Does a Product-Led Growth Company Still Need a Sales Force?

Product-led growth  

Think about some of the online tools you can’t live without. Chances are, you backup your work to Dropbox, keep your colleagues updated on your progress via Slack, and automate your marketing emails with a service like Mailchimp. And what all these companies have in common, according to Forbes, is that they’re product-led growth companies.

The term product-led growth has a pretty broad definition, but Forbes does a good job narrowing it down: “Product-led growth companies are those with high-quality product experiences, prompting customers to use them often and share them with their networks. Growth in these companies has a significant viral component.”

So if product-led growth companies are relying heavily on viral word of mouth, do you still need a sales team? The short answer is yes. But the longer answer is that successful product-led growth companies need cooperation from many different teams and a land and expand strategy in place in order to sustain that growth over time.

Bottom-up growth is great, but it’s not everything

So a new customers adopts your product and tells a co-worker how great it is. The co-worker starts using it, and soon lots of employees within an organization have adopted (and love) your product. That kind of bottom-up growth, which happens naturally from the value of your product, is great. But if you want to see real company-wide adoption, you’ve got to have a top-down account strategy to complement that bottom-up growth to truly solidify that relationship between the customer account and product.

A land and expand strategy isn’t having one user organically turn into ten users. Instead, a land and expand strategy means forming persistent, deep connections with high-level decision makers in the customer’s company. It’s working to transform your product from a tool that some employees have adopted to a solution that the organization has prioritized.

Land and expand means working at the account level, not the user level.

All too often product-led growth companies leave dollars on the table by focusing on organic growth without setting systems in place to both boost that natural growth and solidify relationships with fans of your product. Let’s face it, organic, viral growth is great when it happens, but a talented sales team is what makes those new relationships matter.

Land and expand requires people and process

There are lots of names for complementing product-led growth with top-down sales: account development, customer development, sales. What you call it is much less important than executing your strategy consistently and putting enough muscle behind the initiative to make an  impact.

For “low touch,” self-service customers, a top-down sales strategy may mean monitoring new user signups to spot those who are employed at your ideal customer accounts and then immediately kicking off a process to begin the land and expand efforts within that customer account.

For higher touch products that use sales teams, the process is mostly the same. The process gets kicked off as the deal closes, and you continue to work on maintaining close ties with your primary decision makers and forge new relationships across the organization.

You’re going to need cross-functional teams

And while you’re still going to need a sales team to foster relationships with new accounts, you’re also going to need cooperation from multiple teams in order to make your product a vital part of your customer’s success.

Your customer success team is going to need to work hand-in-hand with your sales and product teams in order to make sure that products are consistent and their adoption is in lockstep with corporate messaging. You’re also going to need to make sure that customers have a single point of contact for any issues that arise and that solutions are forthcoming.

However, it’s important to understand that sales and customer success teams are not the same thing: it’s the difference between hunting and farming.

The core mission of the sales team should be landing new business, whether it’s a brand new client or an effort to bring an entire organization on board, while the function of the customer sales team should be cultivating that business.

And finally, it’s important to make sure you’re looking at every user as a customer, according to a recent session with OpenView’s own Blake Bartlett at SaaStr: “Your prospects, free trial accounts, and freemium accounts are all non-paying “customers” and you should think of them that way. Focus on making all your customers — including non-paying customers — successful across the entire sales-to-support continuum.”

This article originally appeared on SaaSX.

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