Interview with André Bressel, VP of Sales at Channable and Founding Member of Pavilion Amsterdam
What does a VP of Sales do on a weekly basis? What are current trends in the SaaS market? How did the industry evolve in Amsterdam over the past few years? André Bressel, VP of Sales at Channable and Founding Member of Pavilion Amsterdam shares his thoughts!
Hey André, welcome to the SaaS Newsletter Deep Dive. Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m originally from a small city in the center of Germany. I did my studies in Potsdam, where I also founded two companies. In Hamburg, I built out a B2C business – a Booking.com for cruises, called Dreamlines growing to 400+ employees. At Dreamlines, I was building up the Dutch office together with the General Manager, so I often traveled to Amsterdam. There I really loved the people, the culture, the work interactions. So – together with my wife – we just had to move to Amsterdam. We have two boys who are 2 and 6 and we enjoy living here a lot. On the work side of things, I joined Channable four months ago as their VP of Sales. Together we are here to help ecommerce marketers to be in full control of their online strategies with simple to use technology and the best customer service.
How did you experience the move from Germany to Amsterdam. Any particular challenges?
From a personal perspective, it was quite interesting. Moving from Hamburg, a city with a lot of green spaces, water, nice people and a touch of the Dutch directness, Amsterdam was quite similar. I was quite sad to leave Hamburg, but seeing the environment in Amsterdam got me really excited to move here. I think moving over from Germany to the Netherlands is a simple process, because you can arrive here and set up shop easily. All the processes here in the Netherlands, especially compared to the German bureaucracy, are very smooth. It’s easy to find an apartment, get a BSN number, and start working. I did have a bit of help from one of my best friends who was living in Amsterdam already, so he hosted me for some time until I settled in fully.
”All the processes here in the Netherlands, especially compared to the German bureaucracy, are very smooth. Find an apartment, get a BSN number and start working!”
Can you tell us a bit more about what exactly Channable does?
Channable is a very interesting company. I came across Rob, one of their founders, as we were both invited to a panel about internationalization.
Back in the days, around 2012, I opened an online shop for alcoholic beverages, after seeing that the options for drinks in supermarkets were quite limited, whereas online there is so much more choice, but almost too rich in sortiment. So I thought, why not curate a list of some high quality drinks, and then build content around that. However, in order to grow the business, I had to make sure they also appear in Google Shopping, price comparison pages, marketplaces, and then run ads. This is exactly what I did in 2012, with a German company called Channel Pilot, a direct competitor of Channable. Since then, I have always been very interested in this topic, hence the perfect fit with my current position.
Back to what exactly Channable does: it empowers marketeers to run their online strategy. Simply put, it is an interface between your shop as an ecommerce player or retailer and all of your channels. You can prepare the product data you have from your shop for all of these channels or marketplaces or advertising in a few clicks. I’m not sure if everyone is familiar with how much pain it actually is for an ecommerce shop to run 30.000 products through all these steps. If you ever created a Google Ad, you know it takes time. Now imagine doing this for thousands or millions of products in a very personalized way for your customer, that is just not scalable. So this is exactly where Channable comes in and does this for you instead. We take data from online shops and retailers and bring it out to the world, and give marketeers a tool to be in full control of it.
”Channable empowers marketeers to run their online strategy. We give them a tool to be in full control ot it.”
You recently started as VP Sales. What exactly do you do as VP Sales on a weekly basis?
I think this really varies from one VP Sales to another, depending on the type of company and growth stage. If someone joins a company that is in an early stage, they might be in charge of everything commercial under the name of VP Sales, but actually running a full shop from Marketing to Customer Success.
At the stage where Channable is at, considering we collected a Series B funding round in February of €55 Million, as a VP Sales this is more defined. Fundamentally, it is my role to make sure to remove all hurdles which might be in the way of us growing the business. This means, on one hand, running the Sales department. I run a team of different team leads, who are in charge of around 25 Sales people such as BDRs, AEs and Senior AEs, i.e the Go-To-Market strategy, but also Revenue Operations: so how do we go to market, how do we measure this, how do we enable people to be successful in their role?
On the other hand, it is fundamental that I collaborate with other departments, and define the overall commercial and Go-To-Market strategy. In our current growth sprint, this is a decisive factor. As the company has grown quite a bit and built out focused departments, I have to be able to connect all these department, executing on one consistent story, catering to one commercial Go-To-Market strategy, in order to get the right customers into the product, into the pipeline and convert them to customers – and most important in SaaS to retain them long term – all are under one impact focused strategy.
That sounds like the perfect role for you, André!
It was very much the perfect fit. I was not in many other processes for a new role and I was very selective of where I wanted to go. Exactly this stage of company growth is super interesting to me. And you might ask why that is. Over the Covid period, Channable experienced extensive growth and built all these different commercial departments, but then obviously things started to itch at some points. When the sprint turns into a long run, disconnections between departments appear, and working from home through the Covid times does not help the case.
