March 29, 2024

Capturing the Definition of Customer Success with Kristi Faltorusso

In this episode, Kristi Faltorusso shares her journey from Marketing to Chief Customer Officer, highlighting the importance of adapting strategies in dynamic organizational environments.

Meet our guest

Kristi Faltorusso, Chief Customer Officer at ClientSuccess

Kristi is a pioneering customer success advocate who has been in the trenches, transforming and growing customer experience in B2B land for some time now.

Key takeaways

  • Customer success is not a one-size-fits-all model; it requires a bespoke approach.
  • Success is not solely defined by titles and compensation; it is important to appreciate the impact of one's work.
  • Recognizing and celebrating success is crucial for personal and professional growth.
  • Promotions can come unexpectedly and serve as a testament to one's impact and dedication.
  • There is a growing convergence between sales and client success, with more organizations seeing the customer journey as a fluid process.
  • Aligning expectations is crucial for the successful activation and adoption of products or services.
  • Change management plays a significant role in driving behavior change and ensuring customer success.

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Childhood and early career

Kristi reflects on her upbringing in New York, highlighting her close-knit family and her parents' hard work ethic as deli owners. She shares anecdotes from her childhood, including her brief stint as a baby model and pageant participant. Despite studying public relations in college, Kristi found herself gravitating towards marketing early in her career, which eventually paved the way for her transition into customer success.

“I was on the cover of New York Magazine. I was on the Joe Franklin show. So for anybody who's old enough from the US to know Joe Franklin, it's kind of like Letterman of the eighties.”

Kristi and Alper engage in light-hearted banter, touching upon various topics such as high school experiences, career transitions, and personal losses. Despite facing challenges like the loss of her brother, Kristi maintains a positive outlook and emphasizes the importance of perseverance and adaptation in both life and career. The segment ends with a segue into discussing Kristi's early career years in marketing, setting the stage for further exploration of her professional journey.

“I went to school for public relations. I spent the first 10 years of my career doing marketing. And both public relations and marketing, I think, are like parts of the core fundamentals for customer success. So I actually do think that I have been preparing for this transition in my career for my entire life.”

Reflections on success, failure, and continuous improvement

Kristi Faltorusso reflects on her career journey, divided into two acts: her early marketing career and her transition into digital marketing and customer success. She discusses her initial aspirations for high-level marketing positions and her evolving perspective on success, realizing that it's not solely defined by titles and compensation. Kristi shares a pivotal moment in her career when she was unexpectedly promoted to Chief Customer Officer during a live event, highlighting the recognition of her impact within the company.

“Everyone focuses on the failures and what's not working and what's next. Nobody spends enough time celebrating and recognizing the impact of today and the success of yesterday. It's just not where you focus your time. Well, I mean, at least it's not where I focused my time. I was too busy either focusing on all the things that went wrong and all my failures or chasing what was next. So I never revealed all of the impact that I had.”

She also recounts a humbling experience when she attempted to replicate a successful customer success model from a previous company without considering the unique needs of her new organization, emphasizing the importance of tailoring strategies to individual contexts. Kristi emphasizes the necessity of creating continuity in the customer journey, criticizing the fragmented approach often seen between sales and customer success. 

“All these people sell it, but then when the customer buys it, you're going to leave them to their own devices. That's wild. That's crazy. So instead, what I'd love to see is again, some continuity. So you need to make it easier to buy your products and then make it easier to onboard your products and use your products.”

Adaptable customer success models

Alper Yurder engages in a lively and insightful discussion with Kristi Faltorusso, exploring various aspects of customer success, activation, and change management. Kristi emphasizes the importance of aligning expectations with customers to avoid disappointment and churn, highlighting the need for clear communication and documentation to ensure mutual understanding. She also discusses the challenges of driving activation and adoption, especially in complex organizational structures, stressing the role of change management and tailored learning approaches to meet diverse user needs. 

“We can have such strong relationships with both of those people, but if their CSMs are like that, I'm not using it, guess what? I'm screwed, right? I need their teams to understand the value. So that's where our organization comes in. And that's part of what we need to be doing is making sure that we are helping the business understand the value and connect changed behaviors to that value realization.”

Kristi shares her experience of using Flowla to streamline onboarding processes, advocating for flexibility and simplicity in customer interactions rather than over-engineering solutions. The conversation showcases a pragmatic and empathetic approach to customer engagement, emphasizing the value of adaptability and open-mindedness in achieving success.

“There is this idea of meeting your customers where they are. And you have to realize everyone has a different learning style. Everyone has a different working style. Some people like video content. Some people like written content. Some people like screenshots and you know, you have to start to design things that can be assumed by different users who have different learning styles and who work in different ways. And you have to be a bit amenable to that.”


Full episode transcript

Alper Yurder: Today in the therapy chair, we have Kristi Faltorusso. Kristi is somebody obviously I know from LinkedIn land, but she's quite a pioneering customer success advocate who has been in the trenches, transforming and growing customer experience in B2B land for some time now. We'll talk about her success, the joy, the pain and the journey. I won't go through this. This intro somehow becomes like 10 minutes because when I'm trying to go through everybody's success story, it's like, it's tiring for me. We'll talk about it. So welcome to the show, Kristi. How are you feeling today?

