Why customer success should be the orchestrators of your customer experience across the board.

David Sakamoto


VP of Customer Success


David Sakamoto
David Sakamoto

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have David Sakamoto, VP of Customer Success at GitLab.

In this episode, we talked about how David remembers names leading a team of over 200 people, the biggest differences between company giants like Cisco and hyper growth startups like GitLab, and what David’s vision is for Customer Success at GitLab.

We also discussed why a CS team should be orchestrating the customer experience across the board, the hiring process at GitLab and how to maintain your company culture and values during rapid company scaling.

Never Split the Difference

Mentioned Resources



How David remembers people's names leading a team of 200+ 00:01:53
How David ended up at Gitlab and how did customer success roll in his path 00:04:18
The biggest difference between Cisco and GitLab 00:07:29
David’s vision for Customer Success at GitLab 00:11:02
Why a CSM team should be orchestrating the customer experience across the board. 00:14:09
Going from 40 to 150 - The scale process at GitLab. 00:16:16
How to maintain culture and values during a rapid scale. 00:18:60
How David is measured on success as a leader 00:25:46
What David would do to help a company turn its churn rate around in 90 days, 00:32:41
The one thing David wished he knew about churn and retention when he first started out in her career 00:35:08


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

David Sakamoto: [00:00:02] Oh, thank you, Andrew. I'm looking forward to it.

Andrew Michael: [00:00:04] It's great to have you. The listeners, David is the VP of customer success at GitLab, a DevOps platform delivered as a single application prior to GitLab. David was the head of customer success in the Americas for Cisco leading a CS team of over 200 people and accountable for 2 billion plus in bookable business and 350 million plus and expansion revenue.

So. My first question for you today, David is how do you remember people's names leading a team of 200, plus you can't possibly know everyone or do you,

David Sakamoto: [00:00:35] no, you can't possibly know everybody. Uh, is it as a tough challenge? Uh, I think, but ultimately I think one of the things we want to make sure, as you build, when you get to that scale, you need to build and communicate both the vision and also messaging and make sure that you're.

Building a VA making yourself available to connect with the team, whether or not you can remember every, every single person's name. I think it, to me, [00:01:00] it's really important to maintain contact with a team and make myself accessible in a lot of different forms

Andrew Michael: [00:01:06] and open the channels. And what sort of forms did that look like then?

So like Turner plus sec, how do you scale that 10 efficiently, put yourself out there to make sure you're available for the team?

David Sakamoto: [00:01:15] You know, I think there's a couple of things, you know, in first is building th th the culture values around. You know, I'm accessible. If you need to reach out to me at any time, you're welcome to do so.

Now you want to make sure you're cautious. You don't overstep your managers and disarm them, you know, take away their ability to lead and manage a team. But I think just building a culture and being responsive to make yourself available, whether it's Slack channels. We do a lot of things like all hands and coffee chats and just set up informal meetings just to connect with the team.

Uh, back in the day when we actually were in person, you know, we also did a lot of in-person events and I know fly a lot of the local sites and connect with the team and spend time, uh, in, in a [00:02:00] virtual environment, you have to take slightly different approaches, but the same concepts apply.

Andrew Michael: [00:02:04] Yeah, for sure.

Uh, and also you, like, you've had quite a few different roles, uh, looking at the background and where you come from. Like, how did you end up where you are today at GitLab? How did like customer success like roll into your path?

David Sakamoto: [00:02:19] Yeah, it's a, I've had a very interesting and eclectic journey. I oftentimes think of it like.

Those that remember, I may age myself a bit, uh, Kane Kane from Kung Fu that kind of roamed the planet. And I kind of took that in just for my career. I just generally followed things that were interesting to me. And while it wasn't clear at first, if I look back now, all of them are related to serving other humans and helping customers.

Um, but doing it in different ways. So I, you know, I started doing process engineering and doing program management. So how do you bring things together? You know, cross-functionally, uh, led [00:03:00] services, led operations. One of the roles at my, at Cisco is I lead a large engineering team of about 350 people. And, but if you, you know, so I kind of gave her on that.

