October 20, 2020
The Do’s and Don’ts of Founder-led Sales
Almost every early-stage devtool startup inevitably goes through a period of founder-led sales. In this post, we cover the do's and don'ts f...
Blake Thorne is a Product Marketing Manager at Atlassian. He formerly was Head of Content at two startups.
In this post Blake shares his required reading, listening, and watching list of self-serve go-to-market resources for B2B marketers and founders.
Let’s start with the basics. In this post I write about the underlying unit economics and historical context powering self-serve go-to-market. Learn about the conditions that created the self-serve boom and why software companies are uniquely positioned to capitalize on it. Self-serve involves a lot more than just putting credit card forms on your website. Succeeding in self-serve means having the right strategy, product, price, team, and market.
Self-serve and its one-to-many nature allows teams to spend a far smaller percentage of revenue on sales and marketing. But that’s only the beginning. They can then reinvest that savings back into the product, which fuels even more self-serve growth. This kicks off a powerful flywheel motion. Competitors will try to spend their way into keeping up and struggle.
This talk Adam Gross did for Heavybit is, in my mind, an instant classic in the self-serve conversation. The talk succinctly covers the important parts of the topic and introduced some excellent new perspectives. I especially enjoy his insights on defining how your business and go-to-market works, and developing an aesthetic for go-to-market models. If I had to send someone just one link to explain self-serve, it might be this one.
Go-to-market itself evolves. And it evolves quite rapidly. And insofar as you can understand that evolution and you can understand its patterns, you will be much, much better able to capitalize on those in your company.
This is the second of a great pair of podcast interviews former Atlassian President Jay Simons did with the folks at Intercom. I send these links to new Atlassian teammates all the time. There’s plenty more than just self-serve and go-to-market covered in these talks. These conversations are a great inside look at the early days building an iconic self-serve company.
In our model, we’ve focused on removing price as a potential point of friction, even at the upper end, which in turn aids velocity. It means that even an enterprise customer could come to the website, spend $10,000, start with a team of 10 or team of 50 and get going without actually needing to talk to us.
This piece by Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures captures the “flywheel” nature of a self-serve model. Like a flywheel, there’s a lot of energy needed early on to getting it spinning. But once running, it’s a remarkably efficient machine. It can be easy to get frustrated and feel like you’re not making progress in the early days of self-serve. Many founders envy the efficiency and reliability of a mature self-serve operation, but can’t stomach the patience and hard work required to get the wheel spinning.
The marketing engine spins a customer acquisition flywheel that captures all kinds of customers, both big and small. Some of these customers are true small businesses; others are teams or departments in companies. Over time, the product spreads from team to team, and department to department, increasing customer size and revenue to the startup.
Want an entire book on self-serve and go-to-market thinking? Check out Bob Tinker and Tae Hae Nahm’s “Survival to Thrival: Building the Enterprise Startup.” There’s a lot more than just self-serve covered in here. But their entire premise of GTM-fit is really valuable. It’s something more companies, self-serve or not, should think about.
In particular, pay close attention to customer behaviors during the latter half of (product-market) fit, what got their attention; why do they spend time with you; who commits and who doesn’t; who moves fast and slow; why did they buy and why did they not; and who actually makes the purchase decisions. The mixture of positive and negative data are hugely valuable market signals for finding GTM fit.
Sequoia Capital and its partners have had a front-row seat to this movement through investments in iconic self-serve companies like Dropbox and Zoom. This piece covers the important topics like the key role sales teams play in self-serve. Also, Google and Facebook’s ad products are self-serve heavyweights, but somehow not mentioned as often in the conversation. Don’t miss the Google and Facebook examples in this piece.
Self-serve tech companies do have sales teams — but they’re relatively small, targeted forces. So when people ask whether Atlassian has a large enough sales force or Dropbox can compete with traditional enterprise companies, they’re missing the point. The golden opportunity for companies with a self-serve model is to increase the percentage of their business that’s sold online, not decrease it.
No specific episode stands out, but Ben Thompson’s podcasts and writing give some really important context to conversations on self-serve, especially the underlying business, technological, and economic conditions. Pay special attention anytime he talks about zero marginal cost.
More and more, when you talk about self-serve, you’ll hear about “product-led growth.” It’s a newer term, particularly being championed by Wes Bush and his Product-Led Institute, as well as Blake Bartlett at Openview Venture Partners. Self-serve is an important component to product-led growth, which takes a wider view of the entire go-to-market evolution and covers important topics like the role of sales and customer success.