Originally published on inSided.com on April 6, 2021.
In Episode 10 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: customer conversations.
Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Steve Sanchez, VP of Customer Success at Gong, and Adam Joseph, Head of Customer Success at Gainsight.
They’ll dive into how you can understand your customer conversations better and at what point should you consider Customer Success tooling and software in order to scale your customer interactions.
Forgot your headphones? No problem. Check out the transcript of the conversation below. Don’t forget to follow The inSide Scoop on Customer Success over on Spotify!
Show Notes + Links:
- Connect with Steve Sanchez on LinkedIn
- Connect with Adam Joseph on LinkedIn
- Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue here
- Customer Success Network
Anika Zubair (01:32): So before we get into the topic today guys, I’d really love to hear a little bit more about yourself. So please can you maybe tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you got started and how you ended up there? So Steve, over to you, how did you get started in CS?
Steve Sanchez (01:49): Sure. So, I’m Steve Sanchez, VP of Customer Success here at Gong. I’ve been here for about two years, and prior to Gong, I kind of bounced around the tech landscape and SaaS landscape for several years, either in account management or customer success as an IC, as a seller, and then also building and scaling teams as well. So, my journey to CS was a bit of a different one. I was in banking during the recession which was the worst time to be in it and I was essentially portfolio managing and needed to parlay some of those skills to some other industry that was a much better fit for me and didn’t make me as depressed, day in and day out. So I ended up through a friend, landing in SaaS, and that’s kind of where my journey began.
Anika Zubair (02:38): Awesome, I love that. What a unique background from banking into SaaS/ Customer Success. I really love how CS professionals and leaders end up in this space. Adam, how about over to you? Where did you start and how did you end up where you are today?
Adam Joseph (02:53): First of all, thank you so much for the invitation to be on. It’s great to be here. My journey into customer success was somewhat planned and somewhat circuitous. About 20 years ago now, which sounds an awfully long time ago, I joined a company that was hiring their first-ever CSM. It wasn’t called that back then. I think the title was a business application consultant, which never really took on, not the way Customer Success management did, but essentially it was an embryonic CSM role. They just moved off the CD ROM. God, that really ages it. Into online. Now we just use CD ROMs for coffee cup holders, right? But I had a portfolio of accounts that my responsibility was just to understand what value that lead to those customers and drive a proactive program towards it. Well, that’s just customer success under another name, and found something that I absolutely loved doing, and so grew that over 12 years from a one-man-band to a global organization of about 35-40 people, and then really built my career out from them.
Adam Joseph (03:53): I joined another company as their VP of services, and then actually spent a couple of years in the consulting world. It was a really interesting question with my wife to say, “Can I give up a well-paid job and go and become a panelist consultant?” And believe it or not, she agreed. So I went out and helped companies implement customer success or more typically scalar, delivered training, when not programs. I absolutely loved doing it and a key part of my job as a consultant was to help businesses pick the right customer success technology and implement it. So very relevant for today’s discussion, and was very close with the team at Gainsight and thrilled when they asked me to join the team. It’s been a great journey over many years, and just feel very fortunate to be in a profession that I hugely enjoy, and I’ve learned a lot from and met some great people along the way
Anika Zubair (04:39): Amazing. Love hearing that too, Adam, and also just that whole journey of really doing what you love. So love hearing that. So guys, before we jump into the main topic that we are talking about today, I thought it would be good for us to have a warm-up round, like any good sport. You’ve got a warm-up for it. So I thought I’d get you guys ready by warming you up by asking a few questions for our listeners to get to know you a little bit better but also get you in the mindset of chatting today. So my first question to warm up is would you pick, Apple or Google, Steve?
Steve Sanchez (05:12): Apple.
Anika Zubair (05:13): Good answer. And Adam, Apple or Google?
Adam Joseph (05:16): Apple as well.
Anika Zubair (05:18): Awesome, love hearing it. Okay, next warm-up question. Dog or cat, Steve?
Steve Sanchez (05:22): Dog.
Anika Zubair (05:23): Awesome. Great answer. Loving this already. Adam, dog, or cat?
Adam Joseph (05:26): I’ve got a dog just outside the door here who is going to start barking any minute. So, dog all the way. We’re probably going to hear from her any minute. So, I’ll introduce her as well.
Anika Zubair (05:37): And the last question before we jump into the topic, if you were stuck on a desert island which three things would you take with you, and why? Steve, over to you.
