Customer Success Programs at Iterable & AutogenAI with Eloise Salisbury

What does it take to build an enterprise-level customer success program?

Eloise Salisbury, Chief Customer Officer at AutogenAI, joins us this week to break down what she learned scaling Iterable's customer success program.

Eloise joined Iterable, a cross-channel marketing enablement platform, after their Series B.

In her five years with the company, she scaled their CS to an international audience, introduced an enterprise CS and implementation track, which ultimately helped the company grow to a $2 billion valuation.

In today’s episode, Alex and Eloise discuss:

  • how to build mid-market and enterprise CS teams
  • what makes an ideal CS/sales relationship
  • how she's approaching the first 90 days at AutogenAI
  • why she founded Women in Saas (and her advice for women in tech leadership)
June 10, 2024

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Transcript

Joining Iterable

Alex Kracov: I'd love to start today's conversation talking about when you sort of first joined Iterable. I believe you joined right after around the Series C. So it must have been a time of extreme hyper growth. Can you talk a little bit about what Iterable was like when you joined?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. So I joined Iterable back in January of 2019. Actually, at that time, they had just gone through their Series B. Then about two months after I joined, they went through their Series C. We raised about $50 million from memory. So I definitely joined at a period of hyper growth. And just to kind of put that into perspective, when I left Iterable about five years later, this February, we did our Series E in 2021. So 200 million, and we had about a $2 billion valuation. So you can kind of see from joining to, not even when I ended there, but midway through how quickly we grew.


Alex Kracov: Can you give the audiences a little context on like what is Iterable, and who's the customer that Iterable serves?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. So Iterable is a cross-channel marketing automation platform. And really, at its core, we enable our customers to create what we feel joyful experiences at scale. In terms of the customer that Iterable serves, I'd say primarily data-driven b2c companies and really anyone who's looking to create a cross-channel experience. So we're talking sort of email, mobile, SMS. In terms of the profile or an example, I guess SeatGeek jumps to mind. They consolidated all of their push and email interactions into Iterable. Another customer would be Care.com. One of our flagship brands over in EMEA, which was the region that I led, would be Wolt. So we actually supported their b2c app. We also supported their couriers and their merchants. So you can kind of see that full suite of product offerings going through the platform.


Alex Kracov: Very cool. What was the state of the customer success team when you first joined? They have a CS team, I assume. There was like a smaller team that you were sort of, alright, you got to start leading and grow.


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, so I actually joined Iterable for multiple reasons. But one of the reasons was they had, about a year before I joined, hired a phenomenal customer success leader called Krishna Reddy. Krishna and I had worked at a previous company together. I've always really admired the types of customer success organizations that he created. So when I had the opportunity to rejoin a team of his, I sort of jumped at it. But at the time, so again, back to early 2019, I think the customer success team was largely 20 people. There were two functions at the time. Iterable customer success started from a support role. So the very first function they had in the business was technical support. Then they introduced customer success managers, but a lot of the CSMs came from the technical support team and were sort of promoted up or moved into a CS function. So you had a very technical customer success management team when I joined.


Alex Kracov: And then were you focused on more of the relationship side and more of the strategic customer success? Like, Krishna is running this org. What part of the org did you sort of take over and start running yourself?


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, so I'll be transparent and say when I was looking for a new opportunity, there wasn't actually a role for me at Iterable. I think Krishna does a really good job of bringing good talent into the business and figuring out where they fit. So I didn't go in with a specific purpose. But I did go in, and there were two very critical initiatives that I ran or had to run over from the moment I joined. One was to spin up Iterable's online e-learning academy. I'd done that in a previous role. So I kind of built it from scratch. Very embarrassingly, I remember sitting in a dark room for all hours of the day recording these online videos. Then unbeknownst to me, in the future, every single person that joined Iterable also had to go through the academy. So I became very-


Alex Kracov: You're famous.


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, and my voice became very well-known. But that was one of my primary sort of areas of responsibility when I joined. Then the second was that we were very quickly growing an international customer base. Iterable, when it was founded, was solely sort of focused and based in the US. But over the course of the first few years, we just organically grown a bit of a following internationally. And we weren't able to provide those international customers with the same level of support that we provided our US-based customers, purely because we weren't in the same time zone as them. So the second set of big priority initiative that I dug into was how we would roll out that international customer success team. That ended with me moving to London in September of 2019 to launch Iterable's first international office, which was our London office.

Building Iterable's eLearning Academy

Alex Kracov: Very cool. I want to talk about each of these different programs you worked on. First, with the online e-learning academy, what was the strategy behind that? Why was that so important for Iterable to sort of launch something like that?


Eloise Salisbury: I guess two primary reasons. And I'm sure there's many others. But the two primary for me were, one, we were just thinking about spinning up an implementation/onboarding team. And so we wanted to be able to provide our customers with a foundational e-learning course that they could run through that would support then us having on-hand, real-time implementation specialists working with them. So to take a little bit of that load, that initial foundational learning load off of the implementation team.


Then the second reason - and I think this is probably true of most SaaS companies that look to have an academy - is that our product was just growing, and we were adding new features and optimizing features on a weekly basis. And so we wanted to make sure that as our customers expanded their teams, that new people who maybe didn't go through implementation could get up to speed on our product really quickly. But equally, as we launched new features or optimized existing ones, that we were able to push out in a one-to-many fashion education that enabled our customers to be able to use that new feature set.


Alex Kracov: It's a really great example of when I think of scaled customer success, which I feel like has become this giant trend within the industry. Okay. How do you just give your customers more on-demand learning? I think I learned how to use Webflow, and they had amazing resources. I could figure out and just pull from there, as opposed to talking to real humans. It must save the company money, and it makes the customers happy. And so it's like sort of a win-win. It's sort of how I think about programs like that.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because people learn in so many different ways. Some people just love being able to log on to an e-learning system in their own time, start and stop training when they have 15, 20 minutes to do so. Other people hate it, right? They much prefer speaking to a real person on the other end of a Zoom or a phone call. So just being able to provide the differentiated ways of learning was also really important to us.

Growing an International Customer Base

Alex Kracov: So you're tasked with growing the international customer base, or at least managing this growing international customer base. What was that experience like behind the scenes? Was there already an existing book of business? It's like, "El, move to London. Go deal with them." Could you kind of take us behind that story?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was a bit of both, to be honest. We actually had a CSM in our San Francisco office who worked primarily with our EMEA customers. Luckily, for us, he sort of put up his hand and said, "Hey, I'd love to spend a year in London." So when I moved out to open the office, we brought out a US-based CSM, the person I was just talking about. Also, we extended a six-month contract to somebody in our technical support team.


The idea was always to bring out resources from the US temporarily in the UK who knew our product, had worked with those customers in the past, whilst we then hired locally. What that meant for me is that I spent a lot of my time hiring. But the other thing that I also had to do, just as pretty typical I think in high growth companies, is I personally took over the bulk of our enterprise customer base in our EMEA market just to make sure that they received that top level of service. Then my number one priority was hiring an enterprise CSM.


Alex Kracov: When you think about managing that book of business, like this enterprise customer base, I'd love to know what were you doing. What were those jobs to be done? Was it focusing more on onboarding new enterprise customers? Was it managing existing relationships? How do you sort of think about where to spend your time with those customers?


Eloise Salisbury: It was a little bit of everything. Because we already had an existing customer base. And so those customers needed immediate account management, and I jumped right into the middle. I remember at the time being relatively new to Iterable myself. I'm just getting on these calls with customers that had been with us for sort of two years and thinking they're going to know I'm a fraud. They know way more than I do. But in a way, it got me up to speed on the product really, really quickly. So I think it was definitely a blessing in disguise. So it was a portion of the enterprise book of business that was there existing jumped right into the middle.


