Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 1 year ago

Why You Should Specialize in Customer Verticals


Product knowledge is important, it’s true. What’s equally — maybe even more — important than knowing your product?

Knowing your customer’s vertical.

In this episode, Eric sits down with Megan Piccininni, Regional VP of Customer Success at Salesforce. The two talk about…

- Why Salesforce is moving to a more specific vertical model

- How their CS teams have started to specialize in specific verticals

- Ways Salesforce educates their customers

- How Megan’s team adds value to the renewal process

For more info, check out or send a message to To hear other interviews like this one, subscribe to Customer Success Leader on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Just keep it simple in that you should just focus on your customer success right like put all the noise outside of that outside, if you just focus on doing the right thing for the customer and having that be your North Star and your vision and keeping that at the forefront of everything that you do and asking yourself, is this a high value activity that's going to move the needle for my customers success, then that should be regarding post and so for me that's been really a useful perspectives maintain. Want to create delightful customer experiences. You're in the right place. Welcome to customer success leader, where you'll learn about the successes and struggles of leaders who are passionate about their craft. Trust me, you want to stick around. Here's your host, Eric Crane. Hey, y'all, thanks for joining us this week. I'm Arek Crane, cofounder and CEO flat file, and I'm here today with Megan Peach Ninny. She's a regional vice president of customer success at Sales Force. Hey, Megan, how are you doing? I'm great. Thank you. How are you doing today? Or I'm doing all right. I hear you got some big news. Yeah, really interesting is actually I am looking to make a move to Austin, Texas in the next several months. Oh Boy, Austin's a hot spot right now. Huh. Yeah, I think you know, with both the tech industry making it more of a name there, a lot of the big companies are going there. And then also I have a lot of friends from all these coast in the West Coast setting there and I really like some sunshine. I'm actually here in New York now and we're a missed a major snowstorm and so I'm very excited to get them sunshine. Yeah, and plus I need you work with a team ball over the place, right, so geography doesn't matter so much as just availability there right. Yeah, I would say that. You know, traditionally it sales force. We were a little bit more geographically focused, but as time has evolved and especially during given that the Covid Pantemic, we have been placing less emphasis on location. So I support a team. It's part of our calms, media and Tech, new vertical that we have and I specifically focus on the tech portion of that. And so traditionally most of us have been out in the bay area and while we do have a large number of folks there, we also have folks in Denver, we have folks in other locations, up in Seattle and Portland, and so, you know, as a customers start to move out of the bay area and also as our folks or you know, have talent across different locations, we have more flexibility, you know, working in a remote world and also with the opportunity to helpfully travel once that time comes. Yeah, it's kind of funny as a remote first company, flat file thought, you know, we can stand out and just go get talent everywhere. Now everyone's a remote by requirement. So it's going to be really interesting to see how and in what ways businesses do move back to like a geography centric model in the future, if that ever does happen. Yeah, I expect that, you know, to some degree it will be hybrid and I think, you know, much more remote work. I think that folks in our Customer Success Organization, we're partially remote any way, to a large degree, really focusing on visiting our customers. But yeah, I can expect that we will see more of that diversity going forward. So I'm really excited to dig in with you just about especially like, you know, fermographic or ended like regional design of customer success. It's really fascinating to me. But just to get started, I'd love to hear a little bit about how you got into customer success in the first place. Yeah, that's a great question, Eric. So you know, my career journey has been largely focused in tech and to a large degree also around sales force and the larger ecosystem. And so I started my career early days. I was in marketing, actually working for what became sales forces, first enterprise customer ATP at the time, and you know, I got my hands wet working with sales forces they were implementing and I was actually an Admin for early days, and so I was pretty technical. From then I went on into consulting and so I worked at companies like Deloyd IBM. I ended up starting up to sales force practices from the ground up, and the most recent one was at Sloan and that was fantastic. I really love being customer facing, most of the time solving really challenging problems, working with complex global enterprises and it you know, after thirteen years of so of that, it became clear to me that I should probably consider working directly with sales force and they had reached out and we're interested in having me join in customer success and I thought that that would be a really interesting I'm a bit of a career change, but also one that fit incredibly naturally, given the...

