April 24, 2024

Customer Success Strategies for Startup Growth with Rachel Provan

In this Sales Therapy episode, Rachel Provan and Alper Yurder discuss customer success strategies through the eyes of leadership and awareness of evolving the customer’s journey.

Meet our guest

Rachel Provan, Founder and CEO of Provan Success, LLC 

One of the Top 25 CS Influencers, Rachel is also a Customer Success Leadership & Strategy Coach. At Provan Success Coaching, she helps CS professionals develop the tools, strategies, and vision needed to go from first-time manager to confident leader.

Key takeaways

  • Prioritize outcomes over ROI in customer conversations to resonate better with clients.
  • Focus on building a solid foundation for customer success by understanding customer journeys and cleaning up data.
  • Adapt communication methods to meet evolving customer preferences, such as shorter content and visual aids like videos.
  • Maintain boundaries between customer success and support, ensuring proactive engagement while avoiding overloading customers with information.
  • Embrace imperfection and aim for 80% perfection, recognizing that prioritizing action over perfection is crucial to customer success.

Prefer audio format? Listen on Spotify!

From acting to customer success leadership

In this episode of Sales Therapy, Alper Yurder engages in a candid conversation with Rachel Provan, an accomplished customer success leader whose journey from acting to teaching ultimately led her to excel in customer success. 

"As an actor, I really liked being able to slip into other people's shoes and see things from their perspective... Doing that is incredibly helpful in customer success, seeing things from the customer's perspective."

Rachel reflects on her childhood as an only child with intellectually stimulating parents, which cultivated her curiosity about people and their behaviors. Her career trajectory began at Vintage Filings, where she implemented proactive strategies to enhance customer experiences and drive business growth. 

"I started being proactive, looking at ways... to make sure that people get this in not only looking good, but on time... And then our churn rate just went through the floor and we started getting a lot bigger accounts." 

Despite considering a shift to psychology, Rachel's growing responsibilities and success in customer success led her to embrace this field wholeheartedly.

Balancing revenue and relationships

In the next segment, Alper Yurder and Rachel Provan delve into the evolving landscape of customer success, exploring its the challenges it faces in maintaining its essence amidst commercial pressures. Rachel highlights the fundamental shift in CS towards revenue-driven models, expressing concern that this may dilute its nurturing and empathetic core.

"I think that there's a fundamental problem with CS right now focusing so much on revenue... CS is a slow, long-term growth strategy."

She emphasizes the importance of helping customers achieve their goals and fostering long-term relationships, rather than solely focusing on upselling. 

Rachel expresses skepticism regarding the current emphasis on revenue in CS, suggesting that it may overlook the importance of building genuine relationships with customers. She likens CS to broccoli, emphasizing its necessity for sustained growth, even though it may lack the immediate allure of revenue-focused initiatives. 

"I think that a lot of customer success teams are being tasked with the commercial... having it be more account management than customer success... not measuring anything other than... how many upsells did you get?"

Strategies for startup customer success

Wrapping up their conversation, Alper Yurder and Rachel Provan delve into the key aspects of customer success management for startups, emphasizing the pivotal role of onboarding in driving success. 

"Start with onboarding... I know you want to start with renewals, but you're losing them here if you don't nab them right at the beginning."

Rachel shares insights on the customer success maturity model, highlighting the significance of foundational elements like understanding customer journeys and data cleanup before implementing tools. She also stresses the importance of boundary-setting in customer success and taking a proactive approach. 

"So many customer success leaders I know are like, Oh, but this customer is upset. I have to talk to them right away. It's like, they'll wait an hour, finish what you were doing. Work on strategy. This isn't brain surgery. No one is dying on a table if you don't get to that message immediately. So I think you do have to be very careful with those boundaries in CS.”

Lastly, Rachel provides valuable advice for new or aspiring CS managers, encouraging continuous learning through podcasts and embracing imperfection in their roles.

Alper Yurder: All right, so Rachel today in her therapy couch and I in my parents' house. This is gonna be an interesting recording today. So today in the therapy chair, we have Rachel Provan, a super successful customer success leader who after a decade of successful leadership at names like Doodle and Fiddleless is now coaching the next generation of CS managers on their transition to leadership. We'll talk about her success, the joy, the pain, and the journey as per usual.

Rachel Provan: Hahaha!

Alper Yurder: Welcome to Sales Therapy, Rachel. How are you feeling today?

Rachel Provan: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here. Yeah, I'm happy it's spring. Lots of energy.

Alper Yurder: And you're in New York, right?

Rachel Provan: Yes, I'm in Brooklyn.

Alper Yurder: How is New York doing these days, Brooklyn doing these days? How's the weather?

Rachel Provan: Uh, choppy. It always is in April. We always expect it to be warmer than it is. It's still around 50 degrees, so you still need a real coat. But the trees are blooming, so you feel like it should be warmer.

