March 22, 2024

Leveraging Customer Success for Early-Stage Companies with Jonathan Corbin

In this episode, Jonathan Corbin traces his journey from childhood entrepreneurship to corporate leadership, highlighting the importance of customer-centric approaches, the fusion of sales and client success, and the role of AI-driven solutions in enhancing customer experiences and driving revenue growth.

Meet our guest

Jonathan Corbin, Co-Founder and CEO at Maven AGI | Techstars

Jonathan Corbin is the CEO and Co-founder of Maven AGI. Jonathan was previously the global VP of CS and Strategy at Hubspot. He also had various leadership roles at star brands like Sprinklr, Marketo, and Adobe.

Key takeaways

  • Focus on people's strengths and create a performance-oriented culture.
  • Different customers have different onboarding preferences: self-serve, self-serve with validation, or fully guided onboarding.
  • Customer health scores and leading indicators can help predict retention and expansion.
  • Technology, such as generative AI, can enhance customer experience and support customer success efforts.
  • Customer success should be intentional and focused on delivering value throughout the customer journey.

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Watch the highlights

From childhood ventures to corporate leadership

Alper invites Jonathan to delve into his childhood influences and journey into entrepreneurship and leadership. Corbin shares how his love for reading and entrepreneurial spirit shaped his early experiences, recounting childhood ventures such as selling sunglasses at Boston beaches during summer and shoveling snow in winter. 

“I grew up pretty close to the beach and you'd walk through there and you'd see all these people. You're out there, you're lying on the beach, you don't have sunglasses. It was obviously neat here. The sun's blazing, it's hot, it's shining in your eyes and you're like, ah, there's a market here that needs to be met.”

Corbin discusses his transition from coding to customer-centric roles, highlighting key experiences at companies like Unica and WPP in London. He recounts pivotal moments at Omniture, where he honed his skills in sales and account management, ultimately contributing to Adobe's expansion into the SaaS market. 

He emphasizes the importance of building a performance-driven culture, citing Adobe as an example of a company that balances high expectations with supportive teamwork. 

“At Adobe, one of the things that literally stood out to me is like, hey, we had a great culture to each other, but we also held each other to a high bar. And so it's a performance culture, right? You have high expectations of each other and you share that with each other. And so that was one of the places that I spent some time in. Really enjoyed that.”

Combining sales and customer success

Jonathan Corbin discusses his career journey from commercial roles to customer success leadership and ultimately founding his startup. He emphasizes the importance of identifying and solving customer problems, whether in sales or client success. Corbin highlights the blend between sales and client success, noting that both revolve around problem-solving and value creation for customers.

"You're trying to identify, is there a problem that I can help you solve? If there is, then let's have a conversation about it. Am I the right person to help you solve that? And that's where you come in like, do I have the right solution in order to be able to close the gap for you?"

Corbin addresses the need for nonlinear growth in customer support and introduces AI-driven solutions to enhance customer experiences. He emphasizes the importance of customer success in driving revenue and shares his own experience of prioritizing customer success in his startup journey. Corbin also touches upon his role as a mentor at TechStars and highlights the common pitfall of neglecting long-term customer value in favor of immediate concerns like acquiring the first customers.

"If you have a single goal that everyone is fixated on, it becomes incredibly powerful for you as a leadership team to hold people accountable for it and say everything we do has to lead us further along towards this goal."

Customer success strategies, metrics, and the role of AI

Corbin emphasizes the importance of delivering value to customers as a key strategy to mitigate churn and drive retention. When discussing the concept of a "magic potion" for customer success, Corbin highlights the necessity of intentional investment, whether in terms of time or resources, to set customers up for success. He stresses the significance of understanding leading indicators, such as customer engagement, to predict retention and foster growth.

"Customer success has to be intentional. And so what's required in order for you to make your customers successful is for you to invest your time and money into making sure that you're setting them up for success. Invest, make that investment."

Corbin shares insights into establishing North Star KPIs, with revenue retention being a primary metric at HubSpot, and underscores the role of leadership in driving value creation and usability. The conversation concludes with a reflection on the potential of generative AI to enhance customer experience and expand opportunities in various industries.

"Our North Star was revenue retention. We cared about making sure customers were getting value out of the product and they were continuing to expand. And so if you're getting value out of it, you're going to be growing."


Full episode transcript

Alper Yurder: Today in the therapy chair, we have Jonathan Corbin, who is the CEO and co founder of Maven AGI. Jonathan was previously global VP of CS and Strategy at Hubspot. And he had various leadership roles at star brands like Sprinklr, Marketo and Adobe.

Jonathan Corbin: Great.

