January 25, 2024

The Evolution of Client Success and Strategies for Modern Business with Jeff Heckler

In this episode of Sales Therapy, Alper and Jeff dive into an insightful discussion on leadership, navigating change, and the future trends in client success.

Table of contents

Meet our guest

Jeff Heckler, Founding Member at Gain Grow Retain, thought leader, advisor, speaker

Jeff Heckler is a seasoned professional in customer success with over 20 years of experience. Jeff is a founding member of Gain Grown Retain, an advisor to startups, and a six-time Client Success Awards winner.

Key takeaways

  • Embrace challenges as opportunities and prioritize adaptability in your approach.
  • Find joy in navigating complex client success roles and build satisfaction through internal relationships.
  • Develop strong change management skills. Avoid setbacks through proactive strategy execution.
  • Foster seamless collaboration between sales and client success. 
  • Implement a unified customer management system.
  • Ensure a single source of truth for efficient revenue generation.

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Background and career journey

Jeff talks about his childhood, being the oldest of three siblings, and growing up with young parents who were sophomores in university when he was born. He emphasizes the values of responsibility and ownership instilled in him from an early age.

Jeff's background in sports and his experience playing team sports in school and university shaped his perspective on teamwork, collaboration, and unity. These values, according to Jeff, influence how he approaches his role as a customer success leader and how he views teammates, teams, companies, and customers.

“I played a lot of sports in school and in university. So I have a mind for team play and unity and collaboration. And I think that really is the basis for how I go about as a CS leader and how I think of my teammates, my teams, my company, and my customers.”

Jeff recounts his journey into customer success, which began about 13 years ago after spending over a decade in business intelligence, working for companies like MicroStrategy and SAP Business Objects. He also briefly mentions his time in education, working for Stanford University, and his experience in startups, including a small startup with four founders.

From leadership lessons to building a unicorn

The discussion unfolds with Alper's intriguing question about Jeff's shortcomings, leading to a discussion about Jeff's passion for art despite lacking talent in visual arts and music. The conversation then shifts to Jeff's childhood, his sports background, and the foundational values that shaped his leadership style.

As Jeff recounts his career journey, he emphasizes the challenges and defining moments that marked his path to success. From his early days in business intelligence to a pivotal role at Pipedrive, Jeff shares how his experiences shaped his approach to leadership. The conversation touches on the convergence of sales and customer success, highlighting the importance of traits like empathy and grit in successful professionals.

“Do they have grit? Do they have this will to succeed? Everything else I can teach them. But it really, it's about finding the drive in someone that they have curiosity, they want to be successful, they want to help others, they want to grow, they want to tackle tough problems, they want to succeed, they're okay with learning from failure, and so that's what I think about when I think about empathy and how it fits into customer success.”

Jeff reflects on his time at Pipedrive, where he played a crucial role in leading the global customer success team through rapid growth and an acquisition by Vista. Jeff offers valuable insights into the expectations and pressures faced during this period, sharing lessons learned and advice for professionals navigating similar stages in their careers.

Jeff emphasizes the adaptability crucial for success in any business, citing the constant changes in technology, economic landscapes, and unforeseen events like COVID. Drawing from his extensive experience, Jeff highlights the importance of building confidence through navigating diverse challenges, including 9/11, the 2008 housing crisis, and the recent global pandemic.

The conversation delves into the foundational skills that transcend industry boundaries. Jeff underscores the significance of curiosity, empathy, persistence, and hunger as cornerstones for success in customer success roles. 

Navigating change and convergence

Alper delves into the current challenges and observations within the client success domain which leads Jeff to emphasize the critical aspect of change management in the world of client success. Jeff stresses the often underestimated value of change management and project management skills, citing personal experiences where neglecting these aspects led to organizational setbacks. 

The conversation unfolds to highlight the pivotal role culture plays in strategy execution, with Jeff sharing valuable insights into the necessity of aligning culture, strategy, and organizational change.

“There's the very popular line that… That culture eats strategy for breakfast. And that is 100% true. You can have the best go to the market. You can have the best strategy for how you're gonna serve a certain population of the total addressable market. But if your culture is not set and ready to accept it and to change and to grow and to build and to learn, you're not gonna go anywhere.“

As the discussion flows, Alper and Jeff explore the interchangeability of skills between sales and client success roles, shedding light on the underappreciation of client success in some organizations. Jeff emphasizes that while sales and client success may have different reward structures, intrinsic rewards play a significant role in client success. He advocates for a perspective shift, urging professionals to focus on building intrinsic motivation through internal relationships and the complexity inherent in client success roles. 