...focus on customers and really, you know, moving in my career more up to the business focus and I'm really working with the executive team and so it was a really sweet transition that worked out really well. Yeah, you seem to be a fan a sales force. I mean it's pretty exciting, though, to see how you can grow with the business like that. And you know, sales force is just scratch se the surface. I think I saw the report the other day. That's like fourteen percent. So you're on market share of sales for us and we think about it being so big, but like there's so much of a market out there to keep growing and expanding. Absolutely it's it's extremely exciting working with the company and have been working aside the company for so many years. So tell me more about how you define customer success like what do you think is like the crucial aspects that really make success what it is in a modern SASS business like yours? That's a great question. And it's been something, I think, that both myself as an individual and us as a company have been thinking through and really making sure they were honed in on, and I think that, you know, we have sales. For us, have gone through a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of how we think about that as well, and we're kind of in Mister right that that right now and and really instead of focusing on what our internal metrics are about success on our platform and measuring all of that, we've really realized that what customer success is is, are we making an impact on our customers business objectives, their core Kpis, and are we helping to facilitate that, accelerate that growth and really grow aside them? And so the whole focus has been really shifted to be on the customer and their success and in turn, if they're successful, then we are also successful. Yeah, and that kind of leads into a conversation about your territory strategy, which is more aligned around verticals and it is about geography. So tell me a little bit more about how you do that. Yeah, that's that's a great point. Eric, we have been moving to verticalize increasingly over the years and so we had for some time now have had verticals such as financial services, my sciences, as well as some of republic sector and retail, but more recently we have also been working to establish the vertical then I am a part of, which is comms, media and technology, or CMT, and so we are in the first year of it. We're still working to building that out and building some of the specialization within the team, but we're finding that it's really important that we're meeting our customers where they are and bringing that industry best practice in order to really make an impact with them. We do have parts of the business that are still non verticalized and we segment them, you know, based on size, essentially in scale, and so we have some smaller companies and SMB, we have more of a midcommercial than market segment and we have a large enterprise group. But I think more and more we'll see increased verticalization as time goes on. And since you have direct and very immediate experience with this, I'm sure our listeners would love to learn a little bit more, like how do you move from the, you know, more general model to a vertical specific model when designing a success organization? What are the things that you've done in order to kind of carve out this cmt group that you're working with now. Yeah, I think that's a good question. I think you know, within our CMT group, I think that we have had some unofficial verticalization going on for some time. So we were organized more geographically based in the in the past, right, and so the west, in the bay area, it was largely tech, right, and then in the West in Socal, that was largely the media, the entertainment, the comm's business, right, and then also in the Pacific northwest. And so we had some of that to date. And so there were some groupings of a specialization. We are working to formalize that, but then it's part of that. We realized that we really need to do some more enablement around those industry specializations. Right. So some people had it to begin with, but we recognize that that needs to be more of the focus area for our team, less around just our sales force product that really becoming keen on what's happening in the market, what's competitive landscape, all of those things and as we are continuing to build it out, I will say that our COMMS and media part of the broader CMT organization has gotten a little head of the technology piece just to to some broader company focus on that. But I think you know, as we move into the next year, the technology space that I specifically support will increasingly have...

...a focus and I think you know we're in our FY twenty two planning right now and some of the things that we are talking about is, you know, should we be even thinking about, even if we're not fully ready to do it this year? Should we start to organize our teams around even subverticalization right because we have have the semiconductor business, we have some service providers, some hardware providers that are kind of all group together now and as we start to think about doing an enablement plan for deeper specialization in the industry, should we start to group our teams like that or should we start to, you know, think about how to set that success up or that that focus up for the future as we continue to grow into the vertical yeah, makes a lot of sense and I'd love to learn a little bit more about what that enablement planned is. So you mentioned like you know, knowing about the industry is really important, but how to get to the point where you can actually act like an expert in sales for us about a particular industry that loves outside of what you do. Yeah, I think it's a few things. I think in the COMSON media space, for example, where we've done a little bit more of this, we have both core enablement teams that we have success enablement teams that are specific, that really build out these central plans and these broader plans for the specific areas and there has been a focus, as I would say, at the company level, and then that builters down into our customers success group on coms and media, and so we have industry experts we've brought into the team that really start to build out like what's the framework, what's the foundation, what's the methodology, what's important to these sets of customers and our both central and then our specific customer success enablement teams start to build that out what that looks like in the flavor and shape of that can be in a few different forms. We have a learning platform called trailhead. It's free to our customers to use and they can also, you know, use it as their own as my trailhead for their own enablement internally. But we leverage our trailhead platform to really do this self paced learning journey. There's interactive components to it where there's, you know, Qa can earn points, it's gamified and so we do a lot of it there. There's integration of video and different media capabilities within that to make it engaging, and then we also do a lot of you know, facilitated learning as well, where we'll actually hold sessions, we host office hours and have different industry speakers common. So we have a really well rounded approach to address that, you know, and we will continue to leverage some of that into the text space going forward, which we haven't really done as much to date. I'll also just add from the enablement perspective, I mentioned earlier that we're really shifting our focus to customer value and less on the specifics of our product, and so another big enablement focus for our organization is to also look into, you know, how can we enable our folks, especially in a very big text space that I work in, how can we enable our folks to really up level the conversation to really be value focused? Right, what are the customers business objectives? What are their KPIS? How do the different success pass or initiatives, as we call them online to those and how can we make sure that we are measuring the value and the impact that we're making our customers business objectives and Kpis, and so we have a lot of our training and enablement focused on that. And then we're also working to establish not only just industry but I guess the other access would be the domain expertise, so things like sales, excellent service, transformation, etc. You know, marketing, and how can we have folks go deep in those areas and get that additional level of specialization? That is not so much focused. Again, yes, you have to have product knowledge, but not so deeply. It's really more around how can you work with a business to stop their business problems and really help them? So you work with some of the biggest customers ad sales for us. I'd love to understand what it's like to try and figure out who is the right fit to work with this customer. I would presume that you're probably just one to one assignment for the CS of this right. So like, how do you find the right person to fit with this large enterprise customer that might be pay in tens of not ye know more than that, millions of dollars a year. That's a really great question. So you mentioned the one on one assignment. By the way, to a large degree we have one on one or even one too many assignments for these really, really large customers that we have. I will also add that I think we're getting smarter about how we do that in the future. So, for example, let's say that there's a customer...

