How to choose a Product-Led Sales platform

What to look for (and why) when selecting a platform to support your Product-Led Sales motion.

Stephen Moock

February 27, 2023
·
 min read

TLDR: go here for direct access to our handy evaluation template.

As self-serve SaaS becomes the norm, people expect a buying experience that aligns with how they use the product. Most sales teams look to their CRM for this context – only to realize it lacks the product insights needed to have valuable, contextual conversations. 

Everyone agrees: product insights make or break self-serve revenue teams.

In this emerging Product-Led Sales (PLS) category, there are lots of vendors competing for your attention. But how do you know which platform can actually deliver on their promise? 

Step-by-step evaluation guide for Product-Led Sales platforms

Get ready to kick off an evaluation

Before you begin the evaluation, it’s important to look internally and understand what requirements are important to your unique business.

Decide who needs to be on the platform evaluation team

The first step is to determine the cross-functional team that owns the PQL engine – such as sales, operations, and data teams. Including all the key stakeholders early ensures you’re not held up later in the buying process.

  • Who are your decision makers?
  • Who are influencers that may help inform the decision?
  • Who are your end users that are going to test the product?

Prioritize what problems your company is looking to solve

Next, discuss with the leadership team how they want the PLS platform to help them generate revenue. For example, some organizations want to find enterprise opps, while others want to monitor active trials. Create a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves that this platform will solve for.

  • Get access to product data
  • Find more deals from your self-serve funnel
  • Better retain customers

Once you’ve gathered the evaluation team and company objectives, you’re ready to compare vendor capabilities against your requirements.

Features & functionality evaluation template

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in listing all the features and functionality for a PLS platform. To solve this, we sat down with countless GTM leaders to develop this comprehensive list of 46 questions to consider when looking for a Product-Led Sales solution. 👉 Access it here

This template makes it easier to find the right PLS platform – so you can consolidate your tech stack, uncover deal opportunities, and increase rep efficiency. Here are the top categories to consider:

  • Supporting your PLG data infrastructure
  • CRM Syncing
  • Surfacing your best PQLs/PQAs
  • AI Capabilities
  • Product data visualization
  • Enabling reps to action PQLs efficiently
  • Orchestrating workflows for product-led GTM at scale
  • Current customers, team, and long-term vision
  • Security and Compliance

🙌 Supporting your PLG data infrastructure

All the functionality in a PLS platform is only as powerful as the data that’s used to back it up. That’s why you’ll want to see if the vendor is compatible with your existing tech stack. This information is easy to discover in the company’s Integrations page, or by contacting the team to see if they have plans to add your existing tool. 

Many companies also want to support additional product-specific layers like a team, workspace, or business unit. This way, sales teams no longer have to struggle with rigid CRM fields. Check if the vendor has Flexible Account Models that reflect the correct hierarchy in both the PLS platform and your CRM for faster prospecting.

What to ask

  • Are integrations simple to set up using no-code/low-code?
  • Does the platform support your ideal account model—including custom tiers of data (company, workspace, user)?
  • Can they integrate with your CDP (Segment)?
  • Do they have direct integrations with your Data Warehouse (BigQuery, Snowflake, Redshift)?
  • Can they integrate with your Reverse ETL tool (Census, Hightouch)?
  • Can they integrate with your CRM (Salesforce, HubSpot)?
  • Can they integrate with your Sales Engagement tool (Outreach, Salesloft)?
  • Do they have an open API that allows you to send additional customer data?

🔁 CRM Syncing

PLS platforms play a key role in upleveling your CRM with product insights. Instead of having siloed product signals, reps greatly benefit from having real-time data and top signups from the convenience of their CRM. 

Syncing PQLs into a CRM is often a challenging task, because many integrations make you choose whether to sync all-or-nothing. Choose a vendor that’s invested in a CRM Sync so you get fine-grained control over which signups to push into your CRM.

