Episode No:105

Scaling Success in Cybersecurity: Shareth Ben on Building Customer Success Teams and Digital Transformation

Shareth Ben

Chief Customer Officer, Apptega

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Ep#105: Scaling Success in Cybersecurity:
Shareth Ben on Building Customer Success Teams and Digital Transformation (Chief Customer Officer, Apptega)
Ep#105: Scaling Success in Cybersecurity: Shareth Ben on Building Customer Success Teams and Digital Transformation (Chief Customer Officer, Apptega)
  • Ep#105: Scaling Success in Cybersecurity: Shareth Ben on Building Customer Success Teams and Digital Transformation (Chief Customer Officer, Apptega)

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Hyperengage Podcast, hosts Taylor Kenerson and Adil Saleh talk with Shareth Ben, Chief Customer Officer of Apptega, to explore his extensive experience in scaling customer success teams, particularly at Securonix, and navigating the complex landscape of SaaS, technology, and cybersecurity. Shareth discusses the importance of stakeholder buy-in, breaking down silos, and leveraging digital strategies and community initiatives to enhance customer engagement and education. He shares valuable insights into the unique challenges of customer success in cybersecurity, emphasizing adaptability, strategic pivoting, and the critical role of customer operations. Shareth also offers leadership advice for building collaborative, high-performing teams, highlighting the significance of empathy, active listening, and the strategic deployment of “adhesives” to foster interdepartmental cooperation.
Key Takeaways Time
Importance of listening to customer needs, continuously assessing product-market fit and being willing to pivot 1:47
Strategies for communicating the value of Customer Success to stakeholders 3:03
Using customer data and scoring to break down silos and unify priorities cross-functionally 4:57
Leveraging digital channels and on-demand resources for customer enablement 13:52
Goals and strategies for building customer community platforms 16:07
Ongoing learning and bridging knowledge gaps for customers in continuously evolving industries like cybersecurity 20:51

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Transcript

[00:00:02] Taylor Kenerson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the hyper engaged podcast. My name is Taylor, and I am here with my co host, Adil, and an amazing guest today, Shareth. He is the chief customer officer of Apptega, but he's also been around the industry and around SaaS and technology for a little over a decade. And so excited to dive into his insights and his thinking behind this current state of CS and all things rev ops, cybersecurity. We'll definitely dive into that. So thank you so much for joining us, [00:00:35] Shareth Ben: Of course. Thanks for having me on your podcast, guys. [00:00:37] Taylor Kenerson: Yay. Finally, It's been a long time coming. [00:00:39] Adil Saleh: Thanks for coming in. 00:00:41 Scaling and Building a Customer Success Team at Securonix [00:00:41] Taylor Kenerson: So before we dive into the current where we're currently at NCS, which is, a loaded topic, and we could definitely go down many rabbit holes there. I'm really curious on your experience at Securonix. And really because you you were able to scale and build a CS team that was global and actually the company exited, from the ground up, and I'm really interested to hear your insights on what that experiences was like and, like, what those first couple steps you had to take in order to build that function. [00:01:14] Shareth Ben: Yeah. Happy to share that. So before we get into the customer success realm of what happened at, Securonix. I do wanna talk about just a a broader perspective of how we ended up, you know, going through that motion and that journey. You know, I I would say, to begin with, I was fortunate to work with, the founding members of the team Who are not only ambitious to go to dream big and and do something, at this at this size, but also, was not afraid to put in the hard work. And, that's what that's what we did. So when I joined the company, we were less than 30 employees at one point, when I was there, we were a little over a 1000 employees. And, you know, we started with, you know, roughly 5,000,000 in ARR, back in 2014. And at one point, we were over a 100,000,000 in ARR. And the only way, you know, companies can get there, in my opinion, is you need to be able to adapt Enpivot and continuously assess for something called, you know, as we all know, as product market fit, especially in a very competitive industry, which is in cyber. It's a really crowded market, a lot of sharp elbows. And to not only, you know, be to excel, but we were also the leaders in that in the leadership quadrant as noted by Gartner in the MQ report, you know, 4 years consecutively. And so, we were, very open to understanding what our customers wanted, always paid attention to that, And we were not afraid to pivot, and the company went through multiple pivots in order to reach that particular state. So, Yeah. I would say, overall, it was a great experience, and I've learned tremendously going through that. [00:03:03] Taylor Kenerson: Really curious. How did you get the stakeholders to buy in on customer success, and I know that you mentioned that the whole company as a whole was already bought in into listening to customers and really driving that value. But how did you communicate what the importance of CS to just everyone, not just the founding team? [00:03:23] Shareth Ben: Yeah. I think going back in time, I think customer Seth has been around for a while, and everybody is doing a slice of customer success, but not necessarily in the in the modern elements of customer success we all know today. It'll be hard pressed to see if an organization doing customer success today that's not following best practices given that there's so much information out there. That wasn't the case, I would say, 6 or 7 years back. You know, even at Quronix. 