Sales Hustle is now Sales Transformation
Oct. 6, 2021

#166 S2 Episode 35 - From Working At Restaurants To Product Led Growth SaaS Founder with Fred Melanson

On this episode of the Sales Transformation Podcast with Fred Melanson, founder of Blinx, guest speaker in McGill University - Desautels Faculty of Management, and a graduate of the same school in computer/information technology administration and management.

Fred dishes out why product-led growth is so important in sales and how it can affect the rise and fall of companies if used correctly or incorrectly. Also some useful tidbits about just how to catch those bigger clients through quality interactions.


HIGHLIGHTS

00:54 Where it all started for Fred and how he figured he wanted to have his own business right after college

03:41 The challenges people have managing relationships and how to overcome them

11:02 Where Blinx comes to solving a particular problem in SaaS and more

19:17 How a podcast is an underutilized tool and how it ties in with product-led growth

23:24 How to connect with Fred and know more about Blinx

QUOTES

04:08 "It's really hard to manage a lot of relationships in scale, and data silos, and with the rise of automation. A lot of the generic stuff and tools, bots, it seemed to be really painful for people to manage that human-to-human relationship at scale, really be efficient and contextual."

06:01 "People want to experience some kind of value before they make a commitment. And I think that's the whole basis of product-led growth, and it changes how sales approach, the funnel approach, the strategy. And I think that's super interesting."

16:08 "There's a shift from generic automation, from generic personalization, to be contextual, and that's the role of sales in a product-led motion to is to understand the user, understand the user's intent and try to work alongside them."

17:37 "If you wanna win bigger deals, right? If you want to build relationships with higher-value targets, yes, you've got to go deep, you've got to get more personalized, you've got to get more relevant, you've got to spend more time crafting your message, you gotta have good pieces of information and reach out in a meaningful way leading with value."

19:57 "You deliver some kind of value, whether it's through your product, marketing content, through a podcast or whatever. And then the sales rep engages at some point in the funnel when there are enough signals that indicate to a potential to close or expand."

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Transcript

[00:00:00] In the world of sales, you either sink or swim or breakthrough to the next level. My name's Colin Mitchell, and this is sales transformation, a new kind of sales show designed to bring you through the epic life-changing moments of elite sellers. So you can experience your own sales transformation.

[00:00:24] All right. Welcome to another episode of sales transformation. And today I've got a fantasy. Guest for you today. I've got Fred Mylanta and he's the founder over at blink. So they're doing some really interesting stuff. Fred is extremely passionate about product led growth, and we're going to dig into, you know, how that happened in his experience and pull a lot of learning lessons out of there.

[00:00:46] Fred, welcome to the show. How you doing? Thank you calling things around me. Super excited. I'm doing fantastic. How are you? Yeah, I'm doing good, man. We've been meaning to make this happen for, for a while. [00:00:59] Um, so I'm glad that we were able to, to do that now. And I'm really excited to learn a little bit about the work that you guys are doing over at blinks and just learn a little more about you and your experience as well.

[00:01:09] So to kick it off, just kinda tell us a little bit where, where it all started for you. Yeah. Um, and I, it all started in, in college actually. Um, I. I figured that I wanted to start a business when I graduated from Miguel and I found a way to kind of growth hack my relationships. Um, if I may say like I wasn't the guy that would actually go to classes on.

[00:01:30] I worked purposely in a high end restaurant in downtown Montreal, Canada, where, where I'm from. Um, because that was the fastest way for me to meet CEOs, VPs, execs, really people that could have helped me build the business. So for me, it was not go to your finance classes, but build those relationships on the, on the sidelines.

[00:01:51] So that's really how I got into sales in general relationship building and really. [00:01:58] Like learning the profession of relationship building and then falling in love with, with the sales aspects of things. And that's how also the spark for blinks started. Um, I was talking to people asking questions, being curious, trying to understand how do people manage your relationships or sales.

[00:02:17] And the same frustration pain-point came, uh, came, came back and that's. That's how we started blink. So right off of college, just instead of getting a job started working on it with the relationships that I've built through the restaurant experience was able to raise an angel round quickly. And here we are two years later.

[00:02:38] Wow. Okay. Interesting. You know, you didn't have to go to college to work at a record. No. I know, but I figured out, I figured, I figured I won't get the degree. I dunno, for some reason. Cause now in the startup it doesn't mean anything, but I think it was just, yeah, my, my girlfriend still doesn't believe me.

[00:02:55] She asked for my transcripts. She's like [00:02:57] you, you, you didn't graduate. Like yeah, I did, but no. No, we're going to need to see the proof on that, Fred. Yeah, I can send it, send it over just because it's on your LinkedIn profile doesn't mean anything. Absolutely. I'm just giving you a hard time now. Uh, I think it's interesting that you say you didn't go to class a lot in like the most.

[00:03:17] Stuff that you got was like in rebuilding relationships with these successful people, which is, which is awesome. I love that. Uh, I personally didn't go to college. I barely made it through high school, uh, by the skin of my teeth. So people may not believe that I even graduated high school, but I swear I have the credits, uh, and, uh, you know, I just, wasn't a great student and, and sales definitely.

[00:03:41] You know, provided me an opportunity that I never would've been able to have otherwise. Um, so I'm really curious, um, of what you mentioned, something, you said that the, you know, through like having these conversations and talking to people, uh, [00:03:56] it sort of sparked the light for blinks of like these challenges that people have with managing relationships.

[00:04:02] What were those types of challenges? Yeah. And I mean, looking back, thinking back to it, I think it was discovery, but not knowing that it was discovery. Like I was, I was a really curious people and I would ask people about their problems and, and what changed, what kept coming back and blinks has pivoted once or twice since the, since that, but the overarching theme that kept that kept coming back is.

[00:04:26] It's really hard to manage a lot of relationships at scale and data, data siloed. And with the rise of automation, a lot of the generic stuff and tools bots, it was, it seemed to be really painful for people to manage that human to human relationship at scale, and really be efficient and contextual. So that's, that's really the overall.

[00:04:49] Pain point that I felt really strongly and everyone I was talking to. And that's, that's what [00:04:55] blinks was started on. And obviously we made a lot of junior mistakes. We first-time founders, uh, hitting the wall a few times, but we've, we've pivoted and iterated towards what we do now with. Helping sales teams at product led and marketing led companies know in all of the signups and all of the leads that they have, which are the hottest accounts to focus on when should they engage and with what information to really be contextual and to drive expansion, drive up sales and drive retention.

[00:05:25] So, uh, so yeah, that's how it started. So what would you tell, like somebody who. It is a little bit on the fence about product led growth. Like what is the reasons for it? What are the benefits? What are the things that people are like against it for? Yeah. And I mean, I think it has a lot of repercussions on, on sales and I think it's a really interesting shift product led growth.

[00:05:49] The term is being thrown out. Uh, to be honest, like it sounds [00:05:54] similar, right? Yeah. It's a sexy term. It's a buzz word right now, but I don't think it's a buzzword in the sense that AI was a buzz word five years ago. Uh, AI was a buzzword five years ago, but people realized, ah, there's not really like practical business applications that much.

[00:06:10] I think product led growth is happening and is inevitable in a sense. People want to try before they buy people want to experience some kind of value before they make a commitment. And I think that's the whole basis of product like growth and it changes how sales approach. The funnel approach to strategy.

[00:06:32] And I think that's super interesting and we're, we're trying to build obviously a solution that empowers that shift. Um, but I don't think it's, I think it's a buzzword, but it's justified that it's a buzzword because a lot more, a lot more companies are shifting to product like growth, the biggest SAS or product led.

[00:06:49] Yep. Yeah. And I think that the people that [00:06:53] are, let's say anti product led growth, they don't really know. Um, enough about it to make a determination if like it's for the company or not because product led growth doesn't mean like doing away with sales or like, we don't need salespeople, right? Like, I mean, for complex deals for, you know, high value sale.

[00:07:17] I mean, for one, if one person logs into your software and tries it out and then sign up. Okay. You know, uh, maybe there's not a sales person involved in that, but there still might be, you know, customer success or whatever. Um, but that's going to be only make up a small percentage of your revenue. You know, there's still a need for people for more complex deals for larger deals that have more seats, things like that, where you got to get more creative, um, instilled sales still needed to be involved, but I think with a proper.

[00:07:50] And I don't know enough about [00:07:52] this, but with a prop, you know, from people I've talked to talk to with a proper strategy around product led growth, it actually give salespeople more data, more insights of like, Hey, these are the best prospects to engage. Like let's not engage with everybody that signed up for a free trial because.

[00:08:12] A lot of them probably aren't even your ideal customer, but Hey, here's the ones that are actually in there using it, doing things that are more likely to buy. Yeah. I think that's a super strong point. And there's a lot of, there's a few things that you said in there that I want to unpack that are really interesting.

[00:08:30] The first one. Product led growth. Doesn't equal no sales. I think that's really important. If you look at slack, they hire 50% more sales reps over year zoom hires, 40% more sales reps every year. Uh, 45% of Slack's revenue comes from sales rep. Expanding accounts, closing high valued accounts. So the, the [00:08:51] leading product led companies are really showing us that sales are necessary.

[00:08:55] Um, so I think that's one interesting thing to, to mention. The other thing that you said is about how sales changes into that funnel. And I think it really switches from, and I mean, product like can mean a lot of things. You can be product led, but still. Have a lot of marketing to bring people through your side.

[00:09:13] Like it doesn't, it product led doesn't necessarily mean that everyone comes through your product converts by themselves. And that's it. Um, I think that, that that's the case. If your average revenue per user is super low, like if you're charging five bucks per month, obviously you want to automate as much as possible, but if you're charging anywhere over 20.

[00:09:34] Dollars per user in that range where if you're charging per usage, it does make sense to have sales reps involved, whether they're sales reps, sales reps, like AEs, whether they're their customer success managers that try to do sales role. But I [00:09:50] think it's, it's really shifting towards, well, instead of the sales.

[00:09:54] Paying someone to buy something or trying it's like, well, get them through our product. And then the, the rep engages at some point with the most qualified leads or the most qualified accounts and gets them to value, make sure they get two steps, make sure that they get through sales and engineering procurement that fits a bigger account.

[00:10:15] So there's a lot of stuff that you can't really replace a rep for that. Alright, interesting to embed into the product led motion. And one thing, one last thing that I want to add there is automating the whole funnel versus involving sales. I think would we see the best PLG SAS do is there's a percentage of my users that come into my product that I do want to automate that I don't want to talk to them because they probably don't fit my ICP perfectly, or they're not doing enough product action.

[00:10:47] So you want to audit. [00:10:49] The funnel with them, but there's still a percentage that you want your teams to embark on a more high touch strategy. Yeah. Yeah. Um, awesome. So. I, I think that there, that can maybe help settle the debate there right. Of people that are like, you know, on the fence about adopting a strategy or thinking, you know, this is going to put sales jobs at risk.

[00:11:14] Right. Um, and so, so what I want to know is where does blinks come into play? Like, what are you guys doing? You know, what's unique about it? How is it helping. Product led, you know, SAS, um, you know, do a better job with those, with those strategies. Yeah. Before I, before I explain how, how we solve the problem, let's start with the problem.

[00:11:36] Um, and what we see. For companies that are bottom up. So in bottom up, I include marketing led and product lab because there's a lot of similarities, but for people who have a lot of [00:11:48] sign-ups coming in to their, to their product, or a lot of leads coming in, it's really hard for sales reps to know who to focus on.

[00:11:56] Um, and you don't want to focus on everyone. You want to focus on the accounts that will have the most impact on. Your revenue. Um, so what, what we do at blinks is we plug into product data, marketing, engagement, data, and sales touch points. And we notify reps when accounts reach key milestone that, and they correlate to revenue so they can engage and we provide information.

[00:12:22] What have they been doing in the product? How have they been engaging with marketing? So you really switch from a like, Hey, first name, comma saw that you were doing this at company name to like, Hey, you like my LinkedIn posts, how I want to pick your brain? Or I see that you've created three presentations in my product.

[00:12:41] How about, I show you how another client of ours is, is doing, [00:12:47] uh, is really winning. So it's really helping reps focus on the right accounts, but then be contextual to really drive those exp that expansion revenue or convert accounts faster. So that's a, that's what we do. So give me, give me, give me like more examples.

[00:13:04] Like, what is it, uh, What is it enabling them to do that they couldn't do otherwise? Or could they do it, but it's much more of a manual process. Tell them, dig into that a little bit more. Yeah. Without, I mean, what we've saw with SASA we're working with is before blinks, the reps had to dig into dashboards and data, and the data was there in terms of product actions.

