Born to sell – an interview with Productboard’s Elizabeth Chase
Sales can be a demanding profession, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. For those who thrive in a sales environment, it’s a chance to have a direct impact not only on the company you work for but on countless other companies across the world who will benefit from what you offer.
In a recent interview, I caught up with Elizabeth Chase, EMEA SMB Executive, to discuss what life is like on the Productboard Sales team, what makes a great salesperson, and the importance of selling a product you believe in.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you become a salesperson? Is it something you always wanted to do?
Sure. I think that people are either born salespeople or they aren’t. I started selling when I was two or three, convincing my mom that we needed to buy certain items from the grocery store. As I got older, it was more about convincing her that one pair of shoes was a better choice than another. For me, it’s intrinsic to my personality. I can’t not sell.
My career hasn’t always been firmly planted in hard SaaS sales. I spent a lot of time in film and television production, convincing directors that we didn’t need to go back into another round of edits, or that a VFX shot worked well. I was also selling to agencies as an executive producer, closing large commercial production deals.
I worked for the San Francisco Chronicle in a very traditional advertising role. I’ve even sold units of participation for films that were being developed. So my background is a little bit atypical. But I think the core of who I am as a person lends itself to sales.
What I love most about sales is the opportunity to dig into what a need is – and how we can satisfy that need. Most importantly for me, I have to sell a product that I love, that I believe in. If I don’t love it or believe in it, I don’t want to sell it. Could I sell it? Yes. But I’m not interested in selling, as the saying goes, “snow to people who live in snow.”
“So when I was looking for an opportunity to move away from film and television production and back into SaaS sales, I needed to find an organization that had a product and mission I believed in, whose values aligned with my own – and I found that beautifully at Productboard.”
What particular values resonate with you at Productboard?
Empathy comes to mind right off the bat. In my very first demo experience after the initial interview, sitting down and talking with Kevin (Head of Sales) and Zach (SVP of Customer Success) early on, the kindness and empathy really struck me. It can be very stressful putting together a presentation for a product you haven’t sold yet, and the amount of support and empathy that was there for me along the way was impressive. They created an opportunity for learning, which has been foundational to my time here at Productboard.
There’s also this idea that we need to be team-centric. We need to embrace togetherness. And that’s something I feel very strongly about. I think part of it comes from my production background. In production, if you aren’t working as a team together, the commercial that you’re in the middle of making isn’t going to happen. You need every department working harmoniously to be successful. Seeing that same mentality carry back into SaaS sales has been really exciting.
“Another Productboard value that’s important to me is relentless improvement. It’s all about continual growth, both personally and professionally. I think if we’re not growing, we’re kind of dying. And when we’re relentlessly improving individually, we’re relentlessly improving as an organization.”
Those are the three values that immediately spoke to me. But also, when doing my research into Productboard, I was inspired by some of the articles that Hubert had contributed to. For example, there was one about creating a balance between work and life – this idea that the problem you’re facing today is still going to be there tomorrow. So if you’re completely exhausted, it doesn’t get anybody anywhere.
At Productboard, people are constantly reminding us to take time for ourselves, to make sure that we’re checking in with ourselves, especially during COVID. To see that level of consistency throughout the organization is a beautiful thing.
Going back to the idea of relentless improvement, what opportunities do you have at Productboard for learning and professional development?
As a salesperson, I can speak to the people that I report to directly. Ivana, the EMEA sales manager, is phenomenal. She is able to listen to each and every one of us and understand the things that will help us be successful, as well as areas where we have to improve. She’s very direct, but at the same time, she offers incredible support and helps guide us in a way that is tailored to our needs.
Her advice and feedback help us fill in some of the areas where we have a weakness. For me, it’s about developing reporting and getting deep into the numbers to make sure that I’m consistently hitting my targets. Ivana has been invaluable in helping me get there. So at this point, I feel like 90% of the relentless improvement I am earning at Productboard comes directly from the people I report to.
You mentioned earlier that you only enjoy selling products that you love and believe in. What’s it like selling Productboard?
To be honest, Productboard does a pretty good job selling itself. Sure, there are plenty of times when we come up against different competitive voices. But when we are speaking to somebody whose needs are in line with the values we provide, it is incredibly easy to sell Productboard.
When prospects learn about Productboard, they see ideas like Product Excellence, and they immediately feel the type of support and expertise we’re capable of providing them with. They’re also going to experience a beautifully designed product that’s easy to use. It doesn’t take a lot to get these bits and pieces aligned. Then, from there, it’s just about determining the right fit.
The sales approach at Productboard is incredibly consultative. I don’t feel like there’s a need to box people in and convince them. A lot of that process is Productboard singing for itself and us continuing to re-establish the value we promise.