Alper Yurder: I've actually come across Jonathan in one of his podcasts on one of our good friends, Hyper Engage's podcast. And I said, this is the kind of person that I want to have the show too. And I think we're going to be sharing a lot of great stuff for, especially customer success and, and sales teams today. We'll talk about his success, the joy, the pain and the journey. Welcome to Sales Therapy Jonathan. How are you feeling today?

Jonathan Corbin: Feeling great. It's Friday. It's been a busy week, but I'm excited because I'm going to get some time away from meetings so I can actually get through some of the stuff in my inbox. So I hope that your beverage is not coffee. That feels like the appropriate beverage for a Friday evening in London.

Alper Yurder: Wonderful. Is that your Friday? Yeah, I will admit, I thought I think on Friday evenings, I will make a cocktail going forward. This is just grapefruit juice, unfortunately. But I am me too. I'm very disappointed. And I think next time we meet, I will definitely make sure we both have a cocktail. I'll send it to your place. Excellent. So Jonathan, any good therapy starts with childhood and growing up years. Can you tell us a little bit about where you are today? But before, where were you? Where did you grow up? How was…

Jonathan Corbin: I'm disappointed. Good, I like it. I like it. Ha ha.

Alper Yurder: …your growing up experience and how it shaped the values that you have today in the business.

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah, I think a couple of things that jump out to me are looking back in retrospect. Growing up, I loved reading. So from a very young age, I read everything I could get my hands on. I spent a lot of time reading stories about people that did really interesting things, people that made a mark on history. I think that was very formative in terms of my childhood of learning from other people what they've gone through, how they got to where they went. The other thing that was really interesting is that I was very entrepreneurial as a child.

And so I would do things like, I grew up in Boston. And so in the summer, it's warm. We have beaches here. And so I would go and I would buy boxes of sunglasses. It comes in 20 packs.

Alper Yurder: That's not the first thing people think about Boston, I think. Beaches and the sun. But promoted, yes. Well done.

Jonathan Corbin: Summertime in Boston is amazing. It has three beaches. The summertime is amazing. I think it's the best time to be in Boston. And so in the summertime. I grew up pretty close to the beach and you'd walk through there and you'd see all these people. You're out there, you're lying on the beach, you don't have sunglasses. It was obviously neat here. The sun's blazing, it's hot, it's shining in your eyes and you're like, ah, there's a market here that needs to be met. Go and buy these glasses wholesale. I have a box of 20 sunglasses. They cost me probably $2 a pair.

Go down to the beach and it's very easy for you to identify who your target audience was. It's the people on the beach who didn't have sunglasses, right? And so you go to them, hey, you want a pair of sunglasses?

Alper Yurder: If only our lives were that easy right now with our ICPs and our products.

Jonathan Corbin: Around the ISP, I have a note on that, but let me finish this story first. And so you go to them and say, hey, you look like you could use a pair of sunglasses. Now, how do you put a dollar value on saving your eyes and making sure you're not squinting into the sun? It's hard to do, but I was like, okay, let me start off at $10. I think I got up to $20 a pair. So I was like, that's how I made money as a kid.

Alper Yurder: Okay, we'll touch on that, yeah.

Jonathan Corbin: And then in the winter time, I would go and shovel people's walks, because it's very easy to identify who your customers are. So people who didn't have their walks shoveled, hey, give me 20 bucks, I'll shovel your walk for you. So I think identifying ICPs early on was something that was interesting to me, and it's very easy in those cases.

Alper Yurder: Geography defines the person you are and your business. In the summer it was the glasses and in the winter it was the snow of Boston. So Boston obviously helps you a lot.

Jonathan Corbin: I think it's about knowing where you're at and making sure that you're utilizing it to the fullest extent. I was reading something the other day and someone said, the ICP, when you're early on in your journey, it is aspirational, right? These are the people that we think that we want to sell to. And then when you get further along in your journey, it's actually a retrospective. It's actually looking back and saying, who did we sell to? So I think that was the interesting statement around ICPs. Is this really the people whose needs we're meeting? And you don't know until later on.

Alper Yurder: Does that apply? Has that been the story of your life when you look back at the examples that aspirational works as retrospective? Does that work really?

Jonathan Corbin: I think setting goals is important, right? And that's what aspirations are. If you're looking at a certain target audience and you're saying, these are the people that we want to solve a problem for, you have to understand what that problem is. I think as we got into the creation of Maven further on, obviously, a bit further away from my childhood, that's exactly what it was. It was like, hey, there's a problem that I have, right?

