Transform your company’s customer success mindset from a cost center to a growth center
SVP & GM
Today on the show we have Shreesha Ramdas, SVP & GM at Strikedeck.
Having lived though a couple of acquisitions, Sri shares his #1 learning and why he believes that founders should roll up their sleeves and work alongside the sales team, post acquisition, as early as possible.
We also discussed the motivation behind Strikedeck, how to assess your customer success maturity cycle and then dove into how to jumpstart a customer success program.
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[00:00:35] Andrew Michael: Hey, Shreesha. Welcome to the show.
[00:01:23] Shreesha Ramda: Thank you, Andrew, for this wonderful opportunity as actually looking forward to being on the show.
[00:01:29] Andrew Michael: Awesome for the listeners, Shreesha is the SVP and GM of Strikedeck, a company who was previously the CEO and co-founder of before the acquisition by Medallia Strikedeck is a G2 customer success category leader that equips you with the right tools to understand customer health usage trends, reduce churn, improve advocacy, and increase CSM productivity in a centralized.
Shreesha has started his career curiosities and account manager at Tata consultancy followed by a couple of other roles in business development before funding lead for [00:02:00] mix, which was later acquired by SAP collitis cloud. We went on to serve as the VP of corporate development and partnerships. Shisha is also an investor and advisor to companies such as Rocketlane Tavent and Workato.
So definitely a very busy career for youShreesha. So my first question for you is after having lived through a couple of acquisitions of companies, you founded yourself, what has been your biggest learning?
[00:02:23] Shreesha Ramda: My biggest learning Andrew has been is that after acquisition don't think the job is you're actually job has started.
And so you go in and you had worked hard to make the acquisition successful. You had to ensure that. Integrated with the mother and for that yard work tirelessly you have to work with the sales team show that your product messaging is reaching them. They know how to sell. You understand the motion of the sales process very well.
And also you have to be out there fighting the battle with the [00:03:00] sales people initially you had to teach them. The lances in selling the product. And then at the back end, you have to ensure you take care of the customers. You ensure that the value promise during the sale process is delivered in the context of everything that the acquiring company provides.
Because obviously before acquiring you, they have a lot of different products. They have. The customers are processed, detailed out and how do they provide value to the customers, and yet to make sure that, that line with those methodologies and process and practices. And that's why I said it's a lot of hard work to ensure that not only continue to maintain, but you are shooting for higher goals.
[00:03:47] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think like you mentioned a few things, one thing is like the continuity for previous customers. Like making sure they have a streamlined experience. Interesting as well, like the other side of it is like making sure that the new sales team [00:04:00] actually understands the prognosis and how to go about selling it itself through these processes as well.
Have you had any regrets when it comes to the acquisition and process? Anything that you do differently? If you had to do it.
[00:04:12] Shreesha Ramda: This is my third acquisition, Andrew that happened with that I've been involved with. And previously my regret was always not getting involved in the sales process earlier, early on.
We got acquired. I felt the job is done in terms of. In terms of taking the product to the customers for the prospects, right? Because the acquiring company has a big sales team and they'll do the job. And what I learned through my acquisitions it's not the case. It's because the sales team, the existing sales team of the larger companies already used to a sales model.
Selling the product that they have already learned, they spent time in understanding the new answers in product. And so when a new product is presented to it, [00:05:00] there is an initial resistance because it, they had to change their habits, change their sales motion. Exactly. And so that is where a lot of the entrepreneurs, founders after acquisition.
And that's why if you look at across the industry, a lot of the acquisitions have not been successful, right? Because it takes a pixel village to successful. And all of the acquisitions, what I've learned is that it's very important after the acquisition, the founder rules. His or her sleeves and get into the trenches with the sales team reaching out to the customer in demonstrating the sales motion, involved with your product in showing that the end of the sales process, they will be successful with the product.
That's something that I've learned. And I would definitely great all the founders and entrepreneurs to think about this and not think about acquisition as that. It's a life after the acquisition where you had to ensure that they are your product is formerly a nicely embedded within the. [00:06:00]
[00:06:01] Andrew Michael: Yeah.
It's it's the means to an end. It's not the end. The acquisition, it also it's like makes so much sense when you lay it out in that way, in the sense that the sales team, like they're already getting their compensation, their bonuses based on sales, they've been driving previously. They know that.
