Unlocking the Potential of Product-Led Growth
SVP Customer Experience
Today on the show we have Vic Davis, SVP Customer Experience at Inflection.io.
In this episode, we discussed Vic's drive to ensure customers are at the heart of every business decision and the innovative capabilities of small businesses that can still make a significant impact at scale. We also touched on how Inflection.io leverages product activity data to create a uniquely engaging customer experience, breaking away from traditional marketing automation models.
We then dove into the concept of Product-Led Growth (PLG) and its inherent creativity and room for experimentation. Vic shares his experiences transitioning to a PLG model, the importance of staying in tune with market signals, and how Inflection.io intends to evolve over the next 6-12 months. We also explored the role of data capture and action-based onboarding in understanding and guiding customer behavior, with insights into how Segment can be used as a tool for unifying customer data.
We wrapped up by discussing the necessity for cross-functional teams to support the PLG model and the challenges enterprise software companies face when trying to offer starter products to different markets. The importance of product ease of use in driving customer success was also underscored, along with strategies for scaling customer success.
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 at Andrew@churn.fm.
00:00:00 Vic: Deliver the right message at the right time to your customer based on what they're actually doing in your platform. Instead of sending messages to your users or your customers two days after they signed up and then another one four days after they signed up, that's completely irrelevant to them because they haven't taken those first steps to have that communication, or that content valuable to them.
00:00:23 VO: How do you build a habit-forming products? How do you… Don't just guns for revenue in the door?
00:00:30 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.
00:00:43 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.
00:00:56 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.
00:01:08 Andrew: Hey Vic. Welcome to the show. Thank you for adding me. It's a pleasure. For the listeners, Vic has the SVP of customer experience at Inflection.io, a B2B marketing automation platform for product led companies. Prior to inflection io, Vic was the VP of customer success at Marketo. Visible and simply measured. So my first question for you, Vic, is what's been the common thread in your role as VP of success across the different companies that you worked at? Oh, God. Just, you know, I feel like, I was very early and kind of lucky in my career to figure out what really inspires me and what gets me outta the bed in the morning is servicing customers, making customers look like heroes, making customers look like champions and figuring out, you know, how they define success and figuring out through all of those companies that I've been with, how we can bring, you know, capabilities to them that again, kind of make them look like heroes. That is what gets me up in the morning. Always has and frankly, always will.
00:02:05 Andrew: It's interesting though as well, you've gone through a series of different acquisitions from the looks bits as well maybe like I'd be interested in that as well, like, servicing, you know, customer success. Like what were some of the changes that you saw at each of these companies, like pre and post-acquisition from a customer success standpoint? Was there any market difference in the way things were approached or which is business as usual throughout them?
00:02:28 Vic: Definitely not business as usual. Quite the opposite. I've been lucky, I've chosen, well, in the couple of music I've joined, I've had a series of, of, of acquisitions through almost everyone. There's been like this concept of reverse acquisition, meaning like taking capabilities that we had as the smaller acquired organization and bringing into the bigger one, right? I think we certainly tend to think that the biggest organizations are the most mature, have the best processes and, and then frankly that's not the case. And many times I think you can cultivate really creative things in smaller organizations that frankly can scale when you get into bigger organizations. And so that's probably the one thing that I have, kind of kept throughout those acquisition scenarios is not assuming that I'm going to be assimilated or our team is going to be assimilated, assuming that we've got really great talent, really great concepts, really great theory, really great execution that we can offer to the acquiring company. And kind of with that mindset, you can go confidently through those acquisitions and really start to, you know, push your thumbprint in pretty deep, into those acquiring companies' processes and make them something different than they expected when they acquired the organization.
