Nick Mehta, CEO at Gainsight, moderates this panel with what he calls three of the sharpest people in customer success: Catherine Blackmore, GVP Customer Success at Oracle Marketing Cloud; Maria Pergolino, Senior VP Marketing at Apttus; and Emilia D’Anzica, VP Customer Engagement at WalkMe. Through their professional experience in companies of all different sizes, they’ve become customer advocacy gurus and get into how net negative churn is more than just about avoiding losing customers.
How do you turn customers into advocates? What’s the argument for hiring CSMs before salespeople? Why is having a referenceable customer more important than just making a sale? How do you measure advocacy at your company? Listen on to learn more secrets of net negative churn and what mistakes you should avoid.
You can see the slide deck for this session here.
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Announcer: He needs no introduction as the iconic figure in customer success, but please put your hands together to welcome Nick Mehta, the CEO of Gainsight, the three-time SaaStr Annual speaker, and the author of the best selling book, “Customer Success.” Give it up for Nick Mehta.
Nick Mehta: Wow. “Needs no introduction,” I don’t know about that, but thank you, everyone. I am absolutely thrilled to bring three of the world’s experts on customer success onto the stage. Please bring our panelists onto the stage, if you can walk them on.
We’re going to talk about, here they come, net negative churn, which obviously is a carefully phrased topic, because we’re not just talking about losing customers. We’re going to talk about growing your customer base through keeping customers, expanding them, and advocacy.
If you can bring the panelists onto the stage, and I’ll introduce them as sit down. Big round of applause for our panel here.
Nick: Awesome. Thank you. OK, that’s me. I am super excited to have all of you here. You guys excited?
Emilia D’Anzica: Absolutely.
Catherine Blackmore: Yeah.
Nick: I’ve been doing customer success stuff for a while. I know most of the people in the space. I’ve going to say, you’re three of the sharpest people out there.
I’m totally honored to have you here on the panel. Let me introduce to you who is here with us today. We’ve got some slides to make it visual. First, Catherine Blackmore. Hi, Catherine.
Nick: Catherine is Global Vice President at Oracle Marketing Cloud, which is very exciting. You’ve been at big companies, been at Salesforce before, been at small companies as well. What’s one unique thing about Oracle’s approach to customer success that we’re going to hear about today to get people thinking?
Catherine: Oracle Marketing Cloud consists of five acquired companies. If you think about what our success program is really all about, is taking five CSM’s, and turning them into one super CSM, or should we?
Nick: Awesome. More to come on that. I’ve got another customer success related question for you. We want to get to know the panelists. What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPhone, right now, as we stand?
Catherine: Nick, I think I have a collection of embarrassing songs that I leverage my kids for Friday Night’s Dance Party.
Nick: Friday Night’s Dance Party. We will hear about that later, so we’ll come back to that. Welcome, Catherine.
Next is Maria Pergolino. Maria, I have known for quite a while now. We run in different circles, you spend a long time at a bunch of tech companies, including Marketo, running a lot of marketing and demand gen there. Now you’re at Apttus running marketing, obviously very high growth company. What’s unique about customer success at Apttus?
Maria Pergolino: I think so, I am a marketer. When I think about my role as a marketer, I try to make the entire company marketer, not just the individual marketing team. I think about advocacy and customer success that way. How do I make the entire company advocates for our organization?
We have a really strong advocate group inside marketing. We pair up with the CSM team in a big way. We really work hard to make everybody responsible for the customer success.
Nick: Awesome. iPhone song?
Maria: This is a little embarrassing. I think I have every Brittney Spears song on my phone.
Nick: There’s no shame at SaaStr. We will keep that between us, but that’s great. Awesome, and then Emilia D’Anzica, I think I said that well. Emilia, if I click the slide, is VP of Customer Engagement at WalkMe. If you’re paying attention, notice the different titles.
We’re going to come back to that because customer success is a lot of different things. Emilia, we’ll talk more about the role later. What’s one unique thing about customer success at WalkMe?
Emilia: The unique thing about WalkMe is that it can live on any platform. We have had to really think about how we’re growing our team, and segment, and personalize the customer experience according to what platform they’re using our product for. It’s been an amazing journey in our refinement of what customer success means.
Nick: Awesome. Good and then embarrassing song?
Emilia: I didn’t think anyone would know who Rufus du Soul is because they’re my absolute favorite…
Maria: One person.