It's products like to sell something new, you need to put the work in. And like if somebody has already got a good paid job and they're really getting the good commissions what is their motivation? So interesting that you say it really is like the founders to roll up the sleeves, get in there and start pushing.
So maybe talk to us a little bit about Strikedeck, the motivations you found in the beginning. Like, why did you start strategic?
[00:06:39] Shreesha Ramda: Yeah. Andrew, right in the beginning, when you introduced me, you met, talked about leap four mics that I sold to, Callidus SAP. Yes. So that was all about finding leads and converting those leads to customers.
And. When I was thinking about starting something new, I thought about how about [00:07:00] continuing the summer journey life cycle, but moving further along the cycle, right? I was involved with converting leads to customers. Now how about taking those customers and converting them into successful customers?
So that was the inspiration. So I felt like the TAC the methods, the practices that we discussed. In the process of taking a lead successful customer, two customers can, again, be modified and that experience can be leveraged in this in this domain as well. So that was a starting point.
The other thing Andrew, that inspired me was this fact that all the boardroom meetings, there was a. Constant chatter about what are the new logos that like why'd the squad, right? The new sales, the F the focus. There was never a focus actually to the gold mine that existed in your backyard, which is your existing customers.
How are you leveraging it? How are you taking them to the next level? How are you getting them to be advocates? How are [00:08:00] you harnessing that advocacy power in your sales? I thought it's time to make people more aware about Oh, you know how this powerful force can be leveraged, can be engaged.
And fortunately, I feel like it coincided with this whole product growth movement that has come about where people have realized that if. And take your customer base and make them successful get them to realize the value them to change their habits around your product. Then, the expansion will occur and that flywheel effect is really powerful, more than even building a big size.
[00:08:42] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is obviously, I don't think it's any secret why I'm so bullish on focusing on retention itself. I think because there's this compounding effect when it comes to retaining customers, like really being able to expand existing customers is in terms of like growth. It is one of the biggest [00:09:00] leavers you're gonna ever be able to pull.
At some point Most like really successful companies realize the importance and shift the focus. And definitely, I see a sort of the product led trends like helping with the headwinds there. The thing to talk about today as well, then as well, a little bit in terms of you've seen different companies at different stages and let's switch to the context of sort of customer success and how.
Like coming in, maybe from a company like strike day, joining Medallia you must've seen like different stages of customer success, maturity, and obviously with all the customers that you've had in the past. So how do you go about assessing your customer success, maturity and understand like, how to make improvements going forward?
[00:09:45] Shreesha Ramda: Yeah, that's a great question, Andrew. And this is where I feel. Companies go wrong. They peak the established practice or our practices that has been suggested [00:10:00] and rushing to adopt them in their organization where they are missing out is assessing where they are in their customer journey.
How sophisticated their customers are. How well-trained are their internal. Right how well their internal teams are in terms of handling the customers needs requirements and going through the journey. So if companies spend enough time in understanding the lay of the land, that is there a readiness in terms of preparedness customer success, That then will help them understand where they are in the maturity cycle.
And once they understand they're in the maturity cycle, then they can follow the path. That works best for them. And let me give you some examples, right? Let's as you men, our organization does fantastic job. Whenever they have a shout customer [00:11:00] scenario, right? And this is a common occurrence.
We have seen the shouting customer. The priority, right? That means you are, your maturity is on the lower side, right? Because where will is shouting, whoever is expressing concern, who is pressing the escalation button, you rush to solve the problem for them. And you do a great job, but that shows that you are structured, that shows that you're not you're not predicting.
Yeah, proactive. And so that is where you recognize that you do a great job in terms of escalations, but you don't, you're not proactive. And once you recognize then it's about, okay how do we get to that proactive state or the symptoms that we need to look out for?
And how do we know what kind of proactive approach we need to take across our customers? Feel the customers, we actually should be less proactive because they th the customer is very [00:12:00] proactive, right. In that case, you just end it. Whereas feel the customers. I'm not that organized.
They are not well-staffed and that's where you need to be proactive in terms of giving them the hell. So that is where the value of the customer maturity comes in and that's where, the treatment. Once you understand the customer is important as well.
[00:12:24] Andrew Michael: Yeah, that's very interesting.