What to ask

  • Does the platform sync lead, contact, and account data with the CRM?
  • Is ownership automatically inherited from the CRM?
  • Can you update ownership of records directly from the CRM?
  • Can users manually push leads into the CRM? Can you add custom data to the lead objects?
  • Can automations be configured to create leads?
  • Can you sync with custom CRM objects?
  • Can scores, milestones and other metadata be synced bi-directionally with the CRM?

👀 Surfacing your best PQLs/PQAs

This is where PLS platforms truly shine. PLS platforms help you create and iterate on PQL criteria. This can be done using simple scoring or AI-powered prospecting. Sales teams can try scoring PQLs based on human intuition and assumptions to start off, but mature PLS functions to adopt AI to find predictive signals that the human eye misses.

When evaluating PLS platforms, you’ll want to know how that platform scores your leads – and what insights led to that score.

What to ask

  • Can you easily create & iterate on the usage thresholds in PQL score criteria?
  • Does the platform let you filter and sort data based on multiple objects (e.g. account plan and user activity in one query)?
  • Can you surface PQLs/PQAs based on % usage changes over time?
  • Does the platform support Slack, email, or playbook alerts?
  • Can alerts be dynamically routed to lead owner or account owner?
  • Is there a dedicated PQL inbox that contains a consolidated list of playbooks for a rep to work?

🤖 AI Capabilities

AI is required to know which usage metrics belong in your PQL and how much to weigh each product signal. It can also adapt to your changing product by evolving PQL criteria overtime. By surfacing insights within seconds, AI simulates the process of a top rep who has spent years learning about why people buy.

A PLS platform should have AI scoring that is accurate and easy to understand. Look into the vendor’s track record building AI before diving into a POC. For example, our founding team (Thomas and Fred) has early foundational experience in PLS tooling at Twilio and a decade of ML experience including building Sift’s AI fraud detection.

What to ask

  • Does the platform have AI-powered scoring that explains the key signals (ranked by impact) behind each score?
  • Is this ML model customizable and learns from itself based on conversion rates?
  • Can you run multiple ML models per sales motion (free-to-paid, paid-to-enterprise, etc.)?
  • Can you export this scoring information into data lakes, custom webhooks, and spreadsheets?

📊 Product data visualization

A customer 360 view has never been more important than in a product-led motion. Without one, the customer is actually more well-informed of their product usage than the rep they speak with.

PLS platforms offer product analytics that are actionable for GTM teams. Whether reps care about the user journey or account workspaces, a PLS platform enables your team to easily find timely data and customer context.

What to ask

  • Does the platform visualize your most important user and account milestones?
  • Can you see aggregate usage metrics and percent changes for any time range?
  • Can you create default team dashboards, in addition to individual rep dashboards?
  • Can you sort by multiple columns, and filter across multiple tiers (e.g. find DMs within paid workspaces)?
  • Can you categorize views based on territories, segments, and team functions (e.g. SDR, enterprise, success)?

🏃🏻‍♀️ Enabling reps to action PQLs efficiently

Product-Led Sales isn’t only about finding PQLs – the next step is to efficiently act on them. PLS platforms consolidate rep actions for greater efficiency. Reps can take action into downstream tools, such as an Outreach sequence, Salesforce opportunity, or Slack alert.

Vendors like Calixa offer playbooks, so reps can see what actions to take based on product activity. Whether you’re using a free-to-paid playbook or upsell playbook, reps will know exactly how to act on a PQL to drive revenue.

What to ask

  • Can you quickly set up playbooks that show product insights and follow-up actions based on various goals (upsell, account consolidation play, etc.)?
  • Can you add users into Outreach sequences and Salesloft cadences?
  • Can you add leads, opportunities, and tasks into CRMs?
  • Does the platform work well with existing rep workflows and minimize tab jumping with a Chrome Extension?
  • Do they support custom actions, such as Extend Trial?

⚡ Orchestrating workflows for product-led GTM at scale

Instead of repeating common actions, your PLS platform should allow you to operationalize common GTM workflows. These include sequencing PQLs, syncing to the CRM, alerting reps, and more.

