Guest: Sasi Yajamanyam – The State of Customer Success
Join us with guest Sasi Yajamanyam, a leader in the world of customer success. Sasi has built numerous customer success teams and programs over the last 15 years and now he is in the process of publishing a book about customer success.
Sasi shares his insights into the evolution of customer success and where we are today. He shares his ideas about some of the challenges, opportunities, and current trends in customer success.
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Meet Our Guest
Director, Customer success | Author of "Next Gen Customer Success - A model to breakdown the silos"
Sasi Yajamanyam has built customer success programs at small and large organizations over the last 10+ years. Currently, he is building ‘at scale’ customer success programs at ServiceNow. Before ServiceNow, he built a global customer success team from ground up at CEB (now Gartner) and served as an advisor to CIOs at large organizations..
He believes customer success is ‘everyone’s’ job but leaders lack tools to make that happen. His upcoming book Next Gen Customer Success is about re imagining customer success, and providing a guide to the c-suite on how to build a customer-centric company.
Sasi’s book on Next Generation Customer Success will be published soon. You will be able to buy it on Amazon and other online booksellers.
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- Read Jason Whitehead’s Blog (on Success Chain)
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Jason Noble: [00:00:00] Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening everybody. It’s another episode of the Jason’s take on podcast series with myself. Jason Nobel here over in a very hot humid London, not sunny, but hot and humid and Jason Whitehead over in the states.
So hello, Jason.
Jason Whitehead: [00:00:15] Hi, everyone coming to you live from the Washington DC area.
Jason Noble: [00:00:18] Great to be here. We are here with another very exciting guest podcast is a couple of weeks. I think since we’ve done one now, Jason, I’m really excited about this. This one is with a good friend called Sassi Yajamanayam.
I’m sorry. I did get an SLC. Sasi is currently a service now he’s built and led customer success, programs and teams at small and large organizations over the last 10, 15 years. So an extensive amount of experience. He’s also in the process of publishing a book, which is really excited about. So what we’re going to talk about today with Sasi is the state of customer success today.
I really what are some of the challenges? What are some of the issues we’re seeing and also get some insight into your books. I see why you’ve published the book and really how you see customer success growing and how it makes that transition from being a team to not just the C-level responsibility to the business level responsibility.
So really. I’m really cool. All encompassing conversation, which I think is one that all of our listeners are going to be really excited about. So Sasi. Hello, welcome. Do you want to do a quick intro to yourself, sir? Yes. Thanks.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:01:21] Thank you, Jason. First of all, thank you both for having me. I’ve told you guys this before, as I get a lot out of listening to your podcast.
So I’ve gotten a lot as part of just learning about what’s going on as well as for the research for my book. Thank you again for having them to be here. Just a background. As Jason, you mentioned I’ve done various things related to customer success. I’ve started customer success teams. I have been in professional services today at service.
Now I’m leading a team that actually provides. We call it backend, if you will, knowledge infrastructure for our frontline customer success team. So we write best practices that these teams take to the field. And all of these different hacks I warned me is really one of the motivations for me to start thinking about, okay, what’s next for what this thing called customer success.
And that was my starting point for the project that I’m writing this book as my side project, if you will.
Jason Noble: [00:02:17] Oh, but I know service now. You guys, I think we were one of your first, some years back, I was another company. You got one of your first European customers. And so I’ve seen it grow.
How has customer success evolved at service now? Because it’s, I think it is a customer focused organization and there’s a lot of investment being put into it. But how have you seen in your time there? How have you seen customer success grow and evolve?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:02:40] Yeah, no, I, it has as any other company that grows when I joined service now it’s tell this story.
The, we didn’t have anything called customer success. We were of course, very customer focused, but we were very professional services intensive right around the time I joined, we had a new CEO take over John Donahoe, who is now the CEO of Nike. He did this listening to a lot of our customers and one of the takeaways that he came away with, where customers were telling em, say, John, you need to help us save us from ourselves in some sense, because the platform had grown, it had become more complex and customers were getting themselves into trouble. So that was our origins where John said, Hey, we need this an overarching methodology or an approach to deal with customers, not as just a sales transactions, but how do we manage and help customers through their journey that goes about three years ago.
