Lisa Schreiber has recently joined as the Chief Customer Officer at BlackLine. Prior to Blackline, Lisa has spent over two decades in customer success leadership roles at ForcePoint, Oracle, Golden Gate software and other companies driving hundreds of millions of revenues in renew and expand businesses.
Lisa was brought up in Western Pennsylvania as an outdoor girl. “I had more skinned knees than you can imagine”. These experiences helped her build a more resilient character. Not having more than enough infused the hunger to do well.
customer success cares about the value the customer is receiving from the product vis a vis support tries to keep the customer at the same value level. Companies need to treat their customers well all the time to get their business and not just at the time of renewals.
(20:14) Lisa feels that the startups should start thinking about having a customer success function right from the start as the first set of customers in a business are really special as they help build relationships and their feedback is extremely critical.
Lisa explains that everything that can be automated should be automated. However, at times the customer needs to call you, be available and be quick to solve their queries even if it means putting more customer rep on the line. In the long run, this would lead to customer happiness and employee satisfaction.
People should practice negotiating on the small things to build practice. The negotiation for the job starts at the headhunter level and then stick to the increase or role you want and anything else that is of value to you.
Lisa says “ At some point you have to become a storyteller and your own marketer.”. Keep repeating the successes you have achieved in different groups and to different audiences and be okay about it. Say it at different meetings, in different words and keep repeating it. So, when you are contending for the next big role, your achievements will be at the back of your mind and are going to be very natural.
Dont give all your energy to your job or to your family either. Save some for yourself. A happier you will lead to a happier family. And the other is to give your kids smaller challenges to solve so they can take up the bigger challenges with confidence. Give them space to grow and evolve.
Lisa: So your first customer is really, really special and your customers will guide you. So when I was at the startup, I was at Golden gate software. Started when there were 40 people. We had good customers. These customers helped us mature the product. And they gave us free guidance and advice. So I would say, look in whatever form you can, you need to think about the customer in the product design. Then your first customer is like gold. Your second customer is a little more gold where you got it and you’ve got to use them and build a relationship, so you can hear from them. How did that go? Is that working out? What would you recommend? What other use cases do you have? What else do you think we should do? Look, I know you’re going to have really smart product managers, really smart engineers but if you can start with this voice of the customer, you will be very, very, very successful.
Ankur: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Zero to Exit. This is Ankur and Neelima. So far on this podcast, we’ve had CEOs, VCs, product and go-to-market leaders but we are yet to have someone covering a critical function in a startup journey and that’s customer success. In SaaS business they say “a hundred percent of your time should be spent on customer retention”. This is because about two third of your business or time will come from Renew and Expand and you got to pay attention to it. To help explain the customer success function, how to navigate often the difficult and stressful conversations with customers on product escalations and expand and churn, we’re fortunate to have with us, Lisa Schreiber, currently chief customer success officer at Forcepoint and there’s twists to the story, so you gotta tune in, a global leader in cybersecurity. Lisa has spent over two decades in customer success leadership roles at Oracle, Golden Gate software and other companies driving hundreds of millions of revenues in renew and expand businesses. Lisa and I met just last week on the flight from Houston to San Francisco and we talked about customer success, negotiations, exec communication, managing up down sideways. And I knew right away that I had to have her on this show. And here we are.
Hi, Lisa. Welcome to the show.
Lisa: Hi Ankur. Thank you so much. And it’s so nice to see you again and you’re not sitting next to me on the airplane but you look well rested. It’s good to see you.
Ankur: Yeah likewise. Thanks a lot for coming on the show on such a short notice. I know you were returning from a mini vacay and when we met. It looks like they’ve obviously relaxed a lot of COVID related restrictions due to the drop in COVID cases. How was your trip to Cancun? I think.
Lisa: I flew out of Cancun. I started in Marieta and then I ended up in a Chichen Itza and then I flew out of Cancun. It was a great trip. It was in between jobs, so we’ll talk about that. It was very relaxing and felt very comfortable. I felt very comfortable in Mexico.
Ankur: Awesome. Yeah. I’m glad to see people are starting to go out and about. I think the nightmare that was COVID is about to be over and we can do fun things and you recommended a couple of places in the vicinity. It’s going to be definitely on my bucket list.
So, in our conversation when we were chatting on the flight, you mentioned that you come from humble beginnings. Tell us a little bit more about your childhood and upbringing, specifically the things that you learned growing up, both personally and professionally that have sort of carried over the last three decades.
Lisa: Thanks for that question. And you know, it’s near and dear to my heart to talk about some of these things. And I have children, I know you have children and you think about what experiences are they getting? For me, I grew up in a small paper mill town in Western Pennsylvania. Everyone knew everybody and my family were third generation Pennsylvanians and my father was a very good outdoorsman. I would say, he was an expert outdoorsman. He was in the army and then he ended up being the science teacher at my high school and my mother who was also well-educated went back to school after she had three girls and got her degree and was a speech therapist. So they were both in education and they cared about education and that carried through to the family. We didn’t have a lot. And it’s funny, you just didn’t realize you didn’t have a lot. And I still laugh. We still own the little house we grew up in, my sisters and I. There’s still no shower. Look, this is not a hard worry. It’s just the way it was. And we, three girls learned how to manage all this. But it’s this idea that you build resilience through your experiences and through the character that your parents passed down. Right? So they gave us curiosity, education and then also this idea of trying. I had more skinned knees than you can count but it was really because we were out trying things and doing things and my father who didn’t have any boys, I became his older son. So I got the experience of a lot of his outdoorsmen skills which was really great for me. My mother was a great homemaker, so I got a lot of the homemaking skills from her. So it was great to just have this variety of skills. and I rely on them now.
