Key topics in today’s conversation include:
The SaaS(ramp) Podcast explores how tech leaders scale from product adoption to enterprise success. Learn more at www.saasrampmedia.com.
Pete Thornton 00:06
Welcome back rampant to The SaaS Ramp Podcast. I’m your host podcast Pete welcoming Melissa Strauss to the show today. Melissa is RVP of sales at FireHydrant. Welcome to the show, Melissa.
Melissa Strauss 00:19
Happy to be here, Pete.
Pete Thornton 00:21
Great to be with you. We did like to let anybody know like these things, these podcasts don’t come off without a hitch. We just went through so many different technology mediums just to make sure that we could actually have our discussion today. So let me start with a thank you for the patients on that side, Melissa?
Melissa Strauss 00:39
Of course, yeah, like I said, technology breaks. And that’s part of what FireHydrant does. So that’s my world.
Pete Thornton 00:44
Yeah, you said that, right. And like in the last piece of it, and you were so patient throughout, which was either like, Hey, this is my personality, or this is my like day to day. So I do know, FireHydrant does like Incident Management. That’s like, my only understanding of it. But there’s a very coachable moment for me. So like, would you just open up by letting me know what FireHydrant does?
Melissa Strauss 01:05
Yeah. So you’re right, we do full cycle incident response. So like I said, technology breaks. And on the back end, there’s some engineer that’s trying to fix that most likely. So we help automate that process for them. That’s a really frustrating time for people, especially if it’s three in the morning and your site is down or your users can’t log in, somebody has to be woken up to fix that. And a lot of that is manual process. So we automate a lot of that process, standardize that across teams really make that experience a lot easier for folks so that they can actually solve the problem faster, rather than spend all the time figuring out the right process to use, and then their users can get back up and running faster.
Pete Thornton 01:43
Okay, totally understand that challenge. I mean, legitimately, we were awake, it was not 3am. But yeah, like, like, you have to troubleshoot and move and shake very quickly. What’s an example? What is kind of like some of the use cases that you deal with?
Melissa Strauss 01:57
Yeah, I think a good one, one of our customers is SeatGeek. So let’s say you’re trying to buy a concert ticket, they’re selling out, all of a sudden, their platform goes down, and you can’t actually complete the transaction, that’s a pretty big problem, that person might go over to Ticketmaster or some other competitor. And they use FireHydrant to help them with the incident response process. So pulling everybody into a Slack room, getting a zoom bridge spun up, getting a JIRA ticket created, really helping them to automate a lot of that process. And then they go through a runbook. So that says, you know, these are the steps that need to be taken, these are the tasks that you have in this role. They solve the incident together, all of that gets recorded. And all of the documentation gets put over into an incident timeline automatically, so they don’t have to then go back later and manually copy and paste. And then after the fact, they can go through your retrospective and figure out what happened. Why weren’t people able to transact? What were some potential causes or catalysts for that event? Why can we do better next time? And then aggregate all of that data for their incidents in the backend? So they can find out what services go down more frequently? Where do we need to invest more resources, what team members are solving the most incidents so that we can maybe move them off of the rotation so they’re not getting burnt out? So full cycle from incident declaration, through all the way up to the learning process is really what we’re handling?
Pete Thornton 03:20
Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. And now that they make sense because you’re right, but not fire drill. Yeah. And, everybody’s getting pulled in and kind of getting it handled right away. All right. That’s a good you know, you talked about coachable moments, like you’re RvB. So you’re in leadership. So it’s just like, Yeah, this just happened. You’re like, oh, yeah, we do that. I’m like you do that, don’t you? Yeah, that’s right.
Melissa Strauss 03:41
That was a good roll with the punches sometimes.
Pete Thornton 03:43
gotta roll the punches. Yeah. And here we are recording. Yeah. Not laugh, but good enough. Okay, so I mean, speaking of like, things just kind of happening unexpectedly. I don’t want to preface it in any sort of way, overly much. But this is if you’re listening later, this is February 2023. So you know, like, if you were having this conversation last summer, or maybe you know, this coming summer, it might be a different discussion. But there’s been a lot of economic disruption, especially in the technology sector, and things like that. So being our VP of sales, what’s kind of like the biggest challenge you’ve seen over the last six months or so?
