Tushar Bansal 0:00
So the combination of customer leaning in and participating in their own rescue, as well as as trying to be mindful, what are the pieces that we can deputize versus one of the pieces we should still deliver custom.
Taylor Kenerson 0:16
Welcome to the Hyperengage podcast. We are so happy to have you along our journey. Here we uncover bits of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in tech. We unearth hows, whys and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement.
Adil Saleh 0:35
Hey, greetings, everybody. This is Adil from Hyperengage podcast. I have, my co host Taylor Kenerson. And a very beautiful guest Tushar. He is the VP of pre sales, customer success and professional services at Heap one of the fastest growing SaaS startups that is streamlining digital experiences, analytics on the on the floor for all the marketing teams. And for quite some years, they've been doing remarkably well. Thank you very much to sharp for taking the time.
Tushar Bansal 1:03
Adil Saleh 1:05
Love that. So to show are looking at your experience back from Medallia Medallia. So you started as a solution consulting back in the years and then you sort of joined the pre sales and post sales journey more on the subscription based products? And then you had us then stumble upon heap? Could you walk us through your entire journey? What was your thought process? What kind of motivated you throughout this, this process and how you stumbled upon customer success on the core, when you talk about digital success?
Tushar Bansal 1:43
Right. So that's the key word what you just said, stumbled upon. So I'll start from a little bit beginning where I did my engineering in Electronics and Communication. And my first job was a systems engineer back in India. And then I came to the United States to get my masters. And I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with Information Systems Management degree. And when I graduated, I knew two things. One, I want to be in a customer facing role. And two, I want to do something around data. Right? So data always fascinated me. I'm a very analytics driven person took a lot of coursework around data. And now my first job coming out of school was in a client services role. For a for a small SAS company. It became big later, but at that time, it was the 200 people company. And customer success did not even exist, right? So I'm talking more than a decade back. So we knew just one thing. You have customers, right? And post sales, it's our responsibility to make sure they're happy. They're getting value, and they're growing with us. And if you really think about it, that's really the core of customer success. Right? So the lines are blurry, right? So professional services, account management, customer success, those are all kind of intertwined into one big team. And then over time, right, we all develop those definitions and more specializations. But but a lot of this happened, right by accident. And when I was doing my first job, so more post sales, customer success, I happen to interact a lot with the pieces world or supporting rough pieces, readers with new business new deals. And that that there came around my first transition where I officially moved from the post sales world to the pre sales world, and did that for many years, almost for the last six, seven years, I've worked in pre sales leadership roles. So building scaling, pre sales functions. And then at heap, really, it all came together. He was really the first company where I kind of combined my pre sales and post sales experience. So when I started, I was reading both pre sales provision services, customer support, right? So the idea was, let's bring the entire customer journey under one umbrella, what I used to call single neck to choke. So I think, one one big friction I've seen over the years, the sales teams are more focused on selling, of course, that's the core of that job. But then when the customer goes from pre sales to post sales, they experience huge friction, right? It's almost like a left hand is not talking with the right hand. Right? And I have I've been guilty to that, where you will close the deal, and then you will run in the opposite direction at 100 miles. Right. So the whole idea was how can we bridge that gap and make the pre to post transition more seamless for the customer. And with that vision, we started growing this whole customer success function at heep under under one umbrella. So that's really the beginnings and or where I am today.
Adil Saleh 4:55
Taylor Kenerson 4:56
And it's it's also something to note you may In the beginning, that customer success, I mean, before it was even term that and before you even knew about it, it was delivering value to customers and making them happy. And when you look at, you know, all businesses when they begin, that is essentially what you have to do as a founder. And as the beginning team, you are a customer success manager, you had the whole operation you are customer facing, and you're the only person. And it's really important to when you build and scale these teams, you take that accountability and take that responsibility. So I'm really interested in appeal away your experience with Fortune 500 companies, especially in you know, various niches either consulting for them or collaborating with them. What are some of these similarities that you see within customer success, regardless of the industry, or the niche that the company is operating in?