Neelima: So does this also help with the hunger to do well? This kind of upbringing..
Lisa: It does. And I’ll give you an interesting story. I used to be the CIO at US trust. And they dealt with the top 1% of the wealthy people in the US and they did a study on generational wealth. So if you’re really wealthy and you have children, like how do they feel about wealth and what’s their motivation to do well? And when children don’t think they can do better than the parents, they lose motivation. I felt that if I applied it to myself and I was very proud of my parents that I could also succeed and that did help with my motivation. It’s a great question Neelima. Thank you for asking that
Ankur: Yeah, your story definitely reminds me about geeky sisters, a YouTube CEO and her sister also a CEO in another company 23andMe. Yeah, totally.
Neelima: I’ll pivot to your career now. You’ve been running customer success before it was a thing. People understand customer support but at some point the tech industry caught onto the idea of customer success. Tell our listeners what’s the difference and what the real customer success brings to the table for our customers.
Lisa: So the difference is this- customer success cares about the value you’re receiving from the product, how quickly can you get to that value? How quickly can you see that you can get to first value in full value. And to me, support tries to keep you at that value level, if you run into other issues.
In the past with on-premise software, all of the responsibility was on the customer. If they didn’t install it well, they didn’t have the right technical understanding, if they didn’t have enough hardware, right. It was all their fault, all their fault. That is all gone. It is no longer the customer’s fault. If they aren’t getting the value for the software. Now there’s certainly a customer component but it’s so much smaller. It’s really on the company, the SaaS company, to be sure that they’ve made it easy to use and easy for customers to consume. So they look like the heroes they should be for choosing that company.
Neelima: Follow up question. Does a company need both customer support and customer success?
Lisa: Boy in a perfect world, I would like to get rid of support. I would like to have error-free software (Laughs) and I think we could get there. I know, I know. I know. I would like to get rid of all customer cases but at the end of the day, however you set this up, the customer needs to be able to use your product to solve their business problem and they need to be able to rely on it. So if you don’t need customer support because you can do it through other means whatever that set up is but it’s a whole continuum and you need to be sure the customer is taken care of. And the most important time is this time called “Reputation threatening events”. People will call themselves sev 1, sev 2. I care about when our customer’s reputation is on the line and are we ready to help them in the way that they need it as quickly as they need it. Because remember with SaaS products, the customer has given up all control. Now I told you before, it was very hard to get products installed in the old world, right? But they had all the employees and when there was an emergency, they could say to all of them, stay here until it’s fixed and they would. Now they’re counting on you to stay there until it’s fixed. And you have to demonstrate that and you have to show them that they’re just not one of a million or one of a hundred and that you care about them and their business. And this is what’s going to make them successful and you successful.
Ankur: yeah, very well said. The other day I was looking at the Salesforce’s last quarterly results and one of the testament to the fact that the customer success is becoming such a critical function is the fact that Salesforce’s service cloud revenue growth exceeds their sales cloud now. So just kind of gets to show how much importance not only is it for Gainsight and Salesforce but the customers are spending money on buying software to use the customer success function. Now in your experience, does both renew and expand fall in the success bucket or that’s still dealt with by the sales teams. Has there been a paradigm shift in our industry?
Lisa: I think there’s a shift but I think they can be. So, I don’t care where they sit in the organization. We all need to care. I’ve worked in organizations where the renewal function was not very mature and it needs to still stay in sales. I’ve worked in companies where it’s very mature and it blends very easily in with customer success. I’ve worked in both models and I think you can focus on both. It really is about are you delivering the value to the customer and are you bringing great products to market? You’re going to lose the renewals just in two cases. One is if you’re doing great things and the customer doesn’t know what it is. They’re going to go to some new, great thing. Like someone’s going to be knocking on their door saying- can’t you try something else and you won’t know this because there’s so much digital discovery. Now, a sales person doesn’t have to knock on the door of your company to sell you a product. And I’ll give you a simple example if I was in HR and let’s see I’m a director in HR and I want new HR software and maybe I’ll go out and I’ll look at Workday and I’ll look at others success factors. Give me the list, right? I will weigh them, understand how they work. I may even try them out if they give me a chance and I can probably also do the financial cost analysis before I ever go to the head of human resources. In the past, the salesperson would go to the head of human resources and try and convince that person that you need this now. It’s coming up from below and the salespeople didn’t see it coming. Now, there’s probably someone who was watching your website who said- Oh look, this company seems to be pretty interested in what we have. Let’s see if we can reach out to them. I think this is where sales engineers are really, really critical. You can have some salespeople connected to the website. This is where I think support’s really critical. If they’re going to test drive my product. I want them to have a terrific experience doing it because they’re making the decision before all of this.
But let me get back you were talking about Renew and Expand but it’s this idea that you can lose them even when you don’t even know you’re losing them because they’re out there researching it because that’s what the digital transformation is providing them.
So the renew piece continues to renew, if they’re happy and you’re meeting your business requirements and they feel like heroes. And then expand if they know where you’re going and they have more business to be solved. More business problems we solve and they’re so confident in you and what you’re delivering that they believe what you tell them and they’ll buy more. So it’s the delivery of the promise of your product.
Neelima: Yup. So I think I still want to question a related thing here. Should customer success carry any kind of quota on the renewal side? Right? Because what we have seen is when you have pressures to meet those numbers, caring goes out of the window, sometimes. Is that a behavior that will change the caring aspect of things? And would that actually drive renewal responsibilities as well in the company?
