From Product-Led to Sales-Assisted — Super Growth with Edward Ford
It’s not uncommon these days to see a product as the main driving force in acquiring and retaining customers. Some businesses see such results from product-led growth that they rely on self-service alone to reach millions in annual sales. Still, just because letting your product lead the way is a successful method, on the whole, it doesn’t mean all customers are happy to go down the self-service path. In fact, you might be letting valuable opportunities pass you by.
Until 2018, Supermetrics, too, was operating purely from a product-led viewpoint.
Then, a mind-shift happened.
If they came so far without a single salesperson, what heights could they reach by adding a sales-assisted motion to their already effective strategy?
When Edward Ford joined the company in 2019, only three people were on the Sales Team. Today, it has over fifty members. Together with a Marketing Team of close to twenty, they’ve been successfully transitioning from a product-led growth motion to a sales-assisted funnel.
In the latest episode of Ungated Marketing, Edward Ford walks us through the strategies and tactics behind Supermetric’s exponential growth.
When and Why to Hire a Sales Team
Since joining Supermetrics, Edward Ford has doubled the Marketing Team and contributed to quadrupling the business’s ARR.
Some of the tactics and strategies the company used even before Edward jumped in are still working. He elaborates: “Paid acquisition has been a big part of our inbound acquisition efforts, along with the organic, inbound play. Looking at content and SEO, those have been big marketing channels and tactics. And those were still a lot of the things we focused on when I joined in 2019. And still continue to be today as well.”
Given the nature of its product’s utility — picking up marketing data and aggregating it in the users’ desired platform — Supermetrics has always been very marketing and product-driven. As Edward puts it, there’s always been natural demand for a tool that solves one of marketing’s major use cases.
For that reason, Supermetrics saw good results in self-service sales coming in from a product-led growth. That’s right — they’re not one and the same thing. Edward clarifies that “product-led is about how you leverage your product, to then grow a business. Whether people enter a self-serve or sales-assisted funnel.” In this case, prior to having a sales team, the company was relying on the product and marketing-driven strategies to attract customers who would then go through a self-service process on their own to acquire a product.
However, as the business scaled, they saw a need to adapt to certain changes around them. He explains: “You need to be aware of how the channels you use change over time. And as more competition comes onto the market, how do you modify for that?”
One of the things they modified was hiring a Sales Team, which represented a significant, company-wide mind-shift.
Edward explains that looking at the results, they were already satisfactory without a single sales team member until 2018 and with just three members upon him joining Supermetrics. That led them to think: “Okay, this is how far we’ve got here. But we know that we need to invest in sales, and we know that we can grow faster when adding a sales-assisted motion on top. There’s so much more value to be had from Supermetrics, and being able to connect people with a sales team is going to be a big help here.”
After deciding on putting this plan in motion, it was first about understanding how they would “set up things like marketing and sales alignment, and how we [would] work with two funnels.” Edward doesn’t shy away from admitting some mistakes were made, and that they’re still learning as they go. But it’s all part of the growth process. His marketing team is now close to twenty members, and the sales team — which includes inbound, outbound, and customer success — it is close to seventy people. With plans to keep growing this year, internal alignment can be an ongoing challenge, but the company remains behind its decision.
The Customer Factor
The decision to invest in a sales team was based on more than one factor. Increasing revenue was obviously one of them, but they also considered it from a customer perspective.
Around the same time, Supermetrics began bringing more complex products to the market, for example, its first marketing data warehouse destination, which allowed users to bring data into Google BigQuery. That product “[didn’t] just impact marketing teams, but also data, the infrastructure teams, the analytics teams who might work with both data and marketing. There are technology stakeholders, like CTOs, who need to understand the security needs to understand compliance issues.”
With a growing product complexity, it became evident that customers with more complex needs wanted to “be able to speak with [a sales team member] and see certain products in action” before acquiring them.
All in all, both in terms of scaling growth as well as better serving their customers, Supermetrics saw the newly created Sales Team as a good business opportunity.
Managing Product-Led and Sales-Assisted Funnels
While some of the more complex Supermetrics products became available just through the Sales Team, others remain available through a self-service purchase on the company website. That means there are two possible funnels customers can go down and that need to be managed from both the marketing and sales sides.
