Product-Led Sales (PLS) can be a challenging concept for folks to grasp, especially those falling into the trap of “Doesn’t my product need a salesperson?” But what these folks are missing is the element of human change. That the person they’re selling to is the same person buying products on Instagram in one click.
Humans are changing and, thus, buyer behaviors are changing too. People want to try out tools and see value from them first. What this ultimately means for companies is a different kind of motion with a different kind of sales team. Change of this magnitude is never easy, but companies that can do this iteratively and successfully stand to reap its full rewards.
Your product sells your product. Sales guides the journey.
Before adopting a Product-Led Sales strategy, you need to first forget everything you know about traditional B2B software sales. In PLG or high-velocity motions, sales teams don’t motivate buyer behavior—your brand does. Customers self-select your products based on the community you’ve built and how well you’re evangelizing what your company is doing. Based on what they know about your brand, and without talking to a single sales rep, your buyer believes your company and product can solve their problem.
Where, then, does sales fit into the PLS equation? Think of your salespeople as sherpas. Comparing this scenario to that of, say, climbing Mount Everest, your brand is what got people on the plane. Once there, they need someone to guide their path. This is when sales steps in as their sherpa, guiding them as if to say, “Not an experienced mountaineer? Let me take you to the top.”
My tips for engaging sales in a Product-Led Sales motion
Eventually, I see B2B software sales folks evolving into more of a solution engineer role with sales skills. Until then, it’s critical to help your sales team build and strengthen these muscles. Product-Led Sales isn’t an exact science, and I often learned my biggest lessons through trial and error. Here are five tips and tactics we used at HubSpot to bring Sales into our PLS motion and further develop their skills.
Motivate reps through incentives & education opportunities
First, create an incentive for sales. If you want to do anything different with your sales org, it starts with the comp plan. At HubSpot, we created a kicker for the comp plan to motivate sales folks to sell the product. Because unlike traditional B2B sales, they’re now talking to someone deep in the buyer journey. This is where the sherpa mentality comes into play: They need to become product experts, showing value by shepherding buyers through the product. Here’s the upside: These buyers already have the pain and they’re already trying the product. Let them tell you what they need.
Second, lean into success stories. Sales folks want proof—they want to see what kind of success their peers are having. (After all, salespeople are nothing if not competitive!) One way we approached this was by interviewing our top performers, promoting their stories in our weekly Sales Digest. In the beginning, our freemium product was $50/user/month so we’d simply keep track of how many seats our reps sold each month. The next month, we’d compare any differences and find sales reps getting 50-seat upgrades without doing anything for it. We’d interview them talking about the sale and then promote their stories front and center every week.
Finally, consider how to motivate sales as new features are added to the product. In general, think about pricing in two ways: feature gating and usage-based pricing. Here, think about whether the customer can understand The Thing and whether you’re charging for something that adds value. We approach this at HubSpot with a bimodal strategy, which is essentially two go-to-market motions. We have downmarket freemium, which is our free and starter tier (types of free plans). Then we have our upmarket, more traditional sales, like B2B software sales, which is our pro and enterprise feature set. Our free and starter tier includes limits-based things like seats and then we gate features as you move up to pro. Some of the limits might be similar but you get more of something as you move up to a higher tier.
Separate signals from noise — implementing PQL types like HI-NQLs
Where and if possible, give your sales team as much product-led insight as you can. Case in point: Because HubSpot has a ton of data, we can aggregate data across everyone who’s purchased our products—back to when they first started using us. By analyzing this data, we’ve found there are specific free and ungated activities in the tool that lead to a high likelihood of purchase when people tested them at a lower tier.
We call these predictions HINQLs, which translates to “high-intent, no qualified lead,” because even though a lead hasn’t hit a PQL, it still indicates a high propensity to buy. We service these, along with PQLs, to salespeople but leave it up to each rep how they want to use this insight. Some AEs reach out to these HINQLs directly. Others work with their BDR to qualify or help them further along, and only step in when it turns into a bigger opportunity.
Give reps different playbooks based on PQL signals
Make it impossibly easy to pitch to PQLs. In other words, tell sales exactly what to do. For example, consider giving your reps a playbook outlining what they need to do and say per lead type. For example, our reps get an email whenever we get a PQL. In it, we include a 30-second video clip of what the user experienced, along with three or four ways to next pitch to them. What I like about this is by showing them what a lead did in the product, they’re also learning the product with bite-sized reinforcements.
You don’t have to worry about making anything fancy or complicated. I would take screencaps imitating the customer hitting the PQL point to show sales what they experienced in the product, which better educated reps on what their follow-up strategy should be. The playbook pitch can be two to three bullets describing the value of specific features. If you’re already doing a good job launching features, you’ll likely have all this written already and can link out to any supporting material.
Automate (when logical!) through an auto-prospecting program
I can’t stress this enough: once you understand your data and intent signals, automate wherever possible. For example, HubSpot runs an auto-prospecting program for PQLs, which triggers outreach based on specific activities in the tool. When someone hits a PQL in, say, our enterprise product, an in-app modal automatically flips and offers them a conversation with sales. They also get an automatic email that links out to their salesperson’s calendar to book a meeting.
Side bar: Calendar links are pretty common these days, but I still remember the day we started doing this at HubSpot. It was early 2015, our CRM sales team had grown to 10 people, and we had so many leads we couldn’t book time with them all. Someone on the team said, “What if we put our calendar links in our email sequences?” So, we sent them out and for two weeks straight, every rep had more than 10 half-hour calls booked and our director was catering breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us. The icing on the cake? Because people were using our own calendar tool to book meetings, it gave us another opportunity to walk prospects through one of our products.
Don’t tackle Product-Led Sales without executive buy-in first
Listen, making significant, fundamental go-to-market changes is really hard. One reason we were so successful is because our executives threw their full support behind us. Our CEO at the time explained to everyone it was the future of how we sell and go to market. But without that level of executive support, it’s nearly impossible to adopt a successful PLS motion.
Equally important is your mindset. PLS is an iterative process—it’s not something you turn on and it instantly works. You need a roster of people constantly thinking about and owning it. Guide them from good to great with a clear north star metric. Pick one that’s highly specific to your PLG journey and tailored to your product. If you’re early on, start simple. Lots of folks start by measuring activation until they can shift focus to self-serve revenue.
As a final word of advice, I often compare a PLS motion to an NPS score. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what your score is today. It’s a baseline for improvement and getting better every day. Your PLS journey doesn’t start or end with a mad rush to the finish line—there is no final destination. So, be patient, stay the course, and remember that even the smallest wins lead to big victories.