How Strategic Partnerships Drive Customer Retention

Kelsey Peterson


VP of Customer Success


Kelsey Peterson
Kelsey Peterson

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Kelsey Peterson, VP of Customer Success at Ashby, an all-in-one recruiting platform.

In this episode, Kelsey shares her experience in strategic partnerships and how they drive customer retention.

We discuss the importance of identifying the right partners, aligning goals, and creating value for customers.

Kelsey also talks about the challenges of managing partnerships at scale and the role of different teams in the process.

If you're interested in learning how to leverage strategic partnerships to drive customer retention, this episode is for you. Don't miss it!

Mentioned Resources



Introduction to Kelsey's role at HubSpot00:00:00
Kelsey's journey into customer success00:02:50
Kelsey's role as Manager of Strategic Partner Enablements and Operations at HubSpot00:03:49
Formation of the strategic partnership team at HubSpot00:05:36
Setting up a new strategic partner00:12:34
Collaboration and content creation with partners00:20:16
Involvement of customer success in discussing partnerships and integrations00:22:01
Importance of dedicated account managers for renewals00:32:25
Challenges and priorities in Kelsey's current role at Ashby00:38:00
Importance of focusing on must-have products00:39:19
Final thoughts and ways to connect with Kelsey00:41:15


[00:00:00] Kelsey Peterson: I will admit a big part of what attracted me to the job. I loved customer success, and I didn't intend to deviate in any capacity, but then I realized there were some things closer to product that would make the customer experience better. So it was sort of a roundabout way to get there. But admittedly, I was also wildly impressed by the team. So I was wildly impressed by the hiring manager, SVP you just mentioned, as well as my peers and colleagues. It was incredible. It was a really an opportunity for growth to be thinking differently. I think HubSpot's CS team, even at that time, was remarkably built out.

[00:00:36] VO: How do you build a habit-forming products? And you saw this different… Don't just gun for revenue in the door.

[00:00:43] Andrew Michael: 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. 

[00:00:56] 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. 

[00:00:41] Andrew Michael: 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.  

[00:01:19] Andrew Michael: Hey Kelsey, welcome to the show.

[00:01:21] Kelsey Peterson: Thanks for having me, Andrew.

[00:01:22] Andrew Michael: It's great to have you. For the listeners, Kelsey is the VP of customer success of Ashby, an all-in-one recruiting platform. Kelsey is also a chief member of Chief, a founding member of Revroom, and is a Justice of the Peace in New Hampshire. Kelsey also previously held roles at CrossCheck, Catalyst, and HubSpot. So my first question for you is, what has been the craziest experience you've had as a Justice of Peace in New Hampshire?

[00:01:47] Kelsey Peterson: What has been the craziest experience? I've never got this question before. I would say I showed up to a wedding that I was officiating, and I had missed the memo. It had not been communicated that it was a custom wedding. And so the groom was dressed up as Superman, and the bride was the character I was unfamiliar with. And I was wishing I had actually partaked in the activity of dressing up, but that was quite surprising.

[00:02:11] Andrew Michael: I could imagine that you're rocking up at a wedding and just wondering what's going on. Why is everybody all dressed up? Yeah, I think it was very interesting actually just looking at your background because you have quite a varied experience as well. I think I saw at some point where a dance choreographer and teacher as well. And it's always interesting just to see the paths that different people take to go into customer success. And we often discuss this on the show because there's never really like this straight line, which is like, I went and I studied X, Y, Z, and then I moved into CS role and here I am today. It's sort of like, everybody has all these diverse backgrounds and then they somehow manage to find their way in. What was it for you? What got you excited about customer success?

[00:02:50] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, I think that's right in terms of it not being a linear journey. For me, I tend to follow what my passions are and what I think I might be good at. And so that took me some different paths. And when I became a consultant for some time, I really enjoyed the client work, specifically the interactions, the navigating of intended outcomes and how we can help them get there. And so I did that for some time. Then I started chatting with HubSpot and admittedly sort of fell into CS a bit in that regard. And then I knew that that was the right spot for me and have been there since.

[00:03:22] Andrew Michael: And definitely like I've been on a really great trajectory throughout the career. I think one of the things when I was looking at your LinkedIn profile before I sent out the invitation to join the show was, what really caught my eye was the last experience that you had at HubSpot. And it's hopefully something we can talk about today, which was the manager of strategic partner enablements and operations. So maybe we can just get started with that. What does that title mean? Like what were you doing at HubSpot during this period?

