Product-led Sales: The Next Stage in your SaaS Growth Journey

October 26, 2023

product-led sales

Product-led growth (PLG) is a go-to-market strategy that centers on the product. 

PLG aims to drive user acquisition, expansion, and retention. With this approach, users experience value before they make the purchase, often through offerings such as freemiums or trials.

While PLG is powerful, there are other solutions than many imagined. The buzz around a full PLG model often exceeds reality, with only a handful truly excelling.

Challenges include execution complexities, ongoing product innovation, and standing out in a crowded market. Recognizing these challenges, numerous thriving PLG SaaS companies are leaning toward product-led sales.


Product-led sales address these hurdles by directly engaging customers. 

It allows firms to comprehend user needs, driving tailored product innovation. In a congested market, direct engagement can differentiate a brand, making it resonate more with potential customers. Transitioning to product-led sales, thus, serves as a bridge to connect product innovation and market presence more effectively.

This approach complements PLG by introducing a sales team to engage potential customers directly, especially targeting larger enterprise clients.

Companies like Slack and Dropbox, initially renowned for their PLG strategies, have seamlessly incorporated product-led sales into their growth models as they've expanded.

So, why this shift? 

While products are still key, adding sales ensures bigger clients with specific needs aren't overlooked. The one-size-fits-all model may work for SMBs and individuals who prefer self-service but can fall short for enterprise clients because: 

  • Enterprises may need custom solutions and integrations beyond the standard offering.
  • Large companies have detailed procurement processes requiring negotiations and approvals.
  • Enterprises want demos and presentations to grasp the product's value.
  • Long-term, trust-based relationships are vital for big clients, demanding consistent touchpoints.

Product-led sales integrate a sales approach into PLG, allowing businesses to tailor solutions to enterprise-specific needs, showcase value through personalized demos, navigate clients through a complex buying cycle, and foster long-term relations with them.

While PLG offers autonomy, product-led sales ensures that the distinct requirements of larger clients are met, harmonizing growth strategies for all customer types.

Transitioning from PLG to product-led sales isn't a swap but an evolution, merging the best of both for all-rounded growth. And in the dynamic world of SaaS, the ability to adapt can make or break your business.

We'll explore and unpack this topic further in the upcoming sections of the article.

Product-led sales: the hybrid approach to PLG

This graph from McKinsey showcases a compelling argument: product-led companies generally outpace their sales-led counterparts in performance. 

product-led companies generally outpace their sales-led counterparts in performance. 

Source: McKinsey

But that's not the entire story.

While these product-led high-flyers dominate the market, an underlying trend might surprise you. These same high-performing companies are evolving by onboarding sales teams specifically designed to cater to larger clients. It's not a pivot away from PLG but rather an enhancement.

By marrying the agility and customer-centricity of a PLG approach with the precision and personal touch of a sales team, these companies are capitalizing on a new hybrid model: product-led sales.

This combination ensures that while the product remains a core value proposition, there's a personalized touch to cater to specific client needs and scenarios.

With this approach, customers relish a blend of autonomy and bespoke assistance. They can explore products independently, but when nuanced needs arise, a dedicated sales team steps in, ensuring swift and efficient onboarding. 

Key customer touchpoints are strategically placed, bridging the self-serve nature of PLG with the personal engagement of traditional sales. It's a model designed to offer the best of both worlds.

So, what does this mean? 

If you're aiming to stay competitive, it's worth considering how a product-led sales approach could fit into your strategy.

How to integrate sales into PLG

Whether you're a startup or an established player, integrating sales into your PLG model can open doors to bigger clients and higher revenue tiers. Here’s how:

  • Your PLG engine is already working well, and you can add value through targeted sales. 
  • Your LTV and sign-up volumes are plateauing or decreasing.
  • You are losing leads during the onboarding phase (which might indicate that the product offers enough value to incentivize trials or leads but might be too complicated to fully onboard without help). 
  • You need help catering to the needs of large clients, etc.

When should you consider transitioning to product-led sales

The transition between pure PLG and product-led sales isn't as simple as many assume. You don't necessarily need to dive headfirst into product-led sales to scale. Instead, many businesses make gradual adjustments to their growth model as they pivot. 