...that might not be in a high growth area this year and they're, you know, working with us. Things are good. We might prioritize maybe a slightly smaller customer, putting less on that and then having folks work more as a specialist, so maybe fifty percent of a top person on one and then specializing and dropping into other customers based on that domain expertise I talked about. And so but yes, largely it is one to one, one too many for these really big customers. And you're right, it is a different success motion than, I would say are like standard S M, and so we have been working to establish a newer role. We haven't really formalized the name, but we're referring it to you know, referring to it for now is as success you know, executive or strategic sm and there's really something that accepts these roles. Apart, they tend to be a bit more senior and they were really focused on building cxl relationships, being able to walk the talk around business value, business impact, as opposed to really being typer focused on, you know, very tactical work that might need to be done. Now that technical work doesn't go away. So to be clear about that, we still have to address that and that's sometimes how we end up where we have some for some of these big customers. This one too many where you might have a strategic sm on and then you have some other folks that are focus more on kind of were at the Daytoday, specific operations. And I'll also add that we have some supporting teams that we work very closely with, and so it's not just the success manager or the strategic sm that are in present in these accounts. We tend to have a lot of peripheral representatives from our broader customer success org engaging. So, for example, we will often have times have folks from our services org. We have an assurance services which are act those advisors to the customer which are more technical and those are paid resources. We also have dams technical account managers that can really help in triage if there's challenges around support issues, because we want to limit that work about our success management capabilities because that's not a high value add activity for our customers for them to do. And then they also have this set of really highly specialized senior technical experts that are able to engage proactively and strategically if some of our large customers need some executive level and technical support to get them through a phase. Right. So let's say that there's a lot of new product enabled there working to get, you know, funding for a big of plantation, but we really need to help get them started and maybe do some of that design conceptualization we can work through with them. So really we have the success manager at the core, but also they're to really kind of listen, sense and respond to our customers and then facilitate engaging those additional resources that we can bring to bear for our customers. Yeah, it's almost like any one of these is, you know teams, could be a business in and of itself. So how do you help that little mini business make, you know, affected decisions? Right? What are the sort of like parameters you put in places say like Hey, this is where you can actually make decisions with the customer and help them move a certain way, versus okay, we need to escalate this or move this to an even higher level inside the organization. Exactly. Yea. So tell me a bit more about the journey of these types of customer relationships. So, you know, we are much smaller business worst. Just startinging to delve into what it's like to work with, you know, major enterprises. I'd love to hear a bit more about how your relationship builds over time with some of the largest customers of sales force. That's a good question and we actually were having a discussion about that yesterday. So, you know, a lot of our enterprise customers, especially in the text base that I support. They were some of our earliest customers right their high tech there's looking valley, just like sales force, and were early adoptors of our platform. And also with these tech customers we also tend to see a lot of technical aptitude within their own organizations and, you know, a sense of like hey, we can facilitate this on our own to some degree. Right a lot of them has SI firms and our services to help them, but there's also a lot of kind of inhouse expertise also to support the platform. I would say that in, you know, early days, things are exciting. They got started. Our car our platform is fairly basic compared to how it is now, right, going back, you know, Fifteen, eighteen, twenty years at this plant and we introduced, you know, code at some point so there could be more customization. Over time. We have evolved our platform... really make we have something called lightning, which is our new uiux framework that is an actionable, inside's driven platform that we are able to really help folks to use component based building as opposed to code based. Right, it's some more declarative, and so the journey with these large customers has been, you know, I would say, at a very high degree, you know, really building with us. A lot of them have been in its middle face of gotten stuck in this technical debt situation where we've had to really work with them a hand in hand to really work out getting out of that code base and really going more to this lightning framework. And then that's also been, as we've seen, a really big opportunity for us to just really re engage reenvision and kind of spark the work that we do with them to really think about something more transformation that going forward. And so I would say we've had these kind of peak phases with our customers as the evolution has gone on, specifically to with our large tech enter price customers. I just I want to understand a little bit more about how you manage you like, pricing and expansion discussions with your customers. Like, are you facilitator for your sales team? If so, like how do you work together with the sales team in order to have that conversation make sure it's value oriented, that kind of stuff? Yeah, so, so that our sales organization is really responsible for the commercial component of the discussions, but we work really hand in hand with them, right, the customer success. The organization, one of our top priorities is customer and our business growth, right, and so we're really essential to that. And so our teams, you know, let's say that it sales. You know they have sales force, and what we're really focusing on is making sure that they are along that journey getting the most value out of the product and we can actually show them quantitatively the impact that we're making to their business. And so when those commercial discussions are renewal opportunities come up. We're already there, you know. The customers already aware of the value that they're obtaining from the platform and are oftentimes eager to expand with us. There have been times, you know, this past year, where my team has worked with different components and the customer maybe didn't have as much visibility and our cut in our success management team was able to go in there, work with them, establish the baseline, measure the value and the customer actually proactively came to us and said, wow, we didn't realize the savings over all that we're getting from working with you. We want to invest more right and so that's a way that, you know, our sales team didn't even have that at the forefront during the conversation and that was a value at that our team was able to provide. So yes, we work very closely with them. Yeah, I think a lot of customers success motions, especially the enterprise, will look a lot like sales development. To write, like you're trying to define what an opportunity might look like and how that customers is value. Yeah, I mean I think you know, of course we're customer growth focus, but we do, you know, we are true to our customers success focus. Right. Okay, so, at the end of the day we are purely you know, we are driven by doing what's going to need to be best for the customer to make them successful. But the end result of that is that if we are helping making their customers successful, they're going to want to grow with us. Right, they're going to want to invest more on our platform to see the value that's been realized and so therefore they are interested to continue investing, whether it these services, whether it be our licenses, to continue to make an impact on their business. So for you personally, what is your favorite part of the job? So I would say two things. You know, the first thing is I really love working with people. I'm a people person. I love building relationships with my team and with my customers, and so that's really exciting for me. You know, I had somebody from an customer that I've worked with that I hadn't spoken to and about a year, reach out to me this week and it was just really lovely to have an update and to cond kind of understand their growth. And so for me the relationships are really a paramount. I also love coaching and building the teams that I have. And so a lot of the folks on my team currently came up from more of our midcommercial space and they've kind of gone into this header price space this year and that's an entirely different success motion. And so I'm really passionate about making an impact and helping them to really, you...