Lisa: I’ve run renewals at scale so I’m pretty familiar with renewals. I ran all of North America renewals for Oracle, which was a multi-billion dollar business and I did put CSMs on commission there. The difficulty is that some customers depending on their renewal cycle and where they are in the year, and if there’s other things at play, can cause difficulty for the CSM who may be performing perfectly. So you have to figure out what the balance is but lately I like them to be bonused on the renewal number. So I do think they need to be tied whether you put them on the sales plan or you put them on a bonus plan. I think it depends on your company but they definitely need to care about it. And one model that I particularly like right now, you still need a true sales person chasing down that renewal. They can have some CSM DNA in them so they can look at how the customer has been interacting with your company. Are they opening tickets? Are they checking in or have they just stopped calling you? What’s their usage or they’re using as many seats as they’ve signed up for that kind of thing. Likewise, I think the CSM needs to have a little bit of sales DNA. So they understand that being sales savvy helps the entire company. If there’s a fork in the road, I’ve talked about this quite frequently. The CSM has a choice between doing A or doing B and CSMs of course are trying to help out the customers. They like to be liked by the customer. And of course we like that. If you give them added focus on the financial aspects of your company and what it takes for the company to be successful, hopefully when there’s a fork in the road, they’ll take the one that’s more financially advantageous to you.
Now, I don’t mean that they only care about the numbers but there’s so much variability in their job day-to-day that I just like to see that as more of a focus. So the model we were working on in my last company is that for 120 days the CSM and the sales rep meet with the customer and they’re like, -Hey, here’s all the value you’ve had all year.
The CSMs had all these conversations all year long in whatever form electronic or whatever. The customer should really know their value. And we should know if they’re getting value or not, because if they’re not, we should have been doing other things. The sales person is on the call and there’s a quick interlock.
If the customer is like, yeah, I’ve got it planned. It’s in the budget. No problem. Then you know the renewal is fine. The CSM can just go about their regular business and continue that if it’s not and there’s questions, I want the CSM and the renewal rep to stick with that customer until those questions are satisfied. Now 120 days out is really three months. Do you want to do it six months out? You can pick any time you want but the CSMs should always be this continuous- I’m keeping a customer happy. They don’t really care when the renewal is because they’re keeping the customer happy. I don’t like to see organizations that say, Oh, if the renewal is coming up
Ankur: yeah, I got to make them
Lisa: If they say– if the renewal is coming up, tell me because I’ll put their stuff to the top of the list. I’m like, that’s old thinking. If that’s the only time you’re putting your stuff to the top of the list, you’ve lost the customer because they’ve made the decision to leave you more than three or six months in advance because they have to plan. You need to treat them well all the time.
Ankur: Very well said and couldn’t agree more with that. One of the things that you’ve touched upon a couple of times is to demonstrate value which seems like a disease that is specific to security. We have to constantly demonstrate value. So, two questions. Why is this demonstrating value unique to security business and what have you seen works? Both from a product standpoint and from a CS standpoint, when you’re having this conversation, your QBR et cetera where you can tell them that- Hey, this is the value. So a two-part question.
Lisa: So, it does a little bit around security but I could argue there’s other companies and in my new company and you’ll have to tell me when we talk about them, they have to get the customer up and running on their SaaS software to demonstrate value too but let’s go back to security.
If a drugstore wants to secure, remote drug stores, right? There’s a drug store in my neighborhood and there’s a drug store in your neighborhood and one in Neelima’s neighborhood. When they get up on your security software, that’s the first value. It’s not all there is but they need to see that. And then they’re like, okay, it works. I kind of put my reputation on the line to get this project funded and now I can see that it works. And then the rest of them. And it’s how fast you can help get them there. Does, what do you do at Palo Alto networks? Like how do you guys look at it?
Ankur: yeah. Great question. I think the first time to value is hard but it’s easier compared to the second piece which is- I’ve got the customer up and running, now the operator is kind of logging in the product once in a while, getting the sensors but then demonstrating that day in and day out, quarter over quarter up at the renewal time is always a challenge. Like, you got to give them like 15 different dashboards and then customers are confused. And that’s where I was like, how do you consistently demonstrate value? Because you know, it’s unlike productivity tools where people are slacking and stuff like that. There’s just nothing every day that you can show. That’s where sort of some of the difficulties are. And I wanted to see if caught on to certain ideas where the product and consistently show value.
Lisa: I do. And let me give you a good example. I was meeting with the CSO of an extremely large telco. in the US and the team was able to show him and we were just starting this. So it’s the idea of the executive dashboard. So let me step back and I’ll explain it. And I love the power of this.
Look, our customers have some of the hardest jobs, really. We have to have that kind of compassion for them. And so when it comes to demonstrating value, it’s not showing the Network security administrator, although it is important that they see it, but it’s not only that job. It’s that the people who go after the funding for your product can articulate the value of that product. And I like to hand them the slides that I hope they use at the board meeting to show that value. So with the CSO, we showed them how many threats we had averted. And we put a dollar figure on it of 6 million. He thought it was in the ballpark. He was fine. It was the first time we tested this. It was just a few months ago. He really, really liked it and I’ve done this with other customers. I had a very large bank in New York city and I started showing them their usage compared to their peers and that kind of thing. And I know those slides were cut and pasted into other decks within the company and I couldn’t have been more proud. They don’t have time to often pull that together, but we can see it. And if we can’t make that argument for the executives that have purchased our software. And we should be, I’m not even going to say if we can’t but we should be able to do that. Everyone can benefit from that and I find that to be really powerful. That’s one of my favorite things that I like to do.