Melissa Strauss 04:23
Yeah, I think it’s easy to get bogged down in some of the market conditions that we’re seeing. But if we just take it up to a level like working at a startup, the pace and frequency with which things change in this environment is more so than anywhere else, six months, and startup life is like six years at a well established company. So what we look like six months ago is totally different from what we look like today. We look like a year ago, it’s completely different. So I think one of the biggest challenges is just navigating through all of that change, whether that be in the market, internally happy with your product, and really being resilient and coming up with ways to adapt So that change, I think people are affected by frequent change their productivity, especially if it’s a big change might go down, you have to figure out ways to motivate people. I think even you know, if your product is totally different, you have to think of new messaging. In this current climate, we have to shift more towards value selling rather than feature selling, which, you know, is sometimes a difficult shift. If you’ve been doing things one way for the entire time that you’ve been operating. So I think, you know, making sure that you understand in a startup environment that change is inevitable. But learning from change, growing from change, really being adaptable, and making that change into something is a challenge as a leader, but also a really big opportunity, I think,
Pete Thornton 05:45
yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great like, point out pace and frequency of change. Mostly software leadership, NICs, some kind of like elite performing ICs, who really want to move ahead, like as part of our more vocal audience anyway, the ones who I’m more aware of when you mentioned, one of the shifts and pivots would be messaging, like, I’ve heard that over and over lot of like, revenue, kickoffs happening right now. And one of the big pieces is messaging. The question is a little like a kind of kind of specific, how do you know, when you need to change messaging? And what that messaging should look like? Is that like a guy from years of like, doing, you know, the role? Is it based on specific data sets, like, where’s that come from?
Melissa Strauss 06:30
I think it’s a little bit of both kinds of like sales is part art part science, some of it is just your instinct. And then there’s data to back up some of those instincts. So if I’m looking at conversion rates, and over the last couple of months, if my conversion rates are decreasing in the early stages of a deal cycle, maybe that means my messaging isn’t resonating. Or if I’m looking at outbound messaging from our BDR team, if the reply rate is decreasing, because we haven’t switched up our messaging, maybe that’s something that we tweak. So I think that’s rooted in data. And then I also think just being in some of these conversations with customers, you can tell what resonates with someone, you can read body language, you get more questions from someone when you guys are riffing and something’s really resonating. So I think I had an advisor say, it’s no longer in this market enough to be on someone’s priority list, you have to be at the top third of the priority list in order to make a sale these days. So how do you get right to the value right to the pain that that person is feeling? And that pain is different today than it was six months ago? For a lot of folks?
Pete Thornton 07:31
Yeah, yeah, that’s really great. You brought out some really good nuggets there. So we’ll repeat them, they’re worth repeating, mentioning part art part science, like just, you know, understanding and reading somebody may be on a call, and understanding what is resonating, but then conversion rates, reply rates, like early stage conversion rate shoots particularly mentioned, and then maybe the number of questions then the amount of engagement you might get with a prospect or early stage customer. And like, maybe how long they’re speaking afterwards, or like, whatever it happens to be some of these things that are actually measurable. That’s an interesting piece. So yeah, I love that. That’s just a little commentary from what I was hearing you say, then if you because there’s a lot going on, like as an RVP, I know you’re looking at so many different, competing priorities. You mentioned it from the customer side, do you mean the top third? So as far as your own internal priorities? Is there, if you had to, could you narrow it down to one thing that you would have to get right for your org to continue to grow over the next, maybe just h1 this year?
Melissa Strauss 08:35
Yeah, I’ve heard a few people on your podcast recently, say people, and I think that’s totally true. I think just to take that a step further, it’s building the right infrastructure for those people to grow and to also scale your organization. So, you know, for sales that might be building an enablement program, even on a small scale, or hiring a sales ops person to make sure that you’re looking at the right data, like we’ve talked about. For us, it’s just building that infrastructure and making sure that as we hire as we continue with people’s careers, we’re building the infrastructure around them for them to be successful. And for us to scale long term, because we do have, you know, obviously, growth goals that we want to be hitting, while also making sure that we’re efficient. So without taking a step back and making sure that the right tools are there, the right, you know, pieces of infrastructure, the right processes are in place. You can’t really do that at scale, especially as you have more people and see.
