Success is the new Sales with Dave Blake, Founder and CEO of ClientSuccess

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Dave Blake is a Customer Success Pioneer and Founder of ClientSuccess a SaaS based Customer Success Platform based out of the Silicon Slopes, in Utah, who is changing the way companies manage, retain and grow their existing customer base. Dave joined me on The SaaS Revolution Show to discuss why Success is the new Sales

You can listen to the full interview below and read the transcript, alternatively, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and never miss an episode.

Alex Theuma:  Welcome to the SaaS Revolution Show.  I’m your host, Alex Theuma.

I’m super excited to be joined today by a SaaS founder based out of the Silicon Slopes – that’s in Utah, if you didn’t know – who’s changing the way companies manage, retain and grow their existing customer base with his customer success platform SaaS company.  Welcome to the show Dave Blake, CEO of ClientSuccess.

 

Dave Blake:  Thanks, Alex.  It’s an honour to be here.

 

Alex Theuma:  It’s a pleasure to have you on the show finally, Dave.  I believe you’ve listened to the show before, so you know the first couple of questions we want to get to know you, we want to get to know a little bit about your company as well to help the audience get a better picture of you.

Who is Dave Blake?  Tell us a little bit about yourself?

 

Dave Blake:  I’m founder and CEO of ClientSuccess and my background has been in this space for most of my career.  I was early days at a company called Arthur Andersen.  Most people know of them that they went out of business because of the Enron scandal.  But I was on the technology team at Arthur Andersen that early on and eventually was found by a company, an early-stage startup called Omniture.

Omniture was a web analytics company.  At the time, I didn’t really know much about it but they recruited me and brought me in as a Customer Success Manager managing strategic accounts.  Fortunately, those out there who know Omniture today know that it was an absolute rocket ship and a success and so I was able to climb the ladder, if you will, at Omniture.  I built their Strategic Accounts team taking care of their top customers worldwide, and every big logo you can think of we were managing.

And then we went through hypergrowth and Omniture went public and had our IPO and then we were acquired eventually by Adobe, which was an amazing experience to be on that journey.

Then once I was at Adobe, I ran the Global Enterprise Account Management Organisation for that side of the business and was there for many years until I decided I was ready for a change and founded ClientSuccess really to bring a solution to market that I wish I would have had all those years managing a global customer success team.

I’m based in Utah.  Silicon Slopes, as you said, which is a great place for a SaaS ecosystem here with some really big unicorn companies, and have five kids.  When I’m not spending all my time growing ClientSuccess, I’m usually at a soccer game or dance recital with one of my five kids.

 

Alex Theuma:  Wow, five kids.  I mean, I’ve got two and I find that hard enough.  Congrats on the five.  And launching ClientSuccess with five kids must be hard.

And you mentioned Silicon Slopes.  You’ve got some pretty big unicorns there the likes of like Insidesales.com and Domo.  I think they’re the ones that I know.

 

Dave Blake:  Yeah.  Insidesales, Domo, Qualtrics, Pluralsight, other great companies like Instructure and HireVue and Entrada.  It is a great time to be a SaaS company in Utah right now.  We feel fortunate to benefit from those before us and also hopefully lay the groundwork for other aspiring entrepreneurs who are coming behind us.

 

Alex Theuma:  A ton of great SaaS companies there.  Is there something in the water in Utah?

 

Dave Blake:  I think so.  Utah is a great place.  We had some early technology successes.  Most people don’t realise that Wordperfect, it’s not around anymore but they were founded here and NOVELL.  That set a great foundation for technology, and then Omniture’s success even expanded the opportunity for SaaS talent and experience to be infused into this ecosystem.  The cost of living is great, we have great talent from the universities here in Utah, and just some great experience from other SaaS companies that just continue to infuse talent throughout the market.

 

Alex Theuma:  Tell us a little bit more about ClientSuccess.  You mentioned this is a product that you wished that you had throughout all your years of building out customer success teams and strategies.  But give us a bit more insight into why you founded the company? how many years ago you incepted it? how much you’ve raised? how much you’ve grown?