Alper Yurder: No. Really?

Alper Yurder: Yeah, it feels like the whole world is turning into Japan at this time. Um, especially Washington with the cherry blossoms. To be honest, I, I escaped the terrible weather in London and I came to Istanbul the other day and it's just, you know, it feels like this could be my everyday. And why isn't it?

Rachel Provan: Mm-hmm. Oh always, yeah. Yeah, that's how I feel when I go to California.

Alper Yurder: There you go. Yeah. I think about the same three hours to the east three hours to the west thing That might be the theme by the way. I might have mispronounced Your surname in a very French way saying Provan is it Provan? What is what is it really? Provan there you go Provan.

Rachel Provan: Mm-hmm. It's Provan. I wish it was Provan, no. Yeah, Provan, it's very American. But most people pronounce it that way. So yeah, I did it first too.

Alper Yurder: Okay, good, nice. So let's move on to the show. I'm very excited to be recording today with you.

Rachel Provan: Not my original last name.

Alper Yurder: Great, we have all these, I'm gonna do this for our editor, that's fine. Don't worry about all these hiccups, we'll cut them out.

Rachel Provan: Yeah, I lost what you said for about 20 seconds, which is what tends to happen on here.

Alper Yurder: That's fine. Yeah, it does happen. Just finish your line and then we'll catch up with it. Don't worry about it. We'll cut these all out. Okay, great. So, okay, any good therapy starts with childhood, obviously, and this is kind of the trademark of the show. When I start asking people about their growing up experiences, because it shapes the person we are today, and people generally tend to talk about their childhood for 10 seconds and then start talking career. And I find myself like, no, can we place...

Rachel Provan: Okay.

Alper Yurder: …stay at the childhood and the younger formation years, because I'm very interested in your growing up experience, which shapes the person that you are today. So can you share a bit of that with me?

Rachel Provan: That's gonna be interesting because I was basically like a tiny 40 year old as a little kid. People have told me that like my, you know, the entire time. I think it was from being an only child with two, I don't know, very smart parents with very good vocabularies.

Most people had no idea what I was talking about when I was walking around trying to talk to my little friends being like, are you being facetious? So, you know, an only child, you spend a lot of time alone. You tend to have a pretty good imagination. You learn how to entertain yourself a lot. But it did, you know, not having other people around who were like me did definitely lead to me being curious about people and about what makes them tick and why they do the things they do and why aren't I doing what I meant to do and things like that. So I always found people when I was a kid to be very confusing. As an adult, I find them to make perfect sense. It was just that I was used to relating to adults.

Alper Yurder: Really? Okay, that's so interesting. I'm an only child too. A lot of that makes sense. Unfortunately, my parents weren't really big fans of playing with me either and I was living in a bit of an isolated place the first 10 years of my life. And so yeah, I completely relate to that.

Rachel Provan: No.

Alper Yurder: The curiosity is interesting though. Why do you think the curiosity stems from being an only child? Is it like trying to keep yourself busy, interested, entertained? Is that where it's coming from?

Rachel Provan: Well, the curiosity about people was because I was not similar to other children in the way that I thought and behaved. Again, very much like I am now, which is great for now, back then, little strange. I got along great with adults, and, but it did lead to a lot of other kids being like, you're weird. So, trying to figure out like, hmm…

Alper Yurder: No. A little strange. Yeah.

Rachel Provan: …well, what makes people like each other and what are people really thinking? Because I can't tell. So I got, you know, my father was a therapist as well. So I got a lot of that very early on. Yeah.

Alper Yurder: Really? Wow. What makes people tick and all that? I love that. So very high awareness obviously. And at what point then in life you felt like, okay I finally find a bit more balance. Like for example childhood was tough for me as well and then high school was also kind of horrible for two years and then one year it was great. But in university, in college, I really felt like okay now I'm feeling good about you know life. What was that moment for you then?

Rachel Provan: Yeah. Um, you know, I had a better experience in high school, which I know is not all that common. Um, but I really kind of found my tribe there and I still have a couple people that I'm really close to from there. Um, you know, I'm someone who collects friends and keeps them for life. Uh, but so I, you know, I had my one best friend that I grew up with in grammar school and then a couple in high school. So I definitely felt more, Oh, this wasn't…

Alper Yurder: Oh, nice.

Rachel Provan: …that I was necessarily all that weird. It's just that the other people around me weren't similar to me, you know, but there are people like me. But I loved high school. I went to a very, you know, I went to a prep school. It was incredibly intense. I don't think I've ever been under that much pressure again. And yeah, but I loved the people. I loved the things I learned there. We had really good teachers.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I get it. Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Provan: For college, I went to NYU for acting, which is something that surprises a lot of people. But yeah, that was my original go-to. I'd been acting professionally since I was 16, mainly in independent films, things like that, a little bit of stage. And yeah, went to NYU for that and psychology.