Emilia: One person, wow.
Nick: Well done, awesome.
Emilia: I would say “Strawberry Bubblegum” by Justin Timberlake.
Nick: Great, awesome. Diving into content, so we’ve got three core topics we’re going to talk about today, all in the area of negative net churn, the idea of driving more revenue from customers. Topic one is going to be about people.
If you’re in the audience, you might be at a young startup trying to figure out your first CSM hire. You might be a growth stage company thinking about how to organize your team. You might be a big company thinking about how to reorganize your team. I want to share lessons on people.
Topic two is going to be metrics. We’re going to talk about how do we measure this stuff? How do we drive the numbers? How do we think about advocacy and renewals, things like that? Topic three is probably the most impactful. These people have been doing customer success related stuff for a long time.
They’re going to share the mistakes that they’ve made so that you don’t make them. Those are three things we’re going to cover.
Let’s dive into it. What we’re going to do is actually have a little bit of a visual for each area to get started. We’re going to ask each panelist to talk about how you think about structuring your organization. We’re going to go from a big company like Oracle to a smaller company like WalkMe.
Let’s start with Catherine first. How do you think about structuring the organization at Oracle?
Catherine: Before we get to the structure, which is why I wanted to share this slide with everyone. This doesn’t matter if it’s Oracle or a two person startup when you’re just getting started.
It has to start from what is the purpose of your customer success organization? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to grow future advocates, are you trying to help make sure every implementation is successful? There are different ways you can think about this role which will obviously impact who you hire.
Now, flash forward. Certainly, five companies together now forming the Oracle Marketing Cloud. If you think about that change management initiative, we actually started with our promise to our customers before we thought about the roles we needed to have.
In particular, as I mentioned a minute ago, should you think about a super CSM, can you possibly get to great product expertise in one person. That is a tough question of scale.
We’ve addressed that in terms of our CSM organization to really understand what the companies we do business with are trying to accomplish with our platform, what is the ROI they’re trying to achieve? How can we help them get there?
There are elements of deep product expertise that are required that arrive when you’re trying to help drive implementation or address issues along the way.
When we think about our success organization, it’s not just about CSMs. It’s also about the folks that need to be on the journey, whether it’s our paid services organization, we have folks that are hyper focused on really understanding how a customer can get to value by each of our different products.
The last one that has emerged is this need to think about adoption, not at the end user or marketer level, but at the business level.
A lot of times what separates a company from being successful is whether or not the C suite is aligned to the line of business. How do we actually show up and participate in that digital transformation, and in some cases, the business transformation? We have experts that command that conversation as well.
Nick: That’s great. That’s awesome. You have one more slide to take that to the next level, so I’ll let you talk about that.
Catherine: Yeah. This one’s important because it talks about in addition to the people, how do we actually drive this engagement? It really starts to describe when each person shows up and is a part of that conversation. Because we talk to our customers every day about having amazing experiences with their brands or companies, we have to be really good at the hand off.
That’s also part of that scaling challenge, if you will, where the more folks you introduce to manage the complexity, to manage the segmentation of your customer base, you have to get really good obviously at these hand offs.
You’re not having to repeat yourself, you’re not having to have a disjointed motion, so we really are operating as one.
Nick: That’s if you’re in a smaller company, one thing I think is really relevant, and we’ll talk more about, is customer success is not just about CSM, right? CSM might be part of it, but you’ve integrated together a lot of functions into that journey. We’ll come back to that in a little bit.
Let me go to Maria next. It’s very interesting now, coming from a marketer’s perspective. How do you think about organizing a team around driving net negative churn?
Maria: First, if we were sitting here with our CEO, he started the company as a founding CEO, one of three founders. When he started the company, he had worked in a domain that we are in, we are a quote to cash company. He had worked in contract management prior to creating Apttus.
He said that he was tired of not playing the role of the CEO, but instead he was playing the role of the Chief Apology Officer. He wanted to start a company where that wasn’t the case. A lot of what you talked about aligns to his vision around transformation.
We think about how do we drive outcomes, not just deliver solutions? We do look at success metrics for our customers, but do they feel like we are growing and changing their organizations?
When we then come to marketing, when I first started, I started when the company was smaller. Apttus is what’s called a unicorn company. It’s a post billion dollar valuation. I joined four years ago when there was no funding. It was a bootstrap company.
