Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 11 months 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 youshould just focus on your customer success right like put all the noise outside ofthat outside, if you just focus on doing the right thing for the customerand having that be your North Star and your vision and keeping that at theforefront of everything that you do and asking yourself, is this a high valueactivity that's going to move the needle for my customers success, then that shouldbe 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 tocustomer success leader, where you'll learn about the successes and struggles of leaders whoare passionate about their craft. Trust me, you want to stick around. Here'syour host, Eric Crane. Hey, y'all, thanks for joining us thisweek. I'm Arek Crane, cofounder and CEO flat file, and I'mhere today with Megan Peach Ninny. She's a regional vice president of customer successat 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 Iam looking to make a move to Austin, Texas in the next severalmonths. Oh Boy, Austin's a hot spot right now. Huh. Yeah, I think you know, with both the tech industry making it more ofa name there, a lot of the big companies are going there. Andthen also I have a lot of friends from all these coast in the WestCoast setting there and I really like some sunshine. I'm actually here in NewYork now and we're a missed a major snowstorm and so I'm very excited toget them sunshine. Yeah, and plus I need you work with a teamball over the place, right, so geography doesn't matter so much as justavailability there right. Yeah, I would say that. You know, traditionallyit sales force. We were a little bit more geographically focused, but astime has evolved and especially during given that the Covid Pantemic, we have beenplacing less emphasis on location. So I support a team. It's part ofour calms, media and Tech, new vertical that we have and I specificallyfocus on the tech portion of that. And so traditionally most of us havebeen out in the bay area and while we do have a large number offolks there, we also have folks in Denver, we have folks in otherlocations, up in Seattle and Portland, and so, you know, asa customers start to move out of the bay area and also as our folksor you know, have talent across different locations, we have more flexibility,you know, working in a remote world and also with the opportunity to helpfullytravel once that time comes. Yeah, it's kind of funny as a remotefirst company, flat file thought, you know, we can stand out andjust go get talent everywhere. Now everyone's a remote by requirement. So it'sgoing to be really interesting to see how and in what ways businesses do moveback to like a geography centric model in the future, if that ever doeshappen. Yeah, I expect that, you know, to some degree itwill 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, youknow, fermographic or ended like regional design of customer success. It's really fascinatingto me. But just to get started, I'd love to hear a little bitabout how you got into customer success in the first place. Yeah,that's a great question, Eric. So you know, my career journey hasbeen largely focused in tech and to a large degree also around sales force andthe larger ecosystem. And so I started my career early days. I wasin marketing, actually working for what became sales forces, first enterprise customer ATPat the time, and you know, I got my hands wet working withsales 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 andso I worked at companies like Deloyd IBM. I ended up starting up to salesforce practices from the ground up, and the most recent one was atSloan and that was fantastic. I really love being customer facing, most ofthe time solving really challenging problems, working with complex global enterprises and it youknow, after thirteen years of so of that, it became clear to methat I should probably consider working directly with sales force and they had reached outand we're interested in having me join in customer success and I thought that thatwould be a really interesting I'm a bit of a career change, but alsoone that fit incredibly naturally, given the...

...focus on customers and really, youknow, moving in my career more up to the business focus and I'm reallyworking with the executive team and so it was a really sweet transition that workedout 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 withthe business like that. And you know, sales force is just scratchse the surface. I think I saw the report the other day. That'slike fourteen percent. So you're on market share of sales for us and wethink about it being so big, but like there's so much of a marketout there to keep growing and expanding. Absolutely it's it's extremely exciting working withthe company and have been working aside the company for so many years. Sotell me more about how you define customer success like what do you think islike the crucial aspects that really make success what it is in a modern SASSbusiness 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 beenthinking through and really making sure they were honed in on, and I thinkthat, you know, we have sales. For us, have gone through abit of a paradigm shift in terms of how we think about that aswell, and we're kind of in Mister right that that right now and andreally instead of focusing on what our internal metrics are about success on our platformand 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 asidethem? And so the whole focus has been really shifted to be onthe customer and their success and in turn, if they're successful, then we arealso successful. Yeah, and that kind of leads into a conversation aboutyour 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 increasinglyover the years and so we had for some time now have had verticalssuch as financial services, my sciences, as well as some of republic sectorand retail, but more recently we have also been working to establish the verticalthen I am a part