 

Dave Blake:  ClientSuccess we’re a Customer Success Management Platform so we’re very tailored for customer success teams to manage all phases of the lifecycle and surface insights and analytics that will help empower the frontline CSMs and, what I like to say, enlighten the executives around health and engagement and retention and growth.

The need came about because in my role managing our strategic accounts worldwide, our team had great success.  We were told by Josh James, the founder of Omniture and founder and CEO of Domo, he had one clear objective for me and that was you will never lose a strategic account.  You can imagine that’s quite the scary directive to receive from Josh.  We built a great team and we had success we never did.  But it was really all because of a phenomenal team rather than any technology.

What we found ourselves doing is coupling together spreadsheets and custom dashboards and a few fields on Salesforce and really didn’t have solutions to empower our team.  When I left Adobe in 2013, I was in a fortunate position to be able to self-fund a solution and it felt like that there were very few executives at that time who had 10 years of SaaS customer success experience and decided to put the experience and best practices into a solution.

I initially self-funded it, put it together, built an MVP with some developers, and then I actually took it back to Josh James when he, at the time, he was building Domo, in the early phases of Domo.  And he took a look at our MVP and said, “I’m in.  I’ll be your first investor.”  So we were fortunate to have him as our first investor.

Since then we’ve raised $3.3 million in seed money and we’re just having a blast building this business.

 

Alex Theuma:  Great stuff.  And obviously having that connection with Josh James was, I guess, fortuitous to help you go from self-funded to getting that initial investment.  But not only initial investment, investment from one of the top guys in SaaS from a founder perspective.  It’s good to know how that came about.

Did it help having Josh onboard as your first investor when you went to subsequently raise your seed round?

 

Dave Blake:  Yes, definitely.  Josh I just consider one of the top SaaS CEOs out there by far.  He’s just a brilliant CEO.  He’s built a great culture.  I think he’s built arguably the best sales teams in the history of SaaS at Omniture, and now Domo.  And to have him as our first investor just brought a lot of credibility I call the street cred, if you will, across many people.  I just appreciate him believing in us early.  He understands the importance of customer success and is been a great mentor, friend, and investor.

And then we are also fortunate to have investments from other… Scott Dorsey, who is also a phenomenal SaaS CEO.  He was the founder and CEO of ExactTarget that was sold through Salesforce.  Having both Josh James and Scott Dorsey as investors in ClientSuccess has been very helpful.  We were honoured to have them on our team.

 

Alex Theuma:  Can you tell us a little bit about then your growth story since you’ve had your MVP to now?

 

Dave Blake:  We were formally founded in 2014 and started selling at the very end of 2014.  Many founders out there will understand when I say that our first year was very what I would call scrappy sales and marketing.  It was me for most of the year and one other sales rep.  We had no marketing talent full time on our team so we were using some additional resources there to build content.  That was really it.

So 2015 we built a great business on the low-down, kind of under the radar, and we felt very good about the traction through 2015.  This year, we’ve hired more marketing in sales and really started to accelerate our growth.  We’re very happy with how our solutions resonated in the market and where we stand in the market and are looking to just continue to fuel that growth through the end of the year and in 2017.

 

Alex Theuma:  Where do you want to take ClientSuccess?  What are the key steps you think that you’ll need to execute as well to get there to wherever your goals are?

 

Dave Blake:  We’ve got a big and bold vision for the company.  Really, our goal as customer success continues to just receive a tremendous amount of attention and investment, we want to be a leader in this space and innovate faster and dream big and execute.  For us, as we look to the rest of the year and over 2017, we are focusing heavily on product innovation and differentiation and really scaling our revenue teams, which we look at as the marketing, sales, and customer success teams.  That’s where we’ll be focusing there.  It’s just staying focused on our vision and executing across that vision over the next year.

 

Alex Theuma:  We’ve got some great info and insights there on ClientSuccess and your background story, your growth story, where you want to go.  Let’s talk a little bit about the topic of customer success.

Tell me, is customer success really the new sales?  And if so, why?