Kristi Faltorusso: So great to be here. I'm great. It's a wonderful Wednesday morning that we're getting to record. Actually, it's like afternoon-ish. So I'm super excited about our conversation and I love a midday therapy session. So I'm here for this.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And also it's free. Somebody was telling me, who was it? Like one of my first guests. Free, who doesn't? It should be a freemium therapy session. The next session is usually bad anyway. But so any good therapy starts with childhood and growing up. And the reason I like to dig into that. And one thing I realized, I asked my guests this and they gave me 10 seconds of childhood and then they went to I started doing this.

Kristi Faltorusso: And I also like things that are free, so that works.

Alper Yurder: Let's stay in our childhood and the younger years a little because they shape who we are. So can we learn about the younger Kristi, if you don't mind?

Kristi Faltorusso: Oh, we can. She's actually my favorite version of Kristi, if I'm honest. So I was, oh my gosh, I love little Kristi. She was so naive. Nope, so born and raised in New York. So I was born in Queens, just outside of Manhattan, spent most of my life growing up on Long Island with my biological brother, Keith, who's no longer with us. So that's it.

Alper Yurder: Oh really? Even better than this? Wow. Okay. Thank you.

Kristi Faltorusso: Later life, Kristi, but he passed away when I was 25 years old and my mom and dad. And my dad was married before he married my mom, cause that happens. And I have a half brother and a half sister from my dad's first marriage and they're 12 and 13 years older than I am. So a little bit of an age gap there, but primarily grew up with my mom and dad. They worked in a deli. They owned delis for my entire life. So for 40, 44 years, they're just recently retired a couple of years ago now through the pandemic. And, um,

They worked seven days a week. No weekends off, no holidays off. So you can imagine, I grew up watching and was highly influenced by hardworking people who had a lot of grit and tenacity and put into their business what they wanted to get out. And they worked really hard to provide me and my brother with everything that they could. So really nice in that regard. I was a baby model. So if you wanna talk about me and my formative years.

I was on the cover of New York Magazine. I was on the Joe Franklin show. So for anybody who's old enough from the US to know Joe Franklin, it's kind of like Letterman of like the eighties. So I was on the Joe Franklin show. I was a baby pageant girl. So I did pageants and would wear all the frilly dresses and I would get all dolled up and take all the pictures. And it wasn't until probably I did that until it was probably about five or six. My mom was like,

She had it with the other moms. She just couldn't stand other pageant moms. And I don't blame her. My mom is like a no-nonsense woman and she is like not here for that stuff. So she was like, nope, we're good, we're done. So she pulled me out of that. So I didn't get to be the next, I know, right? I could have been Cindy Crawford. I could have been any of these. Like, I mean, clearly I'm actually very short. No, I could not have been. I was very, I'm very little. So did that.

Alper Yurder: I mean, you still can. You still can. Can we give the positive message to our audience? You can do it. Exactly. You can do anything at any time.

Kristi Faltorusso: You're right, you're right. Where is my can-do attitude? You're right.

Kristi Faltorusso: You're right. I'm just going to wear really high heels and I'm going to go out there and own the runway. I think I've missed that a little bit. So grew up in New York, Long Island, went to schools, normal, nothing fancy about my education. High school, I was very involved in high school. I was a captain in cheerleading. I did all every extracurricular activity you could do. I was a homecoming princess. I was very, very involved. High school was probably the most fun.

I can recall in my life, but I would never go back. So watching my daughter, who's now a sophomore in high school, go through high school at this time, never. I don't know if I would be able to survive. So I liked high school before cell phones and high school before cameras on everything and social media. I would go back to that high school experience, but I wouldn't redo it today. Went off, went to college, went to school for public relations.

Alper Yurder: Really? The good old traditional approach.

The good old traditional approach to bullying. Yeah, but good old traditional approach to bullying and saying, yeah, exactly. Not digital.

Kristi Faltorusso: Yes, like talking to people.

Were you bullied by somebody face to face? Yeah. Yeah. Where you just had to, you had to meet, meet your enemy. So a very different experience. I will not go back today. So I went off to college. I went to a state school in New York. I went to SUNY Albany, studied communications, decided that I wanted a richer concentration. So I transferred.

Midway through my junior year, I went to another university on Long Island, went to CW Post for a public relations degree. And after several internships in public relations, I swore I would never do public relations. It was not fun at all. And this is like before computers and stuff. So I was actually doing newspaper clippings and stuff. Yeah, not good.

Alper Yurder: So, so, Kristo. Can I? There's also a bit of a leg. So our audience will maybe realize I'm not like I'm trying to cut her. I'm trying to interject things, but so can we say you were meant for customer success, that that was what you were brought to this world for? Because every other career path was somehow stopped.

Kristi Faltorusso: I mean, possibly, although here's what I will say. I went to school for public relations. I spent the first 10 years of my career doing marketing. And both public relations and marketing, I think, are like parts of the core fundamentals for customer success. So I actually do think that I have been preparing for this transition in my career for my entire life, we'll say.

Alper Yurder: Wonderful. So you're not going to be modeling. You will stick with what you have.

Kristi Faltorusso: I'm not gonna be a model. Let's just admit it. It's not in the cards for me. I'm just gonna be a successful customer success person.

Alper Yurder: OK, let's just stick to it. OK, OK, that's fine. That's fine. We can talk. Yeah, let's just talk about that. So just before the pre-show or whatever they call this thing where you're basically trying to get to know your guest, which was pretty amazing for us. We had a lot of laughs and I was like, OK, I need to start recording this because it's enough. Like we shouldn't be missing any of this. So we'll get to those points.