See if the PLS platform you’re considering lets you set up triggers and actions based on product signals. Orchestrating these workflows increases revenue efficiency and saves valuable rep time.

What to ask

  • Can you automate PQL outreach via workflows that instantly add PQLs into the right sequences/cadences?
  • Can you automate CRM workflows such as pushing top signups into your CRM and lead/opp/task creation?
  • Can you automate adding high potential users into nurture campaigns within Marketo, HubSpot, and Salesforce?

🏔 Current customers, team, and long-term vision

Outside of product capabilities, companies pick vendors that act like true partners. The vendor should offer consultative guidance from actual PLS people. Our sales team (Stephen, Kevin, and Jacob) has been in the trenches and spent years selling in a product-led environment.

You can also look into proof points from past customers. Sometimes it’s as obvious as generating a $1M+ deal on the platform (not even an exaggeration 😉).

What to ask

  • Do they have customers that have generated deals with this platform?
  • Do the existing case studies reflect your goals and expected ROI?
  • Does the founding team have prior experience building successful ML products?
  • Has their sales team sold in a product-led environment at previous companies?
  • Are they open about their product and live the product-led vision themselves?

🔓 Security and Compliance

Last but not least, you want to make sure you can trust the PLS platform with your customer data. When you’re ready to go with a vendor, you can ask to see their certification documents to ensure your data is safe.

What to ask

  • Is the platform SOC2 Type II certified?
  • Is the platform GDPR and CCPA compliant?
  • Do they have a DPA and privacy policy?
  • Do they offer SAML-based SSO and RBAC?

See the product in action

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. That’s why we deliberately chose to become one of the only vendors for PLG companies…that’s actually PLG ourselves. Sign up today or book a demo.

Ready to see a product-led sales motion in action?
Turn your self-serve funnel into a revenue engine.
Get a demo

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March 23, 2023
·
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What is a Product-Led Sales platform

Learn how a Product-Led Sales platform empowers reps with a new way of selling.

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·
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How To

How to choose a Product-Led Sales platform

What to look for (and why) when selecting a platform to support your Product-Led Sales motion.

Stephen Moock
|
Head of Sales and Success
|
Calixa

Your PLG roundup in 5 minutes.

February 27, 2023
ReadTime

TLDR: go here for direct access to our handy evaluation template.

As self-serve SaaS becomes the norm, people expect a buying experience that aligns with how they use the product. Most sales teams look to their CRM for this context – only to realize it lacks the product insights needed to have valuable, contextual conversations. 

Everyone agrees: product insights make or break self-serve revenue teams.

In this emerging Product-Led Sales (PLS) category, there are lots of vendors competing for your attention. But how do you know which platform can actually deliver on their promise? 

Step-by-step evaluation guide for Product-Led Sales platforms

Get ready to kick off an evaluation

Before you begin the evaluation, it’s important to look internally and understand what requirements are important to your unique business.

Decide who needs to be on the platform evaluation team

The first step is to determine the cross-functional team that owns the PQL engine – such as sales, operations, and data teams. Including all the key stakeholders early ensures you’re not held up later in the buying process.

  • Who are your decision makers?
  • Who are influencers that may help inform the decision?
  • Who are your end users that are going to test the product?

Prioritize what problems your company is looking to solve

Next, discuss with the leadership team how they want the PLS platform to help them generate revenue. For example, some organizations want to find enterprise opps, while others want to monitor active trials. Create a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves that this platform will solve for.

  • Get access to product data
  • Find more deals from your self-serve funnel
  • Better retain customers

Once you’ve gathered the evaluation team and company objectives, you’re ready to compare vendor capabilities against your requirements.

