How InVision’s hyper-growth masked churn and retention rates and what was the turning point.

Sydney Strader


Head of Customer Success


Sydney Strader
Sydney Strader

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Sydney Strader, Head of Customer Success at Catalyst.

In this episode, we talked about what motivated Sydney to make the switch from a career in marketing to customer success, how you can align compensation between sales and customer success.

We also discussed her time at Invision and how they maximized value for their customers by taking renewals off the CS team’s plate and how their hyper-growth masked churn and retention. Sydney also shared her number one challenge working at Catalyst and what a customer success team of customer success platform looks like.

Mentioned Resources



What motivated Sydney to make the switch from a career in marketing to customer success. 00:01:60
How Syndey’s team at Influitive operated and how were they accountable for retention 00:05:05
Compensation between sales and customer success and how to best align the different motivators. 00:09:52
How Invision maximized value for their customers by taking renewals off the CS team’s plate. 00:16:03
How Invision’s hyper-growth masked churn and retention rates and what was the turning point. 00:21:31
Sydney’s number challenge today when it comes to customer success at Catalyst. 00:28:46
The customer success team, of a customer success platform. What does it look like. 00:30:42
How would Sydney reduce churn and increase retention for a company in 90 days. 00:35:19
What's one thing Sydney knows about churn and retention today that she wished she knew when she got started with her career. 00:39:11


Andrew Michael: [00:00:00] Hey, Sydney. Welcome to the show.

Sydney Strader: [00:00:01] Hey Andrew. Thanks for having me.

Andrew Michael: [00:00:03] It's a pleasure for the listeners Sydney as the head of customer success at Catalyst and catalyst combines beautiful design with modern technology to provide the most powerful customer success platform.

Prior to catalyst. Sydney started a career in marketing at candor college and made the switch to customer success. In 2012. When she joined polar mobile Sydney, then went on to lead a team directly accountable for retention to Influitive followed by the role of VP of customer success at Invision. So my first question for you, Sydney is what motivated you to make the switch from a career in marketing to customer success?

Sydney Strader: [00:00:37] Uh, it was a little bit. Truly coincidentally at the time. So I went to school for marketing, uh, and when I got out of school, I was desperately looking for a job, uh, as I think we all do following college and university. And, uh, it just so happened that the opportunity that I had in front of me, that I had interviewed.

Four was a support role, um, at a tech [00:01:00] startup in Toronto called polar mobile. And, uh, I was just kind of like, look, I'd rather take a job and try something then than nothing at all. It was definitely a role that was up my alley in terms of working with people, customer facing, um, a lot of problem solving.

So kind of check the box of, of things that I was just genuinely interested from, from the jobs that I had had, uh, kind of part-time up until then. And, uh, so that was kind of. You know, for me, just kind of trusting the world that this opportunity presented itself and they wanted to hire me. So I took it.

Um, it was probably about a year into that role though, where I had been in support. And I was like, look, I studied marketing. And, and part of the agreement when I joined polar was that I would move to the marketing team when they had an opportunity. And so, uh, an opportunity did arise probably about a year in.

And, uh, I moved over to the marketing team thinking that, you know, that's what I studied in school. So that's probably what I should have a career in, uh, only to be miserable after about two months of that job, not enjoying the pace, not enjoying kind of like the lack of crazy that I've experienced in the [00:02:00] support role, missing the customer facing motion and had a, you know, a conversation with my boss and the CEO and said, you know, I really felt like I thrived in that support. Role, and I love to go back to it if he would be willing and open to doing that, I very much appreciate that they took a bet on me and marketing, and so, uh, God bless them. They supported me through that and made a move back into support where I took on a bit more of a, I would say customer success, traditional customer success role at that time.

But that was the move from marketing to a, to CS when marketing CS back to marketing to CS. And I've been in CS ever since.

Andrew Michael: [00:02:36] Very interesting. And it's sort of. You studied this. So you felt you needed to do it, but going back into it, realizing sort of that pace, wanting to be around customers and being able to, maybe you're just enjoying a little bit more of the chaos if you want to put it that way.


Sydney Strader: [00:02:51] Yes, definitely like just the overall rate and speed, um, by which things come at you, uh, the dynamic between like, you know, [00:03:00] reactive in and trying to have the best experience possible in a support role, but also how do you get proactive to prevent those experiences from happening in the first one?

Place. So I definitely liked the hustle of it, the dynamic, just the complexities of the challenges and just what felt like, you know, no two days wherever the same, um, definitely gave me a lot of energy and excitement as well.

Andrew Michael: [00:03:20] Nice. And then you went on to Influitive. It is yes, maybe less than a little bit what they do at the company.

And then I want to dive into a little bit something that I read in your LinkedIn profile in relation to sort of, you led a team directly responsible for retention at the company. So what does Influitive do?

Sydney Strader: [00:03:37] Yeah. So Influitive, uh, was actually a category creator in advocate marketing. So the premise being that, you know, you have brands that you are a raving fan of, and you are very influential in it towards your peers, in terms of, you know, kind of projecting those brands that you, uh, have grown to love and influencing their buying behaviors as a result of your advocacy.

So it was a platform that was [00:04:00] created to help enable, um, organizations like the DocuSign. The world Okta, um, to mobilize their advocates, to influence, uh, the market in terms of their overall perception of the experience of those are changing crowds, driving case studies, driving, references, referrals. Um, so that's what, uh, influence created by created for.

Andrew Michael: [00:04:22] And then from your side, uh, at Influitive, you ended up, I think was leading senior manager of advocacy coaches, and you're managing a team of 11 who directly accountable for retention, um, Florida's customer base. So could you talk us a little bit through that? Like, what was this team made up of? What was the typical, uh, like actions, uh, daily work, uh, for the team.

Sydney Strader: [00:04:44] Yeah. So the, as you mentioned, the team was about, uh, 11, I think at one point. And it was a team that was responsible for retention. They also played a role in identifying growth and expansion opportunities as well. Um, the role itself primarily consisted of post-sale, [00:05:00] uh, when a deal had been secured, uh, onboarding customers onto our platform.

And, uh, there was, uh, two kind of components to that. There was the overall like product enablement and how to use our product, but also strategy. So building an advocate, marketing strategy was a component of the customer success manager's role. And, you know, that required understanding, you know, the customer's business, understanding the persona of their customers.

No, who are their audience? Were they marketers? Were they, um, sales professionals, were they, you know, developers, engineers, uh, understanding those profiles and then coming up with strategies to engage those audiences in a way that would produce advocacy or enable them to, to deliver advocacy to the market in the form of GG crowd reviews, references, case studies, et cetera.

Um, so that was the, the general responsibility of the CSM was establishing a great relationship with these customers, truly understanding their business. Um, helping prescribed strategies for them to execute a, um, advocate marketing strategy that aligned to the goals that they were trying to drive [00:06:00] for their business often tied to revenue and expansion dollars.

Um, and then helping, uh, you know, a customer leverage the product to be able to, uh, to see through the execution of that strategy.

Andrew Michael: [00:06:12] Yeah. And then this team was like accountable for retention. I'm interested that played out in the organization. I think, cause this is something that we tried about a little bit on the show in terms of retention is a metric.

It's an awkward metric. That's influenced by so many different inputs from across the company. And a lot of times that customer success, if anything, has the least input into those metrics. So how did you operate in, how was the team accountable? What did that look like within the organization?

Sydney Strader: [00:06:41] Yeah. So, um, we had a really tight partnership with sales and we did have, um, metrics, you know, that were tied to the overall compensation of the customer success team in relation to retention and expansion dollars, uh, as a way to incentivize them.

I would also say that that was early in my career and, and I [00:07:00] I've learned any evolved over time, uh, different motivators for compensation and how best to. To align that I think there's also a really pivotal piece in relation to sales and the alignment with sales, depending on, on what the structure and setup is in relation to who's managing the renewal itself.

Um, you know, if we fast track into the stage at envision, um, At that time when I first started at envision very much, the CSM was responsible for retention and expansion, truly the commercial discussions with customers. And then ultimately we realized that if we were going to help customers realize the value of their investment, having the customer success.

SAS team solely focused on actually, um, driving that value, building those relationships, creating, you know, plans with intended outcomes that the customers are looking to drive in terms of value and how then to execute against that. Um, we realized that giving them the, the time-space and undivided attention to be able to do that meant renewables came off of their plate, even though they, their inputs heavily influenced the outcomes that [00:08:00] customers were ultimately able to produce as to whether they chose to renew or not.

Andrew Michael: [00:08:04] That's interesting. I want to dive into that a little bit further down. I want to go back quickly to one thing in terms of like the compensation plans that you mentioned and, uh, like realizing that there was a better way to do compensation. So in your opinion today, like what is a good way to work with compensation between sales and success?

Sydney Strader: [00:08:24] Yeah, I think at the end of the day, if the, it, first, first you have to start with, what is it that you're trying to get the teams to produce? Where do you want them to be focused? I mean, I we've, I've seen a wide spectrum of different compensation models and it's suffice to say that the one consistency is that whatever you choose.

To have within the CSM or the sales reps control in terms of how they make money is ultimately going to be where they focus their timeand attention. So I think you have to start with like, what is it that we want to produce, um, and start there as kind of your baseline. I think the other tricky piece with compensation is do you focus [00:09:00] on the inputs?

Like what are the day-to-day actions and activities that you want CS? To be operating against, or is it the outcomes that you want to compensate them against, which is generally speaking net dollar retention in the capacity of renewable dollars and expansion. And to me, from my experience, it's a hybrid of the two, because if you go with the latter and you have CS solely focused on the outcomes, then they very much get into this.

Kind of tail spin of, okay, what's coming up next quarter for my renewals. I'm going to double down on those accounts. What really matters is the 275 days from which a customer signs onwards. Those are the most influential days that ultimately decide, did they get enough value? Did they warrant the ongoing investment that they had originally made?

And are they willing to expand on that investment? So I think you have to optimize for inputs. And outcomes to strike that balance of where CSMs focuses. It has to be within their [00:10:00] control in terms of their ability to drive, you know, financial gains for themselves. Um, and then when you throw in the dynamic of sales, It's it depends on what it is, the responsibility and the relationship you would like between sales and customer success.

But if it is about expanding revenue, then there has to be a shared and common goal so that there isn't conflict and friction between those two teams. Uh, so making sure that, you know, they, as a collective team have a common goal would be one strategy that I've seen to be very successful. If you have an enterprise sales team and you have an enterprise customer success team, collectively, they have a shared.

Net dollar retention, target that they're looking to achieve, but again, that's dependent on what is the role of sales and the capacity of, of their focus and what is the same in the equivalent for customer success?

Andrew Michael: [00:10:47] Yeah. I liked having the mix sort of the actions versus the outcomes, the inputs first year outputs. Uh, I think this is something we spoke about with Steli Ft as well, in terms of, um, Like a big issue for churn is when you [00:11:00] maybe have un-confident sales team and just trying to close deals that aren't aligned with, like the buyer personas that aren't typically may potentially been good customers for your business.

So, uh, aligning first of all, just the sales team with good targets in terms of like, Closing deals, but also retention being part of the comp. Um, you're talking as well, a little bit from the customer success side now as well. Is that like, I liked the point that you made as well as that you just go in a circular motion if it's thinking, okay.

My comp is related to somebody you're renewing. I'm going to focus. Who's renewing this next quarter, but ultimately the renewal doesn't happen in that next quarter. It happens. That, like you said, the 275 days before the onboarding, making sure that your customers are getting successful, that they're taking actions, they need to take, to extract the value from your product.

So I like, uh, sort of how you put it in the sense of having both, uh, be a part of the conversation. And so when you say both as well, the inputs, like what would some of the typical inputs be looking for for your CSMs to be driving as part of the comp plan?

[00:12:00] Sydney Strader: [00:12:00] Yeah. Um, this one is, isn't like a clear winner and I think one of the most common mistakes is that as, as a customer success success leader, as a customer success team, you, you sit back and kind of hypothesize and come up with your own kind of ideas of here are all the things we need to do.

That's ultimately going to make a customer successful, but who we forget to ask, uh, is the actual customer themselves in terms of, you know, what is the. Appearance, they would like to, to have what would help them drive further adoption of the product. What's blocking them from being able to do that today.

So I think a big, big piece in answering that question, isn't just listening to whatever Sid has to say. And so it's actually going and talking to your customers and, and understanding their motions, right. They're going through as they initially purchased as they've onboarded, as they've concluded, onboarding to understand what, what.

Those activities are, but generally speaking, they do fall into a couple core buckets and those buckets could be, um, you know, driving product adoption and [00:13:00] utilization. I think suffice to say that if someone has bought, you know, 25 seats with the intent of those 25 seats, Being utilized and incorporating them into the core team's workflow.

And you're looking at product adoption and you're seeing that, you know, only 10 of the 25 are being utilized. I think it's guaranteed like a recipe for disaster in terms of retention. Like, are they truly getting the value that they had originally intended to, um, from their purchase and what is it that's preventing it.

So I think, um, ideally you're looking for, for those objective measures that you can put in place that are very targeted, that correlate. Um, to, to a customer ultimately fulfilling the vision that they had when they purchased the tool in and of itself. So that would be one example.

Andrew Michael: [00:13:42] Yeah, I like that. You made the point though, as well that it's, uh, sometimes like people just resort to thinking things are intuitive and picking those sort of inputs that are available to customers, but ultimately, like there's nothing been speaking to your customers and really understanding what is the [00:14:00] main value they're driving and extracting from your product and how did they get there, um, to sort of drive those inputs that you ended up focusing on.

Oh, let let's fast forward again then. So going to envision, you mentioned something as well, that at envision you work in success and the team realized in order to sort of maximize value for their customers, you couldn't have the CSMs focus on expansion and sales. So talk us through that a little bit.

