November 20, 2023

How product-led growth and enterprise sales coexist: Getting executive buy-in

Samantha Sales runs over to the product team grinning from ear to ear. "I've landed the big one!" she says. "We just need to add this really simple custom integration and we should be all set! When will it be ready?" 

Patrick Product groans. "Don't turn our roadmap into a scenic adventure! We have a bunch of updates that will drive sales and adoption for all of our current and future clients.”

Anyone have a conversation like the above? And who is right? Creating what the Product Team thinks is a seamless user experience, or getting more deals in the door? It’s a bit of a chicken and egg. But I’m here to say that these arguments actually push towards the same end goal.

Your product should be able to do the talking before, during, and after the sales process. This is always true when products are launched with little to no sales, but how about when there is an enterprise sales team to guide the prospect through adoption of a product? 

Product-led growth (PLG) is a business methodology in which user acquisition, expansion, conversion, and retention are all driven primarily by the product itself. It creates company-wide alignment across teams—from engineering to sales and marketing—around the product as the largest source of sustainable, scalable business growth.

On the other hand, enterprise sales usually involves some sort of outbound prospecting, a 2-12+ month sales process, and ultimately an in-person or human-led onboarding. From there, adoption is driven by sending use cases, meeting in person, and sharing case studies about how other companies have driven success using the platform. Involved in this process are usually: a demand generation lead, an SDR, an AE, a senior sales lead, a sales engineer, an onboarding specialist, a CSM, and more.

So, when the PLG world says companies grow by the product doing the work, but the enterprise sales world involves 7+ constituents to sell and service a customer, how in the world can they work together?

This was basically the question I was tasked with answering here at Suzy. How can we scale internally via product-led growth, when 100% of what we do is driven by enterprise sales?

Ultimately, I realized that while PLG is typically thought of as a free trial → onboarding → adoption, there are principles that underlie the success of PLG that can, and should, be applied to all businesses, whether you’re selling something for $9/user/month, or $100K/year.

As Margaret, a fellow collective member, said to me, “The decision to be product-led is binary—you are, or you aren’t. However, implementation can come in many shapes and sizes depending on what your product is, and who is buying it.”

In my new role as VP of Business Development & Strategy, I’ve decided to tackle the question of how product-led growth can not only work in parallel with enterprise sales, but actually augment the product to push enterprise sales. 

There are two parts to this:

  1. Driving the product-led growth mentality inside our walls, and projecting it to everything we do.
  2. Leveraging PLG tactics externally for prospects and customers.

The focus here is to discuss how we aligned on PLG internally, at an organization that currently focuses mostly on enterprise sales. We'll cover part two in a future article.

Phase 1: Learning & introducing PLG to drive executive buy-in

As of April, I moved from being a lead on our enterprise sales team to leading growth and new partnerships sitting within the product team. While this was a new and nebulous role, as I read more about PLG, I knew how powerful it could be, even in an organization driven by enterprise sales. However, this was a change in mindset for much of the executive team, which meant I had a story to tell.

I stumbled upon content from OpenView around product-led growth, and knew I hit a gold mine. Then I took a step deeper into the Product-Led Growth Flywheel. From the C-suite to functional leads, PLG is a mindset that exists from within the organization, and gets pushed out to benefit customers. So I had to figure out how to extract all this information, and get everyone onboard. 

I took these resources, translated them to Suzy, and started to plant the seed internally. I presented to my Chief Product Officer, then my CEO and President, and ultimately, to the entire exec team. 

One key takeaway? Sometimes data won, sometimes emotion won. Storytelling to change mindsets here is key.

Product-Led Growth Flywheel

Storytelling with data

As we build our sales engine, it’s numbers that would prove the case to my CEO. We knew how many emails we needed to send to create an opportunity, and how many opportunities we needed to close a deal. 

How could PLG play into this? Well, we had many opportunities that we lost due to price/budget, and I thought one place we could start would be to take these opportunities and interested folks, and give them a lower touch option to start. 

How would this help? Experiment with a lower touch Suzy option, while still providing value for the customer. This would be our first real product-led experiment. It was out first opportunity to leverage our internal entrepreneurial drive, and marry the aspirational with the tactical.

Storytelling with emotion

At our organization, and many others, getting executives to buy in was really just pushing them in the direction they already wanted to go in. 

Let’s take a few examples:

  • To my head of sales (who wants to drive maximum efficiency for his team): Would you rather your team focus more time on higher value contracts, or mix and match their time between $10K deals and $100K deals?
  • To my head of product (who loves experimenting and being entrepreneurial): Do you want to try to sprinkle in some features that allow us to be experiment and see if our product itself can drive revenue and growth? It was this tweet that drove it home for him:

Pushback I received

All this being said, this process was certainly not without pushback. Even in a fast-moving organization like Suzy that likes to try new things, there is always fear around the unknown. 

I was told, “We don’t know if our product is ready for that.” And that’s true, we didn’t KNOW this one way or the other. We’ve always had people (sales, CS, etc.) step in right away, because we didn’t want to lose a $50K or $100K contract. However, we set expectations with new customers on our lower touch option, and told them to reach out when they had problems, questions, or suggestions. Then we could really see where help was needed, either from humans or from product improvements.

I was asked, “What if we bring down our ASP?” I acknowledged that this was definitely possible, but more likely, what would happen would be an increase in ASP. Our salespeople who would be able to focus on larger deals, and could kick smaller deals to me (and our self-serve, low-touch, product-led model). So we had fewer deals with smaller deal sizes for salespeople to handle, and thus more, larger deals. [As of this writing, our ASP has actually increased over the last few months by about 10%.]

At the end of the day one point was always hard to argue with. Nobody could envision Suzy becoming the billion dollar company we all believe it has the potential to be without PLG. If that was the case, then why not get started?

Once I had executive buy-in, it was time to start implementing. We'll save that until next time.

{Don't forget to subscribe to make sure you get part two of this article when it launches.}

Bryan currently leads strategy and operations at Suzy. In his prior roles, among many hats he’s worn, he served as Chief of Staff to the CEO, and Enterprise Account Executive, working with companies like KraftHeinz, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. Overall, Bryan is leading the charge at Suzy to embody product-led growth across all parts of the organization.

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