In Episode 17 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: Driving value at scale with Digital Customer Success. Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Jeff Heckler, Director of Customer Success Solutions at MarketSource Inc. and one of Top 25 Global Customer Success Influencers.
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:
Anika (00:46): So welcome, Jeff, to the podcast. Before we jump into today’s topic, I would love to understand from you a little bit more about yourself let our listeners know what you’re doing right now in the customer success space. What are you doing at MarketSource? What does your company do? Give us a little bit of background on who you are.
Jeff (01:03): Sure. I appreciate that. And it’s great to be back here with you again, Anika. I always enjoy it when we can get together and talk shop. This is some of the best parts of my week, so I appreciate the time. So my background is 20 years of running customer success and professional services organizations, customer-facing revenue teams, in short, for organizations like SP, Accenture, Stanford. Currently, I am with Market Source, and we are a leading global provider of sales and customer success innovation solutions. So soup to nuts, top of the funnel, all the way through for customers for life, and everything in between. And I came here because the leaders here understand not only the value but also the evolution and revolution of customer success. Of course, in SaaS, but then also outside of technology companies.
Jeff (01:55): And so, some of the things that I’ve been saying for a long time or at least a while is that SAS is not just… I’m sorry. CS is not just for SaaS anymore. And so that all these wonderful principles and practices that we have in our hearts and our souls can be applicable across any organization that has a customer or provides a service. So I feel very strongly about that. And so at Market Source, I serve in the company of Rick Kaplan, who is our CEO and our Senior Vice President, David Joseph, and our VP Ben Simms, who spent a couple of years working with some of the well known global research teams and firms to bring customer success to the marketplace. And so I really think on a day to day, I run a think tank inside of a startup inside of a 46-year successful enterprise company. And so that’s where we are with customer success by MarketSource.
Anika (02:51): Amazing. That sounds like so much Inception, by the way, how you just described that. I was like, “Inside of this, inside of this, within CS.” I would definitely think, like, “Wow, there’s so much Inception, what Jeff is just saying right now. But I want to dig in a little bit deeper into your experience. You’re a part of multiple CS communities. You’re obviously all over LinkedIn. A lot of people are looking to you for CS guidance. You’re on advisory boards for CS companies like Cast.app, which is a digital customer success tool, which is what we are going to be chatting about in more detail today. But what do you think about digital customer success? How does it fit in with customer communities? Where is this whole evolution of CS going to?
Jeff (03:33): The nether world, everywhere and anywhere. So, gosh, let’s find some stakes in the ground. Earlier this week, one of your colleagues, Remco de Vries, posted an article on community that was really, really solid. And what I liked about it, it was when people think of community, most of the time they think of it as kind of the old-style LISTSERV from 20 plus years ago, and something in that manner where it’s just kind of one conduit. And really the community that he was talking about and a lot of us are talking about is multi-channeled and it contains all the data resources that every customer is interacting and woven in with your organization. And so it’s really, again, the partnership of your organization with the community of individuals that you serve in all of the ways that they interact and engage with your product line.
Jeff (04:32): And so when it comes to digital customer success, which I really think of in broader terms of enabling in channels that allow everyone to grow, there are countless modalities that we’re getting into. So when you mentioned Cast.app, for example, all the technologies that are coming to market, and probably talk more about this as we go through, but there are endless and every day new possibilities for customers to drive value out of the interactions at a scale that they involved in all of your company. And so when it comes to digital CS, the other thing that I think about is I talk to CS practitioners every day, and the kind of the concern of, “Are we getting away from the humanistic portion of customer success?” And I’ve written about this a lot as well is I really think of customer success and where we are as organizations, whether you’re in tech or not, as really needing to drive human-led growth.
Jeff (05:35): And so always centering around what it is to be a customer that’s experiencing and driving to outcomes and goals and results, with what it is that you offer. And so there’s change all across the board, for everyone involved, for your people, for my people, for third parties, and for customers. And so it’s more internally now than ever. And I think now more than ever that my colleagues and my coworkers inside of my CS world and outside that I serve, they’re my customers. And so I’m really a 360 in the cockpit of how do I serve my customers internally, externally, the stakeholders? How do we align goals? How do we make them measurable? And how do we drive to their needs on an individual basis? So it’s a wide brush, but I think from there, we can come on and distill down from there.
