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How PLG is Changing RevOps

with Mallory Lee, VP of Operations at Nylas


Mallory Lee dissects the differences between PLG and ABM, how PLG impacts the RevOps function, building a RevOps team in the era of hybrid funnels, and how to incentive sales reps on expansion.

Meet Mallory

Mallory is the VP of Operations at Nylas, a leading provider of communications APIs used by developers around the world to connect with their customers.

Mallory brings 10+ years of experience in B2B technology, marketing, and operations. She got her start at ExactTarget/Salesforce in marketing operations, and went on to build teams at a number of successful midwest tech startups. Most recently, she led the RevOps team at MarTech company, Terminus, where she served as a strategic partner for the company across their series C fundraise, four acquisitions, and rapid scale. She is the proud mom of 3 little boys. 

Top Takeaways

Top Down vs. Bottom Up Selling

How Is PLG Different From ABM?

Generally speaking, they do have their similarities. One similarity is that they're both a big movement right now. Each of the categories are growing in popularity.

The biggest difference is that when you're thinking about an account-based motion, you're really starting with that concept of your ICP and the company that you wanna go after. And you're picking who that target list is. And then you are trying to figure out who's in the buying committee. Who should I be talking with to get some attention at this company and figure out if they’re interested in having some conversations with us. So, you're starting at the top and working your way down to the user level. 

When you're talking about a product-led motion, it's very different because you're starting at that user level and oftentimes you need to work your way up to understand who does have the power to buy your product, and who is part of the buying committee.Really quickly, you're able to glean who's interested in it because they've come and they've signed up for maybe a trial. Or they've come around to kick the tires on the product. As quickly as you can get those users into the product, using it, and getting excited about it, the more apt they are to bring you to the rest of that buying committee, because they've already decided that they're interested in using your products.

I would describe ABM as top down and PLG as bottom up. In both cases you're just trying to figure out who's got the power to buy the thing, who's going to use it, and what kind of value are they trying to gain from using the product? 

User-centered design

From a RevOps POV - what are big differences that arise from PLG and ABM ? 

Generally, the differences are going to be around creating virality in a product experience. You want there to be extremely low friction. At Nylas, if you want to start a free trial, the only thing you need is an email address. It doesn't even have to be a good email address. Anybody can come and put their email address in. That's by design, because we just want anybody to be able to come and try it.

If you think about the availability of having some information to either score that lead or follow-up with that person or try to reach out and help them out, it's not very friendly to an SDR a sales person because it really is like very little information

It's not very friendly to an SDR world or from a sales perspective because there really is very little information. So, you have to have patience. You have to realize that this person is gonna kick the tires before they decide if they wanna speak with you. It really forces you to put the user at the center of the journey, which is quite different from what a lot of B2B marketers are doing.

If you are starting out this product-led motion with very little information and allowing them to experience the product first to get them hooked on it beforehey’ll raise their hand and say, “I want to introduce you to my product manager,” or “I want to introduce you to the person who leads my team.” Then you've got the right to go and sell to that group of people. As marketers in B2B, we're pretty used to pulling a list from ZoomInfo and just hitting the phones for six hours a day. Some of that still happens, but if we're really putting the user at the center, we're letting them have that experience first. We're letting the products sell themselves before we're really getting in there and trying to get everyone's attention.

If you are really embracing that kind of user centered design, not only should you wait until the right time to engage them, but your product needs to allow them to change their email address when they're ready.

They might wanna start out with their Gmail, but then after a few weeks when everything is looking good, they might convert and start paying. And they need to get that receipt at their work address. And so they need to change their email. And that sounds very easy, but it's not like building a product and having an email bethe unique key that you log in with, just changing the email address is not that simple.

So we even need to build the product around those use cases to allow people to really experience it the way that they want to. 

Incentivizing Reps on Expansion

How do you think about commission when bringing PLG to sales-led organization?

So today you can only buy Nylas on a contract. That’s something that will change when we roll out this new experience. The debate is how to make sure that the reps are still incentivized to move quickly and not overcommit the volume at the very beginning of the contract? 

We've got that time to grow into it, so how do you reconcile that? If a sales rep is trying to hit a number, they can do three deals at a certain deal size and hit their number, or they can do two deals at a bigger deal size and also hit their number. It requires a little bit of analysis to make sure that you have a little data coming in to prove whether you are experiencing any cannibalization. If you're not, that makes it a little easier.

The advice I’ve gotten from most people that first year is that they always have a little extra credit spread around to all of the people that are helping out, just to de-risk it. Over time, if we can prove that there's not a lot of cannibalization, we can decide who gets credit for what. Maybe it's a phased approach where they're getting some overlapping credit in the beginning and it starts to wean off when the volumes really go up.