Tushar Bansal 5:51
Right, I touched on it briefly earlier, right? So end of the day, the purpose of the job, the reason why we all exist, is delivering value to the customer. So they continue to grow with us, right? And the customer, if they're growing their businesses growing, we are growing, it's as simple, right? So sure, we have created a lot of these specializations over the years. But the whole idea is so that every team, every every individual can focus on one specific part of the journey, own it completely and excel in that. But at the same time, the job is not done, right, especially in the SAS business. You ideally want to retain those customers forever, right? So it's a continuous job. And that's why it's something we always socialize internally as a concept. There is no such thing as handoff, right? The customer is transitioning through different parts of the journey. And through different parts of the journey. Sure, there are people individuals who will come in and do the work. But end of the day, everyone is responsible for the entire customer journey, right? So it's, it's customer transitioning to the journey, there's no handoff,
Taylor Kenerson 6:57
I love that like breaking the stigma of the handoff, like what even is a handoff, if you're a cross functional team, and you're all collaborating, You all carry the weight of that customer on your shoulders, and each take a sliver of accountability and responsibility in some form to make sure that that customer is driving success. And when you when you reframe the perspective, in that sense, it actually shapes a team. And when you break,
Tushar Bansal 7:26
right and can then come to a question, right? So the I would the common thread I've seen between companies that are doing great. The boat customer everywhere, right? So customer is the focus. Again, another thing we follow here as a guiding principle. Whenever we take on any project, any initiative, the first question we ask is, what does it mean for the customer? Do they care? Like, what value does it add to the customer? I think all the companies starting with Medallia to my previous company and this company. This has been I think the common thread or the connection, which attracted me to all these companies were they really care about their customers, they're serious about customer value. And I think it adds longevity to your business. Right? So if you are short sighted, you're trying to maximize the profits from your company short term from your customers short term, Eagle only goes away right? The customers will know. Right? So I think that is the the common thread around which I believe in our customer journey should be different.
Adil Saleh 8:32
Amazing. Amazing. So the short I will be I was also interested in talking more about, you know, of course, the pre sales to process transition, or exchange of information, what kind of processes you have setup, and heap? And then, you know, we'll be just focused on the SMB segment, how are you guys are making it seltzer the onboarding part? Are you making it self serve? What are the key challenges that you face while joining this role? And how did you overcome those first touch on that? And we'll build up on this? Thank
Tushar Bansal 9:04
you. Right. Totally. Right. So starting with your first question, right, pre to post, I think. Because we truly believe customer journey starts with the first customer touch point, right? So even if you look at our customer journey, it starts in pre sales, right? So the whole idea is, we start building a customer success plan, right? With the very first touch point owned by the pre sales team. And then over time, we continue building on that plan, right, so that automatically adds a little bit more, I would say, more of a connecting tissue between pre and post where you start the success plan and then you're building on top of it through every touch point. In the past, I think this is the biggest struggle I've seen and I would also by the way, I would not claim is completely solved, isn't it? Right? We are going in the right direction, but there are still hurdles to be crossed. But even in my previous roles, or when I talked to other companies the biggest struggle I see is you talk to the customer. You understand their pain points accordingly a demo, you go through a POC. Right? So customer is convinced, right? You can deliver against their vision, their requirements. But when you come to post sales, you're starting fresh, right? So you're asking the customer same questions, you're asking them to go through that same discovery process now with a new set of people, right? And going back to my earlier comment, right, it almost feels like left hand is not talking to the right. So the way we have tried to solve this is to undo success planning with that first touch point, it's owned by pre sales team, and then we continue building over it. Obviously, first touch point is professional services. And customer success, they both come in at the beginning, right, they continue this success planning discussion, but then they are on Customer Success will provide a light touch, and then professional services will may play a more active role in owning that part of the journey called onboarding. And what we call here is value activation. And then once you are at the tail end of value activation, where customer is ready to get the value, they are set up, they are trained, the end users know what to do with the system, or what reporting what KPIs to look at, that's when we have the similar transition between services and customer success, where now customer success will come on, and then they will play a more active role in making sure we are the customer is realizing the value right. So the more long term delivery of value and uncovering new use cases and so on. Another concept I think, we follow here, this something rccl gave us the concept called stairway to value heaven. So there will be value perception in pre sales and there's value delivery post sales, and if you deliver on that Value, Customer cry, there will be new perceptions or what we call new use cases. And this entire cycle of more value perception and more delivery should continue taking the customer on with stairway to value heaven. I love this.
