Skip to main content

What the Sales-Assist Role in Software Looks Like

The rise of product-led growth has a lot of companies considering getting rid of their sales departments altogether right now. And some companies that are just starting up are forgoing growing their sales organizations at all. 

In fact, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield in 2016 told Business Insider, “I think we can get away without having a sales team in any kind of traditional way probably forever.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no need for any kind of sales role, even if you don’t have a traditional sales organization. The sales assist motion has an increasingly important role to play, especially for some types of companies. 

Inspired by this great post from OpenView, let’s take a brief look at what sales-assist roles in software companies can look like right now. 

PLG and Self-Serve Models 

Product-led growth is all about letting users try your product before they buy it. It’s become increasingly popular for software companies in particular, and can take several different forms: freemium, free trials, in-depth product tours and demos, and more (check out the six primary PLG motions for details). 

PLG started out with companies like Slack and Dropbox, where single-user implementation was pretty simple. You simply downloaded the product, installed it quickly, and you were off. 

But while most software companies are facing pressure, internal or external, to shift to a product-led motion, it’s challenging. The businesses that are your potential customers are increasingly cautious of handing over access to their systems and data for a free trial or freemium product, and signing up even one user at their company can involve getting help and approval from multiple departments. 

Plus getting users up to speed on using more technically complicated software isn’t easy – and if they don’t see value fast, they’re not going to pay for your product. Adopting products like Slack is pretty simple, but many of the PLG companies out there now have a steeper learning curve. 

Even going through purchasing processes at some enterprise companies can be difficult. And with an entirely self-serve motion, your users are left to do a lot of work on their own to become customers – introducing a lot of friction into what is supposed to be a frictionless process. 

So what’s a PLG (or a PLG wannabe) company to do? Enter the hottest role in PLG. 

What is a Sales Assist Role? 

The sales assist role is here to help software companies improve the user experience with the product, streamline the purchase process, and generally reduce friction and user pain. It can help you blend self-service with a sales motion

Sales assist has many names in the software world: success coaches at HubSpot, onboarding specialists at Airtable, enterprise advocates (Atlassian), and user operations at Asana. 

They work with your product-qualified leads to find those users who are likely to convert but need a helping hand in some way, and they can operate pre-conversion or post-conversion. 

Let’s say that you’ve made it easy for all of your users – from the smallest startups to the big enterprise folks – to sign up and install your product on your website without ever talking to a salesperson. And you assume you’ve removed the friction from your sales process effectively. 

But those enterprise customers aren’t adopting your solution at the rate you’d hoped, even though you’ve tried to make it easy for them. 

Customer journey mapping and talking to those prospects can help identify what’s holding them back. Maybe they just need a helping hand to get onboarded successfully, or their company has a complicated purchasing and install process. 

Sales assist is all about providing that helping hand. It will vary depending on what your customers need, and where you see the most value in providing that assist. Your smallest customers might not be worth it right now if you don’t have the resources to serve them. But if you’re focusing on enterprise growth, this is a model to consider. 

What Sales Assist Looks Like in Action

What does this look like in the real world? 

You can read about GC Lionetti’s team he calls the “self-serve assist” for a glimpse of what this role looks like at DropBox – it’s pretty innovative and inspiring. 

Plus how Marie Gassée thought about sales assist vs. self-serve when it comes to sales compensation and incentives.

And check out the OpenView post that inspired this one for a deep dive into what the sales assist role looks like at Zapier, one of the giants of PLG in the software world.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash