How Smartcue leverages customer champions to define their product roadmap and increase retention
CEO & Founder
Today on the show we have Robin Singhvi, founder, and CEO of SmartCue, a platform that allows sales teams to create personalized product demos.
In this episode, Robin shares his experience in building a startup and the challenges he has faced along the way.
Robin emphasizes the importance of having champions inside organizations to help navigate and validate the product roadmap. These champions provide valuable feedback and insights that help improve the product and increase usage, word of mouth, and loyalty.
Robin also shares tips on how to create buzz around new features and offer excellent customer support to increase channel retention.
As usual, I'm excited to hear what you think of this episode, and if you have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly on Andrew@churn.fm. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.
00:00:00 Andrew: Hey, it's Andrew, and today on the show we have Robin Singhvi, founder of Smartcue. In this episode, we talked about the biggest challenge Robin faced when deciding to become an entrepreneur and the origin story of SmartCue. We also discussed how they found their first customers and successfully launched on Product Hunt. We wrapped up by discussing the role of customer champions within an organization and their influence on customer retention. As usual, I'm excited. See what you think of this episode and if you have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly on Andrew at CHURN.FM. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter and enjoy the episode.
00:00:37 Intro: How do you build a habit-forming products? How do you Don't just guns for revenue in the door?
00:00:44 Andrew: This is CHURN.FM, the podcast for subscription economy pros. Each week, we hear how the world's fastest growing companies are tackling churn and using retention to fuel their growth.
00:00:57 VO: How do you build a habit forming products ? We crossed over that magic threshold to negative churn. You need to invest in customer success. It always comes down to retention and engagement. Completely bootstrap. Profitable and growing.
00:01:11 Andrew: Strategies, tactics and ideas brought together to help your business thrive in the subscription economy. I'm your host, Andrew Michael, and here's today's episode.
00:01:23 Andrew: Hey, Robin, welcome to the show.
00:01:24 Robin: Hey, Andrew. Thank you for having me.
00:01:26 Andrew: It's great to have you. For the listeners, Robin is the founder of SmartCue, a sales effectiveness platform that allows enterprise software sales teams to create contextual and tailored demos for every prospect. Robin started his career in market research before joining Vigillo as an analyst. And prior to founding SmartCue, Robin was a solutions consultant for Enterprise, SaaS, Strategic Partnerships at Round Gloss and held previous roles in health, tech and world top array health at Edifice. So my first question for you, Robin, is what has been the biggest change for you as you've jumped into entrepreneurship at SmartCue?
00:02:00 Robin: So, Andrew, thanks for that introduction. It took me down memory lane a little bit, but the common thread across all of those experiences that I had was all of those companies were a startup. From early stage to later stage startups. And me being the young cocky guy, I was like, "Hey, you know what? I've been part of a number of successful startups at various stages. How hard can it be starting up on my own?" And sure enough, I was brought right back down to it when I started. It is working at a startup is nothing like founding and running and scaling a startup. At any startup, when you're an employee, you're only exposed to one or two functions, even though it seems like you're running it like hundreds of miles an hour. But when you zoom out and you try to do it on your own, you realize that it really is just compounded that you're now playing CEO, COO, CHRO, chief marketing officer and you're also the guy who has to go get the coffee when things run out. The magnitude of running a startup and the challenges that come with it, I think, have to be lived rather than just being able to read about it or whatever, to really know what it is to start a company versus working for one.
00:03:20 Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think something I was told previously as a founder, you need to be somewhat delusional because if you wear all the odds and you see what needs to get done to be successful in building a startup, they're very slim. And I think no matter what blog post you read and what you get told, it can never really peel away the full picture for you to understand what goes into getting things off the ground.
00:03:48 Robin: Absolutely.
00:03:49 Andrew: Tell us a little bit about SmartCue then. What is it? What motivated you to start the company?
00:03:53 Robin: So, the genesis of SmartCue, there were two pivotal moments, I want to say, that resulted in SmartCue. The first was that I'd spent a lot of years in sales enablement. My team and I would try different tools, different frameworks. We've done a lot of different training sessions and tried a ton of different approaches to get our sales teams ramped up and enabled. During one of these sessions, I clearly remember one of my reps came up to me and she said, "Robin, all these tools and training that you're forcing on us are asking us to change our existing workflow with no guarantees of success. But you know, that our sales folks, we live and die by the quarter. So tell me why you think that this group will actually adopt these tools if it's not going to help me now." So that was a big AHA moment for me. That the fact that we're forcing our reps to change their way of working and not trying to work within their existing workflows.