Anika (06:30): Amazing. I think you just gave a great picture as to obviously the topic that we are talking about today, which is mistakes to avoid when transitioning to digital customer success. And you mentioned it already, it’s human first, no matter what you’re doing or how you’re serving up your customers and the experience you’re trying to give to your customer base, whether it’s through communities, whether it’s through a digital approach, whether it’s one to many, it is humans to humans connecting.
Anika (06:52): And I definitely want to talk about your experience of transitioning from high touch, one to one, or a high engagement model into digital customer success or what the buzzword is of this year, basically. And how we can kind of… Mistakes to avoid if we are building out a digital-led strategy. So being that it is the buzzword of 2021, and much like everything else in customer success, it all depends on how your business is running and how important customer success is and what the maturity of your customer base is. How do you even get started with digital customer success? What is the first thing you did at MarketSource that got you started in digital CS?
Jeff (07:34): Sure. It’s interesting whether I think about professional services with the life I came from the first 10 years of my career, and the past 10 years in customer success, I’m always looking to serve underserved populations. And so if other places I’ve been, maybe CS was only working on a very small, high-end account base of the customer base and there was a very long tail that was not being afforded opportunities for value. And so when I think about serving populations and giving them the opportunity to drive value out of their interactions with our company and what we provide, I think about all those customers aren’t being served.
Jeff (08:17): And so at MarketSource, the advantage that I have is that we have 46 years of these amazing relationships that we’ve built, and we’ve been with some organizations for decades. And some of the individuals in this organization have been here for a very long time and are top of their profession. And so I look at what we offer and I think back to my earliest days in customer success, around 2010, ’11, and I think about we’re doing so much right up until when we deliver the first, what it was initially to be asked, and what we’re delivering on and what we continue to deliver on, but then there’s so much more advisory. And that’s where customer success really, what I think of as 3.0, is going.
Jeff (09:00): Advisory. And that’s where customer success really, what I think of as 3.0, is going to next. Customers originally, they all come to places for product and to answer questions and to get solutions, but the next thing is they want a trusted advisor. They want somebody to say, hey, in our vertical, what are you seeing out there and how can you lead us in comp and tel and additional technologies in the marketplace? And that’s why I really love where I am here is that I can operate on a day to basis thinking of technologically agnostic into how do I map the people, the products and the processes that are going to revolutionize your organization from just the B2C or the B2B into customers for life long, vision 360 of you are my customer, and we’re going to build a partnership for the rest of our existence.
Jeff (09:53): And so, when I think about customer success and enablement channels in digital, I think of the same way. Of all these customers that we can offer goodness to with the right product and the right process driven by the right people. And what we’re discussing today, a lot of that is CS Ops, and we’ll get knee-deep in that I hope, but so that’s where I come from. And so I think about how can I internally serve my stakeholders with customer success principles, practices, and philosophies that will help them to enable their customers to grow? Some people look at me crazy when I say we work B2B, but my brain is B2B2B or B2B2C. I’m thinking about my customer’s customers first and then working it backward and reverse engineering it. And so a lot of things that I… So actionably, you want to look at long-tail opportunities, you want to look at where self-service can grow more quickly to enable that level of service. You want to look at technologies that can serve those populations. And so those are the first couple of items that come to mind.
Anika (10:58): Amazing. There was just so many pieces there that I was just like, okay, we got to dig in deeper here, Jeff, in into some of the things you’re already saying. Which is great, because obviously the topic of today is digital customer success and how to set it up and what to avoid when you are setting it up. You mentioned a lot around the CS team, CS Ops, being a trusted advisor. Some different members of your team that are there to obviously help along the customer journey, which is critical and mission critical to those customers. But do you have a dedicated team that’s just for digital long tail customer success or is it a part of the CS Op team? How do you handle your customers differently than traditional CSM when you are scaling and thinking of digital CS?