Neelima: yeah. For our software, what we’ve seen is different values being of different importance. So not only the buyers, as you mentioned, for our software, the user of the product has probably 60% of the say in buying the product. So we do try to demonstrate values on both sides.
Our biggest challenge that we see is that value articulation is not the same for even two same sets of users, right? So a financial person who is doing automation will see it very differently than a healthcare analyst looking at the same data. And that is where we kind of move a little bit but I hear you at the end of the day, we need to have three or four variations of that so then we can help them.
Ankur: Obviously this podcast is for all kinds of people but the main consumer is startups. So when should startups start thinking about having a customer success function? Initially first 20, 30 it’s product people running around and salespeople are running around. When should they start thinking about building this function?
Lisa: Right from the start.
Ankur: Spoken like a seasoned CCO.(Laughs)
Lisa: Here’s the deal. So your first customer is really really special and your customers will guide you. So when I was at the startup, I was at Golden gate software. Started when there were 40 people. We had good customers. These customers helped us mature the product. And they gave us free guidance and advice. So I would say, look in whatever form you can, you need to think about the customer in the product design. Then your first customer is like gold. Your second customer is a little more gold where you got it and you’ve got to use them and build a relationship, so you can hear from them. How did that go? Is that working out? What would you recommend? What other use cases do you have? What else do you think we should do? Look, I know you’re going to have really smart product managers, really smart engineers but if you can start with this voice of the customer, you will be very, very, very successful.
I ran engineering for a while at Golden gate software and I would go out with the customers. I would learn things. There was a story about DirecTV, down in LA. We were having some issues with the product and I had to go down and talk to the CIO which was fine, he was a great partner of ours. As I’m down there and I’m going up in the elevator, they have data about the reliability of their systems and the issues that they’ve had because they’re trying to keep everyone focused on highly available systems. Well, Golden gate software helped you with highly available systems but they weren’t using it as the use case. So not only did I get to go into the CIO’s office and we dealt with the issue at hand then I said, you know, I was coming up in the elevator and he goes- Yeah, it’s a problem. I said, I can help you with three of those four outages because they had the issue right in the elevator and we sold another $1.5 million just because you are on your toes and you’re thinking about your customer and you’re trying to figure out how else you can help them. So you have to get to know your customer. And the first one that buys it, I’d give them an award. I would treat them so well. The other piece is when I was at Golden gate software because I ran the customer side, I was often brought into the sales cycle because these were large. Many of them were large banks that needed mission critical support because these are mission critical systems using this database, replication. They want to know who was running support? Who could stand up behind them and really take care of them. And I could. You put me in front of a customer, I had a small but mighty team and I used to run, I used to work at these banks. I knew exactly what they needed and I could explain it to them. And there was never a question as to what we could deliver for them.
Neelima: Great answer. I covered startups, at least I can say for Demisto. We followed the same model.
One thing that we had seen is when we go from 100 customers to 1000 customers to tens of thousands customers, how does the CS role change at different stages of the company?
Lisa: So this is complex and a little controversial. Not all customers are equal. You may need to leave some customers that you don’t want to leave, but your business model won’t let you keep them. I’ve been at a company where we had very large customers, multimillion dollar customers and then we had many, many, many really, really small customers.
Now look, I would like to take all customers with me and at the small end, I think there’s a large self-service offering you need to come up with. The business model is really important. You can’t put a CSM on every account and you can’t service every customer as though they’re your largest customer, although you would like to.
So the extent to which you can offer electronic self-service advice, that’s really high quality, you should, you need to. It’s like table stakes, you need to get the best tools in there and help them help themselves. Be there when you can. That’s reasonable. But when you can’t be honest about it, I’ve been in places where we’ve changed the SLA for the very smallest customers and they’ve become unhappy.
And so have the salespeople’s, matter of fact I’ve been on more calls with salespeople who said, look, this 15 or $30,000 customer may not renew with us because you just changed the SLA’s. Well, I changed the SLA’s because I’m favoring the top 80%. Or rather the top 10%, that brings me 80% of my revenue and the rest of them get a graduated level of service. And of course I feel for that small customer but they were using us as their tech support team. I mean their internal technology team. We can no longer answer those basic questions. So they either need to buy up into a better level of support or if they can’t afford us, they need to find a better solution that’s more cost-effective for them. And that hurts. And the salesperson is like, well, you’re hurting my commission and I’m like, okay, I get it. It’s about you. And I don’t mean that in a pejorative way but I get that. You care about that. I get that you care about the company. But sometimes you have to get a better customer and you have to leave the other behind. Right?
So, what do you guys think? Neelima, you have a lot of experience around this. I think.
Neelima: So the reason I ask is because I’ve done customer success myself for three years, and I understand and align with the field for every customer. But every customer I do agree is not equal. We do struggle with – how do we classify that 10% to 80% and where do we invest. And that is something you have to work with finance and your sales which is a process that we are trying to now evolve as well. So I think I completely hear you.
Lisa: I’ll give you a quick approach on that. I would say I would let support and renewals pick the largest customers. Let’s say, you want to get to the group of customers that’s 80% of your revenue. And then I would save a bunch of seats for sales. And I would say, okay, sales, you can put so many of your strategic customers in here because that’s their point. Lisa, I have the next PayPal and they’re only going to spend $30,000 with us but they’re the next PayPal. Can we bring them in? So I give them room and I let them decide. And I stop the argument and we look at it twice a year if they’re happy with it. And I also coach them to upsell the customers into better levels of support. We have levels of support and they know how to do that. They’re in sales. This can be done. They just need to know it’s important.
Ankur: You talked about giving the sales people some tokens and making trade-offs. Do you ask your product people to give you tokens in terms of the features that you want them to prioritize?