[00:03:49] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, so that was the strategic partnership organization at HubSpot. Those are partners that are much larger than us generally. So you might imagine like Google or Meta or LinkedIn, for example. And what we were doing there, specifically in enablement and ops is working through both the how do we go to market in terms of the story we're telling and the product offerings that we have. And then also the mechanisms through which we do that. So are we simply lead sharing? Are we actually doing collaborative co-selling? What does that look like? And so I was thinking through sort of thematically what those questions look like and how we could best ultimately solve for the customer through these partnerships.

[00:04:30] Andrew Michael: Yeah, it's very interesting sort of thinking through the notion where it's like these extremely large companies and what can you offer to them and how can you strengthen that relationship and that partnership? It also was this seen as like a very important growth channel for the business then at the same time, or was it more seen as like a retention play to make sure that you kept these customers around for as long as possible?

[00:04:51] Kelsey Peterson: It was both. So new customer acquisition, certainly. HubSpot has a phenomenal job through our partner program of new customer acquisition. But then also there were certain areas like, for example, with Google Ads, where Google Ads and HubSpot were legitimately better together for existing customers and you could tell a more complete story. And so in that regard, we were able to uplevel the existing customer experience with the integration with the partnership.

[00:05:15] Andrew Michael: And maybe we can talk about a little bit about the formation of the team itself and how it came to be. Maybe take us back to sort of that first discussion when internally the team said, okay, now it makes sense for us to do something like this or to start focusing was any particular infliction moments or any particular metrics or KPIs that you were looking at that said, okay, this is the right decision to make now.

[00:05:36] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, I think we realized there was a need when we lacked what was existing predominantly elsewhere at HubSpot, which was the structure and the mechanism. And we realized we were getting leads from these huge partners and we didn't have a structure in place. And so that was sort of how we started to build out the team. And it ultimately just came from really the customer's need of how can we best show up and how can we have, you know, they're investing in this software and they're investing in our software. And what would it look like if we could marry these two together to this is a little cliche, but the one plus one is three. And so for us, we had targets that we had new customer acquisition targets. We also had just usage product adoption targets. So if you were posting, you know, X ads before, were you posting Y afterward? What did that growth look like? So they were across the board based upon the different cohort priorities.

[00:06:25] Andrew Michael: Okay. And were you setting targets together with the partners or these your own internal KPIs that you were forming? What did that partnership look like there in terms of success metrics?

[00:06:34] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah. So we were working with the partners, right? I think generally any good partnership doesn't have a lot of siloed activity. And so for us, we were agreeing, hey, if we're going to make this mutual investment together, what do we each expect? What do we expect for your organization? What do we expect for our organization? And then what do we expect for the customer? What can we make sure is better because of this? And so that was definitely a collaborative effort.

[00:06:56] Andrew Michael: All right. And in terms of the number of partners, like how big did this program look? Obviously the size and scale of a Google is enormous in its own right. But how many partners were you typically partnering with onboarding?

[00:07:12] Kelsey Peterson: So you're testing my knowledge of that because this is 2020. But I think we had about maybe 15 or so strategic partners in total. And then more broadly, it's probably worth setting the stage. We also had the HubSpot ecosystem. So that's like the HubSpot marketplace.

[00:07:28] Andrew Michael: Yeah.

[00:07:29] Kelsey Peterson: And at the time, I think there may be worth 700 partners. And I think at this point, it's crossed over a thousand if my memory is serving.

[00:07:36] Andrew Michael: No, definitely. I think that obviously network is big on its own and it's massive. I think there's quite a few other great companies you see out there that have adopted a similar approach after HubSpot. I think HubSpot and maybe Salesforce are the two companies that sort of pioneered these models. And I think HubSpot, at least their agency program as well. I remember at some point reading some statistics and I was just like blown away by how big that business was on its own. Like forget about the rest of HubSpot. That's nice. And in terms of getting the program up on the ground, so originally you had this strategic part, you had partner program running, and then you realize, okay, we have these 10, 15 amazing partners that we really need to get more strategic on. You're working closely, you're setting goals specifically with them. And as you mentioned, some of the companies even more specific generating and having specific focus on how the two products work together. What sort of initiatives were you doing for these companies? Like what was some of the ways that you were adding value to them specifically? 