 

Dave Blake:  We have this saying that you just mentioned that success is the new sales and we really believe that.  That’s because, as everybody understands in the SaaS environment, your existing customers are really the lifeblood of a SaaS business.  Your ability to retain and expand the revenue within your existing customer base and really authentically help your customers succeed then your success as a SaaS company will follow.  There’s no question.

How the saying came about around success is the new sales is that we started seeing this shift over the last year where the influence of customer success teams continues to rise to the point where many of the VPs of customer success out there have a higher quota than their sales counterpart, if you look at the renewal quota and the expansion quota within the existing customer base.

We believe that over the coming years where all this investment has been made in sales and marketing technology and investment within companies, a lot of that will shift over to the post-sales side and you truly will see this massive investment on customer success side as they focus on retaining and growing their existing customer base.

 

Alex Theuma: How do you build a culture of customer success within a SaaS company?

 

Dave Blake:  It starts at the top.  It starts with the CEO and the executive team really all believing in customer success.  And not only believe in it but living it on a day-in, day-out basis and ensuring that all the functional groups within a company are completely aligned around the customer.

It’s understanding that customer success is not a department.  It is a culture.  And the best way that you can drive a culture of customer success is to have leaders aligned and frontline team members aligned around customer names, customer metrics, customer experience and empowering the company as a whole to take care of their customers in little and big ways.

 

Alex Theuma:

What about the scenario where I’ve got a SaaS startup where one year in we don’t have a customer success team but just raised some seed funding, we’re looking to grow the team and customer success is an area that I’ve been identified that’s going to be key for the company’s growth.  Maybe we’ve got some bad retention metrics.  How would you build out a customer success team in a SaaS company if you’ve been parachuted into that scenario?

 

Dave Blake:  I think early on, you typically want to see your CEO in front of as many customers as possible spending time with customers.  And I would say even your VP of Product and some engineers.  Because if you’re really trying to align with customers, and maybe you don’t have a customer success team, how can you get as much exposure to your team on your customer’s challenges, their business objectives and their needs as possible?

Then when you’re ready to hire a customer success team, first of all, obviously, it’s finding the right people because, as much as there’s technology and process that enable customer success teams, it starts with the people.  And so you’re looking for customer success managers and leaders who have a lot of hustle, who have empathy for the customer, who have a passion for customers and have the ability to drive change for the customer even though they don’t have direct impact or ability to affect that change.  Meaning like one of the toughest roles out there is a customer success manager because the company relies on them to take care of customers but they don’t have the ability to change anything in the product.  They have no ability to change the sales process.  They’re just there to represent the customer.  And if you can find people who will accept that and run with that responsibility, that’s the first step to building a great customer success team.

 

Alex Theuma:  What about now we’ve got the team.  We understand that customer success is going to be a key strategy for our SaaS company’s growth in the future.  What are the key components of a winning customer success strategy?

 

Dave Blake:  Great question.  I think there’s 3 or 4 key components.  One is obviously the people, the next is the process.  And when I say process it’s being able to map out how you’re going to take care of your customers throughout all the phases of the lifecycle.

There’s too many teams out there that I have that I call to have a retain-and-maintain strategy where it’s a little bit more passive.  They just have their frequent calls or checkpoints via email but they’re really not engaging with customers to understand their needs and have a methodology that derives proactive engagement throughout the lifecycle.  So building out a very specific journey map, as what some would call it, or lifecycle management strategy is important.

And then metrics are critical.  You can’t improve what you don’t measure.  So really having your core metrics strategy in place so that you’re measuring customer success and engagement and disposition across the team.

And then like I said, just at the end of the day, I think it comes down to the fundamentals.  Are you engaging with your customers on a frequent basis?  Do you understand the key executives’ objectives?  And are you aligning and rallying the team around that and are they engaging with your product?  We really focus on the fundamentals.

 

Alex Theuma:  Great insights there into building out a winning customer success strategy from somebody that’s got perhaps more customer success experience than most folks in the planet right now.  Tell me about any of the sort of challenges that are facing customer success as a category?  What challenges are you seeing out there that maybe client success is facing or just the movement is facing?