There was sub 100 people. There was one other marketer at the time. Now, I had to create a team. We were going to build for scale.
I looked to our core values to decide how to do it. We have three core values. One is respecting our people. One is customer success, which I wanted to find a way to bring to our go to market strategy. The final was what we called tier one. If we’re going to do something, we do it well.
If you see Apptus out in the marketplace, you’re probably seeing us in a big way. You typically don’t find us in the back of a trade show, in the back booth. That’s just not what we do. I thought about how do we bring that to marketing, and how do we align with the customer success team because that customer piece was such a part of our core values.
The first role we hired in marketing…I have a history in DemandGen, everybody thought would be like, “I was going to bring in some big name DemandGen person.”
The first role we hired was somebody to work on advocacy. We decided our go to market and it’s still this way today, is going to be around our customer stories and we’re going to create leanness.
Right now as a company considering IPO, profitability is something we think about a lot. One of the ways we’ve created efficiency is by pairing CSM with marketing and saying, “We’re going to tell those stories not just for the benefit of go to market, but to help our other customers.” They really tie together.
A true CMO today is somebody who cares about the entire customer life cycle and is trying to bridge that, not just outside the organization but internally.
Nick: How many people do you have in customer marketing, customer advocacy roughly?
Maria: We have four people in advocacy, and their job is to help tell the customer story or connect customers with other people who want to hear their story. Sometimes that’s with the prospect, but sometimes that’s with other customers.
Nick: That’s awesome. Let me go to Emilia. This slide might be out of order, so I’m going to skip to that.
Emilia, this is your org chart slide. It looks a little different. Tell us how you organize customer success at WalkMe.
Emilia: Sure. When I joined WalkMe about two and a half years ago, I was reporting to the CEO and had a customer success team. Alongside me, there was a training team and a professional services team.
We realized it wasn’t working. We were in silos, we weren’t really meeting the demands of the customer and why they purchased WalkMe.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve reorganized everything. We’ve made it very flat. Now, we work in pods and teams. What that means is professional services and customer success work together. Their key performance indicators are very closely tied, so everything they do is as a team.
It’s made a significant change in how we deliver value to our customers. Across all of customer success, we have management executives. Again, they work hand in hand with the customer success team to deliver value.
What that’s meant for us is sales is no longer doing the renewals, but rather this customer management team. We debated, we tried different things, we failed. I do believe that we’ll continue to reiterate how we’re structured with the goal of continuing to be very flat.
By being so close to the customer, and along with the CEO and the President right by us, it’s made a huge impact on how we’re delivering our service.
Nick: That’s awesome. One thing you can take away from these three different org charts is that there’s not one org chart for customer success and it’s not just one role. It really is a company wide thing.
Let’s dive into some practical things around people, I bet folks are struggling with. There’re some people in the audience who probably don’t have any CSMs at all. They have an early, early stage startup. Who should they hire for the first CSM? What do they look for?
Do they want a salesperson, product person? Do they want somebody who’s good at just making stuff up on the fly? Who’s that perfect person?
I must start at Emilia just because you are at probably the youngest company in the room.
Emilia: I would say, make it someone who knows what they’re doing, you really can’t mess up your first customers. If you don’t have an advocate for your first customers who signed that deal, then what does your future look like?
The perfect example is WalkMe works well on Workday. We have hired expert consultants to come in house and be able to coach our customers, tell them what to do with our product so that they can quickly get ROI from using our platform.
Nick: Anyone else had an experience where you just found an awesome early stage CSM that you want to share?
Catherine: To answer that question, I would actually go to what you mentioned a minute ago like, “Who to look for.” That’s where you’re going to get that right fit.
I think about that first CSM. By the way, I’m a big advocate for hiring CSMs ahead of sales, which we may want to talk about in a moment. When you think about it or trying to actually scale the co founders, so depending on whether or not your product is super, super technical or it’s easy to implement.
I need an evangelist about how easy it is to use and how to get to value quickly, whatever that is, that first CSM should really help your co founders scale so they can continue to drive the business forward and really have that CSM take care of the customers that you’ve landed.
Nick: I love that idea of hiring CSMs before sales. Actually, anyone hired a CSM before you hired a salesperson in the audience, raise your hand? We’ve got a few there.
Nick: I see that. Congratulations to these brave souls. Great job.
Nick: Well I always tell people to do that and they think I’m biased for some reason.