Lisa: This is such a hard space. So you are smiling and you both know this is a hard space. Look, product people care about the customer and they care about new features. As a company and this is where the CEO’s role is really important. If the CEO cares more about new features, they will have very little leftover to allocate for maintenance and for customer requested features. You need to find a way to effectively lobby your case and you need to find the business reasons behind it. And then just so I’m not left alone on a call with a customer, if I know it’s going to be about a feature that they want, I’ll bring a product manager in with me. Look, it’s a cooperative way to do it but I want them to feel the call, customer, the business case, like pull them in, bring them to your side. They should be part of your team anyway. This needs to be a close working relationship. It sometimes takes time and I’ve told this story before. I’ve sometimes had the critical accounts team have quite a long list of things that need to be addressed. And we will triage them based on whether the customer is in that 80% of revenue or not. And try to help engineering allocate their very precious resources. We all kind of have the same objectives here, but there are some times that it takes longer to get traction. And sometimes my team has to take it one for the team here and have more status conversations with the customers and deal with that while we’re getting engineering spun up, which could take awhile. It depends on what’s going on and it’s not a comfortable place to be in. But sometimes that’s what we have to do for the team. So since I’ve run engineering, I have quite an understanding of what it takes to pull engineers off product features and put them on to maintenance. I like it best when there’s a number of hours allocated, or a percentage I’d like 20%. I don’t know if we’d get 20% then we can just fill that with what we think is most important because we’re talking to the customer.
Neelima: Yeah, I have a theory. Best engineers make best customer success people and vica versa. And product managers are one of the best CS people, if they decide to go there. You should actually do all those three roles because you will understand what your customer success person goes through for every piece of code that you’re writing in your app.
Ankur: Yeah. As a matter of fact, didn’t Tony Heish, who is unfortunately no longer with us at Zappos, that was his model. Everybody who joins the company must play a customer success role. What’s fascinating to me is that and Lisa, you touched upon this trade-off and it’s a struggle for me for the last 20 years in product development. Sure. Same thing for you and Neelima but like amazon.com, the e-commerce company kind of proved that there doesn’t need to be a trade off in the sense that they’re extremely customer focused and it’s worked for them and they haven’t changed the freaking checkout button in the last 20 years. They haven’t introduced a lot of cool new features. They’ve just remained focused on customers, delivered incremental value and it’s worked out really well. And I think we all can learn a lot that other than doing new and going after new stuff, if you just make your existing customers happy, they’re going to help you grow your business.
Lisa: Oh, I love the Amazon experience. I don’t often have to talk to anyone at Amazon but the few times I’ve had to, I can talk to him in a minute. It’s fast and they call me right back and guess what- They’re going to solve it. I mean, there was one time I had something and they’re like, okay, you don’t want it. We’ll just credit you, but you just keep it. You don’t even need to send it back. I’m like, who does this? But they’ve already done the calculus on whether or not it was important enough to send back or not. Anyway, it was some small item but they make me happy all the time.
Neelima: So Lisa, we live in a world of automation but you recently wrote a blog about why human touch is still very important to the CS role. Give us your perspective on that.
Lisa: Right. So it’s both as I’ve talked before anything that you can automate, you should. Any kind of diagnostics, any kind of configuration set up, any kind of self-help automate. Automate as much as you can with the customers. Self-serve everything they can but then there’s a time they need to call you. And I do this for the top customers. What we did is we relaxed a little bit and put some more people on the line. So funny, put some more people on the line for the top customers and now that they’re not rushed, they asked a few more questions and they could wait to send me the log file instead of saying- Oh, just send it and attach it to the ticket and I’ll call you when I get it. They wait those two or three minutes. They see the log file come in. Oh, it’s not the right one. Get the other one. You can imagine the power of reducing the time on the issue and don’t forget your employee’s time is as important as your customer’s time. And the more you make them kind of multitask or jump from we call it Thrashing, go from one activity, stop that to another activity, right? Reload to another activity. You’re losing time. If they can just say in that activity or that thought space for a little longer, help the customer through it. The customer’s getting a faster response. You’re getting more efficient use of your resources. You don’t realize this at first so we started to reduce the time to solution and we start to measure this, we have kind of an important measurement. The first day you called with an issue- Did we solve your problem with the same engineer that day and that started to go up, right. And we want it to be around 60% of the time.
Right. So we could see it go from like 48 to 55 pretty quickly. And it was reaching 60 and the customers were thrilled. The employees were thrilled. Let’s not forget, we need to make their jobs. They need to have employee success and employee happiness too. I can see their happiness in their employee surveys. We had some of the best employee surveys at the company. The customer started writing in their C-SAT comments, the names of that support analysts that were helping them. We love that. The team loves it. So everyone benefited. And they just became slightly more efficient. Right. So I did put a few more people on, there’s a little extra cost but my C-SAT scores went to 98% whoop very, very high. Right and the customer was there. Their problems were solved faster and the employees were happier. But I did that because I really automated that long tail and we could move them there. It was a great experience but sometimes you have to show up like that. Everything just can’t be automated.
Ankur: Yeah, I love it. Couldn’t agree more with it. One last question on customer success and I know we can talk customer success all day long, but you’ve got so many other super powers and we’ve got limited time. So I gotta ask you questions in other areas, but, what’s like, people talk about C-SAT and NPS, et cetera. Has the industry still remained in terms of measuring the customer temperature. Is it still the same thing- NPS, C-SAT like, what have you seen? What should people measure really in terms of understanding if the customer is going to renew or churn.