Adil Saleh 12:10
I love this for the fact that, you know, if I'm a customer, the kind of motivation, the reason I'm buying a platform buying into the product might be different to what I'm seeing it six months later, or a year, it may change over time. And that's that's when it comes with the value heaven part that your CCO introduced, this becomes very, very interesting for our customer success team to stay on top of customer goals and evolve with it over time. So now talking about onboarding, like what kind of tech stack that you have to make sure it's Excel sharp, and it basically they're activated as soon as time to value. And, and then you know, you start that journey towards adoption and making sure they utilize all the licenses, all those features, modules all that keep on first. So how do you guys make it a success?
Tushar Bansal 13:04
Right, so, so one thing we firmly believe in is you first nail it and when you scale it. So even with our onboarding, if I go back two years, it was a little bit of a struggle, right? If even if we look at our onboarding NPS, it was somewhere around zero or negative numbers. And the first task was, how can we make sure we are activating the customers, right? And this doesn't just end with setting up the systems, right. So making sure end users are identified, we are setting the right expectations, we are making sure they are trained and enabled and also in parallel setting up the systems right. So so it was a big focus area for us, I would say between 2021 2022 beginning and we have kind of turned it around. Now our onboarding NPS is above 50, which is above anything, industry standards, but it comes at a cost and the cost is very high touch. Right. So so we were we even tell that right? Even for our smallest of customers. When we are onboarding customers, we are spending anywhere between 50 to 60 yards at the minimum and goes all the way to hundreds of hours. Now it works well when you have a lot of multimillion dollar strategic enterprise customers. But our book of business is also a lot of SMBs more customers. So obviously no one wants to pay you a lot of money for onboarding at the same time to deliver the level of quality we deliver. It does require a lot of effort. So the first phase was make it high touch let's not worry about the effort and make sure we're delivering the right value to the customer. We cross that chasm and think for the last one year plus we have been doing great in terms of activating the customers or onboarding them. The second challenge now was how we scale and make it more efficient. So for that A couple of focus areas right one, again, it starts all the way pre sales where we are making sure customers understand yes, it is very easy to install. And heap is very easy to set up data capture compared to any other tool out there in the in the same space. But anybody like any analytics tool, you need to engage with the tool, you need to interact with the tool to get value. So making sure we're setting the right expectations upfront. So customers understand what resources they need to engage, if they will truly want to get value. And then second piece is leveraging a lot of our university courses, a lot of our online courses, right, so we have set up this entire EP university, so anyone can go it's free of cost and K courses. So we try to leverage as much as possible. Starting with that first introduction email, you will see a lot of like structured lines, a lot of enablement on a lot of self service steps they can take so when they come on the table and interact with their onboarding teams, they are at least set up for success, they understand what needs to happen, what is their end of the bargain. And that cuts out a lot of upon both partners and the customers later. Right. So so that's one big piece, I think result bar and then going from here, what we still need to solve end of the day, this is still one to one, right? So we are still doing onboarding. For every single customer Shall we try to make itself so for us a lot of trainings and courses were possible. But we're still not doing it at scale, it's still one to one. Now the next step in the journey in the evolution is we are trying to launch one to many onboarding experience where we can still structured the same content, the same level of value. So it's instructor led, you are talking to an individual, you're not just looking at recordings. But how can we group a set of customers together? Where, where they are not paying as much money because they are still sharing goods and services. And we can scale this whole SMB motion to one to many onboarding, this is work in progress. And we want to be very mindful here, right? So because end of the day, onboarding is valuable, when it is customized for the customer use case. So if you start delivering a cookie cutter solution, we will again, see the issue we saw, like two years back where customers could not relate to the content it was not telling to them. So a lot of things we are experimenting, right? So can we group similar set of use cases together? Right? Or what are the parts that we should maybe think about delivering separately versus combined, right, because those are more generic, so a lot of experimentation going on right now. But that's another big focus for us how we can deliver that one to many onboarding.