Jeff (11:39): The digital CS, as it exists in my world today is within CS Ops. That being said, the… And there’s a lot of reasons for that, at least in my model. But when I… So we can go a little bit back up, is when you think about digital CS and starting it off, how you hire to it, how you build from it, how you orchestrate change management within your CS org itself. It has to come both directions, top down and bottom up. And so when I think about customer success going digital, I could strip it all the way down to the beginning. When you start a team, the first hires, 1, 2, 3, I really start thinking which ones of these individuals either has a rich data analytical background and curiosity to go along with that? Which individuals might have some marketing experience in their background? Which individuals might have a different tool experience in their background where it’s survey tools, marketing tools, data, analytic tools? What other individuals have leadership qualities and are hungry for more entrepreneurial responsibility?
Jeff (12:48): And so when you hire the first few customer success managers in your org, or you inherit one, you start to look at who’s there already? That might be an individual that could come into a digital CS, and formally. And then, the thing with that, you can do a head of digital CS, and then you don’t make a lead in all that pressure and stress and then making that decision down the road as well. But you said, we’re going to lead this initiative and you can split the time, 80/20, 50/50, however you want. So then you can start doing testing for yourself, for the individual, for their growth and maturation. That’s a whole another topic we can get into, and I’ve done a couple videos on that. So that’s first some of the operational stuff. From the when the bottom up, there’s a philosophy that goes about saying let’s make ideas that we have into proposals as a team and say, what are the low hanging fruit from our long tail that we can operationalize, automate. Maybe it’s templatizing, QBR, EBRs. Maybe it is to automating email templates for after your, your onboarding calls or after your cadence calls with your customers, mapping those into the customer journey.
Jeff (14:04): And so you look at things that you can do it kind of as tests. This is not one thing you’re going to unleash as a flood all at once. But as you do that, you also want to see from my team, how am I opening them up to focus higher? How am I helping them move up-market? Am I freeing up my teams and mapping those two gains on efficiency, productivity, time that they have for training and for other enrichment activities. And then showing how that turns into offset their overhead so they can focus more on their OKRs, their KPIs operationally, then more importantly, how they can really focus on corporate-wide goals. So how does that allow us time to think more about expansion activities and those things? And so, those are the first ways I think about getting something lifted off the ground, both crowdsourcing it from your team, as well as mapping to the highest level goals of your organization.
Anika (15:02): I love those few things that you just said there. First of all, I’m so curious with CS Ops owning digital CS, what kind of metrics are you tying back to seeing success in the role? So what is your CS Ops measured on? Because it’s interesting because most people think, when you think of CS Ops is someone who’s building the playbooks or pulling data or aggregating information about a customer based on their health scoring or something along that. They’re not usually thinking of a CS Ops person that is customer facing. They’re usually the one behind the scenes. So I’m curious, are they measured on the NR? What are they measured on that makes that someone successful as a CS Ops person on your team that’s also running digital customer success?
Jeff (15:44): I love that you’ve asked this and we can tell our audience that this was not pre-planned, but I’m happy to go down this batch. I’ve also talked about this. So I’m kind of nuts. And I actually built, commission the bonus structures for performance as a team for CS Ops. So the CS Ops team’s performance rolling into the classic NRR and retention metrics that you can gauge to. But quite frankly, the CS Ops audience and customers are CSMs. And the customer facing activities, whether they’re digital or whether they’re face to face, one to one, and scaling those out. So when I have had both classic CSM teams and the classic account management style, as well as pulled CSM teams, their metrics and the performance metrics of our department, all funnel back to how the CS Ops team is measured.
Jeff (16:43): And so that includes the CS Ops team of trainers, data analysts, content, et cetera, marketing. All those individuals are then measured on how we perform as an organization. So we’re all thinking about the same goals. And those performance metrics come from our executive management team. And so I never want to confuse activities with achievement. And so we build something nice and shiny, but if it doesn’t get us to our de destination, then I’m not certain what good it was. So I want to make sure that we’re consistently thinking about how we operationalize for maximum efficiency. I want to think about our CSMs and our CS Ops are all in the same… They’re speaking the same language. They have the same goals. They’re not looking at… I don’t want a CSM that I trust that I want to hold account, to say, how many calls did you make today? How many EBRs did you do this much?
Jeff (17:37): I’m not interested in managing at that level, I’m very much interested in managing what is our result and owning that together as a team while also, of course, having individual goals, whether they are NRR retention-related or they’re how can we develop your career and personal development. So, that’s the lens through which I think about it.
Anika (18:00): Awesome. Awesome. And we are obviously trying to give our listeners some takeaways on what to look.