Lisa: C-SAT tells me if my individual teams, training professional services, tech support and customer success how they’re doing, individually and that’s helpful. NPS tells us how the company is doing, would you recommend this company? You care about both, But I’ll tell you the other one I look at, show me the dollars. I want to see sales increasing and I want to see a really, really strong renewal rate. I mean to me all of that draws the picture,
Ankur: Well said. So, kind of switching gears a little bit. You spent a decade at Oracle and we want to understand what you learnt and the areas of specific interests are how to thrive in a highly competitive environment like the one at Oracle and grow both personally and professionally? What are some of the I know you were not too far away from Larry Ellison, so you must have seen him in action, but give us some insights on the culture and how did you succeed there?
Lisa: I will but I’m going to try and ask you for your advice on this one too, because I think you were both acquired by Palo Alto networks, right? So let’s play it both ways. Right? So yeah, Oracle, a very big company with over 90 acquisitions. I was one of them and it’s hard to know how to make your way at first. At Oracle, you have to self-select to try it. I remember when we were first acquired, they didn’t believe in plants in the office. So they came into the golden gate offices and all of a sudden the plants were gone. I mean, it felt rough, but it’s just that they have a standard playbook. There’s only like two options in the entire playbook. Get your head around it. Don’t fight it. It’s useless. And look, they’ve been very successful. So I say this with all due respect to the Oracle approach, right? We know they’ve been extremely successful.
The other thing I did is I made the move into an Oracle office early. I decided that if I stayed at the golden gate offices, I wouldn’t pull myself out of the- we don’t like this right now kind of mentality. If I went to Oracle, I would just give them a chance and that’s the first thing I decided to. I thought I’d give them a chance and see how it went. And so that was one step. And maybe you could comment on this. I mean, what did you guys do when you were first acquired? How did that feel?
Ankur: Palo Alto was not known to acquire a lot of companies but the acquisition, at least the one that I came from was pretty smooth. And fast forward to today, kind of the idea is that startups were successful in the way they were doing things. So why would we change it? So there was some assimilation in terms of culture but by and large these startups are what’s called speedboats now. So they execute on their own, leveraging the corporate resources, but largely remain independent. So, that model has kind of paid dividends so far.
Neelima: I kind of agree with Ankur, Lisa. For me, this was the second acquisition. The first one I had worked in was McAfee. It was a serial acquirer as well. The same thing was with Palo Alto networks, very, very smooth. And we were really excited because we knew that we had the tech and now we are going to get the growth engine. The other thing I think that has really helped us is that our leadership is extremely clear when they acquire the companies. Where, how and when we are going to integrate it. So the culture and the go-to-market just kind of works as the culture is very nice. It’s just exciting to have 15 plus startup people in the same space. It helps you learn so much as well.
Ankur: Okay. Did you learn any lessons at Oracle or otherwise on managing up? I mean, fierce battle, probably a lot of politics, just like every other company, any insights into it? A lot of people who are in sort of that mid to high career but now they want to go to the next level, what are some of the things you learned there?
Lisa: Two important lessons. There were many important lessons.
One is know what you want to get out of this experience. I wanted experience at scale. I had already been in a small company. I wanted to get experience at scale. And so that’s what I went after at Oracle. I did customer success at scale and then I did renewals at scale. And those were two missing pieces in my career to be a chief customer officer. So I had some intention around that. I didn’t think Oracle was going to be the place for me long-term so I think you have to have intention around what are you going to go after?
The other is there’s a component from work- What do you get out of it? Look, Oracle was not big on the kumbaya meetings. They weren’t all hands and we’re gonna tell you how much we love you. So I didn’t mind that because it’s a very sincere approach to be quite frank. I liked it. They were very focused on here’s the work you need to do and you do it and we’ll reward you. I really liked that too. That made it really clear and simple and my best relationships were with my peers across the company. It was easy to make those relationships. And again, it’s what you make of it.
And then probably the last piece is manage what you can. Like I didn’t have complete discretion over everything in the renewals department area. Now again, it was multi-billion dollars I had to deliver on time, but those pieces that you can be sure you manage correctly. Be sure you take advantage of how you can turn these dials or change things. And make the business adjust and change in the way that it needs to and not sit back and go..well, renewals would be fine if I just had the professional services team attached to me, then I could really not….None of that thinking. Take what you have and make the best of it.
Neelima: So digging a little bit on how do you make the best of what you have? Do you need to understand how to navigate organization? Do you need to understand who does what and how can you help them versus they help you? What are some of the things to keep in mind?
Lisa: I often try to get issues out of the way of my team in advance. And I’m always thinking about what relationships do I need to have before an issue comes up. So the head of database support, for example, my customers could have tremendous database issues. I wanted to know the head of database support along with maybe a few of their lieutenants and have some regular touchpoint and have built some relationships in advance of the time I need them.
Now, it doesn’t always work that way. It doesn’t. And sometimes, you need to get them on the phone and say, look, this customer really, really needs your help and here’s why. But you need to have the ‘why’ the business approach, like you can’t always rely on that. You’ve already set up a relationship, but you can often rely on we can speak the same language. If you can explain to me why it is important and what you’ve done and how you’ve tried to solve it. And if I can give them a little bit more runway to solve it, which is the other thing. I always want customer issues as early as I can get them. If you think you may need my help because the more runway, the more things I can bring to the table to help solve the problem. The biggest issues that I’ve often seen have been late escalations and then there’s nothing I can do to get something delivered in an emergency, really, really quickly.
