Guide: How to make bottom-up sales work internally

Reps often resist transitioning from top-down to bottom-up. This guide tells you how to avoid it from happening.

Fred Melanson

February 16, 2023
·
7
 min read

I hate running. Yet I do it almost every day. 

Why? 

The benefits of running far outweigh the dreadful, temporary feeling of not wanting to go out and do it. Because the feeling you get after a run is amazing. 

There’s a similar dynamic going on at sales-led companies that embark on the product-led growth train 🚆. 

80% of the fastest-ever companies to get to $1B of ARR have product-led motion. So it’s normal that many sales-led companies are looking at adding a PLG motion to boost revenue. 

Graph from Bessemer showing the fastest companies to 1B of ARR

But this is not something that’s done overnight. There are many hurdles to overcome that are easier to put off for another day. 

The secret: product-led growth coupled with a strong sales motion. 

Graph showing the estimated ARR of companies when they added top down sales

It sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? All you have to do is activate bottom-up and top-down sales, and voila! Billions in revenue! 

❌ There’s one problem: Sales folks often feel pressured to adopt bottom-up sales and don’t know how to shift from pure a top-down strategy to a hybrid revenue function. 

This results in a lack of buy-in, misalignment and ultimately poor performance instead of lightspeed growth.

This article explains how to make Product-Led Sales work by making a few crucial internal changes, and how to get sales 100% bought into this game-changing growth strategy. 

Let’s go 👇

Sales folks are feeling pressured to sell to free users

The idea of PLG often comes from non-sales functions like growth & product. They see self-serve as a way to get early adoption, great user feedback and in turn hopefully a catalyst for new revenue. 

Hint: It is!  

But what is often forgotten are the impacts that this motion has on other business functions like sales. 

How PLG is often seen by those not in sales 

Illustration of 2 water knobs used to describe how growth varies based on sales-led vs product-led approaches

On the other hand, sales see more work without clear results. 

“Why would I try to convert a handful of users into an account that generates 1/10th of my usual deal size?” 
Illustration of people pulling on a cart and someone trying to give them wheels. Wheels representing qualified users in a product

Impacts are compounded when you realize that sales may not make the decision to add product-led growth as a GTM motion, but they are the ones most affected. 

Transitioning from top-down selling to a bottom-up approach affects reps’ daily activities. 

Prospecting turns into → data analysis. 

Outreach shifts from problem-oriented to → results. 

Discovery changes from qualifying to → diagnosing. 

Goals switch from acquisition & deal size to → expansion & LTV, etc. 

Marketing, growth and product don’t have to mitigate this level of change management. 

You and your team's buy-in is key. Here’s what can happen if you don't have salespeople's buy-in ⬇️

Top-down vs bottom-up

Any decent-size company initiative needs either cross-functional or top-down buy-in -- or in some scenarios, both! 

PLG is the latter -- it needs both cross-functional and top-down buy-in to be wildly successful. 

Without that, you can encounter wasted cycles or efforts across sales, marketing, product, and more. 

Including, but not limited to 👇

Poor alignment: The sales team may continue to use traditional sales techniques, leading to misalignment with the overall company strategy and goals.

Bluntly said: You don’t put an outbound selling motion to an inbound lead. So why would you sell to users of your product the same way you sell to cold prospects? 

Hint: it won’t work. 

Graphic showing a sales cycle in traditional sales versus a sales cycle in modern PLG sales

Missed opportunities: Without buy-in from sales, potential customers may not be reached, leading to missed opportunities for growth.

Top-down prospecting follows rigid criteria. You know exactly what your ideal customers look like regarding company size, industry, etc. Regarding product data, it's irrelevant because your prospect isn't in the product until after the sale. 

If sales don’t change the lens they use to decide who to hunt, they’ll miss good opportunities.

Unbalanced funnel: Sales may resist the change to a product-led growth strategy, creating a wider top of the funnel without adequate demand capture.

A water know pouring water into a bucket with holes, represeneting how opportunities are wasted when sales are not bought into PLG

Decreased motivation: Lack of buy-in from the sales team can lead to decreased motivation as new expectations or quotas are missed.