...know, home their skills to be able to operate at the CX so level and to really work more broadly at these large enterprises and make an impact, and so that's really exciting for me. I think what I also really enjoy is, you know, in our in my role, I have an opportunity to Contryu, rebute and to help to shape the future of the organization and our strategy. Of course, we have teams that are, you know, really dedicated just on that, but we have a methodology or a framework that we call our vto mom visions, value and method, and this is started by a mark, bettyoff, and cascades across the organization in terms of what our vision is for each year. Right, we set that an annual basis and so through that we're able to work with like our strategy teams, where we can then say, okay, let's work on the future of the success manager. Let's work on the future of how we're going to go to market in the specific space or how we're going to scale our business or prioritize other accounts, and so I get to work very closely with those teams on projects through that visions, values and methods paradigm and that gives me the opportunity to kind of give back to the organization and to really gage and help with the future strategy of our growth, and so the reverse too. I'd love to learn what you find challenging about working in customer success. What are the things that you feel like, you know aren't necessarily that the glorified parts of the role? Yeah, I think you know, we're very clear that we are not customer support and we have dedicated, fantastic folks that are focused on that. I think at the end of the day, you know, we are often to you know, we're the face of the customer, the post sale customer, and so sometimes we do getting gaged on things that are not necessarily glamorous. have to escalate any sort of red issue. It's good opportunity for visibility in turn with our teams to really go in and help a customer and you know, through some challenging times. You know, there are things that come up with like legal requests, right, and so these are just a little more, I would say, tactical that we'd rather not spend our most time on, but you know, we have to do it as part of the job at times. I think we're getting better and better at drawing lines to delineate where our role starts and end, though, to make sure that we're doing less and less and that over time. So for the technologists that are listening in, I'd love to hear about something that you're doing manually today that you love for technology to be able to do for you. Let me give their perspective on something. So, in terms of what I would love technology to do, I think something we've been experimenting with as where the Organization is the degree to which we leverage our own serend system to understand where we're adding value to our customer. And so I think that we have gone in a few different directions and are really teasing out what makes sense for organization. So, for example, you know, we're CREM system right when we track activities and engagement with customers, and that's the core of what we do. Of course, we do so much more of it. At the basis, that's where we started, and so we have gone, you know, to a pretty one end of the spectrum over the last few years where we have made sure that our cut our customers, success and managers go in and log at a very detailed level all of their engagements, specifying what the the different focuses and to be able to generate some reporting out of that to provide us insides. And what we've learned is that that is incredibly valuable for our scale business, where we have success managers that might have hundreds or over a thousand customers, where, you know, there's more automation, it's less of a high touch experience and we have some of these activities planned and advance in the system, and so that has been invaluable to understand the metrics that come out of that. But for our really large enter price customers in the space that I'm focused on, we know what's going on right, like it's my job to understand for all of the accounts that my team supports. I know what's going on right and so I don't need the system to tell that to me. And so you know, I can understand that it management level we need to have some trending and analysis, but to have folks spend and incredible amount of time to log everything sometimes isn't always make the most sense. Now I've been really excited. We've been working with a vender who has helped us to or in the we're in the early time of this. It has helped us to do some more of this tracking based on the time that we're spending in applications. And so we are still required to log customer readings, which seems...

