Episode No:64

Simplifying Complex Customer Onboarding for Customer-Centric Organizations

Rupesh Rao

CEO, CogniSaaS

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Episode #64: Simplifying Complex Customer
Onboarding for Customer-Centric Organizations ft. Rupesh Rao (CEO, CogniSaaS)
Episode #64: Simplifying Complex Customer Onboarding for Customer-Centric Organizations ft. Rupesh Rao (CEO, CogniSaaS)
  • Episode #64: Simplifying Complex Customer Onboarding for Customer-Centric Organizations ft. Rupesh Rao (CEO, CogniSaaS)

Episode Summary

Welcome to today’s podcast! Today we have Rupesh Rao, CEO and founder of CogniSaaS, joining us to discuss the importance of onboarding experience and how to streamline customer onboarding in a complex organization. Rupesh shares his journey of getting started in the industry and building his way up. We dive into the problem of cross-functional collaboration and the need for metrics to measure success. Rupesh emphasizes the importance of outcome-centric onboarding and measuring success by value realization. And that’s not all, we’ll also cover the only thing that really matters in driving action, commercial aspects of the business, and what’s next for Rupesh and his company. Tune in to learn more!
Key Takeaways Time
Rupesh’s initial journey and how he got started in industry 1:55
CogniSaaS for mid-market and enterprise onboarding 4:53
CogniSaaS for mid-market and enterprise onboarding 8:06
Benefits that CogniSaaS provides to its customers 10:04
Measuring success on onboarding 13:43
Scaling and prioritizing feature requests 21:11
Raising funds for the company 22:18

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Rupesh Rao 0:02 In lots of b2b SaaS companies where they have realized that if my time to value is not on track, then all my other metrics, NPS, adoption, retention are all at risk. Taylor Kenerson 0:12 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 the hows, whys and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement. Adil Saleh 0:32 Hey, greetings, everybody. This is Adil from Hyperengage Podcast. I have my cohost Taylor Kenerson and a very special guest Rupesh. He is the CEO and founder of CogniSaaS. They've been in the space for about three years now. And it is pretty seamless onboarding experience platform. We'd love to explore more today. Thank you very much for taking the time. Rupesh Rao 0:51 Thanks. I'm excited to be here. And yeah, looking forward to our conversation. Adil Saleh 0:56 Great, interesting so Rupesh working more on the on the corporate side starting up as a you know, as a career, more towards account management. And then, you know, you had some, you know, some local businesses that are on are pretty, pretty doing at the scale back in back in India, that's pretty interesting, you know, still remember, it was kind of evolving the tech in Bengaluru at that point, when you kind of jumped in. So I would love for you to just go ahead and share your story from the initial days, and how it all adds up. You know, to what you are what you are today at Cognizant. Rupesh Rao 1:38 So yeah, I started CogniSaaS as Jan 2020. It's been three years now. And before that spent about two decades in the industry. I did my undergrad in India, then early part of my career was in the US in the US in just around the 2000 year and did my masters from Texas Tech and worked in the US for large corporates like Nortel Networks and Microsoft in Seattle, as a software engineer, and then moved back to India worked in under startup in telecom space, which eventually got acquired by Cisco. And after having done the coding for about eight years, got tired of doing coding, so wanted to switch careers to more business side of things. So went to UK did an MBA, and then spent about eight years in London, working with several enterprise mid market customers in different geographies, spanning North America, Europe, Middle East, APAC, in Africa, and so yeah, had a great experience in different parts of the customer journey from hunting, farming, implementation, Customer Success product, and so on. So had the chance to sort of see the full customer lifecycle. And then the last few years, I found my sweet spot in customer success, which is now sort of the first class citizen in any b2b SaaS company. So in my last job, I was heading customer success, the chief customer officer in an enterprise SAS Company, which was into agritech space. And that's when I found the problem that we are solving in CogniSaaS as now. So it was around the whole customer onboarding, implementation, how to streamline it, we had all kinds of silos in the company. And I've seen this problem in multiple roles earlier as well in my earlier organizations as well. So this is where I found my kind of inner passion to go deeper into the problem space. Look at the current tools in the market. The currency has tools, project management tools, nothing quite came close to the solution I had in my head. And then I spoke to sort of 40, 50 CS leaders from different b2b SaaS companies and US, UK and India. And everybody kind of had the similar, clear pattern of the same challenges. So that's when I decided to quit. And yeah, I started building CogniSaaS, Adil Saleh 3:57 I have one question. Before tiller, you gone. You know, I've seen your more even now it says you're more geared towards turbine enterprise. I know that it's big enough case, in a lot of, you know, early stage enterprise businesses that have very complex onboarding experiences. When it comes to cybersecurity when it comes to construction management in that space. These are there technologies that need like, technical onboarding, and it becomes very complex. Why don't you guys jump into this? And Rupesh Rao 4:35 yeah, so see, the problem statement obviously has different nuances for SMB focus, b2b SaaS companies and enterprise focus as companies. We are focusing more on mid market and enterprise for multiple reasons. One, that's my own background. So that's my sort of founder