The section concludes with reflections on the evolving relationship between sales and client success, driven by economic pressures and a growing emphasis on revenue generation within the client success landscape.

Navigating the future

Jeff highlights the top three trends in customer success, emphasizing the emergence of AI, the digital and scaled landscape, and the imperative for customer success to deliver efficient revenue dollars. Alper and Jeff then delve into the collaborative dynamics between sales and client success, discussing the economic pressures and the need to optimize resources. 

Jeff stresses the importance of cross-functional alignment in customer journeys, integrated strategies, and shared tools and budgets for seamless collaboration.

“I think the first place I would start is with the customer journeys, and having a cross-functional alignment around our customer journeys, sitting down and tediously dissecting the customer journeys with the cross-functional leadership. Everything from billing to product to marketing to sales to support.”

The conversation takes an insightful turn as Jeff and Alper discuss the vital role of unified customer management systems and the significance of a single source of truth across the organization. Jeff shares his perspective on the foundational tool that no client success professional can live without—a unified customer management system. 

The discussion concludes with Jeff's optimistic outlook for the future of sales and client success, foreseeing a further blend of skill sets and a collaborative approach to customer lifecycle management.

Full episode transcript

Alper Yurder: Let's go. So today, you will tell from my tone that I'm very excited because I have a very special guest, Jeff. Today in the therapy chair, as I say, we have Jeff Heckler, who is one of the OGs when it comes to customer success. Jeff is a founding member of Gain, Grown, Retain, which is an amazing community that many of you know. He's an advisor to countless startups and a six-time Client Success Awards winner. We both share a passion for customer success and are both Accenture alumni, but in slightly different times, I imagine because Jeff has over 20 years of leading customer success in professional services organizations at top brands like Pipedrive and Market Source. Wow, this is this is tiring. Your career is already tiring me, Jeff. It's been full of achievements. And but we'll talk about the success, the joy, the pain and the journey. Welcome to the sales therapy. Jeff, how are you feeling today?

Jeff Heckler: Alper, thank you so much. This is gonna be a lot of fun. I've been looking forward to our conversation. So let's roll it out.

Alper Yurder: Okay, I love that. I love that. And I love that you're very open and kind and generous with your ideas already in our exchanges before the show. It's been great. I'm looking forward to it too. And today I think I'll have some specific questions for you that come from our users and we'll tackle them. I'm sure those are things that you have not heard of before. So, endo-group therapy starts with childhood and growing up. I always love understanding a little bit the growing…

Jeff Heckler: Sounds great.

Alper Yurder: …growing up experience for you, what kind of childhood, younger years, and how it shaped the business person that you are today, your values, et cetera.

Jeff Heckler: Well, it's pretty simple. I'm the oldest sibling of three children. My parents were very young and sophomores at university, their second year in university when I came along. And so, so responsibility and, you know, taking on ownership of things that I probably wasn't fit for at that age, those earlier ages was came into play. I played a lot of sports in school and in university. So I have a mind for about team play and unity and collaboration. And I think that really is the basis for how I go about as a CS leader and how I think of my teammates, my teams, my company, and my customers. So it informs all of those areas of my life. I'm very passionate about customer success. I'm very lucky to have ended up in customer success. I started this journey about 13 years ago. And before that, I spent over 12 or 13 years. Sorry about that. I spent about 12 or 13 years in...

Alper Yurder: No problem.

Jeff Heckler: …business intelligence, working for micro strategy, SAP business objects, and those kinds of things. So it's been quite an adventure. Spent time in education as well. I worked for Stanford University in a couple different roles, as well as, of course, SAS, both very small startups, four guys running a house startup, and some other larger startups. As you mentioned, Pipedrive was one of them. So it's been a good time.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. And so you, so you mentioned you came along at the sophomore year, which is really interesting. How many siblings do you have then? You said you're the older. I have three.

Jeff Heckler: Yeah. I have three. My, my younger, yeah, I have, I'm sorry. We're one of three. My sister is seven years younger. She's a provost at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. And my brother is a Salesforce consultant and he lives with you in Paris. Well, not with you, but near nearby in Paris. So, and he's been there for quite some time. So I've just recently spent some time in Paris and Amsterdam at some CS events and spent some time with him. So it's been an amazing journey.

Alper Yurder: Where in Paris do they live?

Jeff Heckler:  In the southeast, Joyeuxville? I'm pronouncing it incorrectly, I'm sure.