What was that like at the company at the time? Like how did you see customer success evolve over the three years that you spent there?

Sydney Strader: [00:14:35] Yeah, it was actually incredible to see, because when I first joined InVision, they had achieved like this incredible product market fit. Um, and envision was just like where it was at, right.

It was the, it came with a brand and a reputation in the market that was incredibly strong and it was the designer's tool of choice, um, to be using for internal collaboration. And there was just a really incredible trajectory when I, when I [00:15:00] first entered the scene, um, At envision, which, which was amazing.

And what was interesting, you really look back in retrospect at that time as a customer success manager, I operated more as an account manager, uh, at that time. So for example, you know, my compensation was very much on the outcomes. It was very much on, uh, expansion dollars, primarily being the focus retention was kind of a foregone conclusion.

We were very much in a, in a. Well operating land and expand model. So customers were just continuing to, to want to buy more of my buy more, which was great. Um, and so what we realized as we nailed that kind of product market fit at the time, and as we focused on just continuing to expand these accounts and had this massive sales team doing it both in the context of traditional sales reps, as well as myself operating in this capacity, as well as the rest of our customer success team, um, we missed the.

The Mark in terms of ensuring we sustained a [00:16:00] pulse on onboarding and adoption. And so when I referenced the product adoption data, that really comes from a learning that I had walking away from envision where that wasn't something I was accountable to as a CSM. And it wasn't something my compensation was tied to.

It was more the outcomes. And how to, how do we. You know, find more seats to be had in terms of white space versus actually helping a customer realize the value of the initial investment and then the secondary investment that they've made using our tool. So. I would say that as those three years at envision progressed, it became clearer and clearer.

That it's critical that if we're going to retain our base and give ourselves a shot truly of expanding, you know, business further, it was. Going to be important that we shift the focus of customer success to drive our attention towards that adoption and the value realization. And that's where, you know, it was really fulfilling to see the partnership with our sales team when we're in, you know, a boardroom having a very, you know, tough [00:17:00] discussion of do we take renewals off of customer success managers.

This is how we've operated in this capacity for years at this point. Point in time. And at the same time, when we surveyed the team to understand how much they were investing in terms of their time in commercial engagements with customers, it was 40% at least. And so we were like, can we afford to have CSM spending 40% of their time?

Negotiating renewals with customers versus actually helping them, you know, create a plan, uh, and understanding the outcomes they're looking to drive and then deploying that plan and driving adoption of the product. And, and we realized we couldn't, we had to make a shift, uh, in order to be strategic in helping customers realize the value that they intended to achieve.

So, uh, through the great partnership with our sales team, uh, we created an awesome renewal management team, uh, who started managing a high touch. Uh, or sorry, um, low touch volume, transactional renewals, which was great. And then we had our account [00:18:00] managers, uh, AEs, um, step in to run more of the higher, uh, valued renewal motions as well.

So a dynamic there that ultimately gave the customer success team, the focus and attention to, to double down on overall value for customers.

Andrew Michael: [00:18:17] So to focus on customer success, as opposed to company success.

Sydney Strader: [00:18:21] Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, that was the, that was the big kind of predicament we found ourselves in.

It's like, you know, we came up with this plan, deploy, adopt motion. We called a PDA. And it's like, if we don't know what a customer's trying to achieve AK, we don't have a plan. Um, then, then what are we doing? Uh, it really, we have to have. Sense of structure. We have to have mutually shared understanding of the outcomes our customers are trying to achieve.

And, you know, at a vision, we just had a wealth of resources. I mean, so many incredible expertise across that organization, but how we were choosing to deploy them, arguably wasn't the most effective or efficient, but yeah. We could achieve [00:19:00] that and deploy them effectively. If we knew the intended outcomes, customers were trying to drive, so truly formalizing a success plan, and then the focus of the customer success manager being, creating the strategies associated with the execution of that plan to help achieve those goals.

Andrew Michael: [00:19:17] How then as well, cause you mentioned at some point you realize that in the beginning you had incredible product market fit and the team was just really focused on expansion revenue. I think this is something typically we seen like high growth startups that retention is masked due to the rapid growth.

And you only realize the problem. Once things start to slow down, once there becomes a little bit of competition in the market. So yeah. What was the turning point? Like what was the conversations like in the beginning when they said, okay, wait a minute. We've maybe got this wrong. We'd really need to double down on actual customer success and helping our customers achieve value, as opposed to just trying to expand accounts and drive more sales.

Like what were those conversations like? What were maybe some of the metrics that you were looking at at the time to [00:20:00] say, okay, if this is the Tom knots section, you make the switch.