00:03:51 Streamlining Data and Mitigating Silos in Customer Success Operations [00:03:51] Shareth Ben: There was a customer success department, but it wasn't necessarily following best practices and all had all the necessary elements of a modern day customer success Program. And so when I was appointed VP of customer success, the first thing I had to do is to align, with best practices and align with, you know, the necessary elements starting with the customer journey, customer segmentation, putting a renewal motion in place, paying attention to usage and adoption, coming up with playbooks to address that. And, it was a transformation indeed. And, I think when you start to, you know, bring in the right people, the right audience, starting internally with the team, the team needs to believe the vision and where we're going. And then and then it takes a bit of a socializing with the rest of the departments to make them understand how we can add benefit To, you know, their, output, for example, if you take product engineering experience, given that we are the voice of the customer, We were able to synthesize the data points coming in from qualitative discussion and support tickets and tell them, hey. Here's what you need to prioritize. And when you start to add value to your, to your departments and your your teams, then they start to see the the value of what you bring forth. And so that was a that's a very important aspect that I had to quickly solve for is to break down the silos cross functionally in order to, you know, keep things going. [00:05:21] Adil Saleh: Mhmm. Amazing. And I was also thinking about, like, now while, you know, while having you on the onto the podcast, we're thinking more about customer success in the cybersecurity spectrum and how customer success operation, they actually go about, You know, you know, mitigating these data silos, making sure their data and information is landing in a unified space for everybody. And so I believe we can work cross functionally, and and make decisions on on the basis of, of data. So initially, you mentioned that you you were, you know, managing a team of about 50 people, you know, in a company that is doing it at going for scale, changing the mark product market fit, mapping the journeys, all of that. What was, you know, that one thing apart from technologies and everything that you kind of streamlined to, make sure that data is in the right places, and it's getting to the right [00:06:23] Shareth Ben: inherited a team of 50. I inherited a team of 5, which over, you know, 2 to 3 year time span, I scaled, to over 50 members globally. And so we had a combination of CSMs, as well as an executive or leadership team made up of directors, senior directors, As well as, you know, very focused on technical teams that supported the CSMs and customer success operations as well. The first thing I did is is in deploy a customer operations team because, ultimately, they become the backbone of all the things we wanna be able to do. And and that team ended up focusing on, you know, developing a CSP, at that time, and, we used to tango. 00:07:06 Customer Success in the Cybersecurity Field [00:07:06] Shareth Ben: And it will we weren't extracting all the value from it, so we put a lot of time and emphasis is to Figure out how to, you know, use those different features. And so when we start to put time into that, we started to gather more data points. It started with customer scoring as a lens. Right? And customer scoring was, not just limited to engagement or deployment, but also looking at overall, you know, ARR and the health and the business and the segmentation and so on. So we did a stack ranking of All the customers, based on risk level, and that information was available to everybody in the company To be able to access it at any point, somebody could go to that particular page and see which customers are at risk, how many tickets they have opened, what are the enhancement requests, and which which customer to prioritize first, taking into consideration at least, like, 2 dozen different, like, data points. I was fortunate enough to have a customer success operations team member was very good at, crafty at, integrations. So even though our CSPs had limitations, they basically ended up, connecting all the different systems from CRM to our proprietary systems to bring all this data together. I think what that does, Adel, is that it starts to unify what you and your team are starting to say, And then people start to take effect. Because when you have to operate at scale, you have to remember consistency is very important. You guys you have to be your team Starting with your team, you you have to be giving the same message, and so I was very sensitive to, you know, having you know, avoiding confusion and ambiguity by trying to centralize as much as possible and so that anybody in the company could kinda, You don't reference the same data point. [00:08:56] Adil Saleh: Mhmm. Amazing. Amazing. Because, you know, I I was thinking of you as somebody that has has done it for scale for a company that's valued around more than a half 1 and a half $1,000,000,000 