Pete Thornton 09:30
Yeah, that’s a great point. Yeah, cool tools, processes, things that have come into that operational realm. So you actually have something like to call it like scaffolding, like it’s because it’s like a picture of like, you’re putting something together and building it. So you almost have to, like create a structure beside the thing you’re hoping to build and stay one leg ahead of it. So you can, you know, it’s I guess it’s more of a concrete way of looking at things like the, you know, building the airplane as you’re flying it kind of thing. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s a really good point. You’re very operationally driven like this is something that comes up repeatedly is very helpful because I’m not sure if people outside of SAS understand how quickly these things come together. And that rapid pace of growth and change what you mentioned early on about pace and frequency is something that has to be taken into account. And it’s really easy to get ahead of your skis on pretty much everything. So like, prepare, like, prepare you for this, then, you know, this is something you can stumble into things you can actively seek out things, what were your, you know, personal and professional experiences that kind of brought you into the current role?
Melissa Strauss 10:35
Yeah, I’m definitely a stumbler. I had no intention growing up of going into sales or even working in the corporate world. With my degrees in political science and Middle Eastern North African Studies, I thought I was going into government. Of course, that changed very quickly. When I graduated, there was a higher increase in the federal government, it would have taken me a year to get a security clearance. So I had to pivot. And a recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn with a cybersecurity account executive role, and I was like cybersecurity, national security, those things sound related. I’ll take it, I’ll see what that’s all about. I really thought I would do it for a year and then go back to my original plan. But obviously, here I am, however, many years later. But I started at Darktrace as an account executive, which was a pretty unique experience, because they hired AES right out of college, I didn’t start as a BDR, actually, which was pretty untraditional, that is totally in sales. And I really liked it, I was good at it. I am not the most outgoing person in the world. So I thought, you know, sales, that’s usually a lot of extroverted people. But I found that I was pretty successful, just listening and really understanding people’s pain and, you know, tying it back to my product. And then about a year later they asked me to move to Austin. I was originally in the DC office and asked me to move to Austin to build out their South Central territory. So I became a sales director, about a year and a half, two years after starting as an AE, and built out a team of about 25 people. I was there for about four years, and just didn’t feel challenged enough anymore. I felt like I’d mastered what I was doing, I’d mastered the product, I wanted to do something a little bit more dynamic. And that’s how I ended up here at FireHydrant, just a little earlier stage with that kind of builder growth mindset that I have. I wanted to start from the ground up again, basically.
Pete Thornton 12:29
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. Oh, my gosh, cybersecurity, national security. Yeah, let’s roll. Well, yeah. That’s so funny. That’s amazing. So like coming straight out of because cybersecurity is a great, you know, sub market to be in and then go straight into an AE role. I mean, that could, you could go one or two ways on that, that could kill you for sales forever, right? By putting you right to the right to the sort of a quota, or just let you have like a lot of future growth potential instead of sitting there as a BDR for your, you know, your obligatory time period, and just being like, oh, when can I get there? You know, and like, you know, suffer until you can move into the eight year old. If it’s not, you know, if you don’t want to outbound all day. So that’s a cool one. And you ended up in this space, and then obviously took, like, took to it. You mentioned another piece. The introvert? I’ve got to say, that introvert I think it’s a superpower. I know, they wrote a book on this. I never read X, I don’t even want to know, I’m a little less of an introvert, more of an introvert. I know some of the best sellers I’ve ever met, especially in more technical software sales, full of introverts. And like, you don’t ever you never see a comment that like, oh, yeah, I closed the $1.3 million deal last week, it felt really great. I’m like, Yeah, gosh, and they’ll just blow you away with what just happened? Because they’re such good listeners.
Melissa Strauss 13:50
Right? Yeah, I mean, we talk all the time about active listening and sales. And I think, you know, obviously, people who are introverted have a little bit more of a natural pension towards that. But I also think in leadership, it lends itself nicely because listening to your reps is really important as well. A great coach is someone that listens before they tell, or they ask just good questions. If someone comes to me and says, I have a XYZ problem, usually my first question is, how are you thinking of solving it? What have you tried? What are some of your ideas? And then we’ll riff on it, maybe I do have my own opinion. But I don’t always give that right away, because I want them to come to the conclusion themselves. And if they don’t, that’s a coachable moment.
