Customer Success Leader
Customer Success Leader

Episode · 1 year ago

Why the Best CSMs Have Transferable Skills w/ Graham Gill

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Not all great CSMs have traditional CS training. Some — like Graham Gill — transfer their skills from roles like product management to CS.

 

Graham, the VP of CS & Services at Accent Technologies, shares how he found his way to customer success and brought his knowledge of product with him. Plus, Eric and Graham discuss… 

 

- How to break down silos and build a foundation of alignment

 

- Why it’s important for CSMs to empathize with other roles

 

- How CSMs can create strong customer relationships in a pandemic

 

For more info, check out customersuccessleader.com or send a message to hello@flatfile.io.

 

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Customer Success Leader on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sitting on all sides, doing it to our duty on all sides of the order organization, whether it's Qa, whether it's marketing, whether it's a product, whether it's account management. Customer success, I think makes you a stronger person further on down the line. 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, are crane here, CEO and Co founder of flat file, and I'm excited to be joined today on the customer success leader podcast by Graham Gill, who's the VP of customer success at accent technologies. Hey, Graham, how you done? I Eric, how you doing? Thanks a lot. Or you calling in from today? I'm up in Connecticut Right now hanging out my bunker, my basement, doing the virtual stuff, as everyone else has, so it kind of caught in the middle. I gotta ask, are you socks or Yanks? A hundred percent red sox everything. Austin. I'm from Massachusetts originally, so that's where my allegiance falls. I'm a big baseball guy and I actually used to live in Boston. Loved going to fenway. It's pretty cool experience. If you haven't been, definitely try to check it out. One of my favorite places. Tough season, though, for the socks this year. Yeah, but you know, you got a couple rings the last ten. I'd call that a net win all in all. Yeah, after years of suffering with the Red Sox the Patriots, it's been well deserved. So we're not here to talk about baseball, we're here to talk about customer success and I'd love for you to tell me a little bit more about what you do running customer success at accent. Sure. So I am ultimately responsible for my team's teams are responsible for everything post sale. So it's a little bit of a unique opportunity and a unique role where I'm not just focused in on customer success, but I'm also building out implementation, support, training, adding in a layer of professional services. So it's really an all encompassing group of folks that were pulling together. So I think it's quite a lot of different functions here. I mean, how do you define success within your team? Great questions. So when I first got to accent,...

...it was really multiple folks doing multiple roles in the first thing I really looked was how can I break this up so that we can measure like how would I define success if I were in support? So is it? It's going to SLA's on the customer success side, which I think you know you're well versed in. That's the easiest part, right, that's something that you can measure. Renewals, you can measure net Rr, you can up cells, but services, implementations, you know, those are different metrics and so it's very interesting as we've split this out and we brought in folks to fill in these individual roles, how do we measure them right, and so that that's really something that we're still in the infancy of doing. Yeah, so tell me a little bit about how that transformation has gone to this point as well. So what are some of the unique things that you're doing to try and break down some of these silos between things like training and services? So it's interesting when you're a small shop and actions been around for twenty, twenty five years, right. But really at the heart of it it's a bunch of really smart folks who are handling multiple roles, right, wearing many hats, as we like to say, and so that's not sustainable for scaling and for Growth. So it's really been an exercise and figuring out what folks want to do when they grow up, what part of their day they really enjoy, and getting them focused in on that. So we spent a lot of time splitting out, you know, what's the successful handoff from sales to implementation actually look like, right, because you can measure that, you can coach that, you can build out around that. Then where does support kick in? Right, in some relationships that sort of that ever evolving right. And so how do you get customer success engage so that you have a true separation of church and state between sales, implementation support and then building and cultivating that relationship on the customer success sid so given it their focus areas. I imagine you've been designing some processes to try and to tell this together. So I could you tell me a little bit about your process for doing that? Sure, I love to listen, to understand what works, understand where the pain points are. So the process really I almost look at. So the customer success...

