Making forms (and sales) a little more human with Typeform
While there is no silver bullet for success in sales, there are tried and tested sales strategies, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Secret Sauce to Sales by Freshsales features top sales leaders across industries who give you inside access to their sales methodologies. In this edition, we uncover the secrets behind how Typeform is making forms (and their sales) a little more human. 😉
Nadav Gross is the Head of Sales at Typeform. Founded in 2012 by David Okuniev and Robert Muñoz, Typeform is a Barcelona-based SaaS company designed to let its users collect data by creating surveys online forms. Typeform currently has over a million end-users and more than 30,000 paying customers. In September 2017, Typeform secured $35 Million in Series B funding led by General Atlantic. Powered by the company’s mission to make things a little more human, Typeforms are interactive, engaging, and conversational.
Typeform is used by companies like Trello, Freshworks, Nike, HubSpot, Indiegogo, and Forbes. Prior to Typeform, Nadav worked as a legal prosecutor in the Israeli military for half a decade. He subsequently left the army as a captain and switched sides to pursue a career as a criminal defender for four years.
With the itch to make a career switch, he moved to Barcelona to pursue an MBA at IESE Business School. After b-school, he worked on his own startup, BrandBassadors, for a year. He then met David Apple, currently the VP of Customer Success at Typeform, and moved to set up the sales team a little under two years ago.
After practicing law for nearly a decade and without a background in sales, you would have had to learn many things on-the-go while setting up a sales process at Typeform. How did you go about doing that?
Almost two years ago, I joined Typeform together with another salesperson and we started setting up the inbound leads pipeline. We were already receiving 25 leads per day around May when my colleague decided to leave the company. My day-to-day activities then involved having to plan and make decisions about recruitment and team structure while also handling the constant flow of BAU items. I still wanted to respond to everyone who was contacting us, without allowing anyone to feel neglected. This was definitely the most intensive time. The skills I had to use were quite similar to being a lawyer, and the missing piece was just knowledge, which can always be acquired. When I need to know something, I just read about it and learn about it.
I think I’m always learning—the challenge in being inexperienced is that even now, some things don’t come instinctively. At the same time, I think coming from a very different world without any frame of reference about sales or startups has helped me look at situations without biases or through existing frameworks. This helps, especially when answering bigger questions like the strategies to employ to achieve long-term goals.
We currently focus on inbound leads, which are always reaching out to us, either because their colleagues use Typeform, or they responded to a Typeform, or they tried using the free version and want to see what the paid tiers have in store. We’ve recently opened an office in San Francisco, which made sense since about half of our customers are from North America, and we are also keen on exploring opportunities to partner with other startups. We are slowly scaling things up.
Moving from a legal background to SaaS sales is quite a paradigm shift. What are some of the learnings that you have taken with you and probably some practices that you have had to leave behind?
From being a prosecutor, I think definitely the skill I was able to take and use as a salesperson here in Typeform is this concept that everything you do needs to have a purpose. It needs to make sense, so that you can then know if the result is good, you can then take it, perfect it and replicate it.
As a prosecutor, you never focus only on the case at hand. You need to think about all the cases. You need to ask yourself if what do you do here makes sense for all of the cases? I think in sales as well, it doesn’t make sense to just say, “Oh! I have to close this particular deal and that’s it and that’s where all my energy is focused at.” Sure, sometimes those once-in-a-lifetime deals do come along, but more often than not you probably should think about the system, about the processes, you should think about how you can succeed by applying the right methods rather than unique success cases here and there.
From being a defender, I think I definitely took the critical thinking aspect. As a defender, you’re always investigating, always digging deeper and not leaving any stone unturned. Here’s where I see a parallel between law and sales—just as you need to prepare thoroughly before going to court, you need to prepare yourself for a sales call. You need to know the story that you’re going to tell, you need to know all the possible objections that might come your way and how you’ll respond to them.
And that is the same process I used while going to the court. You develop a game plan, take a critical look at the case at hand and try and look at what you could be getting wrong, you try and find the weak spots. I try and do the same before every sales call.
And now coming to what I didn’t take from it.
