If your customer experience is bad, your product is bad. You get churn, and you lose money. But if you can build a great experience for your customers, helping them achieve success even outside your product, then you will have customers that will retain and expand alongside you.
That is what Katie Rogers has been building at Salesloft.
Katie, VP of Customer Success at the Atlanta-based SaaS company, was employee #7 at Salesloft and the first customer experience hire. Tasked with scaling the post-sale part of the business, she has led to the team over the past four years, growing the customer experience team to 40+ and building the framework for Salesloft's 16 customer success managers to reduce logo churn by 175% and increase net revenue retention by 1200%.
Her secret: great people, great knowledge, and a constant desire to grow.
When Katie came to Salesloft, churn was in the low double-digits. Not catastrophic, but high enough to have an impact on growth. An analysis of this churn was number one on her agenda getting started. But she didn't dive into the data and product usage stats. Instead, she tried to find out why from them,
“I picked up the phone and called every single customer. I didn't go and look at the data and say 'when did they churn, what part of their customer journey was it, where in the product were they're not using?' I simply called them and had a conversation because people like to do business with people.”
People like to do business with people. In low-touch SaaS, you can go the entire lifecycle without ever conversing with a human being. But at that point of frustration, when your customers are lost, not getting their value for money, and about to press that cancel button, you need to get on the phone.
Ninety percent of churned Salesloft customers were happy to talk and gave reasons that would not have been obvious from the data. All this information was readily available, but nobody had asked them before. All it took was for Katie to pick up the phone and the company had a massive resource to fight their number one issue.
This continues. Katie and her team get on the phone to find out why customers are unhappy. Instead of firing off emails to unhappy customers with all the value the product provides,
“Call them it's really easy I still do it today, and our customers still love that and then they stay.”
Other lessons from 2014:
Hire your weakness
Your team, both company-wide and the customer-success, won't be capable of everything. Look for where you are weakest and hire for that position. At Salesloft, they were weak in customer success, so hired Katie. Katie then hired for her weak spots to round out the team.
Create a kb
High touch is great but suffers at scale. Resources such as webinars, content, and knowledge bases can all decrease the load on a nascent customer success team.
Define your metrics
Like any other team, customer success needs a way to know how well they are performing. Defining volume early allows the team to start to build processes to lower volume and increase happiness.
Hire for value
Customer success is there to make customers a success. You need to hire people that can do exactly that—not just build a relationship, but push the customer to be better. This is something the Salesloft customer success team started work on early,
“When we brought on the SMB component, we really started to create one-pagers and give assessments in the hiring process that specifically spoke to this type of business. What do you know about SMB companies from a sales strategy perspective? What value can you bring to drive their business?"
Building a relationship is great, and a vital component of a great customer success hire, but your hires need to add value to customers. The Salesloft hiring process looks at whether they could advise customers, not just on how to use Salesloft, but how the customer could improve their sales strategies overall. In this way, the customer success team is acting as the consultancy arm of Salesloft, making them even more integral to their customers.
As Katie puts it,
“At Salesloft, you're a strategic partner, and you're a subject-matter expert. How are you adding value for our customers? It's not about being a Salesloft expert; it's being a sales expert.”
The people that are capable of this are the ones that are still part of the team today, helping hundreds of sales teams across the globe be more successful.
The other component of a successful 2015 was digging deeper into churn. Now that Katie and her team had an understanding from customers why they wanted to leave, she could start to look at how churn related to the customer lifecycle and build a wider story about Salesloft churn, the reasons, and what they could do to start fighting back.
Growth can teach you as much as churn
In the first two years, Katie and her team spent a lot of time looking at churn and understanding its reasons. In 2016, they flipped this on its head and started to the identify growth stories at Salesloft,
“I took my team into a room, and I said okay, we all know the churn story. We know we have customers churn, and we're addressing that, but why do we have success stories? Who are the customers, why are they successful, and let's talk about that.”
Cutting out the reasons for churn is vital. But any product is about building a machine for success. You need to know what makes your most successful customers a success and repeat that at scale. Taking time to look at the reasons for success it an important part of customer success.
Katie could then feed that information back to her team, who had been hired to make the customers a success. By finding what works for the best and spreading that knowledge around, you can not just cut churn, but expand their business as well.
The other big learning for Katie for the year was that the customer success team could be a driver for change. As she wanted to simplify the customer success offering, she put it bluntly to her boss: budget needed, team needed, time needed. But most importantly, what she would be giving back with the change. The company 2X their ARR that year with a growing customer success team, showing how much this team could lead the company from the front.
Segmenting for success
As Katie has learned more about her customers and her team, she has constantly been adapting the segmentation structure of her team to give customers the best chance of success:
In 2014, there was no segmentation. Katie was the single point of contact for 400+ customers, no matter what their size or what their problems.
In 2015, as she built the team out, the customer success team became segmented across revenue tiers:
Key accounts had a 1:60 ratio, with a single rep covering these important customers
SMB accounts had a 1:250 ratio, with four reps available for these customers
In 2016, when Katie rebooted the team, the segmentation started to take into consideration revenue and organization size, with key accounts being those that were either over a revenue limit or had a certain revenue and a certain number of employees.
In 2017, the model continues to develop and allow the team to serve customers better. Now it is based on points depending on the key segments that Salesloft have identified are important to their customers' success:
The three tiers are now:
These are the key accounts of old. High revenue, large companies that are finding success with Salesloft. To keep them, Katie and her team have to constantly add value. But she knows that as they grow, they will use the product more and more and expand their account. These are the growth stories that Katie wanted to identify and scale to other accounts.
Smaller companies that are still doing well with the product. These will be the “Expand” accounts of the future so the team concentrates on retaining them and adding value where they can find it.
Smaller companies and those that are struggling with the product. These are churn stories in the making. But by “responding” to their issues, the customer success team can help them find success and start to grow.
Segmenting customers like this means that resources can be spent where they will have the highest impact. It might seem simple looking at it from just a revenue or customer size perspective, but that skips the “secret sauce” that is unique to each business. Your secret sauce can only come from an honest understanding of your customers. Or as Katie puts it,
“Every business is different, so that model that I showed you probably won't work for your business. Put your customer success team in a room and ask them what are the key factors that are driving your customer success and figure it out for yourself.”
By Patrick Campbell
Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.