Steve Sanchez (05:46): I would say, my wife. I think she’ll be happy to hear that that’s the first thing that would be helpful. A cast-iron skillet and lastly, a knife.
Anika Zubair (06:01): Wow, interesting three things. I guess more for cooking but also interesting to hear that.
Steve Sanchez (06:06): I’m thinking more about survival here at this point.
Anika Zubair (06:10): Adam, what about you? Which three things would you take?
Adam Joseph (06:12): I can’t think of any man less equipped to be on a desert island than me. If you’ve got Bear Grylls on one end of the spectrum, I’m on the direct opposite of that. I’m gonna feel really bad now because instead of saying my wife, I’m going to say my dog. My wife, she’s sick of me already, so I’ll definitely fit the dog because no matter what I do, she’s always by my side. So definitely the dog number one. Number two is I’m a huge sports fan, so if I could throw two things together would be my Sky Sports subscription because I’ve got to get my football, or for Steve, soccer, although I hate saying that word but I’ll keep with football.
Steve Sanchez (06:47): I appreciate it.
Adam Joseph (06:48): Unfortunately, I do have an addiction. It’s not heroin or cocaine but it’s Diet Coke. I do try and control it so I’ll just take a crate of Diet Coke with me as well and live out my days in a desert island with my diet coke, my football, and poppy the cockapoo.
Anika Zubair (07:05): Wow, I love the totally opposite answers I got between you and Steve. [crosstalk 00:07:09]
Adam Joseph (07:08): Well we agree on every other answer, so we might as well disagree on this one.
Anika Zubair (07:14): Good start there, guys, awesome. Let’s actually, now that we’re warmed up, let’s jump into some of the questions all-around quality customer success conversation. Today we’re going to talk all about CS tools, and the purpose of them, and for the people that are listening that have no idea what Gainsight and Gong are which I find hard to believe at this point but can you guys each give me an elevator pitch of why your software is a purpose-built CS tool? Adam, I’ll come to you first.
Adam Joseph (07:43): Sure, so I think Gainsight is probably best known for being the customer success company. So, I always describe Gainsight as we’re here to super-boost the efficiency of customer success managers. We want to automate manual and repetitive tasks and give the whole business visibility into customer health and what actions I need to take to ensure that the core metrics that they really care about such as renewal growth and advocacy remain as high as possible, but ultimately we want to create exceptional experiences at scale, deliver the business outcomes that your customers demand and fuel growth throughout the customer base. That’s Gainsight.
Anika Zubair (08:18): Awesome. Thanks, Adam. How about, Steve, what does Gong do?
Steve Sanchez (08:22): Yeah. So at a high level, Gong is a revenue intelligence platform that captures your customer interactions across phone and web conferencing and email. It understands what was said in these interactions and it delivers insights to help your team win more deals or have better customer interactions based on your learnings from that go-to-market or voice of customer data. So in an essence, initially the genesis of this was custom built for revenue teams or sellers, but obviously, as you’re mining and capturing all of those prospects and or customer interactions, you can get a deep understanding of what’s actually happening with your customers, how do they feel about the product, what milestones that your CSM’s are running, how are those leading to better results with your customers, inevitably, more value delivered.
Steve Sanchez (09:16): So those learnings alone, it’s hard for me to imagine a world without Gong. I’ve had it for several years now at this point. Even before joining here, I was a two-time customer but actually understanding what’s happening out in the field and applying that back and putting a cyclical approach to that what you deliver, hopefully moving up into the right when it comes to value delivery is something that Gong is an essential tool for.
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Anika Zubair (09:38): Amazing, thank you both for sharing that. It’s great to hear. I think a lot of our listeners are a part of customer success teams that are at different maturity levels. So some customer success teams at SaaS organizations are at different stages, whether you know your series A or you’re even maybe seed or even your you’re scaling up at this point. At what point should a CS leader or a CS team be looking into tooling that is purpose-built for customer success like Gong or Gainsight, Adam?
