In Episode 15 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: The ultimate renewal playbook – Managing multiple stakeholders. Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Puneet Kataria, founder of CustomerSuccessBox.
Renewals are a very important milestone in a customer journey, and sometimes the lead-up to a renewal can be very tricky. In this podcast we’ll talk to Puneet all about identifying key stakeholders, weeding out multiple champions, and using your customer community to make the renewal a non-event.
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 Zubair (00:51): So Puneet, welcome to the podcast. I’m really excited to have you on with us today. But before we actually get into today’s topic, can you please tell our listeners a bit about CustomerSuccessBox, how it started and what you’re doing there now?
Puneet Kataria (01:33): Hey, awesome. First of all, thank you so much. And again for having me on this podcast, it’s wonderful. To see the passion with which you are running this customer success podcast, I get all my energy from passionate people like yourself. So this is going to be a lot of inspiration for me just by being here. So thank you.
Puneet Kataria (01:56): What do we do? Who am I? So my name is Puneet Kataria. I am the founder and CEO of CustomerSuccessBox. I think just like many of your listeners, I was in the corporate world for about 20 years selling and doing different things into SaaS since, for the last 20 years. I’ve been selling SaaS specifically, since 2006. My majority has been fairly around start as an engineer, ended up, what I call the dark side, I started selling software and then from there I accidentally ended up owning my incentive plan as MRR, so my last job as a VP of worldwide sales for a SaaS company. I was incentivized as, on MRR.
Puneet Kataria (02:48): So I realized a couple of months in that my sales teams kicking ass, and everybody’s making incentives except me, because that’s when I learned about this seven years ago. I was like, what’s wrong, and I learned about, oh, there’s a leak in the bucket, there’s something called churn. And fast forward to today, I decided to fix it back then. And I then decided to set up hopefully, what we call, leave a positive thing in the universe of our own selves, and all shapes, and into CustomerSuccessBox.
Puneet Kataria (03:16): So CustomerSuccessBox very quickly, is a customer success platform. We are the most powerful ai powered customer success platform out there, which is used by hundreds and hundreds of customer success managers. We tracked roughly about 25 billion accounts to monitor over 2 million end users on our platforms, so that’s the scale that we’ve sort of reached, in spite of, I don’t think we’re too young or we’re too old, we’re sort of somewhere in between, about three, four years. And so that’s what we are.
Anika Zubair (03:48): Amazing. So many customers, so many end users. And also such passion, like you said about the customer success space. And obviously, that’s led to you starting your own business around customer success. And we’ll definitely get into more of the topic around the ultimate renewal playbook, because I think that also rings very close to your heart about this whole like, oh, you’re selling but then you’re losing customers. So we’ll definitely talk about the renewals here in a minute.
Anika Zubair (04:12): But before we actually jump into today’s topic, I thought we could do a little bit of a warm-up brown really get ready for this topic. And I have a few warm-up questions to ask you, so let’s see what you are. Are you an Apple or a Google person?
Puneet Kataria (04:26): Wow, that’s a very interesting question. So I am on Apple, and I’ve been on Apple for a very long time, largely for privacy reasons and safety reasons. But I have enough Google devices, and I try to, I’m the one who keeps writing to either Apple or Google to hey, why don’t you let this Google device integrate with that Apple device? So, to give you an example, I’m not on Apple Music. I’m not on Google music, guess where am I?
Anika Zubair (04:55): You’re probably on Spotify.
Puneet Kataria (04:57): There you go, so that’s me.
Anika Zubair (04:57): Oh gosh, if only B2C consumer products would integrate well with each other as well, maybe they’d end up like SaaS as well.
Puneet Kataria (05:06): I think absolutely things that the B2C can learn from B2B.
Anika Zubair (05:09): Definitely.
Puneet Kataria (05:10):… we are a lot more collaborative.
Anika Zubair (05:12): Definitely, definitely. Amazing. Next question is, are you a dog or cat person?
Puneet Kataria (05:18): I would say that I’m a dog person, but to tell you the truth, I don’t know if you want to edit that out, but I like dogs, but generally, dogs don’t like me. So there you go. I’ve just moved for now.