Sydney Strader: [00:20:03] Yeah. Um, I think, I think you nailed it in terms of when you're in this growth, things can be masked right on the surface.

Everything felt amazing, right? More revenue everyone's thriving, new customers coming on. The logos are exciting. It just. It felt like a ton of momentum, but to your point, there, there was a shift. And I think the shift was things got harder, right? All of a sudden renewables weren't a foregone conclusion.

All of a sudden it was, you know, we were having conversations about new competitors that were coming in and, and having discussions with our customers. And all of a sudden we had kind of someone we had to. Compete against if you will. Uh, and, and I, that was a changing point. And then we looked at the data, um, and saw that, you know, of the seats that have been sold, how many are actively being used, um, are customers truly getting value just by a metric of adoption of the product relative to the feature set that we had and the overall number of active users and, and that coupled with [00:21:00] just the feeling of the momentum shift and the challenge of the role.

Self to actually secure renewals relative to where it was before was what started to drive those conversations to go, do we have ourselves structured strategically in a way to ensure that, you know, we are truly driving adoption of the product and, you know, at envision. That wasn't purely on customer success, right?

There was a big motion happening with our product team. There was a big motion happening with our marketing team and how do we drive that effort? And I think that piece is really important. So often these. Items fall on the shoulders of customer success, but it really should be looked at holistically across the organization.

How can we work in alignment together? Know that customer success and our customers are at the center of what we're trying to, to solve for. Um, but there's massive gains that can be had. Uh, you know, I think of like Nicole Murphy in the growth marketing motion that she was working on, um, at an envision that can really help get phenomenal [00:22:00] lift from the product and driving that adoption without it coming down to assigning a CSM to, to do it purely alone.

Andrew Michael: [00:22:07] Absolutely. And I think there's one of the things actually we saw at Hotjar and it was onion till we put together a growth ceiling calculator, and we just modeled out what growth would look like at our current churn rates, uh, with the current acquisition rates. And at what point sort of would we see a flat line in growth, uh, with the current metrics that we had.

And that was probably one of the biggest eye-openers, uh, from our perspective is just really having that. In points in mind, thinking Acacia, Acacia, like we're going to stop growing in the next 24 months. If we don't make a change, if we don't, um, do something different. So that's actually, there is a growth ceiling calculator on churn FMS.

Have you visited, turned RFM? I put together in the tool section of growth team calculator, where you can add your current customers, how many you're acquiring per month and your monthly churn rate and what opera is. And then it'll model out. Um, the growth ceiling and let you know, in sort of how many months, uh, will you be hitting [00:23:00] that ceiling and, uh, give you an idea of sort of is hypergrowth masking your current, uh, churn and retention rate, because it is something that definitely we hear and see a lot as well, um, from the hypergrowth startups, but I like as well, the point that you mentioned at some point that there was needed to be this alignment, uh, what did that look like at what point?

Like, where was this coming from? Like. Was leadership saying, okay, we all really need not to rally around a retention. Like how did they go about doing that within the company?

Sydney Strader: [00:23:29] Yeah. I mean, I think it was at all facets in terms of the levels within the organization. Right. You know, if you were a CSM, you were starting to feel this change in the dynamic.

If you were on the sales team, you were feeling that change in the dynamic, you know, as well, because you were starting to hear it. Customers, uh, or competitors come up in discussions with both customers and prospects as well. So I think it was, it was a feeling that was felt across everyone. And I think envisioned did a solid job of, of listening to the team.

You know, what are you [00:24:00] hearing on the front lines? How is this changing? And then, you know, I certainly, in my role, like very much leveraged the team as advisors to me to help me understand, you know, the, the change in the, in the motion so that I could be more educated in a leadership. Position in terms of making decisions.

But, um, I think, you know, looking at the, looking at the growth that we expected for ourselves in the organization, looking at why, you know, we were unable to achieve what we were hoping to achieve and really digging in to unpack the why about five levels deeper. Uh that's where, you know, those conversations at the leadership team collective level was like, okay, why, why is this happening?

Um, you know, for revenue in order to. For us to continue to repeat that land and expand motion that felt like we were in such a rhythm of achieving. What is that going to take to get it back on, on that path? And what we realized was we had done such a massive, like new logo acquisition, uh, at the time that, you know, Zen, once we had acquired all of these amazing [00:25:00] logos that that was slowing, you know, we were just really starting to.

To cover the market. And so it was all about, you've got to retain the dollars that you've had because we've exceeded the threshold of new logo acquisition at the rate that we're going to experience it before. And now it's all about, you know, making kind of do what with what you have. Um, and that was, you know, a conversation that was an open dialogue, uh, with our sales partners and, and just at the leadership team as a collective whole, uh, I think the other thing is we had values.

