Focusing your customer onboarding on customer outcomes and how it impacts retention.
Founder and CEO
Today on the show we have Rupesh Rao, Founder, and CEO of CogniSaaS.
In this episode, Rupesh shares how he managed his career to optimize learnings before taking the leap over to entrepreneurship.
We then discussed how you can switch your customer onboarding focus from a task-based to an outcomes-based approach and the impact it has on retention and we wrapped up by discussing how to manage priorities between departments and remove communication silos while onboarding new customers.
[00:01:23] Andrew Michael: Hey, Rupesh welcome to the show, Andrew.
[00:01:27] Rupesh Rao: Glad to
[00:01:27] Andrew Michael: be here. Thanks for having me. It's great to have you for the listeners. Rupe is the founder and CEO of Cognis sauce, a customer-centric onboarding and prioritization platform.
Rupesh started his career as a software engineer before making a shift to sales followed by customer success. Prior to Cognis sauce. Rupe was the chief customer officer at cropping technology, where he led a customer success team of 30 serving over 200 enterprise customers. So my first question for you Rupesh is.
What made you make the switch from software engineer to [00:02:00] sales and then to customer success? Right.
[00:02:04] Rupesh Rao: So interestingly, um, I think initial part of my career, I was a hardcore techie doing a bunch of coding for only seven, eight years. And, uh, really somehow had this thing in my mind to be an entrepreneur one day and wanted to go learn other aspects of the business sales marketing, and so on.
So that made me to switch gears and wanted to learn the. End to end business aspects of managing customer life.
[00:02:31] Andrew Michael: It's very interesting approach and, and like an nice way to move around within the organization. Uh, I actually was lucky to do something similar as well previously at hacha, uh, starting out in marketing, moving to product, moving to data, uh, just really getting to explore and understand the different aspects of the business.
Um, very cool. And. Um, your prior experience then at, uh, crop and technology, maybe you wanna just give us a little bit of an overview, what, what you were doing at the company. What did, was your role as a [00:03:00] chief customer officer then? Sure.
[00:03:03] Rupesh Rao: So at CRO, um, when I joined them, this was, uh, 2018. Uh, we were at the very early stage of building a customer's success function and the team and scaling it up.
So when I joined them, um, I was scaling the team, putting in the processes and tools and all those good things. And, uh, that's been really the problem statement that we are solving at Cognos as was something we were facing as a team. Um, we had, uh, hundreds of enterprise customers globally. And at any point of time we had so many pilots and POS running.
And there was no single source of on tracking the current status of all these projects and, uh, usual challenges that we hear in many B2B SaaS companies. And, uh, so yeah, that's what led me to start thinking. There's be a better way of solving this using technology, the internal cross function, collaboration among teams, which I had seen in my earlier, uh, organizations and also other companies who I spoke.
They all kind of, you know, shared the struggle [00:04:00] that we commonly hear between sales promising something to the customer, then handing it over to the implementation team. Then implementation team has to collaborate with your product management team, anding team and other crossfunctional teams. And then obviously customer is also there.
So all of these collaborations, internal and external were happening in all kinds of silos. Right. And, um, so that's. We wanted to solve that. Can we have technology help us have a platform where all these internal cross-functional teams and customers can collaborate for a customer-centric outcome? That's what ultimately what the customers care about.
Um, so yeah, I couldn't find a tool in the market. Um, and that's what led me to quit and start building.
[00:04:44] Andrew Michael: Interesting. I think I can see as well, like for myself from the buyer's side, it, it does get very frustrating when, uh, you're not sure who you're dealing with. Uh, you have to repeat several conversations with, uh, with others.
And then when it comes to implementation time, it's very difficult to understand, like, what are the next [00:05:00] steps who you should be working with and how to get things done? Um, absolutely. Because I haven't looked into too much into cognitive sauce and what you do. Exactly. Maybe you can give us a little bit of overview of how you solve these, uh, these challenges for companies and for individuals.
[00:05:16] Rupesh Rao: Sure. Um, so the approach, we, when it comes to customer, ultimately what matters to the customer is what we should focus on. And. For the customers they're signing up with the tool or the product for certain business outcomes or use cases that they have been promised in the sales cycle. And typically those outcomes and use cases get mapped out into, you know, your product dependencies with your product team.