00:03:44 Andrew: It's very interesting you say this all because you're not the first person as well to mention this on the show, like going into it and having these expectations and then the reality is not what they expected, at the end of it. And I think it's an interesting concept cuz you, you think like this big company acquiring you, they should have everything figured out when you come in, but in actuality as well, like you being acquired, you're being acquired for a reason and more often than not as well, it's foreign, like the agility and the speed and the, knowledge and domain expertise that you do have in the specific area. So very interesting point you made as well. I'm starting to see patterns now emerge between Yes. On the topic. So currently today you're at a new company as well. You mentioned just before inflection 0.0 seed stage. Maybe give us a little bit more of a background of what the company does, what attracted you to join them as well?
00:04:34 Vic: Yeah, sure, sure. You mentioned the acquisition pattern In my background, I was with a founding group at an organization called Visible. We did marketing, attribution technology, had a great run, built a great business, and were acquired by Marketo. We all moved into Marketo went into various roles you mentioned. I ran enterprise customer success for Marketo. One of the co-founders of Visible Ran and Let product at Marketo, another co-founder, ran a big marketing organization at Marketo. And one of the things that we noticed at our 10 years at Marketo and had kind of a front row seat to was this changing dynamic in product led growth companies, companies that were sitting on mountains of data because of the frictionless go-to-market nature of their business, right? Had a massive user base and accumulating tons and tons of product activity data. And they were asked, starting to ask some really provocative questions of Marketo, of how Marketo is gonna support these PLG organizations historically legacy marketing, automation technology, right? That is looking at the CRM as kind of its main data source. Well, here, here comes the product led growth organizations that, you know, wanted to leverage their productivity data as the main source to drive marketing automation. To make a long story short, legacy MarTech legacy marketing automation isn't built for that. It doesn't scale well and that's not just a Marketo problem. There's other technologies that we would put into that category that are having a hard time making that challenge or making that shift. We saw that challenge, and that was really the inspiration for us to start inflection io to kind of hang the tagline on the company. We offer marketing automation or customer engagement platform that sits on top of product activity data that allows our users to create really contextualized engagement experiences with their users. So we think of it in terms of marketing automation 2.0.
00:06:26 Andrew: Interesting. So it's always good to hear these, founding stories as well, like coming from different experiences. More often than not it's from product like a problem experienced firsthand to previous companies. So in today's context as well, like you're currently serving, product led businesses and I think from our side it's, it's interesting as well, like what are some of the challenges and dynamics you see coming from like mvp, it's, enterprise like level software, like large organizations and, now servicing like, the seed stage startup. What are some of the challenges you're facing and what are some of the things that are actually refreshing to you at this point?
00:07:04 Vic: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think we're so new. You're relatively speaking, the whole concept of product line growth is still evolving, right? Like certainly you've had customers or companies that are bigger into it, and have spent longer time, you know, cultivating their PLG motion, but unlike kind of traditional sales-led growth that has been cultivated over decades, right? Like we're still fairly new into it and through that there is no kind of set standard, if you will. There are people that are doing really interesting things that the others are starting to model, but there isn't that set standard, right? If you have a sales led model, you can go to numerous resources and figure out what are the processes I need, right? What are the steps, what are the stages that does not yet exist for the PLG model? And that's been really interesting to build a company that services PLG, right? Because one of the first things that we started to do is just connect prospects and customers with one another just to mindshare about what does it takes to really support a PLG go-to-market model or a PLG business, which is really interesting. So I think the big headline there, Andrew, is like, we've got some really intelligent people in this space that are doing really, really creative things, but nobody's figured it out. There's lots of room for ingenuity, there's lots of room for experimentation, and that has been incredibly refreshing, albeit challenging as well as you're trying to build a business against, a set of those challenges with kind of everything that's kind of evolving around you, if you will, has certainly put a unique challenge for us to build inflection, but it's been very inspirational. There are again, like leaders in the space that are starting to emerge, and it's been really fun to kind of attach our brand and our business to those people.