domain knowledge. So I've always sold more enterprise and mid market kind of solutions and the complexity is obviously much higher in these onboarding. And, and the problem that sort of I had faced earlier in my earlier roles, where, you know, we had different sort of moving parts sales would have sold something, and they will chuck it over the fence to the implementation team, or CS team. And then there are multiple cross functional teams trying to figure out okay, what did become it? Where are we on those commitments in the next six months of implementation cycle? Who needs to do what are we stuck because of a product feature in the roadmap? So there is a product team involvement is there a sort of sign off for data pending from the customer side. So there's the customer external dependency and the internal cross functional collaboration, so a lot of moving parts, which clearly the tools in the market were not solving very well. And that's why we chose to go after this space, in my view, the SMB, sort of where it's pretty much straightforward onboarding, the simple task tracking, where existing project management tools can do justice, but the whole enterprise was not really catered to very well, and speech was this segment. Taylor Kenerson 6:09 That's awesome. I really want to, I want to highlight a really important aspect in your journey, which you mentioned repatched, which is listening to the problems having those conversations before building, we hear the term, you know, build fast, ship fast, fail fast. But sometimes it's not about you know, building and shipping fast, you have to uncover the whys, uncover the research, do that research, get the analysis of what's going on? What are your competitors doing? What's in your head? And how are you going to build, you know, something around that idea, but that also serves a value and serves a need for a market not just an assumed need, which is really critical. So can you tell us a little bit now about Cagni, SAS and maybe what your first MVPs look like and what your first, you know, shipment look like? And then how that kind of evolved over time. Because, as we all know, sometimes where you start is not how the journey, you know, it takes you so can you dive a little bit into that. Rupesh Rao 7:09 Yeah, great question. Taylor. So what you said is right, and again, depends on what you're building, right? ship fast, and all that is great. In my view, it's works great if you're in an existing category, right. In our case, this was pretty much almost a new category back in 2019 2020, there were hardly any players. So so as a founder, I had something in my mind vision that this is where the market is going to go. People will need a dedicated Onboarding Tool. But frankly, in the early days in 2020, when I go pitch my vision to customers, they will be like, okay, not quite sure whether we need Onboarding Tool. I'm already using a project management tool like Microsoft Project or Asana, so why should I so that was the kind of conversation where it was a lot more evangelizing, letting them understand that the way you are doing currently is the old way, in the future, in terms of your customer success, KPIs, these tools are not going to do justice. So that was interesting. And that's where I think talking to more companies, although it slowed us down was very, very important to make sure we are solving the right problem for our ICP, and it has to be, as I say, the painkiller, not the vitamin. So going deep into the problem space was very important that actually helped us to win over early customers. And I can go to an example. So one of my very early paying customers, Head of Customer Success in a very large enterprise SaaS company, I was talking to him in my idea stage. And I asked him, Okay, what is your challenge? And so he said to me in one line, saying, hey, my biggest challenge is we can't deliver projects on time. And this is a company with hundreds of enterprise customers, they've used all kinds of tools, and still so it's a very simple but very powerful statement. So that is what our mission is now to make it like foolproof that you can always deliver projects on time, which again, typically doesn't happen for various reasons, because the legacy tools are more about system of records. It tells you who is doing what, but it doesn't tell you it who is doing what so what. So what should be done to mitigate the risk on timelines or the revenue impact. So that's where we are going because ultimately, our buyer is a sales team or implementation team. And if you look at their KPIs, every b2b SaaS company will have sort of four five KPIs right. So they will have an NPS they will have product an option is they will have retention, expansion and customer advocacy. These are all fantastic metrics. But the issue is that these are all lagging indicators, right? The real leading indicator of customer success starts with the value delivery and the value delivery, right from the pre sale stage. What are they promising to the customer? How are you delivering those promises and if that doesn't doesn't go well, then all these sort of metrics become irrelevant, and it's too late to save. That's where you have customer churn in a lot of cases. So that is where we believe that amazing tools are not designed for solving this to track value delivery, which involves tracking the outcomes, the collaboration with the product, team, and ring, Team customer, all in one thing, a platform. So that's how our story kind of unfolded. Adil Saleh 10:26 Great. And given your background, mostly most major part of your career is more diverse enterprise. So you've been the front runner serving different, you know, different things to enterprise hiring, making sure they're well, you know, where you're measuring the success, and you are retaining them and expanding them as an account manager, and you might be listening, you know, and living these problems, yourself as well, before building this product, more of the enterprise