And I liked the measurement or the question understanding are you being reactive in terms of your customer success? Are you reacting to the shouting customer versus having the sophistication to like prevention is better than cure being proactive from that side of things, are there any other signs that you look for when trying to say.
The maturity of an organization. So one definitely being like the shouting customer. Like what else are you looking for when you're trying to like coming into the customer success team and evaluating where they're at?
[00:12:56] Shreesha Ramda: Yeah. Enter the other thing I would say [00:13:00] that's really important is the size of the company.
And the stage, where do you audit the stage of the company? And if you're a company that, that I just got started with a product, then I would say poker should be on the onboarding. Because it's, if you solve the hoarding challenge, then you're well on your way to solve that option problem as well.
If you have not solved your onboarding challenge, that would guarantee that you will have churn issues. And so you have released a product recently, you have to focus overwhelmingly on the onboarding, right? And you can do that by iterating with the customer by figuring out what point is is a friction coming in, right?
One of the popular Code that I leverage. And I say this to all my mothers is if you need your customers to refer to a [00:14:00] Manwell while onboarding to get to the first value, you have a serious issue. The customer should be able to the first value without need of an manual user manual on their own.
Because if they get to the first value quickly and without that much friction, that means that. They feel validated in their decision to purchase the product. That means that they are now ready to put more time and effort into leveraging the product. So that's during the onboarding focused on the first value, focus on how quick.
The users are able to leverage the platform right? To demonstrate that they have reached the first value to their organization. Thus, building more momentum around your product right now, compare to a product, to a company that has released a product. If we think about a company that is fairly mature with their product, they've had the product in the market for a long time.
[00:15:00] Then. They need to think about customer success in a different way. Now they need to think about what are the services that they need to provide to the customer so that they can consolidate their presence. And those services could be implementation services that are one-time or managed service that are recurring in nature.
I will go back to an example that I've used again and again. You are mainstream product like service now, Workday, they generally change their prices. A customer has been using the product for four years and the four years here is a magic number. Why? Because in four years, companies would build processes that are in the upper, right?
So the product is well entrenched when they, when companies build processes that aren't your product. When the habits are. And on your product that is when yanking out the product replacing with a competitor becomes very difficult. So [00:16:00] unless you have a customer is onboarded. Now you're thinking about what is the repeat value that companies can get from the product, right?
By repeat value, recurring value, right? How can you ensure that on a monthly quarterly basis, the customer is feeling that day. Being a lot of the value on a country basis. Now they know the next part of what value they are going to get. And once that is established, then they obviously will really invest even more with the product they are ready for the expansion and they start consuming services.
That's even more value add for them.
[00:16:39] Andrew Michael: Yep. And definitely see all the stages where I think talking about onboarding to start like early stages. I think it's by far on the show, one of the biggest psych reasons for churn is having not a solid onboarding setup. And then. For sure, like it ends up, you see it further down the funnel.
It has it's compounding effects. And I like the way you [00:17:00] talk through the different stages of growth and maturity of the company in terms of the practices. So then it moves in on from onboarding to show you having focus efforts on adoption and getting future usage up and getting that continued usage to can show continued value and interesting point, like the four year old.
In my mind, like concise four years sounds like a long time, but like you say, once you're entrenched, once you building processes around this product or the service that you're using, it becomes extremely difficult. And I think that's also like one of the beauties about SaaS businesses is then it becomes extremely predictable as well.
And that business is going to continue to grow Almost indefinitely. Very hard to be pulled out at that point. Interesting. Let's rewind a little bit to the beginning as well. You mentioned like the onboarding process being one of the first places to start let's even go before onboarding it and say like you're a new startup, like a growing Quite nicely, but you're now thinking about introducing customer success.
How do you go about jump-starting a customer success program? Where do [00:18:00] you start? What are some of the first hires that you would be looking to bring on board and how would you go about sitting up out there? Practice.
[00:18:07] Shreesha Ramda: That's a great question, Andrew. I've seen a lot of the companies who now recognize the value of customer success.
They are unsure of where to start, right? Do they hire. Awesome customer success has got tremendous experience. Are they ha are they hire their first CS? Who's hands-on working with the product team in figuring out the early challenges. One thing I would say is to start thinking about product experience versus engagement experience.
