3. Product Led Growth — Where do Sales and Marketing Fit in?

3. Product Led Growth — Where do Sales and Marketing Fit in?

One fear that I hear a lot from salespeople is that they are going to be automated away in a product-led growth world. This is absolutely not the case.

Why are sales necessary?

Josh Wold, one of the first salespeople to join Atlassian only a few years after its founding, told me this quote which resonates:

"It's Product Led, Marketing Driven, and Sales Assisted."

Every product-led growth company layers on a sales function. There is no replacement for a human being who understands a customers' problem and can dedicate resources to fix it. These people are needed to take the company to the next level in revenue growth. But it's a different type of sales.

Here's an overview of some product-led growth companies and when they added sales:

When companies add sales

CompanyYears after launchEstimated revenue (M)

When to add sales will vary tremendously depending on product complexity, audience, product pricing, and market exceptions. Selling a low-cost product for software developer teams requires a lower touch sales process than selling an enterprise-priced CRM requiring top-level buy-in and deployment.

What do the organizational structures look like?

Product-led growth relies on marketing, product, and sales working together tightly.

Management team structure-wise, the GTM team at Atlassian were staffed by these roles:


  • Marketing:
    • Product marketers: Responsible for generating new leads to go into a new pipeline. They are the backbone of growth.
    • Growth marketers: Responsible for payments, processing, and onboarding.
  • Product:
    • Product managers: They are responsible for engagement within the product. We had product managers specifically dedicated to the first fourteen days for the free trial experience, and product managers who owned other parts of the user experience.
  • Sales:
    • Enterprise Advocates: These were on varying levels of seniority. The first level responds to inbound customer requests. They are also responsible for tracking what kinds of customers come in from different campaigns — post signup for a free trial.
    • Senior Enterprise Advocate: This is a more advanced, technical person. They are most analogous to a sales engineer.
    • Enterprise Advocate Manager: They manage the team and help set processes, goals, and priorities.

Further, each of these roles was attached to a specific product line. For example, when I was in Jira Service Desk, I was the product marketer responsible for driving leads to Jira Service Desk. The product manager and I collaborated on the types of companies and leads that engaged well inside the product. When a lead was a large company, I would pass this person on to the Jira Service Desk Enterprise Advocate. This is especially important if your company has different products.

In contrast, these are traditional organizational structures with sales teams:


When you compare these organizational structures, you can see some differences:

  • Growth is owned by marketing and product, not Sales. The funnel would begin through campaigns, self-service signups, etc. Sales teams do not do outbound motions or have qualification calls.
  • Commissions are structured differently, if at all. But we know that not every PLG company or organization is going to incorporate every aspect of this. Many PLG companies still have a commission-based model.
Speaking of commission-based models — pay close attention to incentives. One well-known public company had a sales ops/data scientist automatically create opportunities based on inputs (such as product qualified leads, or PQLs) which got imported into Salesforce. However, when the sales team got handed these opportunities, they were not happy. They were compensated based on opportunity creation. In this scenario, the incentive (comped based on opportunity) should have been revisited before the launch.
  • The way that Sales engages is very different.

Pete Huang, an early employee at Airtable who instrumented the beginning of their sales function, summarizes this style of engagement well:

"Sales adds value in new ways in a PLG world. For example, product adoption-focused touchpoints for frontline teams, encouraging use case expansion, doing upgrades, and rolling up contracts from the bottom upwards."

The takeaway of this? Sales teams tend to focus less on transactional deals and more on strategic ones for the company.

It's critical, but not the same type of sales that you see in other organizations.

Hiring for a PLG leader in your organization? Learn more directly from Marie, VP of Growth, as to how she is thinking about it!

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