Something you mentioned, by the way, the loss of your brother, of course, I don't want to go there, but I just wanted to say, you know, I felt that the moment you said it, so probably that lives with you forever. But I hope you manage to live with that somehow and, you know, that he's in a better place.

Kristi Faltorusso: Oh, thank you very much for recognizing that. He is, listen, my brother, he was a spirited soul. And I think that the world is less without him. I'll always believe that. But yeah, yeah. You know what it is? It's like, you know, grieving is a whole thing. It's a, you know, their loss will always be felt, kind of that.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Okay. Although this is therapy, I am not a trained therapist. I'm not going to go there. Um, so let's, no, we should stop at that. Yeah. I mean, there's always alternative career options for a first-time founder, you know, especially a first-time founder in his 38's, trying to navigate this world. 

I'm getting us slowly into the boring world of business, which you definitely make fun anyway. But let's talk a little bit about the early career years. You mentioned marketing. You have a lot in there and.

You know, lots of leadership, but like different trials as well. Can you walk us through that, you know, one-minute, two-minute teaser, whatever you have of the past journey that led you to today?

Kristi Faltorusso: Yep, I break my career into act one and act two. Act one is my marketing career. So I started off in publishing and that's when magazines were still a thing and people still read them and not everything was online. Started my career in publishing, slowly transitioned out of advertising and publishing into marketing where I was doing a lot of event marketing. And while I loved field marketing, event marketing,

Alper Yurder: Wonderful.

Kristi Faltorusso: I didn't love it enough to stay in it. Let's just put it that way. So I transitioned into digital marketing. Now you've got the rise of the web. People care about search engine optimization and you've got paid search and you've got online acquisition channels like affiliate marketing and SEO and PPC and all these things. That I found fascinating. And it definitely at the time was more cutting edge. So I decided to go put all my eggs in that basket and rode the digital acquisition wave up until I transitioned into customer success. But I actually thought,

I was going to be like a Chief Marketing Officer or like Chief Digital Officer or something like that because I really, I loved marketing. I really loved it. I got it. It was, it was fun. Um, and I loved the immediacy of measuring my impact.

Alper Yurder: Did you buy I'm going to touch on something maybe a bit weird there, which is did you always want to achieve something? Did you always have to achieve something?

Kristi Faltorusso: Yes. Because when I was younger, that's how you define success, right? Was through titles and compensation, right? So maybe like now I'm older and I know better, right? And so you get what you deserve in this case, right? Like, yes, it's cool doing the work I get to do now. And it's a privilege and an honor to sit in this seat. And I don't take it lightly, but knowing what I know now.

then I don't know I would have been chasing it, you know, but I always thought that success came in a very specific package and that package came with the title, it came with responsibility and it definitely came with money.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Yeah. And one thing I generally like in some of these episodes, obviously, it's always very successful people. And that's one of the personal sayings that be like, you look up to them from the outside and you're like, wow, you know, they made it, et cetera. And it's a different story for everybody. But there's some commonality, like when you're going through the journey, I always hear again and again from my guests. Back then, it didn't feel like success. Back then, it didn't feel like enough back then, you know, skyrocket to the moon's growth, you know.

from zero to 100 million in two days. And I keep hearing like it wasn't enough. It didn't feel that way when it was happening. Do you have those moments in your life where you were like, looking back now you recognize the success, but throughout the journey, did you enjoy it? Did you recognize it?

Kristi Faltorusso: No, because everyone focuses on the failures and what's not working and what's next. Nobody spends enough time celebrating and recognizing the impact of today and the success of yesterday. It's just not where you focus your time. Well, I mean, at least it's not where I focused my time. I was too busy either focusing on all the things that went wrong and all my failures or chasing what was next. So I never revealed all of the impact that I had. I would say now in my forties, I do spend more time reflecting and I'm like, wow, how

Alper Yurder: Well done. Yeah, one of the people I've been listening to lately and I've been...

Kristi Faltorusso: Look at all the cool shit I did. That was so awesome and all the impact I made. And now it's like, you know, now I appreciate it, but I wish I would have taken a couple minutes to like to celebrate it in the moment.

Alper Yurder: Maybe I'll be too honest, but the last two months it's just been like nonstop. And I was actually commenting on your post today that I have these things called eye bags. Are they called sleep? Like because I sleep very little, blah, blah. And I. Yeah, and I started there's a psychologist I really love to read about occasionally or what a carton and he always talks about the importance of now.

and bring yourself back to now. Like mindfulness, all that, et cetera, is very difficult for somebody like me. But at some point, I think you say, yeah, I need to start recognizing the now.

Kristi Faltorusso: It's definitely not something I do at all. I'm probably like you. I probably am like you where I just like, I don't like the idea of being present in the moment feels slow and stagnant. And I feel like I'm always so conditioned to be moving forward and hurry up and onto the next thing. And like, like this, the moment being present is not something that comes easy to me.

Alper Yurder: No, to a lot of people, to nobody, I think, these days, especially if you're conditioned to be successful and et cetera. But you know what? Let's recognize some of those highlights from your success, from your career. What were the moments of absolute joy like when you look back? These were really highlights. What I did there was great. Can you give us a bit of that? And then a bit of the opposite, like lowlights where you felt like shit.