I had an interesting interview. One time when someone said, I can't figure out what you are. Are you a services person? Are you an ops person? Are you an engineering person? And luckily for customer success, I think all of those attributes are really. Valuable and helpful if you think of, you know, interconnecting, multiple groups to build a con uh, a shared and unified experience for our customers.

And how do you build something to scale is like leveraging of the operational pieces. How do you partner with the product teams leveraging a lot of that engineering background? Uh, and how do you bring that services mindset that comes with really good services? People that commitment. To making sure that customers are successful.

So, uh, luckily customer success came otherwise. I'd probably be still wandering around and doing some odd job at some interesting, uh, industry, but I guarantee I'd be having some fun.

Andrew Michael: [00:03:59] Yeah, absolutely. [00:04:00] And I definitely, like, I agree with you in the sense that like having this background is really powerful because like you mentioned, like the customer success role is you're the customer's champion internally.

You're the one trying to fight to get the best for them and having the ability to be able to communicate in operates and work within the organization to get the best for your customers. No matter if it's working with support or sales or product, having the background and understanding too. Maybe have a technical discussion with somebody in product and then to jump onto a more sales driven, uh, conversation with someone in sales.

Like I think those skill sets are really, really powerful to have to get that leverage within the organization to be taken seriously by people and to make an impact. So,

David Sakamoto: [00:04:41] yeah, I think one thing would just one comment, one thing that's really valuable is the empathy and understanding and trying to look through their lens.

So as you're kind of looking to build like an integrated. Experience, you have to partner with all these functions and appreciating their view and their constraints. And their [00:05:00] goals is really helpful to build this, build that interlock.

Andrew Michael: [00:05:03] Yeah, absolutely. Uh, I, you nailed that. The empathy, having empathy to understand what they're going through.

Cause also like a lot of times you push for certain things you're asking for help, but without understanding, maybe what's in their backlog, like how much stress and pressure is coming from other areas, like knowing that it's sort of gives you that inside edge to get your, your foot in the door. So. You were then as well.

You mentioned Cisco 350 people actually leading a team. Now GitLab. Um, what does the team look like? How big is it? Uh,

David Sakamoto: [00:05:36] we're 134 people in that. The team we have 130, 14 members in customer success now.

Andrew Michael: [00:05:41] Oh, wow. So growing really fast as well. And, uh, I think like I'm interested to hear a little bit about the differences between the two companies.

So I think like Cisco is definitely a giant now like GitLab and up and coming giants. So different, probably different stages of growth when you're at the companies. Like, what would you say is like the biggest difference that you see between the [00:06:00] two?

David Sakamoto: [00:06:01] Yeah. It's, it's interesting. Um, I value both experiences.

And at Cisco it's an engine, right? It is a go to market engine, uh, and in, in quite successful. So when, you know, at a fairly large, a couple of reasonably large teams there, uh, and it's great because once, once you get integrated into the engine, Uh, it, it really moves and there's a lot of, uh, tailwinds that help really drive your programs and initiatives.

The challenge with that is it's oftentimes pretty complicated. To get it into the engine, you know, through working through stakeholders, working through internal processes systems to connect and work through and weave through them and the politics associated with that. Uh, so it, it, it takes time. Um, but, but it's a really good skill set to [00:07:00] see.

I think I learned a lot in terms of what does scale look like? What does good scale look like? And you know, not everything's perfect. What does bad scale look like too? So I think you take, you know, and I take learnings from every role, but I value those from Cisco because I think it helps when I come to a company like GitLab when we started, there were 40 people and literally we scaled up to about where we are now within a year.

And so. I leveraged that experience to help me paint the picture, what the North star looks like. And that North star is going to take us years to get to, but it gives me a framework that I can apply. But also you can't just take one thing and put it in the other, like really understand the customer's understanding of the culture and values of the organization and how do you make it GitLab and not, uh, Cisco inserted in a GitLab.

And so I think you kind of bring your learnings and you, you understand like it's like DNA, you have to the DNA of the [00:08:00] organization of the product, the values that come with that. And then how do you apply those to the DNA of the, of the new company or GitLab? And so what I really appreciate at a good lab is the ability to move fast.