segment. Now, when it comes to enterprise motion, the lifetime value for customer issues, and, you know, SAS businesses, they can afford to have a dedicated bandwidth team, maybe Customer Service Manager, Account Executives account manager, what is that? Like? What kind of what kind of permission you have alongside your team, for some of the customers that you have more towards mid market and enterprise? How you are measuring success? What is that one thing that your customers perceive value for? Like you talked about value realization that is very important. And that directly impacts to the adoption, and then ultimately, Retention and Expansion when we talk about the core enterprise CS motion, which can be high touch. So with your team with your core sales team, how's your measuring success, how your customers are perceiving value of the product and how seamless is onboarding for your customer? Rupesh Rao 11:58 Okay, great question. So, so typically the way it works out, and obviously we are relatively early stage as a company. So in early stage b2b SaaS, it's the past CSM, who will do pretty much everything, right? He will be involved in the pre sale stage, doing demos, he will be doing the solutioning, he will do the implementation, take the customer all the way to the go live stage, and then even the post go live to support the upsell cross. So everything is done by one person or one team. As the company sort of matures, you get more customers, then you start to segregate different teams. And that's what you mentioned, when you become truly sort of enterprise level, then you have multiple teams doing. So we are sort of in that early stage, we have a very small sales team, and who does end to end everything. And that's also intentional, because we do want them to have the end to end experience so that when we scale, then the knowledge and the learnings are there. And in terms of what value our customers are getting, it's two or three things right past this time to value is a key sort of board level metric, in lots of b2b SaaS companies, where they have realized that if my time to value is not on track, then all my other metrics, NPs adoption, retention are all at risk. Right? So that's one metric we help our customers be on top of, we help them accelerate the time to value for their customers, right? If your implementation was taking nine months, before cognizance, now with cognizance, they can bring it down to let's say, four months, right? That's got obviously multiple benefits, you get a high customer delight, you go live faster, your own revenue recognition, you can start earlier, so your CFO is happy, your CEO is happy, and all of that and you minimize your churn. Right. And a lot of times what happens is that if you have taken nine months to sort of implement, then in the renewal time, the customer will turn back saying, Hey, I have used your product only for three months, I'm not quite sure that's when the churn happens. So all of those risks, we get mitigated, that's sort of the value our customers get working with us. Third thing is, again, we are seeing this number ICP is that a lot of internal cross functional disconnected weights, you would have heard this classic problem pretty much every b2b SaaS company, especially the enterprise and mid market focus one pays is this disconnect between sales CS and product Adil Saleh 14:20 data silos and Rupesh Rao 14:24 so and so this is very legacy structural problem. Because sales team works in CRM, your CS team works in CS tool, product team works in product management tool like JIRA and so on. So, this is all by design. But this is the side effect of by design these tools made for specific teams that the cross functional collaboration is quote unquote, break and broken, right. So that is another metric we are helping them solve, where they have realized that this cross functional collaboration needs to be fixed. They need to have a common platform to collaborate seamlessly, internally as well as externally which eventually It affects your time to value and value delivery. So these are the three, four things we're helping our customers solve for. Adil Saleh 15:07 Love that. Great. So, you know, I'm sure that, you know, we were just talking about enterprise motion because this becomes even more clear, pretty cool. They had big infrastructure, big team diverse operations. And when it comes to using a tool, like Carini test, first up, it will be a harder job as compared to SMB, or startups to incorporate it to during the onboarding phase, how you're, you know, you talked about time to value team, making sure you deliver value the tools to be very simple, you know, so how you doing it at company success, what kind of technologies you have in place, for your customers, you know, in terms of, let's say, any technology, any data metrics that you're you're keeping yourself on top up next uses metrics platform using metrics. So I would appreciate if you'd go more specific on this, that how you are measuring success, successfully onboarding, successful onboarding for your customers. Rupesh Rao 16:06 Okay, awesome. So so we use our own tool for onboarding of our own customers, so. So we track how long our customers have taken to see value from our tool. And typically for us is less than a week or max, two weeks, depending on what is their requirements. So we will typically integrate with their CRM system, we will integrate with the product management tool, we will integrate with the ticketing tool, and so on, right. So we have already got a lot of those integrations pre built. So that doesn't take a lot of time. So we replace their existing project management tool. So they might be using Microsoft Project or Asana or any other onboarding tools. So we replace that we help them with seamless migration of data from their current tool to our tool. And so yeah, that's what we measure. So we want to make sure our customers are getting faster time to value from our tools, which we aim to deliver in two weeks. Taylor Kenerson 17:03 That's awesome. Can you walk us through a little bit Rupesh? What your onboarding process what your ideal onboarding process would look like for one of these customers? And then also, how you're thinking about, you mentioned scale and growth. And that's obviously the goal. So how you're think you're thinking about now being proactive for that scale, that growth that will come in the future? What tactics or strategies or things do you have implementing or thinking about implementing in the future that will help scale your ces operations and really ensure this that time to value for the customers that you're onboarding? Rupesh Rao 17:38 Sure, no, great question. So we have multiple sort of engagement models. So for more straightforward onboarding requirements, we obviously have a free trial, so customers can sign up and straightaway straightaway see value from the tool. For more larger enterprise SaaS companies, we obviously have more deeper dive discussions with them to walk through their current business process, the current pain areas, then we try to connect those process and pain points to how that will be addressed in our tool. And then we take the feature requests, obviously, the early stage, we get tons of feature requests. And we kind of prioritize that, and then do the necessary integrations and configurations and so on. And yeah, in terms of scaling it, obviously, we have to think about our customer needs, their needs keep on evolving, if they had 50 customers today, versus if they had 100 customers in six months later, their needs will evolve and we have to kind of evolve with them. So that's our philosophy, how we want to scale with our customers. We've had customers who are now sort of managing hundreds of data enterprise customers on our platform. So for example, we have a customer who is into E commerce space. They work with large consumer brands, let's say Pizza Hut or dominos, and these companies, when they sell their platform to the cities, the hut and Pizza Hut will take their platform and rollout in 28 countries wherever Pizza Hut is right? To manage their loyalty and all of that, right. So all those 28 countries rollout, which might take 18 months, right, because every country will have their own requirements, their own modules, their own Feature Request, their own timeline, their own stakeholders, everything. It's almost like 20 projects, right? So so all of that now gets managed in CogniSaaS, right, from all the way from contract sign up to the go live. So that's how we are evolving with our customers and also making sure our platform is becoming more and more robust and scalable. We also invest heavily in things like data security, privacy, so we are already ISO certified from a security and privacy point of view, SOC two and all those things that you need to take. That's how we are evolving with a bit of our customers. Adil Saleh 19:56 Okay, amazing. So now we're talking about CSR. durations, rubbish, I'm sure that steam is small enough, now you're just getting the foot in the door, I know enterprise motion, you may have, like so much high touch, not so much hybrid, more of a high touch, you're working pretty much hands on with these enterprise accounts. So how much of this entire CSR lifecycle you're trying to automate a naked central unit, that's a scalable model, everybody's moving towards, you know, part of that growth, community net growth, making sure that you know, they do more than less and you know, they use this smart system that can be can automate some workflows. So you can your your CS post sales operations are more driven towards high value, you know, operations and less towards these. So what is that process that being a CEO and founder yourself? How you trying to see it moving going forward as a scalable model when you only talk about CSR? Rupesh Rao 21:00 Right, so I think the CS ops comes later into the cycle. Once you have got sort of good volume of customers, let's say we talking about hundreds of customers. So we will obviously go through our own journey. But we like I mentioned, we want to automate and use our own tool to automate a lot of things internally as well as externally, right. So when we engage with our customers, any feature request that automatically gets logged in JIRA, for example, through our CogniSaaS tool, we track how many customers asked for which feature request, what is the revenue impact, what is the timeline, which typically, companies would do otherwise manually in weekly meetings with the sales and product in an Excel tracker. So all of that is already automated for us. And once the customer has gone live, then we try, obviously, the usage. And then we try to connect it back to the use cases or the outcomes that they had shared with us the exact same concept that we are giving to our customers, we obviously run it ourselves internally. And that's why we are automating a lot of things right from the presale stage. So our customers can use our tool even in the pre sales stage. So in the pre sale stage, you have a solution guy talking to customers scoping, the requirements, technical solutioning, all of that. So all of that can be executed on cognizance, and then all the way they could take that context to the implementation team during the production cycle, and then post go live, you can track Okay, where are we on the usage versus what use cases we had in our setup document. Rather than looking at the usage from a very raw perspectives, a lot of usage data we get today is very raw, meaning this user went to this page, he clicked on that button. But that's not really what you want to see as a CSM, right, you want to see Yeah, not driving Adil Saleh 22:48 action. The only thing that matters is what that drives action. Rupesh Rao 22:53 Exactly. So it has to be outcome centric. So we tried to connect that sort of missing piece in the puzzle saying, these were the outcomes that you were targeting to achieve. And this is the usage data, and then you marry the two