The 5 Product-Led Sales Motions

June 2, 2022
The 5 Product-Led Sales Motions
Justin Dignelli

In a recent interview with two product-led sales leaders, OpenView’s Casey Renner discussed the different considerations for building out the sales function in a product-led company. In speaking with John Eitel (formerly at Canva) and Kyle Parrish (Figma), Casey highlighted how important it is to articulate the value of sales across the business.

However, when transitioning to a hybrid (product-led growth + sales) model, there aren’t always clear-cut explanations for how sellers spend their time and how they contribute to the business.

Zooming out a bit, it’s helpful to group companies in the process of adopting a hybrid go-to-market model into two buckets: 

  • PLG Natives, for whom product-led growth was the initial go-to-market strategy and who are layering in direct sales to move upmarket or tackle more complex deals
  • PLG Transformers who are adding product-led approaches to an existing sales go-to-market motion to improve efficiency and lower acquisition costs

In both cases, the desired result is a hybrid model where product-led growth and direct sales work with each other rather than against each other. 

Sales motions describe the specific ways sales teams engage with prospects and customers to drive revenue. If the strategy is the menu, the sales motions are the recipes the kitchen follows to deliver on that strategy to the customer.

While some PLG sales motions look similar to their direct sales counterparts, others are quite unique. In this post, we’ll explore the five product-led sales motions and how they’re executed.

1. Conversion

When you think about product-led growth, conversion is probably the sales motion that comes to mind first. Conversion is the process of turning users of a free version of a product into paying customers.

PLG Transformers likely have a well-established set of sales motions for acquiring new customers. In fact, the conversion motion in product-led sales can often resemble sales processes in a traditional sales model. However, it’s important to note a few important differences.

First, unlike in a direct sales model, not all prospects need to work with sales to become paid customers. This means the primary challenge of the conversion motion is determining which free users need sales’ attention.

Based on a combination of who the person is (their job title, seniority, etc.), where they work (industry, employee count, etc.) and what they have (or have not) done in the product will help determine what degree of human involvement is needed. Free users who meet these criteria are commonly referred to as “product-qualified leads.”

However, identifying which free-tier users are most likely to convert is just the start. From there, sales teams must determine the different ways sellers can improve the chances that a given user will convert to a paid plan. Critically, the value that sellers provide in the conversion motion must be clear so that users will forego the self-service experience and instead choose to work 1:1 with the seller.

Examples of value sellers can provide at this stage include:

  • Offering lightweight technical guidance that is tailored to the user’s specific goals
  • Walking the user through customized demos of paid-tier functionality
  • Curating the most relevant content and resources across documentation, help centers, and marketing collateral
  • Answering complex or customer-specific questions not covered by self-service resources
  • Sharing firsthand anecdotes and insights into how other companies have solved problems or overcome challenges the prospect is likely to be facing

2. Retention

As was the case with conversion, both PLG Transformers and PLG Natives alike will have an existing concept of retention. Just like it sounds, the retention motion is focused on ensuring that customers continue to use and see value from the company’s products at a constant level of spend. 

In a traditional, sales-led motion, retention is thought of over the span of the full contract term (typically a year). As PLG Transformers become more product-led, customer usage (and therefore retention) is more dynamic and can change in a much shorter period of time, requiring a more proactive approach.

It’s no longer sufficient to wait until the last 3 months of a contract to think about renewals. Sellers must start to consider retention strategies from the beginning of their engagement with a customer.

Additionally operating a hybrid go-to-market produces a significantly higher volume of usage signals than a classic sales-led motion. While this helps paint a clearer picture of how customers engage with a company’s SaaS products, it can be challenging to understand which signals are predictive of important outcomes like growth or churn.

Identifying a set of both positive and negative signals enables sellers to keep tabs on which customers need additional support and which can be left to self-serve. However, because defining a set of customer health metrics requires a solid baseline of customer data, a dedicated retention motion typically comes into play later in the PLG Transformation journey.

PLG Natives, on the other hand, may have a better understanding of signals that indicate a customer is likely to contract or churn. However, these teams must identify and define the subset of these at-risk customers that would most responsive to sales intervention. 