Anika Zubair (05:33): Dog person, but maybe dogs don’t like you. Oh, that’s like so strange. Dogs seem to like everyone. But anyways, my last question for you today is if you were stuck on a desert island, which three things would you take with you and why?
Puneet Kataria (05:50): I think this is a great fun question. And the harder I think about it, the more serious it gets, such as the nature of this question.
Anika Zubair (05:57): I keep hearing this from my guests and it’s meant to be like, just a hey, what kind of type of person are you? But people seem to think so hard on this question.
Puneet Kataria (05:57): And I was like, absolutely, I want to nail this one. So I decided that I’m going to crack this as a puzzle. So here you go, the number one thing that I need on that island is a laptop or any mobile device or a laptop, essentially. But laptops, no good without power, so I need solar. But powered laptops is no good without internet, but thank God for Starlink. So there you go. So with those three items, I think I can beat the shit out of any island and build whatever I want for the infinite amount of time that I’m on there.
Anika Zubair (06:44): This is too funny. I really love asking this question of all my guests, because you get the people who are like, super, like survival mode of I need food, water, something to hunt with. And then you get the other ones that obviously, we’re in the tech space, where it’s like, I need my laptop and I need Wi-Fi, and I love how you’ve like cracked it where it’s like, I need all three parts and then I can build everything else once I have those three parts, but great answer.
Anika Zubair (07:07): And the last question I have for our warm-up really, before we jump into today’s topic is, what inspired you to work in customer success? You kind of alluded to it earlier that you went over to the dark side of this, but why customer success, where does the passion for customer success come in?
Puneet Kataria (07:24): So I came from the sales and marketing world, and in the sales and marketing world is all your B2B players sort of realize the amount of love and care that we show to every lead. Even if you know that lead is an anonymously lead, that means we’ve just managed to drop some our cookie and then try to learn about them, what parts of the website they’re visiting? Where do they live, what role are they having on LinkedIn, and so on, and so forth, then they eventually come to CRM, they get tracked and literally we are hand entering the values of each and every lead.
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Puneet Kataria (08:04): But when they become a customer, what I saw was that post becoming a customer, they become a support ticket. I was like, hold on, that’s not a fair treatment. And the reason why I learned about this, and then I learned about this because I started selling a software support product, a help desk platform. And that is when I realized while wearing a sales and marketing hat, what happens for sales. And when I saw that, it’s like, no, that’s not good, it required a lot more love and care.
Puneet Kataria (08:35): Plus, the tire change, which the subscription economy was bringing in, it was very clear that customers are not going to be taken for granted. And we are customers, you and I are customers. So that means, and I think every customers delivers, sorry, deserves to be successful. So in subscription economy that is just dictated otherwise, no customer is going to be giving you the stream of revenue, because it’s a subscription. And hence, all that combined, it was very crystal, I think the world is now going to be run by people who are delivering value, not by people who are what I think just introducing value. So I call this value-promise and value delivery. So I think value delivery is where the game has sort of moved.
Anika Zubair (09:25): I love that, value delivery. And like also just making sure you’re continuing to deliver value to your customers. It’s obviously something that we do every single day in customer success, or at least I hope we’re all doing in customer success. And it’s really important to not only obviously showcase that in early days, like you said, but make sure that you really are showing value over time because now the power lies with the buyer or the customer they’re able to move from one subscription to the next, and they’re able to maybe even make more informed decision because of the information out there and the ease of moving from one SaaS operator to another.
Anika Zubair (09:58): Back in the day, you’d have servers, you’d have all of the hardware that everything was there. But that’s not the case anymore, and you really have to deliver value year after year, after year, after year, which is what brings us into the ultimate renewal playbook, which is what we’re going to be talking about today. And really making sure that you’re able to guide your champions and stakeholders to that ease of a renewal, which is what I want to talk to you about. And the first question I really want to bring up is, how important is the renewal and when should a customer team start really preparing for that renewal?
Puneet Kataria (10:33):Awesome. So I think the importance of renewal, everyone knows, but let me try to put it in a little bit more sort of visual way in which I think everybody can understand how important is renewal to any business or any subscription business. Let’s imagine, let’s say three companies, company early, which has just started, company mid stage, let’s say which is three, four or five years old, and company late stage, which has, let’s say, 10 years old, okay? Three stages of a company.