Right. We move incredibly fast and I thought I'm in fast until I tend to get loud. When I was like, wow, this is, I was actually invigorated. I was like, Oh my gosh, I can actually do all these things. And I accomplished probably three to six months when it took me. I didn't mean personally complete it at Cisco in a year and a half.

So the ability to move quickly and having, uh, a CEO that, um, articulates and communicates. Hmm, strong values of iteration and transparency, you know, really were invigorating to me and allow us to build in a way, um, much faster, not only within our team, but supporting stakeholders and partners that we're working with to do so.

So, um, you know, again, I value both, um, uh, but I, I really loved that the speed and iteration and [00:09:00] the ability to drive results and, and, and succeed and fail really quickly and keep it already.

Andrew Michael: [00:09:06] Yeah, it, I think definitely, obviously good level on a huge growth trajectory as well. Like you say you joined 40, I have 150 now.

Uh, so it sounds like having that good background experience of hard to operationalize at scale, uh, allows you to sort of do the same thing. Uh, now it gives Leben B before we got going as well on the show, you sort of started touching on this concept of like what customer success is. And, uh, maybe you could elaborate for us as like.

What is your vision for customer success at GitLab? Where do you see it going? And like, what do you see the function and the role of customer success?

David Sakamoto: [00:09:42] Yeah. And there's a, there's a definition from Lincoln Murphy that I really liked. Cause it's really simple. And it's customer success is when customers achieve their desired outcome through interactions with your company.

And the reason why I like that definition is because it captures the philosophy that I work to as a [00:10:00] company-wide. View of customer success in the sense that you, it's not just a department, so yes, you have a team. We have a work team, we have Tams technical account managers, or, you know, other companies have CSMs, but, and we have other, we have professional services and our solution architects, but I look at it as not an apartment.

And if you think of what customers, if you deliver on someone's outcome, it's how do you set expectations? And that's marketing. Um, how do you get that value message out to customers? What expectations are set during the sales process and then ultimately. When you close that deal, it's your success manager, Tam.

That's building out that, that customer outcome. Um, and they're working through and they're going to, you know, ultimately we want to make sure that they're successful with the product. And so you have to work with the product team, um, and you have to build an operational frameworks. You probably have, you know, ops sales ops.

Finance and people ops that all come together in order to form that experience. And from a culture perspective, you want to, you [00:11:00] want to make sure that your customers have it a unified experience, not handoffs. And so if you think of that in a, from a systems view, a customer's gonna flow through this customer journey from the buyer's journey into the adoption journey.

And you want to build that unified experience and ultimately. Um, make sure they get the value and outcomes through use of your product. So again, if you look at that, it's not, yeah. The success team is core to that, but there's almost every part of the organization plays a part in building that experience.

Now come for the customer.

Andrew Michael: [00:11:35] Yeah, absolutely. I love that as well. Like we talked about this on a previous episode as well. Like I think for me building products more often than not as well, like in companies, you sort of say, okay, product is the God, that's the sentence, the most important thing in the company.

But I think when you building software, like your company is the product and like, not even when you're building software in general, like every touch point, your customer, as you mentioned, like marketing is the messaging. Like I said, as the wrapping that goes [00:12:00] around the box, uh, Customers can open up and, uh, like the sales and success, like the, this is just the support that goes behind the door.

That's the person in the showroom is they're selling you the car or so forth. So I think like every touch point that you have with customers really creates this whole end to end experience. And so you mentioned then again, like this, this idea of customers access. Yes. Like it has so many different touch points to an important, do you see then as it.

The role of customer success to ensure that they're the ones. So the taking charge on this experience and coordinating with the different departments. Cause like I could see maybe marketing a bit of a stretch, but I think definitely the sales, you mentioned, like there's the handoff sort of thing that you never want to get it in.

Into like, you know, the operational side with legal and so forth, which to a large degree, like a lot of the times it's customer success, working with the customer to make sure they're getting that legal component. So how do you see like customer success, CSM has role in coordinating this experience across the board?

