Customer Success and the Pulse 2016 Conference Experience

Pulse 2016, hosted by Gainsight, was quite an event – on many different levels. Oakland embraced the attendees and the city hosted the 4,000 plus attendees with ease. App-X’s COO, Ben Hendershot, and VP of Customer Success, Jill Montera, attended and returned with an enlightened perspective on the evolution of Customer Success and its strategic impact across an organization.

“The event’s theme, in part, focused on getting tactical now that we know what Customer Success is – so, more about the how. For instance, a number of sessions were about sending us home with actual practices that can get applied,” shares Ben. The sessions as well as networking opportunities were organized by functional roles so that content and topics of discussion were more targeted and connected. “With 4000 attendees after just four years, this event is clearly addressing topics that are top of mind to not only Customer Success professionals, but to companies as a whole,” comments Jill. “The strong growth of this event goes to show that Customer Success is now a corporate strategy that’s at the forefront. In fact, some companies brought their entire team.”

Another focus of the event was how Customer Success can play an integral role in SaaS-based companies. “There was discussion about how the technology industry is experiencing a downturn – not that tech in and of itself is in a downturn – rather that the funding is drying up and so now it’s essential for SaaS companies to demonstrate a clear path towards profitability,” adds Ben. “From the venture capital panelists, there was a consistent message that now they look at revenue and growth and a clear path to profitability – whereas in the past it was just revenue and growth.” This translates into more scrutiny of expansion rates and churn rates, which are attributed to Customer Success.

Furthermore, there’s a growing complexity of how Customer Success is being integrated throughout organizations and measured. Jill shares that “Customer Success is now looking at the entire span of the customer journey – from the sales cycle throughout implementation and support as well as customer communications. And with this integration, Customer Success can provide analytics via a feedback loop to other functional areas in order to improve and optimize the customer journey. As a result, organizations are actually experiencing better retention and revenue growth.”

What do these key takeaways mean for our private equity customers? We’ve been focused on the customer journey since day one. With more investments into core parts of the business, we’re building out the Customer Success program to span consulting and user adoption services as well as strategic business reviews. While we’re on track as validated by a number of KPIs including negative net churn for over seven years, Jill continues to advance the program. “Considering our products and the types of market problems they solve for fund managers and institutional investors, our focus is on the customer experience to ensure that our solutions really work the way private equity thinks. This is essential – especially as a SaaS company.” And rightly so since a company cannot solve a negative customer experience with just money – it takes a quality product, thoughtful implementation, and customer care.

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.

investor communications