And you have a bunch of implementation project management tasks that you are doing. So all these get, you know, hashed out into different silos and somewhere in this process, the outcomes and the use cases. Get lost. And, um, so this whole product centric thought process and task tracking thought [00:06:00] process we had in the legacy tools are not really doing justice.
So because of the customer background I come from, so I wanted to build a tool where we can keep the focus on the customer business outcomes and track throughout the process. What is it that we have committed? Where are we on those commitments during onboarding cycle, and then make sure we are delivering those outcomes and not just a bunch of task tick the box and of it's it's outcomes.
So that's the focus. That's what I think we approach in the market.
[00:06:35] Andrew Michael: And how would something like this differ to a more traditional customer success platform for managing relationships and what would be the key difference? I think obviously focusing on onboarding itself, but how do you differentiate yourself from like the customs or, uh, others in the space?
[00:06:54] Rupesh Rao: typically customer success tools come into the picture after the customer has gone. [00:07:00] Right. Uh, because their focus is more around tracking the engagement, the renewal, the adoption and health score after the go live. And so on, we are obviously focusing more before the go live, where it's about taking the customer from contract sign to the go life.
Uh, delivering all those things we promised to them from their modules or use cases or API integrations and customization configuration, all those things and going in deep, um, is what we, you know, help enable for our customers, which I don't think is a focus for customer tool. So we are not a customer success tool.
We don't compete with them. In fact, we integrate with customer access tools, um, as partners to give our customers the end to end holistic view of the customer journey and the.
[00:07:44] Andrew Michael: That's very cool. And then, uh, the service itself, um, how do customers and your customers interact with the product then as well?
So what is that experience like for the end user? Like you said, you're trying to pull out and it gets very confusing for the end [00:08:00] user. Like how do you help simplify that process? End
[00:08:02] Rupesh Rao: users? Right. So our end users obviously interact with us on our, um, web-based app and, uh, their customers also can collaborate with our, our customer users on the application as well.
Um, so yeah, it's like any other enterprise web app.
[00:08:22] Andrew Michael: Alright. So they would get an invite to cogni sauce as a customer and saying, this is our, got it. Management platform. Cool. Got it. Um, What are some of the things. So then, like let's focus a little bit on this in terms of like the onboarding experience for new customers today, we'll chat a little bit about, uh, how to onboard enterprise, uh, customers effectively.
You've done this a lot, uh, in your career now as well. And obviously building, uh, a company around this, um, what are some of the, the things that you see companies doing really well when it comes to onboarding their customers?
[00:08:58] Rupesh Rao: So Andrew, I think the key thing, [00:09:00] uh, that really helps companies who are doing this well is if they're able to focus on the customer outcomes or the use cases that we promised to them during the sales cycle. And it's all about keeping track of how those outcomes will be delivered using our product roadmap, dependencies, or implementation task dependencies, internally and externally with the customer.
And typically the challenge, a lot of companies face is the priorities are D. So sales team priorities are different customer implementation, team priorities, again, different and product team. They have got their bugs and priorities struggling with retention. And so. How do you, but at the same time at the company level, you want to make sure we are aligned, right?
So this alignment is the sort of the legacy problem, which is not really handled well by management tool. The thought we have from the [00:10:00] beginning is how do we ensure these cross-functional teams can align that, okay, this is what we need to do for this week and this month and this quarter, and this is what will really move the.
And that is our company metric, right? Because, uh, ultimately that's what we are here for. So that helps the product team to align sort of the drive, what we call the customer-centric prioritization. Right. Uh, what really matters to the customer customer-centric execution and customer-centric focus on their outcomes.
So bringing it all together in one common platform is I think what has worked well for the companies who are, you know, taking this approach. Dang.
[00:10:38] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And then I think like a follow up to that would be, what are some of the things that you see companies do really badly? And obviously the obvious answer there being that not being aligned in terms of the priorities being one of those, are there any other things, mistakes that you see companies commonly make when onboarding, uh, clients?
[00:10:58] Rupesh Rao: I would say [00:11:00] typically it's the sort of information gap really, right. Uh, what the customer. Was told that this is what we will deliver, uh, during the sales cycle. And then by the time it gets to the sales to implementation to product team and engineering team, half of the information is kind of lost or misunderstood.