Here are some indicators suggesting it might be time for a shift to product-led sales:

  • Matured PLG engine: If your PLG strategy is thriving, introducing targeted sales efforts can further elevate your growth.
  • Unit economics: Pay attention to metrics like the LTV of a customer, sign-up volumes, and other key figures and notice if they're hinting at potential growth through sales.
  • Onboarding obstacles: If you're noticing a significant drop-off during the onboarding phase, your product, while valuable enough to attract trials, may need a human touch to assist with more intricate onboarding processes.
  • Challenges with large clients: If you need help to meet the needs of bigger clients who require more personalized attention or customized solutions.
  • Lengthening sales cycles: Direct sales intervention is needed if you notice that the time it takes to convert users is increasing, especially with larger clients.
  • Customer feedback: When you receive feedback that users or clients wish they had someone to talk to or guide them.
  • Increasing customer support tickets: A surge in support requests, especially from users trying to navigate more advanced features, can signify that a sales-led demonstration or onboarding might be beneficial.
  • Geographical expansion: A product-led sales model could be more effective if you're expanding into new markets where the culture or business practices lean more towards personalized sales interactions.
  • New product or feature launches: When introducing a new product or complex feature that could benefit from live demonstrations or consultations, a product-led sales approach can be advantageous.

Recognizing and acting upon these indicators can guide you in navigating a seamless transition from a predominantly PLG strategy to a more integrated product-led sales approach. 

Being attuned to these shifts will better position you to adapt and refine your growth strategy. This ensures alignment with your business's changing dynamics and demands as it progresses through various stages of its development and expansion. 

This proactive adaptation future-proofs your growth initiatives and enhances the value proposition you offer to your diverse user base.

This proactive adaptation future-proofs your growth initiatives and enhances the value proposition you offer to your diverse user base.

Source: TextMagic

Key characteristics of product-led sales

Product-led sales weaves traditional sales strategies with product-driven techniques to create a hybrid growth model. As companies adopt this approach, certain defining characteristics emerge. Let's delve into these pivotal traits of product-led sales:

Sales-assisted motion

Tip: In a product-led sales model, sales don't dominate the conversation but complement the product experience. 

Sales teams intervene strategically, usually when potential clients or users require additional clarity, assurance, or personalization. This assistance enhances the user experience, making the purchase process more tailored and consultative rather than transactional.

Creating rules for user engagement

Unlike traditional sales models, where every lead is pursued aggressively, product-led sales require a discerning approach.

Companies can identify when a user is genuinely interested or better off with a self-serve journey by establishing clear rules for user engagement. Thus, sales resources are utilized efficiently, and premature or aggressive outreach prevents users from being overwhelmed or turned off.

Carefully placed human touchpoints

Product-led sales aren't about bombarding users with sales calls or emails. Instead, it introduces human intervention at crucial moments.

For example, when a user appears stuck during onboarding, when they're navigating a complex feature, or when they express interest in the premium or enterprise-grade offerings. These touchpoints can distinguish between a user feeling lost and unsupported versus feeling valued and understood.

Focus on product qualification

While lead qualification in traditional models may focus on a lead's budget or authority, product engagement metrics take center stage in product-led sales. 

Observing how users interact with the product (how often they log in, which features they use, how long they spend on the platform, etc.) helps sales teams gauge genuine interest and readiness to purchase. This product-centric qualification offers a holistic view of a user's intent and potential LTV.

Benefits of the product-led sales model

The transition to product-led sales is more than just a trend; it's backed by tangible advantages that empower SaaS companies to thrive in competitive markets. 

Here's a closer look at the benefits that make this approach stand out:

Reaching and monetizing the entire market

Product-led sales allow businesses to tap into a broader spectrum of the market. 

While the product-led aspect ensures accessibility and appeal to a wide user base (including SMBs and individual users), the sales component ensures that enterprise-level clients receive personalized attention.

As a result, there's potential to monetize at both ends of the market spectrum.

Selling efficiently

When the product takes the front seat, a lot of initial user education and engagement is handled automatically, reducing the strain on sales teams.

When sales step in, it's strategic and targeted, ensuring that their efforts are directed toward users who are most likely to convert, thus optimizing the sales cycle and increasing ROI.

Creating multiple paths for the customer

Not every customer journey is linear or identical.

With product-led sales, businesses can offer multiple pathways tailored to different user needs. Some prefer a self-serve approach, while others seek consultative engagement. This flexibility ensures a broader appeal and caters to diverse buyer personas.

Improving customer experience

The blend of automated and human touchpoints means users get the best of both worlds. They can explore, trial, and understand the product at their own pace but also know that expert help is available.

This balance fosters a positive user experience, building trust and loyalty.

Encouraging early user activation and creating upsell momentum

One of the hallmarks of product-led sales is its ability to stimulate early user activation. 

With clear onboarding pathways and the right nudges, users are encouraged to dive deeper into the product from the outset. As they discover more value, a natural momentum builds, making upselling or cross-selling more organic and less of a hard sell.