[00:13:27] But I, they had to go in dashboards like Datadog or Mixpanel or amplitude and try to figure out who to focus on. They would have a bit of information in their CRM, but it was really a pain in the ass to try to figure out, okay, who do I focus on? Like, I have 50 accounts that I'm targeting. [00:13:46] Yeah, I want to, I want to focus on the ones that have the most chances of converting to revenue and expanding and staying and spending the most time in the product or doing very specific actions in the product could be, could be different things could be reaching key milestones in the product.

[00:14:01] So if you know that an account has reached a product qualified state, so they. They took all of the actions to really understand the value of your product, but they still haven't converted. That's a really strong signal. If an account is increasing the amount of users or playing around with premium features, but there, there aren't really converting.

[00:14:23] If you have a free sign up in your product that just went on your pricing page, that's a really strong buying signal for a need to reach out. So those are all the things. We're stuck in data silos before, or that reps had to chase in dashboards that we're bringing, we're connecting the dots and sending actionable slack messages like, Hey, Luna [00:14:45] just reached PQA and your product.

[00:14:46] You're a, an eight, you should reach out. And, and that makes the revenue engine go way faster. Um, I mean, I think in a lot of cases, most reps don't even have those signals or data at all. Like those, that data is probably managed more by like the executive team in a lot of cases. And isn't even openly being shared with the sales team.

[00:15:10] Yeah. I mean, is that what you see in a lot of cases? It's, it's either the data is there, like in segment or it's in the background, it's in the data warehouse, but cells don't get access to it or it's dashboards that cells don't want to use. And it's not super actionable. And sales reps are not going to dig into a dashboard.

[00:15:30] Like, you know, you know it better than I do. Like you want to take actions, you want to know what to do. You want to. Chase people. Um, and I'm not going to spend 30 minutes trying to look at a, an amplitude dashboard [00:15:44] to figure out which account. Yeah. I mean, in most cases, a reps barely going to spend time reading the notes in the CRM, like ask them to even more taking a dashboard and try to figure out who and how is the best prospect to reach out, to forget it.

[00:16:01] Yeah, forget it. Forget it. So the way we do it, it's like, Hey, we're going to do the heavy lifting. And we're just going to ping you in stock with a message saying, Hey, focus on this account right now. Here's why, and here's a few talking points that you can use to be more contextual. And I think. Um, I listened to your, the last podcast that you put out on the show, and it's all about being contextual to drive those high valued accounts.

[00:16:23] And I think. There's a shift from generic automation from generic personalization to, to be contextual. And that's the role of sales and a product. Then motion two is to understand the user, understand the user's intent, what they're trying to do and to work alongside them. So I think [00:16:43] we, sales rep need to use more of that.

[00:16:46] Like, Hey, based on what you did, here's a resource or here's a case study or. Like I saw that you just liked this post. Like how about we have a chat about it? That's really, I think where, where smart touchpoints is going less, less about like, I'm going to send a thousand messages with company name and first name in it.

[00:17:06] Would you agree? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that, um, there is, I mean, I, I don't like to, you know, I'm typically not somebody that's like, Hey, Yeah, it's this way or that way. And if it's this way, then that way is wrong. Right. Because I think too many people take. Now there's some things you got to take a hard stance on, obviously.

[00:17:31] Um, but I think there's just so many variables to be like fully committed to like doing something one way. Um, and I think there is space and for, you know, your high [00:17:42] velocity activities that are less contextual, right? Like there is space for that. And this highly depends on what you do. Right. But I think in most cases, um, if you want to win bigger deals, right?

[00:17:56] If you want to build relationships with higher value targets, yes. You've got to go deep. You've got to get more personalized. You've got to get more relevant. You got to spend more time crafting your message. You got to have, you know, good pieces of information to catch their attention and reach out in a meaningful way.

[00:18:15] Um, leading with value. Right? So, um, and I like podcasts are one of my favorite ways that I think are totally under utilized. Right. So great. If you can say something insightful about like what they've, what they've done in the product, you know, to kind of get the conversation moving forward. That's I think a great, uh, thing that most people don't have.

[00:18:37] Right. Um, and then your typical research is [00:18:41] people go on social. They maybe go to YouTube, you know, if it's a high, you know, fortune 500, maybe they find some, some news appearances or something like that. And then they use that to be personalized. Right. Um, but podcasts are way under utilized. There's, there's not very many people seeking out their targets, uh, or executives and looking for podcasts that they've been on and taking that information to reach out to them.