00:08:55 Andrew: Yeah, It's an interesting point as well. I think even in the context of things like customer success, is it a similar, like you would say it's similar state in the sense that it's something new? A lot of people are evolving, but it's less documented, so it's not like sales or marketing counterparts. And at the same time, like a lot of experimentation, a lot of like green field to work with. I feel though, like in the product led space as well, there's always this room for experimentation. It's not like a cookie cut model with sales where you have a really good and deep understanding of how to drive it. I think just due to the nature because it really is heavily reliance on the product itself that the business is serving in. So there might be some sort of best practices that emerge that can be applicable across the board, but I think just like churn and retention, like it really can vary drastically to bending on the business and the stage of growth and the customers you serve. And so it'd be interesting to see what are some of the things like, commonalities maybe you're seeing like in your discussions that you're having across the board with product, net growth media?
00:09:56 Vic: Yeah, it's a great question. So I'll start with a little bit of a story. When we started really refining our go-to market strategy for inflection, because we are coming from Marketo background largely marketing automation technology servicing marketers, that was our, our natural entry point for our go to market with inflection was, and you said it earlier kind of in the intro, you know, marking automation for product led companies, right? And that's who we set out to serve. That became kind of our, is our initial ICP or persona that we were talking to within the first three or four months of really selling inflection to our prospect base. We recognize something very dramatic happening in the PLG community and that is that because kind of the essence of PLG is about the user. It's not necessarily about marketing, if you will, as much as it is about engaging and driving adoption and value realization. What we also recognized about our persona that we were talking to that it wasn't always marketing, right? We had product leaders, we had customer experience leaders, we had success leaders that were very influential and interested in having conversations about inflection because of what it is that we can do, right? Again, the premise of the company is taking productivity data and using that to drive contextualized conversations with users, right? And so we started to make the shift a bit away from marketing automation to marketers and things like growth automation or customer engagement to any go-to-market leader that had the accountability within the PLG organization for driving and nurturing users and customers. And it was really kind of a profound change for us, frankly, like it, it was something that we really didn't expect as we kind of launch the company, but we, you know, again, like in the beauty of entrepreneurship, you start to listen to the signals from the market and you begin to shift toward those signals.
00:11:51 Andrew: Yeah, I think it's in the name though in itself is all like product led growth. Like eh, it's not sales led, it's not marketing led as often their perspective. So you already get that idea that it's more than just marketing when it comes to how the business chosen operates. The other thing you said that I found interesting was that you started selling to these businesses. So like have you taken a sales lit approach, selling a PLG product or like how do you guys operate as well yourselves?
00:12:17 Vic: That's a great question. it's a little bit of where we are now versus where we're going. We have full intent to drive inflection as a PLG company ourselves being that we're building customer engagement capabilities and we have a really broad roadmap of capabilities that we need to bring to market. We've put our own PLG capabilities, our own kind of self-serve, if you will, capabilities as kind of, you know, medium term on our roadmap, right? We needed to get capabilities for customers to be able to engage with their users out first, and now we're starting to backfill into more self-serve capabilities. So I think the version of the product that you see today versus the version of the product that you'll see, call it six to 12 months from now, will be very different. We are very in tune with the customers that we serve. They are PLG first and we know we need to be PLG ourselves.
00:13:15 Andrew: Yeah, it's interesting, but I totally see as well like the stage that you're at, that it's not the easiest thing to do because to do PLG, right? Like it does take a lot of time and resources and efforts to get to the product, to the stage and state that it may be to facilitate it. You were saying as well that like first thing you sort of noticed is that like PLG, it's not necessarily marketing's responsibility, but there's other leaders in the organization that it could be the ones that are reaching out and to improve their workflow. What would you say is like something else as well that you find interesting now that you've been engaging with these leaders?