Now that you know why it’s crucial to set yourself up for success when adding bottom-up sales to your strategy, let’s explore: 

  • Internal changes needed to make it work
  • How you should think about implementing product-led sales 

👀👇

Organizational changes needed to make Product-Led Sales work

Now that there’s buy-in for supporting the PLG motion, sales needs to adjust to a bottom-up selling motion or what’s called Product-Led Sales (learn more on PLS). 

Let’s jump into the shifts needed to succeed. 

1. Cross-functional ownership

Traditionally, responsibilities for revenue were in siloes. With one business function owning a specific part of the customer journey. 

Graph showing the stages in a customer journey

With PLS, there are no black-and-white lines. Users may be introduced to your offering through using the product itself, marketing content or sales outreach. 

Similarly, their decision to convert into paid customers can be influenced by in-product prompts as much as (or probably more than) by retargeting ads. The same logic applies to retention and expansion.

Having every department affect the customer journey requires exceptional collaboration and cross-functional ownership between teams. Below is just one example of what PLS ownership may look like but it will of course vary from company to company. 

Graph showing the stages in a customer journey and how business functions in PLG affect them

To make cross-functional ownership work, a shift in mentality is needed. Putting self-centred considerations behind and accepting that all teams are responsible for collaborating so that the customer has the best experience possible. 

It starts from the top of the food chain.

You need execs to be committed to PLS

According to David Barron, Global Director of Sales at Hubspot, this starts from the executive team: 

“One of the reasons that PLS ended up working for Hubspot is because we had our executive team basically sounding the horn, saying, this is how we operate. Our former CEO, Brian Howard, would say: ‘PLG is the future of how we sell and go to market.’” 

Do you have commitments from decision-makers and your c-suite? 

No → Show them the data. Perhaps a mix of Bessemer’s data (above), Openview’s PLG benchmark reports, and your own in-product discoveries that show revenue is left on the table (How to build a case for PLS). Company-wide adoption is crucial. 

Yes → Nice! Now each team needs to reassess their output, priorities, and KPIs. 

Which is what we cover next 👇

2. Output & outcome adjustments

🧑🍳 Imagine you're trying to cook a meal. You have all the ingredients, but instead of following a recipe, you just wing it and add spices and flavours randomly. 

Chances are, the dish will come out differently than you envisioned it, and suck…🤢

The same goes for businesses. Following established processes helps ensure consistent and predictable outcomes. When you have a well-defined process in place, you can focus on achieving your goals instead of worrying about the "how" of getting there. 

Improvising may seem exciting and spontaneous, but in the long run, it can lead to chaos and confusion.

Below is a simple framework to follow: Hypothesis, function-based output and desired outcome.

A hypothesis is what you think will happen. Outputs represent concrete actions by each team that contribute to testing the hypothesis, and the outcome is the expected impact on your business (view graph below).

Here’s a real example👇

Table with example of a hypothesis, outputs and desired outcomes in PLG

One final thing to consider when utilizing the Hypothesis/Output/Outcome (HOO) framework. 

Collaboration. 

Cross-functional ownership + HOO process + collaboration = smooth PLS operations

To be successful, silos must be a thing of the past. GTM functions all exist to support each other towards a common goal of increasing revenue 🚀. 

3. Cross-functional processes & workflows

In Product-Led Sales, ownership overlaps through various parts of the customer journey (as seen above). The same goes for workflows. Make sure you get your data right, otherwise, revenue teams will become the equivalent of soldiers with water guns. 

Implications to consider 👇

Data consolidation & visibility 

PLS requires data to be accessible to all parties involved in the GTM process and each team needs it in a format that is digestible and actionable for them. 

For example, Calixa integrates all your data sources so reps can find PQLs, gain full context into the account’s product journey, and even take action on next steps all from one place. 

View Calixa’s supported integrations here

Screenshot of a Calixa dashboard

One thing to note - based on the amount of change management you want to deploy or where reps are mandated their source of truth is 

Below is an example of a Calixa dashboard that sales teams use to find opportunities worth pursuing and get the insights they need for their outbound. 

Behavior-based actions across functions

For every business function that impacts the customer journey, adjust workflows to transition from time-based rules to behaviour-based rules. 

Examples of time-based workflows: 

  • 5 days after signing up, send an automated email. 
  • 3 days before the end of the free trial, have an SDR reach out. 
  • 1 week after upgrading, customer success reaches out to help.

