Hot Takes

It’s Not Product-Led Or Sales-Led: It’s Both with Mike McFarlane


The way that people buy software now is either:

  • through a salesperson or
  • relying on the product to provide value.

The truth is, you probably want to land somewhere in the middle where the product has strong adoption, but you have someone guiding and teaching you along the way.

Much like content creators have brought new sales channels to brands, independent consultants who specialize in multiple MarTech platforms can provide a unique perspective as to what platform or solution is best for you.

In this session with Mike MacFarlane, founder of 3MG, Mike McFarlane Marketing Group, you will learn:

  • How to choose a buying partner when it comes to MarTech
  • How to choose the best MarTech solution for YOU
  • When is the right time to choose a buying partner

[Transcript] It’s Not Product-Led Or Sales-Led: It’s Both

Although transcriptions are generally very accurate, just a friendly reminder that they could sometimes be incomplete or contain errors due to unclear audio or transcription inaccuracies.

Massimo Chieruzzi

Welcome back, we are live again, and I’m very happy to introduce an old friend of Breadcrumbs and founder of 3MG, Mr. Mike McFarlane. The stage is all yours. 

Mike MacFarlane

Awesome. Great to see you again, Max. Awesome to see all of you virtually here. Thank you very much for coming to my session today. My hot take or my session today is going to be about it’s not about product-led or sales-led. It’s both. 

And we’re going to go through that. We’re hearing a lot about product-led growth, we’re hearing a lot about sales-led growth, and maybe historically heard a little bit more about that; I think it’s somewhere in the middle. We’re going to talk a little bit about that today. 

So a little bit about myself just so that folks know who I am my name is Mike McFarlane, and I am the founder of 3MG, Mike McFarlane Marketing Group. We’re a small marketing MarTech agency based north of Toronto. I used to live in downtown Toronto and now live out in the country north of Toronto, and I’ve been in the MarTech industry now for about 17 years; I actually started my career at Eloqua in 2006. 

I’ve worked on the agency side, I’ve worked on the product side, and I’ve worked pretty much across the spectrum of customer success and product implementation and professional services, but all within the realm of MarTech and specifically marketing automation. 

My agency helps folks who use tools like Marketo, Pardot, and Breadcrumbs to use these tools effectively so that they can obviously maximize their investment that they’ve made in them and then maximize their marketing efforts as well. 

A little interesting fact about me I worked on a lake cruise boat in Lake Ontario back in my early 20s, and I also worked in a tinfoil factory, so don’t let people tell you that dreams don’t come true. It’s pretty cool to see where my career has taken me over the years. 

Let’s jump in. Having been in the MarTech space for the last 15-16-17 years, I’ve had the opportunity to see how people buy software, and I think the way that I was introduced to it was typically, you would go to someone’s website you would submit a contact us form, and then you start talking to a BDR or SDR, or you start talking to an account executive, and you go through a very typical kind of sales cycle that is still very much in play today, obviously. 

It's Not Product-Led Or Sales-Led: It's Both With Mike Mcfarlane

We still have sales teams that are working with potential buyers on buying what they need, but that’s kind of where I saw things start from my own career, and then you start to get into the PLG era where you have gated access to products, or you have a freemium version of products where you can use the product, and you start of add on or get access to different features as you start using the product. 

So very product-driven, not necessarily having a salesperson guiding you through that process or showcasing the functionality. A lot of that is up to the product to do and then use the product as a way to build kind of a launch pad into getting more access to that product and becoming a customer of that product. 

We’re also seeing a lot more community-based buying. And when I say community-based buying, I’m thinking about social media creators and referrals through review sites like G2, for example. We have customers who are coming out and either being evangelists for products or promoting products based on their usage and encouraging your customer base to obviously talk about your product. 

So you’ve got a lot of noise going on, you’ve got sales folks, you’ve got PLG, and you’ve got this creator economy, this creator community that’s also out there trying to position products as well. 

So when I look at that, I think that maybe the typical sales process is dying a bit, or maybe the sales process that I knew is starting to die a little bit. You can’t just rely on someone explicitly raising their hand now and saying, ‘Hey, I’m interested in talking more about this.’ It doesn’t work that way anymore. 

Product-Led Or Sales-Led: It's Both With Mike Mcfarlane

A lot of people will sometimes make buying decisions before they even raise their hand, just based on the fact that they’re going in and getting additional information on their own, and that information is so readily available. 

You have strong product adoption through kind of the PLG side of things, which can obviously lead to success. 

Then on the side of that as well, you can also have experience support. Someone like myself, for example, who can help guide you through buying software, can help guide you through leveraging software and how it works with other platforms, and things like that. 

So I think at the end of the day, maybe a little selfishly, there’s a happy middle ground there you don’t necessarily want to be sold to, you don’t necessarily want to rely on the product potentially guiding you through a sales process. 

Maybe you want to meet somewhere in the middle where you have someone who has experience with different types of tools, with different types of integrations, but also how but also leverage a strong product that can make it easy for that person to go through and use that tool so that they don’t have to go through a sales process, they don’t have to go through potentially a long list of things, that they have to kind of checkboxes from a feature and functionality standpoint before they move forward.

