Kevin Nothnagel: How to Use Product Data to Empower Sales

Mitchell Tan9 min read

The best B2B companies in the world collect and utilize data. Some of the biggest challenges lie in making it easier for non-technical roles to access data and use it to their jobs better. Sales reps are human-centric. But to succeed, they need to be data-centric, without actually having to become a data scientist.

In a recent podcast interview, we sat down with Kevin Nothnagel, VP of Sales at Clockwise, a time management tool and smart calendar assistant that uses AI to map out your days and weeks for greater productivity individually and across teams. 

In addition to his time at Clockwise, Kevin brings over 15 years of sales experience at Google, Dropbox, Workplace by Facebook, and Productboard. 

We chatted about the difference between free trial-driven leads and true PLG sales, as well as ways to implement product data in order to help your sales team increase ASP. 

Below, we dive into the best parts of the interview.

The metric I’m always trying to influence is ARR per lead, will my ARR per lead go up by applying sales touch to a lead or will it stay the same? In other words, will conversion and ASP go up from having a sales team get in touch with a prospect?

Kevin Nothnagel, VP of Sales at Clockwise

The ideal PLG scenario 

When joining Clockwise, Kevin was met with a favorable challenge. Clockwise is a true PLG company, where teams can see the value of the product before engaging with sales. “There was a long line out the door to talk to us and buy our product,” says Kevin. “So the first priority was hiring a team to meet the demand that’s already coming in the door.” 

SaaS leaders assume that freemium products can drive a lot of results on their own, but there’s more to it than that. “There have been so many debates on LinkedIn lately, where people are suggesting that PLG is just a new version of freemium,” says Kevin. Leaders who are experienced in PLG know that there’s a lot more strategy involved than just setting up a scaled-down freemium version. “You need to deliver value to end-users, before having a commercial conversation with them as a way to prove yourself,” says Kevin.

Product-driven pipeline is the ideal scenario for sales teams, where the product is bringing in ready-to-buy leads. Kevin has experienced this bottom-up buying process at Clockwise and at Dropbox. But at other companies, free trial data was used more for generating and scoring leads, not necessarily selling at scale.

Use data to inform people in action. We actually have a story that we can tell about the impact of the meeting culture that a company has on their productivity.

Kevin Nothnagel, VP of Sales at Clockwise

Top goals for sales teams using product data

Why use product data? There are a few really important goals that you can achieve by improving your access to product data and your utilization of it. 

1. Save on “sales calories” (AKA your team’s time)

Your team only has so much time. With product data, you can make sure they’re spending it on the right leads. 

“I always think in terms of calories, when I think of my sales team,” Kevin says. “How much of a budget do we have in terms of time at the end of the day, to talk to potential customers? Scoring people that signed up for those products was very key to make sure that the sales team was spending time with the people that we could provide the most value to.”

2. Increase ARR per lead

Product data isn’t just about selling to more of the right potential customers. It also offers the ability to increase average revenue per customer. Kevin frames it this way: “The metric I’m always trying to influence is ARR per lead, will my ARR per lead go up by applying sales touch to a lead or will it stay the same? In other words, will conversion and ASP go up from having a sales team get in touch with somebody? If that’s going to be the case, that means the salesperson is providing value either by reducing friction, overcoming inertia and the customer’s buying process, helping them get to a decision faster, and then hopefully positioning the value of your higher plans. Using PQLs is all about finding the places to insert the value that your sales team can provide into customer conversations.”

In partnership with ops and revenue leaders, your sales team should be looking for opportunities to convert leads in a way that your product can’t. 

3. Bring more value to leads and customers

So far, we’ve talked about the ways that product data can benefit your sales and your company. But product data should also be used to benefit your customers, whether or not they buy from you. 

“Use data to inform people in action,” says Kevin. “At Dropbox, we could make leads more knowledgeable about how their team collaborated, and how they shared files and worked together globally. And at Clockwise, we have a story that we can tell about the impact of the meeting culture that a company has on their productivity. We can say to some companies, ‘Hey, your meeting culture actually looks like it’s challenged. A lot of people on your team don’t have time to actually get work done.’” 