[00:08:30] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah. So I think it's really important that it's exactly what you just mentioned, which is adding value, because I think probably all of us or most of us listening to this have sat in what you call an enablement session with a partner and it's just a pitch. Yeah, this is what we do. This is our story. And it was mission critical for us that when we had these enablement sessions, one, we had proofed each other's content. So there was agreement around what was being shared. And because we had already made product decisions, the product team had made decisions around the mutual value that the customer was driving. We were able to speak to that specifically. And so go-to-market included predominantly enablement, but I cannot stress enough, it was not these tired sort of pitch sessions. These were actually, hey, if you're hearing this, you should know that we can empower you with this resource and this is what makes a better experience for the customer. So very thoughtful in how we did that Q&A style, plenty of time for questions. So that was a piece of it. And then also there was the collateral, right? So there was, you know, there were decks, there were one-pagers, because you have to remember when you are going to market and creating these resources, everybody else already has their kind of nine to five job and their own priorities. And so you are effectively putting something on their plate. And unless you're really clear about the value and why it's important to what they care about, they frankly don't have much of a reason to care. And so we were really intentional around that, making sure that we were communicating the why and why it impacted their priorities and their customers so that they were also invested in the content.

[00:10:06] Andrew Michael: Yeah, because I think it's a lot easier to convince like a smaller partner, like an agency, why you should care about our program, but it's a lot more challenging to promote this to the likes of Google and others where, as you say, like it needs to be a really significant partnership for it to have any sort of material impact on the business for it to matter. And there's generally like everybody has just so much they can do and so much time they can spend on definition. So it sounds as well like you went hyper specific then on terms of like the jobs to be done and the use cases for the various products, and then actually going partner by partner and highlighting those use cases and those stories with clients. How did those playbooks then work out? Were you using anything as well? Because it's one thing like sharing these playbooks, sharing these use cases internally, but now having to do that with partners externally, were using anything interesting in order to collaborate more effectively between partners?

[00:10:58] Kelsey Peterson: In terms of technology, we were basically using Google slides and we did use, I think at the time we had used cross-theme to identify mutual customers as well as opportunities. So for example, you're using our product, they're using the partner's product, but they're not integrated, that sort of shooting fish in a barrel, there's a real opportunity there. So we used cross-theme, we used just basic technology around creating content. And then I will say, none of this would have been possible without the candor of the partner. And so we would not have been able to go into an enablement session and say, we know you care about X and therefore Y matters. And we didn't know they cared about X. And so I think a big piece of it was not making assumptions around what was important and actually having the partner share with us, hey, you're going to talk to X team. X team is measured on ABC. As such, the framing matters. And so I think the technology was important. And then also that piece I was speaking to earlier, really making sure we understood the Y, those two kind of went hand in hand.

[00:12:04] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And it's obviously, I think it's exactly the same as in customer success. When you're speaking to your customers, you really want to understand what does success look like for them? What are their goals and how can we meet that? I'm interested maybe as well, if we can go through a step-by-step guide, let's say on how to set up a new partner, a new strategic partner, and what that process looks like from beginning to end. And obviously this is probably something you've done several times during that period. What is the first stage one, identifying a strategic partner? How do you get started?

[00:12:34] Kelsey Peterson: To actually identify or once they're identified? Yes, to identify and then once they're identified, let's go combine those into one step. Sure. So for us, it was a matter of figuring out where is there opportunity within our customer base and where do we want to be focused? Where do we want to be growing toward? And so it was a little bit more straightforward with strategic partners because there's specific criteria. They're usually much bigger than we are. So that's a helpful kind of qualifier, but certainly just because somebody's bigger than HubSpot didn't mean that they were necessarily going to be a good fit for a strategic partner. So what is the function that they're serving in the greater space? Where is there opportunity for alignment between the two of us? And then of course, there's negotiating the agreement. One, there's like the actual partner terms, but also just the spirit of the partnership of are we in agreement that this is an area we're both willing to invest in? And so those are kind of the core, is there an opportunity here? And even if there is an opportunity, if they're not interested, it's certainly, it's not worth doubling and tripling and quadrupling down. It's worth resetting and finding a partner. So for us, it was where is the opportunity? Where is their interest? And then making sure there's alignment. And so you're not having, let's say like weekly accountability calls where you're not moving anything forward, but saying, Hey, you and I agreed on these things. We knew these things were important and we're moving this forward together. 

[00:13:54] Andrew Michael: Yeah. So you're identifying then the next thing that I was like identifying, first of all, like who the strategic partner should be is one thing, but then how did you identify within the organization who these people are that you should be speaking to? Because as well, again, I think like the likes of Google is just so massive. Like where would you even start? Who would you know to speak to? Who are the people that you're typically looking forward, like to try and set something like this up to gain the interest? 

[00:14:20] Kelsey Peterson: So fortunately for a lot of our strategic partners, there is a baseline product integration already in place. And so you already have an existing product relationship, which is hugely helpful. These are not like, Hey, we kind of sell to a similar profile. Let's pass a lead over the fence. Like there's nothing like that going on,

[00:14:37] Andrew Michael: Right.