Kristi Faltorusso: Yeah, I definitely have more of those. Okay, the biggest highlight for me, which was, I do. No, I think that they're more fun talking about my failures. I'm a fail forward kind of girl. Like I kind of like to stumble into my future. So my biggest, I think looking back, there's probably a ton, but the one that always sticks out to me so much was actually getting promoted to chief customer officer.

Alper Yurder: Sure you don't but you like to talk about them more.

Kristi Faltorusso: So I had been a VP of customer success for a couple years across a couple different companies, actually four different companies, and then my fifth company, I started as a VP of customer success. And I was still at that point, very determined to continue to accelerate my career growth. And the next step that I thought would be really great for me, not because I needed the title at this point, at this point it was a different driver. It was like,

I want to be able to drive more impact for our business and for my customers and for my team. And I think with this new scoped role, I could potentially have a greater impact. So I made it very clear, like that was something that I thought would be really great for the business. Not just great for me, but mutually beneficial. And, you know, we didn't really have a lot of talks about it, right? I was the VP and I just kind of sat in the role and did all the work and I was humming along and, you know, would maybe poke my head up and be like, hey, don't forget about my career aspirations. Like, you know, just.

Kind of like that periodically, but it didn't really nag anybody. But less than a year into my tenure at client success, and I'm here three years now, less than a year in we were, we were, we were doing a live recorded event, right? It was our customer success manager summit. So the CSM summit and I were giving a keynote presentation basically like an individual contributor to VP of customer success in less than 10 years, kind of like talk track, right? Like, here's my career journey and how I got from A to B to C to D. And it was kind of like my formula for success. And during my presentation, my CEO, Dave Blake, interrupts my presentation. Now I'm in a flow. If anyone's ever heard me present, I am like, I'm going, I am in it. And it was kind of like this, stop. And I was like, where are we going with this, Dave? What are you doing? I'm in the middle of something magical and basically what he did is he took my timeline slide that had my individual contributors or CSM to VP of customer success. And he changed out the VP of customer success and put Chief Customer Officer there. And so he promoted me live, live on this recording. And so everybody who was tuned in got to watch my promotion. My mom was watching. And so my parents were like…

Alper Yurder: God, that's good. Oh, I love that.

Kristi Faltorusso: I think something exciting just happened, right? Because they don't know anything that they don't know what I do for a living. So they were like, I think something exciting happened. And they were like calling my husband and they're like, did she, what happened? Did she get promoted? It's my mom and her little Italian voice. And I did get promoted to chief customer officer live. And so, I don't know, that's a pretty cool moment where it wasn't something that I didn't go and negotiate it. I didn't have to ask for it. It wasn't, it was something that like someone,

Alper Yurder: Yeah, of course. What exactly? Boop.

Kristi Faltorusso: Saw the impact I was making in the business and finally recognized me and rewarded me for it. And in such a special way, oh, Dave will always have my heart for that moment. That will always be a very special success. I feel like I had that pivotal moment in my career.

Alper Yurder: I would love to meet that man that sounds like something I would do something super ridiculous and annoying and non-PC, but eventually it ends up being great. So thanks for sharing that. That was a genuinely amazing story. Thanks. This is going to be short. Well done. Good. Thanks for sharing that. And you made the job of our editor easy there. Thanks. Thanks for that, Kristi. Let's have the opposite of that. Let's have the obvious because we have to balance the good with the bad, unfortunately.

Kristi Faltorusso: Yes, we do. Okay, so I'm gonna do my best. Listen, it's not a complete failure, but it was a humbling learning moment for me. So I started my career in customer success in 2012. Mind you, when I started this, don't forget, I came from marketing. I'm in New York. Silicon Alley in New York wasn't yet a big thing. So all the tech companies were still in California..

So I don't know anything about SaaS and subscription models and NRR and GRR. I'm like, what are all these acronyms? I have no idea. So it was like a humbling transition because I didn't really know what was going on. Needless to say, I spent five and a half years at my first company, went from individual contributor to a VP of customer success and practice development. Tremendous success, right? I saw it all. Like I feel like I, it's like I got my PhD in customer success under a fantastic leader.

So eventually I went off and I was like, okay, I'm gonna go do this VP thing by myself. Now I'm all grown up. I'm gonna take what I learned and go and apply it at another company. And I did, I took exactly what I did or what we did in this other company, in my first company. And I was like, what, plug and play. And I just took the exact same model and strategy and I was like, what, it'll work. Let me tell you something.

Guess what? It didn't work. You wanna know why? Because customer success is not a one-size-fits-all all model. It's not even one size fits most. It is bespoke. Everybody has a different journey because your product, your customers, the market, your maturity, your stage, your money, all these things are so, so different that if you go to somebody and you ask them, what should I do? And they give you an answer without asking other questions, run for the hills. Because you need all of that context to design a program, so not me though. I was like, nope, I know exactly what to do. I'm gonna do exactly what I did before because it worked and it didn't work and it backfired. And so I had to go back to the beginning and redesign it with a little egg on my face and make modifications and make changes and move quickly so that the business didn't feel the impact of my failure, but I failed. Yeah, that was a big swing and a miss.

Alper Yurder: Okay. So I think that was a great story too. But one thing that's still again, like my mind goes and likes, because I cannot interrupt all the time, my mind gets stuck in something that you said. The promotion story, VPCS to Chief Customer Officer. What changed? Like, okay, these are great big titles. Somebody who is in their early 20s and 30s looking up to go the career track as you.