Then we also put in place a BDR and an account executive into the London office. So the other part of my role was getting really involved in the sales cycle to sort of showcase how we work with customers, and also showcase why customer success was a real differentiator at Iterable. Then, of course, once those customers signed, it was very much, yes, making sure we were onboarding them from the US but that they had a UK presence that would shadow that onboarding. So I did a lot of that myself of the first couple of months.

The Role of CS in the Sales Cycle

Alex Kracov: I'm curious. Do you enjoy joining sales calls and sort of saying what CS can do? Now I know you're running customer success at Autogen. Do you plan to do that sort of thing as well there? How do you sort of think about the role of CS in that sales cycle?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, honestly, I love partnering with sales. Whenever I join a new organization, a big part of the qualification that I do is, who are the sales leaders? What would it be like to work with them? But customer success doesn't start, at least in my wind, when somebody signs a contract. I typically go into pre-sales calls and say that: you're thinking about investing heavily in our product, but you're also going to be investing heavily in the people that sit behind and support the product. So whilst it's really important for you to go through the sales motion with technical consultants and talk about commercials, it's also really important that you understand and put a face to the name of the team that will be helping you onboard and see value. So for me, that's always where I get inserted into the sales cycle. I hate coming in as the final call too. My preference is to come in sort of midway through. Once they've done the technical validation, we know that we have a product that can support them, and then to be able to share a bit more about customer success.


Typically, with the customer success organizations that I create, I also do really CS as a core differentiator to other players in the market. So getting that across in the sales cycle is really important. You want to make sure that there's a continuation of relationship, understanding from sales to post sales. So getting CS involved in the sale itself is just critical to ensuring a crossover. So, yeah, if you can't tell, I love getting involved. I will happily join any sales call, provided we've done the technical validation. It's a big part of the enablement that I do with my team. And also, the initiatives that we run is how do we collaborate with sales.


Alex Kracov: Do you take it as far as almost like requiring a CSM join a sales call before the deal can actually close? I'm curious how you think about the sales to CX handoff, which is like notorious in SaaS and that always goes poorly. I think when it goes poorly, it's like, "Oh, here's your notes. Go deal with the new customer." But it sounds like just by getting earlier involved, you can solve a lot of those problems. So do you mandate that? Or are there times where you're still like just reading the notes in Salesforce and got to figure it out? How do you think about that handoff?


Eloise Salisbury: So in an ideal world, yes, you'd get CS involved in every qualified sales deal that you think has a high likelihood to close. The reality is that if we did that, though, that would just be our job. Right? So the way that I tend to think about it is just by aligning it to a segmentation model. At Iterable, we did make it fairly mandatory for enterprise sales deals to have a pre-assigned implementation consultant and customer success manager when they got to a certain stage within the selling motion. When they got to that stage, it would fire us a notice to have those assignments made. Then we had an internal catch up between sales and the post sales team. Then that culminated in typically a CS selling milestone where we would support or lead a customer success call with the prospect. So, yeah, I mean, in a long way to answer your question, we made it mandatory for enterprise. Then we gave sales reps the option to request somebody from customer success join a pre-sales call for mid-market. And then SMB, we didn't but just because we couldn't handle the volume of requests coming through.


Alex Kracov: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I always think like CSMs are actually sneaky the best salespeople at the company because they actually know the product. They don't come across salesy or whatever. So I'm sure salespeople just want to have a CSM on every call if they could. So it makes sense doing it by segment and things like that.


Eloise Salisbury: Obviously, I'm biased of course because I'm a customer success. But it was pretty well-known across the Iterable sales team that CS was their secret weapon, and they should be bringing them on to their calls from the middle of the deal once it was qualified.

How to Build a Customer Success Team

Alex Kracov: I'm curious how you think about building a customer success team just more broadly. Because I think there's a lot of different functions and things you've sort of touched on, right? There's scaled success onboarding. Maybe you segment CSMT, right? There's all these different things. And so I'm curious if there's a pattern that you found that's really successful. And now as the chief customer officer of Autogen, you maybe have a blank slate to sort of build yourself. How do you sort of think about that ideal structure? And maybe how does that evolve over time, too? Because I assume, for a startup, it's very different than a public company or whatever it is.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, it's a great question. I'm actually going through this right now. You mentioned I've just joined Autogen as their chief customer officer. I'm in my third week into the role, so I'm literally in the weeds of how do we design the kind of future state of customer success here and take what they've been phenomenal at building today and then really scale that out.


The truth is that it really depends on the organization. It depends on the segment that you're servicing within the market as to how you want to roll this out. But if we think about Autogen and then my previous company, Iterable, we serve the mid-market and enterprise. So I'll just preface this by saying those are the market segments that this model typically works well for. I've also worked at a company that was just all SMB. So we had a different model there, which I'm happy to go into maybe another time. So I'll focus on mid-market and enterprise.


Typically, there are three core functions within a customer success organization. The first is what I would call a professional services team. That team comprises of roles like an implementation team or onboarding, depending on the terminology you use. We also then have an education team. We did it at Iterable, and we will have at Autogen. Then typically, the third function within that function is anything that you need to support your product. At Iterable, we had deliverability consultants because we were doing a lot of email. At Autogen, we will likely have bid specialists or bid consultants within that team to support the area that our product is really strong in. So within professional services, that's typically how I think about it. I'm sure you can have multiple other ancillary functions, but those are the core ones.


The second big function within the customer success umbrella is your account management or your customer success team, the people who are the point person for a customer. Typically, we would then segment that function out into SMB, mid-market and enterprise. At Iterable, we had a fourth function across the CSM team which was our solutions architects. And so they could be brought into the conversation. That was primarily because Iterable was quite a technical product. So when our customers wanted to get really into the weeds and our CSMs had surpassed that knowledge bank, we'd bring in a technical resource. I've heard other companies who refer to them as TAMs. They support their CSMs. Then the third big function within customer success would be support. Typically, support supports your account manager, customer success team, and also your professional services team.

Customer Implementation

Alex Kracov: Awesome. Really, really good overview. I'm taking notes as you're talking, before I go deeper on all these questions and think about how we do this at Dock. Maybe we're starting with the professional services side and implementations. Can you talk about why an implementation is so important in the customer relationship, and maybe what goes into setting up a proper implementation? Like in your perfect state, what are you moving towards when it comes to implementation and onboarding new customers?


Eloise Salisbury: The first few months - and again, I'll preface by saying I'm talking primarily about products that suit mid-market and enterprise. You have longer learning curves within them. But those first few months are so, so critical to setting the foundation for the rest of the partnership. One, because you have that real incentive, right? They've just signed up. They're excited. There's a reason that they've bought your product. So you want to capitalize on that excitement and that willingness to engage. The second is that they have to learn how to use your product in order to adopt it in a way that you can then showcase value. So, really, the implementation is all about adoption and engagement. Typically, a team who is sort of focused and specialized on how to get the most out of the customer is kind of the right approach. Actually, at Iterable, we had forced attach for implementation packages. So we actually didn't let a customer sign up for our platform without purchasing an implementation package, because it was such an important part of the customer journey.


Alex Kracov: What does implementation look like? I'm always curious about the difference of, like, how much homework are you giving to the admins to set things up? Do you schedule calls? Do you anchor around a launch timeline? How do you sort of think about making sure, okay, they actually get the job done? Because I mean, we have this issue at Dock at times where it's like someone buys it, and then it's like, alright, let's get going. You got to do a little bit work. We'll help you, but you got to do some stuff. How do you think about that sort of push and pull of the work on the CSM or onboarding side versus the customer side?