00:13:52 Andrew: I think it was quite profound, right? Like I think the biggest headline for me after, you know, spending numerous hours with success leaders in PLG is that it's really hard out there to run success organizations, right? Whether you're trying to offer a high touch motion or a scale motion, it's very difficult, right? The function in itself right now, given the economic climate, most are being asked to do, less, or more with less if you will. What that's creating there in the marketplaces is, you know, typically the human capital investment in success is kind of rushing toward the top of the pyramid, if you will, right? It's like the high value customers that are, that are kind of getting the human capital support. And so what does that lead, that leaves a big gap for the scale space, right? Or the long tail customers at a time where that scale user base, that scale customer base has never been most important, right? I think right now in the economic climate, you're hearing a lot about, you know, your user, your existing customers have never been most more important, right? Given the fact that there's not a lot of investment going to the CS function, right? And there's such a void in how best to support and managing, cultivate and nurture the scale part of the customer segment. You have a lot of success leaders out there in PLG that are really struggling with how best to support that user community. Frankly, that's a lot of our prospects that are coming to in reflection because at a core of being able to do that better or different than you're doing today is about utilization of data and automation. That's where we fit in.
00:15:28 Andrew: Interesting. What are some of the interesting ways you're seeing your customers use inflection to reach their customers' scale, to optimize their customer success?
00:15:36 Vic: You know, it sounds really simple, but you know, some of the truisms and success, right? You can apply to this PLG movement, right? Like onboarding and how you welcome a new customer, how they become kind of the first steps of being adopted into your platform or into your service, right? Like that's been a truism forever. It is exceptionally important in PLG, right? Because the product led first motion. What we are doing with a lot of our customers right now is rethinking that first moment when customers come into the platform. Interestingly, most of the CS leaders that I talk to are, you know, they, know that's not a strength of theirs, right? They've kind of fallen back into a lowest common denominator experience. And that lowest common denominator experience is typically some sort of time delayed, you know, drip where you have a user signup event or user signup indication and that kicks off a whatever, a three to 10 time delayed, you know, sequence of communications that that user gets. The challenge with that is those communications are not relevant necessarily to the customer based on where they are in their interaction and their journey with your platform or in your service. And so one of the interesting things that most of our customers that we work with most of our customers because it's so foundational and important in getting a user started right, is breaking down the concept of time delay, onboarding and welcome sequences into activity based sequences. So the premise here, and it's fairly simple, is deliver the right message at the right time to your customer or your user based on what they're actually doing in your platform. Instead of sending messages to your users or your customers two days after they signed up and then another one four days after they signed up, that's completely irrelevant to them because they haven't taken those first steps to have that communication, or that content valuable to them.
00:17:38 Andrew: Yeah, I think that's one of the biggest, shifts or change you can make to onboarding is really a shifting from that mindset of like time sequence to move to action based as well, really where you're sending timely, relevant messages to users based on the actions that they've taken as opposed to just spamming them with I irrelevant information. They probably haven't even received or experienced the value yet to understand. Nice. So you mentioned as well that you've formed like a group that you've been working closely with from a PLG perspective. What are some of the common mistakes that you're seeing, like businesses that are trying to move like to product led companies? Like what are some of the mistakes they're making when getting started?
00:18:20 Vic: That's a great question. We talked to so many aspiring PLG or PLG curious companies or companies that are getting started that are like, okay, it's not going exactly how I expected. So can you help us kind of think through, you know, what might be going on here or conversely, you know, what are the steps that we need to take to ensure that this works for us? I think at the top of that, and I've mentioned it before, data is king, right? Like where I typically start outside of, you know, is the product discoverable? Have you done the basic product development to ensure that you have a PLG product? So we're past that point. We're not talking about operations, is that of ensuring that you've got a product instrumentation strategy, right? Like it's amazing to me and I talk to 'em every day, customers that are in the PLG space that don't have the basics in place for being able to capture product activity events and make them available to go to market teams. You know, one of the first failure points is building this wonderful PLG, you know, ready product, but not having the right data capture mechanisms to be able to utilize the data and really understand what your customers are doing. Shameless plug for our friends at, at segment, most of our customers, certainly the ones that are accelerating the most, have done a really nice job with using a product like Segment to instrument their platforms that then makes the availability of that data fairly simple for both measurements and activation through a system like inflection.