Examples of behavior-based workflows: 

  • If the account reaches X milestone, trigger a personalized email. 
  • When end users try a premium feature and the associated account has over Y employees, have sales reach out. 
  • If the account has upgraded but isn’t leveraging the Z feature, have CS reach out and run a retargeting campaign. 

Doing so provides real-time messaging and inputs to end-users, making them more successful and increasing chances of converting freemium and free trial folks. 

Routing users to the right workflows

Providing a delightful experience to users requires understanding where they are throughout their journey with your product, and consequently how your teams should (or should not) engage

To do so, leads need to be sent to the right workflows based on what’s best for their experience and your conversions. This is where a strong partnership between sales leaders and revops stakeholders comes in. A good partnership can lead to discovering new invaluable insights in your data – and revenue. 

So no wonder RevOps is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the US right now. 

A few scenarios that RevOps can uncover and facilitate 👇

Table showing scenarios of GTM workflows when product users take specific actions

The role of revops is to understand various scenarios in the customer journey and route users correctly through their journey. 

4. Goal-setting & comp structure 

It’s a common mistake to follow PLG-first processes (like the hypothesis/outcome/output framework) but keep goals and comp the same as they were before transitioning.

To avoid it, let’s take a step back and look at the full picture. Take into account multiple outcomes that lead to the ultimate goal of growing revenue faster. 

Transition from: 

❌“How much revenue does this initiative (aka output) bring?”

 to 

✅“What metrics does this initiative positively impact which ultimately leads to more revenue?” 

Pyramid graph showing how to set goals for sales and growth teams

For sales, this means a change in comp structures.

For a few reasons: 

  1. PLS positively affects retention and churn. While there may be less revenue in initial deal closes, there can be more LTV long term. 
  2. Especially this year, execs are shifting sales strategies to expanding current customers rather than finding new ones (Data from Mark Kosoglow). 
  3. Sales spend more time assisting probable conversions vs digging up new opportunities.

5. Reshifting customer interactions

Our final organization shift comes with advice from Steven Boone, RVP at Twilio.

If adopting Product-Led Sales creates advantages for you but it’s not adding value to the customers’ experience: you might simply want to improve your sales process…

He argues: 

“Ask yourself: why am I doing PLS? Is it really valuable to the customer? Are you doing it because your CAC is too high? Are you doing it purely for lead gen? ”
Illustration showing how sales-assist without customer benefit can hurt revenue

On the contrary, if adding a product-led motion allows prospects to bypass roadblocks, get value quicker, or build a POC to justify wider implementation, then it’s a no-brainer! 

Weigh the benefits at the get-go and on an ongoing basis to ensure it’s right for your business and your customer. 

Table with PLG benefits for the customer and for the PLG company

Doing so will help you shift your team’s mindset into consultative selling. Engaging in a manner that answers: 

“How can I make this customer more successful with my product?” 
“What roadblocks will this customer encounter that I can help alleviate?”

Those questions, if correctly tied to your product offering, are the ones that will generate replies, booked meetings and closed revenue. 

Need concrete examples of this concept put into practice? 

👉Here are 9 ways to use product data to engage users and customers. 

Final thoughts & Hubspot’s framework for rep buy-in (coming soon)

Transitioning from pure top-down sales to a hybrid model is one of the reasons why companies like HubSpot and Gitlab have reached $1B in ARR at lightning speed. 

It requires, however, adjustments within the organization. Otherwise implementing a bottom-up sales motion can cause distraction and ultimately hurt your business. 

To ensure a smooth transition that turns into hyper-growth: 

  • Implement cross-functional organizational ownership. 
  • Define what outcomes are expected and set hypotheses around the work that will generate those outcomes.
  • Update workflows so that product data is at the center of your customer experience and all teams have the visibility they need to make an impact. 
  • Adjust goals and compensation to foster PLG, not undermine it. 
  • Rethink your customer interactions to match your new reality and provide a delightful customer experience. 

Now that you know how to shift your internal organization to make bottom-up sales work, the last remaining piece is getting rep bought in. Lucky for you, David Barron exclusively shared with us his framework for onboarding sales reps to Product-Led Sales! 

🔥 Subscribe to High Intent to receive David’s framework before anyone else. 
Ready to see a product-led sales motion in action?
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How To

Guide: How to make bottom-up sales work internally

Reps often resist transitioning from top-down to bottom-up. This guide tells you how to avoid it from happening.