of, which is comms, media and technology,or CMT, and so we are in the first year of it. We'restill 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 theyare and bringing that industry best practice in order to really make an impact withthem. We do have parts of the business that are still non verticalized andwe segment them, you know, based on size, essentially in scale,and so we have some smaller companies and SMB, we have more of amidcommercial than market segment and we have a large enterprise group. But I thinkmore and more we'll see increased verticalization as time goes on. And since youhave direct and very immediate experience with this, I'm sure our listeners would love tolearn a little bit more, like how do you move from the,you know, more general model to a vertical specific model when designing a successorganization? What are the things that you've done in order to kind of carveout this cmt group that you're working with now. Yeah, I think that'sa good question. I think you know, within our CMT group, I thinkthat we have had some unofficial verticalization going on for some time. Sowe were organized more geographically based in the in the past, right, andso the west, in the bay area, it was largely tech, right,and then in the West in Socal, that was largely the media, theentertainment, the comm's business, right, and then also in the Pacific northwest. And so we had some of that to date. And so therewere some groupings of a specialization. We are working to formalize that, butthen it's part of that. We realized that we really need to do somemore enablement around those industry specializations. Right. So some people had it to beginwith, but we recognize that that needs to be more of the focusarea for our team, less around just our sales force product that really becomingkeen on what's happening in the market, what's competitive landscape, all of thosethings and as we are continuing to build it out, I will say thatour COMMS and media part of the broader CMT organization has gotten a little headof the technology piece just to to some broader company focus on that. ButI think you know, as we move into the next year, the technologyspace that I specifically support will increasingly have...

...a focus and I think you knowwe're in our FY twenty two planning right now and some of the things thatwe 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 westart to organize our teams around even subverticalization right because we have have the semiconductorbusiness, we have some service providers, some hardware providers that are kind ofall group together now and as we start to think about doing an enablement planfor deeper specialization in the industry, should we start to group our teams likethat or should we start to, you know, think about how to setthat success up or that that focus up for the future as we continue togrow into the vertical yeah, makes a lot of sense and I'd love tolearn a little bit more about what that enablement planned is. So you mentionedlike you know, knowing about the industry is really important, but how toget to the point where you can actually act like an expert in sales forus 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 haveboth core enablement teams that we have success enablement teams that are specific, thatreally build out these central plans and these broader plans for the specific areas andthere 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 startto 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 ourspecific customer success enablement teams start to build that out what that looks like inthe flavor and shape of that can be in a few different forms. Wehave a learning platform called trailhead. It's free to our customers to use andthey can also, you know, use it as their own as my trailheadfor their own enablement internally. But we leverage our trailhead platform to really dothis self paced learning journey. There's interactive components to it where there's, youknow, Qa can earn points, it's gamified and so we do a lotof it there. There's integration of video and different media capabilities within that tomake 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 hoursand have different industry speakers common. So we have a really well rounded approachto address that, you know, and we will continue to leverage some ofthat into the text space going forward, which we haven't really done as muchto date. I'll also just add from the enablement perspective, I mentioned earlierthat we're really shifting our focus to customer value and less on the specifics ofour product, and so another big enablement focus for our organization is to alsolook into, you know, how can we enable our folks, especially ina very big text space that I work in, how can we enable ourfolks to really up level the conversation to really be value focused? Right,what are the customers business objectives? What are their KPIS? How do thedifferent success pass or initiatives, as we call them online to those and howcan we make sure that we are measuring the value and the impact that we'remaking our customers business objectives and Kpis, and so we have a lot ofour training and enablement focused on that. And then we're also working to establishnot 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 andget 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 businessproblems and really help them? So you work with some of the biggest customersad sales for us. I'd love to understand what it's like to try andfigure out who is the right fit to work with this customer. I wouldpresume 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 thislarge enterprise customer that might be pay in tens of not ye know more thanthat, millions of dollars a year. That's a really great question. Soyou mentioned the one on one assignment. By the way, to a largedegree 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 thinkwe're getting smarter about how we do that in the future. So, forexample, let's say that there's a customer...