and that is done at scale on operations, operation wise as well. And how do you see, like, customers specifically in the cybersecurity? Because we spoke to a lot of, these cybersecurity platforms that are not directly, working with the vendors, but they are actually partnering up with a lot of third party vendors to make sure there's you know, they investment to their success, and and and that's that's how globally, you know, in the in the cybersecurity, you know, the avenue opens and all. So how do you see customer success in the cybersecurity? What kind of trends that you're looking up to, you know, from this year and beyond? [00:09:44] Shareth Ben: So I would say cybersecurity is a very demanding field, because, there's a reason why, it is it is one of the last budgets that get caught for obvious reasons. And so but the expectations are also very high, Especially in when you look at enterprise, technology, which is what we were, implementing and selling, it was mission critical. And so our uptime resolution times, as well as the use cases had to be met because you're talking you're dealing with the CISOs who are putting sort of their reputation at stake in order to protect, you know, their brand, and they're relying on you as a vendor to be able to deliver. So the expectations are very high. The complexity of the problems we were solving was also very high. And so it is a very high paced, high demanding, high pressure work environment. And that's not just true for our company. This is true for anybody doing Sims or anybody that is doing mission critical work in cyber, and there are many vendors that are doing that. And so we it's important to acknowledge that, and the reason is because it's not a 8 to 5 kinda solution. It is a 24 by 7 solution, and so which means, It's taxing on the CSM. So, one of the most important things we had to do is to make that we're not overburdening the CSMs and having them only work on high value activities, and that's why investing in CS operations is very crucial because they can take on the load And automate a lot of the things that doesn't necessarily require a senior CSM's time to be, you know, working on that. Does that answer your question? Mhmm. [00:11:29] Adil Saleh: Yeah. Absolutely. I was also more concerned about, like, how, you know, customer success operation. Really, they're they're going to change with this customer success that is more on the digital side, more on the, You know, there are so many companies that are building their own language models to facilitate their their teams, be it, like, CSRs, be it, you know, teams that are working on a high touch monitor with enterprise segment. So how you guys are driving your efforts? And, of course, as a CCO at TIGA, the company that we, yeah, Stecker on it. [00:12:02] Shareth Ben: Yeah. I can speak for what's happening today. Digital is absolutely a strategy that we are, looking into. And, because with digital, we can achieve that exponential effect. We can achieve scale, and we can free up time for our customer success managers to focus on high value activities as opposed to, you know, mundane repetitive tasks. Whether it's in cyber or not, I think, the beauty of digital is that you can tailor it to make it work for your business, regardless of, what type of, you know, industry you're in. And, you know, I think the least I think any company can do is to invest in in onboarding, digitize onboarding as much as possible. And then I would say there are 2 types of companies. Right? 1 that is implementation heavy and one that is not. I think some of the companies you've spoken to seems like it's implementation heavy because that's when you need partners and so on to kinda come in, you know, take on that, additional load. And it's very important to separate onboarding from customer if you're implementation heavy because you want a specialized team to come and, you know, do a rinse and repeat and do it really well Because we all know the customers are making up their, you know, mind in the 1st 90 days whether to stay with the vendor long term or not. And so the question is, now what is the onboarding team doing to digitally enable? I I think, you know, I would say enablement can be done digitally, and, specifically, enablement needs to happen within the console. I'm a big fan of making enablement come to the end user and making it available on demand because I feel like gone are the days of getting everybody in the room for 3 days or 5 days having them do a boot camp and then having expecting them to come and be ninjas of your tool. That's not really the way the world works today. Everyone's busy, And and people don't really necessarily take you know, learn best in that way. So Mhmm. Making, enablement available on demand through a digital touch, I think is, is a very effective and a very powerful way to get your customers launched. [00:14:10] Adil Saleh: Mhmm. Amazing. Very interesting. Like, looking ahead at a pick, I like, I assume that this is, their first CTO hire, or is it? [00:14:20] Shareth Ben: Yeah. That is right. Yeah. There is yep. That's right. [00:14:23] Adil Saleh: Okay. So at apptega, like, somebody CCO having a high level of, all of the teams that are interacting with the With the customers, what kind of motion are you, trying to drive? Is there any kind of, initiatives that you take in jumping in, to this role? 00:14:39 Digital, onboarding, and community are key initiatives for the company [00:14:39] Shareth Ben: Yeah. We talked about digital, which is a very important initiative for us. We're also enhancing the onboarding