Gainsight has partnered with many companies over the years, and each one brings something unique to the relationship. One such company that we continue to be impressed with is Valuize. Not only do they recognize that technology is the key to the customer success domain, they continue to lead with a scientific mindset.
Earlier this year, Nick Mehta sat down with Ross Fulton, Founder & CEO of Valuize. Ross is a longtime friend to us and appreciated for his expert perspective of customer success and where it’s headed. We wanted to learn what it is about their mindset and processes that stands them out amongst their competitors.
The Vision of Valuize
The genesis of Valuize lies in Ross’ nearly 20 years of seasoned experience in launching new business models in enterprise B2B software vendors and services providers. While still based in his hometown of London in the mid-2000s, Ross established and led both presales and post-sales strategy for a £250m ($500m) gain share revenue model business for Computacenter, Europe’s largest technology services company.
“Launching and scaling the gain share revenue model business was a powerful experience for me early in my career. Gain share meant that my company only earned revenue when we delivered value, in this case, cost savings, to the customer. It was the ultimate customer success business model at the time.”
After moving to Vancouver (Canada), Ross built the customer success strategy and organization for one of Vancouver’s largest software companies, ACL, as part of their overall transition to a cloud-focused tech stack and, more significantly for Ross, a subscription-based revenue model.
“To be on the front line of a 25-year-old software company transforming from on-prem to cloud-first and a perpetual licensing revenue model to a subscription revenue model was the best education I could ever ask for. I became a student of subscription unit economics and how both sales and customer success strategies could make or break this type of business model.”
By 2016, Ross realized that every B2B software company was going to need to understand how to design, operationalize and integrate their sales and customer success strategies if they wanted to survive and grow in the new subscription economy. Valuize was born.
Since then, Valuize has been on a mission to help B2B software companies retain and expand their customers and revenue at scale. How do they do this? With a proven framework and methodology to design, operationalize, and integrate customer success strategy, all while using some of the industry’s best practices based on expertly designed playbooks. It is safe to say that Valuize has not just watched the evolution of customer success, it is at the forefront of CS process innovation.
We asked Ross, with all his wisdom and vision of customer success, what is he doing now with Valuize to change the game for current customers? He believes that it begins with companies finally having the realization that both customer success and the subscription or consumption economy is here to stay.
Customer Success and SaaS is Here to Stay
The economic risks and opportunities of B2B software as a recurring revenue business has been understood by smart operators and private investors for over five years. Today, however, this understanding has spread into the public markets. Now, for both private and public companies, to survive the current economic climate and the future, retention, and expansion of the existing customer base is a must. As for the acquisition of new customers, it is critical to understand that not just any customer will do. They must be the RIGHT customers. Ross realizes that this doesn’t magically happen.
Leadership must embrace the customer success reality. It can’t be a pet project. It has to be the heart of your organization. Any company without CS centric leadership in place will have difficulty moving forward, especially in this time of crisis. Even with technology and the best CSMs, a CS organization that is not focused on customer success internally as well as externally will not attain its goals as quickly.
Using the Right Technology and Specialized CSMs
Organizations must recognize that implementing customer success technology alone can’t solve customer retention problems. Companies must accept that it takes a deep level of specialization to achieve this and scale. While businesses can do a lot with many CRM platforms or even their existing one, to truly excel, you need a best of breed platform—like Gainsight.
For Valuize, they enter a situation knowing how to drive and engineer sustainable growth with a strategy that not only retains and expands customers but that can be fully operationalized to drive both efficiency and scale. They help clients understand how to build an ideal revenue model that can be easily automated and scaled with the right technology. That is why Valuize believes the relationship with Gainsight is so successful.
Unfortunately, companies don’t comprehend that there is a deeper nuance to this motion, which is the third dimension to Valuize’s customer success formula. Simply put, your CSMs can’t be generalists. Companies need specialized teams in functional roles. Also, CSMs must have in-depth knowledge of the jobs your customers perform and how they realize value by performing those jobs in your software. This is not a place where you can fake it until you make it. CS team members must comprehend how their product solves the needs of the customer.
Having a higher level of investment in the combination of talent and technology is critical to achieving your company’s and customer’s goals in the new age of customer success. And Valuize has figured out a way to operationalize the formula very well.
To help companies meet their challenges, Valuize created a three-level strategy framework built on definition, operationalization, and integration. They discovered that there is indeed a flow to CS strategy sequencing, and if this framework is going to be effective, it must be specific.
Creating a Strategy Framework
The definition level that Ross described indicated a need to define what “value” is not only for your company but also for each customer. Valuize has been teaching a methodology that centers on a multi-dynamic prescriptive approach to delivering value to customers that is required to be successful. Essentially, it is the essence of customer-centricity. If you know the customer’s goals and what they want to obtain regarding value, you can map out desired outcomes before adoption.
Next, what are the paths to that value, and how do you get the customer to realize that value. This isn’t merely a statement on a whiteboard. “There’s a lot of details and science around how we get customers to realize value,” Ross stated. He explained that the root of the path to value is found in adoption.
There is not a quick and slick option for adoption. According to Ross, “If we give them two weeks of training, that won’t cut it. If we give them a CSM, that won’t cut it. There’s a specific prescription facilitated by data executed in a certain sequence that needs to be delivered on.” Everyone must be willing to do their job, especially the customer.