00:05:00 Robin: The second moment really was the pandemic. With the pandemic and remote work, virtual selling was now mainstream. The problem with that was, instead of being able to build a rapport, use your charisma to move a deal along, now the rep really only has a cold, impersonal, perhaps 30 minutes Zoom call to convince a buyer that their product or solution was the best solution. Now, those two things really were the perfect storm for me to try and see if there's something that I could solve here. And the conviction for me was, can I build something that allows sales teams to deliver product demos that are personalized to a buyer's pain point and they work with the reps existing workflows so that we would have higher adoption and start to see tangible impact on deal conversions? SmartCue was born and the rest is history.
00:06:02 Andrew: Very nice. It's always good to hear how these specific companies get born out of pain points. That you've either faced directly at previous companies. So the product in itself, what does it do and how does it help people? How do you help create contextual and teller demos for every prospect ?
00:06:21 Robin: So the way SmartCue works is it allows sales teams or sales reps to create a library of demos, and these demos can be by user persona, buyer persona, use cases, case studies, industries, geographies, what have you. So consider most enterprise sales organizations, they would have a sales playbook. So from that sales playbook, take out your demo flow or demo playbook, so to speak. You configure that in SmartCue and SmartCue is a Chrome extension. So anytime you're doing a live product demo, you simply fire up SmartCue and the particular demo that you want from your library that is relevant or contextual to the buyer you're pitching to. And you go through your demo like you normally would.
00:07:16 Robin: You're like, "Hey, let me show you my product, this is the product, these are the features," blah, blah, blah. And SmartCue will sort of contextually queue you up that, hey, you know what, you are showing this part of your product, this feature, this module to this buyer persona. Perhaps you should message it this way, perhaps you should highlight these specific case studies or these specific success metrics that you've had with other clients that are similar to the buyer you're speaking with. And so what that allows the rep to do is come across as more informed, ensures that you are actually taking the prospect of that AHA moment faster because they've come to you with a problem. So instead of showing them the 500 features that your product has, all you really want to do is use the Pareto principle and show them just the 20% of your product that is really solving their problem. And if you're able to do that well, if you're able to do that fast, the odds of you being able to move that deal along faster in your sales cycle is much, much higher. So that's kind of how SmartCue works.
00:08:25 Andrew: That's for us. And then obviously I think as a result of that, on the other end, you'd see more deals being closed and more happy customers. I think the other great thing about that though as well, and maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong, but you might also end up seeing as well, really good activation rates and engagement as a result of being presented these really highly contextual flows during on being like is this something that your customers see?
00:08:50 Robin: Yes, actually it's interesting you bring that up, Andrew, because when we built SmartCue, it was singularly for the purpose or for the use case of sales demos and for sales reps. But what we're seeing in our current customers is that while they're using it for this use case, they're also using it for a couple of different use cases in the organization for different functions. One of them actually speaks to what you just brought up.
They're using SmartCue to build out sort of training modules with their customer success teams so that when they're onboarding their existing customers, when they're onboarding their customers, they're able to sort of have this consistent training module that ensures that their products become stickier and are taking their prospects to value faster. Because now they understand the problem, they're really helping them solve them really well and they're empowering and enabling their customers much faster rather than traditional training methods like, hey, if you're a set of videos, we will do an eight hour long onboarding session where after the first 90 minutes, if you're lucky, people just start zoning out. You're sort of helping your prospects really understand and solve for the pain points that they came to you with in the first place.
00:10:17 Andrew: Yeah. And you're able then to provide a high touch personalized experience.
00:10:22 Robin: Absolutely.
00:10:23 Andrew: Making that scale in this case then, as well. It sounds like a lot of your customers themselves are selling enterprise software. How did you get started? How did you find your first customers?
00:10:38 Robin: So, like I said, Andrew, I've spent ten plus years in the space, in the sales enablement or solution consulting or solutions architecture space. And all the startups that I worked at, we sold to enterprises. So whether it is selling to insurance companies or hospital systems or large state and central governments in the US or very large employers, I've always sold to and experienced the enterprise sales cycle process. And as a result of that, I ended up building a good relationship with a lot of the sales teams that I worked with. So my first customers, really, actually, even before I built SmartCue were all of these heads of sales or heads of product marketing at the companies that I either worked at or where all of these other sales folks I worked with ended up going to.