Product expenses that once the users are inside your product, how are they experiencing it? How are they driving value from the product? Second is engagement experiences basically being proactive, right? Can you build a CSM team who are able to [00:19:00] engage with the customers on a proactive basis and where the customers.
You're not compelled to say that just engaging with your team is a delight, right? It's happiness all alone. So when you start thinking about that now, then you are thinking about what are the skills that my CS team need to have. And I specifically pointed out those two separately because when you are looking for your stems year to make sure that they understand the whole product experience.
Understand the value of the product experience. Then they are ready to work collaboratively the product, right? So I'll give you an example, how CSMs can work product proactively with the product team, right? If if the CSM during the onboarding stage, a user is coming to the product and is having trouble in data, there is a button right there in the product.
That's. [00:20:00] Uploading a CSV file. They're uploading the CSV file, but often times. The formatting is not correct, and there is an error. And so then they have to go back to their CSV file, figure out what select automat and that takes three or four days. So a good CSM who understands the value of the product deviants recognizes.
This, goes to the product team and builds them. That can be just where we have the upload, the CSV file button. Can we provide a sample? CSV template right there that the users can download and just use that instead of coming up with their own CSV template and trying to figure out what's working or not.
So that's where you need CSMs, who understand, who had this ability to recognize that the challenges that customers are having, and then leverage that with the team. I'll give you another example on that front, right? Zoom, the conference that we are in. With the CSN [00:21:00] beams, with the CSMs prospect customers, that's where they're discovered this magical time limit of 40 free time.
It was not 30 minutes. It was not one hour. It was during this multiple iterations with the customers. They discovered that 45 minutes is good enough for prospects or customers to start using zoom on a regular. Some point they feel like we need to have this one of our time limit for the zoom.
We should not go back to the start. So let me convert into a paid plan. If they had 30 minutes as a free plan, it would not have worked right. 30 minutes each to shot 45 minutes is where the customer or the user says, let me give it a chance. So what I'm seeing is that the CSMs need to.
To interact with the customers to figure out all those small, give joy to the customer or makes their life easier and take that to the product [00:22:00] team. That is right. The second skill set that I talked about is engagement experience is, proactive is not an easy skill for human beings. We are generally designed to be.
And so there is a habit that's nurtured and adopted, right? And so you need find out, find or hire those CSMs, who I'm straight, that they are ready for the proactive motion. And that is when, the customer may be having issues with the product, but you proactively go to the customer.
And say that I understand that this is the issue that may come up or issue that you may be challenging. I'm already working with the product team to figure out a solution, but meanwhile, here's a hack that you can use and somehow get some value and I'll tell you, the customers would appreciate that. And they would even be forget any issues or forgiven issues that are happening with the product.
[00:22:59] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I like that [00:23:00] example of the heck. I've seen it as well. Like previously working with some really good CSMs was always the ones like being able to find a hex to let customers get their job done, although might not be the most eloquent solution. If somebody has a problem and you can solve it for them there without having to wait when you feature spirit list and things, I think that is it a delightful moment it's in its own.
And definitely a strong skill sets. It doesn't come around very often though, where you can find that I think from what I've seen,
[00:23:29] Shreesha Ramda: Going back to your question on where do organization start by elaborated on the. But they need to look out for in a good CSM. I would say there are two ways to start your CS practice.
One is by hiring a CS leader who understands CEO's vision and who is thinking about building the CS practice as per the vision. And who knows how to put together the details. That's one way, which has stopped down the way to start as, and especially [00:24:00] if you're a younger startup it's to start bottoms up, which you hired a CSM who understands the product really well, who sits next to the product team, understands how to design early experiments with the customer.
Take those experiments. So the product team and figuring out the right onboarding mix figured out, how do you together that option tracks and so on, and then, bringing the other members and after some time bringing the CS leader. So there are two approaches. I would say the youngest startups should go with hiring a CSM first and then.
Slowly with make, to bring you on a leader, whereas a larger startups should think about hiring a leader and then building a the entire CS organization around the leader.
[00:24:48] Andrew Michael: Yeah, that makes sense as well. And definitely early stages. You need somebody who can roll up their sleeves and get like a little bit of everything done.