Nick: Tell me why somebody would hire CSMs before salespeople?
Catherine: Two things. First of all, you’re really trying to get to product market fit. When it’s early…I’ve participated in very early stage companies and if you haven’t figured that out, why on earth would you pay a salesperson commission before you know if you’re going to retain your customers?
It’s that first 100 customers, maybe first 10, 20 customers, depending on your business model, before you even think about commissioning a sales force.
Nick: That’s awesome. Really, really encouraging. Let’s talk about the next stage. There are some companies in the room that have five CSMs, they’ve 10 CSMs, they’ve three, maybe they’re doing a whole bunch of different things. Now, they want to hire a VP of customer success.
I’ll give you an observation, then ask you the question. Observation is there’s a decent amount of churn in the VP of customer success job, in that people hire VPs and then doesn’t work out, etc. What do people need to look for in that first customer success leader?
I’m going to go to Maria, first. Even though you’re not managing it, what have you seen cross functionally there?
Maria: I’m super transparent, so I’m going to put all our dirty laundry out there. We’ve had some churn in that area.
Nick: Churn in the leadership?
Maria: In the leadership, yeah. That’s something to be really open about, talk about. I think that is an area where we probably could have done a little better. I’ve been with the company for four years that I’ve been in the position I have, and some of our other leaders have been in the position. Our founders are very involved.
It really does go back to the entire company taking that CSM, being responsible for the advocates so that it doesn’t feel like there’s this awkward transition. The customer has multiple points through the company.
The majority of our accounts have executive sponsors, so even if that CSM leader isn’t there, we can then still continue to have a connection with that company. I think that’s important.
The other piece there is making sure…We wish that we would have taken more time at that role, understood where it was going to be in our organization and thought a little bit more about how the company was going to evolve. Our growth has been very fast, so I don’t know that we could perfectly have predicted some of it.
That has been a challenge. We have all made up for it but I think it’s something to really spend some time and think about, not just make, not just think like, “They’ll take care of the customers.” It should be as important as your head of sales or even who you’re considering as your other co founders.
Nick: There’s a good analogy there, because VP of sales for a lot of companies, you hire one sometimes, it doesn’t work out. You hire another, so marketing the same thing. You’re going to say something, Catherine.
Catherine: I was just going to agree, because I think the customer success leader, in many ways, should be your most strategic resource and executive in the company because if you would think about it, your customer success organization should really be the mirror around what is working and what isn’t working, who are your best customers, and who are the ones really struggling.
To answer your question about churn, I have two theories. The first is, we see churn when that leader isn’t either at that level yet for the organization to be that mirror, either I don’t have the analytics, I don’t have the operations, I’m not close enough to the customers so I can really reflect back as to what’s going on.
It’s really that right fit where the company is for the leader you’re hiring. How can I be that mirror?
Quite frankly, the second issue, Nick, of why we see churn is that we see, unfortunately, companies not wanting to look in the mirror.
Catherine: What I’m reflecting back, perhaps I don’t want to do something about it or maybe I don’t want to see that what’s in it, I need to go solve.
Nick: Looking in the mirror is brutal sometimes. Luckily, we all had makeup before this session. It was very helpful.
Catherine: It’s true.
Maria: To be clear, if you’re an Apttus customer, you’re perfect.
Nick: Emilia, last word on this thing because I think that you might have seen some colleagues, peers in other companies where it didn’t work out. What are the things you’ve learned about hiring a CS leader?
Emilia: Sure. I would say, luckily, for example, at Jobvite, I interviewed the Vice President that was going to be my boss. That was great. I will say that one of the most important things is when you’re hiring that Vice President, they have to be able to roll up their sleeves as well.
I’ve experienced firsthand where you hire someone who is at this level, at this strategic level, putting in all the operations, but has no idea what the customer pain points are or how your product even works. That’s not a true leader.
Nick: They’ve got to be able to go down to one foot and up to 30,000 and back and forth. That’s great.
Let’s talk about metrics now, because I think this is where it gets even more tangible. If I can ask the organizer to go back to slide 46, just flip back, we’re going to actually go into the dashboards.
Thank you. Great.
We’re going to talk about dashboards. I think this dashboard is Maria’s dashboard. Basically question is, what’s on your dashboard? What do you look at?