Neelima: So switching to another topic which is fairly hot nowadays is pay disparity among women, a big issue and a lot of LinkedIn posts around that. Negotiation skills have been consistently called out as a reason as to why we see this gap. How can women even the diversity angle that comes in for that matter, get better at negotiating better roles, better pay.
Lisa: This is a great topic. Let me start with you two. When you negotiate for your pay, do you think you’re really great at it or just okay at it or something else?
Ankur: I’m pretty pathetic, when it comes to negotiation. I’m really, really bad.
Neelima: Yeah, I don’t. I’m learning, I’m learning the value of negotiation Lisis let’s just say that.
Lisa: So, I think most people would answer it just like you do and we are at a disadvantage. How many times in your career do you really negotiate your salary? Maybe it’s a handful, two handfuls but it doesn’t matter. It’s really not a practice that you master. So here’s and I speak on this topic with university students all the time and it’s really around their first job and it’s just my way to start to introduce them to the practice and so it goes like this.
You need to start to practice negotiating on small things first because you need to build your practice. Right? So, I need an enterprise Rent-A-Car in town because our car is in the shop. I’ll show up. I’ll ask them, do you have a special discount for the locals? I’ll often get another two or $3 off my daily rate, right. I go to the dermatologist and I’m getting a non medically required procedures. I had one dermatologist give up to 20% off but you have to ask. There’s three birthdays at my house in August. And this year I had this company that comes and puts powwows or hearts or stuff in the front yard. Have you seen it? Or pink flamingos? You know, they’ll put like 20 in there and they’ll put a little sign, like, happy birthday to my daughter. And I said, look, I’m going to order three of these one week apart. Can you give me a discount? And she said, what would you like? And I said, 20%. And she said, sure, Who would have thought that. You have to start.
So first of all practice and be okay with it. Now I’ve been turned down and I’ve been turned down in some slightly embarrassing ways but I’ll tell you what, I am not afraid to form the question in a way that’s consistent with who I am. So it has to be consistent with who you are.
Now the next thing is, you start negotiating for your next job, the minute you take the first call from the headhunter. In California, they’re not allowed to ask you what you make but at some point some information is going to come out. Years ago, my guidance to women and it could be to anybody is that you lie about your salary because you’re probably not making enough. And I would tell them to up it by 10%. Start at 10%, but you need to decide and you need to stick with it and you need to write these numbers down so you don’t forget them. And then you need to ask for an increase where you’re going. Look, you don’t look like a smart business person, if you’re not getting an increase.
And I had a woman who came from the CIA, who’s in cyber crimes, a good friend of mine, and she was interviewing with a company in San Francisco and she said they won’t give me. It’s the same pay as what I’m making right now. And I said, you can’t go. She could go, if there was an overriding reason like where you are just treating you so rotten, like you need to be in a better space. But I said hold that, let’s just see. Just hold. She held three months later, they came back with the number she wanted. It can happen. You’d be surprised. But if you don’t ask for what you should get and if you don’t know your worth, you will never ever get it. And then you need to know what’s important.
So I just negotiated for my salary. I’m at my new company. And I’ll tell you what was important. What was important for me for those two weeks in Mexico. Now, of course, I needed a good sized salary. I needed all the other pieces in place. I was also walking away from a year-end bonus and from a retention bonus because my company had been bought by a PE firm. And I was clear with them and I was honest with them. I didn’t gross this up, what those numbers were because they needed to make good on it. And they did. But then when we really came down to it, it’s what I wanted those two weeks. And that was a little hard for them but since I made it the first thing on the list pretty much because all the other ones were met satisfactorily, I could work it in. Does that help?
Ankur: It does.
Neelima: That’s a lesson in five minutes, on negotiation.
Lisa: I could tell you more and more stories but you have to get used to arguing for your value. And then the assignments that you get, you have to be sure you argue for the best assignments too. We could spend a whole session on this.
Neelima: Okay. We’ll take you up on that one probably for one of the pods. So the next question is about managing as Ankur mentioned, the battle at the top is fierce and you’ve consistently landed top roles in big companies. What do you attribute your success to Lisa?
Lisa: I think at some point you have to become a storyteller and your own marketer. You have to be able to tell people what you’ve done or your team has done in business terms and you’re going to have to get used to repeating it because you’re going to be in all kinds of places where it needs to come through this way or that way, or it’s a different group, different audience and you have to become okay with it.
It’s a little bit like practicing for negotiation. You have to start to tell the story. So if I was going to tell a story of my past company where we increased C-SAT my first opening line would be, I have the happiest customers on the face of the planet. My C SAT scores were at 98%. Now look, it’s a little sensational but you get the point. You’ve got to make it interesting. You’ve got to use the numbers. It has to be factual. It has to come from a sincere, sincere spot but you have to be able to tell that story almost every quarter or every week or every month. And you have to get used to it. It has to be in your status reports. It has to be how you open the meeting. You have to tell your team how they did. Let me just tell you all what you just did. You have the happiest customers on the face of the planet. Let me show you what this large telco said about Ankur, our support engineer. They said, even though the product’s hard to work with Ankur was amazing and made it work for us.
So you got to keep telling these stories that help sell you but it also gives the team free to core. It gives you something to brag about when you’re interviewed. So we could go back to this and you’re trying to get that next job. You will have those in the back of your mind because you’ve said them so often. They’re going to be very natural.
Ankur: Very well said. Yeah. I think a lot of leaders are just striking a balance between managing down, managing sideways versus managing up, kind of having a healthy mix. On your path to way up that’s always the hard trade-off and there are no right or wrong answers but certainly one big aspect is to make yourself visible, which is, I think something you’ve talked about quite often actually, Awesome.
