What Is Sales-led Growth? (+ 4 successful examples)  

I love to listen to a writer talking about their book or a painter explaining the details and finesse of their work.

I can read the book or analyze the colors of a painting by myself too, but then there’s a high possibility that I’ll overlook an important detail that would normally astonish me.  

It’s the same with B2B companies and SaaS products, too, actually. 

When you show how a user can utilize your product or why her workload would decrease if she used that specific feature of your product properly, you can help them improve their user experience, which results in higher retention rates.

In this article, I’m going to talk about:

▶️ The definition of SLG

▶️ The differences between SLG and PLG 

▶️ Successful examples of SLG 

▶️ Best practices to follow to become a successful sales-led company 

TL;DR

  • There are several growth models, such as customer/buyer-led growth, founder-led growth, marketing-led growth, product-led growth, etc.
  • Sales-led growth is a traditional growth approach that puts the sales team and sales strategies/processes in a leading position.
  • It’s mostly compared with the product-led model, which offers free trials and/or freemium products to acquire customers.
  • In the sales-led approach, the sales funnel plays a crucial role. 
  • It’s a relatively long funnel full of meetings and calls for demos, presentations, and pricing. 
  • In general, sales-led companies have complex products that necessitate expertise and/or training. 
  • They target enterprise companies that prefer human assistance over free trials. 
  •  Salesforce, ServiceNow, and Oracle are among the most popular -and successful- examples of sales-led companies. 
  • If you want to go with the sales-led model, there are a few things you need to be careful about, such as accessibility and personalized sales talks. 
  • Most PLG companies utilize sales strategies and processes as well as product-led strategies throughout the buyer journey. 
  • Product-led sales (PLS) is a popular go-to-market sales strategy among them, which spices up the sales funnel with product trials to shorten the funnel and keep product-qualified leads in the process successfully. 

What Is Sales-led Growth?

The sales-led approach is the business growth model that uses sales teams and sales strategies to keep the qualified leads in the sales cycle and close a deal with them. 

In this model, sales reps are the main driving force of customer acquisition and revenue growth, which means in a sales-led company, the sales team gets to have a bigger budget compared to marketing-led and/or product-led companies.  

Companies adopting this approach tend to have a wider user base as a characteristic. 

When someone is interested in a product of a sales-led company, she has to get in touch with a sales rep to learn more about the product and/or try it, which ensures that the lead goes through the sales funnel successfully and doesn’t overlook any important detail or a product feature.

six stages of sales funnel
Source: Salesforce

Product-led Vs. Sales-led 

Everyone’s talking about product-led growth strategies and why you should prefer them over other growth models nowadays. 

They have a point; product-led growth is indeed advantageous: you can lower your customer acquisition cost (CAC), focus on PQLs, and increase your conversion rates by making use of these strategies, but it doesn’t mean it’s the ideal model for each and every SaaS company. 

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between product-led and sales-led strategies: 

#1: In the product-led model, a company claims that its product can sell itself without much interference from the sales team, while in the sales-led model, the sales process plays a crucial role in the company’s growth. 

#2: Product-led companies offer free trials and/or freemium, while sales-led companies arrange demo calls and/or meetings to showcase the product and answer the questions of the leads. 

#3: For a product to be marketed with product-led strategies, it should be easy to use and have well-organized onboarding. Otherwise, users might get confused and/or oversee a feature that would play an important role in their decision-making. 

#4: Sales-led companies generally target enterprise-level organizations which don’t prefer to try out tens of different products. 

#5: While in product-led growth, customer journey and user experience are crucial, in sales-led growth, sales cycle and other sales processes are more important. 

In short, you should prefer SLG as your go-to-market strategy if;

sales led growth reasons to prefer

4 Successful Examples of Sales-led Growth

Do you also keep some of your jackets or dresses you bought 10 years ago? I do. 

It’s because some pieces do not become old or unfashionable. Maybe they’re not popular as they used to be, but they still add a fine touch to your look when you wear them.

I believe sales-led growth is just like an old wool coat. Not so popular nowadays, but still works okay and comes in handy. 

Even in the product-led era, in which hundreds of SaaS companies rely on product usage to acquire more users, there are lots of companies who prefer the traditional sales model and adopt a sales-led approach to improve customer experience and grow their business too. 

Salesforce

salesforce

Salesforce is the number one customer relationship management (CRM) tool to unite different teams and increase productivity as well as improve user experience. 

Founded in 1999, the company now has $7.72 billion revenue

Do you wonder how they could grow so much and become a world leader? Well, by following the most suitable business strategies for themselves.

On the webpage of Salesforce, you encounter chat boxes to contact the sales team, phone numbers to call, and pre-recorded demos to watch. 

salesforce demo sales screenshot

Salesforce owns several products and carries out different pricing policies, so on almost every subpage, you’re directed to contact a sales rep to learn more about the solutions provided. 

salesforce contact sales screenshot

They’re aware of the fact that their products/services might seem too hard and confusing for potential customers to use and, in the end, scare them off. Thus, the sales team offers assistance throughout the sales processes to ensure a smoother customer journey and a better product experience

ServiceNow

servicenow logo

ServiceNow, one of the biggest SaaS platforms for tech management,  was founded in 2003. According to the last quarter’s reports, their revenue is around $6.5B, with a 27.65% increase YoY. 

From education to healthcare, retail to telecommunications, media and technology, they offer various solutions to different industries, which means they have a wide customer base necessitating a big set of soft skills and sales strategies.

servicenow discover page screenshot

As well as demo videos and contact sales buttons on the main page, their discovery page directs you to the sales team too. 

You can arrange a demo meeting to experience the product, get answers to your industry-specific questions, and learn about different solutions by leaving your contact information. 