Alper Yurder: Outskirts. Joyeuxville. Okay, okay. Well, I studied for a year in Paris. I was living right in the center of town, but my school was just outside Acheu-Saint-Saint, like somewhere close to where you say, I'm sure, south, southeast, southwest. All right, so… That was a great introduction. Thank you very much. We listened to the younger you, but that was, it sounded almost too sweet, too kind, too nice, you know, the older brother, the, I guess the care for everyone. And I can already see the connection to like client success, like, you know, taking care of people, their needs, et cetera. Just before you, I was actually a guest in another podcast myself and the host asked me this wonderful question, which is not in the format normally. What are you terrible at? And I love that question. May I ask you that? What are you terrible at?

Jeff Heckler: Absolutely. I love art, but I can't do anything with it myself. I love painting and music and theater. I'm going to see the… Sofia Bulgaria Symphony play tonight in Daytona, Florida. I'm very excited about that I played some instruments as a as a student. I sang in a band I sang in choir a couple years ago at a local church So I like to do those kind of things, but I'm not very talented at music and I have no talent for visual arts whatsoever But I love them immensely So those are two things I'm not good at landscaping or any sort of arts and crafts.

Alper Yurder: Okay. Yeah. In a way, I feel the pain. I'm good at ideas and things and execution, but whenever we need to design something creative, I'm not good at that. I don't know if that relates. Yeah. Cool. So let's come to a little bit your growing up years and your first role, achieving success is not really easy. For a lot of us, we go through the highs and lows. Can you share with us a little bit the career journey and some of your career-defining moments that you can think of?

Jeff Heckler: Sure. I think early on and actually throughout it's just been filled with some anxiety and nerves and doubts, but really putting myself in a position where I didn't have a choice, but to work through them. I felt a lot of that when I worked for business objects before we were acquired by SAP. Absolutely at MicroStrategy when I first started off, I had no computer science background whatsoever. I had some chemistry background and some teaching background. So I got into technical training kind of accidentally. And from there, I got into the software world and was self-taught and VB for your listeners will have to look that up to see what those languages are. But then I learned SQL or SQL and metadata creation and architecture. When we were loading software from CDs and server closets, which you'll also have to look up for a lot of people. But, you know, this is well embedded in the days of on-prem before there were web-enabled tools. And so just all that with… learning, but always being shoulder to shoulder and learning from others and not really having a formal path for it. So that was early on stage. When I got into customer success, the pivot for me for customer success was doing a startup and realizing that the closer we got with our customers and the more that we It started off as handing over some free professional services to get feedback loops to our product and marketing teams and to sales and really learning more about customer success and saying, Hey, this is this, and this was 2011 into 2012 and seeing that customer success was really the way to grow a small start software company and now for all software companies to really bring value, not just to their customers, but to their company and to their team and to themselves and really about listening. Sometimes an overused word, but I'll use it, empathy and really putting yourself in your customer's shoes, being there with them through their growth, learning what their semantics are, learning what their values are, learning what drives their business and how to measure that success really took off. I've explained it a few times to my friends and family that I live and work in the largest train station in the world, you know, maybe Penn Station in New York or, you know, Garde Nord in Paris, right? So I think about how I can conduct that traffic, how I can get people together to help fix everything, and then around that process and products that can help as well.

Alper Yurder: Okay, well, listening to you, it's really cool because there seems to be a thread among like top people who get really successful in, I think, client success jobs. There's this empathy, hand-holding, caring for others kind of like common thread. But I have a question for you. Do you think, I'm sure that can be nourished and developed, but can that be built from scratch empathy?

Jeff Heckler: I think it can be learned as a trait, but the most successful people that I've worked for with and surround myself with, I hope, have been people that this comes within their makeup as a person.

Jeff Heckler: I think if you really want to make changes and you want to go above and beyond, I believe that it's something that comes through, that was instilled with you, in you, that can't be learned from a book or a class. And so I think that's something that if you have to think about it or try too hard about it, then it's not a great fit. And when I hire people, the first thing I look for is the fire in the belly, right?

Alper Yurder: Yeah, it's not intuitive. Yeah.