Right. And, uh, and that again happens because of the information traveling through different silos. Right. And second thing is, again, touching upon my previous point, the alignment, what is. Sort of prioritization, right? Are we aligning with our customer-centric outcomes, their priorities and delivering that, or so this whole sort of three pieces to it, right?
One is visibility, um, that can this accountability and third is what we call prioritization. So if you have these three things done, right. Having the visibility on the right. Right. So having visibility on the customer outcomes, not a bunch of tasks, not a bunch of product features. Uh, [00:12:00] second thing is ensuring there is light level of accountability.
Is it sales team? Is it product team? Is it implementation who is accountable for where we are currently to move the ball forward? Or is the customer team where are delaying something? Right? Third thing is how do we prioritize? Whether it is our execution plan, whether it is our roadmap to ensure. Achieve what we want to achieve together with us and the customer.
So those three things, and again matter, um, both good and bad aspects of the, you know, customer onboarding.
[00:12:30] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Um, so to play that back a little bit as well, let's imagine now there was no cognitive sauce and, uh, you're at a business you wanna get set up like a good onboarding program, um, software aside.
What would be the steps that you would wanna come into a company to help them, uh, shape things up and get it into good shape. So let's imagine there's no software now. And, uh, you wanna get a good program up and running for onboarding to make sure that you have the alignment that you have, the accountability that you have, the [00:13:00] metrics, uh, visibility, what would be the steps that you would take?
[00:13:06] Rupesh Rao: so I think it'll be first of all, um, from a. Focus and process point of view related to. Bring alignment internally, right? Uh, between different cross-functional teams, that this is what is our priority. Uh, we want to deliver projects on time. We want to prevent any goal live delays. We want to minimize our revenue risk.
So tracking all of that, we need to figure out a way as you mentioned no tools. So we have to figure out some way whether it's on Excel sheet or some document to track that, uh, and then tracking that for each and every customer. Right. Uh, and. Mapping that out to what we are doing on a day to day basis, and then tracking that on a weekly, daily, monthly basis to ensure we are not losing the track of the north north side metric.
So that's how I would do it, but I think it's all about alignment, really. So internal alignment is the [00:14:00] most important thing between different cross functional teams. Yeah.
[00:14:03] Andrew Michael: I like what you said as well. Like moving the focus away previously from, um, tasks to be done to the, the outcomes. So in mind as well, like when hearing you say that would be, that first step would be just to really understand what are the main outcomes we want our customers to achieve, what are they coming to get us?
And then from there, like saying, okay, like is a measure. And then also what you mention as well, like having that priority and accountability side of things in saying, okay, if the outcome that the customers trying to achieve is to let's say, like have a contact inside a CRM platform. Like that's what the outcome we want to achieve for this customer.
We know that there's like some sort of level of accountability. And trying to understand whose job that is. So maybe the first step is integration to get to that point. And that might be solutions engineer who's accountable for that to work with the client. Exactly. And the final step then might be actually adding that contact, which might, that ends up on the client side.
So having [00:15:00] like a clear visibility of the steps that need to be taken, but then not treating the steps as the focus, rather focusing the goal. Getting that final result. Yeah. Yeah. And then taking over from there. So. You mentioned as well. The idea of like the information gap. And I think this definitely happens quite a lot in companies where you talk to sales and, uh, you get sold on a, a nice and beautiful vision.
And then you end up getting into the product and it's not what you'd hope to see, or it's not the, the exact solution that was initially pitched. And I think this is also like coming like a. Reason for churn is that when we there's this, um, the gap between what the promise that is made and the, the value that's delivered.
And obviously that one aspect of it is solved through sales and making sure like your sales team are selling what you can actually selling to the right people. But how can some of these issues be resolved with the good onboarding
[00:15:58] Rupesh Rao: program? [00:16:00] Yeah. Great question, Andrew. See, the fundamental problem that happens is when the information travels from the customer to the sales team, then they will do a handover to the onboarding team.
