Pulse Conference 2015: How B2B companies can upsell customers with CSM

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As morning turned into afternoon at day two of Gainsight’s third annual Pulse 2015 customer success management conference in San Francisco, attendees’ minds turned to aligning services and support for greater coverage. A three-person panel took on this subject from the different perspectives of the public domain, financial industry and the service sector.

First up was Cam Caldwell, who was just recently promoted from director of customer success at Socrata, a software company that helps government agencies democratize public data access. For Socrata, it is important to align relationships to grow business, according to Caldwell, which would seem to mean primarily external relations. But it is also important for internal teams to align for customer success, Caldwell says.

“For example, there could be friction between sales and service teams,” Caldwell says of a hypothetical software company. “The service team doesn’t want sales to sell vaporware.” Vaporware is a term that may not have much resonance with B2B customers in the age of cloud computing. But back in the day of floppy disks, vaporware was a term bandied about by competitors of aggressive software publishers to describe exciting-sounding programs announced in press releases that somehow never saw the light of day.

Not only were the competitors happy to point out these over-the-top announcements but also the aggressors’ own service and support teams were upset when they had to answer irate calls from customers asking for the new ethereal applications. So between the sales teams pushing computer programs that didn’t exist and the service teams taking the heat from customers, internal relations became very strained, which led to the ball being dropped—the exact opposite of customer success. “If the ball is dropped, there is no (possibility of a) lifetime customer,” Caldwell says.

To achieve customer success in his organization, two groups must align: the customer success managers and the support staff. “This is more important as your (organization) gets bigger,” he says.

Within this CSM process, the government agency customer goes through a four-part journey: “Land” led by account executives, “Deploy” headed by project managers or consultants, “Evolve” where the CSMs enter and “Expand” when the account managers attempt to get the customer to renew. For Socrata, the CSMs are very important to help the customer use and adopt the product.

In helping to align the internal teams at Socrata, all new employees, regardless of their roles, spend 30 percent of their time during the first 90 days answering support tickets on the customer support line. This has the effect of educating all the staff about the customer lifecycle.

“Every interaction (on the support line) is an opportunity to delight the customer,” Caldwell says. “All staff needs to know this. Even bugs or other dissatisfactory customer experiences are valuable (in this regard).” It is a chance to recover the customer and turn them into advocates, according to Caldwell.

For Abhay Rajaram, vice president of customer success at Hearsay Social, aligning services and support is key to the success of his customers. For insurance companies, wealth management firms and other financial industry participants, Hearsay Social helps them stay compliant with the requirements to document all communications. But beyond its core mission, the No. 1 metric for Hearsay is CSM, according to Rajaram. And CSM is not just a flashy feel-good stat for an endeavor that can seem too staid at times. CSM enables the upsell goal for Hearsay. “Close to half of new business is based on upsell,” Rajaram says.

To give CSMs the best chance to upsell their customers, Hearsay keeps the CSM-to-customer ratio low at about 3:1 or 5:1. “Our busiest CSM has 15 customers,” Rajaram says. “CSMs pose as the voice of the customer.”

Rajaram continued on in his presentation under a section titled “Food for Thought,” a series of questions designed to prod the audience to seek alternative answers to commonly held B2B beliefs.

Are services a profit center? If the implementation of your solution is a quick cycle, alignment with customer success is a natural. However, if you have a slow implementation cycle, B2B CSMs need to ask themselves where does CSM live?

What are the transition points in the customer success process? Any formal handoffs? In this way, there is no hard transition for customers. No customer meetings. The procedure is seamless to the customer.

Is there clarity on what customers expect from their level of service? What do you do if customers transgress the expectation of their customer service level? For example, Hearsay has customers that want 24/7 support. What happens if New York Life calls and they don’t have 24/7 support? Do you service them or re-route them?

How do you succeed and support your partner on accounts? If any customer opens a trouble ticket, sales staff wants to know. For example, a Farmers Insurance rep has a CSM partner. At his quarterly business review (QBR), Hearsay will fly in the CSM and have a session on customer support trends over the last three months. This gives the customer insight into their overall support level.

How is cross-functional collaboration nurtured? “As organizations grow, we have no choice but to build expertise,” Rajaram says. “As functions get specialized, you need to think about structure and how to drive interaction among functions.” In order to foster that interaction, Hearsay has its employees shadow each other.

To close out this session, Pam Dodril, vice president of customer success management at ServiceMax, a vendor of software for field service presented on her company’s Adoption Framework Picture. With a very diverse customer base, ServiceMax sells licenses for five seats up to 15,000 seats in individual implementations.

For ServiceMax to have successful customer implementations it must have a clear idea of the health of those implementations. The challenges? Its software is highly customized, the company does not push upgrades, customers can fall behind in the upgrade cycle, there is a lack of configuration documentation and it’s confusing who pays. The solution is to turn to the community space for customer documentation. Then ServiceMax applies the health check cost to Professional Services, which in turn applies a health check credit to the customer.

For more coverage from Pulse 2015, check out this report on Michael Lewis’s talk.

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).
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