Jeff Heckler: intestinal fortitude, do they have grit? Do they have this will to succeed? Everything else I can teach them. But it really, it's about finding the drive in someone that they have curiosity, they want to be successful, they want to help others, they want to grow, they want to tackle tough problems, they want to succeed, they're okay with learning from failure, and so that's what I think about when I think about empathy and how it fits into customer success.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, that was the natural segue question, obviously. So if those are the things, how do you hire? One thing I maybe contribute with from my experience is, you know, in the past, especially with the predictable revenue models, et cetera, like we try to departmentalize sales and client success and this, that, and, you know, sales just tries to close and then hand it off to somebody and client success. Like what the hell did you sell? Like, why didn't you keep me in the loop? And it's as if, you know, they're completely different organizations, lots of friction. A, I see a lot of convergence and I want to talk about that a little bit. But B, with client success, some of the defining traits I feel like are attention to detail, a bit more, I guess, patience, which sometimes salespeople don't have or don't want to have. Would you agree with that or would you maybe expand on that a little?

Jeff Heckler: Yeah, I think the patience, you know, those two roles, client success and sales, they're measured and motivated in different ways. So I don't think the lack of patience is necessarily a negative coming from a sales perspective. I think it helps drive someone. I think it helps them to focus. I think about, you know, that's you have a definite target. That's quantifiable that you want to go after. And we're seeing more of that in customer success. As customer success becomes more revenue-responsible and interested in efficient dollars and efficient profits, then customer success is blending into some of the sales behaviors as well. And on the flip side of that, sales behaviors are also blending into customer success. Empathy, learning more about what the customer's ultimate goals are, being with the customer for further along in the journey than just close of sale especially as we talk about perpetual license renewals that are not multi-year, let alone annual. So I think those are very important things to point out.

Alper Yurder: I'll definitely come to that. And I think the convergence between the two roles and the skills they look for, I think that's something maybe you're observing too. That's definitely a trend to watch in 24. Just to finish on that second section about your career, some of our listeners probably will recognize like big names, big brands you work for, for example, Pipedrive is probably going to be quite interesting for a lot of people. Can you maybe share a little bit about like how your relationship came about, your leadership journey at Pipedrive, how it was for you, what were your key learnings, highs and lows?

Jeff Heckler: Sure, well, I came to Pipedrive underneath the leadership of a good friend of mine now, Gustavo Bianco. It was very, very important in my journey there. And it was also the opportunity to help lead a team that was growing rapidly. When I joined, I think the team was about 14 or 16. And when, at how we grew at Pipedrive, I ended up leading the global customer success team. We had a, at the time that we ended up getting acquired and continuing to grow with Vista, we went north of 55 employees. We went from 3% of all accounts to 100% of all accounts, which ended up growing from 85,000 customers to over 100 thousand customers and you're talking three quarters of a million unique seats. You're talking supporting seven languages globally with customer success managers a north of $125 million in revenue at an, at an MRR of on average, less than a thousand us dollars. And so that, that travel and that experience meant quite a bit for me. And if you hold on just one second, I'll grab something for you.

Alper Yurder: You have a question? Yeah, OK, great. Ha ha.

Jeff Heckler: So around my house and my office, I have things like this. So these are some of the pipe drivers that work together. And so I cherish that part of my career quite a bit as I do with some of the other travels that were…

Alper Yurder: Oh wow.

Jeff Heckler: You know, very hard, very, you know, we learned a ton in a short amount of time, relative short amount of time at pipe drive, um, just a, uh, two years, but, um, Vista came in and with their value creation group, we learned quite a bit. The rigor behind, uh, working with that team was very intense. And so, um, all of the team had to grow up very quickly. Um, but we did. And of course we ended up becoming unicorns and all that, that goes along with it. So, uh, that.

Alper Yurder: What were some of those expectations? Like, can you share maybe, like, I don't know, like they needed a bit more structural organization, processes, what was the pressure?

Jeff Heckler: Well, the first was about operations. You know, we couldn't scale. We couldn't grow effectively. And when we started out, the entire team was classic account management style CS. So customer success managers that had a book, a book of business, a book of accounts, and they, they ran with that. What we ended up doing is building different pooled teams of customer success managers that could attend to retention or they could focus on when we went through COVID, which was a massive undertaking, how to retain our customers through a matrix of opportunities to bring them through what eventually was the COVID life cycle. The other things that happened were with the ops team was installing a trainer, a data analyst, project managers, just to, just a few of the different roles that we had that were necessary in order for us to scale the overall expectation. And I knew this was when I went into pipe drive was that we were going to exit and we wanted to become unicorns and that I had been through that before, and so I knew what the vision was, and I bought into it very easily. And through that time, we also went through three CEOs and two vice presidents and a couple other big roles. But it was something that… was just, as I mentioned, a great deal of hard work, but also a lot of fun along the way, along with the stress and the tears at times.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I'm sure there's a lot of learning and stress and tears. I'm just wondering if someone's listening to us and kind of going through similar stages in their career right now, like, would you have any advice like do this, don't do that sort of thing? Or if you were to go back in time and, you know, what would you do differently?