And it goes back to childhood, right? Like I'm walking down the beach and I want a pair of sunglasses because the sun is in my eyes. I'll bet everyone else wants that as well. How do I know? Well, I'll go and ask them. Do you want a pair of sunglasses? Yeah, it's funny. I don't have sunglasses, of course. And the same thing is true for now, right? So, you know, I spent the last four years at HubSpot as the global VP of CS there. And some of the challenges that I had was how do I engage with customers at scale?

So at HubSpot over the last four years, we grew incredibly fast. We were one of the five fastest growing B2B SaaS companies ever after a billion dollars in revenue. And the challenge that's associated with that is that you, like HubSpot and many other companies, grew in a very linear fashion.

What the heck does that mean? What it means is that as you add more customers, you add more people, right? And there's all these formulas in the B2B SaaS world where it's like if you wanna grow with revenue by X, you add X amount of income. And so how do we break that non-linear growth? Well, in order to do that, you actually have to have some kind of understanding of how your customers want to be engaged with what's important for you to get out of that, in order to do that. It might be humans, it might be something else.

Alper Yurder: Can you tell us that career journey for you? How did you end up with a, maybe more of a customer success focus? What were some career defining moments for you? Maybe let's hear that journey a little bit.

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah. It's funny because early on my first job out of school was writing code. And so, um, you know, the journey from writing code to kind of the customer experience aspect of it, um, was something that definitely happened over time. And so, you know, I, I spent some time at a company called Unica where I was working the services team there, helping people to implement, um, you know, these, uh, marketing products and then going from that, you know, I.

I moved into more sales related roles. I spent some time at WPP where I was in London. I definitely enjoyed my time there. I was talking to someone about it the other day. I lived in Camden for a little while and that was great.

Alper Yurder: Good memories? Yeah, okay, good. Oh nice. How old were you when you lived in Camden?

Jonathan Corbin: That's a good question.

Alper Yurder: Because that changes everything about the dynamics of Camden.

Jonathan Corbin: Old enough Alper that I remember walking down the street after a sales pitch, I had my backpack and I was wearing a suit and I had my laptop in my backpack. And it was like before, you know, like it was quite as gentrified as it is now. And I was like, okay, this is like people are looking at me and wondering what's in my backpack and I'm wearing a suit and I'm the only person walking through Camden at that point wearing a suit.

Alper Yurder: Okay, okay. That gives me a ballpark idea of the times. Good, thanks for that, gentlemen. How long did you stay? How many years did you spend in London? Or how long?

Jonathan Corbin: I was in London. We were going out, we were pitching some really fun companies in the continent in Europe and then I ended up moving back to the US when I joined a company called Omniture.

And I don't know if you know what Omniture is, but it was the Adobe acquisition that helped move them into the SaaS business world. And so it was the market leader in the digital analytics space. So I joined them and my role was to own accounts. I was responsible for having them use the product, making sure that they were using it and also buying more stuff.

And so that was kind of my introduction to having a sales role where I was responsible for a number that I had to hit. At WBP, of course, we were constantly pitching new business, but it was a little bit different. We didn't have products where like, hey, imagine a world where we can make up these amazing marketing campaigns for you or ad campaigns and have those conversations. But at Omniture, I met a great group of people and I'm still friends with many of them to this day.

And then, of course, Amateur was acquired by Adobe that created the foundation for their marketing cloud.

and spent five years there in a variety of different roles. So for me, I think there were some really formative things that I learned while I was at Adobe. The first is, how do you build a great culture? And I think there's like, you know, you get into cultures, right? There's a lot of different ways of looking at it. People think culture is like, you know, everyone's patting each other on the shoulder and saying, great job, yay, exactly. But at Adobe, one of the things that literally stood out to me is like, hey, we had a great culture to each other, but we also held each other to a high bar. And so it's a performance culture, right? You have high expectations of each other and you share that with each other. And so that was one of the places that I spent some time in. Really enjoyed that.

Alper Yurder: Okay. But before, so is there, am I getting this right? Of course, over the last, you know, five years or so or even more, your focus has been a bit more on the customer success side, but you've obviously, growing up in your career, it's been quite commercial. Like you come from a commercial mindset, you know, closing, maybe selling more. And actually, especially now today, there's a fine line between what is sales, what is client success, in my opinion. because selling is helping and then client success is supposed to be. Some of them carry a quota. Retention and upselling is all about commercial outcomes as well. So for you, do they stand in different places or are they blended? How do you define sales and client success?

Jonathan Corbin: You know, I think for me, the sales begin with, can you help people solve a problem and problem identification? Same thing is true whether you're doing pre-sales or post-sales. And so if you're a new sales rep and you're trying to break into an account, you try to, it's maybe a little bit harder to identify what the challenge is that you're trying to solve.