Adam Joseph (10:10): Sure, I think, a top-level. When you start losing intimacy with your customers when many startup organizations begin and the founder wear many hats. They’ll know each of their first customers, they’ll know who they are, they’ll know their spouses, their family, exactly why they bought the product, everything about them from A to Z. However, that doesn’t scale effectively, right? So that might work when you have 10 customers, it might work at a stretch when you’ve got 20 but what about when you’ve got 100, 200, 300, and beyond. So, when you start losing that intimacy, when you start seeing things that are unexpectedly shown because you’ve lost that intimacy with them, and also as you start to bring in these professionals called customer success managers, but they have to spend the majority of their time, like 80% of their time, purely in research mode. Who are my customers? When did they renew or what part of the life cycle are they at? What do I say to them when I contact them? You want to make sure the majority of your CSM teams are spent actioning and not researching.
Adam Joseph (11:09): Those are I think the two biggest signs to me that you need to think about, especially with customer success technology and I think when you break that down further, there are a number of challenges that organizations have that really call out the need for CS. And I mentioned scale earlier because as much as we’d all love to, organizations can’t keep hiring CSM’s every time you have a new customer. So you have to scale at some point. And as you grow as a business and hopefully start getting into the 1000s and 10s of 1000s of customers, you have to look to reduce the amount of manual work labor and effort and rely on technology to really help automate a lot of those activities that are very manual and take a lot of time. You also need to have a way to be able to look at customer health at scale, which ones of your customers are poised for growth but which ones need immediate attention or they’re gonna churn. You can’t just rely on lagging indicators. You need to get those early warning signals to know when to connect with your customer.
Adam Joseph (12:10): Adoption data is another one. Adoption isn’t always perfectly aligned to customer health because we’ve even seen customers with very high adoption still churn, but adoption is a key part of it and so you need a way of leveraging adoption data. And also, it’s not just about churn, but it’s also about expansion. So, which ones of your customers are poised for growth or advocacy. And again if you want to deliver that at scale and get those actionable insights quickly, you really need to start thinking about a specialized CS technology.
Anika Zubair (12:40): Yeah, I totally agree, especially the part about the long tail of your customers like a lot of times people are very, very wrapped up in the CS world about the one to one interaction and, like you said Adam, there’s only a certain point that your company can go until there’s, you can’t hire 500 CSM’s, what do you do with your long-tail customers or your tech-rich or your low touch? You need to give them the same customer experience that they would experience with a one-to-one CSM but be able to do that at scale. So I totally agree that there comes a point of maturity in a customer organization where you can no longer hire a CSM to handle it but you need tooling to really help you get the enormous value.
Adam Joseph (13:20): You know what’s funny? One of the biggest talking points over the last six months I’ve had with Gainsight customers is this whole ethos of a digital CSM, and how, even your product can be a virtual CSM in its own right. It’s a huge, huge area in the world of CS right now.
Anika Zubair (13:35): Yeah, and it’s something that we talk about every day at inSided as well as just the digital CSM or the digital touch of customer success and where that’s leading to and I think with all of us working from home and pandemic fueling it, I think everyone is seeing more and more need to have purpose-built Customer Success tooling in place in order to scale and in order to really make an effective customer journey, for not only humans CSM, but a tool like Gainsight, inSided or Gong. Steve, over to you on kind of the same question. At what point should a CS team be looking into purpose-built tooling like Gong and what maturity level would they have to be at?
Steve Sanchez (14:17): First of all, I agree with everything that you and Adam just mentioned. I think those are certainly some of the factors that should go into the decision-making when it comes to tooling and how to inevitably scale the CS organization and what the building blocks are to get there over time. Prior to that, I think it also makes sense to have a pretty good, and centralized understanding of what CS means to your organization. CS in a general sense or customer success ebbs and flows with the needs of the business as the business matures as your market and product matures as well.
Steve Sanchez (14:52): But I think it can also mean a lot of different things and I’m sure you all have seen many different variations or permutations of what CS can mean. So understanding what customer success means to your organization, the charter that it should have, inevitably, I think, will lead to some of those decisions down the line and make it easier when it comes time to make those decisions. And I heard a few things from Adam, which was understanding your efficiencies and, first of all, you’re just learning early on. So, you just need to get out there and learn, put people and see it and get an understanding of who your customers are, how do they leverage the product you’re both collectively learning in those early days. We used Gong to actually do that in our early days just to understand what’s actually happening out in the field before we had any opinion on how to truly support our customers and then at scale, but it’s those themes, those milestones, those opinions and that data infrastructure is another one that we invested in early to give us an understanding of the leading indicator and lagging indicator impact that anything we do collectively with our customers, what’s leading to the results that we would inevitably want. And conversely, what’s not going well?