Jeff Heckler: Thank you. I would say pay less attention to the technology in the company and more attention to the leader and the leadership and the culture. Take your time nurturing and learning in the relationships as you go through the process of interviewing and presenting to these companies. A lot of people know I want to work from C to series B and that's what I want to do and that's what I'm good at. I applaud that focus. But I also think so many of the skills and the experiences that we have in customer success are widely relatable. And so, I think customer success gets two pigeonholed in B2B SaaS as well. I think any business on the planet, nonprofit, NGO, you can benefit from customer success principles and practices to enhance your customer's lifecycle with you.

Alper Yurder: I'm just going so off track with the flow today, but I just feel like asking you all the questions. So what are those three principles that anybody can benefit from in client success or, you know, two, one, whatever. What's the one you want to share?

Jeff Heckler: Oh, I guess the adaptability and you, almost anyone who goes into customer success, when they start with their engagement or their customer or even the company, it's going to change over time. The technology is going to change. The needs are going to change. The macroeconomics are going to change. I think in the past three years, we've seen what three, if not four economic swings, um, and, and then to throw COVID in there as well. So when I, I've had the experience of professionally living through 9-11, the housing crisis of 2008-9, COVID. So you start to build up experience that gives you confidence in how you're going to be able to maneuver through anything that comes your way, changes in leadership, changes in technology any other interpersonal issues that come along the way, you're going to be able to navigate if you look at a wider view of here are the skills that I'm going to carry with me. Curiosity, empathy, persistence, hunger, and those things will get you through as long as you also focus on the relationships with your team, your company, and your customers. That will always get you through difficult times.

Alper Yurder: Love it. Thank you for those tips. Coming to today a little bit more, let's talk about some of the more current issues that you're observing in the client success world or in your day-to-day life. I generally like to ask this question in this way, like what brought you to therapy today, what problems are you solving for others? You're an advisor, obviously. We'll talk about Gain, Grow, Retain as well. What are some of the problems that you observe, try to be a remedy for?

Jeff Heckler: I've learned a lesson over the past two years about change management. There's the very popular line that… That culture eats strategy for breakfast. And that is 100% true. You can have the best go-to-market. You can have the best strategy to how you're gonna serve a certain population of total addressable market. But if your culture is not set and ready to accept it and to change and to grow and to build and to learn, you're not gonna go anywhere. I think change management skills, project management skills, being part of that are… often overlooked and overvalued. And I've learned that the hard way throughout my career by getting beat many times because change management wasn't attended to across the entire organization.

Alper Yurder: Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? Like when I asked the question, I wouldn't expect like change management per se. To me, it sometimes feels like, it feels like, okay, this might be my shortcoming. Like nobody loves change. First of all, like, I mean, it's psychologically, we're not geared towards change, we just want things to continue unless it benefits you in some way, which is really difficult. So you need champions, you need to show the case for change is really tough. You know, but why, why do you say change management?

Jeff Heckler: Here's something that's, this isn't a side, but I'll throw it in there. I think that oftentimes, you know, we're programmed to always think about what's next. When's my next promotion? And I often think you don't know what you're getting yourself into totally when you think about I want another promotion or I want to go to another company so that I can get a raise. You know, there's… There's something to be said about having a little bit of more patience and learning more about the path that you're on and letting that sit in a little bit more than worrying about, well, I want to become a director or I want to be a manager or I want... They're totally different skills, although that is… always seems to be the path, right? I'm going to be an individual contributor and then I'm going to get into some form of leadership and management and all that, but they're wildly different skills. I spoke recently on another platform about… Individual contributors that have very, very important skills as subject matter experts, as technical account managers, we're also seeing the growth of this position called the CS executive, which is really an account executive type of position, account management position. And those being able to have tough discussions, right, being able to negotiate on your own for contracts, being able to multithread your accounts, so that you have longevity and a… those are things that… that are primary to being a successful customer and client success manager, but are often overlooked. Now, coming back to change management, you can have the best go-to-market as a customer success management team. You can have customer journeys that are beautifully laid out, but if you don't have cross-functional alignment, ownership and accountability documented with a system across all of that, you're gonna fail. And I know that because I've experienced it biggest lesson I can point out during our conversation today.