That, uh, envision rolled out, uh, across the organization. And it was something that people team did an amazing job of just like consistently reinforcing and a drum beat. And one of those values was co-ownership. Um, and I think that we all just leaned into upholding ourselves to being co-owners of the business.

And in order for us. To achieve what we all have the vision of achieving for the company, we're going to need to make a change. And that may mean looking at our own respective functions and going, we're going to need [00:26:00] to do things differently. Um, and that was, I would say how the sales leadership team approached that conversation.

It was look for the betterment of the business. We know this is the right thing to do, taking commercials and renewals off of customer success so we can focus on them and, okay, great love that. We're aligned on that. How do we. Put this into practice. So I think that setting those values as an organization, you know, can be highly influential in everyone, striving towards a North star that allows you to work through these very difficult decisions when you're feeling a change in the business.

And you're trying to figure out what next, um, leaning towards, well, what do we, what are we ultimately trying to achieve? What are we upholding ourselves to very much helped kind of. Remove the friction that I've often seen occur in these types of dynamics.

Andrew Michael: [00:26:49] Yeah. I liked that value as well of co-ownership, uh, really sort of trying to remove the silos that get created, uh, within the Oregon religious, having everybody responsible and [00:27:00] everybody drumming to the same beat.

Um, let's fast forward then quickly let's go to catalyst. What would you say is your number one challenge today? Uh, within customer success at catalyst.

Sydney Strader: [00:27:10] Yes.

Andrew Michael: [00:27:11] And let us know as well. Sorry, what catalyst is and what it does because I gave a brief intro, but be good for, um, to share a bit more.

Sydney Strader: [00:27:18] Yeah, for sure.

So catalyst is a customer success platform. So we're working with amazing companies who are looking to optimize their workflows and basically have all of their customer data in one single location so that their customer success teams can focus more on the actions and, and value, add activities for their customers and not be scrambling all over the map, trying to get a pulse on the, on their customer base, their book of business and what actions they should be.

Should be doing next. Um, so that, that is a, that is catalyst. I would say one of the, the biggest challenge, the biggest challenge right now is we're still early, uh, ourselves. Right. And we're trying to define our motions as a customer success team define the experiences that we deliver for [00:28:00] our customers.

And it just feels like, yeah, There's no room for error in the bar, right? You are a customer success team, serving customer success professionals. They are the highest of high expectations in terms of the experience you're looking to deliver. So I would say that that's the, the biggest challenge, uh, and the, the biggest.

You know, piece that kind of weighs on my mind right now is we're growing quickly. Uh, there are a lot of moving pieces. We are early in defining our processes, uh, and it just, you know, maybe a weight that I just put on myself, but I feel like there really is. No, no room for error. Um, because you have the, the highest critiquers, uh, that there are, which I appreciate.

And I feel like gives me the drive to continue to enhance our, our experience, but that would, that would be the biggest piece for me.

Andrew Michael: [00:28:49] Yeah, I like that. Uh, sort of a, it's pretty meta as well that you have customer success, serving customer success with a customer success platform. Um, so I can [00:29:00] see as well, I'd probably feel the pressure to, uh, wanting the best service.

Uh, w what does that best service look like then at this stage? Like how big is the team? Uh, what is some of the key areas that you like have identified as the place to get started?

Sydney Strader: [00:29:14] Yeah. So we have a team of five, uh, and that includes kind of three functions within customer success. So our onboarding team, um, and then we've got our customer success team and then we've got support.

So in each respective areas, there's definitely emotions that we're working on. I think from an implementation and onboarding standpoint, our focus is on what is that experience between sales and onboarding to really make it smooth and seamless for a customer. Every time I've experienced customer feedback, you know, pre catalyst days in the context of that handoff, you repeatedly hear customers saying, I already shared this with your sales rep or like, do I literally have to repeat myself again?

I share this with someone. Right. And so it's like, okay, great. Knowing that that [00:30:00] is one of the most common pain points that exists, you know, with this motion, what does, you know, Perfecting that to the best of our ability look like in the context of catalyst. And so that's working incredibly close with Kevin who runs, uh, sales at, uh, at catalyst.

That's working with his team and my respective, uh, Kyle and Joe, who are our implementation managers and working through that motion. So that would be like one example. That's an area of focus in terms of the overall customer experience they're taking the known pain points. Um, and also like being so early at catalyst, we're onboarding a ton of customers.

We're learning so much so fast. And so how do we take those learnings and really give us the time and the space to go, how do we take that learning and how do we be proactive? So that, that experience is smoother for a customer, you know, kind of one of those gotcha moments that often unfold. And you're like, great.