Key ways to use product data in sales

When it comes to actually using product data in your sales process, there are 5 main ways to make it happen.

1. PLG sales motions and PQLs

The holy grail is using product data to define product-qualified leads. Kevin recommends that companies define their best PQL motion and operationalize it. A PQL definition should include specific criteria, like inviting a certain number of coworkers, booking a set number of appointments, or uploading a certain number of files. But in addition to your PQL, you might have other PLG sales motions, such as a freemium user action that prompts the team to follow up with a pre-existing PQL. 

Kevin explains that it’s essential to continually test your messaging for PLG sales motions: “Based on the information that the product is telling us and signaling to us, what should we do in terms of a reason to reach out? How should we frame this data to the customer to provide value and get them excited to take a meeting with us?”

Use A/B testing for each PLG sales motion so you can hone in on what makes that activity meaningful for customers. 

2. Free trial leads

Not all companies can reach the holy grail of product-led sales. Their product might be too complex. For example, product-led growth at Workplace by Facebook was challenging. The bottom-up approach didn’t work as well, because the product was most valuable when as many people as possible from a single company were signed up and could engage with one another. The sales team had better success selling to the c-suite than individual users. At Productboard, the sales team would need to sell to the CPO or CTO after a product manager signed up. At both companies, Kevin focused on scoring and qualifying free trial leads for targeted selling and follow-up with the right contacts. 

3. Data-driven sales conversations 

You can also use product data to have better conversations with leads and existing customers. 

Kevin explains that at Clockwise, companies come to them looking for insights into their productivity and meetings culture. “If we can surface that type of usage data and product data to our sales team, we’re gonna really delight our prospects in customer conversations,” says Kevin. “In a world where so many sales conversations don’t provide value to potential customers, I want to be the team that really does provide that value to our partners.”

This sort of data can be used when contacting PQLs and when upselling or retaining customers. It can also be extrapolated to prospective customers in ABM campaigns. 

4. Smarter outbound

For many B2B companies, success can’t be fully inbound. Even if you have a viral product, some of your top-paying accounts are best acquired through outbound methods. Once you have clear product-led sales motions, it’s time to expand into outbound. Kevin explains, “It’s really exciting work because it’s a combination of all the great minds we have here and on our data team and our biz ops team and our go-to-market teams coming together to really figure out what are the signals that should lead a customer to convert. Then we talk to the prospective customers where we can have the most impact.” 

Find the patterns and similarities in your best accounts, from a data perspective, and use that to inform your outbound strategy, list-building, and messaging. You can even extrapolate data to help prospects understand potential results.

5. Product-led customer success interventions

Sales teams using product-led strategies are going to be amassing a ton of helpful data. They should share this data with customer success so that CS can intervene in accounts that are at risk of churning now or in the future. When it’s time to renegotiate contracts, those accounts that have had their problems solved by CS will be far more likely to renew. 

How to support salespeople

There are two ways not to be successful when using product data for sales. One is teaching salespeople complex data science. The other is trying to turn data scientists into sellers. 

Instead, companies need to respect the fundamentals of selling and enhance that talent, rather than attempting to blend disparate talents. “Salespeople are always laser-focused on the customer and their experience and how to make their day better and how to solve problems for them,” says Kevin. “We need to enable them with intelligence to do their job better.”

Companies should offer easily accessible and easily interpretable product data so that sales teams can turn it into meaningful stories, well-timed interactions, and high-value sales conversations. 

Kevin foresees a growth in the adoption of solutions for identifying PQLs, sales automation, and end-to-end workflows within all-in-one sales stacks. 

Salespeople win when they can grab the data they need at any time, and when they’re automatically notified of new PQLs or important product activity taken by a current lead. 

Deliver the insights and automation, and let sales reps do what they do best.

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