Fred Melanson
|
Head of Content
|
Calixa

Your PLG roundup in 5 minutes.

February 16, 2023
ReadTime

I hate running. Yet I do it almost every day. 

Why? 

The benefits of running far outweigh the dreadful, temporary feeling of not wanting to go out and do it. Because the feeling you get after a run is amazing. 

There’s a similar dynamic going on at sales-led companies that embark on the product-led growth train 🚆. 

80% of the fastest-ever companies to get to $1B of ARR have product-led motion. So it’s normal that many sales-led companies are looking at adding a PLG motion to boost revenue. 

Graph from Bessemer showing the fastest companies to 1B of ARR

But this is not something that’s done overnight. There are many hurdles to overcome that are easier to put off for another day. 

The secret: product-led growth coupled with a strong sales motion. 

Graph showing the estimated ARR of companies when they added top down sales

It sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? All you have to do is activate bottom-up and top-down sales, and voila! Billions in revenue! 

❌ There’s one problem: Sales folks often feel pressured to adopt bottom-up sales and don’t know how to shift from pure a top-down strategy to a hybrid revenue function. 

This results in a lack of buy-in, misalignment and ultimately poor performance instead of lightspeed growth.

This article explains how to make Product-Led Sales work by making a few crucial internal changes, and how to get sales 100% bought into this game-changing growth strategy. 

Let’s go 👇

Sales folks are feeling pressured to sell to free users

The idea of PLG often comes from non-sales functions like growth & product. They see self-serve as a way to get early adoption, great user feedback and in turn hopefully a catalyst for new revenue. 

Hint: It is!  

But what is often forgotten are the impacts that this motion has on other business functions like sales. 

How PLG is often seen by those not in sales 

Illustration of 2 water knobs used to describe how growth varies based on sales-led vs product-led approaches

On the other hand, sales see more work without clear results. 

“Why would I try to convert a handful of users into an account that generates 1/10th of my usual deal size?” 
Illustration of people pulling on a cart and someone trying to give them wheels. Wheels representing qualified users in a product

Impacts are compounded when you realize that sales may not make the decision to add product-led growth as a GTM motion, but they are the ones most affected. 

Transitioning from top-down selling to a bottom-up approach affects reps’ daily activities. 

Prospecting turns into → data analysis. 

Outreach shifts from problem-oriented to → results. 

Discovery changes from qualifying to → diagnosing. 

Goals switch from acquisition & deal size to → expansion & LTV, etc. 

Marketing, growth and product don’t have to mitigate this level of change management. 

You and your team's buy-in is key. Here’s what can happen if you don't have salespeople's buy-in ⬇️

Top-down vs bottom-up

Any decent-size company initiative needs either cross-functional or top-down buy-in -- or in some scenarios, both! 

PLG is the latter -- it needs both cross-functional and top-down buy-in to be wildly successful. 

Without that, you can encounter wasted cycles or efforts across sales, marketing, product, and more. 

Including, but not limited to 👇

Poor alignment: The sales team may continue to use traditional sales techniques, leading to misalignment with the overall company strategy and goals.

Bluntly said: You don’t put an outbound selling motion to an inbound lead. So why would you sell to users of your product the same way you sell to cold prospects? 

Hint: it won’t work. 

Graphic showing a sales cycle in traditional sales versus a sales cycle in modern PLG sales

Missed opportunities: Without buy-in from sales, potential customers may not be reached, leading to missed opportunities for growth.

Top-down prospecting follows rigid criteria. You know exactly what your ideal customers look like regarding company size, industry, etc. Regarding product data, it's irrelevant because your prospect isn't in the product until after the sale. 

If sales don’t change the lens they use to decide who to hunt, they’ll miss good opportunities.

Unbalanced funnel: Sales may resist the change to a product-led growth strategy, creating a wider top of the funnel without adequate demand capture.

A water know pouring water into a bucket with holes, represeneting how opportunities are wasted when sales are not bought into PLG

Decreased motivation: Lack of buy-in from the sales team can lead to decreased motivation as new expectations or quotas are missed.

