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Podcast 118: The Age of Product-Led Sales with Evan Lewis
product led sales with Evan Lewis
By Kelly Driscoll | October 7, 2019

Evan Lewis is our guest on the podcast this week, and he’s got some great stories to tell. He started his own company and talks openly about why it failed. After realizing why it happened, he doubled-down on learning sales and is now in the VC world. He’s seen both sides of selling product, and product-led sales. This was a killer episode…

In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • Product sales vs product-centric selling
  • What it takes to run super Product sales
  • Why the sdr role isn’t the entry point any more

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Product sales vs product-centric selling

John Barrows: So I guess my question for you is how much of the success a company has based off of the product that they sell and the frictionless sale type of approach – versus getting somebody to actually sell it?

Evan Lewis: Man, I could talk all day about this. I’ll give a little bit of backstory to my startup journey and how I was almost on the wrong end of this trend for product, being product-led versus sales led  twice. So in my first company, we were trying to build a product-led sales business. And in that case it somewhat made sense because it was an online education app.

We’re trying to go the realm of the universities in the course areas and that type of thing. So self-serve, little friction. So we tried to build a self serve product and then that company failed because we didn’t sell and validate. We didn’t get product market, we didn’t refine what we thought was the core product to get to product fit.

So I realize that I need to learn to sell, really well. So then at PostBeyond, in the early days we learned to sell extremely well and we were a very Sales and CS heavy business.

We had a lot of muscle and the go to market side. I think the amazing thing about a product-led sales model is the accountability that it brings to the organization in terms of stickiness. So, making sure that ultimately, ahead of someone actually giving you their money, that they’re going to get value and utility, right? If you can prove that at a small scale, chances are you can prove that at a larger scale.

That’s the struggle with being sales led. We could sell a $50,000 deal. Or we could sell a 10,000 license program but get a low adoption rate, with high churn.

That’s ultimately where it is now my in view, you could get away with that 5 years ago maybe but not now. The experience counts for way more on the buyer’s side.

What it takes to run super Product sales

Evan Lewis: The beauty of the product-led sales model is the accountability you have on keeping that customer happy. It puts the sales rep in a better position, they’re able to be a useful resource and help the lead get a better return from something they already use. They’re not beating the door down.

I’ve had a few good examples of how the buying experience has been way easier recently with product-led sales. Think about a Dropbox type of company for the example, I’ve had a great experience with a company like them and a bad one with a similar company.

The great one was when they totally removed friction from my process, no barriers at all.

The other was way less useful to me as there was a lot of dipping our toe into something and barriers or limits on getting into that feature or process. It turned me off.

The sales person who could really help me and would get the deal 9 times out of 10 on a level playing field, is the one who removed friction and was able to help more because of that. The one who couldn’t really help because of all the internal rules and limitations, barriers I wasn’t allowed through lost mainly because of the experience. They made it harder for me to buy, even though I already used their product. It should be mindlessly easy if you already use the product.

Why the sdr role isn’t the entry point any more

John Barrows: I actually see the Inbound role moving upstream, but I wonder where the new intro point to a sales career is after that. You know, Inbound is about helping the lead and it’s way closer to a CS role than other sales jobs. So where’s the intro point in your mind?

Evan Lewis: I think there’s always gonna be a place for the really high skilled outbound hunter. Right.  But I see more and more than you now need someone to get in the door and resonate, tell a story and evangelize. It’s quite different.

John Barrows: Anyone that says “The product sells itself” is full of Shit. I’ll take that back. I love these companies and I know I don’t want to call them out, but there’s plenty of companies out there that pride themselves on not having a sales team. It’s like, yeah, come to me in about a f*cking year when you hit the wall pal. Okay. Because eventually that inbound lead and that seed and grow approach is going to level off and now you’ve got to go upstream. And the only real way to do that is to, is to, is to go upstream and start hunting. Right. So I agree with that, but do you think there’s going to be a relatively major shift here as far as the sales reps role in all of this?

Evan Lewis: Sales has to be extremely close to product, right? That’s the name of the game. And I mean, maybe there’s some new roles that pop up that are specific to that. I think a sales engineer type of thing but new age. It depends on what type of business you are. The whole no sales thing. If you really are, if it’s a low ACV type of business and maybe you can get by, there’s lots of examples of businesses that you know, have gone sort of no touch. They’ve done that with a product, like Intercom or Drift or these different things, that’s ok if sales intercepts when needed.

But I’m sure you’ve bought loads of software over the last few years, at some point you do want to get in there and see where you get stuck, and get help with that. Anyone can buy some food if it looks good or is cheaper but a lot of people would be lost without the cooking instructions on the packaging. That kind of help is what the buyer really wants.

That’s a wrap. Join us next time

If you made it this far, you’re the best. Thanks for reading and listening to this podcast. We hope you gained a ton from it and will listen in next week too. Don’t forget to check out our recent podcast episode highlights too.

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