[00:13:00] David Sakamoto: [00:13:00] Yeah, absolutely. I think the, and I'll just use CSM just for the, for broader use and application. Uh, but I absolutely think the CSM. Should be orchestrating. And I think that's an important word because they're working that again. They're also orchestrating, leveraging a lot of other assets and. Um, team members within the organization.

So I think they play a fundamental role. I'm not a huge fan in terms of asking, asking and answering the question who owns the customer because the company owns the customer. Just like you said, right? It's really about having clear roles and responsibilities or racy around who should be engaged for the appropriate.

Um, touch point with the customer at a given situation or given point in their life cycle. So, um, when the sales process is complete in the customers beginning their adoption journey, you really look at that CSM is as that primary point of contact, but again, there's a lot of [00:14:00] other, uh, stakeholder partners are going to play a role in obviously product in that, in that overall customer experience.

Andrew Michael: [00:14:07] Yeah. So like, I, like you say, they're sort of orchestrators the ones they're, uh, making sure I bring everything together. So the other thing then, like going back again to sort of the growth that you've seen now at co lab and building out that organization, uh, 4,250, when you join sort of. What were some of the challenges that you joined to solve and what are the sounds you have today?

And maybe just talk us through the path of that growth. Like from 40 to one 50, like, what was, uh, the plan in mind? Like what were, what was the growth needed for, what are the areas of specialization or focus that you started to?

David Sakamoto: [00:14:47] Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think if, you know, there's a, there's a couple different things that.

You do as part of that scaling process, I'll pick three. Obviously you have to hire a bunch of people, [00:15:00] right? Because we all talk about systems and tools and process, but at the end of the day, you know, unless you're running a full digital mode, which we are working to build, um, it's your people that are doing I, all of these things, right?

We're not a bunch of AI robots get on these things on fruit. So versus is scaling and having the right. Profile in the right process, uh, and ensuring that you're onboarding the team members to support your go to market goals. So that's the first one. The second is building out that overall journey. So, and I can go into what that means, but building out success plans and how do you, you know, the overall vision and for what the customer journey is, what the experience you want to build to.

And then all of those. Processes procedures, playbooks templates, enablement that go along too. To build that out, we can talk about that. And then the third piece is culture and value, right? One of the things, when you scale this quickly, the one con one [00:16:00] thing you need to preserve are your values and get loud.

We highly treasure those and it's. Probably the, the company that has had has the strongest, most robust set of values that are totally integrated in everything we do. And so you want to make sure you're preserving that, especially in companies that are scaling really rapidly because you bring in a bunch of people that don't align and all of a sudden, you know, your culture is going to change, whether you like it or not.

So, um, that's really important during the scaling process. Um, Um, so is there any specific area you, I can, I can probably talk through each

Andrew Michael: [00:16:36] of those individually. Yeah. Each of

David Sakamoto: [00:16:38] those three probably has its own conversation.

Andrew Michael: [00:16:41] Yeah. So I, I think like from your side, which area do you think has had the biggest impact on the team where it is today?

Uh, Is it sort of just the hiring side? Is it operational? Is it the culture probably linked towards culture? Like what are some of the things that, cause I'm going to tell you a like, culture, it happens, [00:17:00] whether you like it or not, it's up to you to mold it and guide it. And, uh, at that. Speed and pace of growth.

What are some of the things that you're looking to do to instill in the culture within the team? Like how are you ensuring that, uh, the culture continues even with new hires and I think particularly as I'll bringing on new leaders as well, like even for yourself, like joining a good lab of a data tech, what does that process like for you to make sure that these were actually the values that you, uh, were going to be happy to buy into to make sure that you, uh, like held the torch forward, going forward?

David Sakamoto: [00:17:32] Yeah, absolutely. You know, the, the, the, one of the top three reasons why they came to GitLab or the culture and values of the organization and, um, you know, we have, uh, so that was one of the things that drew me. And I think as you look at building out, you're really important as you build out your leadership team, you know, you want to make sure that you're continuing to bring in people that those values [00:18:00] are native to them.