...focus was people, right, so we had to change around our team a little bit. We had folks that were technically focused at really like that, but then, like the paperwork, they got very nervous when it came time to slide that renewal across or start talking about up cells or start talking about expansion. Right. So we had the honest discussion of if that's not what you're comfortable with, is there a better role in the organization? So we started. It was really a some dice, almost an interview, hands on understanding where folks felt comfortable and then figuring out where the gaps were. Right, a gap assessment. Do we have all the right players, all the right skill sets to fill these different areas within the organization? Yeah, it's really interesting process that are going through and actually interviewing your current team to make sure they're in the right role. That sounds like something that might be interesting to do on an ongoing basis as well. I've actually enjoyed it so right, I came to the organization just as covid started beginning of March, so it's been a very unique experience. Right, I think it's I was talking about this the other day with a colleague where we were talking about hey, has it gone as you expected? And the answer is absolutely not. Right. I thought I was going at facetime with folks. I thought I was going to be able to be in the room, but we talked about, you know, visual queues. What does that facebook like on over zoom? What do they mean by that? So it's really been to get to know you in this new world. But also, how do you figure out what someone really wants to do? Right? You have a new person coming in, are they telling you what they think you want to hear? So that takes a little bit more time, right, because you can't just go down to the corner coffee shop and have that that conversation. It's all remote and it's been really interesting and it's taught me a lot of the patients as well as a lot of really fine tuning and getting to the message quicker so that I can really figure that out make sense. And besides things like zoom or hang out, say, what are some of the technology tools that you're using in this sustainable kind of like post sale customer engagement process? Yeah, I mean anything from good old fashioned phone, which is coming back in. If you said to me eight, nine months ago that I would be on actual like picking up the phone and calling people a lot more. It wasn't a customer, I'd say you're crazy, but I think everyone needs a break and...

...it's understanding not only the clients but also your teammates what their communication style is. Right when I first got to the organization, I thought it was really important to have one on one's with everyone, which obviously you keep up, but then I noticed it wasn't working for everyone. So we have folks on the team who are will have the one one scheduled, but if they're not ready, they'll text me and say, Hey, look, could we do it tomorrow because I have got a couple more topics I'm working through. So you know, the tools are the same as everyone's using. It's understanding the communication style of clients, prospects and as teammates. Yeah, so let's talk a little bit more about this from the customers first active so the customer outside looking in and sees all these different folks who are helping them with a variety of different things. How do you ensure alignment so that all those folks are saying the same things and like basically just all organized around that customers success? With accent that is been. I think that the biggest opportunity. I don't want to say a challenge, but it's been an opportunity, right, because my philosophy is different than my predecessor's. Right, our organization is changed, just of aold it's scaling and so it's really outlining that vision for the clients and then making sure that folks on the team in the specific area so if your post implementation, that they understand what the role of support is moving forward. And Oh, I was always used to going to eric for this, but Eric's role is changing a little bit and just reinforcing. So it was a lot of virtual road shows. I continue them to today where I will really talk and reiterate what the philosophy is of the organization, why we're making these changes and how it benefits you, the customer. And it's not really rocket science, but it does take reinforcement and you have to have your team believe in it. They may disagree about the steps we take to get there, but the overall philosophy I think we're all bought into. I know it's only been a few months, but what are some of the early results that you're seeing? So when I first got to the organization. I will tell you I really thought that we did not have a good handle on our account bas right. So if you're adding more into that, it's very rocky and there's there's potential for turn I would say that the initial results from just talking...