So sometimes maybe like CS leaders Mayfield that they're [00:25:00] past that. And they're desperate to find a really strong one who is willing to go in early and it's not going to be as easier to just stage the. Next question I wanted to ask you is let's imagine a hypothetical scenario now that you joined a new company and general attention is not great.
And the CEO comes to you and says, we really need to turn things around. We need to do it fast. We have three months you're in charge. What do you do? But the. Trick is that you're not going to say I'm going to speak to customers, understand the biggest pain points and then choose something from them.
What you're going to do is pick something that you've seen be effective in your past. That's helped reduce churn quickly. So what would be one thing that you would try to at this company to reduce churn quickly?
[00:25:48] Shreesha Ramda: Yeah, that's. Tough question, Andrew. And I'm saying this because you have become the biggest weapon, at least CS leader has, which is talking to the customers and finding a right.
So in [00:26:00] absence of that, I would suggest two things. One is I would go into the support tickets and I look at. The what does the tickets say? Because that does it gives you some perspective on, on how customers are feeling right. And then work with the product team, all the issues.
So that is one second thing that I would do is work with my CST team to figure out how to engage with the customers proactive. And all those proactive engagements, I'll make sure that we are focused on the value, either. How much value is the customer is deriving from the product or the value that's being delivered by.
So that they can thing. And then I'll go back to my favorite topic. Also onboarding generally, if there are high churn I can bet that 99.9% of time, the problem is with onboarding, right? If you're not onboarding the customer with. The chances of churn happening goes up right there. And so if [00:27:00] it's a very high churn, that means you're not onboarding well.
And so fixed onboarding issue, and immediately the churn number will come. Does that help or I'm being raised here?
[00:27:10] Andrew Michael: No, it helps. I think it's a trick question in its own, right? Because sex solving Turner's attention fast is not to how it works. I think it's definitely a lagging metric and it's impact of the months and months of hard work, but it's always good to hear some of the things you would do to try and reduce a quick last question then for today, what's one thing you know about churn and retention today that you wish you knew when you got started with your.
[00:27:36] Shreesha Ramda: Yeah. Again, that's a trick question in some way, Andrew, because there are so many things that I could mentioned and picking one is tough. I would say today I definitely understand what proactive mindset is all about. And I'm seeing those because the word proactive is one of the most, I think, abused word in customer success.
Why? Because we keep talking or [00:28:00] customer success is all about proactive and I've heard so many CSMs staying that we don't even get time. We are forever focused on all the customers who are complaining. And I feel like I'm not doing my job, but I, and so I've seen a lot of despair in the CSM from that perspective.
So proactive is about treating issues and to get to proactive state it's not logical bullet. You have to follow any treating process where you figure out, okay, what are the recurring. Issues that are happening. And once you have found that out, you figured out, okay, what are the scenarios where those issues could happen?
What are the, we use the word lagging indicator. In this case, you had to figure out what's the. The leading indicator. And so once you find out the leading indicator, you can then figuring out, you can figure out how to [00:29:00] be proactive. So looking back, if I knew about this is a way to get to the proactive state, this is how to get your teams to be proactive.
I would be lot wiser and I would have committed less mistakes.
[00:29:15] Andrew Michael: And I love that. I think what you mentioned was like real estate is like most people complain. They don't have time, but spending the time to focus on understand what those leading indicators are and being proactive is going to end up saving you a lot of time on the other side.
Very interesting. Last thoughts. Awesome. It's been a pleasure. I see you today. She says any sort of final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they should be aware of or anything you'd like to share.
[00:29:41] Shreesha Ramda: So I would. Reiterate the fact that customer success in some way is a core concept of product led growth.
And you cannot think about customer success just in terms of churn. You have to think about customer success as growth, and if you are focused on growth, then churn [00:30:00] will never happen or it will be less. And so how customer success can be a growth strategy and having seamless collaboration with product a is super important.
[00:30:13] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's definitely a mental shift in this, changing the mindset on customer success, being a cost center to actually a growth center and more and more companies realizing and adopting the value. So I think that's a great point in the show and it's been a pleasure hosting you today.
I really thank you for your time and I wish you best of luck going forward.
[00:30:36] Shreesha Ramda: Thank you, Andrew
[00:30:37] Andrew Michael: thank you. Cheers
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We’ll send you one episode every Wednesday from a subscription economy pro with insights to help you grow.
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.