Maria: This isn’t exactly a dashboard. I cheated a little. I have to look this way because the screen is really small over here. What you’re seeing here is a lot of the things that we measure. It’s not just about customer retention but it’s about their path with us.
We do look at things like, are they using our product? You see that there. We also look at how they connect with us. That second piece there…Again, I know it’s a little small for you. It talks about all the different connection points we have. We do then have a dashboard. We use Gainsight.
Nick: Well done. Thank you.
Maria: We very proudly use Gainsight. That helps us for any account. I can log in at any time and I can see the status of that customer. It’s not just on one dimension. It’s not just NPS or a summary of the last interaction, but essentially a number of different dimensions that cover across different areas.
A customer may be green in one area but yellow in another. That’s really important for helping group customers together when we want to help on a particular topic.
If adoption is an issue, on the right here, you see our adoption dashboard, we’re really interested in our customers having visibility. That would be a dashboard that they use to see if they’re using our product.
We may bring those customers together to talk about adoption or maybe they’re having technical difficulties. Whatever it is, having the different dimensions of success for them is really important.
We look across that. We look at a lot of typical metrics like, how many of our customers are yellow or what are the things that have caused them to be yellow? If you’re waiting for that as the way to respond to customer success, it’s already way too late.
Nick: That’s great, totally agree.
Let’s go now, go ahead. I think this is Emilia’s. I’ll let you go next.
Emilia: When it comes to your metrics, of course, you have your health score. What I’ve learned is that a health score is really insignificant if you’re not looking at it from what segment or what vertical, what platform are they using because there isn’t a dashboard that fits all customers. You really have to incorporate that.
As well, there are analytics, there are predictive analytics, many tools out there that you can use today to understand how the customer is using your product. Are they even logging in? Being really proactive with the information you receive.
One thing I learned at my prior company is really being able to teach your CSMs how to ask those open ended questions for your customers, being comfortable saying how you’re feeling about the relationship that we’ve built, what can we be doing better.
That’s not something that you can measure with any platform. It’s being able to have that confidence and being able to record it and act proactively or be taking action on what you’re learning and hearing from your customers.
Nick: Let me go to Catherine last. I think your slide…For some reason, your slides aren’t in there.
Catherine: That’s OK. The one takeaway though that I would think about is what we’re focused on, which is, in order to develop a dashboard, you first need to look in the rear view mirror.
What needs to be in your dashboard, of course, are things that you would analyze that happened along the journey. How do I actually repeat success of my most successful customers are things I can measure to make sure that the customers I’m landing and on boarding and managing are going to reach that hyper green state.
At the same time, what are my red customers, customers who have left or down sold, what are those reasons? What are the things I would put into a dashboard to measure either as prevention or things that we’d want to make sure we’re doing better over time.
Of course, that would implicate how you would think about a health score or how you would think about measuring advocacy. I think you have to have that understanding of who your best customers are and who really struggle to really build up that dashboard.
Nick: That’s a great segue. I’ve got a few rapid fire questions on metrics to make it really tangible. Maria, how do you measure advocacy? Some people in the room buy into the concept, how do we measure it?
Maria: We look at the number of customers that are willing to speak in some way on our behalf.
Nick: That’s great. That’s whether they speak at a conference or a peer to peer reference.
Maria: We essentially ask people if they will…We give them a list of options. Some of them will do public facing things, some just reference, but if they’re willing to speak…We look at that by product and the by number of people in the company because you often think, “I’ve got this one person,” but really, we’re trying to build lots of different relationships with different roles in the organization.
Nick: Next question, customer success apparently can be charged for, which we were just talking about before. Some companies are actually charging for customer success either upfront or ongoing.
Catherine, you’ve thought about this a lot. What can you charge for versus what’s built into the platform?
Catherine: Sure. Before you can have that ask for the services order conversation with your customer, you need to make sure that you actually have tools available that they can opt to do themselves. Whether that’s resources in the community or training online content that they can consume on their own.
That paid conversation becomes around accelerating my success, either I don’t have the time or I don’t have the resources and I want to be able have your team come in and help.
I know we’re going to get to lessons learned but I think that’s something that you just need to keep thinking about even early around how you’re going to start scaling your success organizations, start to discern what could actually at some point in time be so valuable and so strategic that I should charge money for it.
Nick: That’s awesome, that’s great. I think that’s something everyone should be thinking about is, what could you charge for?
Emilia, let me go to you next.