 

Dave Blake:  I think it’s really just the pace in which it’s growing is actually the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity.  It’s growing so quickly that it’s hard to find great talent out there and it’s hard for teams to really keep up with the pace of that they need to evolve within their organisation.  And so right now there’s a tremendous influx of new talent that’s kind of converted over to a customer success role and it’s about those teams really understanding and executing their own best practices.  But like I said, that’s the biggest opportunity as well.

The biggest opportunity is that these customer success teams, as they execute, have the ability to have a huge impact within their companies.  And I think a lot of these teams are really looking for… they want to tout their own success.  Typically sales teams, when they close a deal, they celebrate with a ringing the bell or whatever it may be, whatever kind of celebration.  I think it’s time for customer success teams to be loud and proud within organisations too for every renewal that they make, for every upsell or expansion deal that they drive to really educate their organisation about the value of their place within their organisation.

 

Alex Theuma:  Can you give us a little insight into a profile of a Customer Success Manager that you would hire?

 

Dave Blake:  There’s more talent that is starting to come to where you can find customer success managers with some SaaS customer success experience.  But more often than not, they don’t need to come from that background.  In fact, some of my best customer success managers and leaders at Omnitron and Adobe came from completely different backgrounds.  One was a former sales rep at IBM, another was a Product Manager at Amazon, and another one was a Senior Merchandising Director at Tommyhilfiger.com.

But the one thing that they all brought to the table was, as I mentioned earlier, they had a hustle and a passion for customers.  They were able to have this empathy for their needs, and they were very good about building a relationship and then having the tech savviness to be able to bring solutions to the table.

I think if you can find talent in any functional group that has that passion for the customer and can build a solid, productive relationship, they have the makings of a great Customer Success Manager.

 

Alex Theuma:   I know very well that you’re flying over to Dublin from the Silicon Slopes next month, on September the 21st and 22nd for SaaStock 2016, which is Europe’s premiere SaaS conference.  You’ll be doing a keynote there.  What’s the title of the keynote?  What can we expect to hear from you?

 

Dave Blake:  We’re really excited to be at SaaStock this year and I think that this is going to be an amazing event.  Everybody should be there.

The title of my keynote would be The Customer Success Maturity Model.  We’ll be talking about a lot of the stuff we discussed briefly today, but how do you build and scale a customer success team from startup through enterprise and what are the key areas and building blocks that you want to focus on in each of the core pillars of building a customer success team.  So we’re really excited to share that.  Hopefully we’ll get a lot of the founders in there who are anxious to build and scale those teams and that we’ll be able to provide some great insights and best practices to consider.

 

Alex Theuma:

I understand also that ClientSuccess you’re running your own customer success conference in September as well, just a couple of weeks before SaaStock, or even maybe a week before.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

 

Dave Blake:  Yeah.  We’re hosting an event we’re calling the CS100 Summit.  That’s to bring together the top 100 customer success leaders from around the globe to Park City, Utah.  If you’ve never been to Park City, it’s an amazing destination to come.  And we’re having 3 days of just authentic and deep-dive customer success conversations and keynotes and a lot of fun.

We’d love any customer success leaders out there who may be listening to this.  We welcome you to join us at the CS100 event and you can find more information at cs100.clientsuccess.com.

 

Alex Theuma:  Well, I’m not a customer success leader but hopefully one day I’ll make it over to Utah.  Definitely it’s a place that I’m interested to visit maybe both professionally and personally.

We’ve come to the end of the show.  It’s been great speaking with you.  I’ve learned a ton from you and looking forward to catching up in Dublin at SaaStock and maybe even having a pint of Guinness.   Really thank you for being on the show today.

 

Dave Blake:  It’s great to be here, Alex.  Looking forward to seeing you in Dublin and everybody else.

Catch Dave Blake’s keynote at SaaStock on the 22nd September in Dublin. Book tickets here before it’s too late

Register here for the CS100 Summit on 13-15 September in Utah

 

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