In this episode of the Launch Station, we spoke to Linden Hillenbrand, head of Customer Success & Support at Cloudera. He has over 12 years of experience at GE and Cloudera in both technical and leadership roles. He’s passionate about working on transforming a company’s philosophy into one focused on customer success and instrumenting the customer journey. At Cloudera, he is focused on positive outcomes for internal and external customers and sees himself as a leader shaping change within the organization championing the adoption of newer technologies.
When asked about his superpowers, he shared that he thinks of himself as an eternal optimist and the ultimate customer pleaser who’s learned the craft of strategic organizational execution – and bringing people together cross-functionally to help them succeed.
In this podcast, he talks about his journey working with multiple stakeholders — both as a vendor and as a buyer, the role of a customer champion, and qualifying the right customer champions and leveraging them to ensure success for the customer and in turn, for Customer Success teams.
In this episode, you’ll hear him answer questions on:
- The evolution of onboarding
- The most effective ways to approach enterprise clients
- Identifying and qualifying the right customer champion
- The right way to leverage the customer champion to grow your business
- Rookie mistakes to avoid while dealing with customer champions
- Advice for Customer Success leaders
Summary and Takeaways
All through the session with Linden, we couldn’t help but be inspired by his focus on the fundamentals of customer success — keeping the customer’s success at the center of everything — selling, servicing, and expansion. Here’s what we are taking away from this thoughtful and insightful session.
Evolution of Onboarding
Onboarding has evolved from just being about large implementations involving high resource, time, and energy commitments to ensuring lower Time-To-Value for customers — with an increased focus on being customer friendly. Today, vendors need to stay focused on progressively getting the customer more value.
Paths to approach enterprise clients
Enterprise clients with over 100M ARR often have multiple champions, There are two paths to finding champions:
Through central IT
- Best suited for products serving wider use cases;
- By identifying a champion here who can then take you to other departments.
Through a champion in one line of business
- Ideal for products that are purpose-built or are integrations
- By identifying a champion in a single line of business and understanding what success looks like for it and how it can be measured
Qualifying a customer champion
Ensure that your customer champion:
- Has the seniority credibility within the customer organization to be your brand ambassador after you’ve made their use case successful
- Is willing to go to the executive table and can articulate your contribution
- Understands who the key stakeholders in their organization are and have the pull and the credibility to influence other stakeholders
Land and expand
Leveraging a champion to expand your business:
- To balance your commitment to the customer champion and your larger aspirations, make sure your messaging and behavior convey that the customer champion’s success is your top priority.
- Show them a roadmap for their use-case; however, showcase the complete capabilities of your product to show them that you as a vendor can service other areas of their business as well
- Demonstrate your expertise through other successful projects and by taking the lead to guide them by giving them through prescriptions while getting their feedback
Most importantly, ask how other parts of the organization (such as sales, analytics, finance, etc) tie into their use-case’s success and who can be leaned on to ensure the roadmap set out for them becomes a reality. This serves multiple purposes:
- It builds a way for you to expand your growth within the customer by understanding and acquainting yourself with other champions within the company
- It helps you qualify the customer champion and assess their understanding of other stakeholders and their equation with them
- For your customer champion, it showcases your commitment to the roadmap you have laid out for them
- It reduces the risk of friction between other businesses and teams at later stages
- It can help your customer champion articulate to other champions how you have contributed to their success
Assessing and balancing priorities within the customer organization
Assessing where you fit in with their priorities
- Ask your champion to walk you through the company’s strategic priorities or OKRs; understand their alignment with these strategic OKRs
- Attach to a strategic use-case that affects the company’s top or bottom line
Balancing priorities with other teams/functions
- Educate your champion to ensure they can articulate how your effort attaches to a strategic priority
- What this project effort will get the organization post-execution
Rookie mistakes that CS team leaders should avoid
- Asking to connect to the champion’s manager
- Pushing too hard on timelines to get the next deal or grow into other functions
How early-stage organizations/startups can sell without having prior use-cases or success stories
- Articulate the understanding of the problem (In most cases, startups have experience with the problem their solution is designed to solve).
- Demonstrate an understanding of their business by showing them a vision/roadmap for their function/company.
Advice for people working in Customer Success
- Stay focused on understanding the buyer journey — the buying cycle, the stages, the value sold, what the customer is trying to achieve, the roadmap, the time to value, etc
- Hiring: Hire people from backgrounds such as consulting that balance both technical expertise and project management and that can also support your sales team. This helps build credibility with enterprise customers
- Make sure the CS team is designed to scale to support organizations at different spend levels - through training team members, documentation, playbooks, etc.
- Study churn but also study how or why customers are shrinking/constricting.
- Understand cohorts of customers — by understanding key differences between best-fit and low-fit customers to identify patterns
Parting ways with a customer champion
In cases where the customer fit is low and friction is beginning to show at both ends, delicately communicate why it is not working out. Even in cases of mismanaged expectations or overselling or mis-selling, as Customer Success, take ownership of the issue and where possible, offer other solutions that could solve the problem that the customer is looking to solve.
The way ahead for Customer Success
Linden shared his thoughts on some key changes that CS will undergo in the future:
- Customer-facing functions such as Customer Success and Professional Services and Support will no longer work in silos
- Tools will make CS less people-heavy
- The hunter-farmer distinction between Sales and Customer Success will become more pronounced
Recommended reading for people in Customer Success Leadership roles
- Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue (by Dan Steinman, Lincoln Murphy, and Nick Mehta)
- Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine (by Jeanne Bliss)