How I Buy – Lauren Costella, VP Customer Success, Medrio
How I Buy – Lauren Costella, VP Customer Success, Medrio
Customer success professionals have a tremendous respect for people who can understand their needs and map the products they are selling to those needs and set out a clear path for success. This carries through to the way in which they buy. When I sat down with Lauren Costella, VP Customer Success at Medrio for a How I Buy interview, she told me a story of how this ability to listen and understand her needs as a buyer led to the best type of sales win of all – a last minute buzzer beater.
This view of buyers is not unique to customer success professionals, but it has been a common theme I’ve heard from Lauren and the other leaders on the recent list of Top 100 Strategists in Customer Success.
Here are Lauren’s insights on how she buys:
Let’s start off with you – what is your role at Medrio and how do you organize your organization?
I’m the VP of Customer Success here at Medrio. I run all of our post-sales activities including on-boarding, customer navigation, training, and professional services. I have three teams that conduct all of those pieces. First, I have a support team that is mainly reactive in nature, similar to the standard help desk model. Second, I have a professional services team, where we run specific project-based activities for a fee. And third, we have our customer outcomes group that are the navigators of the relationship (what you would traditionally call CSMs).
We drive our customers to achieve their expected business value. When our customers achieve value, they are successful, which makes Medrio successful.
What Medrio does is interesting, I think that it might help our readers if you can add a bit of context around the journey that your users go on.
We help customers accelerate their clinical research with fast, easy, and flexible eClinical tools. Our eClinical tools allow our customers to collect data for clinical trials, which can then be submitted to the FDA and other regulatory groups to bring medical drugs, diagnostic tests, and devices to market. Clinical trials, typically, are run in multiple phases, and for early phase, diagnostic or animal studies, they need to be set up and started quickly. Our lightweight, flexible solution allows our customers to do exactly that! You don’t need programming knowledge or specialized skills to setup Medrio and collect data.
When you have to deliver trials quickly, you need to have users that can jump in and start using a software solution fast. Understanding the system within days vs. weeks or months becomes mission critical. For example, sometimes customers want to have their first patient in (FPI) in a matter of weeks, which means they need to have the study protocol finalized and study built well before that time. The ability to build that quickly is unheard of in the space, but we are able to deliver on such tight timelines because not only do we have a great product, we have an exceptional Customer Success team. It’s why I refer to our team as customer navigators. Each customer has different needs, and we’re here to help each customer navigate the various resources that Medrio has to support them and help them achieve these deadlines..
We are helping our customers navigate their business, Medrio, and the industry all at once.
That’s really interesting background. Let’s shift towards you as a buyer. How do you think about where you need to invest in your team’s performance given that you have such a broad remit?
First and foremost, I need to think about the team and how they get better. Many of the people on our team come from the clinical trials space, so they benefit greatly from an understanding of the latest thinking on CS and delivering a great customer experience. I look for consultants who can provide templates or tools that the team can take back and begin using tomorrow or even today.
Kristen Hayer from the Success League, for example, creates great programming that gives our team the hands-on knowledge to transform a clinical trial expert into a customer success expert, who happens to be in the clinical trials space.
In terms of software and tooling, I’m a big proponent of maximizing our use of the tools that we have. We use Litmos, for example, for internal training, so when I was looking at tools for external training, I first looked into whether it could be used for external training as well, in order to maximize our use of it and not add another platform to the company.
How does your decision process work when you’re looking at new solutions?
It comes down to a very difficult process of defining what goals we are looking to accomplish with the new solution, and how we’d measure success of that. We define the “must have” criteria first, which is touch because it’s very easy to get lost in capabilities and features that really don’t meet our end goals. Those are what we call “nice to have” or secondary criteria. We work hard to ask the tough questions around what we specifically need, why we need it, and what would happen if we did not have that capability.
In doing the analysis, we put phases around it to help crystallize our own understanding. What are the attributes that we need right away? What can we hold off on for 6 months? What can we hold off on for 12 months? Each decision gives us more clarity on what attributes and features we truly need now and which are less important.