From being a defender, I definitely didn’t take the part of never trusting anyone. As a criminal attorney, you have a client, and the client isn’t always a hundred percent on your side. Your client doesn’t always trust you. And lawyers don’t exactly have the greatest reputation either. So being comfortable in an environment of mistrust is definitely something that I didn’t bring with me here. I think that’s also thanks to Typefrom’s culture. From very early on, I understood that Typeform is a very different environment. Typeform is built on trust and honesty, feedback is always objective and never personal.
After moving to Typeform, I learned that it’s more about working together rather than feeling like you have to be the one that saves the day.
What would be the role of the sales team at Typeform?
Typeform was built as a self-service platform. So right now, most of our customers sign up for a free account and upgrade to a paid account if they find it is a good fit for their projects and needs. This leads to a situation where we could have a lot of customers from very big companies in the market. But, we cannot say these companies are customers of Typeform.
In a way, moving away from being user-based and having a sporadic presence in large companies is the challenge. We are talking to these users to understand not just their current needs, but other issues they are dealing with where Typeform can add value on a bigger scale.
The other aspect of our job is to work with the product team. Because, when it comes to feedback from customers, there is no dearth of it – there are so many channels through which they offer their feature requests and feedback. This could create a certain kind of bias because you are constantly developing for your customers, while possibly ignoring a larger portion of the market that is not yet your customer.
The sales team is the only one that has regular one-on-one conversations with people who are not customers – one of our most critical roles is to be a window to that audience. Our job is to understand why and how to help improve the product.
Your pricing tiers are pretty comprehensive. You have a Free plan, a Pro plan, a Pro Plus plan and then a custom plan with a CTA which says, ‘Are you an enterprise? Get in touch.’ Is there something you specifically tailor your solutions for? What do you see as needs for these enterprise companies?
We realize that large companies have a lot of unique requirements, not just in security and privacy, but even with the volume of responses they collect. More often than not, that data is going to be sensitive in some way. With big companies, the marketing end-user might love the product, but the security or compliance person will send across a long list of questions. We HAVE to satisfy both.
So it was very clear for us from the get-go that this was the road to turning Typeform into the gold standard of data collection. We can’t do that when a big part of the market is blocked from using Typeform because of legal, compliance and other such reasons. So we are actively working with the product team to address concerns like storage location, single sign-on and other security issues we need to keep an eye on. This is particularly important after the onset of the GDPR across the EU.
Also, growth goes through accommodating these privacy and security needs. You have to allow your customers to serve their customers the best way they can while using Typeform to collect information from them.
On the other side, there is volume and density. There is a difference between a mom-and-pop store that collects 300 responses per year and an enterprise which runs a marketing campaign that collects a million responses per month. These are completely different sets of needs for different customers who have to be treated slightly differently. SLAs, uptime, latency, volume, etc., become very very significant when we’re talking about bigger companies. These are forms that they send out to their customers and thus reliability is paramount. We cannot afford to be in a position where we jeopardize anyone’s relationship with their own customers. So we build that element of customizability that allows us to address these concerns.
I honestly kind of dislike the term, ‘enterprise’. We at Typeform have nearly 200 employees and we don’t see ourselves as an ‘enterprise’. But most of the tools we use are on enterprise plans because we have certain custom needs.
So, even if it necessarily isn’t an enterprise, we have a set of self-service plans that most of our customers are very very happy with. But there are some customers who would need something that is a little more custom, something that can address their concerns in a specific way, we can accommodate those needs too.
Lots of companies today are talking about reducing touch points by taking away forms and making engagement with customers more conversational. Typeform, however, was built around making collecting data from customers more conversational, but at the end of the day, it is still a form. Have you faced some sort of objection from customers or prospective customers? Has anyone said they would rather use bots, in-app chat or live chat as opposed to Typeform?
It has happened sometimes, yes. But that has something to do with the workplace—I think there’s room for all of these instruments in every modern business. At some point in the future, it’s possible that this conversation of bot vs. form will be mainstream. Right now, it’s more in the minority.
Working in a tech startup, it’s easy to forget that most businesses aren’t super edgy—some businesses are still making the shift from paper forms or word documents to online forms. Outside of the tech sector, there are all kinds of customers who are doing things in a rather old-fashioned way from using paper forms to using fax machines, spreadsheets, PDFs, and documents. And, that’s costing them in worker-hours.