Right. So when you interview, you want to test like, Oh, you know, you, the Y Y Y you know, peel back peel back, like, and you don't necessarily have to ask the question, but you can ask questions that direct and show, um, their examples in articulation of those values. So sometimes I will say, ask someone in a CSM, or what, can you give an example where you put the customers.

Uh, knees in front of your own, or potentially even the companies that were kind of resistant to the company. And tell me about that. How'd you do that and you go peel into that. Um, but I think as you hire people, it's really, really important, but culture and values are there's a, it's a multi-dimensional thing.

So one is who you bring in. Um, I think leadership is really, really critical. Like, are you articulating it? Or the role modeling are leave talking about it, even just the, the process of talking about it shows it's valuable, especially in the leadership level. And then if you break it down [00:19:00] and we talked about Stena, who you hire fire and promote, and I've heard an interesting thing around culture and values your culture find by your lowest common denominator, what you're willing to accept.

Right. So if you take the negative aspect of that, you know, if people are not aligned to the values, you know, that w that's also a telling and driving force there. And then also the, the, the third factor is, you know, the, the processes and procedures. So when we do promotions or bonuses, they're all centered around our values and are in that process to promote, those are centered around that.

And then the fourth component is, are you measuring it? So, this is probably the most challenging one is, you know, are you doing surveys? Surveys is probably the best approach for that. Cause you can't really plug in a USB port into someone's neck and get a values read for them. Uh, so it's, you know, it's, it's, multi-dimensional round leadership around hire fire promote, um, your, your operational processes and that are you, are you measuring and observing it?

[00:20:00] Andrew Michael: [00:19:59] Yeah, we actually did something very, very similar at Hotjar, uh, specifically as we're on like reviews and, uh, promotions and sort of, uh, this sort of seniority was always around like, uh, the core values and, uh, the surveys we've got to the team and like, how is this person living up to the core values? Um, and which areas do they show the strongest, which areas can there be improvements?

And, uh, I think like, uh, this is a really, really powerful way to. Keep you thinking about them constantly and like working towards them. Because a lot of times they end up just dying in that, uh, slide deck that gets sent out to the org. And this is what we believe, but we don't really do anything about them.


David Sakamoto: [00:20:40] It, it's not about putting posters up on the wall or, you know, something like that. And for those that are looking to transform, just pick up, pick one or two of the things that I just named and start doing those and probably the most simple, the simple one is just talk about it. If you're in leadership.

Having discussion, are we truly living up there are these the right ones and, and it just, it just sends a very [00:21:00] message and makes it real.

Andrew Michael: [00:21:02] And then I think the one thing that challenges, like you mentioned, as you scale really fast, the culture's going to change whether you like it or not. And I think with that values change too, in the sense that a, there may be the four or five founders or five people on the team was cut out, set out a certain set of values that aligned with them back then.

But then as this culture starts to grow and things. So how do you sort of. But then as the, this rapid scaling, like reevaluate the values, how do you make sure that the company is still aligned behind them and, uh, making sure you're iterating on them.

David Sakamoto: [00:21:34] Yeah. And, and, and, and I'll pick two, the ones that I hold very deeply to myself, barge or transparency and iteration.

And so, and what's interesting is I view since I started in where I'm now. The transparency value has not changed in fundamentally. I don't, I can't projected, changing greatly unless maybe there, and when you go [00:22:00] into public market there, there's probably certain things we have to kind of pull back on. Uh, But, you know, it's something that's, you know, I ended up in, even for me, that it seems like, so it was a very transparent person.

I don't, I've never experienced anything as transparent as his GitLab with literally everything, all of our processes, procedures, everything is opened on the internet. You can look at it and, you know, use it for yourself and contribute. Um, everybody can contribute as they're one of our key themes. Um, but I'll, I'll pick the second one is iteration and.

That one has evolved, you know, and it needs to evolve. So when I started interviewing, we had 453 people. And I think when I started, which was, I think two or three months later, we had 550. So literally it was like a hundred people increase in a couple of months. And when you're at that size iteration means something different than where we are now, where we're 1300 people plus people in [00:23:00] 65 countries.