Once we have these final criteria, we sign off on it as a team (literally, with a signature). This is our way to signal that we all agree, and it’s our one source to reference if team members or executives get distracted by the shiny nice to have objects. Once this is complete, we are ready to evaluate vendors.Without the clarity upfront, you run the risk of being distracted by vendor capabilities that are fun and interesting, but not necessarily core to the need that you have to accomplish your own goals
That definitely adds clarity. Is there any opportunity for a vendor to add anything to the evaluation? Can they educate you and your team in any way that causes you to add to or change your original criteria?
We have to be clear on our story going out to the market. If we don’t understand our own needs with that level of clarity, we’re likely to end up with a solution that is not best suited to our needs. I’m willing to have a vendor provide insight into how they can provide further value, but I really want to ensure that we’ve nailed down the core first; no one understands our business better than we do, so we need to make sure we are covering those bases. Once that’s complete I’m happy to have a vendor articulate and quantify what additional value they can offer.
As an example, we are more project-based than subscription-based, which is not as common in the customer success space. So, if a vendor doesn’t put the effort in to understand that, and its core implications on how their offering adds value, they are unlikely to get our ear to learn about their latest shiny new feature. Sales teams that can start with a message that shows that they understand that about our model and have examples of what similar organizations have done, would be much more likely to start the dialogue in the right direction.
Has a vendor ever been able to do that successfully and not only meet your needs but also expand your thinking a little bit and add new criteria to your evaluation?
Sure, a good example for me was a few years ago when I was looking to roll out a global platform for a previous company. One thing that we wanted to include was individual user level data. For us, different users had different workflows, and we knew driving particular users to do specific workflows would make a difference in their overall experience and value that customer would get out of our system. We had an internal application called the CIA (Customer Intelligence Application). It had very powerful usage data at an individual level, which meant we could identify and focus on building individual user capabilities, which was extremely important, arguably more important than account level data.
When we had a conversation with one vendor, they were able to show us how they build health scores and dashboarding at an individual level, rather than just at the account level. This was not typical in the industry and had not been on our radar.
This was fascinating, but quickly led to a discussion on integrations in order to source the needed data. We had had integrations as a lower priority, phase 2 feature, but the discussion caused us to revisit that. It moved from nice to have and became a need to have, with a lot more clarity on the individual user metrics that we were interested in.
As we started to look more closely at integrations as a part of the selection criteria, it opened up a new, deeper understanding of what we really needed.
How did that conversation start? Where in the process did that vendor manage to join the conversation with you?
It’s an interesting story. We were deep in the selection process and about to sign a contract with another vendor. Our own VP of Sales asked me to take a look at this vendor. I was done with the process both logically and emotionally, and I was ready to move on, but he asked me to do him a favour and have a look. I went into the conversation with a lot of skepticism and not a lot of interest.
The vendor had the background on us, and they were able to show the base solution and meet our needs, but then were able to take the conversation deeper into our unique needs and open up a new way of thinking about the problem.
That one conversation gave us a set of questions that caused us to go back to the other vendors we had spoken to, and I developed a nagging suspicion that we were about to make a big mistake. We ultimately decided against the contract that we were about to sign and went with the new vendor.
We had been evaluating for about 5 months, and were just down to paperwork.
Why did the VP of Sales ask for that personal favour? It’s not something that people do for vendors very frequently it seems.
He had met the CEO of this company at a networking event, and they had hit it off. The CEO had shared his vision for the space and where they were going. I don’t know if they got into the deeper details, but I knew that my VP of Sales wouldn’t waste my time with something mediocre, and he had confidence that there might be something interesting there.
It’s an impressive story of a great sales professionalism, networking, and vision. Care to share with us who the vendor was in this instance?
Sure thing, it was Strikedeck. We ultimately selected them as our CS platform.
Lauren, thanks for the insights into how you buy, it’s been fascinating!