...that might not be in a highgrowth area this year and they're, you know, working with us. Thingsare good. We might prioritize maybe a slightly smaller customer, putting less onthat and then having folks work more as a specialist, so maybe fifty percentof a top person on one and then specializing and dropping into other customers basedon that domain expertise I talked about. And so but yes, largely itis one to one, one too many for these really big customers. Andyou're right, it is a different success motion than, I would say arelike standard S M, and so we have been working to establish a newerrole. 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 orstrategic sm and there's really something that accepts these roles. Apart, they tendto 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, asopposed to really being typer focused on, you know, very tactical work thatmight need to be done. Now that technical work doesn't go away. Soto be clear about that, we still have to address that and that's sometimeshow 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 youhave 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 thatwe work very closely with, and so it's not just the success manager orthe strategic sm that are in present in these accounts. We tend to havea 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 aremore technical and those are paid resources. We also have dams technical account managersthat can really help in triage if there's challenges around support issues, because wewant to limit that work about our success management capabilities because that's not a highvalue add activity for our customers for them to do. And then they alsohave this set of really highly specialized senior technical experts that are able to engageproactively and strategically if some of our large customers need some executive level and technicalsupport to get them through a phase. Right. So let's say that there'sa lot of new product enabled there working to get, you know, fundingfor a big of plantation, but we really need to help get them startedand 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 toreally kind of listen, sense and respond to our customers and then facilitate engagingthose 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 abusiness in and of itself. So how do you help that little minibusiness make, you know, affected decisions? Right? What are the sort oflike parameters you put in places say like Hey, this is where youcan 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 higherlevel inside the organization. Exactly. Yea. So tell me a bit more aboutthe journey of these types of customer relationships. So, you know,we are much smaller business worst. Just startinging to delve into what it's liketo work with, you know, major enterprises. I'd love to hear abit more about how your relationship builds over time with some of the largest customersof sales force. That's a good question and we actually were having a discussionabout that yesterday. So, you know, a lot of our enterprise customers,especially in the text base that I support. They were some of ourearliest 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 wealso 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 ownto some degree. Right a lot of them has SI firms and ourservices to help them, but there's also a lot of kind of inhouse expertisealso to support the platform. I would say that in, you know,early days, things are exciting. They got started. Our car our platformis 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 calledlightning, which is our new uiux framework that is an actionable, inside's drivenplatform that we are able to really help folks to use component based building asopposed to code based. Right, it's some more declarative, and so thejourney with these large customers has been, you know, I would say,at a very high degree, you know, really building with us. A lotof them have been in its middle face of gotten stuck in this technicaldebt situation where we've had to really work with them a hand in hand toreally work out getting out of that code base and really going more to thislightning framework. And then that's also been, as we've seen, a really bigopportunity for us to just really re engage reenvision and kind of spark thework that we do with them to really think about something more transformation that goingforward. And so I would say we've had these kind of peak phases withour customers as the evolution has gone on, specifically to with our large tech enterprice customers. I just I want to understand a little bit more abouthow you manage you like, pricing and expansion discussions with your customers. Like, are you facilitator for your sales team? If so, like how do youwork together with the sales team in order to have that conversation make sureit's value oriented, that kind of stuff? Yeah, so, so that oursales organization is really responsible for the commercial component of the discussions, butwe work really hand in hand with them, right, the customer success. Theorganization, 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 thatjourney getting the most value out of the product and we can actually show themquantitatively the impact that we're making to their business. And so when those commercialdiscussions are renewal opportunities come up. We're already there, you know. Thecustomers already aware of the value that they're obtaining from the platform and are oftentimeseager to expand with us. There have been times, you know, thispast year, where my team has worked with different components and the customer maybedidn't have as much visibility and our cut in our success management team was ableto go in there, work with them, establish the baseline, measure the valueand the customer actually proactively came to us and said, wow, wedidn't realize the savings over all that we're getting from working with you. Wewant 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 thatwas 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 successmotions, especially the enterprise, will look a lot like sales development.To write, like you're trying to define what an opportunity might look like andhow that customers is value. Yeah, I mean I think you know,of course we're customer growth focus, but we do, you know, weare true to our customers success focus. Right. Okay, so, atthe end of the day we are purely you know, we are driven bydoing 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 theircustomers successful, they're going to want to grow with us. Right, they'regoing to want to invest more on our platform to see the value that's beenrealized 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 theirbusiness. So for you personally, what is your favorite part of the job? So I would say two things. You know, the first thing isI really love working with people. I'm a people person. I love buildingrelationships 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 withthat I hadn't spoken to and about a year, reach out to me thisweek and it was just really lovely to have an update and to cond kindof 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 soa lot of the folks on my team currently came up from more of ourmidcommercial space and they've kind of gone into this header price space this year andthat's an entirely different success motion. And so I'm really passionate about making animpact and helping them to really, you...