Now, it is important to bring Marketing, Sales and Customer Success together to make it one. But how can you do that? We were looking to create one unified commercial strategy. This used to be heavily driven by marketing which made an initial first step to bring all departments together. With all commercial leads we then ran through the Revenue Growth Architecture School from Winning by Design. It took an enormous effort because it is quite content-heavy, needed to be understood and then transferred to what this looks like at Channable.
There were many discussions and alignments, but after five weeks of training, everyone walked away with the exact same mindset of where we need to be, what steps we need to take to get there and what success would look like for us. Obviously, this is not all done and perfect, but that was a really powerful experience to go through. I believe this is the most fundamental thing that needs to happen at this growth stage, and this is what really motivates me, so again, this was a perfect fit.
”I was very selective of where I wanted to go. This was the perfect fit!”
What would you say is the biggest challenge as VP of Sales now or in the near future?
Every day is a busy day in the world of SaaS. A lot of stuff is happening, I think the main challenge, not only for us at Channable, but for many SaaS businesses is uncertainty in the market. This uncertainty makes B2C buyers spend less, and in the end B2B spending is also reduced. I think everyone is aware of the consequence of uncertainty, but it creates a lot of unrest in the market and in your teams.
There are two primary challenges. The first being, how can you bring peace of mind to your teams, how can you ensure everyone that we are going in the right direction and take everyone along. The second is to go back to what is important, and that is not spending millions on marketing in order to grow at all costs, but go back to building demand generation, building community, building sustainably and being aware that we are building long-lasting businesses. I think this is the fundamental shift that now needs to happen in the market. To move away from building at all costs, and start thinking how we can build sustainable businesses, where we put our people first, we enable them to be successful, which then makes the company successful.
”Nowadays in SaaS, the main challenge for companies is uncertainty in the market. It creates a lot of unrest in the market and within teams.”
Diving deeper into that, what do you see as the current trends in the market?
Yes, there always are certain trends for SaaS businesses going around. But always take them with a grain of salt. To give you an example, first you had Aaron Ross with his famous model, and everybody was following this for a few years. And then you had community building, then you had demand generation, then dark funnel, and more. There is always a trend going on, and right now it is community building, the idea of dark funnel, and to grow organically.
The thing is that people would like to have security in these trends or models. They want to think, “if I am doing what Aaron tells me, or Chris Walker, then we should be fine, right?”. These are good frameworks, but the fundamental thing is that you need to look at how you execute, not only at the process. And I’m saying this as a German, right! It is about how you lead people, it’s the vision you have, it’s how you help people understand what is important in your Go-To-Market, how you enable the people. And then you can probably use any framework. Some fit your business growth stage, others don’t. But it is always in the fundamentals.
I hear a lot about product-led growth as well lately. Any thoughts on that?
I think product-led growth is a huge trend as well right now. To give a local example, I think Miro did an amazing job. They have shown that from within your product, and the product itself, can deliver so much value and impact, that you as an end-user are willing not only to sign yourself up, but also pitch it to your team and then bankroll this through your whole organization. But again, it does not fit everyone. It works for Miro because they have a user based model where the individual is using a tool and then expands from there. If you are in a high value, sales engineer centered enterprise sale this might look different.
And of course, it is now really coined as a term. Dropbox, back in the days, did it really well already. Asana and Trello do it amazingly well too. Many companies did that already. But now it’s a trend in the playbook, right? And then everyone wants product-led growth. And again: you really have to think, does it actually fit your business and your business case and your target persona?
To close this off, since you have been in the Amsterdam SaaS market for quite some years now, it would be interesting to hear how you have the market evolve over the years?
Again, I see two trends.
The first one, and that was my first experience and insane learning curve as well, is to hire aggressively after a funding round and the growth happens on my spreadsheet, meaning, if I want to be at this target, this is exactly how it works. This was my state of knowledge of SaaS, as well as for most of the Amsterdam community, back when SaaS really started to become better known here.
The US were always two or three funding rounds ahead of us in all topics. So over the years, I really wanted to bring that SaaS knowledge into Europe. And I wanted to educate myself and the commercial leaders here on these models. It is our (commercial leaders) responsibility to educate our CEOs and other C-levels on how we build a SaaS business, because in the end it is our responsibility as commercial leaders to advise the team and leadership how the SaaS environment works and how these models work and how we can execute them effectively and realistically.
That is why I founded the Amsterdam Pavilion in 2018. Today we are over 300 members here and over 10.000 members worldwide, doing exactly that, educating leaders to be better leaders and making their people successful, whatever role they are in. That is why I am so focused on that leadership perspective. What I saw as manager/leader myself is that the market also really changed in terms of talent. In 2016, there were not many people with SaaS knowledge, but it was really easy to hire and educate. Nowadays, you have an acquisition problem, because qualified talent is rare. And you have a retention problem, where – as an individual contributor – you might think the grass is greener elsewhere for a paycheck increase and you job hop more. It is important for me to educate not only leaders, but everybody in the SaaS market, that it is important to think more long term and to understand your own path for your career. This means to me to care less about earning €10K more as fast as possible. It is about making the right next step for the relevant experience, building authority, momentum for myself so that people recognize me as a good SaaS salesperson or good SaaS marketeer or whatever. That is really important to me and this really changed in those last 6 or 7 years.