But when you double major at NYU, you're taking 13 classes a semester. So still not really good at being a kid, not really good at like taking the time to have fun. I just was spending all my time just soaking up everything I could. But, and also, you know, going to NYU, it's not like you really have a campus, you're just like now living in the city.

Alper Yurder: I love that. So did you then, by the way, I'm sorry to break the news, but you're not the first to be actor turned revenue leader in my show. I think Christina. Yeah, yeah, I think Christina Bradley, she also had now, yeah, she also had, she was supposed to be an actress or, yeah, I think maybe in Broadway even. And then she ended up where she ended up.

Rachel Provan: Oh, I know. Oh, on your show, wow. Who was before me? Hmm.

Alper Yurder: I have one question to follow up and then I'm going to move to the next section, which is did you, now looking back, did you notice some early connections to your current profession, like during your formative years? Now looking back, does it make sense to you?

Rachel Provan: Oh yeah, absolutely. Oh, absolutely. With customer success, what's funny is a lot of people would ask me when they'd find out I used to be an actor, and they're like, oh, so you're really good at lying or pretending to like the customers. I was like, that's not it at all. I'm the worst liar in the world. I go beet red. There's my towel, I'm busted. But no, it was that as an actor, I really liked being able to slip into other people's shoes.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Okay.

Rachel Provan: and see things from their perspective. And doing that is incredibly helpful in customer success, seeing things from the customer's perspective. And then as I moved on to leadership and then moved on to coaching, learning how to pivot those perspectives, not just to the customer, but also to internal cross-functional leaders. What does influence look like? What do you need to do to influence others in a positive way without it being manipulation?

really needs half, you spend half your time just selling that CS is a worthwhile pursuit internally. So that having that idea of, okay, what are these other departments focused on? What do they care about? How can we align what we're talking about with what they care about? So pivoting those perspectives is really what allowed me to do that. And then the combination of that with psychology,

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

Rachel Provan: sort of naturally led to my analysis and experiments of what works in CS leadership and in coaching.

Alper Yurder: Okay, so a very heightened sense of awareness and empathy. I get it. Did you always start your career in CS or did you somehow transition into it? How did your career progress?

Rachel Provan: It was wild. So I was a teacher first, like an assistant teacher for a couple years for pre-k and special needs kids. So that was amazing and it helps me a lot with being a mom now. And then I then I went into, I was doing temp work, like I was tired of waitressing as an actress.

Alper Yurder: Okay.

Rachel Provan: I was like, I want to go home and not be smelly, either from children or food. Like, I don't want to be sticky. I don't want to be smelly. I want a nice clean office job. So I started temping and I ended up at this company at the time called Vintage Filings. And they really liked me. I really liked the people there. And they would allow me to zoom off for a month or two, film a movie, come back, still have a job. I wasn't going anywhere. Yeah.

Alper Yurder: Oh wow, oh wow, wonderful. So you discovered flexible work before everybody else.

Rachel Provan: So, you know, they hired me and that was the deal. I did. But they knew, you know, my level of productivity and what I was able to turn out. They're like, yeah, you know, we want you to come back, so okay. And I got to keep my health insurance, which is wild. So by the time I was around 28, I think, I was like, all right, this isn't gonna happen because honestly, as a woman, if you're around 28 and it hasn't happened, probably not going to.

Alper Yurder: Nice.

Rachel Provan: And I didn't want to be a big star either. I just wanted to be one of those people who like made a good living, but you couldn't put your finger on who they were. Because I wanted a normal life. I just enjoyed that. Of course I do. Why not? But, you know, I wasn't concerned like, oh, I'm not famous, but I was like, this is really inconsistent money. And now that I am paying rent, I need something, you know, I want to figure out what I'm going to do if it's not this.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, so you want the best of both worlds. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rachel Provan: And I did look at going back to school to, you know, officially become a psychologist. But I looked at the costs of school and then what most psychologists made. And I'm not talking about psychiatrists. It's very different if you're a doctor and you can prescribe. But I'm not going to med school. I faint at the sight of blood. So that is off the table. So I looked at, you know, the salaries around there. I was like, that's what I'm making now. You know?

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, of course.

Rachel Provan: Like I can't do that and like pay off the loans from, nevermind the new school, my last school. So it just didn't seem all that practical as much as that was what I wanted to do. So I just.

Alper Yurder: So I'm guessing customer success paid better at the time. Or hopefully now as well. Yeah, OK, good.

Rachel Provan: Yes, yes. Still does. It still does a lot better. But I kept just rising through the ranks at this company and I had a job that, you know, it was customer success, but we didn't know to call it that then. I took it from a role that was kind of like a hybrid account management production role. You know, I was promoted to leader by the time I was like 26, 27 to manager.