00:11:37 Robin: So I just started reaching out to them, said that, "Hey, this is the problem I'm trying to solve. Is this a real problem for you? Is this a big enough problem ? Is this a real painkiller? If I solve this, would this be a painkiller or is it just like a nice to have vitamin for you? And finally, if I did build this, would you pay me for it?" Those are some of my sort of qualifying questions that informed whether I should even build SmartCue or not. And then once I got to a reasonable sample size of responses, that's when I started building it. And what I ended up doing is I even tried to get a few pre orders that, "Hey, you know what? Why don't you buy into SmartCue now? You'll get a significantly better deal than when we're buying." Reaching out to these people over email, phone calls, LinkedIn what have you, was the way I sort of got my first few customers.
00:12:34 Andrew: Very cool. So really being able to leverage that existing experience and network to get there. And before the show, we were chatting a little bit, and you mentioned that you decided to launch on Product Hunt itself and some degree of success there, maybe talk us through a little bit about that. How did that go for you and why did you decide to launch on Product Hunt to start?
00:12:58 Robin: Yeah. So launching a Product Hunt was very contentious. Most people I spoke with, they're like, "This is a waste of your time. Product Hunt is not for B2B companies to get any sort of traction or what have you." But for me, I had a conviction that there are these target companies that I want to get into. I don't potentially have a direct line of sight or access to the decision makers there. So how do I get to them? And what I realized was that with SmartCue, there's two nuances or two personas that we cater to. One is going to be the users, the sales reps, and the second is three personas users. And then my buyers are going to be head of salespeople, head of sales teams, head of product marketing. And then finally, we have champions in the organizations who would be folks like me who were solutions consultants, who were CTOs, who are head of engineering at their respective companies. So I know from my experience, I used to spend a lot of time with Product Hunt. I was like, "Man, it would be cool one day to be able to work at a company that launches on Product Hunt and does really well." So it was kind of like a bucket list item for me.
00:14:21 Robin: So my conviction was, what if I launch on Product Hunt and of course, I have to do really well to get the attention of my potential champions. And if I get the attention of the champions, I will then have a second degree access to my buyers. And so what I did was I was like, "Okay, so this is what we need to do." So we went out, launched our product, and of course, all hands on deck and by all hands on me and three pairs of hands because we're not a big team. And then two of them were interns, you can imagine. So we're all hands on deck. We're like, "If we're going to launch, we have to hit number one." And we were humbled and really amazed that we actually did become product of the day back in September.
00:15:13 Robin: What that did is and it was amazing for me to see that conviction play out. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. And, you know, I saw my conviction play out because as soon as we launched, I started to see one, data and mixed panel that, "Hey, you know what? These folks are signing up." And then every 2 hours I would just go look at who signed up and then go to the LinkedIn and figure out who these people are. And I started to see a pattern. I was like, yes, these are all sort of or quasi technical people that are either CTOs or in some sort of hybrid sales and technical roles. And then I was like, "Okay, so step one accomplished. I'm getting eyeballs and sign ups from these people."
00:15:58 Robin: The second, I want to say day four, day five, and then going into a couple of weeks after the launch, I started to get emails. These emails are from these CTOs or my potential champions saying that, "Hey, you know what, Robin? I checked out your product. I really liked it. I played around with it and I liked this and I didn't like this." But what I think would be amazing is that I think my sales teams could get value out of this. And so let me introduce you to my head of sales and then introduction email would follow where they'd be like, "Hey, John, I tried this product. I think it would be great for the sales team to be able to use it for X, Y and Z use cases." And so basically, my champions are already doing the selling for me. So it was amazing to see that sort of play out. I want to say currently 90% of my customers have actually come through that route. The origin or the awareness was at Product Hunt, and then from there on, it led to really strong introductions and referrals and then faster conversions because now I didn't have to do the cold email or the cold outreach to get in front of these people, get a meeting, and then move the deal forward. A lot of that was done for me. So my six to eight week deal cycles were compressed by at least two weeks, a minimum of two weeks. So, yeah, that kind of was how that whole go to market approach with Product Hunt played out, which, as you can tell, I'm pretty pumped about.
00:17:42 Andrew: Yes, it definitely sounds like it's with good reason. The notion as well, like, the technical people would be the champions internally. Where did that come from and where was that hypothesis based off of?