Onboarding team will go talk to the product team, right? With each of these hops, there's an information lost and some of the context gets lost. So in a very simplistic term, right, when a product team gets a ticket assigned to them in JIRA, right? Let's say for a new feature request or announcement, or what have you.
It's just the feature request. They don't have any clarity on the context, right? Why does the customer even want this feature? What is it that they're trying to achieve? What is their business outcome? What is their timeline? What is their revenue impact? All of these things you cannot see in now, the product team will then have to chase back to the sales team.
Then they'll do this, all of this in emails and Excel and meetings, and somehow information will be half communicated and half. So this context is very, [00:17:00] very important and that's something we have tried to address in our tools from the beginning that how can we make it seamless, uh, information flow between the sales, CS, and product without losing the context.
So, for example, in our tool, um, uh, we have a gene integration right now when product team receives a new feature request, they can see the entire context. If I have a feature request, asked by 10 customer. Obviously we don't will feature for one customer, obviously more customers the better, but typically product team will ask two things.
Right? Okay. How many customers want this feature? What is the business case? The impact, show me all this, then we'll prioritize. Now this piece of information is typically done manually, right? I have done this in Excel sheet in my previous role. So in two, what we have done from beginning is now the single collaboration pro team can see with one.
Okay, this is the product dependency. These are all the 10 customers. These are their use cases or reason why they want this feature, the timelines that impact everything in one place. Um, so that is how I think we [00:18:00] are trying to solve this problem. Yeah, it
[00:18:04] Andrew Michael: definitely is an interesting challenge. And I see that aspect as well, the side of things, where you get a support request coming in and having that additional context of an understanding of what was the initial goal of the customer can really help you accelerate the value that you provide from a support perspective on the other end.
And that I think that applies in as well to all throughout the final and lifetime of the customer's interactions with your team members. Absolutely. Cool. Um, I wanna ask a question that I ask every guest. Um, let's imagine a hypothetical scenario that you join a new company churn. Attention's not doing great at this company.
And the CEO comes to you and says, Hey, Rupesh like, we need to turn things around. We have 90 days to do it. You're in charge. What do you. The catch. You're not gonna tell me I'm gonna go and speak to customers or look at data and figure out where the bigger pain point lie and then work on that. You're just gonna take a [00:19:00] tactic that you've seen work previously in one of your previous roles and run with that blindly, hoping that it reduces churn at this company as well.
What would you do? Mm-hmm
[00:19:11] Rupesh Rao: got it. So I think the, what has worked for me in the past, uh, is to look at really. Obviously two things, right? What is causing the churn, what we have on the face of it, uh, lagging indicators, so to speak. And then there are some leading indicators, uh, on the face of it. Obviously you will look at.
Adoption NPS, all those good things, but those might be actually lagging indicators because something else has gone wrong way earlier in the customer journey. Hence we are in this situation. So it's important to go backwards in the customer journey. Okay. In our sales and presale page, what did we do? What was committed?
What went wrong during onboarding implementation? So those actually become your leading indicators of your destiny on what happens on your NPS and what happens on your. [00:20:00] So I would go back and look at really both leading and lagging indicators and more importantly, leading indicators and try to address them from a process and unit program point of view, so that we avoid this last minute and firefighting.
That is what really worked for me in the so
[00:20:15] Andrew Michael: you'd focus on onboarding.
[00:20:18] Rupesh Rao: Yeah. Course. And onboarding is, I think we all know this, right. Uh, kind of it reminds your destiny of what all you do after the customer has gone live. So very,
[00:20:28] Andrew Michael: very, I. Absolutely. It's definitely like I'd say has the biggest impact on overall channel retention is making sure you have a really good and effective onboarding experience because ultimately again, like it compounds over time.
I think a lot of times this answer, we get things like Dunn. Which is like the end result and trying to win back or reduce like involuntary churn, which is effective. But if you really want to have a compounding impact, like it's, it always comes back to really an onboarding experience that gets your customers to value [00:21:00] and helps keep them there is gonna be the most effective over time.
Um, what's one thing that you noted about trainer attention, that you wish you knew when you got started with your.