Pete Thornton 14:29
That’s awesome. That is a best practice to go through any of these poaching pieces, like when you’re trying to develop or design a program like that’s the first one because it sticks so much better. Educationally speaking, it sticks, right? It’s probably, I don’t know, you tell me, is that natural for you? Or did you learn that somewhere along the way?
Melissa Strauss 14:48
I definitely had to learn that. I think especially when you’re new in management, it’s easy to just say, Hey, I was an expert in this thing before. Let me just tell you how to do it. And I had some great mentors and leaders myself that pulled me away from that. And now it’s something that I had to really learn and incorporate over time. It definitely was not a natural thing. But I think once I started doing it, I was seeing the benefits of it so much that it became so much easier to continue to do that.
Pete Thornton 15:13
Okay, okay. Yeah, good point. So that’s more common for like most people, I think, wouldn’t be learning now along the way. Okay, anything, anything just besides natural, like, proclivity more introverted and things like that? Anything on the personal side that kind of led into this? Did you have any hobbies, activities, passions growing up, you’re like, oh, yeah, that might lend towards this kind of software sales leadership.
Melissa Strauss 15:37
I’m the oldest child. So I think that in and of itself lends a little bit towards leadership, I was a little bit of a bossy older sister. So for me, you know, being a manager, being a leader, I think came a little bit more naturally than maybe it would for other folks. I think there’s also a misconception that just because you’re a great IC means you’re going to also be a great manager. And a lot of people think they want to go into management just because that might be a natural next step. But I think being an enterprise in your majors or something like that is also a perfectly reasonable path. Not everybody’s personalities lend themselves towards being an IC or being a manager, you have to be really introspective about what your personality lends itself to. And for me, I’ve always known I was kind of a natural leader, I liked to coach and I liked to lead people. So I think moving into leadership, for me, was a natural progression, just based on how I grew up. Yeah,
Pete Thornton 16:35
That’s a good point. I’m the oldest of three. So consider it like that. That’s probably a pretty good point. And also like what you’re saying about ice versus management, I had a conversation just a couple days ago, with somebody in cybersecurity, we’re getting this opportunity. They’re given that like they’ve done so well, that they’re given the opportunity to go one direction and choose their own adventure. And like, we’re open to either of it, we just want to make sure to stick around. And like, I will never go into management ever, ever I’m like and for him like I know him is the best idea. He’s I didn’t want to tell him that. But I’d love to hear it from you. What do you think you should do? And then he said, I was like, I think that’s a good idea. Because yeah, but he’s going to be super icy and like, he’s going to have all this freedom. And all this potential moving forward. And like kind of the Know thyself. mentality is really helpful. In that regard. I see a lot of managers that maybe shouldn’t be managers, should have stayed at super ICs, or just grabbed a different challenge instead, different organization maybe or something. Right?
Melissa Strauss 17:30
Yeah. And I think that, especially if someone chooses that icy path, there are ways that we can activate them outside of just being an IC, if that’s getting them involved in a project with a product or working with our CSM more closely on the customer journey. I don’t know exactly. But I think there are ways you can activate those people. So they’re still intellectually stimulated, I guess, outside of just working on the deals that they’re working on. A lot of people crave some of that. So finding out ways to empower and activate your ICS, I think is really important to
Pete Thornton 18:01
Yeah, that’s a great point. So you can have these, like, superheroes around who can really do this stuff, and not just kind of like get them into management roles where they want to be like the super IC, but Right, sometimes it doesn’t trickle down. Super effectively. Exactly. Okay, so tell us about FireHydrant, because it was just timely. What about the context for hypergrowth? So why is FireHydrant like absolutely taking off? Why? Why did venture capital come and look and seek to, you know, add funding and things like that fairly recently? Like, what’s the context
Melissa Strauss 18:32
there? Yeah, it’s interesting. So our founder CEO, he actually was a site reliability engineer in his career, and he had a problem that he could not find a tool in the market to solve for. And he just built it in his free time, because he needed it in his day job. And he took that and one of his friends was like, You should go talk to some VCs, I think you have something here, I think you have a company you could build off of. And that’s kind of exactly what happened. So we’re very fortunate in the fact that really, nobody else was in this market yet. And people needed it. So the product market fit has been really exciting, the quality of logos that we’ve been able to sell I’ve never experienced in my career before, especially for such a small organization. And it’s just because people are looking for something that doesn’t really exist. And now, you know, the market is emerging, and we have some competition that’s coming into play. But I think that’s just validation that we’re in the right space. Yeah. And there’s a lot of you know, incumbents that are on the margins of what we do. So if we think of, you know, your data dogs in New Relic, those are in the observability space, your pager duty ops Genie, those are in the alerting space, that we take it from the handoff from alerting through the rest of the incident management cycle, which nobody was doing well, yeah, that was a big gap in the market. So they had all these smoke signals from these other you know, earlier stage companies or earlier in the incident cycle, and then post alerts. It was, what did we do? And that’s really where we came into play. So a lot of companies, what’s interesting about FireHydrant is that we can work with companies of varying maturities. So if you have no process today, we can take you from zero to one, all the way to companies who have built their own internal tools, because there was nothing else to solve this problem. And we could take that offload it from their internal engineer, so they can focus on revenue producing activities, and we can take the actual solution engineering for Incident Management from them.