00:17:58 Robin: Yeah, so that is because I lived the problem. As a solutions consultant or as the head of solutions architecture, one of my KPIs was, how do I train and enable my sales teams to be able to sell better? What collaterals, what assets, what demos can I create to help them sell more effectively? And one of the things that I remember we used to do all the time was create a ton of custom demos. And I was like, "Man, this is too much work. Because I don't even know if every custom demo that I'm creating is actually providing value to not just my sales rep but to the end customer." So I'm putting in all this effort for what, I don't know. And so the hypothesis was that these folks like me spend a lot of time creating all of these custom demos and all of these assets. If I can showcase to them that hey, by using SmartCue, I can actually make you a lot more efficient. All these custom demos that you perhaps create, all the collateral that you create and all the demos that you have to create, update, maintain all the time, especially if you're in a SaaS company, if you're able to sort of compress that timeline make them more efficient and at the same time still help them achieve their KPIs of enabling the sales organization. I could see that that would be a good hook to sort of get these people excited about what SmartCue can potentially do for them.
00:19:42 Andrew: Because it ultimately sounds like you have three different user personas. You have solutions architect to enable the sales team and provide the sales enablement. You have a sales team who's doing the demos and using the profit from that perspective and then you have the sales leaders who are trying to make their sales teams a little bit more efficient and produce results. Interesting that you sort of saw this as a good channel as well to focus on getting your way into the door through the solution architects and through the more technically bound organization through Product Hunt. How have you seen sort of that translate then in terms of engagements on the other end as well? Do you notice a difference between customers that come through the channel like product lines versus other channels?
00:20:25 Robin: Yes. So as context with a lot of our initial customers, we faced a very perplexing problem where when we sold to them, they were very excited. But then very soon, in like a matter of weeks, we started to see usage drop drastically. And for one reason or the other, we were just not able to figure out why. We were not able to have those conversations inside the organization that, "What's going wrong? What can we change? How can we do things better?" And that sort of black box was very frustrating.
00:21:01 Robin: So we realized that we can't just sell the product and then expect it to work and expect things to just lay out in like a happy path. So we realized that we needed an in. And these folks that came to me through Product Hunt, my champion, so to speak, became my de facto sort of ins. Folks inside the organization who realized and saw the value that SmartCue could provide for them and their teams. And because of that they were much more receptive to engaging with me and helping me navigate the organization, one. Second, figuring out which organization or which function in the organization would get the most value and would be the most receptive to a product like SmartCue right off the bat. And then helping me get those meetings, get those sessions with those teams, and then ensuring that even after me and my team have pulled out, that they are there to ensure that folks are sort of using and getting the most value out of SmartCue. We suddenly started to see significantly higher usage and as a result, retention. Because now we had these champions inside the organizations that were informing us about the best path to get their organization to value. That was one of the biggest things, obviously, that caused a lot of stickiness.
00:22:47 Robin: But the other thing I should call that out is that in addition to retention, it was actually the best way for us to validate our product roadmap. Because now we have these champions who are seeing how the product was being used, really understood and knew that, hey, these are the things that really matter to me. And if you can showcase these insights, you can give me these metrics. If you can make these parts of your product better, then the odds of us using and staying with you are much, much higher. It hugely impacted our product roadmap as well. And then eventually, a lot of our customers, right now we're like super sticky because we're delivering things to them before a lot of other people in the organization even thought about like, "Oh, should I have this?" And then I go in and I'm like, "Hey, we built this feature." They're like, "Oh my God, that's amazing." So the delight led to increased usage, increased sort of word of mouth and increased sort of loyalty. So that was pretty impressive and interesting how that sort of played out for us.
00:23:49 Andrew: Yeah, it's very often like, we talk about the customer champion and when they leave as being a big source of churn. Companies and customers really try to reduce that risk by trying to find as many champions within the organization. But often do we talk about the positive impact of having a really, really good champion within the organization and what that does for you on the other end in terms of, like you say, like, providing really good quality feedback so you're able to improve the product and ultimately being the person within the organization to champion the usage and get people to speed and activated. Did you do anything else specifically for these Champions that really enabled them to be your champion within the organization?
00:24:31 Robin: So we obviously were like, we're very small and very early. So we can't offer the free trips and like all of those, the swag and all of that to our champions. But what we did do is that we did a lot of webinars for our customers and there we invited all of our champions across webinars that, "Hey, you know what? You've been really amazing at your organization, helping us sort of add value to you and your team. And why don't you come on this podcast or webinar with us and then help talk about how great you are and how you helped your organization do better and smart queue is perhaps just a small part of that." So we made it all about them. It was more about helping them build an image and a brand of their own. And there was no expectation from us that you would give us more business or whatever. It was just way for us to say thanks to them, to be honest.