And I turned it more customer success-y because, you know, there was the general consensus then of, you know, kind of garbage in, garbage out. If they give us something terrible, that's what they're going to get. And I noticed there were places where customers were stumbling, just common things that they would leave out. And this was something for SEC filings. So government filings, really important stuff. If you don't get it in by the deadline, if you're missing a signature, things like that.

it's going to be a big problem. You're going to lose a lot of money. So I started being proactive, looking at ways like, what can I, what can I do to make sure that people get this in not only looking good, but on time and that everything is filled out. Like not a lawyer, no way I'm going to know every bit about what's included in a 10 K, though I know a lot. Um, but I just knew there were common places like people, I knew people would submit their

their numbers too late for them to be tagged with XBRL. So I just created a customer journey, a post-sale customer journey of like, here's what you need to have when, here's what we're gonna double check for you. Like we're gonna run test filing every day before, before the deadline, cause it always crashes. Just doing all these things. And then our churn rate just went through the floor and we started getting a lot bigger accounts and they spread that.

across the department as like, hey, we should do it this way. You know, because these, yeah.

Alper Yurder: Okay. So it sounds like almost like a pivotal moment where you discovered the essence of customer success, which is hand holding empathy, creating visibility, transparency, making sure you are hand holding and moving between steps, next steps and, and helping people to do, you know, certain things better. I don't know, I find like that's very, very nurturing, loving, affectionate role, isn't it?

Rachel Provan: Yes. It's interesting in the last couple of years, because it's always attracted very nurturing people. I call it the helper personality. It's always attracted that. And as it's become more relentlessly revenue focused, I feel like we're losing some of that. We don't necessarily have to, but I think that there's a fundamental problem with CS right now focusing so much on revenue that they forget the fact that the way you get that revenue is by helping your customers achieve their goals. If you do that, they're going to stay, they're going to be more open to buying more, they're going to tell other people. But if you just assume they're going to buy more right off the bat because, hey, we're so great, that's not about them anymore. That's about you.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I completely hear that. At the same time, I feel like it's a bit of a convergence of things. For me, like in my career, I saw a very distinct separation between sales and customer success, and I see places where it started converging. And I think at our time, we're getting new clients in the door, through the door, like every second is not possible. I think sales is understanding, okay, we need to keep people happy. The second R, in the ARR stands for recurring. So there's a bit of customer success convergence there versus customer success becoming more commercially minded. Like, you know.

Rachel Provan: Right. Yeah, I think that a lot of customer success teams are being tasked with the commercial and being expected to behave like account management and really, you know, arose by any other name, having it be more account management than customer success, you know, not measuring anything other than, well, how many upsells did you get? And kind of expecting retention to be high automatically. And it's interesting, you know, we've been… pivoting and believe me, I understand, I want to own renewal. But we've also been pivoted towards revenue at pretty much the worst economic time since 2008. Yeah. And you know, CS is a slow, it's a long term growth strategy. So a lot of people are expecting, well, you're not making tons of sales, CS doesn't work. It's like, you're looking at the wrong things. You're looking at this the wrong way.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Doesn't it make sense? Well, of course.

Rachel Provan: But by expecting, you know, a quick fix from CS, that's not how this works. You know, we're broccoli, we're not a cookie.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Okay. I hope you... Broccoli dipped into some chocolate, I think, at this time.

Rachel Provan: I say that, yeah, it's like, we're not, yeah, we're not, we're not sexy. We're not like, Hey, this is going to be so exciting. You're going to get all these new customers and it's going to be a huge influx of cash. It's like, no, you got to eat your broccoli every day to stay healthy. So you don't die. You know, um, like, yes, you can have cookies. Yes, there is some of that in here. Yes, we will be building this up over time, but you can't wait until you're in the hospital and then just be like, give me all the broccoli. It's not, it doesn't work like that. You can't binge on it and get the same effect.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I don't know if we're a little ahead of the curve or whatever, or it's just our business that requires it. But before, since we're talking about coming to today and, you know, the current issues, let's switch to that. And, you know, for example, for us, before hiring a salesperson, we decided to hire a customer success manager.

So our first real commercial hire, because we're two founders, we're quite commercially savvy, we can do the selling, but we need to make sure that people are happy. So our first hire has been a customer success, then finally this quarter, we're hiring our first founding AE. But to me, that convergence of customer success and sales, and the essence that the buyer doesn't care what you are, they just want a frictionless end to an experience, that means that we needed to bring a CS person who is…

who can be a bit both, but who is first of all, first and foremost, a helper, an advisor, somebody who can share best practice, which is, I think, the essence of CS. It's not just support and solving problems, but actually showing the route. How do you feel the increasing power of CS or increasing, rising impact of CS over the broader revenue team is? Like maybe we're an outlier, but don't you feel like there is a bit more improvement?