Pete Thornton 20:30
Okay. Okay. So it’s kind of like a wide swath of like, what you can do kind of meet customers where they are, right matter, like, what size? What about the vertical? Like, is it because I can totally picture this for software all day, every day? You know, an example you gave earlier was software, but then I know it actually spreads farther than that. What about other industries? And how’s that? Look?
Melissa Strauss 20:50
Yeah, software is definitely our main focus. I think software is, you know, what we’re, what our engineers, on the other side, are, are working on fixing when it breaks. But I do think that there are software applications and other industries that are maybe less obvious. So if you think of, maybe a higher tech manufacturing company, all their machinery is built off of software. So if their software breaks, their machine breaks down, and then someone has to fix the software in order for the machine to get working again. So there are other kinds of margins along those sides. You’re gonna retail companies, a lot of retail companies or tech companies these days, maybe not traditional SaaS, but look at a Walmart or Target or Starbucks, even like, those are tech companies that you wouldn’t traditionally necessarily think of as SaaS companies.
Pete Thornton 21:36
Yeah, it’s so interesting. It’s a great point, I have a former student I’m super proud of they’re all getting so like, I don’t give them away my age, because they’re getting so grown up and doing so well. But works for a mohawk fortune 100 foreign company, the flooring, and many things, robotics process automation, he’s working in like BI tools all day, every day doing automation. And if these bots go down, their whole chain goes down. And so I was like, oh, yeah, of course that happens. And then all these other companies that like Walmart, acquiring, like, JetBlue way back and some of these other companies just to be able to, like, enter that world if they couldn’t build it themselves. Right. That makes it Yeah, understand. And like the again, the challenge is, is it kind of crystal clear, like you understand when something goes down like that, how is it going to be handled? Right? Awesome. Okay, so the fast growth piece is moving back into that, from a bit of a tactical standpoint, there’s a series of like operational steps that basically have to take place whenever you’re moving that quickly. And a lot of times when you’re sitting in a room together as used to happen, or you can even fit the entire leadership team on a quick little zoom chat or like a Slack huddle or something like that, like you get away with it. But over the course of time, like without the infrastructure being built, it is a little more difficult. Would you tell us a little bit about some of the operational cadence that you put in play at FireHydrant?
Melissa Strauss 23:02
Yeah, definitely. I think operational cadence is one of those things that sometimes gets put on the back burner early in a company because everyone’s moving so quickly, you hire these great people who are really good at their jobs. And then it’s sometimes it’s a little bit more difficult to layer the operational piece back into that because everyone’s doing their own thing. So I think it is actually really important to think about it early, especially as you’re hiring and growing your teams to put the pieces in place to be able to scale appropriately. So for us, you know, there’s things we do on a quarterly basis, a monthly basis, a weekly basis, we’re doing quarterly business reviews as a sales team this week, that’s something we do every quarter, it’s very easy in sales to move on from a quarter and never think about it again, if you’re not kind of forced to sit down and reflect and also plan. So we do that. I think the other thing is that we layer in there, obviously regular forecasts meetings, we do deal reviews, we have a weekly sales enablement cadence. So making sure that stays on track, because we’re here to develop our reps, as well as obviously, close deals. And even on, you know, the executive side of things, having a regular cadence with my sales leadership team so that we can talk through strategy. We have two meetings a week. One is just kind of kicking off the week. The other is probably my favorite meeting of the week, which is strategizing together, talking about just checking in with everybody, what are your biggest fires and strongest opportunities of the week, and then we have a parking lot, we call it of different things that have come up over the week that we need to sit in a room and just talk about and really hash out. And then there’s, you know, action items that come out of that. That’s one of those sorts of open forum meetings that I think is so important because you get to understand parts of the business or parts of even your team that maybe you don’t have insight into on a regular basis and collaborate together. I think, you know, some of the other things are just regular one on ones or skip levels or opportunities, just meet people on a personal level, that maybe sometimes fall by the wayside, to be our Every once in a while making sure that you are sprinkling some fun into people’s weeks because we’re a remote first company and don’t always get that personal connection.