[00:14:38] Kelsey Peterson: Which I think is not just being ill of it. It's just a completely different, I would say caveat for Westerners. I think that's like a different ballgame. So for us, we already have a pre-existing product relationship. And typically the partnership can come out of the investment of, okay, wait a second, we're putting a lot into this product. Are we sure we want to be doing this? We should be more thoughtful holistically about what matters beyond this. And that usually at least started the right conversation. And even in our partnership events, like our product team is a huge part of that. We would have those folks joining because they, in a lot of ways, that can be the backbone of the partnership is making sure that the integration is working well and achieving the goals that the customer intends to be meeting with it.

[00:15:20] Andrew Michael: Cool. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think definitely you can gain also, but probably like you can already maybe see the level of interest from your partners, depending on how far their integrations go and how much they're already working with the existing partner program that you do have. So identified, established, there's some value here. Both parties feel this is a good partnership and they want to move forward. What does the next step look like? 

[00:15:40] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, so I think the next step is the product probably already has something on the roadmap of where they'd like to go. But making sure that that's directionally aligned with the goals of the partnership. So we're in agreement, we want to have a partnership. Now we have a sense of what do we actually both want out of this. So the first question should be, what problem are we solving for our customers? It should not be, what do you want, customer partner? What do I want? It's what does the customer need? Why are we doing this to begin with? Now that we know that we can back into some goals, actual KPIs, and then maybe some leading indicators. And then from there, you can agree on the roadmap in the how you market. And so that's where you get into, well, you need demo instances of the integration, you need a portal, you need a video that you can share collateral, one-pagers, decks, sessions, things like that.

[00:16:31] Andrew Michael: Yeah, it seems quite obvious as well, like you mentioned, the focusing orders, the customer value, what does the customer need? But I could imagine it is a step maybe skipped over from time to time. I'm also interested in that process then as well, because this goes beyond then just like the customer success initiative, it really involves more of the company in terms of a lot of years of marketing from customer success from product. And you're really speaking as well to product strategy ultimately as well, like deciding on like, what do we build next? How does that look like as well? Like are the product teams partnering up together specifically? Are they looking at their backlogs and deciding, okay, this is what we had on the roadmap. This is why, and strategically deciding and prioritizing together as a single team in this case, how does that look?

[00:17:13] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, that's a thoughtful question. I think HubSpot was really well positioned to do this because we had a really strong voice of the customer program. And so we already had a pre-existing process in place through which customers of any spend, of any size, of any duration, shared feedback that all got aggregated, synthesized, shared with our product team, and that helped inform the roadmap. So I think that's an important baseline. That's already happening across the board. And so what is able to happen in the strategic partnership is you already have all of this information at the ready, which is the foundation. And then from there, you're able to make their product decisions. And so it was a shared effort through your product, through the partnership leaders, to make decisions around how we were ultimately solving in that way. But it was all predicated upon the customer feedback. The only caveat being customer feedback tends to be, or can be, I wish this did this thing a little bit differently, or it'd be helpful if we could accomplish this piece. But the goal of the product team is also to be like a meaningful couple steps ahead of maybe the customer doesn't even know that they want or need this yet. Maybe they have not even imagined that this could be, but wouldn't it be remarkable if we could delight them in this way? So it's sort of two pieces. One, existing feedback, and then two, how are you meaningfully a step ahead so that you can show up in a way that delights. So definitely a shared effort. Interesting fun fact, the partnership team actually works much more closely. And I think last time it was in the product board at HubSpot. So there's been some really meaningful investment since I left, but I thought that was a very clever change.

[00:18:52] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I can see the reason for that as well. And as you say, I think both sides as well, if they're strategic partners, they'll probably have a similar process where they have really good organized feedback coming through in a well structured way that they can prioritize. And again, as well, as you say, it's not really about the product teams just to act purely on their feedback, but it's really trying to understand what are they trying to achieve and then up to the teams to innovate on ways that maybe the customers haven't even thought about. And I assume then in both sides, they both probably sort of have requests and challenges that the customer is trying to solve that overlap. And then those would be the overlap would be the decision. Okay. Like as an integration, these are the areas we see the most opportunity because we're here on both sides of the fence. This is what customers are looking for from us.

[00:19:35] Andrew Michael: So that's very interesting. You sort of first step identified partner. Now you've qualified them. You've decided, okay, this is what it should look like. And then you went on to describe a little bit about the activities and the work that you're producing, the clarity of work around. You spoke at it from your side as the partner enablement. What happens from the partner side themselves as well? How much do they get involved in the creation of this process? Is there anything coming from over from their side? Because obviously at the same time, this is almost like a two-way partnership, as you mentioned, or some of these partners will gain value from referring HubSpot because their product will be used more and they'll be increasing. So how much overlap is there between producing this content?