Rachel Provan: Mm-hmm. No! I'm a little cynical if you can't tell, but I tend to see things kind of a couple of years ahead of where they are a lot of the time, because it's like, all right, I've been in this for 17, 18 years. I kind of see the cycles that we go through. From what I see is like with the economy going down, everyone in CS was like, we need to be revenue leaders. Everybody go to revenue.

Alper Yurder: Do it. Hmm.

Rachel Provan: Bcause that's the only way we're going to have a seat at the table. But do we? I haven't found that that's worked. And that's just something I'm just really coming to. And I know it's counter to what most people say, but, and I, it's not even that I think we should know in revenue. It's just that I think that we've pivoted too hard in that direction and we've lost what CS is. So yeah, maybe it is more involved in revenue, but I don't think it gets any more respect than it did.

Alper Yurder: Hmm. What makes you think that? Because you're coaching a lot of people, so you have your ear on the ground. So like what kind of complaints or, you know, necking or upset stories are you hearing on a daily basis?

Rachel Provan: I think that it's based, they're calling it, they're calling it account management store. Well, and this is especially true in startups, right? Because a lot of the times and look, I run a company myself. And when I became the head of that company, I only have one other employee. But when I became the head of that company, I noticed my perspective shifted. I wasn't immediately like drawing post-sale customer journeys. I was like, how do I get people in the door? You know, I'd already had a proven concept, it worked, but that's what you focus on. How do we keep this going? Yeah. And it's very hard to see, especially when you're a founder CEO, outside of your own perspective that what you've built on its own will not necessarily get the customer the result that they're looking for. And that's not because there's anything wrong with the product, but because you're dealing with humans. This is not...

Alper Yurder: New business.

Rachel Provan: …a product where you just say, all right, here's what I want you to do. Here's what you need to do to get that result. You feed in the prompt and it spits out the result and it's the same every time. You wish. It's just not like that. People are incredibly resistant to change. They have different priorities. So CS is a lot more about influence than people think. And it's a lot harder than people think because you've got to get buy in and

various customer journeys. I know that you have like various buyer journeys and it's very similar. We can't just motivate the executive sponsor. We have to motivate the end users as well to use it because if they don't see any point, they're not gonna get the result and the executive sponsor is gonna say that wasn't worth it. But the expectation naturally of the person and the people who created

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

Rachel Provan: you know, the product, their natural assumption is that people are going to be happy with it and that there's everything that they need there and you don't need people to make that happen. And I feel that way too, you know, the thing is my baby, my course is my baby, but I know enough at this point to have, you know, my number two there as customer success and to, you know, have that perspective and to be listening to my customers.

You know, when my CS leaders say, hey, we'd like more of this, it's like, great. Boom, let's do it. Um, because they're, they're going to have input that I couldn't necessarily have thought of from my perspective. Um, but, so what I've found is that most companies bring on CS, they've heard all the great stuff I can do, right? Um, CS is popular now. So they think that it's just plug and play, you know, get CS in here.

Alper Yurder: Okay.

Rachel Provan: Maybe they'll create a customer journey and boom, 120 NRR, six months. Shouldn't take more than six months, right? With a Google Sheet, we should be fine. It's just not realistic.

Alper Yurder: Mm-hmm. Ha ha ha. Especially with a Google feed you want to return fortunately.

Rachel Provan: Yeah, yeah. Or even not a Google Sheet, they'll be like, let's get a tool. It's like, you don't have data yet. Like your data is a mess. You don't have telemetry. Like they keep expecting an easy button and that's not what this is, unfortunately. I wish it was. Make my life a lot easier. But it's like resetting the expectations all the time of yes, I know this is where you wanna go. We are absolutely getting there. Here's how we get there.

Alper Yurder: You know what? Yeah.

Rachel Provan: We do this, and this, and they all build on each other. Because otherwise it's just like, well, why aren't you upselling? It's like, we got here five minutes ago.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I think I was sitting on the other side of the table and from the sales and new business side of things, and you know, things came to me very naturally, like, okay, selling is very difficult, building complex sales cases and consensus and, you know, a lot of stakeholders and et cetera. So initially we started building flow and for one year it was like, how do we get to yes, how do we have sales, help salespeople to get to yes faster? But now over the last quarter or so, what I realized is the tool has been hacked by customer success people. So I'm gonna ask you a few things that come from our users specifically about it. So customer success leaders, managers, et cetera, they started hacking the tool to do better onboarding, better activation, to make sure that people are following the steps they are supposed to so they can get to seeing the benefit from the product, et cetera. So talk me through maybe the essence of the job in that sense. What do you feel like?

Rachel Provan: Sure. Yeah. Yes.