Adil Saleh 17:58
Got it, got it, I like the fact that you are trying to first nail it to scale it. So it took took you guys about a year to make sure you give hands on experience to customers to learn their patterns, exceptional behaviors, and make sure you segment them. Let's say you have 100 customers with similar traits, similar behaviors or patterns. And then you can customize the onboarding experience. So how far you are as an onboarding team, because onboarding is super critical. When it comes to even SMB segment and your youth, then only then you can drive your systems and teams and operations towards increasing the lifetime value over time, once you know them. But during the onboarding, say So how far you guys are towards making sure you know, the patterns of some segment of your customers. And now you're good to go with making it scalable, first, some segments that you know, you know, you have the parameters, you have all the data that you have trained. So what is that classes look like now?
Tushar Bansal 18:58
Right, so, so I think a couple of things, right? So we just talked about the core concepts. The first piece is giving more optionality to the customer, right? So there is no one solution fit. All right. So we have different categories, right? Like there's a silver onboarding and bronze onboarding and gold onboarding, right, so customers can pick and choose what they want. So that's the first key concept. Secondly, is what I touched on earlier, right? So trying to automate what you can, right so picking up the generic pieces and trying to automate that through training and self serve, but still experimenting with pieces. For example, when we are talking about data governance, that's one critical step right, making sure customers are strategic in their data governance strategy going forward. Now, we can templatized a lot of this. This is how you should approach the problem to how you should think about governance, right, but still giving them the option where they can still customize the rules. Rules of governance according to their needs, right? So maybe in one setup, we can deliver the same experience the same template to everyone. But then everyone can take it forward and make it their own right. So the combination of customer leaning in and participating in their own rescue, as well as as trying to be mindful whatever pieces that we can deputize versus one of the pieces, we should still deliver. Custom. So I think it's combination of templatized, see what we can. And then this is concept, which has really worked well in the past few quarters, what we called worklog sessions, right? So you start with general guidance, it can be delivered at scale. But then you host more individual sessions, where you kind of, you're walking along with the customer and doing a deep dive on their use cases, and answering their questions, right, so So again, it's gonna take off it, it's not something we have even launched, right. So one to many onboarding is something we plan to launch in a quarter or so. But but these are the guiding principles, right? So what optionality to the customer, making sure we automate what we can, but it's also preserve the more customer specific use cases, and give them among their peers.
Adil Saleh 21:15
Hmm, interesting. You go into it.
Taylor Kenerson 21:18
And, and 100%, like, that's exactly right, more customers, you as a customer, you want a personalized approach, you don't want to know that you're just some, you know, element that's been thrown into a process, and you're going to be forgotten, just like every other tool that you've used and had bad experiences with. So combating that with, you know, dancing with a personalized, you know, relationship with the customer while getting in that framework of how do you scale and grow this? How do you go about that? And how do you want my question to you to char is, what metrics are you using to gauge that this is working, this process is working, and this is, you know, actually hitting the lifetime value for the customer in these different ways. Because you are taking a unique approach, you know, you have the university, then you also have these, like you just mentioned, some kind of community element where you're just starting to maybe group some customers in a cohort together, where they're learning and in one setting together. So what are some what first question, what are some of the metrics you're looking at? And then how would you plan to scale and grow these throughout the whole, you know, organization?