Anika (18:00): Awesome. And we are obviously trying to give our listeners some takeaways on what to learn from the mistakes, or at least some learnings that you experienced along the way while building digital CS. So we just talked about important metrics that you definitely measure the CS ops teams on. Like you said, there’s a combination of things that you’re looking at, not just one north star metric, which is good to know, but what’s a metric that you’ve trust, you’ve tried and you’ve tested it. And then you kind of found it useless because you’re like, “There is no point of measuring this and seeing success in digital CS.”
Jeff (18:32): Well, it goes back to activities. I inherited a beautiful dashboard in Tableau that had number of calls and deals and where they were in different stages. And although it was very colorful and beautiful and I’m a BI guy, so that’s great, but I felt like it’s a waste of our time. And as CS professionals, we’re past that. If you’re in a different role, different place, maybe that, so I really want to empower everyone, myself included to think about what is our larger goal? And so I love dashboards too, but I didn’t get rid of it soon enough.
Jeff (19:13): That’s probably one thing I’ve messed up on in the past. Not taking advantage of performance management software. So those call and video recording platforms that are out there in the world. I didn’t get my own sleeves rolled up early enough to learn how to go after keywords, how to allow that software to bring the results up to the top and how to use that tool most effectively early on. That was probably another one that I probably would’ve done a little bit earlier.
Anika (19:55): Awesome. I do love that you mentioned the whole, stop measuring things because it’s a done activity. It gets under my skin when people are like, “Oh, I did this today.” And I’m like, “Awesome. What outcome did it then drive? Were you able to get your customer to do something that you wanted? What are you doing by having that call or sending that email or whatever?” I do hate that. And I also think that it’s annoying when people are like, “I did a QBR, that’s what I’m majored on.” I’m like, “But what did the because customer get out of that QBR?” So it’s a pet peeve of mine when you measure things, just to say it’s a tick list item rather than measuring for an outcome. So thank you for sharing that.
Anika (20:34): I think a lot of our listeners normally start with traditional one-to-one customer management or the high touch model. When someone is transitioning from the high touch to one model and they are moving into digital or scaled CS. How do you even go about doing that? What’s the first step… You mentioned about the strategy and the touchpoints and the milestones earlier in our conversation, you mentioned about thinking about your customers and customers and how they want to be interacted with as well. But where do you see the first step in moving towards digital CS?
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Jeff (21:11): The first thing I think of is testing and pilots and not being what oftentimes we allow ourselves to become and that’s the everything department. So it’s to think about something that is digestible in terms of what you have as capacity. And so I think about what I kind of mentioned before is allowing members of your team who are ICs to spend maybe 20% of a quarter, and then map that to their objectives for the quarter to work on a project. Maybe it is templetizing that QBR, maybe it’s evaluating a piece of software as a candidate to bring in house. And so thinking of things as pilots and tests, instead of, “Hey, we’re going digital now.” So I really caution people to be judicious and how much they want to bite off at first. And then I go back to think about what we’re doing on a daily basis that drives goodness for our customers and what we could do to automate those, or to bring more efficiency to that, more professionalism to that, and take it from there.
Jeff (22:19): And again, from the bottom up, what are some of the proposed ideas that we could work on as this team and then iterate from there. So those are some of the first things I think about the benefits that we can drive to a customer. Can we be asynchronous, can we hit a customer in multiple modalities of enablement, digital video, audio, more textual content and learning tools, things like that. And so I bring it back to how do we make it more consumable at a smaller cut? Other things that I think about are, where can we place these in the customer journey, as we evaluate our customer journey from our customer standpoint, where can we test these in the customer’s journey with a pilot and have a control group of customers as well. And always aligning to our top-level goals.
Anika (23:15): Amazing. And then when you are thinking of that entire transition and customer journey, and what’s going to happen and how your customers are interacting with your software and your CS team, what do you think about as far as mistakes to avoid down the line? When you’re structuring that journey, you’re thinking of all those touch points and how you’re interacting, what are some of the things that you’re trying to avoid right off the bat?