And. Customer success today looks very different than when John initiate the date. We we have, all of the standard Mo motions that we talk about. High touch customer success. We have low touch customer success. We are actually embarking on a project of what we are calling the next gen customer success of service now.
So it has gone from a very professional services centric to. What we traditionally consider customer success. And now we are looking at, what’s the next generation of customer success, which is more of a packaging of all post-sale activity into a package of SOC service
Jason Noble: [00:04:13] offerings. I think it’s great.
When you see that evolution, like you say, a lot of organizations start off as kind of professional services and it’s that evolution. How do you, what do you look at the book and the work you’ve been doing and this kind of idea about the state of customer success today? What do you think the state is today?
Why are we talking about this now?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:04:32] Yeah, I think so as service now is going through this evolution, my thinking has evolved along with it and I was thinking the reason we are in this third iteration, I was thinking, why is it so hard? What is it about this thing called customer success?
That is hard. So that was the question I wanted to answer. When I started the book. What I have found is I had actually made a chapter title in my book. It’s called it’s a. The good thing is that there’s a lot of focus and attention. We have your podcast and a lot of folks talking about it.
I think that’s the great the thing that is yet to be solved is it’s a state of what I call it. Complexity and confusion. When it comes to customer success, a lot of questions who should report to what should their customer successful chaos be? What should be the responsibility sphere of responsibility for customer success?
Professional services, part of customer success is support part of it. So there’s a lot of questions. And what I have found is there is no, the answer is. Yes. Yes. Then all of them, right? Because it’s very complex. It changes as the organization evolves, the answers to those questions changes as your products.
We do walls down through those questions changes. So we ended up any interesting point in my mind when it comes to customer success, where they’re probably, it’s a good point to rethink what we mean by customer success. So as I did more research, that’s where I’m. Presenting a point of view in the book and where I have in my mind on this, where we are, is an interesting pivot point in this thing called customer success.
And I’m happy to go into that. But that’s where I feel like we are at.
Jason Whitehead: [00:06:19] I think that’s so true. And just, having been in this space for a while and just seeing the early iterations of it. Okay. We need a team called customer success and what do we do? And let’s try and tell people more about our product or let’s see how we organize internally.
And now people are realizing once we’ve done a lot of the basics, and once we have our tools and everything’s in place, then we still are stuck with the question. What do we do and who does it look like? And I think there’s a lot of area there that people don’t have answers yet. And, or at least they’re starting to ask the right questions, which I think is nice.
Coming back to what you said, cause I remember when you and I talked a while ago, we were talking about the book and I was just really interested in what you had to say and the direction we’re going with it. Can you tell us a bit more about the book itself and both your motivation to write it.
And what are some of the big gaps that you’re seeing today as for looking at this pivot point and where we think it needs to go in the future? Yeah.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:07:06] Maybe do the attack the second. So what motivated me? One is this, Just genuine curiosity on this profession where we are going was one of the motivations.
The second was really, I attribute to the pandemic, right? Suddenly I found myself with a lot of time, like all of us did last year and within the company service, now we have a new CEO since about a year and a half now. And he challenged us to dream big as a company. And I applied that to my personal.
Life and said, okay, I need to have a big dream, which and I have the time to dream big. Now that we are all in lockdown. So big, taking a book and writing a book was my dream big thing that I picked up. That was the personal motivation combined with my intellectual curiosity on what this profession is.
And the way I’m approaching, and this is my latest thinking and I don’t think actually three of us have spoken on this is both back to Jason. Nego. Your question about the current state. If we think back if we think back to a hundred years ago, we had industrial age, where we were all getting into machines and producing and manufacturing.