00:25:39 Andrew: Very nice. I see we're running up on time, so I want to make sure I set time for a couple of questions, ask every guest. First one is, let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. You join a new company. Churn and retention is not doing great at this company at all. This year comes to you and says, "Hey, Robin, you're in charge. You have three months. You need to turn things around." What do you do? The catch is you're not going to tell me. I'm going to speak to customers and then figure out what the pain points are and start there. You're just going to take a tactic that you've seen work previously and run with it blindly, hoping that it works at this company. What would you do?
00:26:13 Robin: And you're saying I can't talk to my customers?
00:26:17 Andrew: You can't talk to your customers. You're not going to look at the data. You're just going to take something that you've seen that's been a playbook that's been applied somewhere else and run with that blindly opening it works.
00:26:27 Robin: Sure. So one thing that I've actually, interestingly seen work is creating a little buzz or waitlist around new features. And interestingly, in some organizations, I've seen that whether it was a new feature or not, it was a created or a hypothetical feature. And what we do is we would go out to all of our existing customers, would segment out the customers and be like, "Okay, these are at risk or whatever." And then we'd go out to them and be like, "Hey, you know what? We're launching this thing out. We'd love for you to be first on it. And if you'd like to be on it, why don't you get in touch. We'll get on a call, put you higher up on the waitlist." For me, what I saw that do is a lot of the channels that were sort of blocked or dead were revived again for a lot of these at risk customers. And that allowed us to rebuild relationships and then sort of get a bunch of these customers back. I think that would be a tactic that I would definitely try and implement.
00:27:35 Andrew: Interesting. What's one thing that you know today about children and attention that you wishing you when you got started with your career?
00:27:48 Robin: You may not like this answer, but right from day one, what I realized was that maybe you don't have a big personalization engine, you're not able to have the greatest UI, but if you're able to do a couple of things really well, it helps with channel retention across the board. Whether you're an early stage startup or a much more mature organization. One is staying in touch with customers. And for early stage startups, that could just mean phone calls, that could mean getting in front of them, having conversations from time to time. And as you mature, these can be events and thank you notes and whatnot.
00:28:34 Robin: The other is the obvious, which is offering excellent customer support, make it really hard for make it really easy for people to reach you and get support when they need it. So those two things obviously help a lot and then when you can ensure that you're personalizing the customer experience and you are providing sort of ongoing education and resources. So whether a lot of people, including us, we use intercom to build out our FAQ and knowledge base and things like that, making it really easy for folks to be able to access that and not have to like, "Okay, set up a call with me or a meeting with me." And then two days later, we'll get on a call, and then we'll try and understand your problem. And then hopefully you'll be able to help me in five days. I think that creates a lot of friction for a lot of your customers, especially if you think about if your customers are of the younger generation where they're like I'll go in and I'll try to solve the problem myself. I only want to talk to someone if I cannot solve the problem, so you have to solve for that as well. So those are a few things that I wish I'd actually done sooner even at SmartCue even though we're very early on in our journey, I wish we'd have done a lot of those things sooner.
00:29:51 Andrew: Very cool. I love the response. I think it's super, super important at the early stage to always be speaking to customers, always be learning from them. And I think showing that personal touch goes a long, long way and adding value to the product because you get great feedback, but then also in building relationships that your customers actually value and then they build loyalty through that. Very cool, Robin. Is there any final thoughts you want to share with the listeners before we wrap up today?
00:30:19 Robin: No, I don't. I think we spoke about a lot of things that were front and center for me when it comes to customer retention, churn, and how to build up loyalty amongst your customer base. So thank you for really digging deep and probing, Andrew.
00:30:35 Andrew: Awesome. Well, thanks a lot for joining, Robin, and I wish you best of luck now going out into the new year.
00:30:41 Robin: Thank you, Andrew. You have a great new year as well.
00:30:44 Andrew: Cheers.
00:30:47 Andrew: And that's a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew Michael. I really hope you enjoyed it and you're able to pull out something valuable for your business. To keep up to date with CHURN.FM and be notified about new episodes, blog posts and more, subscribe to our mailing list by visiting CHURN.FM. Also, don't forget to subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcast. If you have any feedback, good or bad, I would love to hear from you and you can provide your blunt, direct feedback by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Lastly, but most importantly, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it and leave a review as it really helps get the word out and grow the community. Thanks again for listening. See you again next week.
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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.