Puneet Kataria (11:10):
Now, the company early is likely to be making in the first few years, one, two, three years, is likely to be making 80%, 90% of all their revenue from new customer acquisition because there are hardly any customers that are bringing in from the yester, from the previous years. And hence, there is no renewal happening. And I’m taking the example of an annual subscription here.
Puneet Kataria (11:39):
Let’s move to the company, mid stage. Now, this is let’s say a five, six year old company, and this company is likely going to be having enough revenue coming in from new acquisition and also enough renewals happening. So I would say 50% of the renewal, total of 50% of the revenue is going to come from new acquisitions and 50% is going to come from renewals.
Puneet Kataria (12:10):
Let’s look at a late stage company, seven years, 10 years old company. That is when it gets massive, no matter what you do in acquisition, you’re likely going to be acquiring 5%, 10%, 15% of your total revenue is going to be coming from acquisition. Now, I am assuming still that 10%, 15% is going to be tens of millions of dollars, because that’s the stage that you’re in. But the 90%, 80%, 90% of the chunk of your revenue is going to come pure play from, is going to come in from renewals, which is essentially going to be your recurring revenue.
Puneet Kataria (12:45):
So I think in terms of the importance of renewal, that is the size of or the percentage of the total recurring revenue or the total revenue that a company is going to be getting in as recurring revenue. So I think that clearly establishes. In the subscription economy, and probably I can go down and tell you and I’ve done sales all my life, I’ve been a VP of World Wide Sales, I used to say that as a VP of World Wide Sales, I’m the only one earning money, bringing in hard cash, hard dollars in an organization, whereas every other role in the organization is actually spending it. But in the subscription economy, I don’t think I can say that anymore.
Puneet Kataria (13:35):
As a VP of sales, as an acquisition, when you’re acquiring a customer, you’re not bringing in revenue because you only bring in 5% to 15% of the total lifetime value of the customer. Because lifetime value of a customer is seen as five, seven, 10 years of a customer, even in an annual contract, even when you’re charging annually upfront for the first year, you only make 5%, 10% of the total LTV, the rest of the 90% of the LTV is only going to come in as the future recurring revenue, provided you are able to renew the customer which is going to happen provided you’re able to deliver the value month on month, quarter on quarter, year over year. In the subscription economy, you’re asking for a stream of revenue, not one time, but a stream, continuous. Some of the customers-
Anika Zubair (14:18):
Yeah. And when should a customer team come in and actually start looking at that stream of revenue?
Puneet Kataria (14:24):
Anika Zubair (14:24):
I know you mentioned that sometimes it’s one year or sometimes like you have a seven-year-old customer, so when’s the right time to actually start looking at that renewal?
Puneet Kataria (14:33):
So see, we are asking a customer to give us a stream of revenue, the customers expect in return a stream of value, not one time value, a stream of value. That means they might have started off with you on a use case one and over time they would have matured or your technology would have matured, and now you want to serve them on more and more use cases. There might be some natural upsell opportunities, upgrade opportunities along the way, expansion opportunities along the way, but definitely don’t assume that once something is delivered, that’s about it. And you don’t have to deliver anything new or any additional use cases or any additional challenges need to be solved for them. This is not a one time deal. So the mindset is very, very different.
Puneet Kataria (15:14):
So coming back to your question, when a customer team needs to start preparing for renewal. Now, here’s my heart on set. I’m just going to lay it out as bluntly, as clearly as possible. The topic for today is the ultimate renewal playbook. Here is the truth, there is no ultimate renewal playbook. If there was a renewal playbook, that will be the only playbook anyone will ever need to ever follow, right? Why will anybody do any onboarding? Why will anybody do any customer success, then the only playbook that you’ll ever need is a renewal playbook.
Puneet Kataria (15:52): So in that sense, there is no ultimate renewal playbook. And we will talk about it, so if you really want to know the truth behind what does it take to renew an account? Is, are you delivering value. And that is, the first time when you start working on the renewal is actually from the very beginning, during onboarding itself. Have you on boarded the customer right? Have they started getting the value, and if they’ve started getting the value, then by the time it’s anniversary of their contract, and they’re ready to renew, then in a perfect world, a renewal should be a non-event. That’s sort of the ideal state you want to achieve, that renewal is a non-event.