The byproduct of that economic shift in my mind was this focus on quality, total quality management, as a a practice management factors on how do you organize companies? If we fast forward that to the nineties, late eighties, nineties, early two thousands, it was what, I call it automation age.
We could call it something else, but it’s really about automating business processes in my mind, what it gave rise to is this practice of process. Re-engineering six Sigma and all of these, how you look for process efficiencies. If we fast forward to today what we could call it digital age or as global economic forum calls it the industrial fourth industrial revolution, the manager twin practice that we need today is this focus on customer and specifically the relationship between the provider and the consumer of technologies.
So when I am in my positioning of what we think customer success, in my mind, if we think about it the right way could be that. Organizing principle that are, we can build companies around and put in processes and practices and systems in place to really get the most out of that provider and consumer of technologies.
And of course, I focus a lot in my book around in the B2B space, but it can be applied in the B2C space. So that’s my aspirational view that customer success would be this. Next generation of management practices around which we can organize our companies.
Jason Noble: [00:09:54] How do you, in, in some of the companies that you’ve worked for service now and others, what are some of the things that you’ve done or seen in the business that have helped.
Make this kind of focus on the customer, be something that is part of everyone’s role and no, that’s something that’s very close to your heart, but it’s how do we transition it away from being just one team? Just one person. Just give us some of the examples that you’ve talked through in the book and that you’ve seen in practice.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:10:19] Yeah, no that’s if we think about it, every company that I have been part of then all we all said, we are all customer centric. We are, every company claims that and I think they have sincere we are all sincere about it. But when you peel back the layers of onion, what I found is we go back to doing what we know how to do well, which is really build our functional silos.
The best let’s build the best sales organization let’s build the best product organization. And that has been true in a lot of the companies that I have worked in. And. One of the roadside date earlier on about 10 years ago, he’s been, I stood up the customer success function. We actually started off with any other CS function would be the stand up and individual silo.
But what we realized there is whatever was happening in the customer success space actually had a really very useful input into how the product got, how we went to market. How did you. I would read your sales and marketing messaging has changed. It has to change. So that was my first inkling, if you will, where the say, Hey, this customer success is not just this post silo.
It could actually be everybody’s job. That was a small team. So it was easy to incorporate that into the product management teams, into the sales team’s job to say, Hey, everybody is singing from the same song sheet. If you will. And through, as I was doing research for the book, I’ve seen imprint elements of what, customer success to be everyone’s job in different companies and different professionals.
And what I did, I synthesize all of that knowledge and I put it into a model, of re-imagining customer success and the different components that I talked about in the book. But So that was my first let me pause there and I’m happy to go into some of the details of what I found in the model.
Jason Whitehead: [00:12:17] Yeah, no, I think that’s so interesting too, that whole silo busting piece. Cause that’s something you’d like when I’m dealing with our clients today to test changes, they’ve really struggled with that. Like how do we get sales, marketing play? How do we do this? And I liked what you said about early in the industrial revenue revolution.
People change the process. And I think now it’s also. Change the behavior and change the mentality and get everyone realizing that we all have a shared stake in the customer achieving success as does your customer. I’d be curious to see your experiences in, in, in your research.
What are the actual steps that besides changing a process changed that mentality for people around it like, oh, I’ve got to do something a little bit different with my job or how I interact with my client or with my team, with my other departments, because I think that’s one of the big hurdles is that change in mindset and behavior.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:13:02] I think Jason, you hit it on the hit the nail on the head. Because it’s one thing to say that customer success and customer centricity is a mindset, but what you are highlighting is it’s hard to put it into action. It’s hard because we don’t know exactly what do I do? How do I make everybody think on the same page?
So what I I found one of the ways it sounds overly simplistic, but going back to the basics and. Really establishing a common understanding of who our customers are and what success means to them. And then writing that down in a common language that different departments can all use. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
And I said, who our customers are. As soon as I say who our customers are, I’m sure it was an instinctive reaction for you. And for a lot of folks that I speak with we got that problem handled. We know who our customers are, but what I am proposing and what I’m presenting is. Yes you do.
