Holly Tiessen on Customer Success

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Holly Tiessen from Intelex about customer experience.

This interview took place while Holly was Chief Customer Officer at PostBeyond

Holly Tiessen - Chief Customer Officer at PostBeyond

Holly Tiessen - Chief Customer Officer at PostBeyond

Who are you and what do you do?
I am Holly Tiessen and I've just joined PostBeyond as chief customer officer. 

What does it mean to be a chief customer officer?
I think it depends on the company, but first and foremost a chief customer officer would be focused on what the customer experience looks like. For me at PostBeyond it's that plus helping the company grow and evolve.

So does your role go across the entire customer experience covering awareness, marketing, sales, and success?
I would say yes. We're really collaborating as a management team on where we're going next with the company. So that gives me the opportunity to look at our vision for the company down to what we're doing with the product, the roadmap, and all of the customer touchpoints. 

In your previous roles you worked on building out the customer success teams, how has that shaped the way you’re looking at customer experience now at PostBeyond. 
I think being in customer success gives you the opportunity to see the perspectives both in the experience that you're delivering to the customer, as well as the experience that's happening within the organization. Then really pulling that together to deliver a customer experience that the organization wants to be known for. 

I was fortunate enough in my past role at Achievers to be a part of a team that really wanted to deliver a wow experience on all fronts. So I have taken that with me to PostBeyond and that's what I really strive for.  It’s how we should wow our clients whether it’s what we deliver to our clients on the product side; the value from our advising, the experience that the client success manager brings into interactions with clients, or the brand messaging overall. 

What is the value that PostBeyond is bringing out into the marketplace? There's so many aspects of it and it's really trying to understand all of the pieces so you can continue to evolve and deliver a fantastic experience.

One of the biggest challenges I've seen in B2B is that your economic buyer and your user are typically different people...
So true - they can be very different people!

"Understanding the different experiences that you're delivering to different audiences is critical." 

How do you balance that between the people that marketing is messaging, to the people that sales are promising the world to, and then to the people who actually end up using the product and success has to go in and repair the relationship with?
I really look to ensure that the team understands that we have different audiences. In many situations that I've been in, it's really a B2B sale but the experience for the end user is more a B2C experience. At PostBeyond, we’re not really touching the end users other than through the product and support so understanding and appreciating the different experiences that you're delivering to the different audiences is critical. The different groups are important to appreciate and understand and that's where marketing comes into it. 

Today, marketing approaches are the only way that you can deliver a customized experience to your end users and other audiences in a scalable ways. Thats one of the biggest challenges in customer experience today -  taking all of the lessons learned and best practices from marketing to go out and market the brand and market for new sales and applying those to your existing clients.

So how do you share what you're learning on the success side back to marketing?
A work in progress to be quite honest. I don't think I've seen where it's a really well oiled machine. Part of it is just a thirst for knowing and sharing as much about the customers as you can. You've got people who are interacting on the customer success team with clients all the time so they've got in their heads all kinds of stories but their doing their job...  and then there's others that are looking for those same stories and wondering where they are. 

So I can tell you that that's something we're thinking about a lot at PostBeyond. It's how do you do it in a way that's effective, so for now using tools like slack internally to get stories and information out there quickly and then the partnership between marketing and customer success to identify opportunities to really build  those compelling case studies and stories. I think that in the agile world that were living in, you really have to be able to run the spectrum of sharing and collaborating. 

"Things are changing so fast with customers and within organizations, nothing is locked down anymore." 

I've run into situations in the past where the sales team tries to get any customer in the door, but the success team knows that you have to have a specific type of customer process to get them on boarded - how do you make sure the sales team isn't going to screw it up?
I would say I have a fair amount of empathy for the sales team having been in direct sales roles myself for many years. Things are changing so fast with customers and within organizations, nothing is really locked down anymore. 

My approach is to communicate as much as I can about what's working with existing clients, so sales can help to perpetuate that message. That helps to set expectations with the prospects. On the flip side is understanding that the sales folks are going to need to break and bend what it is that we're offering and figuring out how we piece that together. I really see that a key part of my role as a customer success leader is to help deliver on the vision that has been put forth to the customer.

What sort of process do you take to enable customers to get the most out of your product when the sales team sells them on something that might or might not have been a fit for that organization?
First it’s doing your internal homework to understand what's been happening. Then reaching out to have the conversation with the customer so that there's an understanding of what their expectations. Through that process you can educate them on what's going to happen during implementation and seeing where the gaps and disconnects are and figuring out how to manage those. 

"If you can appreciate where the customer is coming from and what is driving them, you can find a way to deliver."

So it's talking and collaborating to really figure it out?
Yeah that's really been my experience is that if you actually can appreciate where the customer is coming from and what is driving them to want the things that they want, then you can usually find a way to deliver. It might not be everything that they want right away, and there might be places where there are ongoing disconnects, but overall you're delivering enough value to them that they do get that wow still.

Revenue, retention and growth is hugely important in SaaS companies, almost as important as new revenue. You've talked about marketing and selling to new customers, what about once they are a customer - how do you market and up sell to them differently than the net new customers?
One of the main differences is that you already have a solution out with those customers, so you already have relationships with them and have a great foundation to work with.  It’s also where you really need to figure out how you're going to build on that foundation for the customer in order to ensure that you are getting the renewals and that you're growing the business with that customer. Ultimately that all comes down to the customers getting value from what you're delivering. 

For me, first and foremost is what value are the clients getting out of the services you are delivering everyday. If they are using the software and they are engaging with you and getting value, then the renewal will be a given so that part's easy. If your service continues to evolve and grow giving new value, then the upsell potential will be there too. As far as execution, the customer success team has a huge role to play in that because they are closest to the customer. They can play a pivotal role in helping to advise and tee up the increase in business.  I also see customer marketing playing an increasing and critical role in nurturing existing clients so they think of your brand first for additional offerings

"If you don't appreciate the customer audience down to the individual, you are doing them a disservice."

Im curious, I've seen customer success teams report to marketing, report to sales, and report to finance and there customer marketing budget is either owned by customer success or marketing - what do you see as the ideal scenario for this?
The marketing part of that question is one that i'm quite passionate about. There's no one right answer but if the mandate and the goals for your marketing teams are heavily weighted on brand awareness and/or net new business, then I would say that it’s not the place to put your customer marketing. Even though there is messaging and content there that applies to both audiences, it's my opinion that they are unique audiences and if we don't market and appreciate the customer audience down to the individual, then we are doing them a disservice. Especially when we can be so targeted in marketing out to prospects that to me, is a miss if you don't apply that to your customers. I think it’s more important to ensure their are specific goals for customer marketing than whether it reports into marketing or customer success - reporting is likely more indicative of company stage and type of solution.

I haven’t experience Customer Success reporting into marketing or finance and having spent much of my career in front of customers, my leaning is always to keep customer facing groups either together or very closely aligned.    

What resources would you recommend for people looking to be more customer centric in their business?
Posts by Paul Teshima, expert in customer success and software solutions; his book - Power of Habit - because the software solutions I’ve been a part of all driven human behaviour and at the core are habits. 

What is your favorite 90's dance song?
I had to think about this one for a long time. I really love the song "Strike It Up" by Black Box. I remember this song from university, brings back great memories.