First-time Client Success Manager, I want to be a VPCS, VP, whatever, or chief customer. What is the difference between a VPCS and a Chief Customer Officer?

Kristi Faltorusso: You know, it's interesting because when you get to the VP level, there is less difference as you move up to the C-suite. I would say the biggest thing for me, now mind you, the chief customer officer at every company looks very different, right? Because I'm working for a small organization, client success. We are still kind of at an early stage in the sense that we've not taken hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and we're a small business. So.

Kristi Faltorusso: Let's not compare my CCO role to that of somebody who's like the CCO of Salesforce, right? Very different. But I will tell you the big change for me was I'm no longer maniacally focused on the performance of my organization. I am now responsible for the performance of the business, which means I now as a chief officer in the business, I have an obligation to our, our success, right? These top-line numbers.

So I now need to be, have a vested interest in how sales are doing? How is marketing doing? How is the product doing? How is my organization doing? And then how are all of these things in my organization, how are we weaving this all together to drive the business forward? So I think it was more just the focus of my remit kind of shifted and then how I had to orchestrate what I did in my day-to-day to contribute to the top-line numbers and not just the success of my team.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, and does that bring some like very harsh board meetings etc as well?

Kristi Faltorusso: It always brings some uncomfortable stuff, but I don't know that I've ever been in a board meeting that felt good, right? Where you walk out and you're like, yeah, nailed it. Uh, never, never, never. It doesn't matter how prepared you are for a board meeting. I mean, like, uh, um, yeah. So I will say here, different experience at client success, because we don't have the same level of investment as I've had at other companies where I've been present in those. So I don't have the same dynamic with our investors. It's a little different, but yeah, oh, forget it. Board meetings though in previous organizations, especially as we were getting to like series D, series E. Oh man, brutal, yeah.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Let's roll forward a little coming to today and what you're doing in the current job. But I want to weave in this section. So I try to talk about some of the current issues you tackle, but also what comes from our users. So right now with Flowla, we're at a place where almost half of our users are sales and in the trenches selling, closing, complex deals, et cetera. But...

The other half almost is like time to value, activation, implementation, complex onboarding, this, that. And one thing I'm observing is like those things are also intermingling more than ever. So here is my introduction to this conversation for you now. There's more scrutiny than ever on buying something new. So everybody realizes obviously the number around, you know, retention is the king and you need to keep the existing clients happier, blah, blah.

How do you see the rising popularity of client success over the broader revenue team? And do you feel like there's a convergence between sales and client success at the moment?

Kristi Faltorusso: You know, it's always interesting because like I said, every organization is a little different in how they need to manage those two functions. And we are seeing a lot of customer success teams roll up under CROs. I interviewed somebody on my podcast not that long ago who became the CRO after being the CMO and now has sales and marketing under them, under the CRO. So like, let's just be honest, every business needs to take a different approach in what's going to drive them forward.

So listen, you're gonna see more synergies across sales and customer success because there is this kind of idea of one life cycle, right? You have a prospect who comes in, who's evaluating the software, defines their goals, here's my pain points, tell me how your solution is gonna help, and now great, I'm gonna buy it, now help make me successful, let's do onboarding and change management, help me get more value, okay, it's time for renewal. That's a life cycle, that's a completed life cycle, and so What's interesting is that so many organizations treat that as like two very distinct and unique motions. But I think the best organizations see that as a fluid journey, right? Because buying and then committing to buying again, to me, that's like one thing because you bought and now you can buy again. So that, I don't know. I think we're gonna see more collaboration between those two. And from the customer's perspective, we'd probably want to make that.

Kristi Faltorusso: Feel like it's got more continuity and less like this, this stops, this starts. And I think that if we focus on creating more of that continuity and that fluidity between the stages in our internal processes, our customers are gonna have less friction and probably more success. It does require a lot more collaboration though, let's be frank.

Alper Yurder: I love all of it and there's so many things to pick there and like to unpack. Collaboration is one, for example, and the frictions, et cetera. But at the end of the day, I love what you said. One life cycle. Like the buyer doesn't care. You know, they just came to being. They had their first chat. They had a first contact. And now they're at your hands. And Sarah Jones, today, was telling me like she's obviously a very experienced client success leader as well. And she was telling me like...

You have all these schmoozing and like wonderful experiences with sales and you do it for like a month and two and you close the line. Bam, like everybody disappears. Now there's just one client success manager all of a sudden trying to deliver.

Kristi Faltorusso:  Right. It's, um, and it's a terrible experience. And listen, we've all bought software. So whether we are delivering that crappy experience or receiving that crappy experience, I think we can all acknowledge it's a crappy experience, but yet company after company and org after org, we all structure it the same way. But how lovely would it be if it felt like one continuous motion, right? Where your customer is doing things that they need to.

Alper Yurder: How could it feel like one continuous motion? What could people do to make it feel more like a continuous motion?

Kristi Faltorusso: The continuity needs to be designed for the customer, right? We fragment it. We're the ones that say this stops, now this starts. How we design the engagements and the models around it, it is all that. Now listen, let's be honest. When we think about scaling at the bottom scale, right? So you're thinking like lower engagement, low costs, different prescriptive engagement models for these customers.

