Product Monetization

Fireside Chat: War Stories from PLG

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Wes sat down with Brennan to chat about what it was really like to scale Soapbox and move from sales-led to product-led.

Wes Bush:
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the ProductLed Summit. I'm here with Brennan, who's the CEO of SoapBox HQ. Brennan, it is a pleasure to have you here again. We have had you once before on the ProductLed Transformer Summit, and I remember specifically, that our conversation was just super funny, as well as insightful. You have this really interesting balance as a founder whenever I talk to you. Brennan, just being completely transparent and also packing a punch in whatever you're saying as you're going through your own war stories.

Wes Bush:
What I'm really hoping we can do in this discussion today is really just uncover, okay, so you've done this transition from sales that are product led, but what's next? It's all about the product led scale, and really getting to that next level as a product led business. For those that haven't listened to the first talk with you, do you want to just give the quick highlight reel and what SoapBox is, and then we can get into the fun discussions around just how you've been building your product led business.

Brennan McEachran:
Awesome. Happy to, and I hope I... this came across in the last conversations as well, I definitely see myself as part of the community, so I'll do the intro, but by no means am I trying to pitch the business here. I really just want to give back and give and receive with the group.

Brennan McEachran:
SoapBox is an app, starts for free that helps you as management or managers have better one-on-one meetings, better team meetings, ensure that all of your meetings are, particularly the internal meetings, are laddering back to your goals and objectives so that the time you spend together as a group, as a team is spent talking about the important things not necessarily just the urgent things.

Brennan McEachran:
By doing that, we're pretty confident we can help you achieve your goals by about 95%, which is ridiculous. It really points to a flaw in humans more so than something that the app is doing unique. But, we started... for those who weren't there on the last one, we've been in the how to make teams, high performing teams' space, which typically is actually weirdly in the HR space for the past 10 years.

Brennan McEachran:
We attacked it first from a sales letter approach, top down, let's sell the whole organization on this suite, this platform. We ran into some product market fit issues and either because we trust ourselves too much or we were stupid we decided, "Hey, let's reinvent this whole business from a bottoms up and from a product led growth." [inaudible 00:02:53] that's more who we are.

Brennan McEachran:
We think we can solve the product market fit issues more clearly if we did it that way and relaunched in 2018. It's just been going gangbusters ever since. I'm happy to be here, happy to share whatever I can share, war stories to things that worked to just anything. Up to you.

Wes Bush:
Yeah, no, absolutely. If I understand correctly too, what was the initial use case for SoapBox? Was it just the one-on-one meetings? That specific piece of the product, that was the first part?

Brennan McEachran:
Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, if we go to the sales led, it was feedback sharing from employees to management. When we decided to like, "All right, let's reinvent everything from the ground up. We're going to do it freemium. We're going to do it..." I don't even... people weren't talking too much about product led back then, but we knew of bottoms up. We want the manager, the frontline managers to adopt this first and spread throughout the organization and grow on the back of our product.

Brennan McEachran:
We said, "Well, what's the thinnest edge of the wedge?" If we're going to crack into the enterprise, if we're going to go into the B2B, we want to go in, we want to have as many entry points as we possibly can and we want it to work with the smallest group size of people that we possibly could. The reason for that is we wanted as many chances. If you need a hundred people for your app to work, you really only have a couple one shot at a company in order to make that work.

Brennan McEachran:
We thought, well, theoretically, what would SoapBox look like if it would work for one person only? In theory, we couldn't figure that out, so we said, "Okay, what does that look like if it's two people?" Two people, an employee sharing feedback to a manager. That's where we started. Then we immediately went to, how are people doing that now in early adopting companies? the obvious answer there was, hey, one-on-one meetings is the great place to start for a variety of reasons.

Brennan McEachran:
One is, hey, that's where feedback is sharing between two people, which is really small, lots of chances for success there. The other piece about it is it presents a really nice recurring hook to figure out where the a-ha moments are in that. If you're having a one-on-one with your direct report, you're probably going to have that every week or every other week. That gives us not only multiple shots in terms of who the early adopters are going to be, but multiple shots at that a-ha moment.

Brennan McEachran:
Yes, 2018, we launched with a... it's actually funny, like a Slack bot to make your one-on-one meetings 10 times better. That was the initial goal. Slack bots still has probably one of our higher activation retention rates just as a channel for us, but by far the better approach now is through the calendar. If you're thinking about that one-on-one meeting, you're thinking about it as a little block in your calendar, and that's really our entry point and that's really a trigger to re-use our app.

Brennan McEachran:
[inaudible 00:06:08] evolved quite a bit since, but yeah, it starts with that tiny little meeting, one-on-one meetings and then goes to, now, we've got 90,000 deployment, 90,000 person deployments at some of the world's largest businesses. I won't say who that is-

Wes Bush:
That's good.

Brennan McEachran:
... but there's only a few companies that can achieve that scale, yeah.

Wes Bush:
Yeah, no, absolutely. That's pretty incredible. One of the things I was noting down here too, is just how you're thinking about acquisition, which is honestly, one of the topics I really admire what SoapBox has been able to do, because it's not just willy-nilly like, "We'll create these blog posts and then hopefully they turn into free accounts." No, I have gone through your website multiple times and it's very strategic. If there's a piece of content, what I've noticed is it usually ties to a template. The template then ties into the product and it's a natural waterfall, a natural journey for you to go through.