One of the challenges I think people might run into here is, what do I attribute to customer success? In other words, that customer renewed or they churned, they up sold or they didn’t. How do you decide when the customer success effort gets credit?
Emilia: When it gets credited? I think it’s early on. If you’re doing your quarterly business reviews and you’re driving value with velocity being proactive and you’re seeing an uptick in their usage of the platform, you’re seeing them join your referral program, your advocacy program, the customer success manager should absolutely have that under their belt.
Whether you’re giving them a spiff or a bonus, or it’s part of their quarterly review, that’s something that’s very important. Without that customer success relationship, you don’t have a customer advocacy program.
You need to have a reason for your customer success managers to take that extra step when they’re working with their customers.
Nick: That’s great. Last question on metrics. Catherine talked about the fact that a customer success person at an early company can be almost of a virtual co founder. I thought that was a great analogy. Probably make the product better.
How do we measure customer success’ impact on the product? What are the ways to think about how to make that tangible?
Anyone. You can go, Catherine, or anyone else if you want to.
Catherine: It’s an important one because whether your first CSM hired or how you think about scaling your CSM program, we need to be really thinking about how customer success can be tightly aligned and engaged with product.
I know there’s lots of ways to do that at scale around whether it’s product advisory groups or even internal product council meetings that you can have to make sure that the product organization that’s scaling and building and developing is in touch with what’s happening in the marketplace.
I think in terms of that at scale feedback, it would certainly be around looking at whether it’s adoption, metrics that would help you understand whether or not the things that your team is developing is actually being leveraged, whether or not your most retented features are leading to customer advocacy, customers that will renew.
There’s lots of ways to measure it. I would definitely say that having product and development at the table, owning that retention and advocacy of the customer is going to lead to really that outcome of really ensuring product market fit occurs.
Nick: That’s great. I think customer success can really help drive product market fit, which is a good lesson. Let’s move onto lessons. Go back to slide 47. Sorry for the out of order slides. If the host can go back, that’d be great.
This last section is, “My Pain, Your Gain.” The basic idea is things you learned along the way that you’re going to share with the audience. I forget whose slide is this. This one…
Maria: This is mine.
Nick: This is yours.
Maria: Sorry, again. I really tried apparently to put a lot of text on every slide so you can’t read it. I’m going to deviate from this for a second. There’s something that I remembered as we were talking here that I want to share. Nick, unfortunately, just passed to me. I’m going to take over.
Nick: Take it away.
Maria: As you’re starting a company, it is tied to the last question, if one day I am a CEO, something that I talk to a startup that they did is, how many of you ring a bell every time you win a deal?
It’s a big thing in a startup. They were ringing a bell when the customer became referenceable. Their early goal, they were an A realm company, was to get to that 60 customers that were not ringing the bell when the deal was won, but when that customer said that they would speak on their behalf.
They were going to get these 60 logos to their website. I think that’s something that back to metrics like you either get them there or you don’t. [laughs] I think that really brings the priority to not just selling but to success. I think that can be a pain that your company may be able to avoid if you do something like that.
I think some of the other things I covered in here talking about trying to keep a leader who is consistent with the organization.
If you’re fast growth, your customers are going to experience different CSMs, different people in the organization, not because they’re leaving, but because you add new people and you’ve got to figure a way to cover everyone.
Just being open talking to your customers about that. Making them feel like they graduated to the next person. I think a lot of that goes a long way if you’re a high growth company.
Nick: I would emphasize. I think that’s one of the biggest things, is the hand offs. If a customer feels passed around too many times, they just get frustrated, so really, really good points.
Let me bring up the next learning slide. I’m going to click ahead. I think my clicker is…There you go, cool.
Catherine: Are you going to tell them that you purposefully switched all the slides?
Maria: Yes, sure, I did it.
Emilia: I broke it down into three main categories in my career in customer success. The things I learned it’s around talent, the insights, and then constantly improving. Around talent, I think it was difficult for me to accept that I have to hire people that are way smarter than me to be successful.
At WalkMe, one of the first things I did is I built a customer operations team with a BI person who could pull all the numbers I needed to show what we were doing to our board and our CEO.
I hired two amazing designers to make our playbooks look incredible and our product obviously, and a project manager who could make sure that our entire team was running smoothly.
As a leader, I’ve seen this happen. I think it’s really important you have to understand the product. If you don’t understand the product, you don’t understand your customers and what their pain points are.