Anika Zubair (16:37): Amazing, amazing. I really like that. And I want to kind of dive a little bit deeper into it because you mentioned that it’s always constantly delivering value over time. And you need to really start delivering value from onboarding. And that’s really key in any part of a customer journey, but when is the best time to prepare? Or how should you prepare? How should you be constantly delivering value over time so that the renewal becomes a non-event?
Puneet Kataria (17:05): Brilliant question. So there are two ways to think about this. One approach is to continue to think in terms of timelines, as if it’s a time-driven cadence, that when do I need to reach out to my customer? When should I intervene? When should I make sure that they’re getting value? And blah, blah, blah? If you want a very time-driven answer, then I’ll give you that answer, say 90 days before the anniversary date. But that I think is still a very shallow answer. And I’ll tell you why.
Puneet Kataria (17:35): Your playbook should ideally not be waiting for up until 90 days before the renewal date before you actually act or intervene or consider ensuring that the value is getting delivered. That is something that you in a data-driven world today, in the data abundance world that we live in today, you can use technologies like CustomerSuccessBox, to essentially monitor every account, every user in real-time. And the moment you see them slipping off track, going away from value, they’re not getting value, that is the day you should instantly immediately intervene.
Puneet Kataria (18:18): You can automate it, you can make it hybrid, you can make it guided, but the truth is waiting for a renewal anniversary for you to intervene and get things right, I think is an old school approach, if I can put it like that. The right approach is that you’re always ensuring that value is getting delivered and that is best handled by monitoring the accounts in real-time, checking out account health using AI, or even non-AI, even in a rule-based engine. I think there are so many things with the data that you can do. And that is what should be triggering true renewal enablement.
Puneet Kataria (18:55): But I know we still want to understand about okay, what can I do in the last 90 days? What is one activity that I should do? And we’ll talk about that, let’s just call that a renewal playbook. But I think I want it to be crystal, that what you’ve done in the entire year on what value you’ve delivered for your customer in the entire year is ideally going to decide whether the renewal is going to be a non-event or if that’s going to happen or not. Versus just running a very simple playbook.
Puneet Kataria (19:25): And we’re going to talk about, there’s still a truckload of things that you can do in the last 90 days, but 90 days will give you enough time to sort of have enough runway for you to fix things if there are things which are broken, sort of your last opportunity to get things on track.
Anika Zubair (19:41): Got it. And you mentioned some really good things there around certain events that have to happen throughout the entire lifecycle, you should really just be delivering value again and again and again. But what kind of activities lead to that moment of value? What should a CSM be tracking, not just in the renewal 90-day playbook that you were just talking about, but over time, like what are the activities that lead to a positive or a non-renewal, like you said?
Puneet Kataria (20:08): No, I think … See, nobody is going to leave the platform in a rush, because there is a huge overhead of switching platforms. So nobody wants to not renew. Everybody wants to renew. So I think that’s our default position. Now, the question is, how well you’ve enabled your customers to renew? And those are the events that you need to define, what is the value that your sales promise? Go to your website and look at, what’s the first thing that you see that your marketing is promising there? That’s the value that your customer came seeking from your technology, from your platform, from your business, from your organization.
Anika Zubair (20:53):Very true.
Puneet Kataria (20:54): And how far have we taken our customers? So there was an access state when the customer started, and what is the current state of the customer? And where further you can take him? We’ll talk about that a little later, maybe, but during that, how do you capture value? One of the best ways to capture value will be that you pick up the phone and ask the sponsor, whether it’s the CEO who has purchased the product that, hey, have you received value from our product today? And you do that let’s say every day at 8:00 AM. Probably that’s the best question you can ask. But obviously, that’s not possible.
Puneet Kataria (21:29): And hence, we want to look at, looking at four different ways of tracking health. One, you want to look at product adoption, because that’s the best proxy for are they getting value from your technology or not? Product adoption health, which parts of the product they are adopting, which parts they are not, and you can easily correlate that with the value that is getting delivered. What use cases is your technology solving? So that’s product production health.
