Digital innovation, SaaS, and sales & marketing trends. An interview with Nicolas Vandenberghe & Sean Johnson

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How do the sales team need to change their processes when dealing with SaaS products? Do consumers desire hyper-specialization or an all-in-one? How can a SaaS business meet the user where they are? In this episode of thinkPod, we are joined by Nicolas Vandenberghe (co-founder & CEO of Chili Piper) and Sean Johnson (partner at Founder Equity). We talk to Nicolas and Sean about the fierce competition in sales & marketing tools, digitally enabling teams to be more effective, and the importance of cultural change to bake digital in the DNA of a company. We also get into the need for innovation teams to have buy-in at the highest levels, churn rates, scalability versus product-market fit, the importance of onboarding, and finding the path to profitability for a SaaS startup.

Some of the questions we tackle include:

  • How are the different expectations from buyers is changing the sales team?
  • How does a SaaS company stand out in a crowded market?
  • How important are consumer reviews?
  • Are consumers moving towards hyper-specialization?
  • What are the top three things buyers should look for when evaluating SaaS tools?
  • What should sales & marketing teams be looking for?
  • How can we make digital part of the DNA of a business?
  • What happens when innovation groups don’t get the necessary buy-in from leadership?
  • Should your SaaS company be a Swiss Army knife or focused on one core experience?

Some quotes from our discussion:

“The shift is that buyers want more convenience on how they buy, and you need to deploy technologies that are customer-facing.”- Nicolas Vandenberghe

“B2B tend to have a network of peers that they trust. What I call, ‘invisible reviews’…these invisible reviews are what matter”- Nicolas Vandenberghe

“And ironically they [the buyer] don’t always have this information because if you’re using an app, you don’t know who’s really using it or not. The seller does that is information. So I think the future is to share this information.”- Nicolas Vandenberghe

“If I don’t get what the product is, or it’s too frustrating to get setup, or whatever that lightbulb is that needs to go off in my brain to change my behavior, if you don’t do that during onboarding, there is a good chance you’re going to lose them.” – Sean Johnson

“If I have two opportunities to invest in two different identical companies and I know that Company A is shipping twice as fast, I know they’re going to learn twice as fast and I think they’re probably going to win.”- Sean Johnson

“Having buy-in at the highest level is important. I think a lot of times you stand up an innovation group and you have a mandate, but they’re not necessarily given the resources to actually bring something into the world or they find out that maybe they didn’t have the proper air cover that they thought they might have.” – Sean Johnson

About the panelists:

Originally from France, Nicolas Vandenberghe started selling newspapers in the streets of Paris in high school. He received his MBA from Stanford. He started and sold 3 tech companies with up to 65 employees and $11M in revenues, ran sales for a $2B telecom company negotiating billion-dollar deals with companies like Google, and most recently Co-Founded in 2016 and is the CEO of Chili Piper – a tech pioneer in Buyer Enablement. Its scheduling platform is used by Intuit, Square, Twilio and more than 300 companies worldwide for multiple use cases, from connecting prospects to sales reps instantly upon submitting a form to automating their on-boarding process. www.chilipiper.com

Sean Johnson is a partner at Founder Equity, a Chicago-based venture fund, and a partner at Digital Intent, a technology innovation firm. He’s helped companies like The Chicago Bulls, KPMG, CME Group, and Kindred Healthcare bring new technology and disruptive business models to life. He’s a professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and speaks all over the world on product strategy, digital marketing, and innovation. www.sean-johnson.com