So your iteration needs to be a little bit different, especially in your highly cross-functional a lot of things that I'm working on, or one of the key things I'm working on is very cross-functional. So what it means that iterate needs to also start to consider other teams because it is impactful. So you can iterate in a small organization in and not have.

As much impact. Now, there are certain things like what we're driving into the product analytics and telemetry that have a lot of touch points across the company. And, um, we have to be thinking differently what iteration means in that context. And we want to keep true to the value and move quickly and not build the perfection, but build to the next iteration.

Um, but we also in certain aspects have to think about, okay, how do we do this? In lockstep with the data team or marketing or with product or with sales. So, um, we've got to build some of those muscles while still staying true to the core value. Yeah,

Andrew Michael: [00:23:59] that makes total [00:24:00] sense and can definitely see how, uh, some of those values I can early days, um, make a lot of sense and you can do them, but then when you start getting to that scale, you start stepping on toes and you might end up, uh, the quick iterations might end up slowing the company down as opposed to in the early days that really gave you that advantage.

Uh, I'm interested in as all, like you touched on like three different areas. Uh, you've talked about sort of the growth. So within the org that you've had as a leader, then in customer success at GitLab, like, how are you measured on success cycle? What are your goalposts, whatever you set as well. And like, how do you know when you're doing a good job?

David Sakamoto: [00:24:39] Yeah. Right now, um, we're, I'm measured on net retention effectively. Uh, we are building out one of the things that we were building out or are getting much better with our. Um, product utilization, product usage. And so as we build that out and get mature, [00:25:00] we'll be shifting those around, you know, adoption retention, churn.

Uh, so it, I think at the end of the day, like ultimately we're still driving to that same top level number, but we'll probably get a little bit more specific with our comp variables. Um, and weight them according to where the business is at a given time. Um, so, you know, as we build out our customer journey, as we get better metrics and insights, we'll be tuning that competent.

I don't see it fundamentally changing because ultimately we're there to retain customers and expand customers. Um, and we do that through driving those outcomes. Yeah, but again,

Andrew Michael: [00:25:38] I think the argument though, again, with this is always like, there's so many different inputs, so, and a lot of the times like, okay, customer success is the orchestrator that needs to get product that needs to get everybody aligned.

But some of the time it's difficult to get that alignment, right. To get the power that you need, maybe in product, you might be missing a specific feature or. Bugs went out that caused, uh, certain aspects or [00:26:00] marketing's sending out the wrong signals or sales being too aggressive and closing the wrong deals.

Like, and then at the end of the day, you're responsible for making sure that you have net retention, uh, where it needs to be. It feels like an almost unfair position, but at the same time I get like, that's what you're hired to do is to do that job. So maybe going back to the thing of the show, like just become bit orchestrated, it's making sure that you can sync up within the org and, uh, come back to, but, uh, How do you view it though?

Like in an ideal world, let's put it that way. Like, obviously, because things move so fast and it's not easy always to have what you want. Exactly. But if you had your way today, like how would you want to be measured? Uh, like what would you say would be the best way to measure the performance of your team and the impact that you have on the country?

David Sakamoto: [00:26:49] Yeah. I, you know, I, I understand that the success of. You know, if you take that net retention is [00:27:00] based on a lot of team members, you know, that a lot of organizations, but I invite that. I mean, that's, that's why, that's why we're in this job. And so for me fundamentally, I, I have no issue with that. And I actually don't, I think it's the right measure.

Um, and. When we talk about building that company wide customer success, it's it's as a part of my job, it's my responsibility to build those right connections, to work on the product and making sure that we've got the right support if there's issues or, and we've got the right connection and partnership with them to help bring that voice of customer back to the product teams.

We get the right. Um, and to help them make the right decisions to ensure that we have the right solution for our customers, um, and working with sales to make sure that we're positioning properly, we've got the right transition. Um, so to me, I think that is the right goal because I think of customer success in the sense that [00:28:00] we are driving those outcomes for customers, we're driving those experiences.