How do we not have, you know, Two gotcha moments, um, from the same source and really [00:31:00] make sure that we put in those foundational pieces in terms of processes, in terms of communication structure for our customers to make that experience even smoother. Um, and then, you know, when it comes to customer success management, we're heavily focused on what does that motion.

Um, that customers value value most from us. And again, going back to the feedback of, you know, you and I could spin our wheels and myself and my team could spin our wheels consecutively in terms of what experience we want to deliver, but really, you know, our customer's feedback and what they feel they need based on where they are in their journey is what really should be most influential in helping us shape that motion.

You know, what are the engagements? What are the touch points? What is the value of customers looking to do that? Right. From that. And I think that that's where you get these like disciplines and this discipline span all of customer success, but, you know, having the wherewithal to send an agenda in advance and go help me understand, you know, the outcome that you're looking to drive from our call, you know, Thursday, um, And getting a [00:32:00] response and then catering that agenda based on the outcome that the recipient recipient in this case, the customer is looking to receive.

And then starting that call with, thanks so much for sending over the agenda, you know, per your guidance. This is the outcome that we're looking to drive. Here's the agenda that I feel corresponds with this, anything we want to add and just have everything incredibly buttoned up. So that's the experience we're optimizing for in the customer success motion.

And then Victoria in support is doing an amazing job. Rolling out a new. Uh, experience for us, uh, on the support front, uh, particularly around our knowledge base and, and beefing that up to be more self-serve and, and big piece of feedback that I got from customers in my first 30 days and being on as many customer calls as I could was, we'd love to hear how other catalysts customers are using catalyst.

So we've really doubled down this quarter with my team and having an OKR of coming up with content that allows for customers to self serve themselves. If they have any particular questions relative to the product, but also provide more inspiring insights into here's. How other customers are using catalyst, because [00:33:00] catalyst, the beauty of it, it's incredibly flexible as a CSM, you can set up dashboards for yourself, with the Intel that you're looking to receive in relation to your book.

But part of it is like, This create a freedom. Uh, and so everyone's looking for that creative influence from others. So those would be another big, big piece of, of focus for us right now.

Andrew Michael: [00:33:17] Yeah, the freedom of choice as well. And, uh, not having sort of a clear structure sometimes can also feel like intimidating.

So giving good guidance could templates. I can definitely

Sydney Strader: [00:33:27] exactly. Yeah,

Andrew Michael: [00:33:29] nice, I see, I see. We're actually running up on time. Uh, so I want to save time for a couple of questions that I ask every guest that joins the show. First one is let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. Now you joined a new company. Churn and retention is not doing great this year.

It comes to you and says, Hey Sydney, like, we need to turn things around. We have 90 days, you're in charge. What do you do?

Sydney Strader: [00:33:51] Where do you start? So I think there's, there's two kinds of channels. The first is getting your, getting your hands on the objective data. If you can, what are any data points we [00:34:00] have to look at in terms of who our customers are, the segmentation of those customers.

Characteristics and the overall adoption. Um, but objectives aside in terms of the, the data it's getting on calls with with customers. Uh, and I think it's asking a very pointed question, which was ultimately my favorite question, uh, as a CSM. And it's still a question that I asked today, which was, you know, if your renewal was tomorrow, would you renew?

And I always asked for direct honesty. And if the answer's no, I'm like. I appreciate that. What do you need to see between now and your renewal that would change your mind? And often you get a very interesting dialogue in terms of where you're falling short, why you're falling short and what the other influencers are in your customer's eyes.

That are impacting their decision to not want to move forward. So I think you really have to do that now as a leader, you're, you're one person. So I think at that point in time, you're looking and assessing your team and you're going, here's our North star. We need to get an [00:35:00] understanding of why.

Customers are churning. And this is the one pointed question we're going to go and ask every single customer, um, and come back with our data points and start to identify those themes. And once those themes have been identified, then working backwards to say, okay, where are we falling short in the experience we're delivering our customers to help optimize for bridging those, those gaps.

Um, that's. Definitely something that I found to be incredibly helpful. And if you have customers who have churned, um, spending time with them as well, I think that's a really great practice to have a, you know, kind of post churn call, if you will, to go. Where, where did things go off the rails you had, you purchased with the best of intentions.

And now we're at a state of churn. Walk me through what happened when, and if we were to do it all over again, where do you think we could have, you know, changed the trajectory of where we landed?

Andrew Michael: [00:35:51] Yeah, I really liked the question as well that you mentioned it actually reminded me of like a post-purchase question we used to [00:36:00] ask at Hotjar and we recommended as well too to our customers is, um, What nearly stopped you from buying today or from converting today?