experience. We're calling that onboarding and partner onboarding 2 dot o, which is starting with improving the touch points internally between presales and post sales. One of the things, we're doing is not, you know, giving commission until, you know, we get the handoffs done, and I think that's one of the best practices that's been talked about. So we're we're doing things like that to improve the the overall handoffs. Besides that, community is a big, initiative for us this year. We're gonna launch a community. There's a really good appetite, for between our partners and our customers to take part in the community because the problems we're solving is not something that can be done just using software or services alone. You know, we have to harness the power of community to be able to, you know, deliver So that's a big deal. As well as, you know, investing in a dedicated support function, which is, which is also an area that we're focused on. [00:15:45] Adil Saleh: Mhmm. So you mentioned about the community. A lot of these companies, even that are serving better pricing, they're going more towards community led approach. Of course, primarily, they're not driving, customers, but, of course, the traction in customer education that is, you know, they're investing a lot of it. So What kind of community community are you guys, are launching or or, you know, you're you're driving efforts towards? [00:16:07] Shareth Ben: Yeah. It's it's a work in progress in terms of deciding the strategy there, but, I'll kinda give you, some points on what we're thinking. I I think one of the decisions we had to make is should we go to Slack, or should we go to a full fledged community platform? So evaluating the pros and cons, and, we're leaning towards the latter, at this time. And then once we have a community platform that how do you organize? Like, you know, what are the goals of this community? Right? That's the challenge that, you know, I'm asking my community manager, like, what can we develop? And so the goals that we wanna see are, you know, fostering collaboration between our end users so that they can find answers, By harnessing each other's knowledge, having an outlet for our partners and customers to prove give us new ideas on products so our product management team can benefit from it. And the third thing is, you know, launching exclusive events, for our community users to be able to get access to information, which which otherwise wouldn't be available. So those are some of the goals of the community, and, we're going over discussions on how exactly to make that happen. 00:17:21 Investing in Customer Education and Learning Management Systems [00:17:21] Adil Saleh: Interesting. And and, also, are you guys also thinking about it? Because we get to a lot of, a lot of these products they have that are, more on the enterprise side there to the academy and school, that kind of thing, like courses or, you know, any kind of learning management system. Are you investing to that? It's more tied to the customer education. But, [00:17:40] Shareth Ben: Yeah. Without a doubt, I think I value, learning and enablement, very much, And we do have an LMS that we have, and we have a certification program, for our partners and customers. And all that will tie into the customer journey that we're define defining as well. And what I do think about learning is that it's a it's a continuous process. You know, you gotta pay attention to, you know, what gaps you are, you know, not, filling today and then be able to quickly assess what material needs to be created either through LMS or through community And all through support. And and, basically, you know, take care of your customers and partners in a way that they don't feel stopped. You know, that's the worst thing that can happen is A lot of times when we see engagement drop, it's because I feel like we've not done a good job in giving the the end user an outlet to be able to communicate with you. If you, you know, if you just have a mono channel, which is pick up the phone or email, that's not good enough. And so I'm a huge fan of having these, Provisions available in app. So the end user feels there are multiple options available to them to be able to communicate with us. 00:18:56 Lessons and insights on leading in cybersecurity [00:18:56] Taylor Kenerson: And it's also really interesting to see how what customers do to seek help and support has transformed. Initially, it was picking up the phone or emailing and chatting support. And now, obviously, we're seeing it's more community led where people wanna go into a Slack channel and see how others have solved the problem before they go and reach out to, you know, their CSM or someone that's managing their account, which is, you know, a unique way, but it's also on the flip side balancing, not overwhelming those customers with, you know, here's a 1000000 different ways you can get help. You know, sometimes they just want a direct, you know, Fit. And if you're offering community, elearning, all these different elements, you can also overwhelm the customer at at some point too. So it's Finding That Balance and that, like, equal, equilibrium. But really interested to to to dive in a little bit on some of the Trends You're Seeing. Specifically in cybersecurity, I know that you mentioned, you know, obviously making your your pre onboarding more digital and, you know, Digital Centric. But, like, what is the current state and the current trends of CS look like, you know, in the cybersecurity world, and how are you guys looking to overcome, those those things. [00:20:05] Shareth