Wes Bush:
For those that are listening that actually want better one-on-ones with your manager, I just type in SoapBox, one-on-one meeting agenda. I actually send it to my new hires, because I'm like, "Hey, this is something we need to do on a regular basis to have higher level discussions," instead of just whenever you get on those one-on-ones, it's so common to just talk about, "Oh, what's [crosstalk 00:07:27]-

Brennan McEachran:
How are you doing?

Wes Bush:
... working on?"

Brennan McEachran:
Yeah.

Wes Bush:
Yeah, so it's super valuable.

Brennan McEachran:
I mean, dude, you hit the nail on the head. The whole piece about... I mean, part of that is just how to get good at marketing. I think, I'm not, by any means, I do not consider myself good at marketing but I think there are ways of people... I more of, I think of myself more as a product person, but I think there's ways of people getting good at product led marketing that's really obvious.

Brennan McEachran:
The first thing boils down to, you got to start somewhere, just get something out. Then just, you can make a couple of decisions. For us, for ProductLed, the big sale was, I want to have what I thought of at the time was pipeline unconstrained sales. That's what I wanted to do, is, we had been building a business that our limiting factor for our growth was how efficiently and how quickly could we build our pipeline.

Brennan McEachran:
If we're going to do this, I want to have unlimited pipeline coming in all the time and I want it to come in super cheap so that I can have as much of it whenever I want it. To start, we started with small experiments. At the start, it was just, hey, if I can get a hundred people a month to sign up for a product, that's a win. Because, if I convert one of them, it's 1% and I can feel confident in that 1% and now it's way, way past that.

Brennan McEachran:
But it became more about, okay, let's get something out the door, try to describe our product the best way possible. Then literally, and you've probably seen us do it, sometimes I'll just go on LinkedIn or Twitter and say, "If you don't know what we do, I would love to just get your feedback," and I'll take people... I'll do a Zoom call like this. I'll record it. We call it film review. I'll share my screen and I'll start on LinkedIn.

Brennan McEachran:
I'll say, "Hey, let's pretend you click my LinkedIn profile and want to check out what SoapBox is. What do you think SoapBox is at this point in your journey and it's our LinkedIn profile page? They're like, "I have no idea." They click the website. What do you think SoapBox is? Then we spend maybe five minutes on that. Eventually, I take them through a demo of the product and sell them on it hard and convince them it's the coolest thing ever.

Brennan McEachran:
Then I go back to the homepage. I'm like, "Well, what do you think we should... If you were to describe this to your friend, what are the three bullet points you're going to use about everything I just showed you? What are the cool things?" We go back to LinkedIn, how should we describe ourselves here? You do that enough times to the people in your target demo, your target market, and I think it's really important to be methodical about who and why you're choosing in that and then only talk to those people.

Brennan McEachran:
If you do that enough times, it becomes really obvious. My biggest pet peeve probably of the marketing discipline in general is, how infrequently they talk to customers or prospects. The number one thing they should do is every week talk to them. There's five days a week, talk to at least, it doesn't matter your role, five customers or five prospects. That's your whole job, is to market to these people. If you're not talking to them, having a two-way dialogue, I don't know how you can get good at it. But I think you... sorry, I'll get off this rant. I think you-

Wes Bush:
No.

Brennan McEachran:
... touched on something that I think is really important about ProductLed when it gets to marketing, is there's certainly an aspect of product marketing and you want to show. I always say to the team, "Listen, if we're a product led company, we lead with product." Product should be the... it should take up space on the website and you should feel it and see it, and be able to tell immediately that, "Hey, these guys have got a product, let's try their product."

Brennan McEachran:
Also, part of that is, product leads marketing in a way. If product isn't coming out with things that are helpful for the marketing team, then there's an issue there. Some of our... You mentioned template, the templates that are in our app, the same code that powers the templates in our app is hooked up to our website and powers that whole area of our website, the templates that are listed, the SEO, the site maps, all of that stuff, queries the same API and pumps it out.

Brennan McEachran:
Anytime we do something that we think, "Hey, this could help marketing," it helps products and every time we do something that we think will help product usage and retention, it helps long tail keywords on marketing. Those, as you can imagine, convert really well. We just did goal templates is another one, which we actually have. We launched this. It did really, really well in product time. The largest library of goal in OKR examples on the entire internet by far on our website and built into our app.

Brennan McEachran:
Part of that is, you talk to those end users, you say, "Hey, it's time of the year to talk about goals," and you imagine your direct reports. What goals you want to do for the coming year? What are you... Ultimately what people do is they're like, "Well, shoot, what's my role and what are some good examples and what are some good benchmarks?" We thought, hey, as people are having one-on-one meetings and talking about professional development goals, or even team-wide goals, there's a really good opportunity to A, make that collaborative and B, bring real examples of other startups in our target market.

