Skip to main content

Product-Led Growth and Sales with Thomas Schiavone (Calixa)

Product-Led Growth and Sales with Thomas Schiavone

Product-led growth is an up-and-coming market strategy, but what does it actually entail? A product-led growth strategy is a fusion between marketing and product, which means you need two things to ensure its success. 

First, the product has to be easy to use and easy to adopt. Second, you need to create a big inbound funnel to get people to sign up, resulting in product-led sales. 

Thomas Schiavone, CEO and Co-founder of Calixa, knows that focusing on product-led growth leads to product-led sales. In this episode, Thomas talked with us about empowering sales to spearhead product-led growth, the importance of manageable data, and why you should aim to build value above all else.

Show Topics

  • Fuse marketing and product to create product-led growth
  • Create the right strategy for your company
  • Empower sales 
  • Set your priorities
  • Get more metrics
  • Leverage machines to parse data
  • Listen to customer insight
  • Build value first
  • Let other people make decisions

Show Links 

Listen to the podcast

Watch a video clip

Key Takeaways

20:41 – Fuse marketing and product to create product-led growth

Product-led growth is a fusion between marketing and product. That means the product has to be easy to use and easy to adopt, and you need to create a big inbound funnel.

“It’s this fusion between marketing and product. To really make one, first, the product has to be able to be adopted by end users. It has to be able to grow through end users, sharing with a broader team or growing usage there. So first, the product has to be easy to use, easy to adopt. It has to be able to be that wedge into an organization that can then take off. If your product is not like that, you can’t be product led thing. Two, to really make products take off is to get that big inbound funnel. If they’re easy to get up, then you can figure out ways to get them into the market such that they grow through different channels so that they’re actually viral loops within the product. And I could look at that product growth as a great fusion between product and marketing to achieve. And then lastly, you get this great inbound funnel of people signing up, people adopting the product, that’s when you can layer on product led sales. Because you have a lot of people signing up.”

26:37 – Create the right strategy for your company

There are lots of different strategies for product-led growth because it’s a newer concept. You need to find the strategy that works for your company.

“Ops is at the core of this, ops and data. Every organization is slightly different and so didn’t mean to single anyone out. I’m seeing sometimes sales ops leading the charge here. I actually recently spoke to a marketing ops person who’s like, ‘Hey, we’re responsible for driving leads to sales. We’ve traditionally been doing this other way. I really want to get more scientific. I want to run a product led sales motion with the sales team and these are better leads.’ Sometimes it’s the data team internally. So, we’re finding, it’s interesting, each company is slightly different. I think it’s because there’s a lack of maturity in what product led growth and product led sales mean. The stakeholder varies at each company and it’s basically what are the strengths of weaknesses of each company and who’s leading the charge? I think five years from now will you have VPs of product led growth? Quite possibly. Because it’s a crosscutting thing. Somebody needs to take the charge, and without that it can be pretty challenging,”

28:10 – Empower sales 

With the right tooling, you can put sales in control of their own destiny, which means that team will be empowered to do what it needs to do.

“The exciting thing that I’m seeing today is with the tooling we’re providing and the ease with which we make the integration easy, sales is taking the charge today. And sales was saying, ‘I own a number. I need to generate revenue from this. I want to be in control.’ And traditionally, that might not be the case. But I think with the right tooling, we put sales in control of their destiny, even if for some that’s traditionally been challenging. I think longer terms does this evolve? Yes. But I think right now, so many people are like, ‘Is it you? Is it me?’ You’ve seen that Spider-Man meme where they’re pointing at each other. What I’m seeing from sales leaders are like, ‘I want to do this. I got this. This is the tooling for me. I can connect it to my warehouse. I can get empowered. I don’t need to ask for favors anymore. I’m just going to start running my motion.’ Because other people have other priorities and if it’s not a proper company priority, like marketing saying, ‘Well, I’m generating traffic to the website and people are signing up.’ I think it’s been exciting to see that with the right empowerment, sales is taking control of their destiny.”

29:53 – Set your priorities

If you want your company to be organized, you have to decide what your priorities are and focus on them.

“This is an organizational problem. Everyone has their own priority. So if they’re not set properly at the top, it’s going to run like this. And that’s fine because we’re building a tool such that we’re even seeing some engineering leaders being like, ‘This is awesome. Let’s give sales what they need, and then they can go run. I don’t have to worry about further requests.’ Everyone is busy. At every successful, even probably unsuccessful companies, but at every successful company, everyone is busy. Without that proper empowerment, which I think is going to take time, or that with proper alignment, which I think is going to take time as the market matures. You’re going to need ways for somebody to say, ‘I need to go do it myself, and it’s my top priority even if it’s not yours. Is there tooling that can help me?’”