How to implement product-led sales for your SaaS

Transitioning to a product-led sales approach requires a meticulous strategy, aligned teams, and the right tools. Here's a step-by-step guide to ensure your SaaS is optimally positioned to harness the strengths of product-led sales:

1. Define your product-led sales strategy and curate a playbook

A successful product-led sales shift demands cross-functional collaboration between marketing, product, and development teams. If your company is rooted in PLG, consider establishing new units, especially sales teams, to align with the change.

Whether you’re targeting enterprise account expansion, upselling opportunities, or reducing churn, establishing clear goals is paramount.

Clearly demarcate roles, responsibilities, and processes. Know who does what and when, ensuring seamless execution.

2. Redesign the customer journey

Dissect and analyze the user journey, spotlighting areas of friction. The aim is to seamlessly integrate sales touchpoints without disrupting the user experience.

Implement variations of product-led experiences, measure their effectiveness, and iterate. This cycle ensures your approach remains agile and resonates with evolving user needs.

3. Prioritize product-qualified leads (PQLs) using tiers 

Establish tiers by differentiating PQLs using criteria such as product engagement, alignment with the ideal customer profile, or overall customer fit.

Design a matrix allowing your sales teams to engage at opportune moments. This ensures interventions are timed for maximum impact.

Embrace this motion to ease sales friction, initially engaging customers with minimal commitment and broadening the relationship based on proven value and trust.

defining PQLs

Source: TextMagic

4. Introduce the right tools 

To succeed with a product-led sales motion, you must introduce the right tools in your tech stack.

5. Experiment at speed with a growth pod

Before making a complete shift, handpick a dedicated growth pod – a small, cross-functional team comprising members from sales, marketing, product, and engineering to experiment with sales-led motions in real time.

This growth pod is free to decide, act, and pivot. When a smaller team operates with autonomy, decisions are made faster, reducing the time from ideation to execution.

Implement tight feedback loops, allowing the team to gauge what's working and what's not quickly. Consider rolling it out on a larger scale once an experiment shows promise or achieves desired outcomes. The growth pod's findings can be instrumental in shaping the larger product-led sales strategy.

6. Invest adequately for rapid growth

Understand where your money can have the most significant impact and allocate strategically. Instead of a scattergun approach, target areas that can deliver quick wins and long-term gains.

Regularly assess the return on your investments. This continuous evaluation ensures you get value and can pivot if something isn’t delivering as expected. 

As you experiment and iterate, be ready to reallocate funds. The dynamic nature of product-led sales may require shifting resources to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

7. Balance self-serve with sales boost

Different customers require different approaches, so continuously assess customer needs. While some might prefer a self-serve journey, others may need more hand-holding. 

Identify stages in the customer journey where a human touch can add significant value and ensure your sales team engages at these moments.

Regularly gather feedback and analyze data to see which mix yields the best results. Adjust based on these insights to stay aligned with customer preferences.

8. Align team expectations

Communicate clearly and ensure stakeholders understand the goals, roles, and responsibilities within the product-led sales framework.

Offer resources and workshops to help team members adapt to the product-led sales model. Continuous learning ensures that the team stays updated and can effectively address the nuances of this approach.

Recognize and reward successes, no matter how small. This boosts morale and reinforces the behaviors that drive results in a product-led sales environment.

Are you ready to become sales-led?

Embracing product-led sales doesn't mean an overnight shift but a strategic evolution tailored to your SaaS company's growth stage. Remember, you don't have to dive headfirst into product-led sales; it's often about gradual transitions that amplify your existing PLG strategies. 

Notably, a recent study indicates that over 90% of SaaS companies currently leverage the power of product-led sales, underscoring its rising significance in the industry. 

What becomes crucial, then, is discerning the differences and intersections of product-led growth vs. sales-led growth.

By delving deeper into the intricacies of these two distinct models, businesses can carve out a tailored, efficient, and robust growth trajectory that perfectly aligns with their unique market stance and objectives.

Learn how PLG impacts SaaS pricing strategy and how you can build one.

Product Analytics Software
See the data, build the product

Ready to embrace product-led sales? Understand how users interact with your product, so you can make data-driven decisions.

Product Analytics Software
See the data, build the product

Ready to embrace product-led sales? Understand how users interact with your product, so you can make data-driven decisions.

Product-led Sales: The Next Stage in your SaaS Growth Journey For B2B SaaS businesses, selecting an appropriate growth tactic, or more accurately, the right distribution model, is vital for the product's growth and success. Two strategies have emerged as dominant front-runners: Product-led Growth (PLG) and the increasingly prevalent Product-led Sales (PLS).
Ioana Sima Marketing manager for TextMagic and Touchpoint. I like figuring out how things work. Passionate about fitness, analytics, video games, and cosplay.

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