[00:20:16] Kelsey Peterson: Pretty tremendous overlap. So generally you would create work streams, right? Okay, we know we need a video. We know we need a guide on how the integration works. We know we need this, all the collateral. And then you'd set up work streams for each of those. And then it's very collaborative. So even at probably like a V2, you'd be getting the partner's feedback and making sure even simple things, for example, they might talk about something a bit differently in their own product. And it's important for us as their partner to honor the way they like to talk about their product in that particular way, even as simple as a word or two. So it's important to get the feedback early on from the partner. And then ideally, if you've been collaborative enough, you can share the resources. There's certainly independent resources because you can imagine a HubSpot customer, the tool belt you're arming the CSMs with is going to have different questions than the partner because they're going to be positioning HubSpot, you're going to be positioning the partner. So there will be departures, but the core set of collateral should ultimately be similar because you're talking about the same integration. It's just the framing of it that gets unique. And that's where you kind of do your individual work. But even then we'd still have the partner take a look at it.

[00:21:32] Andrew Michael: Interesting. And then from there, so you've gone through this process, like you produce the content, now you've got the program running. How much does customer success themselves work with customers in terms of discussing these partnerships and these integrations? What does that process look like? Because I assume when a customer comes to HubSpot, there's a billion things they can talk to them about the product. And it's like, how do you prioritize what to speak to with which customer and which integrations or partnerships to be promoting?

[00:22:01] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, that's such an important piece because, and this is where I think partnerships can get very stale because the partner team, and I'm calling this out as someone on the partner team, they can be very single-minded and like, okay, this is what we're trying to accomplish. And it feels very clear it should be a priority because it is. But then if you can imagine you have a CSM who's got an account with a red health score and a renewal date, 120 days out and high spend, they're not thinking about partnership priorities. But if they know that, and I keep calling to Google, but that ads are meaningful ad usage is actually something that ties into higher health scores, that's a helpful signal and that's interesting to them. And then it actually gets to their goal. So that's why I share it's important to have bite-sized collateral, chapter-sized information available because the CSM is never going to, assuming you have a big partnership program, easily recall, oh, okay, you're looking for X integration here in a seven partners that do that. But they have the resources available, they can pull that up and they can easily reference, okay, I'm hearing this and now I know I need to make this recommendation.

[00:23:13] Andrew Michael: And I'm assuming as well, you already have things like a built worth or something to be able to detect what the new customer's tech stack looks like. And if HubSpot is, sorry, if Google Ads has shown up, then you automatically recognize as a CSM. Hey, maybe I could talk to them about this. This is part of the stack.

[00:23:29] Kelsey Peterson: Yes. And I will say, I think it's incumbent upon the partnership team to also make the prioritization happen at a layer, a couple layers removed from the CSM. So an example of this, one of the things that we did is we knew that there was a correlation between retention and specific usage of a couple of products, a couple of integrations. And so we were able to actually go to the onboarding team and say, Hey, would you consider this a graduation metric? Look at this data, the customers do this, we know that they are more successful, they retain longer. And then that way the CSM isn't necessarily recalling all of this all the time, but rather it's a graduation metric. It's a little bit easier. So I think caveat or just worth clarifying, it's helpful to go to the teams directly. And that's also helpful whenever possible to have it happening at that other layer so that it's not again adding to the plate, but a part of the plate.


[00:24:24] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. Because it definitely is a challenge. I think you mentioned like a few different teams within the organization, you touch on so many different areas in this role. And ultimately, like everybody's busy, like trying on the partner side and on the internal side, trying to balance the between like, how are we actually doing value not only for our customers, but for our team members internally as well. That balance is sounds tricky. You mentioned graduation metric and I love the term. It's something I don't think anyone's ever mentioned. We've probably discussed or I'm sure we definitely discussed this on the show, but just maybe you can talk us through a little bit about that. What's the idea of the graduation metric? 

[00:25:00] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, so the graduation metric is basically, how do we feel confident that this customer is set up for success? So they've gone through implementation and onboarding. So the technical implementation, the enablement that's a part of onboarding, and we don't want to graduate a customer from onboarding and kind of step them into maybe a less frequent cadence and a little bit of maybe async communication. We don't want to do that until we know that they have pillars in place to be successful. And so it's important to understand both of what those are, and then to have measurements against those so that we can say, what we don't want to happen is have it be too customer centric. And so you don't want it to be, these are the five things that a customer must do before they graduate, because you don't actually know every customer's unique goals at that scale. And so it needs to be flexible, a little bit of like a gradient or a stoplight system, if you will, maybe of these five, they ought to have done four. And that's a big piece of kind of the graduation formula. And so it's essentially how do we know they're going to be successful. And you can imagine if, like HubSpot does, if you have a separate onboarding team from CSMs, you want to be able to hand somebody over to the CSM and in good conscience, knowing that they've been set up to be successful.