32:07 – Get more metrics

Thomas’s sales platform autogenerates metrics and even allows people to add in their own metrics so they can get the best data sampling.

“We’ll autogenerate metrics from that feed. So you don’t have to think are those metrics in your warehouse? Oh no. Okay. That’s fine. As the metrics, as the events come in, we’re auto generating metrics for your support tickets, for any of your amplitude mix panel, segment fees, will autogenerate metrics on top of that as well as you can just push your own metrics into us. We’ll take it all. And the magic that we have is how do we then surface it in an easy use interface where this is the case where ops loves it, because they can easily expose different parts of the data. Any of the properties on the account, ‘Hey, this is the property on the user? Oh, actually there’s a Salesforce deal. That’s really. Oh, great. No worries.’ They’re all connected, so just expose that. And so the ability to easily connect data, expose data, and then put into an easy to use interface is a core thing.”

36:01 – Leverage machines to parse data

One of the challenging things people find with product-led growth is that there is so much data. Thomas wants to simplify that data so it becomes more useful.

“What people find challenging through actually across that range of those two pillars is just basically, there’s just so much data. How do I make sense of it? Who should I be talking to? Who’s good, who’s not good? What are the signals? And that’s why we said like, ‘Hey, yeah, there is too much data. This is why we need to leverage machines’. And so machine learning is a core that cuts across the platform because it influences all those three pillars. And the goal is you tell us what good accounts look like, you just know which accounts they are. You can say, ‘Hey, any account on this billing plan? Go find accounts like that.’ And we say, ‘Hey, we’re going to predict which accounts are going to grow up to be like that.’ And we can actually build multiple models for different things. Some people care about free to pay. Some people got paid to growth. We’re can build multiple models in parallel because that’s how sophisticated our system is.”

41:20 – Listen to customer insight

The value of working closely with customers means they will give you new insights that can shape your path forward.

“That framework of execution, automation, measure, there’s a lot of depth to that. And so I think we’ve built a great platform that can do each of those three things. And now it’s really about going really, really deep in it and that’s still an early emerging space. And so I think that’s the value of working closely with customers who give us new insights to help us shape where we’re going. Because it hasn’t been figured out. I think we’re going in a great direction and I really, really love what we have. Customers like what we have, but what we have today and what we have three years from now, we’re going to be much better, much more informed because it’s us responding to the market and then the market responding to us. And where that stabilizes and nets out is to be decided. Because there could be new trends.”

55:12 – Build value first

Instead of focusing on an exit strategy, prioritize building value first. Because if you build value, customers will come.

“Have audacious goals and make them scary. And this notion of a machine, it’s just like having a north star and going towards something. I think the thing that with candidates that I get, the thing that, not that they don’t understand, but it’s, ‘What’s the exit strategy here?’ And I was just like, ‘Look, we build value for customers, and if we build enough value, we have a good outcome of public, private or something. But let’s just focus on building value because if we don’t build value, we got nothing.’ I think it was something that was taught to me early in my startup career and then my brain just shut off like, ‘Yep. Build value for customers. That’s how we measure our success.’ And then we build enough value we can charge for it. And then there will be momentum.”

59:08 – Let other people make decisions

As a leader, you have to learn how to let go and allow other people to make decisions. You have to empower people to do great work while still maintaining quality.

“Something I still struggle with is how to let go and let other people make decisions. As a leader of a function or anything that even the first time you’re a manager, it’s fucking scary, and you can really annoy the people by getting up in their business. And so what’s the right balance between ensuring quality, but also giving people freedom? I remember, and this is going to sound weird, but I think I remember when Jack referred to himself as an editor. And I like that idea of being editor. People are still producing content. Writer’s still write. They still put it in front of an editor to get feedback and whatnot. And your job as a manager should be something like that, I think. I like this notion of empowering people to do great works, get them in a great direction, and then your job is about maintaining quality, but also giving the people the freedom to do their jobs.”

Get the Field Notes

Weekly learnings from working on B2B content & SEO for dozens of companies.

David Khim

David is co-founder and CEO of Omniscient Digital. He previously served as head of growth at and Fishtown Analytics, and before that was growth product manager at HubSpot where he worked on new user acquisition initiatives to scale the product-led go-to-market.