But even with that product differentiation, when do they know if or when a lead is ready to talk to sales?
Edward explains that Supermetrics’s definition of a Product Qualified Lead is driven from a value perspective. “A PQL would be someone who starts a free trial of the product and is then taking certain actions to really get a lot of value out of [it.] We can see that if people are getting value out of a product, how does that impact the conversion rate? [So that we guide] people towards what we see in the data.”
However, he adds, that doesn’t mean the customer will go through the self-serve or the sales-assisted funnel. That, he says, is really the customer’s decision. “I think it's up to the user that, if they want to get a demo to understand what they can really do with our products, then that's fine. Or if someone is trialing parts of our offering from more premium packages, then a sales rep will reach out and just check-in and see how everyone's getting on.”
More than qualification, the lead’s usage of the product and geographic location determine when a salesperson should go after them. As Edward clarifies, location is an important factor since the Sales Team is structured by region. And that’s something he’s going to look into from a marketing perspective to establish how regional marketing can work with other regional teams. Other than that, “of course people can reach out and discuss with sales to get a demo and ask questions,” but otherwise, that step is much more impacted by usage and geography.
The process is also heavily automated.
“We have a relatively complex set of things going on under the hood to guide people down certain paths, based on certain factors, and then triggering certain things because we have learned [how] different systems talk to each other, from the product backend to a customer data platform to the CRM.”
Marketing, Sales & Customer Success Collaboration
There’s the age-old idea that marketing and sales live in a permanent state of competition. That’s not the case at Supermetrics, at all, where cooperation between teams is fostered and encouraged.
As Edward puts it, his marketing team is there to help grow the company, “and obviously, that means trying to grow both funnels.” He adds that, essentially, “marketing is on the frontline and trying to enable success” for everyone.
When it comes to managing the sales funnels they have in place, he says his team is not biased towards the deals closed through self-service that result from marketing efforts. In fact, one of the ways he believes marketing’s success can be measured is the performance of the sales team. “Are they hitting their quota? Are they closing record deals in terms of the number of deals or deal size as well?” Since marketing can contribute to that, Edward remarks that the team is doing its part to make other teams successful.
Talking specifically about outbound sales, he describes how marketing plays a big role in making it easier. By “building a brand and generating awareness not just for it, but also the problem [it solves], you’re solving the space you’re in and giving air cover to outbound teams” whose work is facilitated if marketing is doing its job well, too.
In addition to sales, there’s big cooperation between Marketing and Customer Success while a customer is trialing a product. Actually, at Supermetrics, there’s a Customer Experience Team who sits within marketing who “take care of the automated flow, the trial flows, the onboarding, the activation piece” and are aligned with Customer Support to help answer customer questions and guide them through their purchase process and eventually move them to a paid subscription.
Additionally, Marketing has ongoing activities with Customer Success focussed on retention and expansion efforts. Edward explains that both are “a huge piece of a SaaS business model, and are built on the assumption that you can retain your customers and expand as well.” He further acknowledges that “there will always be churn” and that these efforts are about offsetting what the business is losing.
The Future of Marketing Attribution Measurement
Speaking of marketing efforts, how does a business that helps marketers process their data analyze its own results?
For Edward, the marketing attribution model is shifting towards a marketing-mix model. Internally, the team has been discussing the topic around questions such as “And where are we going [in terms of marketing measurement?] And what did multi-touch attribution promise, and what did [it] actually deliver? And where’s the gap and is the model as great as everyone says, because it is built on [the] assumption [that] every click and every interaction is being recorded, which it is not.”
He adds that attribution is really about trying to understand how customers buy and how your marketing efforts and strategies are aligned with that. There are many things marketers can look at, like how customers are coming to your product and all the steps they’re taking to get there.
As a response to trends in marketing attribution, Supermetrics is investing in its own data and analytics team to help marketers make better and more informed decisions.
Edward feels like a mixed model of attribution is the way to go, and he is interested to see how that space evolves and how Supermetrics can help customers enable that.
Transitioning from product-led growth to a sales-assisted funnel doesn’t have to be too complicated. In fact, it can help businesses identify new opportunities and scale their growth even further like Supermetrics did.
To hear more about the company’s exponential growth since hiring a Sales Team and having it work closely with Marketing, listen to the full conversation with Edward Ford below or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.