Dec 18th, 2023

Don’t forget the people behind the product: PLG best practices from Coda [VIDEO]

Product-led doesn’t mean product-only.

Flesh-and-blood go-to-market teams are key to transforming free trials into annual recurring revenue.

We talked about that and much more with Carrie McMahon, Head of Scaled Business at Coda, in our recent event: Rewriting the PLG playbook.

Here are three of the top takeaways from that conversation, including:

  • Why people are the cornerstone of product-led growth
  • How to hone in on the product usage data that matters
  • What role sales teams should play in a product-led motion

1. People power product-led growth

The common misconception about product-led growth is that it eliminates the need for people-led touch.

The idea is that a person discovers your product, signs up with their credit card, and becomes a power user—all without any human contact.

And while it’s true that PLG opens up the door to sales efficiency, the most successful product-led strategies are powered by people (and no, we’re not just talking about the human beings who build the product).

“We have several teams that are focused on the PLG motion at Coda,” Carrie said. “I like to divide it into our human-led motions, our product-led motions, [and] our marketing-led motions.”

From onboarding emails to use case workshops, human engagement is still the best way to support product activation and adoption. And the higher the annual contract value, the more human touch you’ll want to add to the mix.

“Our human-led motions are focused on our high-value accounts and so forth, sort of a subset of our accounts,” Carrie said. “We are providing more of that white-glove, one-on-one onboarding experience from a human-led side.”
What it means for PLG companies: You don’t just want people to sign up for your product—you want to empower them to find value. Sometimes that’s as straightforward as a well-timed onboarding email. Other times it’s a sales rep who can clearly explain why the enterprise plan is a better fit.

Of course, it’s important to understand when and where to deploy headcount. This is where product usage data comes into play.

“We look at a lot of product usage signals,” Carrie said. “We pull that into a score [and] that becomes more of our product-qualified account or PQA. And that's where we insert our humans to actually really help these high-potential accounts continue to grow and expand and actually eventually move up into becoming enterprise accounts within our space.”

2. Not all product usage is created equal

Product data is only one signal, but it can reveal plenty about which opportunities to pay attention to.

That said, it’s up to you to figure out which signals matter most. In other words: Test, measure, and iterate.

For example, the team at Coda is focused on people who not only use the product, but also encourage others to do the same.

“If you're inviting someone to a doc or if you're sharing a doc, those types of usage signals are much more interesting to me than just building out a first doc or maybe adding a table to a doc, because you're actually going to be driving a lot more influence,” Carrie said.

Signals like these help Coda spotlight accounts that are primed for expansion.

“These are really good signals for us in particular since Coda is a very horizontal product,” Carrie said. “Lots of different teams can use Coda for many use cases. So that spread is something we really look for.”
What it means for PLG companies: Product data helps you see which inputs correlate with user activation, expansion, and retention, but not every organization has a crack data science team on standby. Make sure customer-facing teams have the tooling necessary to extract insights from product usage and other key signals.

Keep in mind that different signals will matter more for different types of accounts. For instance, IT and executive engagement is much more important when it comes to enterprise deals.

“Those are just critical things to really start building up in the account early on because in making an enterprise purchase, having IT buy-in and having exec buy-in is really critical,” Carrie said. “So getting that engagement early on is more important for those types of accounts.”

3. Find the balance between sales and support

Most PLG companies hire more sales reps as they grow, but every organization will need to decide the role its sellers play.

Depending on your product, it may be more useful for reps to put away their pitch decks and put on their customer support hats.

“Initially I was hired to build out more of the SDR, BDR type of role,” Carrie said. “So let's qualify these new sign-ups, let's get them into the sales funnel quickly…. However, we quickly evolved to this sales assist [and] coach role [...], so onboarding over qualification.”

Instead of first qualifying leads based on their budgets and use cases, the sales team at Coda is now focused on unblocking product users so they can convert to a paid plan. Once that’s done, reps concentrate on how they might expand those accounts.

What it means for PLG companies: Product-led growth naturally evolves into product-led sales as companies move upmarket. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should revert to traditional sales tactics. Customer-facing teams should be proficient at helping customers help themselves.

Overlooking the core appeal of product-led growth—the ability for product users to self-serve—can backfire. Buyers often need to experience the value of a product on their own before they’re ready to talk to a salesperson.

“If we [...] just try to get customers to kind of skip the activation milestone and just get them through the sales funnel, [we were] actually seeing that that was going to be hurting us longer term,” Carrie said.

People are what fuel business growth—both the people using your product and the people selling it.

Make sure they all have what they need to succeed.

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