00:19:53 Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think data is like a critical component to making an effective, and as you segment I think is a great example, I'm a huge fan, as well of segments. I think having that ability to have good clean data and being able to send it to your different systems so you have a unified customer view that you can then essentially do things like targeted messages based on actions taken and credit experiences, and tailor them to use individual experience and state of journey is, is really, really powerful. And you are continuing as all you had something else that you're saying.
00:20:25 Vic: Yeah, I think that's the, you know, if I think about the data part, that's certainly the first, but you know, I think it's also how are the teams aligning within the organizations to really kinda support the PLG model is where I see really stark differences in prospecting in customers that are doing it really well versus marginally well versus not well at all. I think, again, I'll kind of juxtapose against the traditional sales led model, right? I think the traditional sales led model has led us into some, some real siloed disciplines, right? Marketing does this product, does this, success does this. I think because PLG and the PLG motion and the PLG go to markets has put kind of the customer and the customer life cycle in nurturing that customer at the center, I think it's beginning to break down those silos. And what I see on customers that are really accelerating in kind of their support of, of PLG motions within their organizations is those where you've got disciplines coming from marketing, you've got disciplines coming from product and disciplines coming from success all pulling together into, I think we're starting to see and coin as a growth team. Some organizations are pulling those disciplines in and creating distinct cross-functional teams. Some organizations are just pulling those disciplines in together into cross-functional teams. They still, you know, organizationally align to their discipline, but they're being tasked to work together. It almost doesn't matter the organizational structure. What matters is you get the disciplines coming and supporting each other and kind of rowing in the same direction in support of kind of advancing that PLG model and the user adoption journey that everybody is looking for. Each of those disciplines are bringing something very, very unique, right? And they're all required, like marketing historically has been the user of tools of marketing tools, right? So they're bringing that discipline product and product experience is bringing kind of the what do we envision and what do we want as that customer's journey, right? And then you get the CS perspective that is like, well, what's actually happening and what are we hearing and what is that feedback mechanism? And you know, back from the customer base back into the product. And I think the customers that are challenged or the prospects that are challenged aren't thinking about it in that cross-disciplinary way, aren't building those teams together. They're kind of falling back into the more traditional like, okay, like this belongs in marketing or this belongs in whatever. The ones that are really progressing quickly are the ones that are breaking down those silos and asking people with different disciplines and functions to work together.
00:23:04 Andrew: Yeah, I definitely agree with you on this. I think this is something that needs to happen for product led successes is you need to have like an aligned view across the organization, a common understanding and goal, whereas definitely in sales, lead businesses as you said, is a lot more traditional where sales is your job as success is your job marketing and marketing, you bring the leads, we sell to them, success, we help them off, which is not really customer focused, at the end of they're not creating a good experience and good handoff, but at the same time, I think not every business is made or built to be a good product lead business. So like are there any businesses where you see or come to that aren't really a good fit to product led models? Your opinion?
00:23:49 Vic: Well, I think that the easy place to go is like enterprise software, right? Like, you know, could you really envision a frictionless buying scenario or a PLG kind of product first, you know, selling into enterprise software. I don't think the book has been written there. I think what you are starting to see, and certainly what we see is enterprise software companies that are trying to go down-market and create, and maybe it's not the same product, but maybe it's a starter product, within the last year. You know, one of the companies that I was with, so after Marketo, you know, we were purchased by Adobe. So I spent a couple years at Adobe and within the last year they've started more on the creative cloud side. Like they've introduced some kind of some PLG selfer type models, right? So I mean, how if Adobe can do it, anybody could do it. But no, we talked to a lot of, I would say, you know, hybrid market, enterprise level software companies that have an established market, with an established enterprise product and are looking to, to offer something else to a different market, typically down market. And figuring out, you know, how do you do that? Is it the enterprise product that is gated, feature gated? Is that an entirely new product, if you will? That's kind of a starter product and then you let you know somebody, you know, grow in the capability of sophistication and that becomes kind of enterprise pipeline, if you will. Yeah. and so I think those are probably the biggest challenges is the enterprise level software, trying to figure out how to PLG.