Eloise Salisbury: There's two approaches that you can take. One is that you, as the provider, will do all of the heavy lifting, and you'll configure the product for the customer. The other option is that you, as the provider, play much more of a consultative role. The customer has to do the heavy lifting, the configuration, integration work. But you're there every step of the way telling them, "Okay. Now you do this. And here's what we recommend with that. This is the right documentation to look at." Within all of my previous roles and companies, we've all taken the latter approach of doing the more consultant-based implementation on onboarding. Interestingly, at Autogen, we actually do a hybrid where we do do some of their configuration. Then alongside that, we do consulting too.


But I think regardless of whether you have that kind of high touch or lower touch onboarding model, the most important thing is to sit down and plan out that customer journey. So right from the handover with sales to the graduation from implementation and handover to account management, what does that look like? If you can break it out into phases and ask yourself, what are the things that we want our customers to be doing within a certain timeframe, that helps you get that initial project plan/timeline together and also share some of this information with the customer in a pre-sales process, so they know what to expect.


But at the end of the day, you should be asking yourself, like, what does a customer of ours need to be doing to ensure that they are sticking in the product, that they see value in the service that we provide, and that coming out of implementation, there is a likelihood for them to renew? So those are sort of the questions I ask as I start defining that implementation timeline.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious how you think about what a successful implementation actually means. Is it a product milestone customer being like, "We're happy"? Is there a metric too that you're tracking, a timed implementation? How do you think about your implementation program in whether it's actually working or not?


Eloise Salisbury: It's such a good question, and I think it's a really difficult one for a lot of companies to get right. They know that they need to have an implementation journey and that customers need to go through implementation. But how you track the value you're driving and the effectiveness of that implementation is something that even today I still think about as I join each company.


We've taken different approaches at companies I've been at in the past. One of the approaches that we took for one of the very first companies that I led a customer success team for was, we looked at product features. We did a lot of investigation into what features demonstrate the highest stickiness effect. Then we broke our implementation out into, okay, these are the four top features. Are they using them? And only once they were using them did we graduate them from implementation. So that's one approach that we took.


At Iterable, because we're a cross-channel platform, for us, implementation was about getting the customer at parity to what they had been doing previously. Then the second half of our implementation was, how do we take them from that curl walk parity to running with our product? So that was how we judge implementations. We had a certain number of consulting hours that we would sell as a part of our implementation package. So a combination of consulting hours has been used. They're not just at parity, but they're now running was the kind of other part of our qualification requirements.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious. In either the implementation or just even the ongoing relationship, I always find there's this interesting balance of the admin persona, the person who's buying the tool, maybe setting it up, and then the actual end user. It was really distinct at Lattice where it was like there's the HR person who's buying it, and then all the employees are doing their performance reviews. Your role in marketing, maybe it's like a little more of the same. I know you were my CSM at Autopilot. That's how we know each other. I was both the end user and the admin, so it's funny. But yeah, I don't know. How do you think about that? Because it's something we struggle with at Dock: to sort of think through what is our motion for each. Because it's very different personas and what they need to know out of the product.


Eloise Salisbury: Definitely. I think you have to understand that for the implementation but also then post implementation, there are different engagement methods and levels for the account manager or the CSM. So within the implementation period, we typically identify in the kick-off call the certain personas that will be engaged with throughout the onboarding. What was really important for us at Iterable was that, in that kickoff call, we had the customer identify who in their team would be against each of those personas. So we had sort of the executive sponsor, then we had the marketing lead. We also had the TAP or the data lead as well. Then occasionally, depending on the organization, we would have an operations lead. And so we identified right at the outset who they were. Then within our implementation project plan and timeline, we associated different tasks with those personas so that it was super clear who was owning what. And we sort of had some success criteria in the background to make sure that those personas were engaged.


Post-implementation, I think what you said at the beginning is spot on, which is, hey, sometimes there's somebody in the organization that buys a tool. Then they're like, "Here you go. You're going to use this." There are then other people within the organization that actually use it in their day to day, provide us feedback. So for us, at Iterable, it was really important that we didn't lose sight of the person that was signing the contract and was the executive sponsor. But we also knew that the metrics that we shared with them, the meetings that we pulled them into, were going to be slightly different to the day-to-day users.


So we worked with this really fantastic consultancy company called Corporate Visions. One of the best things that we rolled out with them was this concept of a triple metric. So if you think about a pyramid and then there's three different layers of that pyramid, the day-to-day users of your tool are at the bottom. Then you need to identify the KPIs that they're tracking and they care about. Then you do the same for that mid layer of management at the company. Then at the top of the pyramid is the execs. Then we linked how the KPIs from the day-to-day users would roll up to the middle management and then up to the execs. We made sure that during various different touch points in the customer lifecycle, that we were speaking to the relevant triple metric depending on the audience.


Alex Kracov: I love that visualization. That's awesome. And for that foundation group, that end-user group, how do you think about the touch point? Are you working through your champion, the admin, and giving them resources for them to share with the folks? Or do you feel like wherever companies selling the services should do trainings directly? How do you think about that relationship with those end users? Or is it all maybe scaled successes? Another answer. And it's like, hey, end users go here. Watch these videos.


Eloise Salisbury: Again, I'd say it's very dependent on the segment. But for mid-market, we used to have monthly check ins with day-to-day users. And if they needed to meet with us more than that, we were super flexible. But the average was a monthly check in. Then we had a quarterly check in. Sometimes, we'd move it to six-month check ins or bi-annual with our exec stakeholders. So that was our typical engagement model in mid-market. In enterprise, we had weekly or bi-weekly calls with the day-to-day users. Then we would typically schedule monthly, like separate monthly calls, with our executive sponsors. And yes, to a certain extent, we wanted to make sure that our day-to-day users were able to feed up to the business what they were working on the value that they had derived from our product. But it was also important that we were sharing that higher level triple metric with the exec sponsor when we met with them on either a QBR or on a monthly basis.

The State of Customer Success

Alex Kracov: Awesome. I'm curious how you think about the state of customer success right now. Because I think it's going through - I don't know. Identity crisis might be strong, but it's calling different things, right? It's like customer success, relationship management, account management. I see orgs doing all these different things. I'm curious, like, what's your take on what is the role of a customer success team? What should we call it today? How do you think about where are we at as an industry?


Eloise Salisbury: If we had another hour just to talk about that topic, then that would be grand. I think there's, at least in my mind, these two major shifts that are happening within customer success. I see them at sort of both ends of the spectrum when we talk about segmenting out your customer base. One shift I'm seeing is this movement towards customer success teams being a lot more commercially focused than they have in the past. Interestingly enough, I've always worked in a customer success function where we were commercially-driven, where we had not only the renewal but also upsell, cross-sell expansion. So I've always had a target within any company that I've worked in. But that wasn't the norm when I started out in customer success. It was a lot more relationship management. You had your sales teams still managing the commercial side of the relationship.


What we're seeing now is that more and more companies are moving their customer success teams to not only focus on the relationship side but also on the commercial. There's a couple of reasons for that. One is that they have the continuity of the relationship. They know the account inside and out. Selling should be about value-based selling and not this transactional element that comes around once a year. But the other thought process behind this is that sales teams need to be out there focusing on the net new revenue and new logos. There's a lot of commercial sense in leveraging your existing customer success team to manage the existing install base. So it's an interesting one, because I've always been commercially-focused. But I'm seeing more and more teams are leaning towards that direction. For CSMs, in particular, that commercial skill set is becoming a lot more valuable when they go and interview for new roles because it's just so much more prevalent.


On the other side of the spectrum, I think what's super interesting is how AI is playing a role in this kind of one-to-many customer success at scale model. I'm selfishly now working for a generative AI company. I'm super passionate about the fact that people that succeed in the future will be the people who know how to use AI. So it's really interesting to see how AI can be used in the customer success journey for that smaller segment.

