A self-described “ardent student of Product-Led Growth (PLG),” Raj Sarkar is one of Forbes’ top 50 entrepreneurial CMOs in 2022. After leading high-performing PLG motions at 1Password, Atlassian, and Google, he currently advises others in the space how to build sustainable, scalable PLG motions.
Below is an excerpt of a recent conversation we had about integrating top-down sales approaches with a bottom-up Product-Led Sales (PLS) motion.
The importance of data unification for scaling PLS
PLG leaders often say combining Sales-Led Growth (SLG) and PLS models is a tricky challenge when moving upmarket. You’ve not only driven successful motions at your previous companies, but you’ve also helped others in the space do so successfully. What’s the secret to combining these two selling motions?
People often struggle to combine top-down and bottom-up selling approaches for two closely connected reasons. First, their sales, marketing, and product teams each look at their customer journey independently within the organization. Second, they lack a unified data platform that connects all their customer data together. When Sales, Marketing, and Product functions don't operate as a unit, their tools, people, processes, funnel, and data all remain siloed. In most companies, sales data lives in Salesforce, Gong, and/or Outreach. Marketing data is in Marketo and Google Analytics. Product data sits in Amplitude, Pendo, or Redshift.
Without a unified data platform or single data lake, organizations have no way to bring all of this data together. I tell every PLG founder and CEO to invest in a unified data platform early on because it sets the very foundation for a sustainable, scalable PLG motion. This becomes especially critical in measuring the effectiveness of the funnel, combining different selling motions, and making the move upmarket.
Determining funnel ownership
Speaking of siloed people and funnels, funnel co-ownership gives me pause because as the saying goes, “owned by all = done by none.” What do you think about funnel ownership across these three teams? Who should drive what?
Historically, certain functions in the organization always owned a portion of the funnel. Yet more and more, we’re seeing the mindset shift as all three functions—Sales, Marketing, and Product—see a greater need to look at the funnel holistically. Although the exact model will differ by company, Product and Marketing are best-positioned to own the self-serve funnel and self-serve revenue while Marketing and Sales should own the sales-assist and sales-led funnels. I also don’t think it’ll make sense to bifurcate or trifurcate the funnel, so we’ll likely see a future uptick in leaders such as chief revenue officers or chief growth officers, who will own the revenue number and the funnel metrics.
Self-serve, sales assist, and sales-led
Going another layer deeper into those three areas, how are PLG folks navigating the nuances between self-serve, sales assist, and sales-led? What’s working or not working here?
Great question! I’ll start with the distinction that sales assist and sales-led are not the same thing. Sales-led is still a primary function in the industry, meaning it’s not vanishing in any shape or form. So, it needs to be owned by Sales and primarily focused on finding, selling, and building relationships with larger customers.
The point of sales assist, on the other hand, is to remove friction by interjecting helpful human interaction. Here, PLG folks need to experiment a lot more between what leads go into their self-serve and sales-assist funnels. Typically, people are sending leads from the larger organization into the sales-assist funnel simply because it’s the easiest way to do it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right approach. Instead, leads should be allocated across these two funnels based on product usage and user behavior within an organization.
One way I see companies trying to combine the sales, marketing, and product growth functions is through a chief growth officer, a role that’s becoming increasingly more common in the C-Suite. Doing this gives them components of both product growth and growth marketing, as well as SDRs responsible for the self-serve and sales-assist motions. A lot of companies are also combining sales-assist and sales-led motions and experimenting well with them. That said, I don’t see any companies fully integrating all three motions exceptionally well yet.
Brand marketing for "B2H": Business to Human
You talked about brand marketing as essential to winning market share on a recent Spotify podcast. Why do you consider brand to be critical to the GTM motion—any pearls of wisdom you can share for PLG leaders?
The PLG companies of the future that go on to become massive $10B+ companies will be those that master these three things incredibly well:
- Bottom-up PLG and growth marketing
- Top-down sales and demand generation
- Brand marketing
Now that Millennials and Gen Z generations make up a bigger piece of the B2B buyer pie, brand marketing has become more important than ever. While previous generations may not have cared deeply about the user experience, younger ones simply won’t use tools they don’t like. Buyers today also expect brands to talk to them like humans. In this way, tactics such as fluffy marketing or predictable conversations about speeds and feeds are things of the past.
As a CEO or founder, you’re not only in control of shaping your brand but you play a huge role as a brand ambassador. You can also prioritize brand building without spending a single dime. If you have a website, you already have everything you need to build your community and brand voice. Start by using a friendly, conversational voice across all mediums and write content for the humans who buy your product. For example, emphasize the value they get out of using your product instead of talking about the features you’re putting into it.
Also, think outside of the box to raise awareness in your market. With a creative mindset, you have no shortage of free opportunities to build steady media presence—something I call “outbound fury.” This mindset also extends to connecting with folks inside your product. During my time at Bitbucket, we planted an easter egg in the command line on St. Patrick’s Day so a shamrock popped up when someone did a remote push. It was a huge hit with our developer community, who all took to Twitter to talk about it. These are the types of things you can do (at no cost!) to delight your customers and leave a lasting impression on your brand.