Pete Thornton 25:08
Right, right. Right. Okay. Yeah, it’s like these are even the skip levels, they are so hard to squeeze in, but they’re so impactful if they’re not very frequent. Like it’s nice for people to be know that they can loop in because used to pass those people in the hallway, you’d be able to, like see them in a glassed in conference room doing what they do say hello on their way by like, they say working at least there’s some kind of like nonverbal communication that can happen. And now you have to be a lot more insistent about it, or like, this has to be on purpose. Right? Okay, so maybe so these QBRs, like, they can go on super long time, like they can like be forever, or executive meetings, like how do they not go over this side? Is there any structure or like a way to open these things up that you find more helpful than others? And that’s pretty hard with this number of meetings. But if there’s anything loved to know,
Melissa Strauss 26:00
yeah, I think one of the things that I care a lot about is not holding meetings for the sake of holding meetings. So every meeting internal and external should have goals, roles and an agenda. That’s what a previous VP had put in place. And I really believe in that, I think for QBR is in, you know, leadership meetings, specifically, it’s making sure that you have a moderator that is keeping track of time, because it’s very easy to go over time. And people are giving you a chunk of their time, and they have other things to do with their day. So making sure we’re really efficient with the time that we’re using. In our sales leadership meeting, we have a rotating monitor. So one of us rates each week, can we just rotate that, for QBR is the manager of the team is the one that’s moderating, some do it better than others. But we give everybody a template and the timing beforehand, so that they know. All right, I have five slides I need to go through in 20 minutes. How am I going to break that apart? And hopefully they’re thinking about that and keep to themselves within time as well?
Pete Thornton 26:57
Yeah. Okay. That’s a great point. Yeah, I like that. The rotating moderator, and then, you know, because everybody can see each other and that’s not because it’s something that needs to be built as well, like, that’s a muscle that has to be built over time, right. And then the time, speaking of I ran you on a goose chase before this, like putting you through different calls, et cetera, just to hop on and have this valuable discussion. So instead of diving deeper into some of those pieces, and knowing like even the tools and everything you use, that’s another one, I think, but SaaS ramp is the name of the podcast. What does SaaS ramp mean to you? Yeah,
Melissa Strauss 27:36
I think ramp is a sales leader, just my mind goes straight to wrap around, you know, people coming in new and building skills, and then eventually their quota increases. I think it’s sort of similar to SaaS company, you come in from zero in a lot of cases, or, you know, I started when we were just before our series B, so there was a little bit but ramping up, people ramping up revenue ramping up your company to something, whether that’s IPO acquisition, I think it’s just scaling, it’s growing, it’s figuring out how to take yourself from nothing to something really great. That’s really at the end of the day, I think what a lot of SaaS companies are trying to do.
Pete Thornton 28:14
Yeah, that sounds great. That sounds like a good like it was a 360 because of your answer around pace and frequency and these things moving quickly. And then SaaS ramp, essentially meaning like, how can you move from zero to one one to 10? Whatever the direction is, and scale it appropriately? Yeah, exactly. That’s awesome. I really appreciate it. Like really valuable thanks on behalf of the SaaS ramp audience and looking forward to maybe doing this again in a year 18 months and seeing more FireHydrant and seeing where you’re at finding out if everybody has is moderating appropriately on their operational guidances. And yeah, and dive in deeper then and learn and again for me, thanks.