SAP

sap logo

SAP, one of the leading enterprise resource planning software, is a German multinational software company. It was founded in 1972, and its annual revenue is $33.193B.

With their diverse service portfolio, they appeal to almost every company regardless of their industry or size. 

Well, their ERP software is a pretty complex product -even their website is hard to navigate…

But at least they know that too. After a while on the page, a pop-up appears on the screen to contact a sales specialist. Also, even if you decline that, you still see contact numbers at the end of every subpage.

sap contact us page

Even though they don’t steer you to sales quite much like Salesforce or ServiceNow, as they target larger organizations and enterprise customers that generally prefer human assistance, their less aggressive strategy doesn’t cause any loss of leads to them. 

Oracle

oracle logo

”A complete enterprise cloud designed to modernize your business”, they say. 

Oracle, as well as its most-known software Java, has many cloud applications for enterprise resource planning (ERP), human capital management (HCM), customer experience (CX), and supply chain management.

For the same reasons as others (complexity of products/services, need for human interaction, wide customer/user base), Oracle adopts a sales-led business model too. 

As well as a fixed ”contact sales” button on top of the menu, there’s an automated sales chatbox too -which forwards you to sales reps for complicated questions. 

Like most sales-led companies, you cannot try out their cloud services via free trial and/or freemium model. You need to get in touch with the sales first. 

Best Practices to Follow in Sales-led Growth 

Up until now, you must have decided whether you want to go with the traditional approach -a.k.a. sales-led approach- or not.

And well, I believe the answer is yes, or at least you’re closer to a yes! 

Let’s take a look at how you can incorporate sales strategies into your current business model and accelerate your revenue growth

  • Review your web page and make sure you promote contacting sales 

If the ”contact us” page is the only place where (potential) users can see the contact information of the sales team, then you’re likely to lose potential leads. 

👉 Add buttons, chatboxes, and pop-up messages on the most visited subpages to catch the leads. 

  • Arrange demo meetings on a regular basis and showcase some sections from them on your website 

Calls and e-mails are fine, but meetings with qualified leads hit different -even if it’s a virtual one. It’s hard to stay in touch with potential enterprise customers: they are busy, they don’t like long calls, they negotiate with different companies at the same time…

So sometimes, even if they cannot make it to live demo meetings, they might wish to get quick answers to their questions about product features. Answering the frequently asked questions and/or showing the most popular features on a pre-recorded demo and uploading these short videos to your website can save you and your leads a lot of time waste;  who knows, even your active users might turn back to these videos to remember something you actually mentioned to them. 

  • Add a personal touch to your sales/marketing messages 

If you want to make an impression and stand out among your competitors, you need to personalize your narration in your demo calls/meetings and e-mails. 

Everyone talks about the advantages of their products and why they should be preferred, but it becomes ordinary and dull after a few calls. 

👉In order to get their attention, you ought to create meaningful experiences for your audience. Listen to them too, ask about their expectations, tell customer success stories, collect customer feedback and use them in your demos; people trust their counterparts more

  • Utilize both sales-led and product-led strategies if possible 

We talked about the differences between sales-led and product-led approaches and who should prefer which one, but the world is not black and white; there are grey areas too. 

You can spice up things a little bit 😉

Haven’t you heard about product-led sales (PLS) yet? 

✅Companies such as Slack, Atlassian, and Zoom -that used to stand as shining examples of products that sell themselves- changed their policies of NOT having a sales team in recent years and adopted a mixed go-to-market strategy called product-led sales

✅According to 2021 benchmarks, 97% of PLG companies already have sales teams or plan to add one/ work with a sales organization. 

Conclusion

There are different growth models prioritizing and featuring different aspects of the business. But the most popular ones are product-led growth (PLG) and sales-led growth (SLG), even though SLG is an older and more traditional approach compared to PLG

Not every model is suitable for every company and its product. You need to analyse your customer base and product features carefully and choose accordingly. 

For example, if you work with companies from tens of different industries and offer different solutions to each of them, then your platform might not become suitable for PLG strategies no matter how much your product teams work on it. 

Or vice versa; maybe with a little help, you can save a lot from CAC if you switch from SLG to PLG. 

And don’t forget, you don’t have to throw any of your team and/or strategy out the window and choose only one of them. You can always blend different methods -a.k.a. go with product-led sales strategies 😉


Frequently Asked Questions


What are product-led sales?

Product-led sales is a go-to-market strategy commonly used by product-led companies that utilize both sales reps and their processes as well as free trials and/or freemium. 

The main aim here is not only to tell how good your product is but also to show. 

In this method, marketing teams catch the marketing-qualified leads, who then try out the product themselves, and upon seeing its true value of it, go through the sales processes to complete the purchase. At different steps of the funnel, sales reps can get involved and push the lead further via different strategies. 


What is the opposite of product-led growth?

Sales-led growth, where you depend on sales teams/sales organizations and their processes for customer acquisition and revenue growth. 


Which is better: sales-led or product-led?

Both have their advantages. 

With the right product leaders who have a balanced plan for smooth onboarding and lots of engineering effort, you can have an easy-to-use product that is suitable for product-led campaigns. 

Or, if you have too many products/services to simplify, you can go with a successful sales team that can handle tough enterprise sales. 

As long as you perform the needed tasks of your go-to-market strategy and/or growth model, you can make a real impact in the market, get positive user feedback, and grow your business. 

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Ceren Kurban

Ceren is a Creative Content Writer at UserGuiding. She writes about the latest development in SaaS and product. She decided to pursue a career in journalism and content upon seeing The Bold Type. When she is not writing, you can find her gossiping with stray animals or listening to the Alvin and the Chipmunks covers of random songs