I was recently fortunate enough to have a conversation with Francis Brero, diving into the complexities around these specific questions. During our conversation, we took time to bust some of the common myths about product-led businesses and how their sales approach can be different in comparison to other types of businesses.
Francis Brero is the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of MadKudu, the leading marketing operations platform for B2B. Francis has a background in fundamental mathematics and data science. Over the past five years, Francis has been doing a lot of work in sales, helping him to evolve his product and engineering skillset with go-to-market knowledge and understanding.
At MadKudu, Francis helps marketers to leverage all of the data that they have to make the right decisions and enable their sales team to confidently hit their targets. Francis was very keen to talk about topics that are related to data, sales, and go-to-market.
MadKudu has been fortunate enough to work with some of the most renowned and respected B2B SaaS companies on the market. As Francis told us, “We’ve been working with some really fast-growing companies and some that were more established like IBM and Slack. We’ve been working with some fast-growing companies like Algolia and Gusto, who we started working with fairly early on in their journey”.
There is a debate to be had about whether the product-led era has raised the bar too high for sales. This has resulted in some founders believing they shouldn’t be doing any sales and that the product should be doing all of the work for them. This actually isn’t true. Even Slack, the ultimate product-led business, has a sales team. I was interested in hearing Francis Brero’s thoughts on how sales can evolve in the product-led era.
As Francis told us, “I think it’s a super interesting topic and I feel like it’s one of the biggest myths about product-led – that you don’t need a sales team. Slack is a perfect example, but any other company that you look at you’ll see they actually have a sales team. I think it’s very appealing as the message that you don’t need a sales team for founders that are very product and engineering-oriented”.
Francis continued, “From my experience working with companies like Slack and Vision and some of the more high performing product-led companies, how actually cells and products interact together and how the combination of the two is the most powerful tool that you might have to grow your company. People have preconceived ideas and notions about how these companies operate”.
Today, it feels like the fastest-growing companies are all operating with a product-led growth strategy, which means that they don’t have a sales team. As Francis told us, “When you actually go and look on LinkedIn at those companies, then you start looking for the sales functions within those companies and you realize that a big portion of the company is in this go-to-market function and more precisely in the sales function. While they do talk a lot about not having a sales function, they actually do have people who do that”.
“If you’ve been fooled by all of the blog articles that are out there about the absence of need for having a sales team, you’re not alone. “This is a very, very common misconception and it’s been driven by a lot of things. I think there’s a strong desire to be able to, as engineering founders, to move away from this poor kind of experience that we have of salespeople”.
“Founders are being convinced that they don’t need salespeople, but the truth is they actually do need them. There are a lot of conversations today around how B2B is learning from B2C and that we have kind of this consumerization of B2B and that leads to needing more self-service because that’s how consumers want to buy”, Francis explained.
Francis continued, “This is another pretty big myth and I think it comes from something that maybe is more deeply rooted. It comes from this idea that we have this dogma today, even on the B2C side, where we think that to maximize our freedom, we need to maximize our level of choice. If you look at the history of how civilizations have evolved, there’s always been a set of rules and a set of guidelines to make sure that we were able to live in society”.
Francis told us that having a blank slate and trying to be able to do anything in any direction, generally that leads to a paralysis of choice. “Increasing choice actually decreases your happiness because you always feel that there’s a central regret in not going with the right solution. That’s typically one thing that happens in B2B software, where we’re just overwhelmed with choice. If you don’t have anyone to help you, then you might have these regrets of not knowing if the choice you made was actually the right one”, he said.
Francis and his team looked at the number of products that were out there for someone trying to set up a B2B platform. “It is really interesting from a marketing automation side, there are over 375 products listed in the CRM category. And even just for e-signature, there are 150 products out there. And so if you only take combinations of the different categories that are here, we end up with a number of combinations that is over 805 billion”.
Francis continued, “There is no way you can determine, through evaluations of older, different combinations of stacks, which one is going to be the best for you. So, this can lead you either to go crazy because you tried to find the right solution, which is actually what’s happening today. You can get on the phone with a couple selected vendors, talk to the representatives, and understand where the product excels, where some of the limitations are and how that fits within the business model and objectives of your company”.
This is where salespeople are vital. As Francis explained, “It’s like it’s moving back to this core idea that salespeople are meant to be consultative. They’re meant to be able to understand your company and therefore, where are you going to see the biggest value from their platform and potentially where the weaknesses are to make sure that you are going to make an educated decision when it comes to selecting your stack”.
As he told us, “This is something today that I think is a little bit underrated because we talk a lot about the product. Once you’ve already made the choice of adopting the product, there’s no way anyone is going to go in and evaluate 400 CRMs. You’re just going to pick one. Sometimes, the best way to pick one is to talk to your peers, but then your peers are going to be able to talk about appearance”.
“By talking to a sales representative, you can get that additional information that’s going to be very tailored to your business. I think that’s definitely one of the biggest reasons why all these companies, even though they talk about product-led, actually have a sales team. We talk a lot about the consumerization of B2B. We say this almost as if it’s a given that in B2C, people want a self-serve experience”, Francis continued.
Francis told us about a study that YouTube recently conducted. “They found that most of the time people spend on YouTube was actually spent watching videos that the algorithm recommended. The algorithm in that case almost operates as the role of the salesperson saying what they think is going to be best for you based on what you’ve seen”.
To conclude his thoughts, Francis said: “I think that the consultative element is really what we’re looking for when we’re talking to representatives. There’s still a huge amount of value to be driven from having a sales team to support and enable the product-led motion. When you look at it, stepping back, the B2B journey is inherently complicated”.
We hope that you enjoyed learning more about the role of a sales team in product-led companies. With the insight of Francis Brero, I’m glad that we were able to do some much-needed myth-busting on the common misconceptions about the idea that product-led companies do not have sales teams. As Francis told us in this article, that is not the case.
Even product-led companies need sales teams to help get potential customers over the finish line. In the context of B2B, potential customers want to be able to see how your product can meet their specific needs and requirements. Effectively communicating the value proposition often requires a sales representative.