[00:26:14] Andrew Michael: Yeah, it sounds obviously like we've talked about activation metrics in the past. And I think activation metrics, though, like when we've discussed them, I think they're typically on, I would say, if I had to say this, like less complex products, where it's a lot easier to measure the immediate value. So like an example might be a loom, and an activation metric could be when you've sent a loom and someone's actually viewed it, because that's the first time you achieve that value. And they've established sort of that, or they've understood that there's value there. And then they need to maybe send another three or four. And they've established a habit now on the user activated. But in the case of a HubSpot, I can definitely see another more complex tools where there may be four or five things that the user needs to do in order to say, okay, they're set up correctly, and there's no there's less risk of losing this customer now. So it's an interesting one, the graduation metric. I like that. And so also you mentioned as well, this role had become very strategic role and you sort of escalated quite fast in terms of who you were reporting to directly. I'm interested, like, what was that like? What did that feel like going at HubSpot as well? I think you mentioned before the show as well, in sort of management, and then all of a sudden now, reporting directly to SVP or business and corporate development, and then even working directly with the CEO at points.

[00:27:26] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, that was pretty incredible. I will admit, a big part of what attracted me to the job, I loved customer success. And I didn't intend to deviate in any capacity, but then I realized there were some things closer to product that would make the customer experience better. So sort of a roundabout way to get there. But admittedly, I was also wildly impressed by the team. So I was wildly impressed by the hiring manager, SVP you just mentioned, as well as my peers and colleagues. It was incredible. It was a really an opportunity for growth to be thinking differently. I think HubSpot's CS team, even at that time, was remarkably built out. So it felt a little bit like we were optimizing from like a nine to a 10. Like HubSpot had done so many things so well. And partnerships was a little bit of a newer function at that time. And so it felt a little bit blank slate and very exciting. Like we were answering the questions of, oh my gosh, like, how do we get somebody into a trial through a partnership? How do we track that? What does that look like? What do we automatically set up for them? And so that was a big part, the team, the manager, and then just ultimately the autonomy of the work. Like there were weeks where I would just be in a position to be thinking and doing and learning fast. And I for what it's worth, I'm very grateful to that team for being very patient because I didn't necessarily have the A to A background. And I feel really grateful that they took a shot on me.

[00:28:46] Andrew Michael: That's awesome. I can see how that is exciting as well. Like, especially when you say at the size and scale of HubSpot where pretty much everything feels like it must be sorted out by then at that size. And then to be able to have the opportunity to work on something that's new ground and to be able to sort of explore and experiment and try to figure things out. I can see the exciting as well with all the resources and backing and the structure that you have in place as well. So very cool. Fast forward today, VP of customer success, Sadash B. What's that like? Obviously a lot earlier stage startup, big different change. And you've gone through a couple of other roles in between, but what's some of the pressing challenges you focus on today and how do you see this difference and shift as well now at the earlier stage startup?

[00:29:27] Kelsey Peterson: Yes, I really enjoy. I think I have a startup bug. I really am enjoying it quite a bit. The CS function at Ashby is our high touch customer success team, our scaled, our professional services, which is like recruiting operations, given we're in the HR tech space, our support team, and then contract management. So it's been very fun to build out. Like for example, when I joined sales handled renewals and that was one of my first priorities was, hey, I have seen this go a bunch of different ways. I've seen sales own it. I've seen CSMs actually own their own books, renewals. And then I've seen what I prefer, which is the model we've moved to, which is dedicated contract management, but within customer success, which I think particularly in this current climate is actually very important. So we're having lots of customer empathy. We're staying close to the CSMs experience and being able to move customers through renewal. So that was one of the first things that I was working on. I would say the next piece has been building out the professional services. It's really interesting. We're seeing this uptick, I think maybe in the last, I don't know, two years of like fractional roles.

[00:30:29] Kelsey Peterson: So we've been offering like a fractional recruiting operations consultant. And we're seeing early traction with that, which is very exciting because folks maybe aren't in a position in this climate to be doubling down investing in that resource, but it's actually super important, especially now given the hiring landscape. So professional service has been something that I'm really excited about. And then the last thing I'll say, and we can get into any of this is our support team. I always made the mistake of saying, oh, CS is proactive and support is reactive. And our support team is actually unbelievably proactive. So just this morning, before I logged in, I saw on a support channel, somebody said, Hey, this customer put the wrong slug in the URL and this is broken. I'm reaching out. And just that kind of step ahead experience has been very exciting. So I want to lead into that further, learn how they've been doing that. And then also see what else we can be doing to surprise and delight customers.