Jonathan Corbin: You're trying to do it through public information. You're gonna read through their 10K. You're going to go, like, you know, stalk people's LinkedIn and what they're posting, look at their Twitter account. What are the things that are important to them? What are the jobs that they're posting for? To understand, hey, where are they investing time and money? And so, the information's a little bit harder to track down.

at the beginning when you're getting into those accounts. But the same thing is true, right? You're trying to identify, is there a problem that I can help you solve? If there is, then let's have a conversation about it. Am I the right person to help you solve that? And that's where you come in like, do I have the right solution in order to be able to close the gap for you? And then the same thing is true, if you're working on the post sales side, where you might come in there and a customer has purchased a product.

And your job is to make sure that they're actually deriving value from it. Are they able to use it to the fullest extent to their capabilities? Are they able to actually close the gap on that problem that they had and the reason why they purchased it in the first place? So that's like the first aspect that is, are you getting value out of the product? The second is, what is the additional value you could be deriving from it? And so on both sides of it, you're looking for, yeah, exactly.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, which I think is even more important.

Jonathan Corbin: On both sides of it, you're looking for, is there a business problem? How do I help you derive value? And if you focus on those things, you're gonna be really great as a sales rep, you're gonna be really great as a customer success rep, an account manager, or maybe a founder who is looking to identify their ICT.

Alper Yurder: Mm-hmm. Well, we'll come to the founder journey in a minute, but before that, maybe let's dive into the specific learnings from each role in light of what you just explained of how you see the different roles, et cetera. So I wanna get a bit of, and if we're going to your earlier leadership roles at Adobe or Sprinkle or even maybe a HubSpot, what did you learn at each stage and how did that help your career?

Jonathan Corbin: At Adobe, I think what was really helpful is what I mentioned earlier, was how do you create a performance-oriented culture? The other thing is that I think a lot of people are different. Everyone has different things that they're good at. A lot of people have different things that they're fascinated by or interested in. And so for me, what I learned pretty early on is what are the strengths that people have? Some people are great communicators.

So identifying what those strengths are and helping them to play to those strengths while taking recourse to supplement the areas they might be weakest in. And so I think if you look at like a sports team, you tend to focus on if you have, you know, your mind into we'll talk about soccer for a second or football.

And so, you know, if you have a great striker, you're going to focus on using that striker to like, you know, penetrate it to the other side of the field and to put pressure on their goalie. You're not going to drop that striker back into defense. That's not what they're good at. So, you know, if you're dropping that striker back and you're making them in midfield or you're making the defenseman, they're not going to do very well.

And you look at that person, you're like, why aren't you a better defender? Cause that's not what they're good at. And so if you can identify, Hey, what are people good at? Let's focus on putting you in a position where you can optimize your skills that you possess.

Alper Yurder: and play to their strengths. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think that's part of being a leader. It's really difficult because especially as a founder, but even in a startup environment, um, very resource constraints, or you're trying to do a lot of things. And sometimes you put pressure, um, you know, you expect everything from everybody, but in an ideal world, you have to focus on the strengths and like, you know, improve on them and, and make sure that people are delivering, um, based on those strengths, I think.

Jonathan Corbin: You know, Alpert, it's not just startups that are that way. It's, you know, and that was the thing that I, away from my journey at Adobe, right? Where I had this group of incredibly talented people.

But you know, you might look at them and say, well, there's a gap here and there's a gap there. And it's like, this is something you could do better. Yeah, yeah, we all have things we could do better. But if you focus on the thing that you're good at, then you're going to see some pretty amazing results. And I think for a lot of leaders, they struggle with that. They say, Hey, I see this person more like me. I want them to have great written communication skills and great verbal communication skills.

organizing things, where it's actually being able to help customers keep track of where they're at, running meetings.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. I will admit even after 15 years of supposedly leadership journey, I think I need a night sometimes on that. You know, like, so every month I try to, you know, shake myself and like to see what am I asking of people and is that in line with, you know, what they're delivering, what they're good at delivering, et cetera. Yeah. Trying to create mini-mes is definitely not great, but sometimes we all fall into that trap. Coming into HopSpot a little bit.

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah. I think it's the evolution of leadership. So you start off by identifying what people are good at. And then you start asking yourself a question, right? What am I doing as a manager to enable my team? And if you've ever run like Sun to the art of war, I think there's like some really good lessons to be learned from there as a leader. And there's a chapter in there where he talks about what is the expectation for a leader. I think it becomes very clear.

You read that, you read through history, what are the great leaders and managers done for their teams? There's three things that they've done. The first thing is that you say, okay, you make it very clear what you're asking them to do, and so you set a goal. I think the problem that a lot of companies have is that they have a bunch of goals. You're like, let's do this, and this, and maybe this, and this. If you have a single goal that everyone is fixated on, it becomes incredibly powerful for you.

