#HowIBuy – Jess Weisz, COO of SoapBox HQ
One of the most fascinating things for me in doing the interviews for Nudge.ai’s #HowIBuy series has been the differences in how people approach buying based on the stage of the company. Late stage, large company executives have an existing, if legacy, stack in place, and are looking to push the envelope, extend, or reinvent. However, early stage execs are often building the core stack in various areas of their business.
Jess Weisz, COO of SoapBox truly exemplifies the latter. She’s smart, thoughtful, and refreshingly honest about the challenges of building the core stacks for each part of her business given the realistic constraints of the startup world.
Great to be talking Jess! Can you tell us a bit about SoapBox first to set the context?
SoapBox makes software solutions that help leaders, managers and employees have conversations about the things that matter most to motivation and performance. From one-on-ones to team-meetings to company-wide conversations, SoapBox builds a culture of healthy communication.
We’ve found that companies who are able to match the right work with the right skill are the ones that are the highest performing companies. We help manage the human element of that challenge more so than just the unit of work.
And how about yourself, what is your role within SoapBox, and what do you and your team spend money on throughout a year?
My role is COO – so I have responsibility for Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success. We’re a fairly early stage business, and as such, I’d describe our spending as “frugal as $%#@”. We are very thoughtful on how we spend money, and my favourite is to spend it on people. That being said, we’ll spend on tools that enable us to be better at our jobs and more effective.
Outside of headcount, we’ll spend mainly on systems, but also some on data services, outsourced lead generation, and a few other areas. I’d love to do more in terms of team training and development, but that is hard to fit into the budget. We are always looking to find ways to get extra value out of any buying process, so team development opportunities are a way to catch our ear creatively.
How do new ideas find their way to you? How do you learn what’s “out there”?
It’s all about who I talk to. I do very little reading of general business press, to be honest, as I find it’s often just a bunch of platitudes. For me, it’s my network that’s the main source of new information. My team does do a fair bit of reading to understand the typical tools for a given task, and that’s a great source of input. I’m more likely to be at a conference talking to someone who just presented and learning more about their approach and tools.
What is the dynamic within your team once an idea seems interesting? How do ideas make it through your team’s thought process?
The interesting thing is that the default is for an idea to go nowhere. There are so many great ideas out there that we could do, but the time, energy, and money to actually do a certain idea is pretty limited, so the default is not to do anything.
Many of the tools that we have actually ended up implementing have ultimately been driven from our top leadership team. It’s often not so much of the idea as the fact that we need to prioritize solving that particular problem at that moment in time.
As a startup, there’s obviously a lot going on. What makes an idea a “now” idea vs. something to keep in mind for later?
There are a lot of ideas that could be worked on. What brings something to the top of the list is usually a combination of three factors. First, the need is more and more exasperated. Think of it like 100 bee stings, each one making the overall pain seem greater. Second is having a bit of air space to get something implemented as we are always very busy as an overall team. Third is generally an external driver such as a product launch that this is at least a partial dependency for. When those factors come together, an idea will move into the “now” bucket.
How do you and your team evaluate tools and solutions?
The interesting thing to note is that quite often there’s no evaluation. That might seem odd, but if others use the product and love it, and it’s a standard part of the stack for that area of the business, that can be good enough.
For some solutions where there’s more of a clearer set of multiple options, we’ll go through more of a structured process. Fundamentally we need to develop confidence in the solution through either a trial or our own references.
Interestingly, for most of our solutions, the core value came down to integration with other systems for either data or workflow. In those cases, they were all paid engagements prior to implementation. The key effort was the integration effort on our side, not the solution cost, so we were okay to commit prior to seeing the fully integrated end-to-end solution.
What can sales people do that best helps you and your team?
The great sales people are great resources. They are smart, know their stuff technically, and can get me the answers I need quickly. That brings a lot of confidence in the company and, by proxy, the solution.
I don’t know of any things that we have bought that originated with a cold outreach. Some we’ve kept in mind or had a quick look into, but none that have gone through to purchase. For the ones that did get through to a first conversation, creativity and fun seemed to go a long way – as an example, a t-shirt vendor sent a witty email with a picture of their CEO wearing a t-shirt with a SoapBox logo on it. That won points for creativity.
Your network is clearly a key part of your evaluation process. How do you curate who is in your network and where the ideas come from?
I’d say my network is formed accidentally, but curated deliberately. When I find people I can learn from, I seek out conversations with them and stay in touch. It’s not anyone role-specific, it’s people who have done well, have a broader view on life, and generally avoid saying stupid things.
What advice would you have for sales people trying to sell into an organization like SoapBox or an executive who thinks like you?
I don’t like feeling I’m being sold to. It’s a lot like being in a clothing store, I like browsing without too much interruption, but when I need assistance I want someone who knows their stuff. I think the metaphor translates over to B2B buying. I want someone knowledgeable to guide me through the process and push me to ask questions that I have not asked. Someone who can do that without making it feel like they are “selling” me on something is the ideal sales person.
Thanks for some great insights on your thinking Jess!