Alper Yurder: Can I just ask something from my own experience? Like I switched from consulting. So I was very embedded in consultive selling, guided discovery, like empathy, all those things I think were always there. Then I started selling, quota pressure, you need to close. Then I became a leader, you have a team, you need to teach them to do the same thing and na na. And I always had friction with client success and probably those people hated me for a while, for good reason, because like you sold something, we have no idea, why are you making your team do this, that? Like… And almost like a snobbish feeling, like I close, you deliver, which was horrible. Like this, but come on guys, give me some slack. This was seven, eight years ago before I knew nothing. And then I started managing client success teams and like the skills are so interchangeable. Sometimes I feel like there's a lot of praise that goes to sales and not enough that goes to client success. It's seen as an afterthought for some organizations. That was long, but. I don't know, do you agree with any of those? Have you observed those things in your career?

Jeff Heckler: Yeah, I mean, I completely agree with you. Um, some of that is necessary, right? The reward system, the reward structures, like president club and things like that. They're built into sales because they're necessary for part of the motivation and part of the comp structure is also tied to that. So that's that that's part of that. Um, I would say customer success can sometimes, um,

Alper Yurder: Hmm. Sell, sell, yeah.

Jeff Heckler: Oh gosh, how do I put this the best way? Sometimes it looks as if, hey, we need to have some of that as well. And part of that's true, but in customer success, so much of the reward that you get is intrinsic. If you're building cross-functional relationships internally with other stakeholders…

Alper Yurder: Yeah, exactly.

Jeff Heckler: That's just part of your job. And it is a very complex, very sophisticated role because you are having so many touch points and asked to do so much. But that's also the job. I mean, if you went into product and thought about what it would take to code for eight to 12 hours a day, I'm not built for that. I would fail miserably. I would be unemployed in seconds. But with customer success, it's a totally different skill set. So instead of bemoaning it and looking for sympathy, I'd say roll up your sleeves and see how much more that you can do to help empower those around you to be successful. And you as a leader, as you came up, you probably learned the power of delegation and how important that is. And that's very difficult for some people to let go coming from other roles. So, you know, customer success, and that's also why customer success is pivoting more and more to revenue and to profit and to met performance metrics around the earnings of a company rather than, you know, retention or usage and product performance.

Alper Yurder: Yep. Yeah, we already jumped into, so we had like three, there's three topics that, and before speaking to you, I was trying to get a pulse check from our users. Like what are top of mind for you, blah, blah. One of them was, you know, how the relation between sales and CS has evolved is evolving. And even without going into the question, I realized we're already in that territory. And one thing I realized, and I think this is a trend, like we just published our influencer Almanac of the year and everyone's feeling the pressure, economic pressure, new business is hard to get, you know, right now. So the role of retention, how you need to make sure that your existing clients are happy, and therefore, your revenue somehow increased with that. There is definitely convergence between the sales and client success relationship. And there's definitely a more commercial role expectation from CS. And I think, I don't know how traditional CS… people or if that's a thing, react to that. But I've seen in my time, certainly when client success teams were like, I'm doing all the job of retaining, I'm doing the job of extending and whatever. Like, why is the sales guy getting the commission? I want a bit of that commission too. So I was seeing a lot of those frictions as well.

Jeff Heckler: Well, and that's why we come back to, you have to know what your leadership is. You have to ask these questions before you get yourself into that position. What does the comp structure look like? What is the vision for the company? What's the long goals? What is the sales and customer success makeup of? Who reports to who? Where does the CS leader report to? Where does the sales leader report to? Where does the product leader report to? In customer success, I've reported to a VP of product once. And… There are advantages and disadvantages to all sorts of org structures, but you need to ask these questions up front. Instead of looking at just title and salary and promotion potentials, look at what is the culture of the company? What do the org charts look like? What are the changes that the company is estimating to have in the future? Are they gonna bring in a chief customer officer? They're gonna bring a chief revenue officer in. A chief business officer is something I've even seen. So you need to look at a bigger picture of your org before you decide how you're going to fit into it. What you're going to bring to it. What are the changes that the company is estimating?

Alper Yurder: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, coming to even more today, I may be looking into the future a little bit. I wanted to discuss with you, obviously currently what you're doing, where you're focused, the community that you build, and what are some of the topics that you discuss with other leaders in the space?