...to customers, outlining where we're going, small winds, building credibility, has worked immensely. I think our turn rates are down, are on boarding is quicker, our reaction to customer events, whether it be support, whether it be questions, the time is dramatically dropped from what might have been multiple days weeks to to hours and it sounds like you're taking a very iterative, almost a product like approach to this. So I want to ask you a little bit about your background, especially because as someone who's worked as a PM as well as a CSM, it seems like I got a kindred spirit here. So tell me a bit more about your path from the product side of the business to the customer success side. Yeah, one of the things I've always said, and I retired it, but I'll go it back out here. I never woke up and said I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, firefighter, all really great professions. PRETTY LINEAR in terms of a path. I'm a curious mind, so you know, I started tinkering. I'm a Geek at heart. I was building really in my mind what I thought really great products, whether you workflow, whether it be, you know, healthcare software, and I just couldn't figure out why it wasn't resonating in the marketplace and an opportunity. There was a great group of folks from that were essentially account managers. I said I feel like I can help and I had no professional customer success training. I had never worked. I hate sales. I run sales teams but I really just I don't like sales. But something about customer success and just being able to be honest, truthful, transparent and help folks really gave me the understanding of way. I understand why those products weren't resonating that I was building because I was thinking about how I wanted it, what I thought was cool and what my team thought was cool, but there was problems in the way it was being designed. It was it didn't translate to the end user. You saw that with customer success and I think it gives me a very unique view when I go into some of these clients or even prospects. I still help out on the Presale side and I think it's the empathy, the understanding of it from both sides, from from not only...

...did the product perspective, the user present user perspective and like will this make my life better? Will it help me releive x, Y and Z pain points? And so that's really the journey that I've taken. I've toyed with going back to the product side, but but I think you know, with the type of roles that I've been in now, where I get to handle multiple different flavors at the post sale, it's been very interesting and I think it if you talk to accents product group, I think it's also been an asset to them right, just having someone who's not just looking to push paper, looking to say that the clients always right and we have to do that's really understanding that it is a give and take. That sort of the long explanation of how I came around. I just wanted to make myself more knowledgeable and get on the the post sale side. Yeah, and it's really funny because oftentimes folks so last me, hey, how do I get into product, and I'll say go to customer success go to customer support because it help you build empathy with the customers. And so I like in the long term run, I imagine that there's going to be a lot of overlap between customer success and product and wouldn't be surprised to see different businesses innovating around maybe combining those roles and saying, okay, hey, how can our product managers also be the ones who are directly serving our customers? Yeah, you hear you know, product folks love to get on with the customers and sometimes you wonder, you know, does their resonate with them? And I use this when I'm hiring for any role. I don't want six Erics. You know you're great, you're good at what you do, but cloning you isn't going to help me my team the organization right. So I do think you see those folks that have the technical prowess who have been product folks. You know, maybe they just don't want to write spects anymore, maybe they don't want to sit in the morning standups because they understand that through those phone calls they're picking up something on the customer side. Let me go over there and try to help, and I think the skills are very transferable and I actually if anyone would ever ask advice, and every now and then you get folks starting out that ask how do I get into something? I think sitting on all sides, doing a tour duty on all sides of the order organization, whether it's Qa, whether it's marketing, whether it's product whether it's, you know,...

...account management, customers success, I think makes you a stronger person further on down the line. Yeah, I couldn't agree more. As a fellow journeymen through the different areas of business operations across the tifical software company, you really get to learn a lot about the business and I think that would bring true not only for a role like customer success and product management, which have to understand all those different parts of the business, but also something like, you know, starting your own business as well. You need to be able to understand all those different facets and be able to design your organization the most effective way to ultimately be in service to the customer. Yeah, I'm sure, like me, you've been in organizations where you know either leadership or key areas just doesn't understand or doesn't see the other side of the equation and you can almost feel that there will be that grinding halting moment where you'll success will be capped because you don't have that empathy or you don't have the understanding of how the customers using your product or service. Yep, totally get it this. I'D BE REMISS IF I didn't ask you a little bit more about some of your favorite technology tools. I'm a builder here and I'm just always curious to learn. Like, what are some of the things that you just really love using in your relationship with your customers? That's a great question. The thing that I'm finding most useful these days, and this is not a plug, but I actually enjoy our own technology. So accent has what we call our revenue operating system and at the crux of it it's helping US process data. So if you look at transactional events, so it's, you know, renewals, it's communications and it's surfacing it up in a way that allows me to look across my portfolio right everyone can do something line by line and Excel and say, well, that renewal events coming up in three weeks. We haven't talked to the customer and the last six months activities are down right so using accent and our platform and almost helping build out that customer success aspect of it is something that I use a lot. I find that we're sort of in this period where technology is almost coming in at a detriment to some of these...