As a sales person, you probably do as a product person. You probably do as a marketing person, you probably do. What do we all think about the definition of the customer? The same way? So a couple of models I propose is especially when you have customers who are buying more of your existing product from a marketing perspective of their prospects or their customers,
Jason Whitehead: [00:14:27] Interesting. Yeah. It’s an important distinction.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:14:30] Yeah. And as a sales team, if you are focused on when you’re selling something, you’re focused on the buyer persona, but truly to achieve success, what does the buyer do once they sign the contract? They bring in somebody or somebody at one of their teams will implement some, and who uses the product.
So do we have a common understanding of that spectrum of customer? We can call it profiles, personas, and we all think about that end to end But I need to train it well is another example. And lastly, if we extend that, what in what if your customer’s customer is the end user of your product?
How would that change? How you go to market and how do you message it? And I have a interesting story. I tell where a receipt scanning software. I talked to somebody who was running their sales team. What they found is they were focused so much on the accountant that they were selling the product to, but the real realized the real hurdle for success was the accountants customers who were not really willing to use the product the way they wanted them to use it.
So they had to reorient their entire messaging. And not even call the accountants who are actually paying the subscription costs as customers. They started calling the customers, the businesses that their contracts work with as they have customers. So they go to market approach, which again, near and dear to your heart days and the adoption was the challenge.
And that took. The whole team sales, marketing product, and post-sale to reorient their thinking. So that is one example that I can give. So I have a few more
Jason Whitehead: [00:16:15] yeah. Yeah, no, actually it was, you mentioned that I remember a project you did a few years ago with a. Large organization that was buying a CRM and we were helping set up an internal user adoption program.
So it was a very large organization and it was a new adoption department that they set up internally and basically internally internal customer success. And we were going through training up the staff who never really thought about it. And there was already friction between the adoption team and internal success team with the it team that was responsible for getting five.
And one of the exercises we did is, what’s success for the organization. What is success for this department? What is success for you as a professional? And they’re all really excited, everything else. And then the very last thing we asked them is what a sec? What is success for the it team in something they had the realization that they were all about.
Adoption, all about business value, all about outcomes, three to five years down the road. And all of the pressure on the it team was go live on time and on budget. And. No errors, no delays. Yeah. Something. They realized that they were working towards to other goals and it’s really fighting with each other.
And that’s just, internally that seemed before then vendors got involved and just really focusing on those issues can help highlight a lot. I think.
Jason Noble: [00:17:19] Yeah. Jason, I think that’s something that you see time and time again, particularly in bigger and bigger organizations, you’ve got, we’ve talked before JSP, you’ve got these huge change processes that you’re going through and your it team.
Historically have been all about, can we deliver the right service at the right cost? Yes. Now the security, all these other things come into play, but cost is a massive driver for them. And when you’re feeling that different pressure is huge. And when you’ve got to really get in there and break down those silos, and it’s a very difficult thing to do.
And even coming in as an external person, you, you are quite stepped back from that. And it’s a really tough thing to do. And you’ve also got to look at it. Oh, the cultural side of it. How do these teams interact? How do the people interact? What are the changes around culture that this service, this product, this technology is going to do?
Have you considered that? Have you considered how it’s going to impact somebody’s job day to day? There’s all huge things that you can’t take into account straight away. I think you’ve got to invest in it and plan through it. And I liked the things you said Sasi about building out these frameworks and ways of doing it, because what you want to do is build up playbooks that you can then use elsewhere.
Take it again. What are the learnings that we’ve done from this organization? And go to the second one.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:18:30] Exactly. Jason, one of the words that you just said, I’ll pick up on that is they said at the end of the day, we take a step back. They’re all these folks that we just talked about, the it teams and all these other, they’re all coming in to there.
They wake up in the morning with a job to be done, and it’s a common framework that you all might be familiar with. It’s called jobs to be done. And I use that as an, as a thinking mechanism to say, as an organization, when you have willing to market, do we fully understand the jobs to be done off of our customers?