As a leadership team to hold people accountable for it and say everything we do has to lead us further along towards this goal. And so you as a leader say, okay, great, if I'm asking you to hit this goal, my job is do you have the tools that you need in order to be able to achieve this goal? How do I give you the training on how to use those tools to be able to achieve this goal? If so, then you have the three things that are required in order for you to be able to pursue that.

And so I think if you can achieve that as a leader, you're doing the right thing, the thing that you're supposed to be doing. And I think a lot of people get confused by other things like where should I be spending my time? How do I lead? All that other stuff. Focus on those three things and you'll be well on your path.

Alper Yurder: Is that what you learned to focus on at HubSpot?

Jonathan Corbin: I think that's something that I've learned over a period of time. HubSpot was certainly an area where I had a team that was, I think it was almost a thousand people. And so, I learned to, how do I make sure that I have clear communication across my entire organization? It was certainly an evolution. We went from about people to about 7,700 people while I was there. My team went from, I think it was about 238 people when I first started. And so it grew rapidly. And so, you know, making sure that we had the right infrastructure to be able to support our ongoing growth. I don't think we had it right 100% of the time, but what we learned is where the gaps were and how we could evolve there.

And so it's the continual improvement. And I think one of the things that's really important as you continue to grow in terms of the size of your team is actually being able to make sure that you're bringing everyone along for the journey.

Like we shouldn't be as leaders kind of, you know, sitting in a room making those decisions by ourselves. The people who are going to give you the most insights in terms of customers are gonna be the people who are closest to them, who interact with them on a daily basis. So some of the things that I learned along the way was how do I include them in my planning cycles? So at HubSpot we used to go through an annual planning cycle and we would start that at the beginning of the year.

What we'd do is we would go to our frontline reps and we'd say, what are the things we could be doing better differently in order for us to continue to move towards the goal we had? And we had a really high revenue retention target that we were trying to hit over our three year journey and we took step functions every year to get there. And so we'd say, hey, this is our goal for next year. What are the things that we need to do in order to achieve that? And they'll tell you when you're doing things that don't make sense, right? They're like, why do I have to put data into this thing

thing that doesn't make sense and you're like, Christ, it doesn't make sense. Or what do I like doing with multiple data entries? Why am I using this system for forecasting but it's really not good? Or you know, we really should be spending more time talking to customers. That's where they get real value. Great. Now your job is to take that information and then continue to kind of evolve it to the point where you can systematize it, giving people the things that they need in order to be able to hit the objectives that they have.

And so, making sure that you're back. Do I hit?

Alper Yurder: Because we're already talking about some of those very practical things from your experience, before coming to the podcast, I generally try to get some questions from some of our users, our own users, because a lot of them are customer success and salespeople, and also from my team, our own customer success team, our founder, etc. So I want to do a little bit of a rapid fire session, if you don't mind. It will be a few very real questions that people are struggling with.

Alper Yurder: in from your world and you know we try to do it in like a minute or whatever. Is that okay? Excellent. All right, one thing that my co-founder especially was very interested in was this question. How did you approach self-serve versus handheld onboarding at HubSpot? By the way, any question you don't feel like answering or you don't feel makes sense? Don't.

Jonathan Corbin: No, it's a good question. And so we evolved over time. The first thing that we realized is that having a bespoke onboarding experience is not something that works for everyone. You have customers who learn in different forms. And so for a lot of people, like, you know, they said, hey, you know, I don't necessarily need to have someone holding my hand throughout the entire process. Give me the information, and I can do it for myself. And so what you find is there's three categories of customers. self-serve. There's customers who are like, I want to self-serve but I need validation and I'm doing it correctly because this is mission critical to my business.

The third type of customer is like, this is so important to my business. It has to be done right. I don't have the time, energy, or effort to train myself on how to do it. And I don't have the knowledge. So I want someone to do it for me. And so those are the three types of customers. And if you use those three types of customers as kind of your basis for how you're creating your onboarding or your success engagement strategy, it'll be really helpful for you.

Alper Yurder: Love it. That is gold right there. And I don't know even if people look at those types like, I'm not even sure if especially as startups, people have that defined typology, you know, per customers, which when you put it that way, it's super clear what needs to be done. Thank you for that. One other one. What's the main criteria other than the deal size to determine how much human touch should there be in an onboarding process? And this person asked for a friend.