So, I’ve got a couple more questions and then we move to rapid fire. So you obviously recently switched a role. The world doesn’t know about it. And drum rolls please. And we will be the first one to announce your next gig. So, first of all I’d love to learn what you’re going to be doing next but switching careers is always hard and people often don’t know when to push through the adversity and stick to the current role because that’s the comfort zone versus actually making the next move. So A) why did you decide to move and B) What are you going to be doing next?
Lisa: Yeah. There were a number of changes in the company. And, I would say that the direction and there were just a number of changes and I guess I decided it was time and I was open because of these changes at the company. I was open to conversations with others and once you’re open to conversations with others then you start to daydream about, well, what would it be like there? So, to say that I’m now the chief customer officer at BlackLine and they’re a SaaS company that helps many companies. There’s over 3000 customers that do period end close automate period end close.
Now it doesn’t sound as powerful or as sexy, perhaps as cyber security but let me guarantee that it is, because these accountants worry about trying to close the books across a variety of different financial accounting software products like SAP, like NetSuite, like others and it’s often so manual and time intensive and difficult to get the best answers that we have an approach to automate all of that and all of the inputs and the reduction in time and the increase in accuracy has been amazing. You can see the company’s growth. They’re publicly traded under the symbol BL and I’m thrilled to work with them and the primary part of their DNA is the customer. They talk about the customer and they deliver on it. I can’t tell you how many companies talk about- yeah, yeah we care about the customer and then you look under the sheets and you’re like, well what do you mean? Like you say it, but are you walking the talk? BlackLine does. And so it’s great to be somewhere where they care so much. And I’ve just finished my first week. The announcement will come out next week. And, it’s completely delightful and completely truthful and completely sincere and hardworking and I can’t wait to work with them and be part of the team and help lead them forward. We’re going to lead each other forward together. It’s a great team.
Ankur: Love it. Well, congratulations on the role. Since we met, I’ve obviously done my own research on the company and they’ve been doing some really, really interesting things and I know you’re going to crush it there, just like you did at Forcepoint and Oracle and all the previous companies. So congratulations. Well, the last question is love to know from you, what are the life lessons do you have for our listeners? And I know, you’re raising kids in an interracial family. Obviously, you have some nice advice for parents as well, but in general what tips and tricks you have to live a meaningful, happy, successful, personal and professional career.
Lisa: yeah, so I think don’t give everything to the job. You need to save some for you. Don’t give everything to the family either. You need to save some for you. I think that my family is happier when and I know I’m happier when everybody in the house is happier. So that’s an important piece.
I think not being afraid to get it, we talked about The Blessing of a Skinned knee and I read the book. There’s also a book out there called Free Range kids. I don’t know if you’ve ever read that. It was a journalist in New York city. It’s a very interesting story. It could be for another day.
But she wrote a book where she lets her child take the subway, Midtown Manhattan to school every day. And you know how people found this to be really offensive. And she’s like, wait a minute, if they don’t start doing the small things and they have smaller challenges, they’ll never have the bigger challenges. You’ll never become the CEO of a company. If you haven’t tried and failed in other places first. Right? Or any of our roles, right? So what I always tell people is I’m fine if you skin your knee or any of that stuff, I’d like you to not to break your leg. Like, we’re going to try not to have those experiences but let’s go and try some of this. And with my kids, I let them take Bart. It’s been a big discussion with my husband though. He didn’t like it but we taught them how, we taught them how to be safe. These are things that you need to do. So I think it’s- find time for yourself, help grow those around you and then of course this part about being the best you can be in terms of health, balanced strength. There’s times that you just need to again, save some energy.
I’ll often tell women, you need to be able to find you your warrior when she needs to appear. And she may need to appear at times that you’re not interested in. You may say, look, I had my warrior had to come out when I was on vacation. It’s a long story. And I was sitting by the pool side and I realized I had a big problem back in California. I had to get on the phone and start to deal with it. And I didn’t want to but there was no choice. Like sometimes you just have to step up and save a little energy and be ready to step up and be the warrior you need to be from time to time.
Neelima: Yeah, amazing lessons. And I can learn some of the things from here. We have a discussion about house chores between my young ones all the time. So I’ll be taking some lessons from here. With that Lisa we’ll go to the rapid fire. You can answer one word or you can give us some long answers but we’re very excited about this. So you’re ready.
Lisa: I’m nervous about it, but go ahead. (Laughs)
Neelima: Which consumer or B2B company is the gold standard for customer service? Or the ones that you might’ve worked at. Any of those.
Lisa: I think it’s Amazon. It’s Amazon.
Neelima: If you had to spend a week with any past or present leader, who would that be?
Lisa: Abraham Lincoln.
Neelima: If customer success was not on the cards, what else would you have made your career in?
Lisa: I would have been a customer. I would have stayed as a CIO.
Neelima: Favorite vacation spot
Lisa: Oh, I have to say it’s the Yucatan in Mexico. I just came back. It was completely relaxing and wonderful
Neelima: Travel solo or with the family.
Lisa: as a solo.
Neelima: Wow. Okay with that Lisa, we want to thank you for coming on the pod and congratulations again. Good things happen to good people. I think that totally is apt for you. We really wish you all the best at BlackLine and hopefully we’ll have that followup on the negotiation in three to four months, once you’ve settled down.
Lisa: Oh, I’d love to come back and I want to thank both of you. You have been wonderful, wonderful interviewers. Great insightful questions. You brought a lot of your experience to make this better for your listeners. And I know that they appreciate it and I really appreciate getting to know both of you. So thank you so much.
Ankur: Thank you Lisa so much. I appreciate you coming on the show. Bye now.