Brennan McEachran:
Bring those real examples in act and make it a one-click try it on for size, tweak it as it fits your needs and get rid of that huge pain point of, what are the goals? What do we want to do? Just make that a little bit more collaborative versus something you shy away from and Google and then come back to your boss and say, "What do you think about this direction and this direction?" The long tail on that is huge and obviously there's a direct tie into converting into the app.

Brennan McEachran:
But that's the exact thing. Anytime we add an example in app, it goes onto our website. We get the long tail on that. Then the idea is, as we get users to create their own goals, "Hey, do you want to share this back to the community?" Not only does it make the product better, it also makes our marketing better. I think that's where you get product led marketing, is how do you think of not only marketing and product as on the same schedule, what's our launch event, but how do you make these flywheel type experiences where marketing can help product and product can help marketing long-term?

Brennan McEachran:
I don't know if we've gotten good at it. We certainly gotten better at it. This past year we've certainly seen the effects of getting good at it, for sure, but there's so much to do. It's just a never-ending list for sure.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. That's honestly one of the things that really got me excited about product led growth. Initially I thought it was, hey, it's more just like free trial free model. On the tip of the iceberg, that's honestly what it looks like for many product-led website.

Brennan McEachran:
For a lot people. Yeah.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. Then you start looking at how they're marketing, how they're getting sales and you're like, everything's actually pretty different.

Brennan McEachran:
[crosstalk 00:14:26]. Yeah. It's like these functions report into product. It's a very different field. I think of our product as... For most companies, I think about our product and hold our product and product managers as accountable as your average tech company holds their sales team. That is our sales team. That is our pipeline. That is our sales team.

Brennan McEachran:
If something goes wrong in the onboarding, it's not just our onboarding is a little bit messed up. We have a bug. It's like, no, no, that's a sales team member fundamentally underperforming and burning leads all day. I mean that, I think that's probably one of the shifts most organizations who think of product and engineering it's, hit the deadline, whereas here it's, hit the MR target. Very different.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. It's pretty cool too. We've seen that in a few other teams I know, like Drift, or we talked to Matt Bilotti around that. He runs the self-serve team and that's exactly the same. He doesn't own all of the revenue for the business and Drift still has a fairly sizable sales team, but for the smaller contacts and accounts, they just have that pure self-serve play and there is a revenue target for that specific product manager, so really interesting.

Wes Bush:
What I want to hear is, how has your marketing changed from not just when you were sales led but over time as you've evolved it and really got more strategic about it? Because it is something I've noticed a number of times like I was mentioning. It's just, it all ties to the product and what I think is really great about it is it starts with the problem like, okay, someone's going to type in to Google maybe, "Hey, how do I do better one-on-ones or something?"

Wes Bush:
It starts there. You find that blog post, you'll start learning about the primary like, "Oh, there's a bit more to this than meets the eye." Then, there's the natural link of, "Hey, do you want to solve this on an ongoing basis? There is the product for it. You can try it out for free. There's not a big ask there. Why not?" It just flows very seamlessly into the product.

Brennan McEachran:
Oh man. Thank you, first of all. Obviously, there's always ways that we can get better in it. It's funny. I think the best way to take you through a little bit of that journey, one is, it just starts with, what's your depth? Get something out there and start getting feedback, for sure. Ultimately, I believe closest to the customer wins, it's like another David Console quote, I think, or who... I don't know who came up with it, but David Console talks about it probably as much as I do.

Brennan McEachran:
I think it boils down to, you start with something, you know you're wrong, let's figure out how wrong you are. The team, the startup that understands the customers the best over time, given enough time, it's like a mathematical equation, should win. As long as you're able to react and adapt to it. Marketing, it's pretty quick, you're able to do it pretty quickly because you don't necessarily have the same constraints as like software engineering teams.

Brennan McEachran:
What we did is, we actually, if you think of the conceptual hierarchy at our company, there's almost above the vision is the jobs to be done document, which is this almost, I don't want to say untouchable, but it's almost just like our equivalent of the 10 commandments. This is what we're here to do, more from a problem standpoint, not from a solution standpoint. For as long as there've been humans who are employed, people want to get promoted.

Brennan McEachran:
When we think of bottoms up product led growth, a manager's going to adopt our tool. Our job is to help that person get promoted through a variety of ways. Then there's other comparables there. Some of it is like a notebook, like a Moleskin notebook you can take notes and we compete against that. I think it starts there. That document is, I would say probably owned by product, but equally used by product and marketing. Because I think in a way it's one and the same, it's just different stages of the buyer's journey going through it.

Brennan McEachran:
I think that step one is, what are the problems? We validate those problems through, like I said, a thing called film review. We'll interview people at various different stages of the buyer's journey from prospect to evaluating our option or evaluating consultants to in trial to I have been using us for a year. We'll get their feedback. The only things, the kick out documents on that in a hierarchy are a couple of slides and they're the digestible version of it. The only things that make it into those slides are customer's words.

Brennan McEachran:
I don't let my team write how we view the world there. We only get to take snippets of quotes from a customer or prospect and we can put those in those documents. Effectively, the only way to make into that document is to validate it through customers. That lets us get at some of the pains. When we talk about the pains that our customers are feeling, I have quotes that are just validated by hundreds and hundreds of people that are like, "All right, we know that this is a common enough pain that we can lean on in here and use it."