Now that you know why it’s crucial to set yourself up for success when adding bottom-up sales to your strategy, let’s explore: 

  • Internal changes needed to make it work
  • How you should think about implementing product-led sales 

👀👇

Organizational changes needed to make Product-Led Sales work

Now that there’s buy-in for supporting the PLG motion, sales needs to adjust to a bottom-up selling motion or what’s called Product-Led Sales (learn more on PLS). 

Let’s jump into the shifts needed to succeed. 

1. Cross-functional ownership

Traditionally, responsibilities for revenue were in siloes. With one business function owning a specific part of the customer journey. 

Graph showing the stages in a customer journey

With PLS, there are no black-and-white lines. Users may be introduced to your offering through using the product itself, marketing content or sales outreach. 

Similarly, their decision to convert into paid customers can be influenced by in-product prompts as much as (or probably more than) by retargeting ads. The same logic applies to retention and expansion.

Having every department affect the customer journey requires exceptional collaboration and cross-functional ownership between teams. Below is just one example of what PLS ownership may look like but it will of course vary from company to company. 

Graph showing the stages in a customer journey and how business functions in PLG affect them

To make cross-functional ownership work, a shift in mentality is needed. Putting self-centred considerations behind and accepting that all teams are responsible for collaborating so that the customer has the best experience possible. 

It starts from the top of the food chain.

You need execs to be committed to PLS

According to David Barron, Global Director of Sales at Hubspot, this starts from the executive team: 

“One of the reasons that PLS ended up working for Hubspot is because we had our executive team basically sounding the horn, saying, this is how we operate. Our former CEO, Brian Howard, would say: ‘PLG is the future of how we sell and go to market.’” 

Do you have commitments from decision-makers and your c-suite? 

No → Show them the data. Perhaps a mix of Bessemer’s data (above), Openview’s PLG benchmark reports, and your own in-product discoveries that show revenue is left on the table (How to build a case for PLS). Company-wide adoption is crucial. 

Yes → Nice! Now each team needs to reassess their output, priorities, and KPIs. 

Which is what we cover next 👇

2. Output & outcome adjustments

🧑🍳 Imagine you're trying to cook a meal. You have all the ingredients, but instead of following a recipe, you just wing it and add spices and flavours randomly. 

Chances are, the dish will come out differently than you envisioned it, and suck…🤢

The same goes for businesses. Following established processes helps ensure consistent and predictable outcomes. When you have a well-defined process in place, you can focus on achieving your goals instead of worrying about the "how" of getting there. 

Improvising may seem exciting and spontaneous, but in the long run, it can lead to chaos and confusion.

Below is a simple framework to follow: Hypothesis, function-based output and desired outcome.

A hypothesis is what you think will happen. Outputs represent concrete actions by each team that contribute to testing the hypothesis, and the outcome is the expected impact on your business (view graph below).

Here’s a real example👇

Table with example of a hypothesis, outputs and desired outcomes in PLG

One final thing to consider when utilizing the Hypothesis/Output/Outcome (HOO) framework. 

Collaboration. 

Cross-functional ownership + HOO process + collaboration = smooth PLS operations

To be successful, silos must be a thing of the past. GTM functions all exist to support each other towards a common goal of increasing revenue 🚀. 

3. Cross-functional processes & workflows

In Product-Led Sales, ownership overlaps through various parts of the customer journey (as seen above). The same goes for workflows. Make sure you get your data right, otherwise, revenue teams will become the equivalent of soldiers with water guns. 

Implications to consider 👇

Data consolidation & visibility 

PLS requires data to be accessible to all parties involved in the GTM process and each team needs it in a format that is digestible and actionable for them. 

For example, Calixa integrates all your data sources so reps can find PQLs, gain full context into the account’s product journey, and even take action on next steps all from one place. 

View Calixa’s supported integrations here

Screenshot of a Calixa dashboard

One thing to note - based on the amount of change management you want to deploy or where reps are mandated their source of truth is 

Below is an example of a Calixa dashboard that sales teams use to find opportunities worth pursuing and get the insights they need for their outbound. 

Behavior-based actions across functions

For every business function that impacts the customer journey, adjust workflows to transition from time-based rules to behaviour-based rules. 

Examples of time-based workflows: 

  • 5 days after signing up, send an automated email. 
  • 3 days before the end of the free trial, have an SDR reach out. 
  • 1 week after upgrading, customer success reaches out to help.