[00:21:12] Rupesh Rao: So interestingly. Yeah, I think, um, um, product is something I would say, although important, but product is not the only thing which will help you win customers and retain them and, you know, drive the metrics. So I think, uh, it's very important to. From their perspective. So I think this whole it's, it's a mental model shift to shift from product-centric thought process to more customer-centric and really, you know, traveling back from their outcomes to how your product will enable them achieve that, uh, rather than other.
So I think that's the biggest learning.
[00:21:57] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Interesting. You said that [00:22:00] all, like, I think a lot of times like people come back to say like, product is the only way. Uh, it's like, it all comes back to product, but I don't necessarily agree with that either as well. I think there's a lot of different inputs that go into improving general attention.
And, uh, a lot of times those things can be done. Without changes to product more just like onboarding or educational material or the way you're marketing and pitching in the audience. Like there's just so many different other inputs that can influence the final metric
is any sort of final thoughts that you wanna leave the listeners with or anything you think would be interesting to share before we wrap up.
[00:22:40] Rupesh Rao: Oh, it's been great. Um, I would just say that, I think now that we have entered into this, um, customer becoming a first class top priority for a of B2B companies, it's time to really change the mindset from more legacy product centric and.[00:23:00]
Uh, way of looking at onboarding to really more looking at customer-centric outcomes and goals, and really not writing it on a piece of paper, but making it actionable where you can execute based on these, you know, outcomes that you with customers. So that's the future and forward. And, uh, we are very excited to be part of this journey for, uh, our customers and, uh, our partners in the.
[00:23:22] Andrew Michael: Nice. Yeah. You mentioned sort of, I like the customer success first class citizen. Uh, it definitely, it feels like now's an inflection point over the last, like two to three years since I started the podcast, actually I've noticed a shift, uh, and change in the way customer success has been discussed and talked about within organizations.
And it definitely feels like it's climbing up on the priority ladder slowly, even though it started quite a while. Back with Salesforce, it's taken. It's time to catch up and for more companies to adopt, like, what do you think has been driving this shift? Um, so it's
[00:23:59] Rupesh Rao: [00:24:00] very simple, right? If you are a SaaS company and right, so revenue comes from new business.
You booking's only a matter of time. It's only a matter of time when the client will flip and 80% of your revenue will come from existing customers and new bookings will be a tiny. Of your overall revenue. Yeah. And now the focus will obviously shift to 80% from the CEO point of view. And that's where a lot of attention, you know, uh, and nurturing will go into.
So I think we are coming out of that model of on-prem, which was 20 years back where sales mattered. Now this whole coin is flipping. So I think that's what is driving. So
[00:24:43] Andrew Michael: more and more people hitting that inflection point where more significant revenues coming from existing customers than from new customers and managing those relationships and nurturing those accounts become super, super important.
I see that. And it definitely, it follows like the natural flows [00:25:00] or if you think about like most startups. Don't think about channel retention to begin with everything is like top line growth. Uh, how can we just like feed the funnel? How can we acquire customers? And to, to some part it makes sense, but I think some companies make that switch a little too late.
And then, uh, when they don't make that switch in the right time, that's when you end up hearing these like tragic stories of companies with explosive growth, but ultimately won't be able to sort of retain the customers and, um, maintain a business over time. Um, Maybe if the focus was switched a little bit earlier to retention, like there could be some really good businesses still out there that showed very good promise in the beginning.
Um, I think for me, one of the interesting aspects we did a hot job. I don't know if you've done something similar before, was the idea of like a. Uh, churn ceiling, uh, growth ceiling, sorry. Uh, we are able to model out at what point, like growth will store based on your current growth rate and your churn rate.
Um, mm-hmm , you can actually calculate like the number of months you [00:26:00] have until growth stalls. And I think for us, that was sort of like a moment where we did that calculation. We're like, okay. It's sooner than maybe we think so let's start, uh, shifting focus a bit to see how we can, uh, reduce churn and stuff.
Cause it's only a matter of time before companies hit this point where they need to start working on either new product range or a step change when it comes to general attention. So, yeah. Very cool. Very nice. But yeah, it's been a pleasure chatting to you today. Rupesh um, thanks so much for joining and uh, I wish you best of luck now going forward.
And then your journey.
[00:26:35] Rupesh Rao: Thank you so much, Andrew. It was fun. The forward to speaking soon again. Cheers.
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My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.
In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.