Tushar Bansal 22:25
Right. So again, two key metrics, right. So one is, of course, a lagging indicator, which is onboarding, NPs or customer NPS. So we do look at that. But again, we also need a leading indicator, and the most, I would say, effective indicator as customers time to value. So we measured that. And also, there's a little bit of I would say, my personal perspective into this where I feel Gone are the days where your onboarding can go on for six to nine months or over a year, I have been party to those kinds of onboarding as well in the past from both the sides. But I don't think anyone has patience anymore to go through that kind of lengthy process before they see value. Right. So so the way I think about time to value customers want to see value within weeks, right? I would say not even months within weeks. Absolutely. So yeah. So our first goal was when we were more focused on delivering that one to one onboarding experience was how we can get customers to value within first 90 days. And now we are trying to stretch that goal where customers should experience value even before they complete onboarding, right. So your value should not be dependent on completion of onboarding. So that that's the key metric we see. And this obviously, this would also be meaningful if that value is customized for the customer, right now, going back to the success plan, right? If you start the success planning with the customer pre sales, you understand what value means to them, you understand what are the metrics they want to measure, which are aligned to their broader business goals. And then you're using that same yardstick to look at the value we have delivered. With the customer. I think that's that's, that's, that's actually what we're trying to achieve. And, and when I say getting to value before completion of onboarding, the whole idea is if we truly understand what value means to them, then as soon as they install your software, right, or as soon as they start consuming some of the training content, right? They should experience add value, right? So it should not be dependent. So but yeah, so those are the two key metric when the customer NPS
Adil Saleh 24:40
got it very interesting, and this definitely goes back to how basically with this approach, you're thinking or planning of increasing the lifetime value. See your plans. One is a free plan, then it's a growth plan for startups because this podcast is more for startups. So we'll talk about how you're basically number one Making sure you're giving them a customized onboarding screen, which is nice. How you as a GTM team, thinking of increasing the lifetime value of customers using having hands on experience, you're missing a lot in terms of resources, time, all of that. And then over time, what is the trajectory of that customer paying you three 4x for your to do, what it is has, and look at looking at the feature set is like all the advanced analytics that they'll have, how product stickiness, you know, you can define for a startup to stay for longer periods of times with you to pay you more. So what what is that on the commercial side as well? If you just touch it,
Tushar Bansal 25:42
right, yeah, so totally, I think, generally speaking, if you really look at some of the industry standards, right, your LTV to CAC ratio, it has to be somewhere in three to one. That's the benchmark. And you cannot achieve that if the customers leave you before two years. Or are are they're not growing with you, right? So so so, and even for us, like talking more specifically about heap, this is something we have seen, even in our early days, most of our bigger customers today, they started small, right? So learn and expand is a big part of our strategy. And the whole idea, again, the idea is very straightforward, right? You land small, and it doesn't mean you have to land small 100% of the times, but it simply means stay honest to the customer, right? If, after that initial interaction, we believe customers should start small because that is more like supportive of their existing readiness infrastructure. And over time, we can grow with them, then we don't force a bigger deal. Right? So that's, that's, that's the first piece we try to follow rates, stay honest to the customer. And if you are again, focused on delivering that value, right through all the different touch points we talked about, customers will grow right, we will identify more use cases, customers, hopefully. And because we've also worked with a lot of smaller b2b SaaS companies, right? They are growing and with them, we will grow with them. Right? So that's that that's the key concept here. But the end of the day, it's all really, it always comes down to basics, right? And something always, always kind of reinforced. Keep it simple, right? The basics where you understand customer value, and you can quantify what value means. And then you can deliver that value as soon as possible. So we are measuring time to value. And then we and then you make sure there's no sudden drop off, right? This is, I would say wildly an industry problem where as soon as customers leave your professional services teams are on boardings, right, they suddenly feel abandoned, right? So how you make sure you stay consistent, there is enough, there's right amount of touch for the customer, when they continue to get value, they will automatically grow, right? So sure you want to time and again, if you truly understand your customer and their business. And as your product is evolving, you will end this by identify the whitespaces what are the products and SKUs you can go and pitch to your customers? Well, again, this is again, something we tell ourselves all the time. It what we're pitching to the customers should be more tied to what whitespace you see in their business as opposed to just blindly start throwing skills at them. Because again, this is this is recipe for disaster. In my opinion, this is more short term thinking. Because if you have sold a Mercedes, for a customer who probably needs a Toyota, at some point, they will feel they're not getting the right ROI. And they will raise your hand. Right so so so that that's really it.
Adil Saleh 28:49
Of course. And once you segment all these onboarding experiences, then only then you can make a sort of an hybrid test, if not all sensor, to make it scalable for SMB segment. And then over time, as you said, there's enough product stickiness, so that they will eventually grow the lifetime value of a customer growing.