to give you that, okay, from these five outcomes, you were trying to achieve these two outcomes you have consumed or realize the value from the Usage data. Right. So that is where we're doing a lot of automation and investing a lot of resources. Adil Saleh 23:19 Love that I love the fact that you're trying to elaborate on a very on a core level, to make sure that people understand this, and everything, just like you mentioned, right from the pre sales to even expansion, you can drive the customer, the only thing is how you're evolving with the goals that they shared on day one, they may change over time. That's why you're using these Pardot analytics and all of these events that people track to make sure the customer is still on the same road and you're working as partners, if something changes, if they have some different goals, just get them on the call, or maybe make sure you get the information and put it to the right team, maybe it can be a feature request, it can be any feedback on the product. So that's that's where you guys, you know, you come into play, you know, setting those parameters to make sure you're absolutely working alongside the customer during now. Let's talk a little bit about the commercial side of your business. Now, it's been just a few months over three years on, you're sitting at seed. And we're not sure like how much you raise? That's not the question. The question is how you're trying to how you're working towards the growth of this as a business from business standpoint, towards the valuation. And if somebody asks you whether you guys are willing to raise funds, if yes, what kind of options that you're thinking of like, there's going to be angel investors who's going to be accelerators. There's going to be venture capitalist firms based on private equity. We what kind of returns you can absolutely be open up on this. And we have we have people listening to this that, you know, that you guys can definitely take out from. And so we have a very close community that we're working on. And that will be live in a few weeks too. So now on the commercial side, Rupesh Rao 25:18 so yeah, so far, we have raised two rounds of funding, we raise up seed from TechStars, the US with VC back in summer of 2021. And after that, we have raised a seed round, winter of 2021, from multiple VCs in APAC region, and a bunch of angel investors who come from enterprise SAS industry who have seen this problem, in their own experience have lived this pain for many years. And so we were fortunate to have some very reputed enterprise SAS leaders come on board as our angel investors. Right now, we are focusing on building our business getting to the sort of targets we had set for ourselves for this year. So we will probably evaluate our next fundraise in the second half of this year. So we have kept options open, but we are right now focusing on building the business. Adil Saleh 26:08 Wonderful. Okay, so do you have any on the product side, when you talk about technology or any major updates, major breakthroughs, like DBS here to so deeply for is also here, distributors back so I'm not regardless of all the technology, evolution alongside Salesforce, HubSpot, all these folks doing a lot Grammarly They had their own platform. So if not relevant to this, do you have any major breakthroughs that you are looking forward to this year? Rupesh Rao 26:40 Um, yeah, obviously, we have got a lot of roadmap items that we put in our plan that we got from our existing customers, some of the new prospects we have been talking to, and then we kind of look at internally and then based on our vision, and existing customers, and what the market is doing in terms of other tools in the space. And then we look at that, and then if we can want to plan that we want to do so we've got some big things in the works, that will be announced in the near future and later part of this year. So yeah, we are excited. And the great thing is, the category has evolved, right? So as I mentioned two years back customers were asking, not quite sure I need this Onboarding Tool to now we are getting inbound leads. Now we get a lot of inbound leads where customers know that they needed to, and it's more about, okay, tell me how are you better and near the tool and so on. So, obviously, we need to keep our competitive advantage and differentiators. So the plan for this year, so it's going to be exciting year right for us? Adil Saleh 27:40 Absolutely, absolutely. So yeah, I mean, this is I think this is what we wanted to explore today with you guys. I really appreciate your time, I did see your community that's very close knit. So I, myself and Taylor, and we'll ask the team to join the community as well. We always needed to you know, that's why we started having a pocket is this. This is a support club for service. So that's why we also do in our own community to help support startups in any way we can, with all the resources that we have all the partners that we have. You know, that's that's the purpose. So I really appreciate you took the time. And you've been very much, gentlemen on explaining, you know, your party earning and so, one more time. It was a nice meeting. Rupesh Rao 28:29 Thank you so much, Adil, Taylor. It was a pleasure. enjoyed the conversation. Yeah, look forward to speaking to you again in the near future. Adil Saleh 28:36 Thank you so much. Have a good day, my brother. Thank you. Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode please share your feedback at adil@hyperengage.io. We definitely need it. We will see you next time in another guest on stage with some concrete tips on how to operate better as a Customer Success leader and how you can empower engagements with some building some meaningful relationships. We qualified people for the episode just to make sure we bring the value to the listeners do reaches out if you want to refer any CS leader. Until next time, goodbye and have a good rest of your day.

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