In terms of insights with products like Gainsight, I think one of the mistakes we made when I implemented it at my last company is we didn’t implement it soon enough.
Companies think they need analytics and insights when it’s too late, when you’re being reactive. You actually need to be proactive with insights into your customers and what they need and want from you. That has to be done with velocity. I love that word. I think it’s important.
Last but not least, you have to constantly improve every quarter. If you’re not evaluating what your company is doing, how they’re doing it, you’re already falling behind.
One model I love to use and again I learned this at BrightEdge and I still use it is the salesforce, the V2MOM. What is your vision? What are your values? What are your methods?
What obstacles do you have and how will you measure yourself? Being able to put that on paper and being transparent with the team on these goals will make you so much better, will help you with your stretch goals. You have to be willing to improve yourself. What customer success means not just for your organization, but more importantly your customers?
Nick: Great. Catherine, I think the slide is not there. Do you want to share some mistakes you’ve seen?
Catherine: Yeah. I’d say just three key takeaways. Lessons from the road would be number one, what’s the purpose drives everything. What is the purpose of your customer success organization?
Number two would be hire early, earlier the better. Number three would be really thinking about asking for that services order. You’d be surprised. I think you can ask for it sooner than you think.
Nick: Asking for people to pay?
Catherine: That’s right.
Nick: Which is a foreign concept to a lot of people, but I think it’s very, very valuable. I want to talk about a couple of other practical things in this learning area. One of them is recruiting. We all are trying to recruit people to come into customer success, but also into sales and marketing.
If you’re advising like a family friend whose kid just graduated from college on why they should go into customer success versus sales, or marketing, or engineering, or other areas.
Maria, you’re in marketing, so I don’t know if you would pitch that or the other way. How would you think about like what’s the career opportunity in customer success?
Maria: Go ahead.
Catherine: No, go ahead.
Maria: No, I was just going to say I think generally you have to have a good business acumen. I think we’ve had successful CSMs come from, we’ve hired people with experience in the area, but we’ve trained people, we’ve brought people from sales development, from marketing.
I do think that with a CSM, you don’t want somebody who is over sympathetic to the customer that’s working against the org. Some of you have your minimum viable product. You’re trying to do a specific thing. You want somebody who’s going to understand what you’re trying to achieve and can help get that customer to that goal.
I think it is a compassion and understanding what the customer is trying to do, but good business acumen to make sure that they can align to the business as well.
Nick: Why should somebody, maybe somebody else take this work in customer…? What’s the advantage of working in customer success? Why is it a good career? Emilia, why don’t you go?
Emilia: I think people should work in customer success if you’re passionate about people, solving problems, managing projects, and being a critical thinker or analytical. All those things keep me up at night. I am so passionate about customer success. If someone can find that passion in their work, why wouldn’t they be in customer success?
Nick: You’ve got a pitch, Catherine?
Catherine: This is the one role where you’re actually helping customers achieve the business value. When you think about the other roles, it’s a moment in time. It’s segment of the journey. It’s to sell something. It is to implement something. It’s to solve a ticket.
This is the profession where you actually apply business knowledge, product expertise, and, Emilia, like you said project management across the life cycle of a customer.
Nick: We’ve now entered the lighting round, the very end and my word association that I like to end all my panels with. I’m going to do five words and you have to give me the first thing that comes to your mind. We’re going to go in order.
Nick: Promoter. OK, only promoters. NPS?
Emilia: Potentially annoying.
Nick: Potentially what?
Nick: Annoying, add more to that later. Churn?
Nick: Avoid. Good, that’s lesson for today. Churn?
Maria: Negative, no.
Emilia: Not necessary.
Catherine: I like that.
Nick: Not necessary. CSM?
Catherine: First to hire.
Nick: First to hire.
Maria: Customer love.
Nick: Customer love, good.
Nick: Hero. Jason Lemkin?
Emilia: Trail blazer.
Nick: Trail…oh my God. That’s should be on his bio, that’s awesome.
Nick: SaaStr, finally to close this out.
Nick: Innovation, all right. With that I want to thank all of you and thanks to these great panelists for teaching us about negative net churn.
Nick: Thank you very much.
Catherine: Thank you.
Emilia: Thank you.
Maria: Thank you.
Nick: Appreciate it.
(Cross-posted @ SaaStr)