AI in Customer Success

Alex Kracov: All right. I got to talk about AI because you brought it up. Do you think it'll be - is it just like customer support sort of goes away, and you'll just have these AI chat bots? You'll just have much smaller teams? I forget. Was it Klarna, that company who came out and was like, we reduce, right? I mean, that was a pretty crazy story. Do you think, will it go beyond customer support, is maybe my bigger question? I see it obviously impacting there. But do you think it can even help more with what a CSM relationship manager did? Is that kind of how you think about it?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, I think there are so many different applications for AI. The obvious application is, oh, it'll replace humans. And instead, you'll have chat bots. Sure, that's definitely one way that you could go about it. I mean, I'm seeing it tons in products, where previously you would have just submitted a ticket to a support agent, or maybe you would have started a live chat. And now, instead, you'll go into a chat bot, and they're trying to figure out the question you're asking and pushing you information. So there's practical applications like that. But I think, for me, where I'm most interested in it is that AI has the ability to reduce a lot of that repetitive, menial tasks that fills up a lot of time for a customer success manager, especially someone who's managing 50, 60, 80 accounts. And so what I'm hoping that it does is it helps us get to the answers quicker and know where we need to focus our time. So if AI could help draft an email that I then tweak once it had identified that there was an account at risk and that's where I needed to focus, that would be ideal. I don't necessarily think that it should replace humans. I think it should just free humans up to do the stuff that really matters.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious. As we're talking about technology, do you believe in customer health scores? Because I could see AI playing a role and maybe helping craft those and make them even better than they are? Is that like a tool that you use to sort of manage your book of business?


Eloise Salisbury: Definitely. Again, I think it all comes back to helping to identify where there is a risk that should be prioritized. Or, interestingly, for health scores, you can also use them to identify who are your top cohort or who are most likely to grow with your business. And so you can then prioritize not necessarily a safe play, but actually going in and growing that account because they've got potential. So yes, I love the health score. How you create one is probably, again, a much wider and longer conversation. It's been different at every company that I've been a part of. But it was one of the big initiatives that I was leading at Iterable last year. It was to double down on our customer health score and look at how they were using the product, as well as how they were engaging with us and what the relationship was like. Excitingly, it's also a project that we're kicking off with here at AutogenAI as well.


Alex Kracov: Nice. I'm curious. Do customer success teams need a customer success platform? There are so many of these now like Gainsight, Vitally, all of these. Is that a thing that you think about at Autogen, like, you need one of those? Do you run out of the CRM? How do you think about the value of those platforms?


Eloise Salisbury: Such a good question. I do like some sort of customer success platform. I think the caveat to that though is, I don't like it when it's separate to the rest of the tool stack. When I was at Iterable and actually my previous company as well, because Salesforce was our CRM, we used Gainsight because it just kind of naturally sat on top of Salesforce. And whilst I think that there is a lot you can get out of Gainsight, it's expensive. You really need somebody who knows Gainsight inside and out who can help you to make the most of everything it's capable of. But it was really great for us because it sat on top of Salesforce. And so there was just one place that sales reps, CSMs, there was one place that execs could look at. Then we also built our reporting within Salesforce that was able to pull from Gainsight.


Interestingly, though, at Iterable, we decided about a year ago that we were going to move off with Gainsight. Gainsight sort of forced us to upgrade to their new science-y platform. So we had to go through a reimplementation of Gainsight anyway, and we used that as an opportunity to say, "Right. Well, what else is out in the market if we're going to have to re-implement?" We went for a much smaller tool called Catalyst. That was interesting to see how we migrated to that, what the adoption was like. I guess the downside to going with something like that is that it was a separate login. We were still using Salesforce to do all of our CRM deal management. But then, we were going into a separate tool to do the relationship side of things. So it has to fit seamlessly into your stack. Otherwise, CSMs are not going to want to log into multiple different platforms. They already have a ton of admin to do.


But yeah, I just joined AutogenAI. We're using HubSpot. So it's been interesting to get to grips with how we could turn a CRM like HubSpot into something that our CS team can utilize. But some tool to help you track and identify where to spend your time is absolutely necessary.

Joining AutogenAI

Alex Kracov: I'd love to talk a little bit more about AutogenAI. So you joined as the chief customer officer. Can you talk a little bit about what is the company? Why did you join? Then we'll kind of go from there.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. AutogenAI is a generative AI platform. We're actually the UK's fastest-growing generative AI company, which is pretty cool. I wanted to be at the forefront of something new, and so I feel like I definitely found a good spot for that. Right now, AutogenAI's primary target market is bid writers. So we want to harness cutting-edge AI and language-learning models for the bid and proposal writing space. Ultimately, our aim is to kind of be like the Excel of bid writing. I think we're 18 months in, so we got a bit of a way to go. But it's super exciting to be in this generative AI space.


Alex Kracov: Very cool. I know you're like three weeks in, but I'm curious how you just think about your first 30, 60, 90 days at a new company. What's your mentality? What are you doing? Because I'm sure it's overwhelming. You got to learn a new product, meet new people, all this stuff. How do you think about that challenge as you start at a new company?


Eloise Salisbury: I mean, I'm not going to lie. It's hard, right? Because you start somewhere, especially in a leadership role. And just this kind of influx of information and your to-do list gets as long as it has ever been before. I did sit down sort of the week before I started it at Autogen. I tried to put a little bit of process behind how I would tackle my first 30, 60, 90 days. The way that I typically like to think about it is kind of these four areas that I want to understand and dig into. One of them is people. The second is process. The third is product. Then the fourth is portfolio. So we had this quadrant plan. Then within each of those, I just dotted out the most important things that I wanted to understand.


People is going to be things like talent within the team, hiring plans for the rest of the year and how we think about headcount. It's also going to be things like, what's the culture and the norms across the team? How do we do performance management? How do we think about development plans? Within process, the big one there for me is the customer journey. So do we have it mapped out? What are each of the key milestones and the processes that support them? But then you get into other things, like, how do we work with product? What are our rules of engagement with sales? So there's a lot when you scratch beneath the surface of process. Then product is probably the easiest of the four which is just, what does our roadmap look like? How do we surface feature requests from customers to our product team? Then portfolio is like a meaty part of the first 90 days. Just understanding our customers. Where is the risk? Who are our personas and our profiles, right through to, do we have a customer advisory board? How are we engaging execs across our portfolio?


So there is a lot. But that helps me to at least bucket my thought areas. Then, of course, all of that goes out the window the first day you start. Everyone's like, "Hey, we need you on this. This is a really big initiative." So I then have a laundry list underneath of initiatives that I just keep adding too. Then every couple of days, I just reprioritize, strikethrough the ones I've done, bulbs, the initiatives that are in motion. Yeah, so it's a lot of admin.


Alex Kracov: That's a really good framework. I think what's so important too when you start at a company is like you got to manage up and show other people what you're working on and show, "Hey, here's how I'm thinking through this problem." And so I really love, like, I would call the three P's framework, I guess. Yeah, it's a really good one.


Eloise Salisbury: I hate starting a new job only because I'm used to being an expert. I'm used to if someone asks me a question, I know the answer, or I know that customer inside and out. And so I get a lot of anxiety going into new roles. Because I want to add value from day one, but I know that the reality of me being able to do that is unlikely because there's just so much I need to learn.

Founding Women in SaaS (WISe)

Alex Kracov: So you're the founder of an amazing organization, Women in SaaS, also known as WISe. Can you talk about the origin story behind this organization?


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, I get so much joy out of this organization. I've been really fortunate enough to live and work in some pretty amazing tech hubs. I started my career in London, but then I moved back home to Sydney, Australia where I worked in sort of the loyalty marketing SaaS space for five years. Then I moved. My husband and I moved to San Francisco where we lived and worked for five years before coming back to London sort of full circle.