Brennan McEachran:
I think that's the start of it. Then ultimately, if your product helps solve that pain, the rest of it just writes itself. But our marketing has certainly evolved. We started with one-on-ones. It was very much focused on one-on-ones giving, receiving feedback. How do you get your feedback across? How do you... until we got good at that, and we figured out what are the draws from a marketing standpoint? Then that actually helped inform.

Brennan McEachran:
Dude, it's so funny, our onboarding and we thought... Our a-ha moment, I shouldn't share this because the spies watch and literally their product manager [inaudible 00:20:52] all the time, so I shouldn't share this. I also shouldn't have... By the way, the last time I did this summit, I gave away all of our conversion tips that worked and one competitor has done all of them.

Wes Bush:
Oh no.

Brennan McEachran:
Literally all 10 and my board was like, "Don't do that again." I was like, "No. No. For the ProductLed community I'll do anything. I'll do it again." I shouldn't say this. I'm going to say it anyways. The interesting thing is, we thought our a-ha moment, it turned out to be mostly correct. I won't tell you what the other one is, but mostly correct was having one meeting. If you have one meeting you see the a-ha, you're going to be successful.

Brennan McEachran:
In order to have one meeting, we need items on an agenda or else what are you meeting about? Part of our onboarding was, let's just suggest content. Turns out that's a huge part of what makes people successful, but then a huge part of what people actually search for. What do I talk about? Just questions to ask people in a one-on-one meeting is a huge source of leads and traffic for us. That comes in that way. That was product onboarding, trying to get people to an a-ha moment that led to one of our top drivers of traffic.

Brennan McEachran:
I think it's the give and take between the two. I think that really made it work. It started with one-on-ones. We eventually went to team meetings that taught us some things, and you just go through the validation process at the product step, at the marketing step. Then we went larger team meetings like a town hall and then now we're layering goals into all of those and more survey feedback into all those.

Brennan McEachran:
You learn, for example, we called it meeting rating in the product standpoint, where we went into marketing it was, what do people search for? Real-time employee feedback. All right, let's call it real-time employee feedback and just make that easier for people's brains as they come in and go through. Our marketing writers are the same as our product writers, like the word choices. A lot of times in app, what do we want to call this button? Well, what gets the most search traffic? Sometimes that's how we make decisions.

Brennan McEachran:
But I think that a big piece of it is, with product led, you can go slower, you can make deliberate decisions, go a little bit slower every day, because those decisions stack, they compound. If you make a good decision and you get 1% better, you're now 1% better, every day. Whereas, if you hire a sales team, you hire one guy or one lady, and she becomes 1% better, she's my 1% better forever until she leaves or gets promoted to a sales manager and no longer is allowed to sell and has to retrain everyone from the ground up and you've got to hire new people and there's a ramp period of time.

Brennan McEachran:
You don't get to scale on electricity. You really do have to get really good at developing the humans and there's nothing wrong with that, it's just the urgency for, you really got to get people who are quick and smart and able to learn quickly. Whereas product, you can sometimes, "Hey, if we go deep here and do a really, really good job and make something really sticky, we're good for a bit," and those things last.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. I know you mentioned this a bit before we started recording just around the impact of COVID. I want you to just touch on that and how that really had a huge impact on just your ability to handle [crosstalk 00:24:31]-

Brennan McEachran:
Do you want to go into the sad war story part of it where I was moping around? Yeah. As you can imagine, we help you with one-on-one meetings and team meetings. Ultimately, more of the job to be done from a manager perspective is, we help you be the best boss your team has ever had. You hit your goals, people love you. It's more or less what it boils down to.

Brennan McEachran:
As a director or a VP at that company, wouldn't your life be easier if your team of managers hit their goals and their team loved them? Of course, you would want that. When the rug was pulled out from everyone and the office disappeared, and we all only interacted through Zoom chats, it got 10 to 15 times harder for managers.

Brennan McEachran:
We often forget that the core tool we have in our tool belt as leaders is to call a meeting internally. If you want to figure out where something's at, you have a meeting. If you want to figure out what's wrong, you call a meeting. If you want to hold someone accountable or give someone feedback, you're probably going to do it in a meeting.

Brennan McEachran:
In the office you can get away with overhearing the gossip or looking over at someone's desk and seeing what they're working on. You don't necessarily need as many, but when the office disappeared, our only window into the world of work became meetings. We started spending 20% more time with our managers and meetings overnight.

Brennan McEachran:
Managers felt 40 to 60% less confident in their ability to manage overnight. That led to a whole lot of Google searches and like you were mentioning, we tend to rank for these searches. Yeah, signups went up five X the span of about a month. Part of that was not only the SEO traffic, but also, we're integrated into tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, and a lot of people also signed up for those tools in those moments, found us because I think we solved the adjacent pain point to some of those tools.

Brennan McEachran:
Then the war story part of that is, we also had a term sheet that we run diligence in that moment get pulled on us for the exact same reason. While sign-ups went up five X and things were looking great, we had a term sheet disappear because the firm we were talking to had no idea what was happening in the world. They decided it was more fair for everyone that while they didn't know what to do and when exactly they were going to be able to close this deal that they would release us from exclusivity, but that basically screwed us and that funding.