Ben: Yeah. I can speak to, within the realm of what the problems we solve. So we help Both enterprises and and mid market as well as SMB customers achieve the compliance goals, what it is a operational excellence framework such as ISO or which is a compliance framework like PCI. What we are doing is giving them the necessary tools to be able to achieve those goals. And so, what we're, you know, learning is that, You know, there is a lot of information out there when you need to, you know, traverse these different the details of, You know, these compliance frameworks, and, and no one person can be an expert in in all those different frameworks. So We have a huge opportunity to be able to connect, you know, experts to to to the people who are seeking information. And so I think that's in general true for cybersecurity. You know, I think if you look at the realm of cybersecurity, and it's broken down into various areas from Compliance risk and governance through threat detection and and monitoring and, and security operations and and so on and so forth. It's the disciplines of cyber. And in each of those areas, because it's continuously evolving, The threat actors are continuously evolving, and the standards are continuously evolving. The vendors are continuously evolving. So it is a fast paced industry, and I really think, you know, every software security vendor should have a component of community or Or at least use aspects of community in in their post sales journey to help their customers maximize the value that they can extract from their software. This is something that's been on my list for a long time, and I'm super excited to get into this. Yeah. [00:21:59] Taylor Kenerson: Yay. And I'm excited to see how it all plays out too in the end. Maybe we we do a part 2 on this. But just before we let you go, I'm I'm really I would love if you could just share some insights on specifically on your leadership Rolls. And like anyone coming into, you know, being a first time CCO, what are some, like, lessons and key takeaways from your experience that you wish you new earlier before doing something and just wish you had that little, like, friend to just mention these these few lessons or takeaways that could have maybe helped you optimize your time and be more efficient when you were first starting off. 00:22:35 Breaking Down Silos and Building Bridges in Customer Success [00:22:35] Shareth Ben: Yeah. Sure. Well, first of all, it I think think everybody needs to have an open mind and actively listen, because you are the the hub of the, you know, the wheel. Right? And so, You know, whether you you like it or not, you have to be a people person, and you have to genuinely enjoy that, which means having open lines of communications to your your peers, as well as upward and downward, Because, there's valuable insights you can learn to make changes for your your company, your product, that your customers can benefit from. I would say, From my experience, the area that I was most challenged with is is breaking down the silos cross functionally. I've even written about it on on my substack, and I would say that's an area that any leader needs to be good at. Because of technical skills, you can get an operations person. You can you can go learn those things, but, you know, your interpersonal skills matter to the most, and that means having being empathetic, towards your coworkers, your Piers, if they are struggling, then figuring out, you know, what can you do to help them, because all those things, will nurture the team and Build a very positive work environment that's that's gonna pay dividends in the long run. And, specifically, You know, I would say this one particular technique or tactic that I applied is this concept of adhesives. So how do you break down silos is you want, to identify talent in your team. There are adhesives. There's 2 types specifically, one that builds bridges And and one that is able to bring people together. You know, when you have to communicate with the salesperson, it'll be good to have somebody who's done sales in the past as a part of your team because they speak the language. They are able to quickly break down, any any any challenges in communication. If you're talking engineering, it's it's it's good to it's prudent to have somebody with technical background experience because they'll be able to quickly relate to the developers and engineering team And be able to, you know, move the put the execution, you know, employees based on, you know, what you wanna accomplish. So I think that's super critical. You know, we call them cultural brokers, and I would highly recommend, you know, any CS leader to invest in your cultural brokers to to break down the silo. [00:25:04] Taylor Kenerson: I love that framework, the adhesives. I I think that's genius. And definitely connecting the dots is, you know, what you have to do, especially in The Economic Times We're in Today. And if you're not collaborating, then you're you're you're gonna have gaps, and you're gonna be missing something. So thank you so much, Sharath. Really, really appreciate you for taking the time and spending time with us and sharing your insights. Thank you. Thank you. [00:25:27] Shareth Ben: Thank you very much [00:25:29] Taylor Kenerson: Alright, guys. Thank you. We'll talk soon. [00:25:31] Adil Saleh: It was long time coming, and thank you very much for taking the time today. It was amazing. [00:25:36] Shareth Ben: Yeah. Let's stay in touch. [00:25:38] Taylor Kenerson: Please have a beautiful day.

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