Does Atlassian’s low touch sales model mean death to the sales rep?

Gregory Swanson

March 1, 2020

I am a long time Atlassian customer, even before Jira was SaaS and was on-premise only. 

There is much talk about Atlassian's low-touch sales model. People ask, "why would you need a sales team if the customer gets online, researches, tests, then orders?"

Atlassian, Slack, HubSpot, and others indeed use a low-touch customer acquisition model. The low-touch model depends a lot on their digital marketing to lock in customers.

But do they use "human sales" sales as well? Let's take a look at how they appear to implement their low-touch model.

Getting a sign-up without salespeople

Many company types, particularly SaaS companies, use a land-expand-hold sales tactic. Atlassian was one of the first companies to notice that placing a salesperson in the way of the customer buying was not always productive. 

Customers can get all the information that they need to make a low-risk decision online. In the acquisition phase, Atlassian did not need a salesperson. 

  • Put the product out on the website.
  • Drive site traffic.
  • Lower all barriers and risks trying or buying the product. This includes using the product for free. The intention is to get the customer to the evaluation stage. 
  • Let the customer see, touch, and test the product. Focus on instant gratification.
  • Show the customer some use-cases.
  • Help onboard the user and administrator through online resources.
  • Make it easy and cheap to transact (like a department credit card).

The key to this is to reduce risk and make it easy for the customer. To do this, Jira provided a freemium (zero cost) account with some basic functionality for up to 10 users. The idea is that if you expand, you will upgrade into a paid price plan. 

The other idea is that switching to another application will become more difficult if you start using the app. The more data or people that you have in the app, the harder it is to change.

To acquire a new customer, placing a salesperson, in the way, would be counterproductive. If you do not modify the product for a specific customer, it is entirely self-service to implement. Additionally, if you have fixed pricing (or no pricing), why do you need a salesperson? 

But after you get that first conversion, what happens next?

Phases in the customer life-cycle

Acquisition Phase

Anyone can try or buy one of Atlassian's products. There is no qualification. Having the customer using the product enables you to start to identify growable activities.

Did one of Atlassian's top targeted accounts sign up? Did an account sign-up and expanded users at a fast rate?

In the acquisition phase, a sign-up or a decision to buy (without a salesperson) is a form of lead generation that provides Atlassian a  position to expand sales on the accounts that Atlassian selects. Instead of a qualified lead, it is a qualified customer.

Atlassian could separate their sign-ups as self-service only and targeted expansion accounts. The idea is that it is easier to sell to an existing customer.

Development Phase

After the original conversion, Atlassian can gather enough data and interactions to put using customers into boxes. From there, they can cross-sell to other products or sell more in-depth into the customer and expand users. They can implement analytics to identify interesting customers.

They may use solely digital channels to develop the account. However, in more complex and higher potential accounts, they can install an "Enterprise Advocate" or other functions (Atlassian recently added sales channels) to help guide the customer to expand.

At this stage, it looks more like a traditional solution sales model. 

Part of the qualification and decision to install an Enterprise Advocate seems to be the increased integration and level of customization needed by the customer. Integration does not mean that the customer is bundling Jira with Confluence. It means more that they are providing platforms to resolve a larger set of complex problems like information management or company-wide collaboration.

The account development phase is like a qualification. Do you put resources in place to develop the account, or is it a self-serve account? Do you "solution-sell" or "product-sell?"

Retention/renewal Phase

Having their customers segmented between true self-service and higher-touch accounts, they can automate the self-service interactions and develop a higher-touch process. Atlassian can establish an account further, gain referrals, or cross-sell in an omnichannel way. They can set up early warnings for losses. However, human interaction (higher-touch) is only for those prioritized accounts.

The approach does not eliminate the salesperson.

If you take a step back from the low-touch approach, it only seems low-touch in the acquisition phase. It reflects how customers make decisions in certain types of sales.

The alternative is to have a salesperson, upfront, trying to qualify a new trial sign-up, then go through a discovery call, then present a solution, later close the deal. Unless you have a complicated onboarding, to the customer, traditional acquisition sales add very little value. It is also unnatural for the customer.

Even though Atlassian does not use the term "salesperson," they do have "Advocates." The communication around "no sales rep" is part of their no-pressure branding. That branding approach fits very well with their target customers.

The product's usage is a qualification. If qualified, you can send in your sales resource (Advocates) to develop those accounts. You are deploying your sales resource in a customer-friendly way.

When can you use the Atlassian approach?

The Atlassian approach does not fit everywhere. The key to a low-touch acquisition model is to enable the customer to reduce risk in trying the product. The first two metrics are the number of new sign-ups and the number of users in the sign-up. You would run a higher budget ad campaign to drive more traffic to your site.

Atlassian actively sells its self as a low-touch, nearly anti-sales company. Part of their marketing message seems to be, try us, with no risk. You won't even have a sales rep calling you and hammering you with dozens of "qualifying" questions. And you don't need a sales rep. The success of Atlassian rips at the soul of many sales folks.

Maybe there are many lessons for sales professionals when seeing Atlassian's success. Is the salesperson getting in the way? Can technology replace what the salesperson does?

Where it can work:

  • Your customer can easily try your product without effort from you or them. A trial or sign-up is automated. The keyword is "easy".
  • The decision to try the product carries little or no risk to the customer.
  • The transaction is easy and requires no special purchase approval for your customer. If the value of the transaction is high, additional customer approvals may complicate the sign-up.
  • Transact by credit card. Many customer departments have a credit card for small purchases. Bypass this with a freemium.
  • No impact or risk on the customer's infrastructure.
  • Your product or service is easy to onboard and start using. There is instant gratification.
  • You have fixed pricing.
  • You can budget an aggressive ad campaigns to help drive site traffic from customers with intent to buy.
  • You can define a path to progress the customer after sign-up.
  • You can differentiate what needs to be "touched" and what shouldn't be touched.

Where it doesn't work:

  • The level of integration or customization of what you are selling goes beyond what you can do online.
  • The complexity of the solution varies greatly by customer. But be very honest with yourself about the degree of variance.
  • Your customer needs the human contact to reduce risk.
  • What you are selling involves human contact to onboard.
  • Pricing and pricing strategy needs to vary by customer. Proposals tend not to be the same.
  • Your customer or you have regulatory requirements that involve human interactions and audits.


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