Brennan McEachran:
We took things into our own hands and actually laid off a large portion of the team, which was interesting. I'm fortunate we were able to do that and not necessarily have too many hiccups from operations standpoint, because if I laid off half a sales team you would notice that. You would have leads that weren't being called back, but we were able to scale a little bit more on process and technology and electricity versus humans. To give you an example, everyone who signs up for our free product runs through Clearbit.

Brennan McEachran:
I'm surprised that not everyone knows what Clearbit is, but it runs through Clearbit. We get the data on who that person is, what that company is. If you qualify yourselves from, are you in our target market, we automatically reach out to you in an hour from a Gmail account. It's all just wired together, it happens automatically. Honestly, we don't even check it anymore. If you want to spend time with us, you get the opportunity to spend time with us.

Brennan McEachran:
Obviously, there's tweaks to be made there but in that moment, I'm glad we had those things because you can have a small team carry a super large load without blinking. In fact, I think in that moment we forgot that we even did that. It was just working smoothly and we were just all hands on deck on support trying to get through the support queue as quick as we could. Would have been a totally different situation.

Brennan McEachran:
I know I have friends who relied heavily on calling people and all the numbers they had for who to call in order to make your sales number, so numbers were office phone numbers. You're calling the office, you punch some person's extension. Well, no one's in office. You're screwed. There's absolutely no... your whole process just broke down. Whereas product led growth I think got only stronger. I think we certainly went past the tipping point in a lot of these businesses and you saw it in the public companies, Zoom took off way faster than a sales team could sell that equivalent revenue.

Wes Bush:
Yeah, absolutely. No, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing just that war story, because it's really telling at the end of the day what is possible with the product led business. You're looking at five X the volume of sign-ups and half the team and you managed it and it wasn't the end of the world. It wasn't the end of the business. You're going to come back out of this stronger and really that's what it's going to be. It's just a matter of time. I think that's really incredible to share. I guess, any other war stories or lessons learned on this path around building a product led business you'd like to dig into?

Brennan McEachran:
I think there's countless. I mean, the... and not knowing exactly what would be the most helpful for the group that's here, but I know that you have a specific question, find me on Twitter @i_am_brennan. Happy to help out. I think I'm just going to assume a lot of the people listening are founders or close to founders in their respective companies.

Brennan McEachran:
There's two things. One is this transition that a lot of businesses are making from... they are sales led and they're finding themselves like, "Shoot, maybe I want to be product led." I think there's another group that's like, "I want to start product led and be product led forever." The surprising thing to me, and I mentioned it when I said Clearbit a little bit was, product led is not mainstream yet.

Brennan McEachran:
It's shocking to me because with this community I'm like, "Look at the size of this community. All of a sudden, Holy crap. We're past the tipping point. Everyone knows. Word is out. This is the way to do it, but we're not even close." If you're talking to a DC they're not really... A typical DC is not really going to be in the weeds to the same way that this group is on product led. In fact, you might end up finding yourself teaching them about some of these things.

Brennan McEachran:
The typical mantra you hear from B2B SaaS investors is beyond the triple, triple, triple, double, double is, why don't we just hire more salespeople? Why don't we just double the sales head count, wait 18 months and we'll see our revenue come out the other end? To say, hold on, let's pump the brakes on that and think a little bit more about retention and net revenue retention and think about trial conversion rates self-serve versus whatever, you're going to get people being like, "This is interesting, but I don't understand it and so that scares me off a little bit. I think I'm going to go back to the world that I understand."

Brennan McEachran:
I think there's aspects of that, that I think are worth. If you're a founder, finding that... To be honest, if you're a DC who cares about product led, you're probably connected to Wes here at this summit. But if you're a founder, look at the people who are showing up to the summit, they get it, who are part of this community, they get it and they're investing in it and they understand that this is the future of B2B SaaS, for sure. I think start getting connected to them early and that pays off.

Brennan McEachran:
I think that that's one pothole you have to watch out for. To say, "All of our customers have converted self-serve before I started talking to them." They're like, "Why don't you just talk to them more?" "Well, I guess we could." Part of the scale though. If you think about going from sales led to product led and I know we talked about this a little bit on the podcast, I was just absolutely shocked at the amount of cultural change that was needed. It's almost, the fundamental DNA of your company has to shift.

Brennan McEachran:
Departments that used to feel like they were alpha, they no longer feel like that they're alpha. Almost calling it product led is going to rub salespeople the wrong way if you weren't product led before, because the defacto standard is sales led.

Wes Bush:
Yep.

Brennan McEachran:
That's a shift in your culture, your primary audience being executives over a phone call and your website being the second touch point. If a BDR or SDR calls an executive and say, "Hey, I'm with soapboxhq.com," and they type in soapboxhq.com. It's a very different customer journey than going out to the masses and almost pretending you are consumer app and converting people.