Operationalizing Success for All
If every CS provider has a good grasp on the value they can deliver to customers, their effectiveness and efficiency will be exponentially elevated while working with the right technology. For Valuize, they recommend Gainsight. Ross stated that working with customers who have Gainsight’s software helps drive value. One example he gave was Splunk who have driven over 50% faster adoption in their customers by working with Valuize and Gainsight.
Splunk approached Valuize as part of their transformation towards cloud and subscription revenue. There is little doubt that the key outcomes Valuize delivers are optimizing efficiency for its partners. But the accurate measure of Splunk’s success was in efficacy. Ross explained that Valuize helped Splunk operationalize the delivery of outcomes that represent measurable value prescribed during the pre-sale process. By having those goals in hand, they are not going into adoption phases asking, “So what would you like to do?”
The CS provider should want to establish success criteria for each customer that goes beyond QBR and EBR completions, status calls, and “logins” and “clicks”. It must be based on a balance of prescribed measurable outcomes, data of health scorecards, and intimate knowledge of the customer. Without these, you can lose the ability to leverage facts and the interior understanding of what makes your customer “tick.”
The Successful People/Process/Tech Approach
Valuize has recognized that often the greatest resource companies have are people, whether employees or customers. Because people are resources that must be empowered with knowledge, facts, and proper use of that information. Without them, there is no valid accountability. Without accountability, especially in revenue, a company can not make the ever-important overall shift to real customer success.
The most successful CSM orgs are being empowered with accountability and incentivization around revenue through the execution of CS strategy. As a leader of customer success, whether a CCO or VP, you will not get a high level of accountability and buy-in by your CSMs if they’re not shown respect through incentivization or the ability to own the revenue they are bringing in. If companies wish to bring a new level of accountability to their CS teams and organizations, CSMs must be incentivized appropriately.
Incentives should be aligned with other revenue-generating functions, like Sales. Without this incentive equality, your CS organization is on the back foot of sales. Sales are incentivized in one direction, and CS is incentivized in the other. Ross explained it this way. “If CS is aligned around goals that the PS org is integral to achieving but PS isn’t aligned to those incentives, the whole thing is dead in the water.”
Another identified critical commitment that companies must have is a designated department for customer success operations. According to Ross, “The real successful orgs have recognized CS ops as a distinct, critical domain, function, and team. It is not something to stick on the desk of sales ops or IT.” The importance of data intelligence for CS and the company’s unit economics are incredibly high. “Our best clients are going to town on advanced data intelligence,” Ross added. For Gainsight, this has been recognized as mission-critical for our clients. Accordingly, CS should have the apparatus and infrastructure to deliver value. It can’t be something anyone should be doing part-time or merely as a makeshift motion put together to fill the gap.
A second resource in the People/Process/Tech Approach is the developed processes that help the customer realize value quickly. According to Ross, it is must be embedded in the customer journey, so you can designate “what measurable outcomes should this customer be achieving at each stage of the life cycle, what are all the activities we should be performing, and they [the customer] should be performing, and what leading and lagging indicators should we be tracking to confirm those outcomes.”
Valuize is committed to the science around achieving that measurable value, including utilizing Lean. Many companies have an inward-looking view when designing their process. No matter the process, it is imperative to align it to the value the customer wants or needs to achieve. Also, one cannot escape recognizing that the client has a responsibility and accountability toward achieving their own goals. Everyone must partake in the process of attaining those goals. The customer must understand you can’t expect money to magically pour out of the ceiling just by getting the technology to manage your customers. Process and people are an essential part of attaining value.
Technology is the last part of the Valuize approach to customer success strategy. Technology is essential, but it is a leg on a three-legged stool, a valuable one, but still a leg nonetheless. Without it, the stool can not stand. Technology enables a granular approach to data inputs and outputs. Technology allows the use of RACIs around task models, making it easy to see who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
Having the right technology is essential to customer success. You will need to gather all the information to the right place, giving visibility to all teams. It also helps bring sales data into the CS process. For Valuize’s customers, they highly recommend Gainsight’s PX with Journey Orchestrator integration. It is pre-mapped to maximize the value delivered. Once the customer’s journey map is created, with the designated outcomes desired, you can measure and track those outcomes. You can even see the comparison of adoption targets with depth and breadth of usage. Ross advised that while value should be as prescriptive as possible, in enterprise software it’s never entirely standard. “It’s never going to be 100% fit across companies even in the same vertical. This is a bespoke approach built on prescriptive best practices. It’s not a case of just turning on a bunch of best practices.”
True success plans, no matter the platform used, starts with the value path you’ve defined. But those paths are becoming more defined. “We’re moving away from activity playbook tasks that are generic,” Ross stated, “toward understanding what value/outcomes mean to each company and their client base.”
The Time of Customer Success
Whatever strategy or technology you are using or looking to implement, Ross reminds us all that it is a time of Customer Success. The fact is that while many companies are scaling back in many parts of their organization, they are investing heavily in CS. CSMs are being hired, and companies are becoming customer-centric. Ross summed it up when he said, “The current situation, economic landscape now, it’s [customer success] never been more important to any company in any vertical. This is customer success’ time right now. No one’s happy, but this is where CS will emerge as the mission-critical strategy for companies that value customers.”