...perfect because we really want to make sure that we have those executive sponsor, you know, sessions logged, things like that. But instead it's really tracking where we spending our time and where we adding value to our customers, which customers were spending the most time on, in a more automated fashion, and so we're not really stirring the final result. We're in the early stages of this and so over time will have more visibility, but I think we're probably going to end in a place, and I'm helpful of the lear end in the place where we're leveraging our seeing room technology at the right level that gives us really rich insights, but then has technology and automation doing the rest for us to give more of a high level Mac review of what activities our highest value and which customers really spending time on. Yeah, it sort of this progression over time where you get to start by first understanding what it is that you do right, and if you're like you probably you do that fairly well by doing all this logging and stuff. But then you want to get to the point where you can start to derive insights yourself from that, but then also teach the system how to derive insights for you so that can be like, Hey, this is predictive. I think you should go have a conversation with this customer because it's been a couple days too long since you had one right. And then, even beyond that, taking, you know, this higher level automation output that, beating it back into our system and using our own technology around, we have Einstein prediction. So it basically says, Hey, if you move these levers, this is the impact that you can have right, and so it gives us even a richer level withinside even beyond that. So yeah, we're looking forward to the results. Yeah, absolutely well, thank you for spending time with me today. Really appreciate it. I like to ask a closing question of all my guests on the show, which is what is the best piece of advice related to customer success that you've received from someone? I would say that the best advice I received just keep, you know, just keep it simple in that you should just focus on your customer success, right like put all the noise outside of that, outside, if you just focus on doing the right thing for the customer and having that be your North Star and your vision and keeping that at the forefront of everything that you do and asking yourself, is this a high value activity that's going to move the needle for my customers success? Then that should be regarding post and so for me that's been really a useful perspective to maintain. Yeah, I love the orientation around that simple question that you can ask yourself. I often do that with my teams as well. I say, Hey, you know what, if you're struggling to figure out what's a priority, here's the one question you ask yourself, right. And so, regardless of which team they're on, I think it works in a lot of different spaces, but for customer success, you're right it's what is the best thing for the customer. Absolutely well, thank you so much for joining me today. Again, y'all, that was Megan Peach Nanny. She's the regional vice president of customer success at Sales Force. Really appreciate your thoughts and insight on the show today. I'm air crane. Thank you for listening to this week's episode of customer success later. You depend on the fastest time to value for your customers, so I light data on board and sell you down. Stop emailing spreadsheets, creating CSP templates or setting up FTP transfers. Create collaborative, secure work spaces with your customers and their data, saving you time while providing a memorable onboarding experience. Oh and there's no code required. You can go to flat filest IO CS leader to learn more and get started for free. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode. Customer Success leader is brought to you by flat file. If you're a fan of the show and want to help as share these conversations with others, leave us a rating on apple podcast. Just tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. That's it for today. Catch you in the next one.

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