Brennan McEachran:
The funny thing is, we get COOs and CEOs signing up to our app, the same way. It's just, it's the first touch point as a Google search result versus an SDR. In fact, the way I think about, like I said, I think about our product on our product funnel the same way probably most companies think about their pipeline. The amount of organizational effort that goes into pipeline reviews and making sure your sales forecast are up to date, we do the same thing in product and that's just a shift.

Brennan McEachran:
Your SDR is your customer support rep. That junior person who's the first touch point when you don't know this at the time, but the CEO of a 1,500 person company is saying, "How do I add the Slack app?" But you don't know that this person has a huge wallet size. You don't know those things and you're going to put a support rep on there. Well, if that support rep says, "Oh, let me make a little [inaudible 00:35:41] video for you and by the way, there's some features you don't have. Do you want a quick 15-minute demo of the power features that you probably love?" You end up getting a demo book for that person.

Brennan McEachran:
That's a BDR. It's just the support rep. What we used to think of as a cost center is now revenue generator. There's so many small tweaks that permeate through the org that in order for us to really make that transition, dude, it was havoc. We rotated through an entire company worth of talent, from a sales team to no sales team, from a marketing team that cared about and knew and understood and wanted to get better at B2B marketing and was used to gating content and creating eBooks, to a marketing team that was none of that. Let's give it all away for free and let's give our product away for free. Very different.

Brennan McEachran:
I couldn't believe from my perspective, the amount of cultural shift that occurred there. I know I've talked to a bunch of founders that are thinking about making that shift and they actually do it in secret, like hide it from their sales team. They don't tell them that they were trying to come up with these and it makes it worse. I would almost put in, if you're thinking about doing the transition, put in a project plan for, how do you map culture A to culture B and what's the journey you want to take people through? It's a-

Wes Bush:
What's the [crosstalk 00:37:08] from the experience?

Brennan McEachran:
Oh my God. I think, if you have the resources to do it... First of all, sales doesn't disappear in a product led organization, I think you can delay your first sales hires in a product led organization, but I'm hiring sales now. It's a different style of sales. You go from hunting to farming a little bit. But dude, I think this year has taught us one thing and that's that Slack... Stewart Butterfield was on stage just talking for a while, "We're never going to have a typical commission sales rep work at Slack."

Brennan McEachran:
Then two things happen. One, Microsoft Teams, systematically, just started stealing customers from them, one by one. From a daily active user, monthly active user perspective, it's hard to imagine, but surpassed them in under a... from zero to hero in under a year. I mean, for this group, Slack is still the go-to, but for everyone else, Microsoft Teams is free. How do you beat that? The second thing is, they sold to Salesforce, which is known to invent the-

Wes Bush:
I know.

Brennan McEachran:
... the sales model.

Wes Bush:
The sales model, yeah.

Brennan McEachran:
They took a really good product and paired it with a really good sales team and both companies are really excited about the prospect that that affords them. I don't think it means sales goes away, it just means sales isn't leading things. You're not coming up with roadmap decisions in order to close a deal. Sales is a little bit more like a doctor.

Brennan McEachran:
You think of them as a really helpful, knowledgeable technology literate person who is going to help you on your journey here and they'll make recommendations for you. They're not necessarily going to be the suit and tie wearing, briefcase carrying, thick tie aggressive closer who's going to convince you to buy.

Brennan McEachran:
I think of it a little bit as, if you thought content marketing and inbound marketing was giving you hot leads, and cold outreach was giving you deals that you could close and inbound marketing is giving you inbound deals that close at a higher rate and close faster and for more value, product led is the next step on that journey from outbound to inbound to PLG.

Brennan McEachran:
You're getting people who are sold and just need help to spend money. I don't know a salesperson in the world who doesn't want that job. Like, "Oh yeah. You mean I'm only going to talk to people who are already convinced?"

Wes Bush:
Signe me up.

Brennan McEachran:
Sign me up. Like, "Oh, I can hit my quota without..." Sometimes even talking to them they're like, "Sign me up." I think it's that progression that you want to take people through. There's a really hard moment where you have people like SDR say comped on booking meetings and you're now going to... and the way they do that, the primary pitches, let me give you a demo.

Brennan McEachran:
Well, if you give away your product for free, that gate keeping aspect of their pitch fundamentally changes. But I think what you have to prove out to people is, if we take away the gate, we're going to get 10 to 15 times more leads and then you mind those leads. You don't have to do a high-level demo, you get to do a power user demo and it's much better. You don't have to go in cold, you just look at the leads that you're signing up and cherry pick the best ones.

Brennan McEachran:
But I think it's a journey, and ultimately sales doesn't go away and neither does the up down channel. Microsoft proved that, hey, for a chat app like Microsoft Teams, the outbound channel crushed. I don't think it's either or, I think it's just, which one's leading the charge and which one's not? I think that the easiest way to see that is when you go to a website, is it optimized for booking a demo, sales led, or optimized for using the product, which is a little bit more product led?