Examples of sales-led or sales-assisted retention tactics might include:

  • Identifying a new champion following the departure of the original
  • Re-qualifying the customer after a change in priorities, leadership, or technology
  • Providing insight into past usage and connecting it to business outcomes that are top-of-mind for the customer
  • Coordinating training for new users or for underused features of the product

3. Expansion

The expansion motion is the primary way a company can increase revenue from existing customers. Not to be confused with upsell, expansion is specifically the process of growing the amount of usage a customer is entitled to for a product they are already using

The most common forms of expansion are:

  • adding user seats a customer can assign
  • increasing limits on usage metrics (API calls, workspaces, etc.)
  • providing additional licenses for software so it can be installed or used more broadly in the customer’s organization

Along with the conversion motion, expansion is the sales motion PLG Transformers will likely encounter early in their journey. In many cases, a version of the expansion motion already exists even before the company pursues a product-led go-to-market strategy. However, the introduction of PLG creates a few differences in how this motion should be executed.

In a traditional sales-led motion, the customers who are candidates for expansion is limited to those whose contracts are coming up for renewal. In a hybrid go-to-market where the customer base is comprised of both sales-sold and self-service customers, expansion potential can emerge at any time from either pool of users.

As customers approach pre-determined usage limits, sellers can intervene to help plan for continued growth and, in some cases, unlock tiered or volume discounts.

4. Upsell

The close cousin of the expansion motion, the upsell motion focuses on expanding an existing customer’s usage through the adoption of a wider set of products or features. (This is sometimes referred to as “cross-sell”)

Companies with a portfolio of complementary products are the best candidates for an upsell motion. However, for a company with a single product, this likely means upgrading the customer to a higher pricing tier which unlocks additional functionality. For example, SaaS companies often bundle “enterprise” features like SSO or integrations with more expensive platforms into higher pricing tiers targeted towards companies with larger budgets.

Depending on the structure of a company’s pricing and packaging, upsell and expansion may happen in parallel. For example, once a customer exceeds certain usage thresholds, their only option is to upgrade into a higher plan.

The primary difference between upsell and expansion, though, is that the value a customer gets from new products or features is likely different from what drove them to become a customer in the first place. This often requires sellers to re-qualify customers and execute additional discovery.

Both usage-based signals gleaned from product data along with business context obtained through sales engagements can indicate that a customer may benefit from functionality beyond what they currently have access to.

Specifically, upsell opportunities may arise after major milestones or “wins” where the value the customer gets from the product is top-of-mind. Take a classic upsell example for developer tooling companies: a customer purchases a core product when developing a new project. As the project is launched into production, the customer is likely considering complementary products that help them operationalize, scale, and monitor their deployment.

5. Consolidation

For products that can be adopted easily by end-users within an organization, it is quite common for disconnected pockets of usage to organically emerge across large companies. 

In parallel, many B2B software companies will provide discounts or additional features to incentivize larger contracts. This means there is often a threshold of usage where a customer can reduce costs by consolidating under a single contract. In exchange, the vendor can secure larger, longer-term commitments that improve revenue predictability.

To evaluate whether the consolidation motion is a good option, revenue teams should consider the following:

  • What tangible benefits do users gain from unifying usage into a single workspace and under an umbrella agreement? These may include product benefits (like higher usage limits or access to more premium features) or commercial benefits (like discounts, flexible payment options, or access to dedicated account management resources).
  • Are there technical limitations to migrating users and data from one workspace into another?
  • What additional support or resources do larger enterprise agreements require? For example, in exchange for larger upfront commitments, customers may want on-site consulting services, training, shorter support SLAs, or more influence over product roadmaps.

Like many other elements of a PLG Transformation initiative, the decision to prioritize a consolidation motion requires coordination across business functions. This ensures the go-to-market activities are backed up by legitimate product incentives while also making financial sense for the larger business.

To explore how sales leaders at companies like Vidyard, Miro, and Confluent think about the 5 product-led sales motions, check out the full guide.

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