Kristi Faltorusso: You're going to manage them differently. So sure. Like I think that there are certain segments where you're not going to be able to create continuity. If you do have to have a highly engaged salesperson and try to create this self led onboarding or self managed program after that, I think you're better off saying, let's create a PLG motion for them. And then if we do the self.

Kristi Faltorusso: Kind of self-guided onboarding and then into whatever the relationship looks like. Because again, what you're doing there is you're creating continuity. But if your product is too complex to sell digitally, then it's probably too complex to onboard. Let's be honest. And so we don't recognize those two things. So I see these, right? Come on. So this always drives me crazy. So it's like, you're telling me that I need a salesperson, a sales engineer, a sales leader.

Alper Yurder: It's even worse actually!

Kristi Faltorusso: All these people sell it, but then when the customer buys it, you're going to leave them to their own devices. That's wild. That's crazy. So instead, what I'd love to see is again, some continuity. So you need to make it easier to buy your products and then make it easier to onboard into your products and use your products. So you have to think about what you're capable of delivering today and then meet your customers where they are in relation to your product. We don't spend enough time thinking about that.

Alper Yurder: No, absolutely. And then we wonder like, okay, people, what I love from that first part of what you were explaining is like the fragmentation is something we introduced because that's how we run our organization. But the buyer doesn't care. Like, you know, like just handhold me throughout the process. By the way, it's also getting very difficult because a lot of buyers want autonomy. They don't want friction. So they don't want to be talking to you. They want to be on a call, but they want all the perks of it. Etc, etc. So that's even becoming even more crazy.

Kristi Faltorusso: Right.

Alper Yurder: All right, so what I want to do is, what I want to do a little bit, Kristi, is that we receive questions from our users and some of them we try to match with my guests. So I'm going to throw like one-minute things at you. You know, it could be words, it could be very small phrases, et cetera. And let's do a bit of, how do you say, like an intuitive kind of improvisation, if you don't mind.

Kristi Faltorusso: Yeah, without a doubt.

Alper Yurder: Let's see if you'll like it. Yeah, it's a hard one. Yeah, but it's good. I'm sure you'll come up with lots of great stuff. So one, for example, and I should put their locations like Stacy from Texas. No, that's not the case. So the first one goes, what's the magic bullet for activation?

Kristi Faltorusso: There isn't a magic bullet, but if I was to say there's something that probably has, I'm gonna go with expectation alignment. That's what I'm going to go with. I'm going to say that, yes, well, my point is like to activate a customer, setting expectations with them. Usually what I find is that your customers have a perception of how things should go because of what they believe, right? And what they want. And then we have designed something very different. And if we are not aligning those things, it doesn't matter how great we think we did at creating the best programs, best technology, the best processes, the best content.

it's still not gonna meet their needs, right? Because we've missed the mark on aligning on expectations. So I would say, even if what you have to tell your customer is going to disappoint them, at least being clear on expectations on both sides will reduce the sad surprises.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, I completely agree with alignment. And I think, yeah, some of my previous guests also said that what leads to churn is basically you saw the wrong thing or you didn't set the expectation in the right way that leads to churn. There is something like go back to the origin, go back to the initial alignment. But that alignment is really difficult because like you need to as a salesperson or even client success, you have to share a lot of documents, lots of email threads, Slack channels, 50 stakeholders in a deal today.

Like, how are you building that alignment? Are you... How are you building that alignment? Let's say.

Kristi Faltorusso: I mean, so it's, I'm gonna give you like my famous response to anything. It depends because how I did that when I was working with companies as large as G is very different from how I do that with some of our customers who are like early-stage SaaS companies, right? Series A, Series B. If I have a single or let's say four person point of contact org that I'm working with setting and aligning expectations there is much easier than when I'm working with GE and I've got 10 different divisions with all different stakeholders and all different solutions that we're solving for. So there's not an easy answer to that because it does depend. But I will say it is like getting access to the right people, presenting the right information, leading with full transparency and then making sure things are, this is my like CYA, but like making sure everything is documented. That's a big thing for me.

Kristi Faltorusso: Because a lot of things get lost in translation. A lot of people recall things very differently. Let's be honest, we live in a remote world, which means we could be having a conversation, but you could also be on Slack. You could also be doing email. You could also be doing work. So I don't know how much of what I'm saying you're retaining. My favorite thing to do is send a follow-up that basically says, here is my recollection of our conversation and what we've covered today. Please let me know if I've missed something or captured something incorrectly.

Kristi Faltorusso: Giving the person to really say, yes, you're spot on, or no, that's actually not what we discussed. Here's what I believe it should be. That transaction is really important.

Alper Yurder: It is really important. And I think people talk about follow-ups and multithreading, etc. At the end of the day, it was those basic things that you said, like human interaction, like two parties. I say something, you say something. Do we say the same thing? Do you retain the same information? Let's record it somewhere because, you know, somewhere down the line, your buyer's champion will tell the decision maker, they quoted me a different price or they told me they could do this. Like, OK, is that the reality? Let's go back and let's check it.

Kristi Faltorusso: Right. Oh, that's, yeah. Yep. There's a reason why national sports games and teams, right, they record the games and they watch the tape, right? They go back and they watch what happened. You need that instant replay sometimes.

Alper Yurder: Absolutely. And I think email is definitely for me, it wasn't doing it great. I mean, I'll do a little bit of a shameless plug because obviously I'm building my own product from my own pain point, which is when you have 50 emails, they get buried. Like it's not the best way to close, especially large complex deals. How do you feel about shared action plans, mutual action plans? Do you use them or, you know, some people call it like a shared success plan and especially in the client success world. Do you have your own take on those things?