Brennan McEachran:
But, there's a lot of buyers out there who are like, "I already know I want to buy this thing. Just help me buy, give me the demo." It doesn't mean you should never have a demo button on your website. Ultimately, every culture is different. Every culture is unique. I think you want to lean into your values and I think you got to take people on that journey, and I think, just don't underestimate the importance of that journey. It might be obvious to you as a founder or as the leader at the company, but a lot of people are spooked about job security when they go through this.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. Absolutely. So many good points. I know Kyle from OpenView wrote an article. I think that's about six months ago. The title of it was brilliant. It was, build a product that sells itself, then hire sales. I think that order is actually really important for a product, that business. You might not actually have to hire sales. It depends on what your ACV is and everything else around there but I think it is important order.

Brennan McEachran:
Yeah. It's a no brainer. If you have a product that sells itself, then in a 15 minute phone call, you can probably increase your close rate by 10 X. Who wants that? Everybody wants that. The process is going to be a little bit different. For example, our primary CRM type thing is actually a customer success platform, because they're all in there.

Brennan McEachran:
We look at data that comes from product analytics and segment, we pump it into a customer success platform and that helps us determine how to have a sales conversation out of it. But ultimately, the difference between sales and customer success is actually no, there's really no difference. You don't want a sales team not aligned to customer success, ever. You're just going to have high [inaudible 00:43:19]. You're just going to have angry customers and you're going to have word on the street and you got G2 crowd, you have Capterra, you have Twitter. Word on the street is you have a bad app or a buggy app.

Brennan McEachran:
No one really wants a sales team that persuades people to buy your product. I think you want a sales team that helps customers solve a problem that is really valuable to them, they're willing to spend money on and software is the way they want to spend money on it. That is effective the same thing as customer success. Customer success cares more about, say 12 months from now, or next month, that first month, but you're not going to have a successful 12-month net revenue retention if you're signing up the wrong people, if you're selling to the wrong people.

Brennan McEachran:
Ultimately, we're really talking about the same thing, the end of the day is, how do we just provide customer success? The absolute unequivocable proof point that you provide value is, having a product that sells itself. People are using your product. They find so much value in it. They say, "I'm going to spend money because I know it's providing me value." But, that is going to be X percent of people and you can probably make it 10 X that with a human saying, "Oh, you know how you were just slightly confused by this one button, this is what it does and it's actually really cool." They're like, "Totally get it. This app is great." Of course, do that as much as you possibly can. I think it's a no-brainer. Salespeople are really good at that so line them up.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. Awesome. I know as far as sales folks go, typically whenever you're introducing product led to your company there's the most resistance around it, but then when they start seeing this product [inaudible 00:45:15] leads, people are using the product, having good experiences, they start talking to them, they realize that most of these users, the majority of the selling has already happened.

Wes Bush:
They understand the value and like Brennan has mentioned, the conversation is a lot easier for them to actually help them make that sale, help them see those other use cases and make that internal business case if they need to, if it's a bigger company. They themselves get to add a lot more value to that specific conversation than would they just in a typical demo request environment.

Wes Bush:
What I'm going to do is try and synthesize the main takeaway here. Drum roll coming out, if you don't believe any of this crap, so here it is. When you're thinking of building product led scale for your business, one other thing you really have to think about is, how are you going to change the mindset on every single team? For sales, let's start there, the quote you need to think about when you're making this transition is think of going from harvesting to farming. That's your big transition you got to make for sales-

Brennan McEachran:
Like hunting. Like hunting. You're out there, the sales reps leave home and go and bring back something. That's a terrible analogy, versus farming. I don't know, only spend time with the leads that matter, they're coming to you in a way. Yeah, I think that's the change. I think the transition is a little bit like, we went from outbound to inbound marketing, and this next layer is product led, which you can think of it still as on that spectrum. But ultimately, the goal is for everyone to make more money and salespeople don't go away in that process.

Wes Bush:
Absolutely, and that leads into just marketing, the big shift. I didn't come up with this code. This is from Tara who's at Sprout Social right now. She's brilliant, but her big transition here is going from, when you're thinking of your marketing team, creating demand to creating value.

Wes Bush:
That's the mindset shift as it relates to marketing and you're mentioning it too. Before the main focus was, let's get [inaudible 00:47:42], let's have eBooks and let's gate everything we can and it's so common in a lot of sales led companies, but when you go product led, you really need to think about, how could we really lead with value?

Wes Bush:
What you've done with the templates is a perfect example. There's the blog post. It might lead to a more awareness on how to do something specific, but the next step is really just, how can we get you this value? You're not just simply reading about it, you're executing on it. You're going around and implementing it.

Brennan McEachran:
Yeah, I think you're right. Our goal library is the largest in the world by a long shot. The library itself in app is a selling feature. When we show it to people they are like, "Holy crap, I want that." Your initial reaction surface level could be, "Let's charge for that." What we did was, we put that exact same library out on our website for free inclusive of, you can actually click those, click the buttons in it and track your goals on our website for free and send the link to your boss and all that stuff. That's more valuable.

Brennan McEachran:
I think what people are... If you imagine a lot of these things, this value you want to give away is for free and that the piece that you sell is making you achieve all the different facets of this value in a cheap, easy, automated way. The goal example is, hey, you can go to our website, you can see our templates, you can use our template for a meeting, copy it, put it in a Word doc if you want, but you're not going to solve an accountability problem with that. You could if you're really, really diligent and type A, and you have a hundred percent energy at all points and times. You never get tired.