...relationships, right, because you're trying to do your outreaches and you're running your campaigns for your campaign manager. So we don't have a currently a customer success specific tool and house, you know, ivoyed with with bringing gain sight or some of the other ones. I've done that in the past. I don't know if we're ready for that, but I do like the visibility of showing activity based metrics and using that to help manage our portfolio, especially as I'm bringing in new customer success managers, and allows them to kind of see their book of business as it stands today. Helps me coach them to move these relationships along. That's a really interesting perspective, right, like deciding or defining when the organization is ready or need some sort of like overarching tool or if we can use just the things that we've already got, especially are on product to make things a bit easier. So I like that perspective and that that comes from Eric honestly making the mistake before. I need to have this all encompassing tool that's going to help my team, right, or the organization. And we spent a lot of time and we wasted a lot of cycles. Right. So, right now you're fighting for space in the very crowded market. Right companies are looking to reduce their overhead with technologies. So if you're not out there helping them, your potentially on the chopping block. To take the time to implement one of these systems now would probably come at the cost of losing core customers, which I don't want to jeopardize. I would rather us get that personal approach back. Where's the technology approach, especially as we come through the ladder part of this year? That makes a lot of sense and you know, that's one of the things that I'm constantly thinking about with my team too, is like hey, instead of starting with the tool, let's start with the problem. Right. You start with the problem and say like, okay, what is it that we need to accomplish? Do we need to send out more emails to our customers? Do we need better insight into how they're using our products? Like, start with that first, and then that would get you to the right solution. It's not always necessarily a...

...tool. It could just be a new process or we need to adjust the way we use our existing software in order to most effectively. Are that customer. Yeah, I think a lot of that also comes from my I'm a big picture, long term or mid range that person. That's how I view things. Sure, there's the ups and downs of, you know, things that are going on now, but I also realize that there's a growing organization, in a scaling organization. Six, nine, twelve, eighteen months from now it's going to be drastically different. Right, our client portfelows going to be different, the problems that they're going to be looking to solve could be different. Right, as we go into two thousand and twenty one, do I really want to take the time now to put something in the a stake in the ground that may not even make sense in six months? Yeahs ten of sense. Well. So I like to wrap all these episodes of a similar question which is especially, I think, pertinent for you, someone who started in kind of like a different career path and necessarily customer success, and then moved into it. But what was the best piece of advice you got from someone else related to customer success. Be Honest and start talking honestly, right. A lot of folks hide behind emails, a lot of folks hide behind, you know, the automation component of it. Just be honest. He's transparent and build report right. You're not going to do that through email. You know, in the old days it was phone, it was going to launch, it was getting on conversations like this, but that was the best. I actually interesting. My first customer success role reported into the CRO and so it was sales customer success and you realize that the successful sales folks weren't just shooting emails out, weren't just shooting out paper and try and they land a big you fish. They were talking, they were communicating. There would be honest. They were saying no to certain prospects because it didn't fit. And so I that's always resonated with me. There's just a problem, let's talk about it. If there's an issue with, you know, the way things were implemented, let's die stack that. Let's course correct now so that you can start getting value and then we'll make will make it better in the future. Yeah, y'all, be honest and talk. I love it. You got to be able to have a conversation if you're going to be a customer success later, because you got to get to know people. Ultimately,...

...that's what drives business is forward. Thank you so much for your time today, Graham. I really appreciate it. Again, y'all, that was a Graham Gil who's the VP of customer success at accent technologies. Thank you again for listening to this week's episode of Customer Success Leader. Thanks a lot, Eric. You depend on the fastest time to value for your customers, so I let data on board and sell you down. Stop emailing spreadsheets, creating CSP templates or setting up FTP transfers. Create collaboratives to cure 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 files 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 a 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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