I recently sat down with Shanee Ben-Zur, Chief Marketing & Growth Officer at Crunchbase, to discuss all things PLG, including aligning incentives in a sales-assist motion, the role of growth, and why PLG is key to succeeding during economic uncertainty.
From her tenure at Crunchbase and early days at Dropbox, spanning pre- and post-IPO, her interest and passion for PLG came on early and strong.
What types of companies should consider a product-led strategy?
I believe that all companies – even complex technologies - have the potential to embrace PLG. It obviously gets more complicated as products become more technical, but I’ve seen how companies carve out portions of their products to showcase via sandbox environments, freemium, or free trials. Ultimately, you’re trying to get your prospects to experience an a-ha moment with your product before buying so they’ll be more inclined to become customers.
Think of PLG as a highly cost-efficient demand-generation driver. First-hand experience trying your product is much more powerful than an ebook or webinar.
It’s also a more customer-centric way of selling. Most buyers today do not want to speak to a salesperson until they’ve done all of their due diligence. Some never want to speak to a rep and just want to buy completely independently.
The role of sales has shifted from hard-core selling to providing value, guidance, and offering decision-making support. Salespeople become trusted advisors rather than adversaries.
As Chief Growth Officer, tell me about this function’s organizational role.
If we take a step back, there is this old world (pre-PLG) with sales, marketing, and product – and never shall they overlap. Product is building features, marketing is running demand generation campaigns, and sales is selling hard to the leads marketing sends. It’s like a relay race where the baton is passed from one team to the other.
In our new PLG world, these three teams must work in tandem, jointly connected, and collaborative. And often, there’s a fourth team in the mix, usually with grey lines across teams – growth.
For example, I oversee growth at Crunchbase. Growth is both a dedicated role and a dotted line organization that brings together reps from product, eng, marketing, sales, and CS. They all roll up into different leaders, but we come together behind shared revenue goals.
What functional changes and shifts in incentives do you have to make when investing in a sales-assist motion?
Usually, a salesperson's quota is based on how many deals they close, and if they perceive that they're losing deals to something else, whether it's a competitor or an internal lower-price product, that's a threat.
In a PLG world, the self-serve product could be perceived as a threat to quota. So leaders must find ways to align incentives and remove that perceived threat.
Similarly, in the PLG world, product teams must evolve their remit to include thinking about the entire customer journey and experience. From acquisition to activation and engagement—areas previously thought of as solely marketing and customer success.
In a PLG world, marketing teams must change their perspective from traditional demand generation like webinars and ebooks to being the connective tissue between product and customer-teams. Helping product understand what UX changes are necessary, aligning lifecycle campaigns to the in-product experience, and aligning demand generation to usage data. The best lead source changes from out in a certain channel to inside the product.
Ultimately, PLG requires every team to change how they think about interacting with prospects and customers. Then leaders have to figure out how to change incentives to actually make people want to behave in that new way.
Why are expansion plays critical in PLG?
In traditional sales, it’s all about the land. How can you land something really big? And then the expansion is much smaller. But in PLG, this concept is flipped on its head. The land may be small, but the potential for expansion is where the revenue really comes from.
We’ve seen that prioritizing quick lands and expanding overtime is the way to go. PLG allows for faster deal velocity because there isn’t that large upfront deal that takes months to close. Leaving room for sales to run an expansion play typically has a much higher win rate than new logo deals.
It also minimizes revenue leakage. You can either have 100 accounts per year at $100,000 each or 10,000 accounts at $1,000 each—if you lose a few small accounts, the dollars lost and impact on revenue is much less than losing the same number of larger accounts.
Any advice for PLG teams during this time of economic uncertainty?
Working at Crunchbase, we’re lucky to have our hands on a lot of data and particularly trends in venture. Some of our latest conclusions based on the market dynamic is not to put all your eggs in one basket – whether that one basket is a particular bank or a particular size of customer or a particular vertical.
If you have a way to create redundancy or hedge your bets, now is a really good time to diversify. And PLG plays very well into this mantra. A self-service product allows you to bring in a lot of different customers. You, of course, need to focus on your ideal customer profile (ICP) and build specific features for those customers, but that doesn't mean adjacent audiences can't get value too.
A good example of this is when LinkedIn first started. It initially targeted engineers, but anyone with a resume realized they could put it up there, and recruiters quickly saw they could recruit for any job. Then marketers realize the data goldmine that was there based on people’s careers and skill sets listed – and then from there, sales found the same value. All to say, LinkedIn was building specific features for a specific profile, but other people could get value from those features leading to a much larger market cap and value to customers.
If more companies can look at the world in this way, where product is focused on the core ICP, but the GTM teams are a bit broader and test the potential for a horizontal product. You can really start to create more redundancy across the business so that if there is softness in one market (i.e. tech) you still have other markets or verticals that can bolster you. So that it ends up being the ebbs and flows of your business – and at some point, tech will be strong again.