Two things about my career have always stood out to me. One is, I've found particularly as a woman in tech to be somewhat isolating. I think when I started in tech, one, I was the only person in my friendship group that had a tech job. Because it just wasn't really considered to be something that a lot of women went into. And two, no one in my family was in tech. So even today, I'm not sure that my parents really understand what I do. And so there just weren't that many people that I could talk to about what I was experiencing or how I would progress my career. And so I did find it so isolating and lonely. That's been a pretty common trend throughout my career in tech, especially as you get higher, I think, on the leadership ladder. I was quite young when I got into leadership roles, so that was also a bit of a barrier for me.


But then, the second thing that has been important or noticeable across my career is, when I was in Sydney and in San Francisco, there were a lot of groups for women in tech or entrepreneurs. I used to go to a lot of those events and meet other people that I didn't get a chance to meet in my friendship group or in the office. And so that was such a nice experience. I learned a lot from going to those events. Then I moved back to London, and I searched really hard for women in tech groups or meetups that I could go to, like I would frequent in San Francisco, and nothing really jumped out at me. So I decided, well, why not start a women in SaaS organization in London? And really, what we're aimed at is allowing people to network but also have conversations that maybe they haven't felt comfortable having as a woman in a technology company. So things like, how do you talk about maternity leave, or impostor syndrome, or the pay gap? How do you gain skills on how to negotiate for an awesome package when you go into a new role? Things like that just aren't really spoken about in your own company. Because you think, well, as soon as I have that conversation, a red flag is going to go off somewhere within your manager or your HR department. And that's going to negatively impact my career progression. So yeah, it's just about creating that space where you can have those conversations. You can learn from other incredible women, and also network and find a mentor.


Alex Kracov: I mean, you've had an amazing career in technology and also a woman. I'm curious, what advice would you give to maybe a younger version of yourself? And more broadly, just a young woman who's coming out of college or something, what advice would you give to her to sort of have a thriving career in technology?


Eloise Salisbury: I think the biggest thing for me - I talk a lot to a lot of women about this - is I suffered, and I still do today with very bad imposter syndrome. I often thought early on in my career that this was something I should never talk about, and that the best thing to do was just to fake it till I made it. I actually think that there is a lot of value in being authentic, showing your vulnerable side. As a leader, that's actually how I generated the most fulfilling relationships with my team. It's through showing that vulnerable side. So I just wish that I had put my hand up more, asked for a little bit of help, and not just internalized that impostor syndrome feeling and then worked my ass off until midnight every night trying to learn everything that I thought I should know that I didn't.


I can't remember. It might even be Steve Jobs. But somebody once said, like, you don't want to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, find another room. Honestly, that always sticks with me. Because you should be surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do in different areas, because that's how you learn. So it's okay not to have all of the answers. I think if I could go back and give myself some advice, it would probably be, like, don't be afraid to be yourself. Ask for help. And it's okay if you don't have all the answers.


Alex Kracov: I think that's an awesome place to end it. Thank you so much today for the wonderful conversation, El. It was really fun.


Eloise Salisbury: Thank you, Alex. It has been so awesome reconnecting in this way. So I really appreciate it.


Alex Kracov: Awesome.

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Customer Success Programs at Iterable & AutogenAI with Eloise Salisbury

June 10, 2024

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Episode Summary

Eloise Salisbury has built her career leading customer success teams at Autopilot HQ (now Ortto) and Iterable, before joining AutogenAI as their Chief Customer Officer.

She also co-founded Women in SaaS — a London-based group for women in tech leadership roles.

What does it take to build an enterprise-level customer success program?

Eloise Salisbury, Chief Customer Officer at AutogenAI, joins us this week to break down what she learned scaling Iterable's customer success program.

Eloise joined Iterable, a cross-channel marketing enablement platform, after their Series B.

In her five years with the company, she scaled their CS to an international audience, introduced an enterprise CS and implementation track, which ultimately helped the company grow to a $2 billion valuation.

In today’s episode, Alex and Eloise discuss:

  • how to build mid-market and enterprise CS teams
  • what makes an ideal CS/sales relationship
  • how she's approaching the first 90 days at AutogenAI
  • why she founded Women in Saas (and her advice for women in tech leadership)

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Transcript

Joining Iterable

Alex Kracov: I'd love to start today's conversation talking about when you sort of first joined Iterable. I believe you joined right after around the Series C. So it must have been a time of extreme hyper growth. Can you talk a little bit about what Iterable was like when you joined?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. So I joined Iterable back in January of 2019. Actually, at that time, they had just gone through their Series B. Then about two months after I joined, they went through their Series C. We raised about $50 million from memory. So I definitely joined at a period of hyper growth. And just to kind of put that into perspective, when I left Iterable about five years later, this February, we did our Series E in 2021. So 200 million, and we had about a $2 billion valuation. So you can kind of see from joining to, not even when I ended there, but midway through how quickly we grew.


Alex Kracov: Can you give the audiences a little context on like what is Iterable, and who's the customer that Iterable serves?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. So Iterable is a cross-channel marketing automation platform. And really, at its core, we enable our customers to create what we feel joyful experiences at scale. In terms of the customer that Iterable serves, I'd say primarily data-driven b2c companies and really anyone who's looking to create a cross-channel experience. So we're talking sort of email, mobile, SMS. In terms of the profile or an example, I guess SeatGeek jumps to mind. They consolidated all of their push and email interactions into Iterable. Another customer would be Care.com. One of our flagship brands over in EMEA, which was the region that I led, would be Wolt. So we actually supported their b2c app. We also supported their couriers and their merchants. So you can kind of see that full suite of product offerings going through the platform.


Alex Kracov: Very cool. What was the state of the customer success team when you first joined? They have a CS team, I assume. There was like a smaller team that you were sort of, alright, you got to start leading and grow.


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, so I actually joined Iterable for multiple reasons. But one of the reasons was they had, about a year before I joined, hired a phenomenal customer success leader called Krishna Reddy. Krishna and I had worked at a previous company together. I've always really admired the types of customer success organizations that he created. So when I had the opportunity to rejoin a team of his, I sort of jumped at it. But at the time, so again, back to early 2019, I think the customer success team was largely 20 people. There were two functions at the time. Iterable customer success started from a support role. So the very first function they had in the business was technical support. Then they introduced customer success managers, but a lot of the CSMs came from the technical support team and were sort of promoted up or moved into a CS function. So you had a very technical customer success management team when I joined.


Alex Kracov: And then were you focused on more of the relationship side and more of the strategic customer success? Like, Krishna is running this org. What part of the org did you sort of take over and start running yourself?


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, so I'll be transparent and say when I was looking for a new opportunity, there wasn't actually a role for me at Iterable. I think Krishna does a really good job of bringing good talent into the business and figuring out where they fit. So I didn't go in with a specific purpose. But I did go in, and there were two very critical initiatives that I ran or had to run over from the moment I joined. One was to spin up Iterable's online e-learning academy. I'd done that in a previous role. So I kind of built it from scratch. Very embarrassingly, I remember sitting in a dark room for all hours of the day recording these online videos. Then unbeknownst to me, in the future, every single person that joined Iterable also had to go through the academy. So I became very-


Alex Kracov: You're famous.


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, and my voice became very well-known. But that was one of my primary sort of areas of responsibility when I joined. Then the second was that we were very quickly growing an international customer base. Iterable, when it was founded, was solely sort of focused and based in the US. But over the course of the first few years, we just organically grown a bit of a following internationally. And we weren't able to provide those international customers with the same level of support that we provided our US-based customers, purely because we weren't in the same time zone as them. So the second set of big priority initiative that I dug into was how we would roll out that international customer success team. That ended with me moving to London in September of 2019 to launch Iterable's first international office, which was our London office.

Building Iterable's eLearning Academy

Alex Kracov: Very cool. I want to talk about each of these different programs you worked on. First, with the online e-learning academy, what was the strategy behind that? Why was that so important for Iterable to sort of launch something like that?