There’s no denying the fact that there are a hundred different ways to collect information, so the conversation we have is; how can we help your business collect data online on a form? What advantages are there for you? And what other data collection needs are better served by a different instrument?
With Typeform, businesses can have a highly efficient and cost-effective data collection process because they don’t have to hire anyone to implement anything, and they can connect their Typeforms to their existing business tools.
Does it help that with the new developer portal, there is more emphasis on the UI and how you can customize it?
Absolutely. The new developer tools also serve a different subset of customers. At some point, we realized that it isn’t enough for Typeform to be a beautiful data collection tool—if you collect data, then something needs to happen with that afterward. And that something needs to be more efficient than looking at results one by one or exporting to Excel.
That’s when we started thinking harder about connectivity: How can Typeform connect, or even become a part of another application? Because a lot of applications have built-in data collection components which are not up to par because they are an extremely small part of the software. There might be no resources to work on this part, and it might not get enough attention. This is where Typeform can step in to solve the problem.
Then there’s also the create API. If you want your application to build a form, you can do that using the Typeform back end. So companies that build say a CRM system, or a marketing automation tool, or even a database app can benefit from our capabilities by just integrating with Typeform. This is the first step of exploring how Typeform can be an OEM piece in a bigger application.
It’s fantastic how the sales team at Typeform is so fluid. What is a typical day for you?
Building a team is the most important thing I do here. The more special your work culture, the more diligent you need to be in protecting it. This means being very picky about who is going to be allowed inside. People who come in need to have the right kind of experience and complement each other – in terms of professional skills and personality – because teamwork is a huge thing here, even though that might not be the typical case for sales teams. I spend most of my time thinking about and working on building a team where the sum of the components is bigger than its parts so that we can all add value to each other.
Also, since the team is quite small, I’m still directly interacting with some of our big prospects. Each enterprise has their own unique challenges and we are learning as we go.
Then there’s strategy planning, and that’s a difficult task because things change constantly in a startup. You’re always on the move, and many of the things you do are “firsts”, so there’s not always a track record or data to rely on.
We also have to be in sync with potential product developments. We have a very creative product team, but the price for creative freedom is often predictability and a systematic method of operation. The sales team needs to adjust for that through agility, the ability to react and move things around quickly, and of course, scalability. It’s a wonderful environment of complete instability.
As a sales leader, what do you think is one misguided practice in sales?
For me, it’s the focus on technical features; I see it as almost a cardinal sin in a sales call. This is similar to a lawyer focusing just on the evidence. The evidence is great, it contributes to the story, but you need to build the story first. In a real courtroom, unlike in the movies, there is rarely one piece of evidence that changes everything.
In the software world, it’s even rarer for one feature to be so unique that it would blow your mind. Every product is a combination of features; if a customer buys into a platform, it’s because its story makes sense for their needs. I always tell our sales people that we sell to people, even if they work for large corporations. And when I say “feature”, this can also mean emotional characteristics.
For example, I have a MacBook and an iPhone. Did I buy them because of the technical features? Of course not. Because they are cost-effective? No. I bought them because of their story—I like what this product says and what it says about me.
What is your number one productivity hack?
It’s probably more a productivity hack for developers than salespeople, but I really enjoy text automation or text expander tools. I use a cheap application called TextExpander, that probably repaid 10x of its cost by saving me time.
What are the three metrics you look at every day?
- Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR)
- Churn Rate of Customers
- Team Engagement and Team Happiness
What is the one thing you ask people to do once they have joined your team?
This is easy. I always tell them that at least 10 percent of their time in Typeform should be dedicated to developing themselves – books, blogs, conferences, TED talks, whatever.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite sales books or sales reads?
I really like reading The Economist and Harvard Business Review. I think for salespeople, there’s value in understanding the bigger trends, I think it does a good job at that. When it comes to books, I read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham which is a book I really like about sales.
But always, whenever I read these things, I never like copy-pasting frameworks, or methods, or systems. You have to read and understand whether or not this will work for you. You HAVE to have a filtering system.
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While there is no silver bullet for success in sales, there are tried and tested sales strategies, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Secret Sauce to Sales by Freshsales features top sales leaders across industries who give you inside access to their sales methodologies. Drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
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