In a perfect world, they are going to just have a much more qualified set of people to go have conversations with. They'll be able to talk to them about how they're already using it, the growth they've already experienced, the plans they have for the future. It's really the warmest lead that you can work with. That's something that I'm very optimistic for. I do think that maybe for that first year, the rep should get some credit for the organic expansion that happens on that account. That helps to keep them interested. It helps them set that person up for success right from the start, because they know that they get a full year's worth of sharing in that success too.

RevOps In PLG

What are your recommendations to move RevOps towards something more centralized?

My perspective on where RevOps sits hasn’t changes muched. You will always have some nuances depending on who's at the table. You need to know who you are working with and what kind of sales leader you have. What kind of marketing leader do you have? The people involved can sway the effectiveness of where RevOps is located in a sense. Now that I'm working with more of a product-led team and more of a developer-centric product, it makes me even more glad that I'm not sitting under the sales umbrella. I need to be as close to product and engineering as I do to sales and marketing. It's easy to joke about sales and marketing alignment. Getting them to get along and understand each other has always been a struggle, but at least it's a well known struggle. The relationship between product and sales is something that's still evolving. It's a little bit of a newer relationship that you see forming in these companies that do have a product led component. I'm excited to help keep all of these teams on the same page, keep them connected.

Perception matters. If sales takes hold of the cannibalization idea, it can become this myth or legend that takes over. If you are getting all of your reporting back out from sales, is there a chance there's going to be a little bit of a bias that shows additional cannibalization. If all of the reports come out of product, is it going to show the opposite? Maybe. But if the reports are coming from this objective third party in the middle, they can say, “Look, this is the exact level of cannibalization that I'm able to observe. I've gotno skin in the game either way. I'm just helping you find your way to a place that makes sense.”

I think moving RevOps to something more centralized it just about removing some of those biases and really helping to prioritize on behalf of the business. If you are under a sales umbrella, your objectives are directly related to your leader's objectives. I am a fan of OKRs, but I think that you can get caught up in those objectives. You can still do RevOps correctly from under the sales umbrella if you're actively working against just inheriting the sales goals.

I love having the ability to help the exec team make decisions about how to allocate resources around sales and marketing and product and all the different ways that that can weave together. Finding the places where they intersect and the places where we all have shared interest and helping everybody understand that funnel is really important. If RevOp is just under sales, I think what you risk is not having a good understanding of the rest of the business and not having the partnerships that you need to do the best work first and the most important things first. And you can’t always prioritize the way that you want to.

Building a RevOps Team

How do you hire for RevOps, specifically in a PLG context?

I do think that there is an element of specialization that we still need to embrace, even within RevOps, for a period of time. When I say a period of time, I mean a period of time in someone's own career. In my own journey, I started in marketing operations and I was pretty highly specialized in marketing operations for almost 10 years. Then, I found my way into revenue operations. I started adding on a sales layer. Then, I started adding on these alignment layers and learning so much more about finance because I reported to the CFO. The more that you learn starts to inform the way that you interact with all of those teams, and the way that you build relationships and communicate.

Today, I still have someone on my team dedicated specifically to marketing operations. My hope for them is that they're learning about the rest of the business from the rest of the team in a way that they can use to effectively relay that information to marketing so marketing is in the loop. That person can see what it's like to prioritize across these different business units because you’ve only got one Salesforce admin. Everything gets in line and comes together at the Salesforce store.

I like to have all of my specialized team members witnessing that prioritization and I ask them to participate in it too. I’ll go to my marketing ops person and sales op person and ask what they think we should do first. Let's talk about that. You’ll see them find ways to bring the two projects together, find the elements that are similar, restack things a little bit, and say, okay, in this next release it should be 20% marketing and 70% sales and 10% product because they follow this common theme. That's the next big theme we need to tackle.

Until you start leading a rev op team of your own, it's totally fine to still have that specialization, but I think in the right model, you can be exposed to the rest of the business at the same time and that can benefit everyone.

I did have a very specific former colleague in mind for our marketing ops director because he did have a very specific PLG background that I was very interested in learning from him. That did play a part in my decision making process. I think that this is a really hard thing to get right. Every time you go to a new company, you're bringing with you the wisdom of what you would not do again. That just evolves with every new role. 

His name is Tyler. He joined a couple months ago. He has been very helpful in weighing in on how it’s been tried in the past. He can touch on the reason he didn't like that approach, and suggest what might work better. Certain things work and, and certain things you just learn from it. I love the fact that he can have some of that PLG experience, but I don't think it needs to be every single person on the team. If you have not been through it before, you definitely need to have the appetite to research it and learn, because it's a whole new ballgame.