Jeff Heckler: Sure, I think some of the top three things that come to mind for customer success right now, the emergence of AI. So that's one and how to go about that. Yeah, right. Well, okay, I'll give you my quick answer to that one. Let's wait and see, you know, the tools are trying to wrap in AI as much as possible. Some of it's sparse, some of it's not true AI and some of it is, that's great.

Alper Yurder: Oh really? Shocker! I've never heard that. Do, please do, AI.

Jeff Heckler: If you use a customer success platform, then wait and see, and then see how that develops. Use what's already in there because every major CSP already has an AI pitch for you. Digital and scaled, which is just beating another dead horse that we've had around here for about 36 to 48 months. They're not the same, number one, although they... Scaled and digital is like a Venn diagram for me. So that's how I think about that. And then, and then the third one we've already touched on a few times is customer success has to get to and deliver efficient revenue dollars. And, you know, and that leads to profit. So those are the three things that top of mind as I think about customer success and, and retention and revenue and everything today.

Alper Yurder: Okay. Can I dive a little into the third point about, let's talk about money. This collaboration between sales and client success. So there's the economic pressure that everybody wants to do more with less. At the same time, you need to figure a new business. At the same time, you need to retain what you have. So I think a very real problem in a lot of people's head is, like, how do I do more with less?

Jeff Heckler: Yeah.

Alper Yurder: Some people are optimizing their tool stack and whatever. Some others are doing shared tools, shared processes. Um, I know some salespeople are being asked to do lead gen CS. People are being asked to do sales. That was again long tail, but what I want to get to is. Are there some tips for sales and client success to share tools, share budgets, share more collaboration between them? How can they optimize all that?

Jeff Heckler: I think the first place I would start is with the customer journeys, and having a cross-functional alignment around our customer journeys, sitting down and tediously dissecting the customer journeys with the cross-functional leadership. Everything from billing to product to marketing to sales to support and feedback loops and really looking at what does it look like to be a customer with us and are we all the same page about who owns what within this customer journey. Integrated strategies between sales and CS, we're talking about handoffs, we're talking about account planning so that we can effectively up and cross sell. Are we aligned on our ICP and IOP, our ideal customer profile and our ideal opportunity profiles which are different things. And again, this comes back to churn management and really getting the further upstream we can get talking about churn, the healthier opportunities we're gonna have for our company and our customers. And so it's about these integrated strategies for customer success and we're talking sales specifically, everything from joint training, joint marketing opportunities. We talk about customer marketing all the time, marketing, how is customer success helping to enable customer marketing? Feedback loops, advocacy, customer advisory boards, voice of customer programs, communities, how are these being used?

Alper Yurder: Yeah. May I suggest look at the base of it is looking at the same picture with like different eyes, like we need to be as a team, as a revenue team. Like, you know, I, as client success shouldn't be looking at one picture versus sales is looking at another picture. And this is something that a lot of our users at Flowla, they really appreciate being able to like, okay, from the first point, this is how your relationship with this person started. These are the materials you shared. These are the next steps. These are the different stakeholders in, these are the conversations. So the whole team, including the leader is looking at the same source of truth. The same. So there's no, I mean, obviously there's always going to be, but like less room for friction between, um, client success and sales for handovers, because from the beginning you've been looking at the same thing, I hope somebody using some digital sales room like Flola, a salesperson will not hear what I used to be grilled for, which is like… you were selling something, you didn't engage me, you only brought me to the chat on the third or fourth conversation. I have no idea what you're doing. So yeah, I guess our tool is helping with that a little bit. Do you think that's... Hmm, yeah, please.

Jeff Heckler: Well, yeah, in full transparency. In full transparency, I'm not a Flowla customer, but I think that's why you've designed the tool and the platform to have so much flexibility to it. You can build integrations, you can build your workflows, any other SaaS tools you can help integrate. So to me, as someone who looks at it, as I do any other product, it's about how is this product going to grow with me and be compatible with my business workflows into the future? As I adapt and grow and change, how will this tool do that for me as well? Who works for tool companies, how do we embed ourselves into our customers' business flows and business life cycles? How do we become integrated into how they operate daily within their business? How do we become vital because we know what their goals are, we know how to deliver to them or at least be part of the delivery mechanism.

Alper Yurder: Okay. What do you think is a tool that a client success person cannot be with, live with? Like this one thing you can't take away from me. Do you have something like that in mind?