Kristi Faltorusso: I think they work in the right environments, in the right team structure, in the right engagement models. Like again, if we think about the difference between a high-engagement model and a low-engagement model,

If you've got, if you're a CSM with, let's just say anything north of a hundred customers, it's probably unlikely that you're gonna be designing an account plan with each of those customers. Like, let's just be real, right? That is hard. If you're working in a very high engagement model and maybe your ratio is like, I am an enterprise CSM and I have four customers, you bet your butt you better have an account plan and a success plan put in place.

The success plan is how you're helping your customers be successful. And the account plan is your internal strategy on how we're gonna grow this? So I'd say high-end, you need both. Low end, you probably don't have either. The one thing you do need though, is a place where you are capturing how your customers are defining success. This I think is the most important thing because to your point, it's not, and it doesn't have to be a pain point and it can be evolving, right? Because what your customer needs today might not be what they need tomorrow.

And we also have seen how many leaders come and go. You got new leadership in place, guess what? They're gonna have new priorities, a new strategy, a new approach. Realign. You need accurate and current, clear understanding of your customer's definition of value for your partnership. And that needs to be captured and tracked over time, if nothing else.

Alper Yurder: Oh, I love that. I mean, that again is thank you that now that I've become a podcaster and a marketer for the first time in my life, I'm like, you know what? That's gold. That's exactly what I want to say. And I will make Chris say it for me. I think so. OK, what about we talked about activation and and I know that in customer success teams and I've managed customer systems teams, unfortunately, I manage them as a sales guy first.

then I learned to be a customer success guy as well. And probably people know the friction that brings because, you know, whatever, I'm not going to go into the details. Long story short, what I want to ask you is this. I tried to hold my account and my team to account for activation, but at the end of the day, you have a buyer, a user who needs to buy it, use it, activate it, right? Like you can only do so much as the person who's trying to push them to use it or get the value or...

you know, shorten the time to value. How are you making your how are you holding your user to account or your buyer to account for activation?

Kristi Faltorusso: So what we have come to realize is that a lot of folks buy our technology, and I'm just gonna use the example here at ClientSuccess, many of them aren't out there buying tons of technology, right? So that means they're not experts in the change management that's required when you deploy software. And we know that, like anytime you buy software, you're inherently doing something very different than you've done before, which requires a change in behavior and the actions of the end users.

Your leaders, whoever they are, right? If you're selling to finance, if you're selling to marketing, if you're selling to customer success or product, it doesn't matter. They are not experts in change management. They are experts in the fields in which they work. So I think that in order for an organization to help with that activation, that broader adoption and value realization, there has to be this orchestration of change management that your CSMs are helping drive. It's not enough for you to understand.

How to use the product and how to teach someone a product. It's how we are driving a change in behaviors in your business. Now at the end of the day, a lot of businesses are structured like we are, where it's more of a train-the-trainer. So we are somewhat reliant on enabling one person with the hopes that that one person can go and enable the masses. But this is where I think that there is this greater shift towards one to many strategies, right? We've been making tons of investments in content like,

Webinars and video content and guides and play like, you know, really structured, like playbooks for our customers to use and leverage and just samples community, all of these things, because we're trying to get access to the end users. And now we're trying to figure out how to help all of the different personas within the partnership, because it's not enough for us to help but enable and train the admin. It's not enough for us to go and be aligned with the executive. At the end of the day,

We can have such strong relationships with both of those people, but if their CSMs are like that, I'm not using it, guess what? I'm screwed, right? I need their teams to understand the value. So that's where our organization comes in. And that's part of what we need to be doing is making sure that we are helping the business understand the value and connect changed behaviors to that value realization.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And as humans, obviously we're not really geared towards change. Change is scary. Change is hard. Change is difficult. Nobody likes change. And I was actually Googling this, like who likes change? And I, some really interesting stats came like, like how, what percentage of the British population is pro-change about certain topics. And it's, it's a topic for another thing. Anyway, I'm not going to go there. Sorry. I diverted from my train of thought. What I wanted to get to was this, the buyer.

Kristi Faltorusso: Nobody likes change, ew.

Alper Yurder: They need a lot of change management. There's the psychology of this, that, et cetera. But at the end of the day, they will dictate. Like they will tell you, I am doing this. I am not sure if the item is in the checklist or not. My IT is actioning the item in the checklist or not. They are the ones who are gonna tell you. At the end of the day, the buyer dictates. If they tell you, no, I'm not going to sign that. No, I'm not going to, you know, put that check. I'm going to go back to my Excel sheet to do this. I'd rather have this communication on a call.

Like when you have those kinds of objections from Biden, you're trying to adapt to them, you know, to bring them along the journey with you. What do you do? How can you make that smoother for both parties?

Kristi Faltorusso: So, you know, there is this idea of meeting your customers where they are. And you have to realize everyone has a different learning style. Everyone has a different working style. Some people like video content. Some people like written content. Some people like screenshots and you know, you have to start to design things that can be assumed by different users who have different learning styles and who work in different ways. And you have to be a bit amenable to that.