Features & functionality evaluation template

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in listing all the features and functionality for a PLS platform. To solve this, we sat down with countless GTM leaders to develop this comprehensive list of 46 questions to consider when looking for a Product-Led Sales solution. 👉 Access it here

This template makes it easier to find the right PLS platform – so you can consolidate your tech stack, uncover deal opportunities, and increase rep efficiency. Here are the top categories to consider:

  • Supporting your PLG data infrastructure
  • CRM Syncing
  • Surfacing your best PQLs/PQAs
  • AI Capabilities
  • Product data visualization
  • Enabling reps to action PQLs efficiently
  • Orchestrating workflows for product-led GTM at scale
  • Current customers, team, and long-term vision
  • Security and Compliance

🙌 Supporting your PLG data infrastructure

All the functionality in a PLS platform is only as powerful as the data that’s used to back it up. That’s why you’ll want to see if the vendor is compatible with your existing tech stack. This information is easy to discover in the company’s Integrations page, or by contacting the team to see if they have plans to add your existing tool. 

Many companies also want to support additional product-specific layers like a team, workspace, or business unit. This way, sales teams no longer have to struggle with rigid CRM fields. Check if the vendor has Flexible Account Models that reflect the correct hierarchy in both the PLS platform and your CRM for faster prospecting.

What to ask

  • Are integrations simple to set up using no-code/low-code?
  • Does the platform support your ideal account model—including custom tiers of data (company, workspace, user)?
  • Can they integrate with your CDP (Segment)?
  • Do they have direct integrations with your Data Warehouse (BigQuery, Snowflake, Redshift)?
  • Can they integrate with your Reverse ETL tool (Census, Hightouch)?
  • Can they integrate with your CRM (Salesforce, HubSpot)?
  • Can they integrate with your Sales Engagement tool (Outreach, Salesloft)?
  • Do they have an open API that allows you to send additional customer data?

🔁 CRM Syncing

PLS platforms play a key role in upleveling your CRM with product insights. Instead of having siloed product signals, reps greatly benefit from having real-time data and top signups from the convenience of their CRM. 

Syncing PQLs into a CRM is often a challenging task, because many integrations make you choose whether to sync all-or-nothing. Choose a vendor that’s invested in a CRM Sync so you get fine-grained control over which signups to push into your CRM.

What to ask

  • Does the platform sync lead, contact, and account data with the CRM?
  • Is ownership automatically inherited from the CRM?
  • Can you update ownership of records directly from the CRM?
  • Can users manually push leads into the CRM? Can you add custom data to the lead objects?
  • Can automations be configured to create leads?
  • Can you sync with custom CRM objects?
  • Can scores, milestones and other metadata be synced bi-directionally with the CRM?

👀 Surfacing your best PQLs/PQAs

This is where PLS platforms truly shine. PLS platforms help you create and iterate on PQL criteria. This can be done using simple scoring or AI-powered prospecting. Sales teams can try scoring PQLs based on human intuition and assumptions to start off, but mature PLS functions to adopt AI to find predictive signals that the human eye misses.

When evaluating PLS platforms, you’ll want to know how that platform scores your leads – and what insights led to that score.

What to ask

  • Can you easily create & iterate on the usage thresholds in PQL score criteria?
  • Does the platform let you filter and sort data based on multiple objects (e.g. account plan and user activity in one query)?
  • Can you surface PQLs/PQAs based on % usage changes over time?
  • Does the platform support Slack, email, or playbook alerts?
  • Can alerts be dynamically routed to lead owner or account owner?
  • Is there a dedicated PQL inbox that contains a consolidated list of playbooks for a rep to work?

🤖 AI Capabilities

AI is required to know which usage metrics belong in your PQL and how much to weigh each product signal. It can also adapt to your changing product by evolving PQL criteria overtime. By surfacing insights within seconds, AI simulates the process of a top rep who has spent years learning about why people buy.

A PLS platform should have AI scoring that is accurate and easy to understand. Look into the vendor’s track record building AI before diving into a POC. For example, our founding team (Thomas and Fred) has early foundational experience in PLS tooling at Twilio and a decade of ML experience including building Sift’s AI fraud detection.