Eloise Salisbury: I guess two primary reasons. And I'm sure there's many others. But the two primary for me were, one, we were just thinking about spinning up an implementation/onboarding team. And so we wanted to be able to provide our customers with a foundational e-learning course that they could run through that would support then us having on-hand, real-time implementation specialists working with them. So to take a little bit of that load, that initial foundational learning load off of the implementation team.


Then the second reason - and I think this is probably true of most SaaS companies that look to have an academy - is that our product was just growing, and we were adding new features and optimizing features on a weekly basis. And so we wanted to make sure that as our customers expanded their teams, that new people who maybe didn't go through implementation could get up to speed on our product really quickly. But equally, as we launched new features or optimized existing ones, that we were able to push out in a one-to-many fashion education that enabled our customers to be able to use that new feature set.


Alex Kracov: It's a really great example of when I think of scaled customer success, which I feel like has become this giant trend within the industry. Okay. How do you just give your customers more on-demand learning? I think I learned how to use Webflow, and they had amazing resources. I could figure out and just pull from there, as opposed to talking to real humans. It must save the company money, and it makes the customers happy. And so it's like sort of a win-win. It's sort of how I think about programs like that.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because people learn in so many different ways. Some people just love being able to log on to an e-learning system in their own time, start and stop training when they have 15, 20 minutes to do so. Other people hate it, right? They much prefer speaking to a real person on the other end of a Zoom or a phone call. So just being able to provide the differentiated ways of learning was also really important to us.

Growing an International Customer Base

Alex Kracov: So you're tasked with growing the international customer base, or at least managing this growing international customer base. What was that experience like behind the scenes? Was there already an existing book of business? It's like, "El, move to London. Go deal with them." Could you kind of take us behind that story?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it was a bit of both, to be honest. We actually had a CSM in our San Francisco office who worked primarily with our EMEA customers. Luckily, for us, he sort of put up his hand and said, "Hey, I'd love to spend a year in London." So when I moved out to open the office, we brought out a US-based CSM, the person I was just talking about. Also, we extended a six-month contract to somebody in our technical support team.


The idea was always to bring out resources from the US temporarily in the UK who knew our product, had worked with those customers in the past, whilst we then hired locally. What that meant for me is that I spent a lot of my time hiring. But the other thing that I also had to do, just as pretty typical I think in high growth companies, is I personally took over the bulk of our enterprise customer base in our EMEA market just to make sure that they received that top level of service. Then my number one priority was hiring an enterprise CSM.


Alex Kracov: When you think about managing that book of business, like this enterprise customer base, I'd love to know what were you doing. What were those jobs to be done? Was it focusing more on onboarding new enterprise customers? Was it managing existing relationships? How do you sort of think about where to spend your time with those customers?


Eloise Salisbury: It was a little bit of everything. Because we already had an existing customer base. And so those customers needed immediate account management, and I jumped right into the middle. I remember at the time being relatively new to Iterable myself. I'm just getting on these calls with customers that had been with us for sort of two years and thinking they're going to know I'm a fraud. They know way more than I do. But in a way, it got me up to speed on the product really, really quickly. So I think it was definitely a blessing in disguise. So it was a portion of the enterprise book of business that was there existing jumped right into the middle.


Then we also put in place a BDR and an account executive into the London office. So the other part of my role was getting really involved in the sales cycle to sort of showcase how we work with customers, and also showcase why customer success was a real differentiator at Iterable. Then, of course, once those customers signed, it was very much, yes, making sure we were onboarding them from the US but that they had a UK presence that would shadow that onboarding. So I did a lot of that myself of the first couple of months.

The Role of CS in the Sales Cycle

Alex Kracov: I'm curious. Do you enjoy joining sales calls and sort of saying what CS can do? Now I know you're running customer success at Autogen. Do you plan to do that sort of thing as well there? How do you sort of think about the role of CS in that sales cycle?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, honestly, I love partnering with sales. Whenever I join a new organization, a big part of the qualification that I do is, who are the sales leaders? What would it be like to work with them? But customer success doesn't start, at least in my wind, when somebody signs a contract. I typically go into pre-sales calls and say that: you're thinking about investing heavily in our product, but you're also going to be investing heavily in the people that sit behind and support the product. So whilst it's really important for you to go through the sales motion with technical consultants and talk about commercials, it's also really important that you understand and put a face to the name of the team that will be helping you onboard and see value. So for me, that's always where I get inserted into the sales cycle. I hate coming in as the final call too. My preference is to come in sort of midway through. Once they've done the technical validation, we know that we have a product that can support them, and then to be able to share a bit more about customer success.


Typically, with the customer success organizations that I create, I also do really CS as a core differentiator to other players in the market. So getting that across in the sales cycle is really important. You want to make sure that there's a continuation of relationship, understanding from sales to post sales. So getting CS involved in the sale itself is just critical to ensuring a crossover. So, yeah, if you can't tell, I love getting involved. I will happily join any sales call, provided we've done the technical validation. It's a big part of the enablement that I do with my team. And also, the initiatives that we run is how do we collaborate with sales.


Alex Kracov: Do you take it as far as almost like requiring a CSM join a sales call before the deal can actually close? I'm curious how you think about the sales to CX handoff, which is like notorious in SaaS and that always goes poorly. I think when it goes poorly, it's like, "Oh, here's your notes. Go deal with the new customer." But it sounds like just by getting earlier involved, you can solve a lot of those problems. So do you mandate that? Or are there times where you're still like just reading the notes in Salesforce and got to figure it out? How do you think about that handoff?


Eloise Salisbury: So in an ideal world, yes, you'd get CS involved in every qualified sales deal that you think has a high likelihood to close. The reality is that if we did that, though, that would just be our job. Right? So the way that I tend to think about it is just by aligning it to a segmentation model. At Iterable, we did make it fairly mandatory for enterprise sales deals to have a pre-assigned implementation consultant and customer success manager when they got to a certain stage within the selling motion. When they got to that stage, it would fire us a notice to have those assignments made. Then we had an internal catch up between sales and the post sales team. Then that culminated in typically a CS selling milestone where we would support or lead a customer success call with the prospect. So, yeah, I mean, in a long way to answer your question, we made it mandatory for enterprise. Then we gave sales reps the option to request somebody from customer success join a pre-sales call for mid-market. And then SMB, we didn't but just because we couldn't handle the volume of requests coming through.


Alex Kracov: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I always think like CSMs are actually sneaky the best salespeople at the company because they actually know the product. They don't come across salesy or whatever. So I'm sure salespeople just want to have a CSM on every call if they could. So it makes sense doing it by segment and things like that.


Eloise Salisbury: Obviously, I'm biased of course because I'm a customer success. But it was pretty well-known across the Iterable sales team that CS was their secret weapon, and they should be bringing them on to their calls from the middle of the deal once it was qualified.

How to Build a Customer Success Team

Alex Kracov: I'm curious how you think about building a customer success team just more broadly. Because I think there's a lot of different functions and things you've sort of touched on, right? There's scaled success onboarding. Maybe you segment CSMT, right? There's all these different things. And so I'm curious if there's a pattern that you found that's really successful. And now as the chief customer officer of Autogen, you maybe have a blank slate to sort of build yourself. How do you sort of think about that ideal structure? And maybe how does that evolve over time, too? Because I assume, for a startup, it's very different than a public company or whatever it is.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, it's a great question. I'm actually going through this right now. You mentioned I've just joined Autogen as their chief customer officer. I'm in my third week into the role, so I'm literally in the weeds of how do we design the kind of future state of customer success here and take what they've been phenomenal at building today and then really scale that out.