Kristi Faltorusso: And so what I've really liked is creating structured workflows that give my customers a little bit of all of that. So for example, at Client Success, with like, you know, not an endless budget, I've had to get creative with how I designed our onboarding experience. So I used Google Workplace, right? It's part of our tech stack already. I can go and build a website. I built a Google site that was an onboarding portal effectively.

Kristi Faltorusso: That guides our customers with everything. I've got video, I've got content, I've got spreadsheets, I've got decks, all for each stage in our journey. And so the intention here is whatever type of learner you are, I have resources that meet you where you are so we can effectively come together. And I do it in a way that doesn't create those points of friction, right? Don't try to introduce and say, and be all rigid and say, nope, we're gonna do that on our call.

If they want asynchronous learning, make the video, send them the loom. You know, there are ways that we can be flexible and amenable to what they need, but at the end of the day, if we don't, again, we're not adapting to their learning styles and their changing behaviors. So I think those are things that we have to be cognizant of as businesses and create more mechanisms to support and facilitate all.

Alper Yurder: I love all of that and I agree with all of that. The one thing that I don't agree with, which it's a joke, I agree with. If it's your process, it's great. You mentioned you created a Google site. That's wonderful. But you also were exposed to FlowLow and you were booking this, you know, our session on the podcast.

Kristi Faltorusso: Okay, so let's talk about this for a second. So, and I've told you this, and I told you this via email, and then I immediately went and signed up. So what you guys are doing is super cool. So for everybody who's listening, as a guest on this podcast, I get sent a link to Flowla, and it's an experience where I'm going and I'm getting everything a little bit by little bit. It's like, here's your introduction to the podcast, here's the format and the flow, here's the information we're gonna need. And it was like a step-by-step guide.

and it had everything I'd need in consumable, digestible bits that made it seem not so overwhelming for me. So you guys also have to understand, I have the attention span of a nat, which means I'm in the middle of doing something and then a slack comes in and I stop and I go and I pivot. So I'm like, my head is never in one place and I loved, I loved, I loved what your product did because it just allowed me to do the thing that I needed to do in that moment. And it was super clear to me.

Kristi Faltorusso: And I had all the information in the context. And so what did I do immediately after that? One, I sent you an email and I was like, oh my God, this is super cool. I loved that experience. And then I went and signed up for your product immediately. Cause I said, I'm going to rip this off and create this for my podcast guests because it was such a fantastic experience. So you introduced me to a new way of doing that and organizing that content. And so I'm super interested in how we can introduce that to our customers.

Alper Yurder: I love that. Thank you for saying that. And you know, like in the day of a founder, there's like a hundred million rejections and like a lot of bullshit moments. And, you know, when you receive something like that from, from Kristi, you're like, okay, we might be onto something. Okay. This might be interesting for some people. And I think, and I love finding that niche. I love discovering what it is. I'm a first-time product builder. By the way, I'm not an early adapter. You mentioned you're very good with technology. I'm terrible. My first iPhone was five or something, but when somebody.

Kristi Faltorusso: Oh, no. That's not what I said. Just so we're clear for all of our guests. I love technology, but I'm a dummy. Like I could stare at something for an hour and not get it. Like I, Notion will never be something I'll ever be able to use. I have tried a billion times. I do not know how to use Notion. I'm convinced that I have aged out of the end user.

Kristi Faltorusso: kind of understanding of how to use Notion. I feel like I'm too old to know how to learn to use it, because it's just, I'm like, I don't get it. But your product was so easy and so intuitive, not only from an end user, but like I said, I signed up immediately and I built my first flow. I didn't use one of your templates. I built it from scratch. I figured it out and it was super easy. Now I need to make it prettier and I need to have some of my content a bit better, but...

from like a building thing, I was like, oh, duh, this is easy, I get this, right? Like I played around for a few minutes and I figured it out. I didn't even need your help.

Alper Yurder: I love that notion though, one thing I'm going to say, and I don't know why, but I'm going to be their champion there. So with that notion, my experience was terrible for years and years in different organizations. I resisted and people hated me for it, but eventually they introduced it like a sales playbook or something. Like I had to create my first sales playbook somewhere and I used their template and then I got hooked. But when you say you didn't start to flow from a template, that means we're even more intuitive than notion. I love that. Thank you.

Kristi Faltorusso: Right. No, I'm telling you, like, I really try, listen, for anybody who's out there, you work for Notion, if this makes its way to the CEO of Notion, I'm sorry. I want to use your product. It's so cool in theory. I just don't get it. And somebody could help me.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't worry, guys. I love it. I love it. I love it. After five years of resisting it, I get it. Yeah, yeah. So that was me years ago.

Kristi Faltorusso:  I hate it, I can't figure it out. So that's my thing, I don't hate it. I can't use it to love it or hate it.

Alper Yurder: Absolutely. You know what, Kristi, this has been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for being open to a chat. I hope you enjoyed your therapy session as much as I did. Any closing remarks?

Kristi Faltorusso: It was very therapeutic. I think a good one for us to wrap on is, I think when it comes down to it, whether it be your customers, your business, whatever you're doing, be a bit more open-minded, be a little less rigid, whether it's your process, it's creating experiences for your customers, let's just lean into the work that we have to get done and not over-engineer things. And I think that's where your product comes in beautifully because I don't think it over-engineers it. I think it serves it just the right way.

Alper Yurder: Now, this was a great show. Thank you again for joining me, Kristi. And if you enjoy the show, guys, subscribe to this that you know, you'll have all the links. 

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