Puneet Kataria (21:52): Then you want to look at, what is the service quality that they are getting? Are they constantly complaining about your product on different defects and you’re seeing too many support tickets coming in? Are you seeing support tickets coming in and missing their SLAs, not getting responded or not getting resolved in time, and there are too many of them are too many of them, and too many of them missing SLAs? So that’s your service quality that you want to track consequently.
Puneet Kataria (22:17): Then you also want to look at other indicators, such as financial health, they started with let’s say 20 seats, and now they are down to two seats. Is that the case? Or have they moved up from two seats to 20 seats? Are they paying you more MRR? Have they expanded during the year? Those are going to be good indicators again, for you to know whether they are getting value or not. And last, but probably one of the most important ones is what is your relationship? How many touchpoints are you having with your customers? Are they engaging with you? Are they speaking for you? Are they engaging with your communities? Are they speaking in favor of your product, of your platform or of your company publicly?
Puneet Kataria (22:59): And I think those are the relationship aspects that you want to track. How frequently are you meeting them? Are you having QB or what is the participation in all those QB hours? All those factors can now automatically be fed into EI or fed into different criterias to define account health. And those are the ones that you want to be setting various triggers on all through the year and seeing if any of them sort of goes off, you want to come in and intervene and see whether you want to bring that account back to good health from that space.
Anika Zubair (23:30):Yeah, yeah, definitely. Definitely. I think what I want to maybe segue into now is more around the actual renewal timeframe. You said that, obviously, there’s all these things you’re doing from the day they start onboarding through 60, 90 days, six months, and now we’re coming up to the anniversary date, which is all-important. It is important to recognize that your customers are now about to pay you for another year of your service, and usually there is some sort of business review done leading up to that anniversary date or some sort of touch base with your company, that you just making sure that your customer and you are aligned, that you guys are all happy and that the renewal is going to be a non-event like you said.
Anika Zubair (24:11): But sometime in the business review, it’s important to incorporate the product roadmap or product feedback, especially into a renewal because you’re now setting the stage or the tone for what the next year of service is going to look like, which is really important to deliver value over time. How do you guys at CustomerSuccessBox or how have you in the past incorporated roadmap or product feedback into the renewal conversation?
Puneet Kataria (24:36): No, I think that’s a great question. But before I get to the product roadmap part, let me sort of step back and let’s start with the timeline that you were mentioning. I think let’s assume that we are at the last 90 days. And we had 90 days before the renewal. And I think let’s kick a formal sort of a process from here on because this is our last attempt to fix anything if there is something which is broken.
Puneet Kataria (24:58): So here’s how I’ll sort of start this process. By the way, a quick tip which will support you making this renewal a non-event, is actually trying to start with, start with evergreen or a self recurring contract. So you should be required to re-sign the contract at the end of the year. The contract language should basically say it renews automatically until it can be canceled.
Puneet Kataria (25:29): The minute you-
Anika Zubair (25:30):Let’s assume that, that’s the case. And let’s move then-
Puneet Kataria (25:32):That’s the case.
Anika Zubair (25:33):.. into, that’s the case, we’re renewing, everything’s going to happen. But it’s nice to have that touch base with your customer-
Puneet Kataria (25:39): Absolutely.
Anika Zubair (25:39):.. and make sure that you incorporate that roadmap and any feedback that they might have at that point before they’re ready to pay another year in advance. So well, how do you incorporate all of that feedback in that roadmap?
Puneet Kataria (25:52): Cool. So at the start of the 90 days, the first exercise that I want the customer success managers or whoever is going to be involved or responsible for those renewals to do is, go analyze your accounts which are coming up for renewal in the next 90 days. And basically, based on the analysis of all the health, all the alerts, what the account has been doing, what conversations you’ve had, every customer success manager will know and have a gut on whether this account is good to renew, or whether I see a risk here.
Puneet Kataria (26:18): And interestingly, they are also going to identify the accounts where they might be ready with an upsell opportunity. There is a case for an upgrade, there is a case for expansion, they’re already at hitting 90% off-limits, whatever your plan limits are, and al