And once we do we have it documented in a way that we are all speaking the same language? And that we can speak to the customers. That language becomes a very critical component to build a playbook case. And that you talked about, I profile a couple of companies in the chapter where starting from what on their website to their implementation playbooks, to their value realization models, everything is around these business use cases and outcomes that they have literally documented.
And it was a CEO driven effort. So that is. And a big portion of the model that I call it. The things that we have really in the customer context, right? There’s a bunch of things. Sorry,
Jason Whitehead: [00:19:44] let me ask you, as you’re talking about this and the research you’ve done, especially around where you see the market’s going if we knew then what we know now, if there was a new, early stage company really getting out in the market and getting his feet done and trying to figure how to do this the right way now, going forward.
What would you advise them to do? Or what should be, should organizations be doing differently than they ended up than they knew to do three or five years ago?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:20:06] Yeah, it starts with, for me, is this the few things that we talk about, the definition of customer definition of success and using the common language of three components of the model I propose.
And that takes to a little distance at a lot of these things are a lot easier to say it because it makes so much sense when they say it, but it’s very hard to do it. And the reason that those are hard to do it is because of the way we organize ourselves. The second part of my model is what we need to do in the company context yep.
Starts with understanding the customer context. And then the second part is what do we need to do in the company context? And for that, if we think about a more services approach, a portfolio of services approach is designed to help these customers to this success. Thinking about services, not just as post-sale activity, but if you think about, Hey, how do I run?
My marketing campaigns is a service. How do I go to market? How do I train my sales teams? These are services that I build along with obviously, how do I go to implementation teams once you think of it as a portfolio of service approach, and then think about what’s the right way to tell you are those services to the customer.
And then the last piece, there is the incentives and processes. We are. Those are very hard things to change because we are used to a certain way. But there is something in the market today that some are proposing, should we be incentivizing sales as fast sales? We put so much focus on the state end of sale or the contract signing and auto incentives and processes are geared towards optimizing that particular event or construction.
How should we think about changing that model, where essentially we are in this continuous sales motion and some of the guests that you had on your program that I talked to or might be such also, which is sight blood. I have to thank you guys for giving me a lot of social research for my that’s. Why they’ve taught me to do that so much because.
You produced some excellent content. So one of them are out proudly that spoke to volleyball. He says a continuous sales motion, which makes total sense. And but how do we do our processes and incentives in a continuous sale motion versus then, a transactional sales motion. So to summarize it, it starts with thinking about this customer context or defining the common understanding of customer success and having a common language, and then applying that to design your internal operating model.
And how do teams interact with each other? What kind of services do your daily work? The last piece, if I could just tie those together is we have a unique opportunity to use the information and data we gather from those two pieces into what I call a unified customer data we have in the video and these stages of being able to take advantage of data and using the data to engage with our customers in a new in kind way.
That’s those are the kinds of the last two pieces I present.
Jason Noble: [00:23:16] I think that, that question about kind of the sales process and incentives is a key one. And know we’ve spoken about that in the form of Jason, but I think it’s when you look at big enterprise deals and your account execs there, you’re looking to change something that’s been in place for a long time.
And I think the benefit if you could imagine a recurring incentive scheme becomes very appealing, but it’s a big change to go through. Sasi. One more question I’d like to give to you. Maybe it’s the last question in your book. What are the things that you talk about is the lack of tools for leaders to help build and create the customer centric culture.
Can you tell us a bit more about that? What kind of tools are you thinking about? What do you see some of the gaps are, and all of a sudden tools out there that you’ve seen that are really starting to address this and help organizations push customer centricity. So it means the thing to your customers.
I liked what you said earlier on. Something that I’ve said in a number of talks, I’ve done that. You’d never say that we’re not about our customers, but it’s how do you deliver on that?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:24:14] Yeah. Tools. I think there are a lot of tools and on purpose. I didn’t do a ton of research on the tool. I have to claim I got about toolset functionality.