Alper Yurder: Like what are the keywords that a customer success person has to be good with in that sales is new business, you know, improved win rates, closing. What is the equivalent for customer success? Like what keywords, what magic tricks they are being expected to do so they are successful at their job. Outcomes.

Rachel Provan: Outcomes, I would say, because we're all focused on NRLR and things like that, which of course that's what you're trying to affect. We all want that, CS included. But that's not a driver, it's a result. So the drivers of that are adoption, which is driven by onboarding. And onboarding really is if that's the first place I tell anybody to look.

Like start with onboarding. I know you want to start with renewals, but you're losing them here if you don't nab them right at the beginning. And actually, I came out with an episode today on my podcast called The Psychology of Onboarding that shows exactly why most people are doing it wrong and some things you can do to make it work better with the way the human brain actually learns. Because if you just make it one size fits all, show everybody everything your product can do.

Alper Yurder: Okay, I love that.

Rachel Provan: Can actually do, they walk away dazed and remembering maybe a tenth of what you said. That is not someone who's ready to succeed with your product. And I'm not saying we need to train people over and over and do spaced repetition. But there are certain ways to follow up by email with just a little tidbit, having a two minute video here and there, having walkthroughs on the platform guided, having things delivered in different ways over time.

will cement it more, but also just saying, you know, people, and this, this is a marketing thing too. Many times people will emphasize features over benefits. Because if you're working within the company and everyone's so excited about these features and look at all these things we can do, the company, you know, you have to know what they're trying to achieve and how this plays into that. So, you know, keywords, I'm not great with SEO, but I would say outcomes are the future. I like what

what Gainsight has done with them and calling them verified outcomes. Uh, you know, basically getting the customer to set, you know, getting the customer to check a box or something, you send it to them six months or so in saying, all right, when you came to us, you were looking to achieve this outcome, you know, and it's just based on a couple of different use cases that you're, that you know, your product can deliver. So you said you wanted this. Have you achieved that at this point? That.

correlates more strongly with renewal, upsell, advocacy than anything else. A yes or a no there. And it tells you exactly what you need to do next. Because if they, I don't care what else you do, if they haven't gotten a result and they don't see a result coming really fast, not even a result, the result they wanted, the result they bought it for, I don't care how nice your experience is or how nice your people are, they're not going to renew because it's not worthwhile.

You know, so ROI, people talk a lot about ROI. I find that ROI doesn't resonate with people in the same way, like when talking to customers, whereas result, goal, outcome, those things do. And also, yeah, it's simple. But that's what's frustrating to me because that's what's always been what our job is. Get them what they came for. That is...

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I love that. It's simple. Yeah.

Rachel Provan: Job one, you know, I think of the customer journey kind of like as a hill, right? So you're climbing through onboarding and adoption and that's all the hard work, all the way to get to that peak of we got it. We got them what they came for and that's getting them everything they want. And then once we get there, we get to ski down the other side and get all the other stuff we want, the renewal, the expansion, the advocacy, the quotes, this and that. Um, they're so much more open to that once you've just proven yourself.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. I hear how this conversation started is generally how it starts with every other CS expert leader. You know, if you're having churn problem, if you don't have retention, if you don't have adoption, look at your onboarding. Start with your onboarding. Your chances are you've done something wrong there. And I hear sometimes horror stories like we have a lot of rebops users who tell me, you know, the reason I use Flawless because people sold the wrong thing in the first place. So I want to have more visibility into what they're selling. Like I hear...

Rachel Provan: Yeah.

Alper Yurder: People think 15% of deals are missold. Do you have? Yeah.

Rachel Provan: And that is the worst part of being in customer success because when you're like, well, I can't get you that outcome. And they're like, but I paid you this money. It's like. We are at an impasse. It literally does not do that.

Alper Yurder: What can I do? Let me build that product for you or let me do my CS magic to pretend this is the product.

Rachel Provan: Yeah, it's like, no. Yeah. It's that that's tough. You know, there are so many ways that other departments can affect the results CS is able to get. You know, if sales miss sells, you know, like doesn't get an ideal customer, if product isn't fully building their releases, getting to, you know, the good old getting to 80 85% and releasing.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. How do you make sure that horror story doesn't happen? Like, A, from a behavior and process point of view, and B, maybe like tooling-wise, you know, obviously people's defaults are Google's predictions and this and that, but like, how, what advice can you give to somebody who's trying to figure out what's the best way to create a frictionless end-to-end experience for my buyer?

Rachel Provan: You know? I missed most of what you said there, I'm afraid.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, no worries. So I'm going to repeat. So I was saying, how do you make sure we avoid those horror stories from both a process and behavior standpoint, like, you know, make sure you're doing this, that, so you can build that, and maybe with a CS manager focus, and also from a tooling standpoint. I know that a lot of people love their Google stretches, et cetera, but the buyers hate it. And when they see something like a flow where everything is in one place, they love it because it's easy for them, blah, blah. But how do you...

figure out your process behavior, your tooling around it. Can you share any tips, tricks for people who might be in that situation?