Steve Sanchez (16:07): And I think Adam touched on a few items where a solution like Gainsight can really come in once you start to understand those themes, have an opinion around what data means risk, or what data means growth, or what data are positive signs of account health, and inevitably what leads to those. So what should CSM’s, if those are the people tasked with delivering certain milestones, what they should be doing and at which times. So I think just studying early as you go but for me the most important thing is getting a true sense and agreement on what CS means to the entire organization because it’s certainly a function, but it’s also a philosophy.
Anika Zubair (16:47): Yeah, I really love that. I really love hearing that because one person or one department can’t dictate how customer says actually happens and also what is kind of the maturity of the customer or the entire organization at that point can’t be dictated by one person, it really has to come back to what does customer success mean at the bare bones at your organization and also, like you said around the data point. So that really actually leads me to the next question I want to kind of bring up which is around some CEOs might say, “Hey, we’re not mature enough or we just don’t have the funding yet for a dedicated CS tool,” or any sort of tooling that’s just for the customer success management team, what kind of KPIs or metrics do you think would justify that a CS team is mature enough to have tooling like Gong, Steve?
Steve Sanchez (17:38): Yeah, I think it goes back to having an understanding of what CS is before you even have these. So anchoring the discussion around the genesis or the charter of that role and how it should be perceived early but then over time. That alone will set you up for better success when you’re asking for budget or hedge count or dollars. That alone should dictate how you can pass the plan because if you want to back into supporting millions of dollars where numbers of customers, you have already had a high-level agreement on how to actually get there, then it’s just up to allocate the budget, whether it’s a person or a solution. And that can go in a lot of different ways.
Steve Sanchez (18:17): It will also help you get an understanding of, you talked earlier about the long tail, Anika, which I think is a wildly different function that you’re building than what would be very high touch, CSM function. The tooling that would go into that would vary greatly. And again, getting an understanding of what you’re solving for early and over time, how you should think about that, what’s the high-level capacity framework that we can build and evolve over time of course to get an understanding of when those triggers are or when we can spin up the next headcount or solution, but it also comes back to the data. You need to prove what you’re doing is actually leading to the impact you expect, or the pain that you’re feeling today is going to compound over time and you can actually get in front of that by solving for some of these things or getting in front of some of these challenges with different types of tools, and whether that’s just simple data infrastructure, whether that’s the voice of customer data, or whether that is efficiencies and scaling that you can find with something like a game site or other CS solution. Those conversations are far easier down the road if you have that alignment upfront.
Anika Zubair (19:31): Yeah, I really like that and I also really like the fact that you’ve just mentioned that, again, where does your budget go? Should it go towards another CSM hire or should it maybe go towards tooling and as you also mentioned, thinking about the long tail or any of your tech touch or nonstrategic clients, you definitely need to start thinking about a digital lead customer success program that can really only be facilitated usually by some sort of tooling, whether it’s a CS tool or not. So it’s really important to think as a CS leader or as a CS organization, where is your budget going to go? Is it going to go towards hiring a CSM that’s one to one or are you looking to maybe scale at that point and then invest in tooling? Really, it’s a debate I think that anyone can have in customer success, where to put quite a bit the budget.
Steve Sanchez (20:22): Adam mentioned this earlier and I’m sure he’ll get into it but the linearity should not be just up into the right at the same pace over time. You need to find efficiencies, specifically in CS. I think you’ll feel that pressure more overtime than you might in other functions, because it’s not an easy equation. It’s not a pipeline in, dollars out equation every time. So finding those efficiencies early, or at least having a plan for them down the road is really going to make your life easier and inevitably have a much greater impact on your customers which is the goal you should all be striving for.
Anika Zubair (20:55): Totally agree. Efficiencies as well as making sure you’re scaling appropriately to this organization that you are. Adam, how about over to you about maybe some experiences you’ve had around either CEOs or boards telling CS leaders that we’re not mature enough or we’re not ready to actually have CS tooling in place? How can someone go about justifying that they need a tool like Gainsight?
Adam Joseph (21:19): Sure. I mean I just want to align with many things that Steve said. I started writing some notes and ticked them off as Steve was saying them for trying not to repeat some of the core themes of what Steve said. There are still some other things that I’d mentioned.