You want to land in that middle section where you have someone that’s kind of guiding you through that process.

So how does this work? In practice, does this make sense? 

Well, there are a few things that have to happen in order to mesh the sales world and the PLG world together. You got to really understand your requirements, really understand them going through and making an evaluation on a MarTech platform, making an evaluation on a campaign execution tool before you even start going through and engaging in that sales process. 

It's Not Product-Led Or Sales-Led: It's Both With Mike Mcfarlane

Take some time and sit down and figure out what you are trying to solve, for what are you hoping that these tools can do, because the better you can articulate that in a sales process or the better you can articulate that as you’re using a product, the more valuable that’s going to be for you because you’re obviously making a stronger decision.

Define two or three key scenarios you need to accommodate for, what you are trying to solve for, and what you are hoping that this tool is going to bring that is going to help solve these problems so that six months or 12 months down the line you’re not reevaluating and say, ‘Hey, this didn’t actually meet our needs, we need to actually go and look again and look for the next piece of software,’ which is a really expensive process to go through.

Lastly, it’s always helpful to buy with experience in hand, and I always look back personally to someone like my dad. My dad’s he was a real estate agent; he’s retired now, but helping people make those decisions with, quite possibly, the biggest investment that they’re making in their life.

What that means and being someone who you trust and someone who you have confidence in, and knowing that this person has experience going through different scenarios obviously makes it a lot easier for product adoption and making sure you’re actually getting what you want. 

So the key takeaway with all this is you can’t bake a cake without all the ingredients, and I like that phrase when I think about kind of what we talked about here today, which is you want a little bit of everything in terms of how you’re going through and buying. 

You want that community-based feedback, you want to engage potentially with social creators, you want to engage with sales teams, and you want to engage with those freemium style models or those product-led growth models where you kind of dab your foot in.

When you bring all of this together, and you’re prepared, and you have experience guiding you, it’s really going to make the buying experience that much better for you and hopefully a little bit cheaper for you as well. 

So to help with this, we at 3MG created a document called “Normalizing the buying process,” it’s ungated; you don’t have to provide any contact for this, you simply go to, and we’ve got a four-page document that goes through a lot of the questions you would typically ask, specifically when you’re buying a marketing automation platform or even other tech tools as well.

There’s a lot of common ground between a tool like Marketo and a tool like PathFactory, for example. You’re still going to kind of look at the same things. So have a look at this. It’s a really cool resource. A lot of it is based on questions that I ask vendors, or I assist customers with and asking vendors, and it’s a good thing to know just for yourself because it starts to plan out what’s really important for you as a buyer in terms of what you’re looking to do so hopefully this is a really cool resource for you.

Again feel free to jump over to to give it a look. And that’s pretty much my take for today. Do we have any questions? 

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Hot Takes Live


Catch the replay of Hot Takes Live, where 30 of the top SaaS leaders across Marketing, Sales, and RevOps revealed some of their most unpopular opinions about their niche.

These leaders shared what lessons they learned and how they disrupted their industry by going against the grain (and achieved better results in the process).

Massimo Chieruzzi

Thank you, Mike. And yes, if anyone has questions, please leave them in the chat. Meanwhile, I’m very curious: what do you think is the winning combination? Pure product-led growth, or product-led sales, or something in the middle?

Mike MacFarlane

I personally, and I guess, selfishly find it in the middle. Especially since starting 3MG, I’ve gone through the process of buying software. We use HubSpot here for our marketing automation platform and for our CRM, and for me, I think especially having knowledge in the marketing automation space, I know a lot of things that I need and want based on my previous usage of the tool.

Just knowing what I need as well, makes it a whole lot easier for me to talk to a sales rep in terms of understanding my basic needs and making sure that I’m not potentially paying more than what I need or having a conversation six months down the line where I didn’t actually get what I need, and I need to make an additional investment at that point as well.

That can certainly happen. It doesn’t matter how you can be super prepared at the onset, but I think having that middle ground is really going to make the buying experience better for you and hopefully a little bit cheaper for you as well because you know what you’re looking for.

Massimo Chieruzzi

Awesome. What’s the best buying experience you have ever had? If someone wanted to see an example, sign up for something just is the perfect buying experience for a SaaS product.

Mike MacFarlane

I’m not a big phone guy. That’s just me; it’s the more I can do over chat, the more I can do over email, the more I can do, even through self-service, is awesome.

When we bought HubSpot, we started with the very basic version primarily to host our website, and that experience was super straightforward and easy where you go online, you put your credit card in, and you’re done, and now I’ve got a hub, I’ve got my website there’s obviously a whole lot more that needs to get added in terms of just like the marketing automation side or the automation side of things so reporting capabilities and stuff like that.

That was, for me, a really simple process, where I knew what I wanted at the onset, and then I knew down the line if I needed to grow, I knew the capabilities were there, and I knew what the cost was going to be to help accommodate for that.

Massimo Chieruzzi

Awesome, so Mike looks like we don’t have any other questions. Thank you so much for joining us, super interesting session, thank you. 

Mike MacFarlane

You’re welcome; thanks for having me.