Rachel Provan: Yeah, yeah. Something that I teach on about a quarterly basis is all about the customer success maturity model because customer success is built in stages, right? And a lot of people don't know the order that you're supposed to build it. They just hear about different points and they're like, okay, I'll try that, that sounds good. And they miss a lot of really foundational things.

that make the whole operation kind of pointless. Like if you don't first base it on what is your customer trying to achieve and what do they have to do to get there? What action steps do they have to take? What action steps do we have to take? And do we have more than one outcome or more than one type of customer? You don't have to create a big dissertation on it, but just know what your customers want, what your product does.

and how those two things play into one another and how you get them there. That is really, year one is understanding that, creating those customer journeys, plural, and cleaning up your data. I don't recommend getting a tool before you have figured those things out, because that is what a tool will help automate. Once you have those things figured out, you basically...

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Provan: understand what playbooks you need and you can use a tool to automate playbooks. But you basically understand what playbooks you need. You understand what you need to be looking for in terms of data to determine if they're getting the results. Um, so that's why I really say to focus on those things first, but you have to set those expectations of here's how it works. Here's how we get to that positive NRR. It, the very first step is building this foundation and that does take a little while.

And you have to talk to customers. You can't do it without talking to customers. People are like, all right, well, how do I follow this? Yeah.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, but which is what I was going to come to that point. Like people are now buyers are now looking for all the help in the world, but they don't have any time for you. Or, you know, we did some research into like what do buyers want today and they want autonomy, availability and authority. So basically they want everything, but they will not give you their time. They will not be on a call with you unless, you know, they really have to. How do you navigate that situation? Like.

How can you make that happen?

Rachel Provan: Yeah, and that is a huge thing, customer success as well. You know, the QBR used to be king and now people have, you know, on average, it's more than this now, but about 130 SaaS products per company. And we all want to meet every three months. Like that's not at all possible, nor is it that person's job to just be sitting and meeting with us and hearing about stats about our company. They don't care. So.

Alper Yurder: Wow. Yeah. No thank you.

Rachel Provan: We have to adapt to that and we have to adapt to the new ways that people are preferring their communication. We can't just say, well, we need it this way. You have to find a new way to make it engaging for them. So, um, you know, understanding that people prefer shorter content, that sometimes they prefer, you know, very, very short video, like 30 seconds to a minute, send them a loom, send them something like that, along with a report. Just be like, here, quick visual of what's going on. Here's where you were. Here's where you are. Here's.

how that aligns with what you're trying to achieve. So you can see the progress that you've made. You can see here's how that aligns. Yeah.

Alper Yurder: I mean, I agree with all of the above, but then again, to be the devil's advocate, then the objection is, okay, you sent me a loan, you sent me a video, it's here and there. I have a ton of emails from you. There's also intercom. You slack me something. Do you hear any of that frustration that there's a lot of info being shared on a lot of channels and it becomes a bit like noise for the buyer?

Rachel Provan: Yes. I missed some of that, but, um, I heard you say Slack and I'm like, do not Slack with your customers. That is a boundary. Never. Um, because also customer success is not support, right? We are working to become proactive. Everyone's going to start out reactive, but we're working to become proactive so that we can be influencing the results they get.

Alper Yurder: Okay.

Rachel Provan: you know, saying, oh, you're going down the wrong path there. Let's keep it up this way. Or, oh, you're forgetting to, to log in and do what you need to do in here. If you want to achieve that result, you know, kind of like a personal trainer that like kicks your butt out of bed and you have to show up. Um, if you want us to be able to do that, we cannot be slacking because it may be support. Yes. Um, but Slack is naturally a medium where people expect a faster response. Whereas email people away today.

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

Rachel Provan: You know, but so many customer success leaders I know are like, Oh, but this customer is upset. I have to talk to them right away. It's like, they'll wait an hour, finish what you were doing. Work on strategy. This isn't brain surgery. No one is dying on a table if you don't get to that message immediately. You know? Um, so I, I think you do have to be very careful with those boundaries in CS.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Okay. That's a very interesting and fresh perspective. And I think there's definitely the sales view of these things, like the driver person, always available, just make sure that you close things before deadline, versus here you are saying, like, people will wait. Like, they're okay. They'll consume the information at their own time. They'll wait for one day. They're not dying. So I think that... Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Provan: Right, one day, like, and that's a CS leader, not a CSM. I do think there should be within a 24 hour period of response, but I've never heard of a customer being like, it's been 20 minutes and I haven't heard from my CSM. You know, like if you have a ticket, if something is broken, please call support. But like a strategy issue, that's something that took time to happen and will take time to fix.