The truth is that it really depends on the organization. It depends on the segment that you're servicing within the market as to how you want to roll this out. But if we think about Autogen and then my previous company, Iterable, we serve the mid-market and enterprise. So I'll just preface this by saying those are the market segments that this model typically works well for. I've also worked at a company that was just all SMB. So we had a different model there, which I'm happy to go into maybe another time. So I'll focus on mid-market and enterprise.


Typically, there are three core functions within a customer success organization. The first is what I would call a professional services team. That team comprises of roles like an implementation team or onboarding, depending on the terminology you use. We also then have an education team. We did it at Iterable, and we will have at Autogen. Then typically, the third function within that function is anything that you need to support your product. At Iterable, we had deliverability consultants because we were doing a lot of email. At Autogen, we will likely have bid specialists or bid consultants within that team to support the area that our product is really strong in. So within professional services, that's typically how I think about it. I'm sure you can have multiple other ancillary functions, but those are the core ones.


The second big function within the customer success umbrella is your account management or your customer success team, the people who are the point person for a customer. Typically, we would then segment that function out into SMB, mid-market and enterprise. At Iterable, we had a fourth function across the CSM team which was our solutions architects. And so they could be brought into the conversation. That was primarily because Iterable was quite a technical product. So when our customers wanted to get really into the weeds and our CSMs had surpassed that knowledge bank, we'd bring in a technical resource. I've heard other companies who refer to them as TAMs. They support their CSMs. Then the third big function within customer success would be support. Typically, support supports your account manager, customer success team, and also your professional services team.

Customer Implementation

Alex Kracov: Awesome. Really, really good overview. I'm taking notes as you're talking, before I go deeper on all these questions and think about how we do this at Dock. Maybe we're starting with the professional services side and implementations. Can you talk about why an implementation is so important in the customer relationship, and maybe what goes into setting up a proper implementation? Like in your perfect state, what are you moving towards when it comes to implementation and onboarding new customers?


Eloise Salisbury: The first few months - and again, I'll preface by saying I'm talking primarily about products that suit mid-market and enterprise. You have longer learning curves within them. But those first few months are so, so critical to setting the foundation for the rest of the partnership. One, because you have that real incentive, right? They've just signed up. They're excited. There's a reason that they've bought your product. So you want to capitalize on that excitement and that willingness to engage. The second is that they have to learn how to use your product in order to adopt it in a way that you can then showcase value. So, really, the implementation is all about adoption and engagement. Typically, a team who is sort of focused and specialized on how to get the most out of the customer is kind of the right approach. Actually, at Iterable, we had forced attach for implementation packages. So we actually didn't let a customer sign up for our platform without purchasing an implementation package, because it was such an important part of the customer journey.


Alex Kracov: What does implementation look like? I'm always curious about the difference of, like, how much homework are you giving to the admins to set things up? Do you schedule calls? Do you anchor around a launch timeline? How do you sort of think about making sure, okay, they actually get the job done? Because I mean, we have this issue at Dock at times where it's like someone buys it, and then it's like, alright, let's get going. You got to do a little bit work. We'll help you, but you got to do some stuff. How do you think about that sort of push and pull of the work on the CSM or onboarding side versus the customer side?


Eloise Salisbury: There's two approaches that you can take. One is that you, as the provider, will do all of the heavy lifting, and you'll configure the product for the customer. The other option is that you, as the provider, play much more of a consultative role. The customer has to do the heavy lifting, the configuration, integration work. But you're there every step of the way telling them, "Okay. Now you do this. And here's what we recommend with that. This is the right documentation to look at." Within all of my previous roles and companies, we've all taken the latter approach of doing the more consultant-based implementation on onboarding. Interestingly, at Autogen, we actually do a hybrid where we do do some of their configuration. Then alongside that, we do consulting too.


But I think regardless of whether you have that kind of high touch or lower touch onboarding model, the most important thing is to sit down and plan out that customer journey. So right from the handover with sales to the graduation from implementation and handover to account management, what does that look like? If you can break it out into phases and ask yourself, what are the things that we want our customers to be doing within a certain timeframe, that helps you get that initial project plan/timeline together and also share some of this information with the customer in a pre-sales process, so they know what to expect.


But at the end of the day, you should be asking yourself, like, what does a customer of ours need to be doing to ensure that they are sticking in the product, that they see value in the service that we provide, and that coming out of implementation, there is a likelihood for them to renew? So those are sort of the questions I ask as I start defining that implementation timeline.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious how you think about what a successful implementation actually means. Is it a product milestone customer being like, "We're happy"? Is there a metric too that you're tracking, a timed implementation? How do you think about your implementation program in whether it's actually working or not?


Eloise Salisbury: It's such a good question, and I think it's a really difficult one for a lot of companies to get right. They know that they need to have an implementation journey and that customers need to go through implementation. But how you track the value you're driving and the effectiveness of that implementation is something that even today I still think about as I join each company.


We've taken different approaches at companies I've been at in the past. One of the approaches that we took for one of the very first companies that I led a customer success team for was, we looked at product features. We did a lot of investigation into what features demonstrate the highest stickiness effect. Then we broke our implementation out into, okay, these are the four top features. Are they using them? And only once they were using them did we graduate them from implementation. So that's one approach that we took.


At Iterable, because we're a cross-channel platform, for us, implementation was about getting the customer at parity to what they had been doing previously. Then the second half of our implementation was, how do we take them from that curl walk parity to running with our product? So that was how we judge implementations. We had a certain number of consulting hours that we would sell as a part of our implementation package. So a combination of consulting hours has been used. They're not just at parity, but they're now running was the kind of other part of our qualification requirements.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious. In either the implementation or just even the ongoing relationship, I always find there's this interesting balance of the admin persona, the person who's buying the tool, maybe setting it up, and then the actual end user. It was really distinct at Lattice where it was like there's the HR person who's buying it, and then all the employees are doing their performance reviews. Your role in marketing, maybe it's like a little more of the same. I know you were my CSM at Autopilot. That's how we know each other. I was both the end user and the admin, so it's funny. But yeah, I don't know. How do you think about that? Because it's something we struggle with at Dock: to sort of think through what is our motion for each. Because it's very different personas and what they need to know out of the product.


Eloise Salisbury: Definitely. I think you have to understand that for the implementation but also then post implementation, there are different engagement methods and levels for the account manager or the CSM. So within the implementation period, we typically identify in the kick-off call the certain personas that will be engaged with throughout the onboarding. What was really important for us at Iterable was that, in that kickoff call, we had the customer identify who in their team would be against each of those personas. So we had sort of the executive sponsor, then we had the marketing lead. We also had the TAP or the data lead as well. Then occasionally, depending on the organization, we would have an operations lead. And so we identified right at the outset who they were. Then within our implementation project plan and timeline, we associated different tasks with those personas so that it was super clear who was owning what. And we sort of had some success criteria in the background to make sure that those personas were engaged.


Post-implementation, I think what you said at the beginning is spot on, which is, hey, sometimes there's somebody in the organization that buys a tool. Then they're like, "Here you go. You're going to use this." There are then other people within the organization that actually use it in their day to day, provide us feedback. So for us, at Iterable, it was really important that we didn't lose sight of the person that was signing the contract and was the executive sponsor. But we also knew that the metrics that we shared with them, the meetings that we pulled them into, were going to be slightly different to the day-to-day users.


So we worked with this really fantastic consultancy company called Corporate Visions. One of the best things that we rolled out with them was this concept of a triple metric. So if you think about a pyramid and then there's three different layers of that pyramid, the day-to-day users of your tool are at the bottom. Then you need to identify the KPIs that they're tracking and they care about. Then you do the same for that mid layer of management at the company. Then at the top of the pyramid is the execs. Then we linked how the KPIs from the day-to-day users would roll up to the middle management and then up to the execs. We made sure that during various different touch points in the customer lifecycle, that we were speaking to the relevant triple metric depending on the audience.