Adam Joseph (21:30): I think the first of all is, particularly in the subscription economy that many of the people that are listening to this podcast will be in, the vast majority of the lifetime value of a customer is going to come over their journey with you rather than a point of sale. So, whereas I think most sales organizations would have a CRM system, they wouldn’t be relying on spreadsheets or Google Sheets alone. Trying not to then manage how your customers who are achieving their outcomes without having a dedicated technology when so much of your revenue is tied into the success of your customer is somewhat crazy. If you’re truly invested in customer success, if you’re truly invested in helping your customers reach their outcomes, then you should really be thinking about whether you need customer success technology, and you’re at that point of maturity where you need to scale effectively.
Adam Joseph (22:23): So I think that’s one of the points. You need some kind of way of managing your customers, but more than that, I think, CSM is a really tough role and I’ve been an individual contributor. I’ve been a leader of those teams as well and it can be really tough, and you can’t have steam coming out of your ears, you can’t have seen CSM leave roles just because they are overworked. And so, one way of being able to show that you need a CS tool is that we need technology to really assist the team and to enable them to be successful and in order for us to be able to do that, we need to give them the best technology available, like Gong or Gainsight.
Adam Joseph (23:04): I think that’s really important, but also there are some KPIs that you can look at as well such as account loads per CSM. I mean you can have the best customer success strategy in the world but then if you’re going to give 500 accounts to each CSM, clearly it’s really difficult. I mean I’ve seen several studies on this and it does depend on what your technology is and the customer that you’re working with, but it is hard just from the number of hours in the day to be proactive once you start getting into the realms of 30, 40, 50 customers. So if you truly want to deliver a world-class customer success strategy then, again, you’re going to need software to really help you. I’ll also look at things such as ARR per CSM, the number of renewals that they’re working out in a quarter, how many logos they’re working with and I’ll use some of that to try and justify to a board that if we want to enable our CSM to be successful if we’re really interested in customer success, and helping our customers be successful, then we need to have some budget available for CS core technology.
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Anika Zubair (24:03): Awesome, awesome. I love all those metrics, Adam. It’s so important to keep those in mind as you continue to scale and the one thing I’ve just heard from both you and Steve is scale, scale, scale. It’s so important if you’re at a point of scale, you need to be able to create those meaningful interactions, touchpoints, QBR’s, whatever it is. They need to be meaningful and they need to make sense but are you actually using your CSM’s time effectively by having them use the same thing on 500 different accounts versus as you scale. You really need to optimize your entire process, really make sure that as you continue to scale you are using the correct tooling to help your CSM’s rather than to hold them back and make them do the same thing 500 times for example.
Anika Zubair (24:48): Love hearing the conversation going into the scale conversation which is what leads me to my next question which is, CSM’s tend to have conversations all the time that sits in the nature of the beast of being a CSM. You’re having talks with your customers, sometimes it’s just generic touchpoints or chats to catch up. Sometimes it’s EBR’s or QBR’s, whatever they’re being called these days and sometimes it’s a renewal discussion, but we tend to have lots of conversations as customer success managers but how can we actually quantify these conversations? Like what makes a meaningful conversation with the customer and maybe which one’s a waste of time? Steve, what do you think about that?
Steve Sanchez (25:28): So first of all, as I mentioned earlier, Gong records conversations that we have with our customers. So, especially in the COVID world, almost all of those are now over web conferencing. So conversations are something that we talk all the time about as you might expect, but inevitably conversations are there to lead to action. And although conversations are hard to measure and quantify and get an understanding of the level of quality within them. What you can measure is the action that you need them to lead to and that should be tied to value.
Steve Sanchez (26:05): So, there may be leading indicators of those actions that could be just are those customers starting to use the product immediately after some of those conversations or milestones that you’re delivering? Later down the road, hopefully, I would expect it’s not just about using it because that usage should lead to value that they perceive and they validate as a customer, and how you get there and the conversations that you expect to have and institute across your team as it grows over time shouldn’t lead to different types of action.
Steve Sanchez (26:39): So for us, we think about maturity, and what the path that customers go through over time, inevitably in line with the value that we expect to be delivered to them over time and it can go in a lot of different ways. We have a relatively vast landscape of use cases, for better or worse because it’s sometimes difficult to measure those. But again those conversations should lead to actions. So, obsessing over the outcomes, whether that’s at the highest level and what the customer is hoping to achieve or at a more micro level, you need to plug into this integration.
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