, CSMs, Customer Marketing Managers)
Step 3: The leads are assigned to people in the sales-assisted team (ideally to the AEs) on a round-robin basis
Step 4: The AE helps them adopt the product and resolves frictions in product adoption, also identifies potential opportunities, nurtures them, and converts them to paid customer
Step 4(a): The AE also captures feedback and shares the feedback with product and marketing teams
Step 5: The paid customer gets moved into the customer success cycle for potential expansion and retention
The moment you have sales-assistance in the journey, you will also notice that the self-serve transparent pricing gets a little complicated because in sales, often negotiation and custom discounting tends to drive the sale over the finish line.
So, it becomes important to have an internal process on the discounting (for example: you can offer a 10% discount if the customer has a minimum of 25 licenses).
And lastly, customer success cannot be an afterthought in the process. Do not neglect customer retention in the process until it snowballs into a massive churn problem.
It’s important to have the CSM in the loop throughout the customer lifecycle, so that they have enough context. Using a conversation intelligence platform like Avoma would help you democratize the context by recording, transcribing and taking AI-generated notes from all customer interactions.
What are the data points you want to collect, and what tools do you need?
To make the product-led and sales-assisted GTM motion seamless, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the consumption metrics and have the data points updated on your CRM, so that you can segment the customers at different stages of their buyer journey and put them into specific workflows. If you don’t have enough data points about the customer, you can use an enrichment tool like Clearbit.
Also you need tools that can accelerate the workflow by accelerating the customer feedback sharing within the organization. For example, we use Avoma’s snippet feature to share customer feedback instantly with our product and marketing teams.
3. Assign clear roles
Once you establish seamless workflows between the two groups, your sales-assist team can start pursuing the key accounts that need sales-assisted nurturing. This warrants another level of clarity in the GTM mix—assigning clear roles and responsibilities for the product and sales such that there's no confusion.
This step involves splitting roles between product and sales based on the type of account or estimated deal value.
For instance, if the trial users are individual customers, let the product offer a fulfilling self-serve experience.
On the other hand, have a separate workflow for potential bigger opportunities, where the PQLs are qualified by the SDRs and shared with the AEs and CSMs for the sales-assist cadence.
In fact, you can further bring in the right people at the right times in the conversation by leveraging Avoma's Deal Intelligence to analyze the engagement at an account level across channels such as meetings and emails.
Done well, this arrangement helps you keep your GTM overheads low (marketing, sales, customer success, and support) and gives you clarity on what types of accounts bring the biggest source of revenue for your business.
4. Scale as you grow
As a final step of building a combined GTM motion, you need to build this system into an effective machine that can scale with your growing needs. In the early days of the implementation, you can manually prioritize PLG over sales-assisted or vice versa to match the account and the deal size.
But as you scale, you can expand to have more sales-assist goals and touchpoints, thus making it a reliable model for you to expand your revenue opportunities.
When you have the product-led and sales-assisted model up and running well, you will soon have a clear playbook for sales support, sales enablement, and customer feedback. The final outcome of streamlining the process is that everyone across the product-led and the sales-assisted side of the equation understands what they own, at which phase they come in, and what their role is.