[00:31:24] Andrew Michael: You just opened up three totally different episodes for us to talk about. I think the last one I'd love to follow up on that because I also like a big champion of customer support being proactive in sports. And I think there's also this concept, I think it was by Hub, not HubSpot, Help Scout, which is like support driven growth. It was first introduced to me by a colleague Diana. And I always found that fascinating as well. It's like a really good touch point where you have with your customers and so much missed opportunity there by not being more proactive. You've just solved their problem. There's an opportunity for you now to show additional value and guide them to something maybe that's going to increase their ability to retain. The one I wanted to touch on today, just because we're going to run up on time otherwise, was the idea of having a dedicated account manager. And you've seen it previously before in sales or previously held by CSMs themselves. You mentioned this as your preferred method. And I can imagine as well from the different experience, you've seen it in different companies. Why is it the preferred method for you? What are some of the drawbacks of either or and why is this the best?

[00:32:25] Kelsey Peterson: It's interesting. Ashby is incredibly thoughtful. We are a very well-documented company and big on principled thinking. So you will not hear people say, oh, at my last company, we did it like this. That's not important. Thinking from the basics and building up. So I actually had to disband with a lot of what I had known and be principled in my approach. But I will share for this context. I think it works well enough to have renewals in sales. I would say for me, that's the second best option. I think that's a totally suitable option, especially based on your stage and your skill. I think the challenge is especially if for early customer acquisition, the company has been flexible with discounting and with credits and there hasn't been on-contract transparency. You're getting this discount because it's year one, it's going to fall off on year two. If that hasn't been happening, and then year two, you have a discount, 25% discount on a meaningful spend that's dropping off. What I generally see as sales is saying, hey, fair is fair. That's what we talked about. And it just ruptures a little bit of customer trust because especially in this climate, people are changing jobs very quickly. So that contract signer may very well be gone. You're talking to somebody else and you've given them a suboptimal experience.

[00:33:39] Kelsey Peterson: So I would say sales tends to be a little bit more matter of fact. I think CSMs have maybe the opposite challenge, which is like, oh, I love talking to Andrew. I talk to Andrew every week. Every week, I can't imagine, quote unquote, gouging Andrew. We'll just keep it flat. Even though your growth has been tremendous from a COGS perspective, you are costing the company quite a bit more because of your activity. So I think for me, the contract manager hits the sweet spot of having the CS context of, okay, well, I know that they had some integration issues in onboarding and I want to be thoughtful about that should matter. And I know that they did a couple of case studies with us. And so maybe we want to be flexible, but they also tend to have more of a sales centric mindset of in the contracts and we want to make sure we do something that's fair and measured of the value we're offering.

[00:34:31] Kelsey Peterson: So that's generally why I like to have it live with that function. But I do see merit to different approaches. And I think a final caveat, in addition to size and scale is also your team. So if you have more commercial CSMs, they're probably better suited. If you have maybe more product centric CSMs, they're going to be having a more difficult time holding the line. It's a fundamentally different skill set and maybe an unfair ask to have them justifiably increase in cost and then that next month getting out of QBR and their relationship is a little bit different.

[00:34:59] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, I love the approach of sort of leaving the past experience at the door and challenging everything on its merits. I think a lot of times we take for granted something that works somewhere else and we just can apply it and a new company and it's going to work. I think it's important to understand where you're at and really go to what you're trying to achieve as opposed to like, this is something I did and it worked and take for granted. But the thing is what we've heard in the past on the show on this concept and you alluded to it now was one, if it's the CSMs, it's sort of that relationship. It gets a little bit tainted when you bring in the monetary discussion and it's sort of like, it's not in the customer's best interest to charge them more money. And we're up until that point, like your whole role is around in the customer's best interest, how to get them as much value as possible from a product or service.

[00:35:44] Andrew Michael: So I agree with that on that point. And I think the other side as well was sales incentives. We've talked about quite a bit here and often a cause of like a bad retention can be badly aligned sales incentives where it's really focused about just closing deals and then they close the bad fit customers. And really it's important to sort of align that retention, like give them as well like a bonus based on renewal. So if the customer renews after year one, that's when you get the remainder of your bonus. So that also has a better grade incentive. And I can see again why this is a positive having a dedicated account manager, because then also again, it removes that bias of that. Even if you have got the incentives lined up right, you have got the motivation. The motivation is not him trying to close or her trying to close the deal again from the sales side to get the bonus. It's more around, okay, dedicated account managers looking at your account objectively without bias, no incentives. I'm sure there are different incentives aligned there, but it's not from prehistoric history. It's more about the current situation today and what's best for the clients and for the business. So I can see why that makes a lot of sense as well from the previous discussions we've had.