Jeff (23:41): Not aligning to what the overall goals of our company and our team are, and getting on pet projects that derail us from the overall focus. Our overall focus is serving the customer for the betterment of our customers and our company. And so let’s think about some of the first things that are enabled. So if you look at an underserved population and you can take that underserved population and give to them a new digital enablement tool, whether it’s a webinar, an email, one of the things I think of is, go to your finance team has a lot of experience in metrics and they oftentimes have our largest BI resources in house. And your marketing team have been doing a lot of things that we want to take on for five, 10 years ahead of us.
Jeff (24:30): And so look to those two teams for guidance and best practices on what you should be building out. So let’s say if we’re going to build out a webinar and we send out emails with our webinar, what are the rates of return on those? What are the open rates? What are the click-through rates? How many people are registering, how many people show up, how many downloads do we get there afterward? Are those lower standards or higher than what we see in the industry? And so look at those metrics, but you only know those if you can get with your marketing team and say, “Hey, what are some of our common metrics in the house? What do we look at? What are our goals?” And then from the finance side, is if we have a pilot of customers in a cohort that we offer, the webinar too, and record and send to them, what does that look like in terms of their performance in that quarter and quarters to come is a little lagging, unfortunately, but what would that look like versus a control group of customers that don’t receive that same service?
Jeff (25:27): So, that’s the first thing to think about. The other part of the data analysts and building our cohorts, a lot of your financial teams are already built these out because that’s where they look at, how do our customers perform 6, 9, 12 months at different revenue points that they spend with you. And so if you can look at moving those needles, if you have more engagement with those customers, maybe you do a refreshing onboarding for customers that are growing or refresher onboarding for customers that seem to have maxed out at their current level, but they’re going to go up and they have opportunity to go up and plan. And then looking at what the performance of those look at, as net new expansion opportunities and measuring that. So those net new dollars that come back due to your activities, something that you want to be able to measure right off the bat to get going.
Anika (26:19): Amazing. And I think that you already mentioned it, which is like trying things, piloting things, make sure you know that there is iterations of a digital customer success journey, and it’s okay to give it a go and see how it goes. And then if it went well, great double down on it, if it didn’t, then obviously you can reiterate, but speaking of mistakes, looking back at your transition, what was kind of your biggest learning and how did you correct that? Or how can you give advice to people who are listening and thinking about digital customer success and making sure they don’t make those mistakes?
Jeff (26:55): It should have started a lot earlier. I know that’s probably something that we all think of when we… Just something that would’ve been first one. What I-
Jeff (27:01): That would’ve been first one. I think of two is being visible and vocal internally to your company about what you’re doing. I see a lot of it on LinkedIn and other social media about what individuals are doing in their organizations and I think we need to do 5X of that internally. Sales and marketing get a lot of the glam when it comes to their progress and their wins and customer success is the revenue engine of SaaS. And so be very vocal and lead with numbers and pad with storytelling around what it is that you are doing internally and how that maps to bottom and top line metrics within your company. And be loud about it when you have successes and market yourself internally because that will lead to seats at the table and more dollars for investment and I can’t emphasize that enough. Some very things to look at is if you have individuals who are bringing in net new revenue numbers for your company, to look at what that is versus their cost and their fully burdened cost. And success with that in pool teams have come at 4X and 20X. And so those are numbers that are undeniable and good for your company and good for your team and you allow your resources to make their lives better and enrich them and grow their professions. And so I think very strongly about that and about allowing the people of your team to have that spotlight as well and make it very personal.
Anika (28:43): Awesome. I love hearing that, learning from everything and continuing to learn. And then I think also what you just mentioned about being vocal and also making sure that you match things to numbers and metrics. I think a lot of times people think of CS as the squishy or comfortable department that just kind of handles things but we also have direct-driven metrics and revenue that we’re bringing to the table so it’s so important when you are building out your digital strategy, that you are connecting things back, like you said to the bottom line of how much money and how much revenue is this generating? Because that’s exactly how the sales and marketing team thinks about it and it’s definitely how CS should also think about it when you’re scaling your digital CS program. But Jeff, we can go on and on about digital customer success but I do want to wrap up with our quickfire questions and wrap up. I want to challenge you to answer these next few questions as quickly as possible. And the first one I have is, what is your favorite tool or software that you cannot live without?
Jeff (29:41): Oh gosh personally, Evernote, Droplr because it’s just so darn easy and visual. From a team standpoint, those individuals that are starting off, one of the mistakes that I made early on as well is I didn’t learn the