Examples of behavior-based workflows: 

  • If the account reaches X milestone, trigger a personalized email. 
  • When end users try a premium feature and the associated account has over Y employees, have sales reach out. 
  • If the account has upgraded but isn’t leveraging the Z feature, have CS reach out and run a retargeting campaign. 

Doing so provides real-time messaging and inputs to end-users, making them more successful and increasing chances of converting freemium and free trial folks. 

Routing users to the right workflows

Providing a delightful experience to users requires understanding where they are throughout their journey with your product, and consequently how your teams should (or should not) engage

To do so, leads need to be sent to the right workflows based on what’s best for their experience and your conversions. This is where a strong partnership between sales leaders and revops stakeholders comes in. A good partnership can lead to discovering new invaluable insights in your data – and revenue. 

So no wonder RevOps is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the US right now. 

A few scenarios that RevOps can uncover and facilitate 👇

Table showing scenarios of GTM workflows when product users take specific actions

The role of revops is to understand various scenarios in the customer journey and route users correctly through their journey. 

4. Goal-setting & comp structure 

It’s a common mistake to follow PLG-first processes (like the hypothesis/outcome/output framework) but keep goals and comp the same as they were before transitioning.

To avoid it, let’s take a step back and look at the full picture. Take into account multiple outcomes that lead to the ultimate goal of growing revenue faster. 

Transition from: 

❌“How much revenue does this initiative (aka output) bring?”

 to 

✅“What metrics does this initiative positively impact which ultimately leads to more revenue?” 

Pyramid graph showing how to set goals for sales and growth teams

For sales, this means a change in comp structures.

For a few reasons: 

  1. PLS positively affects retention and churn. While there may be less revenue in initial deal closes, there can be more LTV long term. 
  2. Especially this year, execs are shifting sales strategies to expanding current customers rather than finding new ones (Data from Mark Kosoglow). 
  3. Sales spend more time assisting probable conversions vs digging up new opportunities.

5. Reshifting customer interactions

Our final organization shift comes with advice from Steven Boone, RVP at Twilio.

If adopting Product-Led Sales creates advantages for you but it’s not adding value to the customers’ experience: you might simply want to improve your sales process…

He argues: 

“Ask yourself: why am I doing PLS? Is it really valuable to the customer? Are you doing it because your CAC is too high? Are you doing it purely for lead gen? ”
Illustration showing how sales-assist without customer benefit can hurt revenue

On the contrary, if adding a product-led motion allows prospects to bypass roadblocks, get value quicker, or build a POC to justify wider implementation, then it’s a no-brainer! 

Weigh the benefits at the get-go and on an ongoing basis to ensure it’s right for your business and your customer. 

Table with PLG benefits for the customer and for the PLG company

Doing so will help you shift your team’s mindset into consultative selling. Engaging in a manner that answers: 

“How can I make this customer more successful with my product?” 
“What roadblocks will this customer encounter that I can help alleviate?”

Those questions, if correctly tied to your product offering, are the ones that will generate replies, booked meetings and closed revenue. 

Need concrete examples of this concept put into practice? 

👉Here are 9 ways to use product data to engage users and customers. 

Final thoughts & Hubspot’s framework for rep buy-in (coming soon)

Transitioning from pure top-down sales to a hybrid model is one of the reasons why companies like HubSpot and Gitlab have reached $1B in ARR at lightning speed. 

It requires, however, adjustments within the organization. Otherwise implementing a bottom-up sales motion can cause distraction and ultimately hurt your business. 

To ensure a smooth transition that turns into hyper-growth: 

  • Implement cross-functional organizational ownership. 
  • Define what outcomes are expected and set hypotheses around the work that will generate those outcomes.
  • Update workflows so that product data is at the center of your customer experience and all teams have the visibility they need to make an impact. 
  • Adjust goals and compensation to foster PLG, not undermine it. 
  • Rethink your customer interactions to match your new reality and provide a delightful customer experience. 

Now that you know how to shift your internal organization to make bottom-up sales work, the last remaining piece is getting rep bought in. Lucky for you, David Barron exclusively shared with us his framework for onboarding sales reps to Product-Led Sales! 

🔥 Subscribe to High Intent to receive David’s framework before anyone else.