Tushar Bansal 29:08
In parallel, obviously, we have a huge focus right on digital touch scale adoption programs, right. So, so we have been constantly trying to evolve those programs where we are trying to create those best practices where depending on the dose cohort of use cases or customers, there is more systematic guidance to the customer that we provide on an ongoing basis. And I think the most I would say tricky part of the puzzle. If any, anyone claims they have solved it, please introduce me I would love to meet them. But everyone wants to provide the right level of touch between the human touch as well as the digital touch. And then obviously, we are all trying to solve that right by setting through health scores and system generated customer health and based on that health, providing the right level of intervention of whether it's digital or human, but again, there is no, there is no code, you can crap, right? It's constantly evolving. Market is constantly evolving, your customers are constantly evolving, right? So what you can do continue to develop more thought leadership, through your digital programs through your state scale adoption programs, you understand broadly what industries use. So you understand broadly the use cases, white customers, so based on all those repetitive use cases, continue developing more university courses or more skill adoption programs, right, which we can interact with the customers, right. But at the same time, it's constantly evolving, right. So so and also, in theory, it sounds really Right, right? Through health score vector you can identify, right? What customer needs and is it personalized human touch, or more digital touch, also based on a segment size of customer. But again, like I said, I would love to meet anyone who's actually solved it 100%.
Adil Saleh 31:06
It's, it's humanly impossible as of now. Because the diversity in the customer base, their segment industries, the way is used, the way they use products, technologies, the way they perceive value, it's, I think it's almost impossible to have an entire digital touch to the customer success. So it's always going to be hybrid, it's always going to be some segment, you're going to be very hands on some segments, you can a bit of self serve. And some points you need some triggers do we make sure you put on your your CSM.
Tushar Bansal 31:38
I think one thing a lad, something I'm I'm consciously trying not to implement is tied the digital touch versus human touch based on the segment or the customer size, right? Because it's very difficult right to box. Customers, we're paying you less, right with digital touch. But then it goes against the philosophy, right? Where you grow with the customer, right? So those more customers can go in the future. And sometimes they need more help. Right? So obviously, you're running a business, you want to be profitable. At the same time, you also want to be mindful, you're not leaving your smaller customers, right, just with digital touch. Right. So again, striking that balance. I think that's really suburbs. That keeps it interesting.
Adil Saleh 32:26
Yes, very interesting. Great. So yeah, it was really nice talking to you, just while we set up free apps in your community, the customer community that's very much engaged. And I'm sure all these listeners that definitely join all mostly these are startups aspiring to, you know, set up their post sales frameworks GDM framework. So what is that one advice that you would give to a startup a smallest precede or as seed level? Trying to, you know, drag it around different segment of customers who I serve them better? What is it one advice that you would give to pause?
Tushar Bansal 33:02
I would say two things, right? One more broadly, I think when, when you're starting out, and you're trying to implement a customer journey, there are like, tons of things you can do tons of tools you can buy. But again, starting with those two questions, what does it mean for the customer? Why would they care? And or the second question is, does it help us as a business hit our topping metric? Right. So it has to be ideally both but at least one of those two things. Otherwise, stay away. I think I've seen a lot of startups, I interact with a lot of startups. One common mistake I see them making is, let's look at the existing tech stack and try to replicate. That's not how it should be right? So you grow the tech stack based on your requirements. And again, start with those two questions. And more specifically, talking about customer success and providing digital touch or how we can optimize do more with less, I think two areas you must focus on as one community. It's immensely powerful. And even I would say even for us, I would say be a little late in the game. I wish we started committee as soon as I started the company, right? So subcommittee is immensely powerful people help people, everyone loves to help each other. It's also it also helps your customers develop more empathy, right amongst each other, when they see everyone is going through the same struggle or what metric they find. Right? So comedy is one big area. And second is you're going to using that guiding principle, how you can optimize your digital touch and human touch and come up with that hybrid model without losing sight of customer value. So I think as long as we use that mantra, I think you can achieve a lot.
Adil Saleh 34:47
They're very powerful, very proper, and this, this can go a very, very long way if you start implementing it. Since early days, it gets harder when you want to grow bigger. You talked about community Here's a lot of companies are thinking startups, they're thinking product like growth. But that's not the right way to do it at a startup because you don't know the product market fit. As of now, it's harder for you to go that route. Instead, you can go community that growth. So you'll have a range of different people, different startups around different customers from different segments, sharing their interests, hearing their experiences, use cases, so it can go so powerful. I really appreciate your time to share one more time for this conversation for your powerful insights.
Tushar Bansal 35:30
Now, this was fun. Thank you. Yeah.
Taylor Kenerson 35:33
Thank you. Have a beautiful day. Thanks.
Adil Saleh 35:38
Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode please share your feedback at email@example.com
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