I’m waiting on the corner of Broadway and 12th in Oakland, California. Google says there’s some really great Indian food near the Tribune Tower. (There is! The naan is crazy-delicious.) I’m eavesdropping on two locals also waiting for the lights to change.
“Do you know what’s going on at the Marriott?”
“No, but did you see they shut down the whole street?”
“I heard all the hotels downtown are full up.”
“I heard they’re shutting down Washington too!”
I was in Oakland for five days, and it seemed like the entire city was buzzing about Pulse, even if they didn’t know anything about it or Customer Success or Gainsight. In restaurants and shops and Ubers, everyone in Oakland had something to say. I was pretty shocked that almost all of it was overwhelmingly positive. In Silicon Valley, the word “disruption” gets thrown around as almost the highest aspiration for a tech company. But with Pulse, we’re talking about disrupting the daily lives of thousands of people and dozens of local businesses for a week. That’s why I was so amazed at the enthusiasm for Pulse from the community. They welcomed us with open arms and tremendous hospitality.
As I said, Pulse fever was palpable. Walking around the city, you wouldn’t have been able to avoid overhearing those same sorts of conversations I listened in on at the crosswalk. Walking around the Oakland Convention Center, there were also recurring conversations. Five topics kept popping up with almost everyone I talked to.
Here were the top trending topics at Pulse 2016:
#SalKhan If there was one speaker that brought the house down at Pulse, it was Khan Academy founder Sal Khan. Throughout the day and throughout the rest of the conference, people kept bringing up not just how entertaining the keynote was, but how valuable too. Considering his speech had no direct references to Customer Success, that’s impressive. But it makes sense: if you think about your customers as students, Khan Academy’s data-based, outside-the-box approach to meeting their needs and driving their success is a perfect analogue to how leading companies are thinking about their customers. Video, automated touch, redefining the roadmap to success, eschewing conventional wisdom: these are things that your Customer Success team needs to be taking leadership on in your company.
#CiscoSuccessShowcase Don Hart and Sanjiv Patel from Cisco’s Hobbit-themed presentation was one of the most popular and packed breakout sessions of the entire week. In general, the Customer Success Showcases were the most highly-anticipated. That’s not surprising. If somebody told you that two of the top Customer Success minds at one of the world’s most valuable companies would walk you through exactly how they implemented their CSM team, you’d be packing out an Oakland conference room too! Adventures are a lot easier when you have a wizard to guide you, and Sanjiv and Don are like Customer Success Gandalfs. Consistently in feedback, we’ve heard that this was one of the highest value sessions.
#TheRobotsAreComingForOurJobs Panel discussions are my favorite types of sessions. They introduce an element of unpredictability into what can sometimes seem rehearsed and rote. You never know when a top executive is going to go rogue and talk about whatever she or he wants to talk about! That’s kind of what happened during Ganesh Bell and Rowan Trollope’s panel on How the Internet of Things Demands Customer Success. There were some great learnings on how software companies are becoming service companies (and vice versa) and why modern companies can’t survive without a Customer Success strategy. Then at the end, Rowan and Ganesh had a fascinating back and forth on the perils and benefits of an automated economy. It was some next-level, “Blade Runner” type stuff. There’s too much to go into here, but I took pretty detailed notes on this session. Check them out here, or just watch the session for yourself!
#FunctionalSummits This was a brand new feature of Pulse in 2016. We didn’t know fully what to expect when we planned it, but the theory is this: Customer Success is the real deal. You know that, we know that. Everybody knows that, but critical sectors of your company might not be on board with a customer-centric mission plan. We see Pulse as the beating heart of the Customer Success community, but the event isn’t just for CSMs. Every single person at your company can get value from Pulse — at least that was the idea. It turns out that hundreds and hundreds of people were on board. The Functional Summits were packed. We got tons of feedback from CSMs as well as cross-functional roles saying that these were extremely high-value tracks. If there’s a meta-goal for the rest of the year across the Customer Success movement, it’s continue to spread a customer-focused mentality across functions and all the way up and down.
#KeithKrach Maybe the surprise hit as far as keynote speakers goes was DocuSign CEO Keith Krach. I’ll speak for myself here: I couldn’t wait to watch the panel with Billy Beane and Bob Myers. I’m a big baseball fan, and I’m extremely interested in the move to analytics in sports. They definitely did not disappoint me with their insightful and engaging discussion. But before Pulse, I didn’t know very much about Keith Krach and I’d only seen one or two clips of him speaking. From the moment he bounded on stage dancing to “Happy” by Pharrell, we all knew we were in for something special. It’s hard to put my finger on what made Keith such a dynamic presence, but we all could sense the charisma that’s undoubtedly a big part of what’s made him such a successful CEO. In his discussion with Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter, he pointed very clearly to a future dominated by Customer Success. “At the end of the day,” he said, “you’re in the people business and you’re in the trust business.”
Those are just five of the buzziest topics from Pulse, but every attendee I talked to or read feedback from had at least one game-changing takeaway. I encourage you to watch the video recording of the keynotes and definitely do NOT miss “Customer Success: the Musical” featuring drop-dead hilarious parodies of Disney classics. Also, audio recordings are coming online. On top of that, every slide deck as well as detailed notes from almost every session are already online in our Box. Check out our Pulse recap site to access slides and audio as we get them uploaded.