We're making sure that they're getting value. Um, but we're doing that. You know, we are a business and where we are doing that to both protect and preserve our revenue and grow. Yeah, and I think it's very important to be transparent or, you know, I would say this in front of any customer and I think they would appreciate and understand greatly understand that because if we continue growing, it continues to allow us to do things like continually investing in the product and make it better for them.

Um, so I think, you know, I truly look at our engagement with our customers as. As a partnership. And, you know, we, we are here to, to build a business and we need to ensure that the financial aspects are there for us to continue to grow in a healthy way to continue to serve our customers. So I think that there, you know, I could break down into.

You know, expansion, gross retention, uh, you know, probably building in [00:29:00] aspects of driving really adoption. So as we get, build that building a better adoption measures that lead, you know, leading indicators that lead to those financial measures. So those are the, probably the areas that we're, that we're, we still are working to build and evolve, but I, but I do agree.

Yeah. At the end of the day, it's a financial, you know, you need to be connected financially and Pacific go-to-market motion.

Andrew Michael: [00:29:21] Yeah, I actually, I like, I think you swaying me a little bit in your thinking on this and I like it to, because it doesn't happen often, but I like it, it goes back to the beginning.

Like what we're talking about in the sense that customer success is more than just like a CSM role. Like it's really about like, I think what you're getting at as well is actually. Taking the word extremely literal, like your job as a customer success is the customer's success. Uh, and it doesn't matter what you're doing within the company.

Like you just really just need to make sure that you're focusing on them being successful. And I think maybe this also why like a lot of times when we have discussions about the CSM, so thinking literally about. Their role and their [00:30:00] function, what they need to do as opposed to what the customer needs to get done and what their customers are trying to achieve.

And if the product's not right, it's your job in customer success to get the product, your job, to work with them, to ensure that they're getting the feedback, the inputs. And so I love that. I think it says,

David Sakamoto: [00:30:15] yeah, I think ultimately if you make customer successful, Yeah, they're going to continue, um, continue with your service and continue investing in it.

So, um, I don't just pick the financial, I, I there's things that lead into those numbers, um, and bring it in realistically, you're gonna have to make decisions, you know, that your CSM is time. Can't spend. You know, equal time on every account. And there are decisions that they're gonna have to make to line it up because the last thing you want is, you know, uh, what you don't want to do on the flip side is maybe you it's the wrong solution for our customer and you just didn't invest just a tremendous amount of energy when maybe realistically.

There was a mistake. We, we both made a mistake in the end of the partnership [00:31:00] with the wrong step, and you just don't want to get yourself clawed into that situation where it's just, it's a, it's a lost cause. So I I've seen people do that around, just overthinking the customer success when, Hey, this is, this is not a good fit.

Andrew Michael: [00:31:13] For sure. Cool. I see we're running up on time. So I want to save time for the question I ask every guest that joins the show. Uh, let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. Now you joined a new company. General retention is not doing great. The CEO comes and says, you need to turn things around. You've got 90 days to do it.

What are you gonna do with your time?

David Sakamoto: [00:31:39] First I'd look at the data. So I would look at what data is available. Probably you're going to also find that there's probably a lot of data missing that you'd like, because that's what I often find. You don't, you haven't built the right inside. So I'd start with the data. Then I would, then I would look at what we're doing.

Um, and then ultimately the most important one. So I didn't really build that as a foundation to [00:32:00] understand what we're measuring, what we're doing, and then go talk to customers. You know, you know, look at the data, figure out who you want to talk to, who are successful ones who are not successful ones that may be left and see if they'll be, want to have a conversation with you and really peel back.

Cause that's the most important one, but I think you need to build the foundation of understanding the internal perception first, and then use that to map a really. Identify, what are the core problems need to be resolved and then just go after those, you know, and the thing I think people try to do boil the ocean, don't boil the ocean, you know, go after one or two of the biggest things and just, you know, focus the team and, and, and move very quickly.

Um, so, you know, again, it's around building that cross-section of internal on X and the customer view only the customer reviews the most important one. Cause that's, what's. That's what's making it. Those customers are the ones making the decision, whether they're going to stay or continuing to pass, to work, moved to a different service.