Um, and I think maybe you could even flip it in the context of renewals and maybe just after a new will happens is like what nearly stopped you from renewing today. Um, and I think why it's really effective asking somebody who's actually just. Then the action of renewal is those are the customers that you want to be keeping, and you want to be understanding, Hey, what was it that nearly stopped them?

The ones that actually went through it, but there was maybe some barriers. And it's similar approach to what you're asking in the sense of like, if you had to renew tomorrow, what would it be? Um, but I, I really liked that as a viewpoint of just having the understanding of like, what are some of the things that we can be doing better and just framing it a little bit instead of like going to post-truth surveys and trying to understand what people did, but really focusing on maybe some, what are some of those things that nearly stopped people from getting through that last hurdle, that renewal hurdle?

Sydney Strader: [00:36:56] Yeah. And I think often people default to like, you know, the surveys and I [00:37:00] understand there there's a lot of like, you know, kind of scale if you will with surveys. But I think sometimes you just have to put in the time and you've got to you. If it's a priority to understand churn, like make the time to have the meaningful person to person conversations, because you will walk away with a significantly higher number of insights from a dialogue than you will in terms of what a survey data point can give you.

So I think that that piece is, is not to be missed either.

Andrew Michael: [00:37:25] For sure. Last question then what's one thing that you know today about Shannon and retention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career.

Sydney Strader: [00:37:33] Ooh, one thing I would say that, um, what I wish I knew was that it isn't easy. I mean, I, I think, I think when I started in customer success, I was of the belief that there's a recipe and there's a perfect way to do this and I just have to figure it out.

Um, but, and I put so [00:38:00] much pressure on that, but what I realized in time is, you know, you and I were chatting, there is no silver bullet to customer success and, you know, experimentation is actually incredibly valuable. Um, Catalyst just launched this amazing ebook on, you know, kind of these hot debate topics and customer success.

And it's so split in terms of these key areas and people's perspectives on what the right way or wrong way of doing it is. And I think that's truly by nature of the fact that there is no right way. What you have to do is start with your customers. Have an understanding of, of the value they're looking to achieve and then build backwards from that in terms of how do you help them achieve it.

And what are the experiences that you deliver along the way that built a stronger, tighter relationship with those customers? So I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself and probably constricted my creativity if you will, at times, uh, early in my career. And what I wish I knew now is that there is no silver bullet, like.

Don't withhold creativity have an understanding of the outcomes that you're looking to drive and how you measure it, but [00:39:00] have fun and be creative along the way.

Andrew Michael: [00:39:02] So in short, just screw best practices, speak to your customers, but that ones, yeah.

Sydney Strader: [00:39:07] Exactly. You'll, uh, you'll define best practices over time, but I don't think there is like a set best practice for every single organization that's completely applicable and not confining yourself to that.

This is just the way that it needs to be. I think if I look at how customer success was done at Influitive versus envision, there are so many, or even polar, there's so many great nuggets that worked for each of those respective functions and businesses at the time that actually do not work in other areas.

Andrew Michael: [00:39:34] Yeah, I think this is also definitely one of the reasons why I stay away from talking about metrics and numbers on the show, because I think benchmarking is absolute bullshit when it comes to general attention, just because of the number of different influences that can impact the number that you have for your specific company.

It's so unique to the customers. You're serving the market that you're in your stage of growth. Um, so it's really important just to understand. Where you're at and what you can do to improve your point in time and not [00:40:00] looking around and seeing what others are doing, because with this type of role, this job, uh, it is so unique.

And you just basically, like you say, you might build your own best practices over time for your own company, but you might move to a new company and then it's totally different. New start all over again. You need to try and figure out and understand and just go back to speaking to customers. Uh, always is.

The central focus. So Sydney, it's been a pleasure chatting to you today. Is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they should be aware of or how they can keep up to speed with your work?

Sydney Strader: [00:40:30] I mean, just staff fellow, call me on LinkedIn. If you, if you want to follow me there, we've got great content from catalyst, uh, on our blog as well.

And, uh, yeah, I mean, I think that it's a journey, right? We're all trying to figure it out, but I think what matters most is our, we have having fun doing it. There are tough days. There are fun days. Uh, it's all part of the ride. And, uh, yeah, just if you're passionate about customer success, keep on with your passion and continue to invest in yourself and your learnings and. Good things will happen.

[00:41:00] Andrew Michael: [00:41:00] Awesome. Yeah. Well, thanks so much for joining. Wish you best of luck now going forward.

Sydney Strader: [00:41:05] My pleasure. Thanks


Andrew Michael: [00:41:07] Cheers.


Sydney Strader
Sydney Strader

The show

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.


Listen To Next