...know, home their skills to beable to operate at the CX so level and to really work more broadly atthese 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 ourin my role, I have an opportunity to Contryu, rebute and to helpto shape the future of the organization and our strategy. Of course, wehave teams that are, you know, really dedicated just on that, butwe have a methodology or a framework that we call our vto mom visions,value and method, and this is started by a mark, bettyoff, andcascades 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 towork 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 futureof how we're going to go to market in the specific space or how we'regoing to scale our business or prioritize other accounts, and so I get towork very closely with those teams on projects through that visions, values and methodsparadigm and that gives me the opportunity to kind of give back to the organizationand to really gage and help with the future strategy of our growth, andso the reverse too. I'd love to learn what you find challenging about workingin customer success. What are the things that you feel like, you knowaren't necessarily that the glorified parts of the role? Yeah, I think youknow, 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 theday, you know, we are often to you know, we're theface of the customer, the post sale customer, and so sometimes we dogetting gaged on things that are not necessarily glamorous. have to escalate any sortof red issue. It's good opportunity for visibility in turn with our teams toreally 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 thinkwe're getting better and better at drawing lines to delineate where our role starts andend, though, to make sure that we're doing less and less and thatover time. So for the technologists that are listening in, I'd love tohear about something that you're doing manually today that you love for technology to beable to do for you. Let me give their perspective on something. So, in terms of what I would love technology to do, I think somethingwe've been experimenting with as where the Organization is the degree to which we leverageour own serend system to understand where we're adding value to our customer. Andso I think that we have gone in a few different directions and are reallyteasing out what makes sense for organization. So, for example, you know, we're CREM system right when we track activities and engagement with customers, andthat's the core of what we do. Of course, we do so muchmore of it. At the basis, that's where we started, and sowe have gone, you know, to a pretty one end of the spectrumover 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 oftheir engagements, specifying what the the different focuses and to be able to generatesome reporting out of that to provide us insides. And what we've learned isthat that is incredibly valuable for our scale business, where we have success managersthat 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 someof these activities planned and advance in the system, and so that has beeninvaluable to understand the metrics that come out of that. But for our reallylarge enter price customers in the space that I'm focused on, we know what'sgoing on right, like it's my job to understand for all of the accountsthat my team supports. I know what's going on right and so I don'tneed the system to tell that to me. And so you know, I canunderstand 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'talways make the most sense. Now I've been really excited. We've been workingwith a vender who has helped us to or in the we're in the earlytime of this. It has helped us to do some more of this trackingbased on the time that we're spending in applications. And so we are stillrequired to log customer readings, which seems...

...perfect because we really want to makesure that we have those executive sponsor, you know, sessions logged, thingslike that. But instead it's really tracking where we spending our time and wherewe 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 finalresult. We're in the early stages of this and so over time will havemore 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 seeingroom technology at the right level that gives us really rich insights, but thenhas technology and automation doing the rest for us to give more of a highlevel Mac review of what activities our highest value and which customers really spending timeon. Yeah, it sort of this progression over time where you get tostart by first understanding what it is that you do right, and if you'relike 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 toderive insights yourself from that, but then also teach the system how to deriveinsights for you so that can be like, Hey, this is predictive. Ithink you should go have a conversation with this customer because it's been acouple days too long since you had one right. And then, even beyondthat, taking, you know, this higher level automation output that, beatingit back into our system and using our own technology around, we have Einsteinprediction. So it basically says, Hey, if you move these levers, thisis the impact that you can have right, and so it gives useven a richer level withinside even beyond that. So yeah, we're looking forward tothe results. Yeah, absolutely well, thank you for spending time with metoday. Really appreciate it. I like to ask a closing question ofall my guests on the show, which is what is the best piece ofadvice related to customer success that you've received from someone? I would say thatthe best advice I received just keep, you know, just keep it simplein that you should just focus on your customer success, right like put allthe noise outside of that, outside, if you just focus on doing theright thing for the customer and having that be your North Star and your visionand 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 customerssuccess? Then that should be regarding post and so for me that's been reallya useful perspective to maintain. Yeah, I love the orientation around that simplequestion that you can ask yourself. I often do that with my teams aswell. I say, Hey, you know what, if you're struggling tofigure 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 worksin a lot of different spaces, but for customer success, you're right it'swhat is the best thing for the customer. Absolutely well, thank you so muchfor joining me today. Again, y'all, that was Megan Peach Nanny. She's the regional vice president of customer success at Sales Force. Really appreciateyour thoughts and insight on the show today. I'm air crane. Thank you forlistening to this week's episode of customer success later. You depend on thefastest time to value for your customers, so I light data on board andsell you down. Stop emailing spreadsheets, creating CSP templates or setting up FTPtransfers. 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 coderequired. You can go to flat filest IO CS leader to learn more andget 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 afan 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 youthink the show deserves. That's it for today. Catch you in the nextone.

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