Andrew Michael: [00:32:58] I love that don't boil the ocean. [00:33:00] Like I think that's one thing I definitely have been guilty of in the past and going into my new company now is definitely not going to make the same mistakes. I think being hyper-focused on the biggest impact that you can have is always going to be much more effective than spreading yourself thin and trying to do too much and not really doing anything effectively.


David Sakamoto: [00:33:19] Do you have to give one last thing that you have to also choose things that you can measure it pretty quick? Like, so the iterations going to be a key thing. Yeah, you can't pick out an improvement. That's going to take like, Oh, I want to do this thing. And I think it's going to impact renewal. Well, you can't wait 12 months or nine months, whatever the subscription ends, you have 90 days.

So you have to find things that you can measure have indicators of success in a very short period.

Andrew Michael: [00:33:40] And you're right now. So, very last question then. Um, what's one thing you know, today about churn and retention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career.

David Sakamoto: [00:33:49] I think I would have learned to talk to more customers sooner. I have made a mistakes many times where you get [00:34:00] internally focused. I would actually at Cisco would be a, probably one of the areas where. You spend so much time just trying to fix things internally, you just get caught and you lose the perspective of the customer.

And so, you know, even saying this now, I'm like, Hmm, I now question, am I spending enough time with my customers now? So, you know, I think it's one time. It's, it's very easy to get caught up in. I got to do this. This is the priority. You have to do this program. We have to hit this number and you can get caught up in the internal.

You know, engineer the company and lose perspective. And so, you know, getting out and speaking to customers, Um, as often as possible, um, it is one of those things I, I would probably do more in the past and probably as that, even as I say it now look back and probably

Andrew Michael: [00:34:47] people in there too. Yeah. Uh it's it's one of those things that it's so easy to forget to do.

Like you say, you get just so caught up in a thing, but it's definitely the biggest impact that you can have, like with your time, it's really [00:35:00] like, Putting the time to have those conversations. I think one of the challenges I called you systemize it in the sense that you're ensuring that your team is consistently dialed in and speaking to customers.

And, uh, some of the most successful companies I've spoken to, they all sort of have some form or another of a system. That's making sure that they've got regular touch points and they're speaking because things change priorities change, and like, not even like a customer that signs up today. They had a challenge.

Like they have challenges and problems today a year from today. Like you've already solved most of those, like they're good new problems. There could new challenges, like continuously speaking to them helps you understand how you can iterate and move with them as well. Like, so it's not just like, it's a never ending process.

David Sakamoto: [00:35:45] Yeah. And it, it, it doesn't matter how robust your metrics are. There's a context. In your customer's environment, in their challenges and their culture that you're never going to see by even the most robust, robust internal metrics. So just getting out just helps fill in the [00:36:00] gaps and brings back really valuable insights to a number of different conversations.

Andrew Michael: [00:36:05] Absolutely. Well, David, it's been a pleasure chatting to you today. Uh, is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with? Like anything they should be aware of with your work or.

David Sakamoto: [00:36:15] Well first, Andrew, thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed the conversation, you know, I think for the, for your listeners out there, you know, if there's something that's interesting, if there's a, a process you're working on, like I said, get lamb is the.

Probably the most transparent company I've ever been at. And so, you know, everything, you know, aside from financials, customer information, security related information, pretty much everything's available. So, um, whether it's customer success or sales or marketing, you know, check out our handbook, it's all in there.

. It's all available. You can leverage it, um, for your business or just take a look and see what we're doing. So I definitely would advise people to take a look at that.

Andrew Michael: [00:36:53] Awesome. Yeah, we'll probably try and drop a few links in the show notes as well. Uh, now that we know that they're there, but yeah, thanks so much for [00:37:00] joining.

How was your best of luck now? Going to 2021 as you build the team out,

David Sakamoto: [00:37:04] let's have a fantastic 20, 21.

Andrew Michael: [00:37:06] Cheers

David Sakamoto: [00:37:07] take care.


David Sakamoto
David Sakamoto

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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