Jonathan Corbin: Human touches is defined by your by you know kind of your product right it's like how you're designing your product and what's required from a user perspective

And so what you'll find is that when you're looking at your telemetry data, your customers are going to tell you, hey, your onboarding isn't very good in certain areas by never engaging with certain parts of it. Now, of course you have to understand what those customers use cases are and make sure your product is meeting those needs. But like you start getting into your product data, it tells you a lot about your onboarding.

Alper Yurder: Excellent. Thanks for that. Two more of these. One is being a customer success leader at Hubs. But what were some of the issues you were dealing with at the time and what did you learn? I think we started alluding to this a little bit, but maybe like something that was a bit, let's say, rather painful to learn.

Jonathan Corbin: You know, when I was at HubSpot, we were going through one of those periods of incredible growth. And so hiring was probably the most challenging thing that we had to deal with there, from making sure that we were serving our customers appropriately. So first is like actually being clear about what we were hiring for. And so we did a bunch of work on like, hey, what are the people who are most successful as a CSM in terms of driving revenue retention?

Jonathan Corbin: And so once we identified what are the skills that we need to hire for, we said, okay, what are the ones that we're going to train people for? And once you have clarity on both of those, we were able to make sure that we were hiring the right people to make them, to help them be successful in those roles. I think for a lot of people, you know, they like, hey, you know, this person, you hired them and they're just not good at their job. Usually it's actually, you weren't very good at hiring. You didn't define what criteria was needed for success in that role.

Jonathan Corbin: You didn't understand what are the traits that people needed to have in order to be successful in that role. And then you didn't say what are the things that we were able to train people on and that we're willing to train people on in order to make them successful. I think for us at the end of the day, we wanted to make the people who came in the door successful, and wanted people who are on the team to be successful. And so we continued to iterate on how we could do that.

Alper Yurder: Transitioning from HubSpot, now obviously you're the founder of an early stage startup. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about what the product is about, what it stands for, how it combines your values? And actually, I want to combine it with one question again from a startup founder, I believe. How can early stage companies punch about their weight, leverage client success to drive further revenue? Maybe let's put the question in a way that how are you?

You know, what is it? How are you eating your own dog food? How are you putting your? I don't, I don't remember the expression, but put your money where your mouth is. Where? There you go.

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah, so maybe first a little bit about Maven. The origin of Maven was because of some of the challenges that I had while I was at HubSpot around scaling in a nonlinear fashion. We had an amazing CFO at HubSpot, Kate Bucher, and she focused on and emphasized why it was important you grow in a nonlinear fashion. The challenge for me is I didn't have the systems that were required in order for me to be able to engage customers at scale without having humans involved.

And so at the same time, one of my good friends, Juching Man, was leading the Applied ML team at Stripe. He previously was at Google News, and he was coming to me and saying, hey, I'm trying to tackle this same challenge for the Stripe team here. What are you guys doing differently at HubSpot? Like, can I learn from you? And another friend of mine was at, he built the Google News team from zero to a billion users, and was chatting with us about what the support experience was like for those users.

And so, you know, you're talking about things that are scaling massively. I mean, a billion users, that's one seventh of the world's population. How do you support people like that? How do you do it in a very personalized manner? And what we found out is that people weren't, nobody across the board was doing a very good job of it because of the systems.

Alper Yurder:I think after this pitch we're all dying for it. We're like, OK, we're going to buy the product, Jonathan. Tell us now. I think the build up was so long. I'm like, OK, like, how am I going to solve this now? Tell me, tell me.

Jonathan Corbin: But the truth is, it's a problem that we all have, right? Like how do we support customer scale? And so what we've realized is that technology didn't exist before. And so we've actually built AI agents for the enterprise using generative AI. So every answer is bespoke for that customer. And so what we're finding is we're able to help companies create that nonlinear growth. We're saving people 80% of their customer support costs

Better experience to our users. So that's the thing that we've been focused on. And so you asked me, how am I drinking my own champagne? Well, it's by creating a great experience. Yeah, creating that great experience for our customers and then actually investing in customer success. So we recently put out something, we're hiring our first customer success manager, which is amazing. I think we had over a thousand people apply for that role. Yeah.

Alper Yurder: Wow, that's amazing. Um, we actually hired our, I've been in sales forever and I've always been a sales leader and then customer success came into play, um, and then I learned the role of customer success a bit better, but we at Flowla hired our customer success person first before we hire another salesperson. Because for our product, um, I think that typology works really well. A lot of, for a lot of people, it's very intuitive, but for a lot of people, I think they're looking for best practice. That, you know,

You had two points about the job of CS. It's like a helping and then showing the value actually, because somebody buys the product, not just to sell something, but they're looking for a best practice, how to do things better, you know, and the job of client success is I think to show like the full extent of things, the full extent of possibilities, how others are using it, I don't know if you agree with that, but for that, I think the CS role today, especially in this economic environment is so much.

more important than it's ever been, I feel like.