[00:36:49] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah, I think that's right. And I would add to that, even if you don't want to lose the sort of incentive of sales selling to good fit customers, clawback can be an effective way even without having them manage renewals that they know that if a customer is churning earlier in the cycle, there's other KPIs that you can set up that don't require them handling the renewal. So I would generally agree with that.

[00:37:15] Andrew Michael: Do that. Nice. And since it's fairly new as well, I'm going to change. I normally ask a question that I ask every guest, but I'm going to change it today because one, for the first time, I actually listened to myself on a recording for after like months and realized like one, how boring I sounded all throughout, just like my voice. So I've been actively trying to bring a bit more energy today, but two, some of the questions just became and the answers became very similar. So I'm intrigued as well. You've just joined Ashby now you've been around seven months at the company, moving into a customer success role, retention, I'm sure being one of the main KPIs that you're following and you improved on. What was one of the first things when you came into this company that you felt needed to be introduced or that you decided, okay, this is going to be a good move for us to help improve retention for the business?

[00:38:00] Kelsey Peterson: Great question. Yeah. So our core metric is net revenue retention. A secondary metric is logo retention. And I would say the, probably the biggest piece in our audience, our customer is in HR tech. So town acquisition, people leaders. I think one of the biggest pieces is introducing a multi-threaded approach because what's happening is that this is a very transient group, right? Especially in this climate fit in general, folks move around quite a bit. And so making sure we have several people at any given customer that immediately know the value and not the, oh, I love talking to my CSM that is super important, the relationship piece, but also I can't imagine doing my job without Ashby. Like that's what we hear. And that's exactly what we need to hear in this climate and making sure there are several people at any company that feel that way. So like a multi-threaded approach, we're calling them partnership reviews. They're hesitant to say QBRs because I think QBRs are tired, but they are that general approach of taking a look at the current value, the current usage, providing areas of opportunity, connecting everything to the customer's business outcome. Those have been, and bringing in other stakeholders, those have kind of been, at least in our high touch segment, one of our biggest, earliest priorities in the first few months.

[00:39:19] Andrew Michael: Very nice. Yeah. Customer champions definitely top three reasons for churn when we discuss on the show. And I think, as you say, more so in this climate where everybody's moving around pretty rapidly and making sure that you have more than one touch point is critical at this stage. What's one thing that you know today about churn and retention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career?

[00:39:40] Kelsey Peterson: Yeah. I wish I knew to focus on must have products. I wish I knew earlier that in tough climates, a kind of nice to have add-on product is not necessarily going to make it for the long haul. So for me, I think I've been much more intentional as of late of really making sure that I can meaningfully fundamentally stand behind the product because that is really core to effective customer success is understanding it's a team sport across the board.

[00:40:12] Andrew Michael: Absolutely. It's quite funny because when you've been talking, I've been thinking about a discussion I had with David Domman, the previous CEO of HotJar. And he's always talking to me about saying recruitment software is one of the highest retention software in the industry. If you look at how important it is, because it's one of the ones it's very difficult to get rid of once it's been installed within the company. And he also used to say the same to me as well. When you think about what you want to do next or what you want to build, it's important to understand where on the budget list you would sit and what's the must have versus what's the first to go. And if the CFO calls in and says, okay, what are these 10 pieces of software? Where on the list are you going to sit? Are you going to be the first one that's out the door and that's a cost saver? Or is it going to be the one that like, no, we can't run or operate our business without it. So it's interesting to see that you've sort of understood this obviously, but they're now actually at a company that's one of the highest retention in the industry. So very nice. Kelsey, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. Thank you so much for the time. Is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they should be aware of to keep up to speed with your work?

[00:41:15] Kelsey Peterson: People are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn, Kelsey Peterson, but otherwise, thank you for having me. This has been a very fun conversation.

[00:41:21] Andrew Michael: Thank you so much. It's been great having you. And for the listeners, everything we've discussed today will be in the show notes. So if you want to see any links on your references to what was discussed, you can find them there. And thanks so much, Kelsey. I wish you the best of luck now going forward.

[00:41:35] Kelsey Peterson: Thanks for having me. Take care.

[00:41:36] Andrew Michael: Cheers. Bye. 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 podcasts. 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 Andrew at Churn.FM. 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.


Kelsey Peterson
Kelsey Peterson

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.


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