What to ask

  • Does the platform have AI-powered scoring that explains the key signals (ranked by impact) behind each score?
  • Is this ML model customizable and learns from itself based on conversion rates?
  • Can you run multiple ML models per sales motion (free-to-paid, paid-to-enterprise, etc.)?
  • Can you export this scoring information into data lakes, custom webhooks, and spreadsheets?

📊 Product data visualization

A customer 360 view has never been more important than in a product-led motion. Without one, the customer is actually more well-informed of their product usage than the rep they speak with.

PLS platforms offer product analytics that are actionable for GTM teams. Whether reps care about the user journey or account workspaces, a PLS platform enables your team to easily find timely data and customer context.

What to ask

  • Does the platform visualize your most important user and account milestones?
  • Can you see aggregate usage metrics and percent changes for any time range?
  • Can you create default team dashboards, in addition to individual rep dashboards?
  • Can you sort by multiple columns, and filter across multiple tiers (e.g. find DMs within paid workspaces)?
  • Can you categorize views based on territories, segments, and team functions (e.g. SDR, enterprise, success)?

🏃🏻‍♀️ Enabling reps to action PQLs efficiently

Product-Led Sales isn’t only about finding PQLs – the next step is to efficiently act on them. PLS platforms consolidate rep actions for greater efficiency. Reps can take action into downstream tools, such as an Outreach sequence, Salesforce opportunity, or Slack alert.

Vendors like Calixa offer playbooks, so reps can see what actions to take based on product activity. Whether you’re using a free-to-paid playbook or upsell playbook, reps will know exactly how to act on a PQL to drive revenue.

What to ask

  • Can you quickly set up playbooks that show product insights and follow-up actions based on various goals (upsell, account consolidation play, etc.)?
  • Can you add users into Outreach sequences and Salesloft cadences?
  • Can you add leads, opportunities, and tasks into CRMs?
  • Does the platform work well with existing rep workflows and minimize tab jumping with a Chrome Extension?
  • Do they support custom actions, such as Extend Trial?

⚡ Orchestrating workflows for product-led GTM at scale

Instead of repeating common actions, your PLS platform should allow you to operationalize common GTM workflows. These include sequencing PQLs, syncing to the CRM, alerting reps, and more.

See if the PLS platform you’re considering lets you set up triggers and actions based on product signals. Orchestrating these workflows increases revenue efficiency and saves valuable rep time.

What to ask

  • Can you automate PQL outreach via workflows that instantly add PQLs into the right sequences/cadences?
  • Can you automate CRM workflows such as pushing top signups into your CRM and lead/opp/task creation?
  • Can you automate adding high potential users into nurture campaigns within Marketo, HubSpot, and Salesforce?

🏔 Current customers, team, and long-term vision

Outside of product capabilities, companies pick vendors that act like true partners. The vendor should offer consultative guidance from actual PLS people. Our sales team (Stephen, Kevin, and Jacob) has been in the trenches and spent years selling in a product-led environment.

You can also look into proof points from past customers. Sometimes it’s as obvious as generating a $1M+ deal on the platform (not even an exaggeration 😉).

What to ask

  • Do they have customers that have generated deals with this platform?
  • Do the existing case studies reflect your goals and expected ROI?
  • Does the founding team have prior experience building successful ML products?
  • Has their sales team sold in a product-led environment at previous companies?
  • Are they open about their product and live the product-led vision themselves?

🔓 Security and Compliance

Last but not least, you want to make sure you can trust the PLS platform with your customer data. When you’re ready to go with a vendor, you can ask to see their certification documents to ensure your data is safe.

What to ask

  • Is the platform SOC2 Type II certified?
  • Is the platform GDPR and CCPA compliant?
  • Do they have a DPA and privacy policy?
  • Do they offer SAML-based SSO and RBAC?

See the product in action

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. That’s why we deliberately chose to become one of the only vendors for PLG companies…that’s actually PLG ourselves. Sign up today or book a demo.