Jonathan Corbin: I think the way that you sell and service customers is really important. And I think that's something that, you know, we felt very strongly about at UpSpot. The way that you sell to people for us at Maven is predicated on value.

Can we solve a problem for you? Can we create value for you? And the way that you service customers should be the same way that you sell. Are we creating value? And are we continuing to help you solve the problem that you purchased our product for? So I think if your focus is on helping people solve problems, you'll find the market for your product.

Alper Yurder: I love that. Absolutely. And I've also seen that you're mentoring some companies at TechStars, if I'm not wrong, for a couple of years. Like what's the most common CS pitfall those startups fall into or every company falls into?

Jonathan Corbin: I think the tendency as a founder is to focus on what's the most immediate problem that you have in front of you. So for most companies that are starting from the ground up, it's like, how do I get my first customer? How do I assign them to a contract? And then you're like, great, I'm going to think about the value that I'm creating for them down the road when it comes around to Reno.

In the world that we live in where people are signing up for subscription products, it's not just about hey I'm gonna focus on value when you're you know resigning or your re-append contract. It has to be continuous and so thinking very Strategically about your customer journey. What's the experience you're delivering to them at every step of that journey that is going to be really important for you as a large company Or you as the founder of a startup?

Alper Yurder: Okay. And this brings me nicely to our final section where I'm going to throw a few keywords at you and like to get your immediate reaction or response or experience, whatever you want to share about them. So when I say, actually I'll make this first one a bit longer. How do you keep customer churn at bay?

Jonathan Corbin: by delivering value.

Alper Yurder: Excellent. I'm gonna say churn. Just churn. Scary. Love that. Retention.

Jonathan Corbin: values.

Alper Yurder: Okay, Johnson, the third answer has to be something other than value. People are going to be looking for a super specific, I guess, magic potion from you. Okay. So I'm going to, that's why I'm going to go with, do you have a magic potion for customer success? And I think it's going to be valuable.

Jonathan Corbin: It should be valued, but I'm going to give you something a little bit different. In order to, yeah, I'm going to give you the long winded answer on this one, Alper, customer success has to be intentional. And so what's required in order for you to make your customers successful is for you to invest your time and money into making sure that you're setting them up for success. So, uh, my, my answer is like, invest, make that investment.

Alper Yurder: Give me a little bit different, yes. I love that. Invest. Oh, yes. But a lot of these people listening are going to be like, I don't have the money to invest. I don't have the resources. Yes, of course I want to do, but making as much as possible with as little as possible, I think is a very common thing that I hear from leaders today on a side note. I don't know. Do you hear the same?

Jonathan Corbin: What happens is you're going to invest time or money in it. And if you wait until your customers are turning to invest your time, then you'll have wasted the cap that you spent on acquiring that customer. And so as you start getting into the funding as a startup founder or a senior executive at a company,

Like you care a lot about CAF and LTV. You start looking at share numbers at publicly traded companies, and those are something that your investors look at very closely. So if your investors care about them, you probably should as well.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I love that. Definitely. I think this will be one of the shorts of this podcast because I completely agree with that. Can I ask one or two more of those? Or have you had enough? Okay. Excellent. Okay. Yeah. I like when, when people ask me on a podcast, like very short questions. I love it too. Like it makes me also reflect on my past. Um, signals that. Okay. How can we ask this one better?

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah, of course. No, no, it's good.

Alper Yurder: What signals do you look for retention? I guess what they mean is, how do you know if this will be like a high retention account versus not?

Jonathan Corbin: Yeah, I think there's a couple of different ways you do that. One is a customer health score, and your inputs to that customer health score become really important. So for different companies, people have different use cases of why you use their product.

So if you understand what are the fundamental use cases for our products, what are the metrics associated with it from a product usage perspective, tying those together and giving your team visibility to those is gonna be really important in making sure that people are getting value out of your product. You know, in HubSpot's case, it might have been, hey, you know, you purchased our marketing hub, are you sending emails? Are they taking meaningful actions in your product? If they are, the likelihood for them to stick around is fairly significant.

Alper Yurder: Love that.

Jonathan Corbin: Understand what those actions are associated with those use cases, understand the metrics associated with them, and you'll be well on your way to knowing when customers are ready to expand or ready to churn.

Alper Yurder: Excellent. What were your gold star KPIs when you were at HubSpot or even? Yeah, let's start from there. And what kind of gold North star KPIs can clients successfully just establish for themselves, do you think?