Brennan McEachran:
But, eventually it's going to come the time when you're overwhelmed or you're tired and you're frustrated, juggling your work with the responsibility of the team. You go, "You know what? I think it's time that I just offload part of my effort to an app." That value you've put out into the universe, is positive brand association for the same value that your app provides, and it genuinely does come back. People like to share valuable things too. It compounds in a way. They like to share that with their friends or their boss and get more leads out of it.

Wes Bush:
Yeah. Absolutely. I'm going to steal this one, probably more relates to our last discussion on the [inaudible 00:50:28], but as it relates to support, going from just tickets to experiences. You shared a bunch of stories the last time, just like every one of these support tickets is really just an opportunity to really blow people away, hug your haters kind of deal, and really create that experience that really wows them and makes them want to not just sign up, but also experience the product and purchase it too.

Brennan McEachran:
I mean, like I said, the company who's talking to the customers, the end users the most and actioning that the fastest probably wins long-term. Just today, we had one of our designers on support for the afternoon and someone critiqued some of his work. He's like, "If you guys have a formal process, I'd be happy to give you a feedback." He's like, "We don't have a formal process. Here's my email. Let's jump on a call. I would love your feedback, personally. By the way, I'm the designer of that feature."

Brennan McEachran:
I think that's the shift in culture. When you have... If you think of, well, that's the reaction you would get out of a top sales rep when a prospect gave you something in an email form, your top sales rep would be like, "Let's jump on a call. Let me walk you through it. Let me figure it out. I'll get it done for you." How do you get your product team and your engineering team and your product organization as a house to operate in that same way? I think that's really where the shift comes out.

Brennan McEachran:
I can't even tell you, I probably said it on the past podcast, I can't even tell you how many times customers and free users have said, "Brennan. Wow, thank you so much for jumping on a call with me and listening to my feedback. I've never had this before." As founders, as product people, are we crazy? The fact that early technology adopters don't get to talk to us. What's wrong with our industry if people feel grateful they had the opportunity to give feedback to a company? That's insane. Do it. People are out there hungry to tell you what you're doing wrong.

Brennan McEachran:
Honestly, once you get to the first semblance of product market fit, all you have to do is listen to what they say is wrong and then fix it. That's 99% of your issues, is just fixing the dumb decisions you made along the way to finding product market fit. Then once you get there, it's compounding. Just fix it, people share the word.

Wes Bush:
Absolutely. The last piece I'll add on to as it relates to this mindset shift is, for the methodology go from serve, don't sell. I think if you could sum up the difference between sales led and product led that's really what it comes down to, is figure how you can help your users become successful. Because at the end of the day, I really say the secret behind building a successful product, that business, really comes down to just understanding that end user success all boils down to the more successful you can help your users become, the more successful you will become. It's really just paying it forward and then like good old karma, it does come back.

Brennan McEachran:
Yeah. I think ultimately, jobs to be done, I think is helpful on some of these things. But, someone said to me the root word of sales, the act of selling, the root word goes back to the Latin word that is the same root word for help. I independently verified that through Wikipedia and he lied, but I thought that that was perfect. I thought that I wish that was true, because to me that's exactly how I think about it.

Brennan McEachran:
The goal here is to help people buy, it's to help people solve a problem and your app, which is software as a service, if you think about the service part of it, like other things that are in this service industry, PSWs, nursing homes, they're helping people. If you have great customer service at a store, sometimes they tell you to go across the mall to get the actual thing. They help you.

Brennan McEachran:
I think it boils down to, you're selling software as a service, every touch point, especially if you're product led, every touch point is part of that service from support to marketing, to sales, to in-app messaging. How do you turn this into a service that helps people solve the problem that they have. Which, in your case, if you solve it in a really nice way, they're going to end up spending money with you. That's how it works.

Brennan McEachran:
Not necessarily, you have to... You have to experiment to figure out what's the pain point that causes the wallet opening experience, but you're helping them along that journey. I think that's the best. From a product, the product is helping them along that journey, the sales team is helping them along that journey.

Wes Bush:
Absolutely. Well, Brennan, this has been a amazing discussion. Thank you so much for your time. Where can people find out more about you?

Brennan McEachran:
Well, our app is soapboxhq.com. Check it out. As Wes said, we have a bunch of free things you can just steal and run with and tell your boss about. We are on Twitter, SoapBox HQ. I'm on Twitter @i_am_brennan. How about just hang out? I think I've said in the past, this is the opposite of advertising for me. This is my crew, this is my tribe. I'm here just to hang out with other people going through the same journey and help you not experience the same potholes I experienced. I'm happy to chat this stuff anytime.

Wes Bush:
Awesome. Well, thanks again, Brennan. This is always... I love your honest take on [inaudible 00:56:19].

Brennan McEachran:
Do my best. Do my best. Anytime dude.

Wes Bush:
Perfect. Well, I hope you have an amazing day.

Brennan McEachran:
You too. Talk soon, and thanks everyone.

Wes Bush:
Bye.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Brennan McEachran
CEO & Co-founder of SoapBox
Brennan McEachran is the co-founder and CEO of Soapbox Innovations