00:25:19 Andrew: For sure. I see that, like in the case of Adobe, I think, Fig's acquisition is like a very good case and point of making a big statement that maybe we need to figure out this, PLG motion. And also similarly sorted Hot Jaw on a Hot Jaw was acquired by a committee called Content Square who was an enterprise, a focused business. And, similarly as well, I think you can see the synergies where how do you service SMB and mid-markets with another offering that then becomes that pipeline and as companies grow and expand and need more sophistication in their offerings. Very interesting. I see we're running up in time, so I wanna make sure that I leave time for two questions. Ask every guest.
00:25:59 Vic: Okay, sure.
00:26:00 Andrew: First one hypothetical scenario. You join a new company channel, retention's not doing great at this company at all. The CEO comes to you and says, Hey Vic, you're in charge. You need to turn things around. You have 90 days. What do you do? The catch is you're not gonna tell me I'm gonna go speak to customers. Well, I'm gonna look at our data and see where the biggest pain points or problems are and fix that. You're just gonna take a tactic that you've seen another company employ with their customers running with that blindly hoping it works. This new company. What do you do?
00:26:32 Vic: I think the first question I ask, how difficult is it to use the product? And the reason why that's important is I think that completely shapes the customer success motion, the customer success philosophies and how you deploy resources. If you have a service or a product or a capability that is fairly easy to attain value quickly, then you can afford to take your resources and your philosophies and your approaches into land and expand model. If you don't, if your capability needs support just to get to kind of that first basic value realization, then you have to take your philosophies, your resources, and your effort and energy and put them into things like onboarding teams or customer enablement. So to me, that is the first thing I'd ask the CEO. That's the first thing I would noodle on with, with that kind of leadership team, if you will, is let's be honest about the product. When you put the product into the customer's hands, how easy is it for them to get value?
00:27:26 Andrew: Very cool place to start. What's one thing that you know today about channel retention that you wish in knew when you got started with your career?
00:27:34 Vic: Solve for scale first, I think as a customer success leader, and I bet if you line up 10 of 'em, like they would probably say something similar, that is the hardest problem to solve is how do I execute customer success at scale? Right? Like, I think we got enamored, certainly in boom times where there was a lot of investment and energy and, and headcount. We viewed customer success as a kind of a human game, if you will, right? As customers grow, as books grow, you add more humans. The one thing that I have kind of taken along in my career, but I wish I kind of cultivated the strategies earlier, is that's the easy part of the game. The harder part of the game is how do you employ and, and deploy scale customer success strategies.
00:28:19 Andrew: Very interesting. Think it's been a pleasure hosting you today. Is there any sort of final thoughts you wanna leave the listeners with? Anything they should be aware of, to go up to speed with your work?
00:28:28 Vic: No. Yeah. First of all, Andrew, thank you know, thanks for having me. We've chosen to serve this product-led growth community. It's a growing community. I think we're just, as I mentioned earlier, we're, we're just at the precipice of it. It is fascinating, the development. I think we'll be fundamentally the, the, the community as a whole will be in a fundamentally different spot, you know, call it two, three years from now than we are today. and it's really funded to, to be a part of it. We believe that at the core of that is the customer and how you engage with them, and we're really bullish on inflection io on, on, you know, our role in, in ushering in those capabilities in some this growing community. So again, thanks for having me.
00:29:06 Andrew: It's a pleasure and thank you for joining. Really, really appreciate the time and wish your best of luck now going into the new year. All right.
00:29:12 Vic: Thank you.
00:29:13 Andrew: Cheers.
00:29:20 Andrew: And that's a wrap for the show today with me, Andrew Michael. I really hope you enjoyed it and you are 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.
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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.