Jeff Heckler: I've got a couple, but the first thing that comes to mind is a unified customer management, you know, 360 across the organization, whether that's Excel spreadsheets, Google Sheets, whether it's a CSP or CRM, you need some system of record. You need one source of truth that when a sales individual, product individual, marketing individual goes in and looks at company ABC, that's your customer, we all have the same data, we all see the same vision. And that would be number one system, I can't manage it. So those are my customers.

Alper Yurder: The last idea that I had, I wanted to bounce with you is actually before hiring a salesperson, we hired the client success person, which is, which can be really odd and because, you know, yeah, and I just wrote about this. Honestly, since starting to build Flowla, I realized it's more about hand-holding, helping people make the best of it. And the skills we felt like it's not just like close, close mentality. Okay, long story short, we hired CS and honestly, I see the role of the first discovery call more and more as the first step of onboarding rather than just qualify disqualify this that. What do you think about that?

Jeff Heckler: Absolutely beautiful. I think that's absolutely beautiful. You're further, like I said earlier, you're going further upstream, you're dovetailing the experience of the user from the moment they get introduced to you. And that's why you have a lot of freemium products that are so successful. The customer's already halfway into your product before you have an implementation or onboarding call with them. That's a wonderful approach to take and a wonderful vision to take. And so, and why you hire a CSM before you hire a sales, because with the CSM, you'll learn more about who we’re selling to and how we sell it.

Alper Yurder: Exactly. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, we took a different path and some say, but yeah, you have pipeline. Like, don't you struggle with it? Yeah, we struggle. But, you know, I want to sort this first. Like, how do I delight my customers? Anyway, I'm always going over... Sorry.

Jeff Heckler: I'd rather have the problem of how to manage pipeline than have the problem of I don't have a pipeline to manage.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, yeah, that's a good problem to have. I agree. So let's finish on a good note. Jeff, do you think there is hope for the world of sales and client success in 2024? What are your expectations of things? Like who are going to win? How are they going to win?

Jeff Heckler: Well, there has to be. I mean, it's the way you're going to survive. Whether there's a further, there is going to be a further blend of client success and customer success with sales. It's inevitable. It will happen. Whether we, and it depends on each company and each product's vision. Do we have one individual who stays with the customer from infancy all the way through life cycle? That's something I would be interested to test. Is it still a blend of account management, so sales and customer success, have co-ownership of customers for renewal and for upsell and cross-sell. That's every… The classic line in customer success is it depends, right? It depends on the product, it depends on the company, it depends on the vision, it depends on the leadership. But regardless of that, we will have a further blend of sales and CS. We will have a further blend of the skill sets. There's much value to be driven across from both of them. So we will see that regardless of anything else. That's how companies will succeed.

Alper Yurder: Yeah, I love that. Thank you. And generally as a closing remark, I leave the people free to tell me whatever they want, but this time I won't, unfortunately. I will ask you, the beautiful community that you've been involved in from the start, Gain, Grow, Retain, can you tell us a little bit about it? Like, why did it come about? What is it now? How can people get involved?

Jeff Heckler: Which item?

Alper Yurder: In the community, Gain, Grow, Retain.

Jeff Heckler: Oh. Sure, sure, sure. Well, the first step is, anyone's welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn. That's the first step to getting connected to a community because from there, you'll see all the content for communities like Gain, Grow, Retain. And, you know, as a starting member with Gain, Grow, Retain, it's been the most valuable community for thousands and thousands of people. And so that's always a great resource. And then everywhere from there, the people that I connect with across the CS and sales and SaaS and just business landscape. I'm happy to connect there on LinkedIn first and go from there. But Gain, Grow, Retain, people can just sign up there as well. That's a great community and a wonderful number of individuals to connect with and follow from there as well.

Alper Yurder: I completely agree and I look forward to like, you know, kind of walking on this journey together as much as possible with you and the community. And I completely agree. Well, okay, great. So Jeff, our time is over and I need to cut it on the clock, just like any good therapist. Um, thank you very much for being with me today. Um, any, any closing remarks before we go?

Jeff Heckler: Alper, this has been wonderful fun. It's always great to just have a conversation and share thoughts and visions and think about where we're going with all of this. So thank you for the opportunity. Thanks to Foila, thanks to Sales Therapy.

Alper Yurder: Yeah. Ha ha. Wonderful. Thank you. That's a wrap on this episode of sales therapy. If you enjoyed the show, subscribe to us and go follow Jeff Heckler if you aren't already guys like I mean Lots of free advice and information there and thank you for being with me today Jeff. All right. Bye. Bye

Jeff Heckler: My pleasure, Alper. Thank you so much.

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