[00:19:06] Because the interesting thing about a podcast interview versus like a news interview or a CNBC or whatever about your last raise or whatever the case is, it's a very different conversation. Um, you're going to find some very surface level stuff in those interviews versus an a podcast. People are a little bit more relaxed.

[00:19:25] They get a little bit more personal slash professional. Um, you're going to uncover things that you're not going to find anywhere else in your research. Yeah, no, absolutely. And if you think about the basis of a podcast for sales is you want to be able [00:19:40] to provide value to the other side before you get into a self conversation.

[00:19:44] So I think it ties back to a lot of the strategies for product led growth and bottom up growth in general is like, Let, let me have you on the podcast. I'll share my reach with you. I'll share the exposure with you, and I'll, we'll talk about how your companies is great. And then in return, if we build that report, we build that relationship.

[00:20:05] We may and engage in a sales conversation at some point. So I think, uh, that's, that's super smart and it's really the base of, of product led sales, right? Is you deliver some kind of value. Whether it's through your product, through marketing content, through a podcast or whatever. And then the sales rep engages at some point in the funnel when, when there's enough signals that indicate to a potential to close or to expend.

[00:20:30] Another thing that we see, uh, when we talk to SAS, businesses is usually the number one concern is net dollar return. [00:20:39] And the same kind of signals that they, same kind of processes can be implied to customers that are already converted and making sure that they retain so the contextual aspect for like, Hey, I'm I'm X company.

[00:20:53] I have 5,000 clients. Well, The ability for my CS team to engage in a contextual manner, whether with product data, marketing data or whatever it is can really have a big impact on retention. And obviously working on churn is like the new, the new acquisition. It's like the it's it's it makes a huge impact on long-term.

[00:21:18] Right. So if you know, the, you, the, the, uh, the usage of the product drops significantly, that's a great signal that like, maybe they're not fully educated on how to use the product, or, um, they're not aware of some features, or they're not fully benefiting from the product, or they're out shopping [00:21:38] for a product to replace your product.

[00:21:40] Right? Like, those would be huge indicators that like, you need to engage in a meaningful way. To try to, you know, it's way easier to, uh, you know, people don't want to change, right. But if you're not paying attention to the fact that they're not using your product, then it's going to be easier for them to just make a change rather than if you're not, if they're not being engaged in a meaningful way.

[00:22:03] So, uh, w w w what type, what would that signal look like? And then what would that outreach look like to like, get them engaged, to help prevent. Yeah. And I mean, before I get into that, there's a, there's an interesting study that was done by a SAS company. Recently they removed our onboarding sequence. They removed all of their automatic emails from their onboarding sequence and it made no.

[00:22:25] It had no correlation correlation to retention at all. So I think it's all about being contextual and those, those signals can be like, Hey, a decision-maker in your [00:22:37] users has become an active or, um, that account has stopped. Using your premium features or they're going to certain pages of your website that can indicate that they're trying to figure it out.

[00:22:50] Um, could be a lot of, could be a lot of signals. They're not opening your emails anymore. Um, they're not engaging with your social anymore. Those are all things. Um, a customer success person once, once engage on and then use that to say, Hey, I've, I've seen that you've stopped using the app for, for a while.

[00:23:11] I made a quick loom video to show you like how you can, how you can leverage this feature, or, um, let me show you a case study about a company that's similar to yours. That's doing something great. So I think those are all. How CS can use, can use a product signals to be connected.

[00:23:32] Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, that's one I hadn't even considered, but [00:23:36] I think is extremely valuable. Um, Fred, any final thoughts? Where can people find out more about you blinks or anything else that you have for them? Yeah. I mean, uh, I'm really active on LinkedIn so they can reach out. I answered to every, almost every DM aside from if it's spam.

[00:23:52] Um, so on LinkedIn friend Melanson, uh, if they want to check out blinks it's blinks.com B L I S. And X and for my podcast where we talk about a product I'd sales and, uh, I interview sales and growth leaders in the SAS space. It's called value. First, the product by itself podcast, Spotify, apple. Just, just search it and you'll find it awesome.

[00:24:19] And we'll drop the links for everybody in the show notes so you can check it out. And if you enjoy today's episode, please write us a review, share the show with your friends that really does help us out. And as always, we're listening for your feedback. Hey, you stuck around that tells me you're serious about your [00:24:35] own sales transformation.

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