How I Buy – Mary Poppen, Chief Customer Officer, Glint
How I Buy – Mary Poppen, Chief Customer Officer, Glint
One of the clear themes of the How I Buy series to date has been the strong reliance on what solutions peers are having success with. This obviously leads to a need for forward thinking companies who want to grow revenue to do everything in their power to ensure their existing customers are wildly successful, and hence the meteoric rise of the customer success profession.
To help sales people understand the mindset of leaders in customer success, I sat down with Mary Poppen, Chief Customer Officer at Glint, who was recently named one of the Top 25 Influencers in Customer Success. While most of our conversation was around how she discovers new ideas and makes purchasing decisions, her approach to building a better experience for her customers shone through clearly.
Here are Mary’s insights on customer success and how she buys:
First, can you tell us a bit about your role and what you spend money on throughout a year?
I’m responsible for all of our post-sales activities. So everything that relates to the customer journey, implementation, adoption and ultimately success. This includes customer success management, tech support, our community, training systems, and renewals and upsells, which completes the full lifecycle of the customer.
I spend money on operational systems that will help us be more efficient in delivering an amazing experience to our customers. I will invest in things like support systems and customer health monitoring platforms. Anything that contributes to our team’s ability to make our customers successful.
Customer success is changing and you’re a pioneer in the field. How do you merge what’s “out there” with your vision on the future of customer success?
I look at a lot of blogs and whitepapers from reputable sources. Folks at Gainsight are a huge force in the market in terms of thought leadership, so I will learn from the ideas that they, and others, share. Conferences around customer experience are also great for absorbing new ideas. Anywhere that I can find a good list of thoughtful and innovative folks exchanging ideas on enhancing customer experience and success.
Temkin Group is another good example – they post a lot on customer experience and what matters in terms of NPS scores and customer satisfaction measurement. TSIA also has a lot of content about how you can put the customer at the center of your business.
Outside of that, it’s people who are referred to me as thought leaders in the space, I will spend a lot of time reading their blogs and understanding how they are thinking about customer experience and success.
What’s interesting is that the execution of customer success strategies, even by those who write about it a lot, can be challenging. I think that the execution part is where true leadership can still emerge, but there are many amazing sources of ideas out there of what one might try. I often find that articles on what didn’t work are more useful than articles on what did as they really get to the heart of the execution challenge.
When you’re reading, what is your mindset and timeframe? Are you more exploring, or drilling down on a specific pain?
It’s much more on the open, exploring side. I have a lot of ideas and things I want to try – some of them worked well, some of them didn’t. With those as background, I’m looking to find if there are ways that I perhaps could optimize something that didn’t work, or add a new idea on top of a process that did work to make it even better.
Understanding what other people tried, and what factors contributed to their success or failure is more important for me than specific fact-finding.
What motivates you to continue to improve as a CS leader?
I’m truly passionate and excited about an incredible customer experience. There’s something about that moment when you deliver something to a customer that completely excites them and gets them recognition or turns a light bulb on in some way. It’s seeking those moments that gets me up every morning, and when I read and learn, it’s with that motivator in the back of my mind.
If you look at it from a Maslow’s hierarchy perspective, it’s the higher levels of the pyramid that are most exciting. I thrive on being able to be on a shared journey with a customer and see them achieve things that they did not think possible. To get there, of course, you need to build the foundation and have a great product, great support, solid onboarding, and a trusting relationship.
When you move from exploring ideas openly to thinking about specific tools that you might bring in to Glint, how do you assess execution and the vendor’s ability to truly make the change happen that they are advertising?
Generally, I’ll have an idea of how something could be done differently than what we’re doing at present. That often comes down to data and the ability to understand each customer and their journey at the level of detail needed to truly meet their individual needs.
Evaluating solutions, therefore, often comes down to the depth of data that I can see, and share, in order to bring other parts of the organization into the customer journey. If, for example, I’m going to have a conversation with sales about the customer hand-off, I need to be able to bring data to the conversation about how the current hand-off is impacting the customer experience.
Ultimately, I need data from a variety of places to be integrated and ultimately have it tell a story about each customer, the journey they are on, and how we can make that journey more successful.
How do you assess the intangibles beyond the cold data? How do you assess the magic of the experience and how a new tool will contribute to that?
There are very process-oriented things, often at the foundation of the pyramid, that you need to do time and time again. In terms of the magic though, there are things that are going to be different for every customer. The art of magic often comes down to the Customer Success Manager knowing their customer at a level of depth that allows them to come up with something unique that will be disproportionately valued by that specific customer.
So, in many ways, the cold data combines with human intuition to set up those opportunities to deliver magic. It’s not something you can specifically productize, but you can put the conditions in place to make sure it happens more and more often.
How does the internal business case take place for customer success investments? What are the kind of measurements that you’d use to rationalize and justify a CS investment?
One of the most crucial metrics of customer success in software is retention. Revenue that you have today is not necessarily revenue that you’re going to have tomorrow. You have to re-sell the value of your offerings all the time.
In customer success we are protecting revenue, but we’re also driving upsell and referenceability, so we are driven to balance both efficiency and effectiveness. The balance is not always easy to find, and understanding how the organization is currently thinking about that balance is key to positioning a new potential investment in a customer success offering.
Depending on the scenario, I have built investment theses around the customer experience, overall visibility for other functions, or efficiency gains. It depends on the business at the time.
With customer success owning the growth number for the business, do you formulate investment ideas in a manner that’s similar to sales, ie, invest X and see top line growth of Y?
We will often think of that in a more secondary manner. If you allow for a great experience, growth will come. Unlike sales that happens prior to onboarding, you are very tied to the experience you’ve been able to deliver. Without that, there will not be account growth. Hence the investments we make look a little different than the investments you might see in a pure sales organization as the dynamic is quite different, even though we both own a top line growth number.
What advice would you have for sales people selling to customer success leaders?
Everything that we do in customer success comes down to delivering a WOW customer experience. If you’re selling into the function, you must understand that and be able to clearly show how your product will contribute to a better customer experience overall.
It’s surprising how many of the conversations still come down to bells and whistles, and the operational experience of our team in using the product. We’re looking to understand how things will affect the experience of our customers, which is one step removed from that.
Thank you Mary for those great insights!