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

Alper Yurder: I love that.

Rachel Provan: I just haven't seen it be as urgent and on fire as we tend to treat it. Just because someone says it's urgent doesn't actually mean it is.

Alper Yurder: Yeah.

I think the problem also lies in the definition. When you see customer success as a support and ticket kind of thing, I think that's when you flow into that trap versus that's not it. It's somebody else's job. But in a startup, it's all of our job, to be honest.

Rachel Provan: Right. And that is different. But at the same time, there needs to be a separate process, a separate flow for break fix than there is for customer success. And I do say to split out CS and support in that first year. That is essential. Otherwise, you have support. You don't have CS.

Alper Yurder: I agree with that. As we're coming towards the end of our episode, like Rachel Provan:, a few things I wanna ask you, like how, especially a lot of our audience is quite, first time CS manager or maybe CS manager making the transition to leadership, like how can they develop themselves? How can they learn faster? Do you have like tips for self-improvement in this space?

Rachel Provan: Yeah, I definitely think podcasts have been an incredible resource for us because I don't know about anyone else, but I'm always on the go. I don't have time to sit down and read a book right now. I'm either working or parenting or asleep. So I don't get to do that. I don't get to consume content the way I'd like, but I can do that on the go. I can do that washing dishes. I can do that, you know, living my life. So I think that is very helpful. I would also say...

You need to learn strategy, but you also need to learn psychology because everyone around here talks about best practices and it should be like this and we should be a cut, you know, it should be a customer centric organization and this is what other departments should do and it's like, okay, talk to me when you're in the real world. Show me, you know, the company where that's happening and great, but that's not necessarily going to be the case for you at a messy startup. And I see so many.

Alper Yurder: Yep.

Rachel Provan: new leaders banging their head against that and saying to executive leadership, like, this isn't how it should be. You're not enabling customer success. And it's like, no, no. Yes, you'll get there, but you don't have the resources for that yet. You got to understand what it looks like at a startup versus a large enterprise and understand that it's okay if it's not perfect. And you're not going to get there in an instant.

Alper Yurder: Oh God, just at the last minute, we're starting my third position, which is me coming from all that. Like I did it all the way, the different way, you know, enterprise, big complex sales, then Series A and now being a founder. And that is something I'm learning. I'm probably making a lot of, it is brutal. I'm making a lot of mistakes because I need everything to be perfect and et cetera. And you know, God, yeah, I think I should rewind and listen to that. You saying that.

Rachel Provan: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Oh, it's brutal. Yeah. Perfect. Yep.

Alper Yurder: You know, every week. I absolutely do.

Rachel Provan: You need to listen to my podcast, because this is what I talk about on there. Yeah, but I talk about a lot of the mindset and the behavior habits and where we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot just because of the way our brains are set up to keep us alive. And yeah, I mean, we're all people pleasing perfectionists over here and that doesn't turn out so well for us.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Yeah, I just. No, for nobody, for nobody, not for us, not for our people. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, well, like any good therapist, I'm gonna have to cut us on the clock, but is there anything I should have asked? I should have asked you and I haven't, Rachel Provan:, tell me.

Rachel Provan: No, for nobody, that's what I'm saying. Exactly, it doesn't truly serve anyone. Of course, yes.

Just to let people know, they can find me at provansuccess.com for customer success leadership coaching. And mainly I do that through the Customer Success Leadership Academy, which is for new or struggling customer success leaders.

Alper Yurder: And we'll be sharing all of that information, obviously, in the blog and as well as on the podcast. Well, thank you so much for being a guest on my show today, for being on the therapy chair and sharing the beautiful psychology of things with our people. We always love that on the show. This is going to be a wrap on this episode of Sales Therapy. Any closing remarks other than where people can find you, which you already mentioned?

Rachel Provan: Amazing. Oh yeah. Um, beyond that, I would just say aim for, you know, be like product aim for 80% perfect. 80% perfect is perfect. Uh, it's something that you have to test and see, you know, I am going to put this out and it's going to be scary and I feel like it's not good enough. Um, but then you see that the sky doesn't fall. And I always tell my CS leaders like.

Alper Yurder: Okay.

Rachel Provan: You are sitting here, people are drowning out there and you're sitting here with a life preserver that you won't give them because the embroidery isn't perfect. Throw the damn life preserver. They're not gonna mind, you know? You are the one who cares about that perfection. No one else is looking, they're just trying to grab hold of something.

Alper Yurder: I love that. Again, let's record this and put it on repeat and to myself. This is going to be a rep on this episode with onset of sales therapy with Rachel Provan. If you enjoy the show, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Thank you very much, Rachel, for being with us and looking forward to seeing you again on the show.

Rachel Provan: Thank you so much. This was fun.

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