Even for companies whose current processes aren’t aligned with what Productboard offers, it’s easy for them to see how life can be better. I like to talk a lot about the democratization of the product process and being able to include the customer voice from the very beginning. Gone are the days when you can create a product and force it on the marketplace, and I think that’s becoming more and more obvious.
We sell to all sorts of businesses. Sometimes it’s a bunch of people in a garage that need to put together a roadmap to show their potential investors something beautiful. We help put them on a path to product development with a customer-centric focus. Sometimes we’re talking to large institutional enterprises that have to do a complete cultural shift in thinking, and Productboard comes in and helps them turn that corner.
“We do a great job supporting our customers in the place they’re at when they meet us. We help them continue to move forward on their own journey of relentless improvement and Product Excellence.”
You mentioned earlier that you were born to sell. What would you say makes a good salesperson? What skills and attributes do you need to succeed in the industry?
There’s a saying that everyone’s in sales. Everyone is in the process of selling something. Whether it’s an idea or a product, there’s no real way around sales. But in terms of the selling I do, I think the skills and attributes have evolved. In times gone by, there was a need for boiler-room-type strategies, which were very popular in the 80s and 90s. But now, I think the ability to listen is paramount.
I also think that you have to like people. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert actually isn’t as important as whether or not you like people and enjoy aligning different values with them. I think 90% of that comes down to listening.
“You have to be inquisitive. You have to want to learn more. You have to want to peel the onion one more layer to really understand where the prospect is coming from and where they want to be.”
And lastly, you have to have grit. You have to take “no” with a smile and understand that one “no” paves the way and creates the time for a “yes.” Even with a product as incredible as Productboard, we still meet people who aren’t ready or feel more comfortable with previous workflows. We need to be able to take “no” graciously and tenaciously hunt for the next “yes.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m usually at my computer at 8:00 following up on inbound trial requests. From there, I typically have anywhere between three and six customer demo calls in a day. Then there are follow-up conversations to answer any additional questions or dig a little deeper with technical needs.
Outbounding is a critical piece of our puzzle, so I work to find an hour or two every day to introduce our incredible product to either those who haven’t previously heard about us or those who have taken a step away for whatever reason.
I try to have lunch and a run at noon, and I usually wrap up around five and take the dog for a walk. Because we’re an international organization, I sometimes have meetings and calls in the evening as well. But for the most part, I have a lot of control over my time during the day. I can be flexible, and I can work remotely.
How do you manage the pressure of meeting targets in what is a very results-driven industry?
To a certain extent, I think you have to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie and thrive under pressure. You also have to be okay turning the calendar page, going back to zero, and doing it all over again.
Planning is an essential part of the sales journey. We need to have strategic sales plans, and we need to understand our performance numbers and the metrics that are helping us get to where we are.
“For me, the most satisfying feeling is hitting targets and then being able to build and grow for the next month. That’s really motivating.”
Sales is traditionally a very male-dominated world, as is the tech industry at large. What advice would you give to any women out there who want to make a career in SaaS sales?
I’m on the Diversity and Inclusion Council here at Productboard, and I think it’s incredibly important to bring in different voices to any organization. Because the people we are supporting and selling to are very diverse. We aren’t just selling to tech companies, and we aren’t just selling to engineers.
Some of the most successful people here on the Productboard Sales team are women. As a woman selling technology, I would say that I almost feel like I have a step up. It’s a nice change of pace and a different tone of voice than what many people are used to hearing, and I think it differentiates us a little.
So if there’s a woman who’s thinking, “Oh, maybe I don’t want to join a tech company because it’s male-dominated, “I would say that you are uniquely positioned to be successful because you’re bringing something different, a welcomed change in approach and vision. The attributes that make us different are often our greatest strength and selling points. As Zach mentioned to me early in the hiring process, it’s important to lean into what makes our processes unique.
Any advice you’d give to someone considering joining the Productboard Sales team?
You need to be willing to come with an open mind, ask questions, and own your journey and learning to a certain degree. You have to be a self-starter and self-motivated. You can’t wait for leads to come to you – they will, but you have to own your outbounding. If Productboard is right for you, it’s an absolute dream.
I’ll end with this: Productboard is the greatest professional experience I’ve had so far. I feel very strongly about the organization and its leadership. I also feel very strongly about the direction of the product, not just because of my own experience, but because of what our customers and prospects say about it. It really is a dream to sell.
We’re currently on the lookout for talented account executives. So if you’d like to join Elizabeth and the rest of the Productboard Sales team in making products that matter, check out this job description for more info.