Welcome to our Change the Game in 5 minutes Series. Today I’m speaking with Janine Sneed, IBM’s Chief Digital Officer, Vice President of Customer Success IBM Cloud and Cognitive Software. IBM has one of the largest product portfolios in the world, and I’m proud of how they’ve found a way to drive customer success across so many business units and products. I knew Janine could tell me how a historically innovative company that’s been a household name for over a hundred years ensures consistency of outcomes for all customers—at scale?
Nick: Janine, we’ve got lots of important things to talk about today. But first things first. You’re a GameChanger. So in that spirit, what’s your go-to board game at home?
Janine: I don’t have a choice on that. My husband is an English teacher, so it’s Scrabble. He always wins—but he has a master’s degree in English, so it’s basically cheating!
Nick: Readers, do you know of a great cloud computing board game out there? Please let Janine know, so she can even the odds at home! Now, let’s get down to business. Janine, why did you need to change the game in terms of how IBM manages clients?
Janine: IBM is a data-driven company. We listen and understand how customers want to buy, what they want to buy, and how. More and more businesses are wanting to purchase as a service and in subscription models which means you really need a proactive post-sale motion to drive adoption.
As a company with a wide variety of brands and businesses, IBM looks to create consistency in that adoption motion across its business and product lines in a scalable way. Whether you’re a customer of IoT or AI, you expect consistent outcomes across the board. Fragmentation in any team’s process leads to fragmentation in the customer’s outcomes and experience. A company, the size of IBM, needs a high level of consistency, scale, and automation in adoption.
Nick: That’s a lot to think about! What operational changes did you make, and what was your thinking behind those changes?
Janine: It’s really 5 things. First, it starts with a strong, leadership team working together to build and scale Customer Success Practices. Second, it comes down to documenting those practices in Adoption, Expansion, and Renewal in a “playbook” so CSMs all around the world know how to do their job and show up consistently. Third, I’m a big believer in the integration of customer success applications with AI and data science. We have a data science team that helps understand customer usage, predict churn, and drive scale across the customer base. Fourth, we have customers that can’t cover with dedicated CSMs due to capacity. We are using Gainsight to segment tech-touch from high-touch to ensure all of our accounts are adopting so they don’t churn. Lastly, CSMs have to really know the products so they can advise customers on their journey maps and help them get value from the solutions. Technical skills matter a lot.
Nick: What went into making the go-to-market process more technical for IBM customers?
Janine: Our customer wants to talk to experts, not generalists, so I knew that the CSM couldn’t be on the sidelines of this effort. Continuous Learning is in IBM’s DNA. We have learning paths that are 2 pronged – learning customer success and learning products. For example, our CSMs in AI have to know how to build a bot. This empowers them to have specific conversations with their customers, which builds trust. At the same time, the need to know at what stage in the customer journey should they have the bot live, in production, scaled out across multiple channels. So it’s a mix of both knowing your profession and the product.
Nick: So, which tools did you decide are right for IBM—and how’d you make that decision?
Janine: For IBM, the tools are Gainsight, Braze, and our own Public Cloud Platform and Watson AI. The key criterion for selection was scalability: Can this technology bring the level of insight and consistency across a wide spectrum of business and product lines for a very long tail of customers?
I knew that automation was key for a digital CSM model. Could the platform IBM uses enable each CSM to drive growth at scale? Could it deliver integration with IBM’s robust data science technology? Could it work inside IBM’s stack to electronically nurture the long tail of customers? The answer to each of these questions had to be yes.
Nick: Of course it did! Now it’s time for my burning question. Janine, how did Gainsight help you change the game?
Janine: In Gainsight, every CSM is driving a growth plan for its clients. At the account level, that includes Calls to Action and Outreaches built-in Journey Orchestrator, based on set milestones. This type of e-nurture program helps with both the long tail and with named accounts.
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All of IBM’s cloud and cognitive software renewal reps are now inside Gainsight as well. They’re responsible for contract work and renewal logistics, but they also benefit from the level of customer visibility and insight that Gainsight provides. Even 180 days before renewal, they can look inside Gainsight and see churn forecasts. Getting that kind of predictability as far out as three quarters has been game-changing for my team.
Nick: I’m thrilled to hear it! What results have you seen?
Janine: Tracking the right results with precision is everything. IBM won’t tolerate fuzziness when it comes to outcomes metrics. That’s why the granularity and accuracy that Gainsight is capable of has been such a great fit. We have growth in Net Revenue Retention in units with CSMs and Software Subscription growth on accounts CSMs cover.
That’s a clear correlation, but our insights don’t stop there. We have dashboards to closely track the effectiveness of their activities and relate them to revenue—specifically, net revenue retention, MRR growth, and subscription revenue growth. The dashboards allow us to see if the CSMs are doing what we need them to do and if we’re going to see results. And we can make sure we’re giving them the right training and tools to empower them to be successful.
Nick: Janine, you truly are a customer success GameChanger. Thank you for sharing so much valuable information today. Have a great day!