Jonathan Corbin: Our North Star was revenue retention. And so going back to the beginning of this conversation, we talked about having a kind of a single metric that you're asking the company and your team to move towards, our North Star was revenue retention. We cared about making sure customers were getting value out of the product and they were continuing to expand. And so if you're getting value out of it, you're going to be growing. If you're, you know.

Jonathan Corbin: You're getting value out of a marketing product, it means you're landing more customers and you're going to land more customers. And so revenue retention is a really good understanding of whether you're creating value for your customers.

Alper Yurder: And what were some leading indicators of that revenue? For example, I guess this health score that you mentioned could be one. What other indicators? Like if I'm sitting, I'm the customer success leader of a, let's say, startup or scale up.

And I'm trying to create as much predictability as possible or, you know, visibility as possible into the future. What sort of things should I bear in mind?

Jonathan Corbin: The first is you mentioned leading indicators, one of my favorite phrases, one of the first books that I asked my team to read that comes probably something called the Four Disciplines of Execution.

Jonathan Corbin: And it talks a lot about how you derive leading indicators. For a lot of people, we use the phrase leading indicators to indicate a metric that's actually leading. And so, one of the things that we looked at is, what's the number of opportunities that are created from the engagements that we have with our team? And so, the outcome is the number of opportunities that are created with our existing customers, but the leading indicator is actually engagement. You can't create opportunities if you don't talk to your customers.

Jonathan Corbin: And so that was one of the things that we focused on. Are we talking to our customers on a consistent basis?

Alper Yurder: Love it. Who should be in charge of extensions and upsells and does it differ by investment stage or employee numbers or anything like that?

Jonathan Corbin: I think it actually varies even more wildly than just like your stage as a company. I think it comes down to your leadership. So for me, my focus was really on delivering value to customers. And I associate product usage, adoption, and growth with value.

As you may have picked up during this conversation. And so I do think that's the right metric for customer success. A lot of people struggle with it. They're like, hey, you know what, customer success, it's all about product usage. How do you know if your product is useful? People have to use it, they have to pay you for it, and they have to continue to expand with it. And so that's how I judge value creation and usability.

Alper Yurder: Love it. Okay, this has been a great conversation. And as I start wrapping up, Jonathan, anything that I should have asked you that I haven't asked.

Jonathan Corbin: Um, you can always ask more details around Maven because I can talk about that for hours out there. I don't know if we'd fit it all into this podcast though.

Alper Yurder: No, I think this will be one of many podcasts we'll do together, I'm hoping. No, but I'm very intrigued because I think especially the pitch, the build up was great. And at that point I was like, okay, I think I'm going to go and give this thing a go because he's talking about it in a really nice, interesting way. Another interesting thing for me is like, we talk about AI in the show and every, every day I, it becomes a bit of a creepy, cringy word for me. And I, and I haven't seen an AI like.

The value proposition is really crazy there. Like if an AI is able to do customer success or customer support or product support in a way that humans are doing, that is quiet. I'm a little scared by that. At the same time, I'm very intrigued by that. I don't know if that makes sense.

Jonathan Corbin: I think there's a lot of concern by people like, hey, is generative AI going to take my job? I think when you look at history, it tells us the answer. Any kind of evolution of technology has actually expanded the pie for everyone. So you heard the same thing, and we were coming out with a

Back during the Industrial Revolution. Hey, we're going to take the jobs from all the weavers. It didn't take the jobs that actually made people increase their output and made a whole lot of jobs for a lot of people. So I'm really excited about the capabilities of generative AI on improving customer experience.

Alper Yurder: I love that. You know, the person who would actually ask a lot of questions came from him today. My co-founder, he's a fourth time founder and he's a co he's our product guy. Actually, he's the product man and now he's doing a bit of client success support as well. And a few of the questions actually came from him. I think he would love, absolutely love a chat with you, especially around what you're building. Um, before we finish any closing remarks.

Jonathan Corbin: Oh man, Alper, it's been great to chat with you. I love talking about customer success, startups, generative AI, so appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

Alper Yurder: My super pleasure and I'm definitely keen to keep this conversation going. I think we'll have some really good comments on this episode. And I will definitely push you to keep sharing your gold with our audience in the future. I'm going to cut us on time. Cut it in the clock, just like any good therapist would, which today, again, I failed to be a good therapist and actually I have gone over time because it was a great chat. So I thank you very much for that, Jonathan.

Alper Yurder: That's gonna be a wrap on this episode of Sales Therapy. If you enjoy the show, make sure to subscribe to us on YouTube or Spotify. And many, many thanks to my dear guest, Jonathan Corbin for being with us today. See you in the next episode. Bye.

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