There is a great saying in Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg, Stress + Rest = Growth. We like it so much we made it a “More” at Variance: 

Stress + Rest = Growth: We believe to be a top performer you have to seek out the most challenging work. At the same time you have to have the courage to rest from the stress. Only through this combination can you grow. 

There’s a similar equation that drives our thinking around how the best companies operate: 

Sales Motion + Product Data = Growth

The problem is that getting there isn’t always easy. In conversations with growth operators and sellers, I’ve often heard that getting at product data can be a struggle. Operators will say things like,  “It is in a warehouse somewhere”, “we need to get our data together in general”, or “getting a Customer Data Platform in place is on the roadmap.” From sellers I hear, “It seems like everyone in the org can get product data but me,” “I think there is some backward-looking data in our BI tool that I have access to,” or “my requests are returned as a CSV dump.” 

If you’ve ever sold anything, you know that the feedback you get isn’t always what it appears. When someone describes their challenges getting product data, what I really hear is a different question: “is it worth it?” 

The answer to “is it worth it?” is absolutely “yes” or, to put it more forcefully, “YES! ICEBERG STRAIGHT AHEAD!” 

Product Data = Growth Fuel

The best analysis on the effect of product data in sales comes from a recent market analysis by Jon Ma at Public Comps. He looked at a number of metrics across public SaaS companies, comparing organizations that utilize product data as part of their sales motion and those that don’t. His analysis was clear: if you are using product data to inform your go-to-market process you are growing faster, larger, and more efficiently. The companies in this segment are getting customers in their product earlier and finding more ways to grow them over the lifetime of their relationship.  

It’s pretty hard to look at those numbers and not conclude that there’s a lot of value buried in that product data. But another point of pushback I get is that while the frontline salespeople don’t necessarily have access to the data, there are other teams that use it more regularly. Specifically, customer success and support frequently have usage data available to them to help deal with issues that arise.

The problem is that support and retention is just one piece of a much larger opportunity. The data from Gartner on this point is quite clear: if you want to grow your customers, you need more than a Customer Success team that is focused on renewals. Accounts may renew because of great service, but they grow because your product is fundamentally improving how your customers work. When that’s happening the customer is kicking off a bunch of interesting usage data that can be turned into signals to drive growth of seats, functionality, and volume. Whereas other teams are looking for a datapoint that might suggest the renewal is in jeopardy, growth teams must be looking for data that signals improvement and therefore expansion. A good mental model to have as a sales leader is in this new world is if your customer isn’t growing, they’re dying.

If you’re aligned up to this point the obvious question is how to make a transition to a more growth-oriented GTM motion. We’ve been thinking and speaking to a lot of forward-thinking software companies about exactly this question. The model below, inspired by some work by Mickey Alon at Aptrinsic, presents a new way of thinking. Gone is the funnel, replaced by a hill of growth that ideally never ends. Also critical is the “water line,” or the point at which you start to have reliable first-party data on your customers. Finally, gone, for better or worse, are clear lines of demarcation between the teams. Just as the line between prospect and customer gets blurrier as we trials and freemium moves them into the product earlier, the lines between the teams also starts to see a lot more overlap.

Although it may look complicated, the evidence is clear that the fastest growing companies have a sales motion that grows with their customers and leverages product data to make it happen. Marketing will be called on to continue to engage with the customer long after the first signature: producing more full-lifecycle content (see: Docs As Marketing). And customer success still sits at the center of the post-first-sale experience and is tasked with playing a QB role that extends to far more than just adoption and the renewal date. Teams need to have shared context that revolves around product data and be able to collaborate to drive growth in every customer.

The right signals for growth

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