What I do now is a lot of the tools today are still focused on building that function, functional element, but some of the tools are starting to talk about combining all of the different activities around customer. But my impression is two sets are still designed for the processes. But a couple of things that I have noticed is any tool or any.
Set of tools that can help bring this customer data and using the customer data to engage customers in a new in kind way. I’ll give a very specific example, especially in, this is SAS makes it very easy to do it. Another company that I profiled in my book is sprinkler. They have this common language that they use to sell the product and implement implemented.
And they have embedded all the data that they learn about the customers, which customers are using the product for which use cases and what are the what’s the value they are realizing. And then embed that in the product. And the customer and the way they engage in the information that they provide to the customers is a completely different because the customer feels a lot more invested.
They are in the driver’s seat of their own success and the company is just providing the enabling tools. So when I think about the tools in the customer success space, I just like my entire research was focused on, I think, more about the tool set that the whole company can use. Less about the functional focus of the tools.
I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I approached the tools question.
Jason Noble: [00:26:03] I see. That makes sense. I think it is right. You are a battler because it’s a very broad question. Isn’t it? When you look at how many different tools there are in an organization, how do you make sure they’ve all got that right.
Broad stroke of functionality that we need around customers and it can be very, just put together. All right. That’s fine.
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:26:19] That’s fine.
Jason Whitehead: [00:26:20] Yep. So Sasi. We’re just about out of time here, but we always like to present a bold challenge question to our listeners as part of the podcast really helping them to come away with some actual ideas.
So I guess the question for you are, what are the top two or three actions or takeaways for our listeners for ensuring that customer success is not just the job of the CSM and the organization, what should we be doing differently to make sure it really is the job of the entire organization?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:26:46] Yeah. That’s a good question. I’ll think a little bit about what will be the great challenge and what can I do if I was listening to this, what would I want to do is I would go back to the basics of, really having that common understanding. And this is something that I found helpful in my own.
Kind of the day-to-day job, but I would challenge to go get out of our own silos and let’s go have a conversation. If I’m a CS professional, let’s go sit down with the sales person and try to really unpack. Hey, who do you think is our customer? What is their intrinsic motivation for engaging with us as a vendor?
Why do you think that engaging? I would have the conversation with somebody outside of our functional silo and shared the same with, from our perspective, from your perspective. So that would be one challenge is to how do you get out of our own functional thinking silos? The second one I would say is, this is again, very tactical on the other end is like process wise incentives wise.
If you feel, especially if you are a leader, leading teams, what kind of incentives that you can tweak that will get the behavior that you want? This kind of cross silo behavior would be the two things and blood Springs. One is a customer centric thing. Another one is more internal operating model centric thing.
Get to the common understanding of customers. And what kind of process incentive changes that you can tweak to get to that to make that common understanding come to life.
Jason Noble: [00:28:17] That’s Sasi. That’s really cool. Look massive. Thank you. Before we finish, do you want to give a kind of a shameless plug for the new book?
Sasi Yajamanyam: [00:28:24] Yes, shameless blog. Yes, I am. In the final stages of the book the title is yet to be defined but I’m, I might call it something around re-imagining customer success and the word that I have come to hang on to, or the last couple of months. And it seems to resonate is if we think about customer success as.
The mechanism to make and keep promises to customers. What kind of promises do we make? How do we keep them? So you’ll see the title of the book would be something along the lines of reimagining customer success, how to keep promises from upset or along those lines, it will be available. And the end of August, early September timeframe and all the favorite book stores.
Jason Whitehead: [00:29:06] That’s exciting. Congratulations on that. Really excited for him. Thank you for being here. And obviously when it is released, we’ll update the show notes to include a link to it as well too, and share that information. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it. And everyone, if you want to contact saucy, we’ll have his information in the show notes below, so you can go and click through and get in touch with him.
Thank you so much.
Jason Noble: [00:29:27] Massive ebook. Yep. Thank you so much. Take care.