Alex Kracov: I love that visualization. That's awesome. And for that foundation group, that end-user group, how do you think about the touch point? Are you working through your champion, the admin, and giving them resources for them to share with the folks? Or do you feel like wherever companies selling the services should do trainings directly? How do you think about that relationship with those end users? Or is it all maybe scaled successes? Another answer. And it's like, hey, end users go here. Watch these videos.


Eloise Salisbury: Again, I'd say it's very dependent on the segment. But for mid-market, we used to have monthly check ins with day-to-day users. And if they needed to meet with us more than that, we were super flexible. But the average was a monthly check in. Then we had a quarterly check in. Sometimes, we'd move it to six-month check ins or bi-annual with our exec stakeholders. So that was our typical engagement model in mid-market. In enterprise, we had weekly or bi-weekly calls with the day-to-day users. Then we would typically schedule monthly, like separate monthly calls, with our executive sponsors. And yes, to a certain extent, we wanted to make sure that our day-to-day users were able to feed up to the business what they were working on the value that they had derived from our product. But it was also important that we were sharing that higher level triple metric with the exec sponsor when we met with them on either a QBR or on a monthly basis.

The State of Customer Success

Alex Kracov: Awesome. I'm curious how you think about the state of customer success right now. Because I think it's going through - I don't know. Identity crisis might be strong, but it's calling different things, right? It's like customer success, relationship management, account management. I see orgs doing all these different things. I'm curious, like, what's your take on what is the role of a customer success team? What should we call it today? How do you think about where are we at as an industry?


Eloise Salisbury: If we had another hour just to talk about that topic, then that would be grand. I think there's, at least in my mind, these two major shifts that are happening within customer success. I see them at sort of both ends of the spectrum when we talk about segmenting out your customer base. One shift I'm seeing is this movement towards customer success teams being a lot more commercially focused than they have in the past. Interestingly enough, I've always worked in a customer success function where we were commercially-driven, where we had not only the renewal but also upsell, cross-sell expansion. So I've always had a target within any company that I've worked in. But that wasn't the norm when I started out in customer success. It was a lot more relationship management. You had your sales teams still managing the commercial side of the relationship.


What we're seeing now is that more and more companies are moving their customer success teams to not only focus on the relationship side but also on the commercial. There's a couple of reasons for that. One is that they have the continuity of the relationship. They know the account inside and out. Selling should be about value-based selling and not this transactional element that comes around once a year. But the other thought process behind this is that sales teams need to be out there focusing on the net new revenue and new logos. There's a lot of commercial sense in leveraging your existing customer success team to manage the existing install base. So it's an interesting one, because I've always been commercially-focused. But I'm seeing more and more teams are leaning towards that direction. For CSMs, in particular, that commercial skill set is becoming a lot more valuable when they go and interview for new roles because it's just so much more prevalent.


On the other side of the spectrum, I think what's super interesting is how AI is playing a role in this kind of one-to-many customer success at scale model. I'm selfishly now working for a generative AI company. I'm super passionate about the fact that people that succeed in the future will be the people who know how to use AI. So it's really interesting to see how AI can be used in the customer success journey for that smaller segment.

AI in Customer Success

Alex Kracov: All right. I got to talk about AI because you brought it up. Do you think it'll be - is it just like customer support sort of goes away, and you'll just have these AI chat bots? You'll just have much smaller teams? I forget. Was it Klarna, that company who came out and was like, we reduce, right? I mean, that was a pretty crazy story. Do you think, will it go beyond customer support, is maybe my bigger question? I see it obviously impacting there. But do you think it can even help more with what a CSM relationship manager did? Is that kind of how you think about it?


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, I think there are so many different applications for AI. The obvious application is, oh, it'll replace humans. And instead, you'll have chat bots. Sure, that's definitely one way that you could go about it. I mean, I'm seeing it tons in products, where previously you would have just submitted a ticket to a support agent, or maybe you would have started a live chat. And now, instead, you'll go into a chat bot, and they're trying to figure out the question you're asking and pushing you information. So there's practical applications like that. But I think, for me, where I'm most interested in it is that AI has the ability to reduce a lot of that repetitive, menial tasks that fills up a lot of time for a customer success manager, especially someone who's managing 50, 60, 80 accounts. And so what I'm hoping that it does is it helps us get to the answers quicker and know where we need to focus our time. So if AI could help draft an email that I then tweak once it had identified that there was an account at risk and that's where I needed to focus, that would be ideal. I don't necessarily think that it should replace humans. I think it should just free humans up to do the stuff that really matters.


Alex Kracov: I'm curious. As we're talking about technology, do you believe in customer health scores? Because I could see AI playing a role and maybe helping craft those and make them even better than they are? Is that like a tool that you use to sort of manage your book of business?


Eloise Salisbury: Definitely. Again, I think it all comes back to helping to identify where there is a risk that should be prioritized. Or, interestingly, for health scores, you can also use them to identify who are your top cohort or who are most likely to grow with your business. And so you can then prioritize not necessarily a safe play, but actually going in and growing that account because they've got potential. So yes, I love the health score. How you create one is probably, again, a much wider and longer conversation. It's been different at every company that I've been a part of. But it was one of the big initiatives that I was leading at Iterable last year. It was to double down on our customer health score and look at how they were using the product, as well as how they were engaging with us and what the relationship was like. Excitingly, it's also a project that we're kicking off with here at AutogenAI as well.


Alex Kracov: Nice. I'm curious. Do customer success teams need a customer success platform? There are so many of these now like Gainsight, Vitally, all of these. Is that a thing that you think about at Autogen, like, you need one of those? Do you run out of the CRM? How do you think about the value of those platforms?


Eloise Salisbury: Such a good question. I do like some sort of customer success platform. I think the caveat to that though is, I don't like it when it's separate to the rest of the tool stack. When I was at Iterable and actually my previous company as well, because Salesforce was our CRM, we used Gainsight because it just kind of naturally sat on top of Salesforce. And whilst I think that there is a lot you can get out of Gainsight, it's expensive. You really need somebody who knows Gainsight inside and out who can help you to make the most of everything it's capable of. But it was really great for us because it sat on top of Salesforce. And so there was just one place that sales reps, CSMs, there was one place that execs could look at. Then we also built our reporting within Salesforce that was able to pull from Gainsight.


Interestingly, though, at Iterable, we decided about a year ago that we were going to move off with Gainsight. Gainsight sort of forced us to upgrade to their new science-y platform. So we had to go through a reimplementation of Gainsight anyway, and we used that as an opportunity to say, "Right. Well, what else is out in the market if we're going to have to re-implement?" We went for a much smaller tool called Catalyst. That was interesting to see how we migrated to that, what the adoption was like. I guess the downside to going with something like that is that it was a separate login. We were still using Salesforce to do all of our CRM deal management. But then, we were going into a separate tool to do the relationship side of things. So it has to fit seamlessly into your stack. Otherwise, CSMs are not going to want to log into multiple different platforms. They already have a ton of admin to do.


But yeah, I just joined AutogenAI. We're using HubSpot. So it's been interesting to get to grips with how we could turn a CRM like HubSpot into something that our CS team can utilize. But some tool to help you track and identify where to spend your time is absolutely necessary.

Joining AutogenAI

Alex Kracov: I'd love to talk a little bit more about AutogenAI. So you joined as the chief customer officer. Can you talk a little bit about what is the company? Why did you join? Then we'll kind of go from there.


Eloise Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. AutogenAI is a generative AI platform. We're actually the UK's fastest-growing generative AI company, which is pretty cool. I wanted to be at the forefront of something new, and so I feel like I definitely found a good spot for that. Right now, AutogenAI's primary target market is bid writers. So we want to harness cutting-edge AI and language-learning models for the bid and proposal writing space. Ultimately, our aim is to kind of be like the Excel of bid writing. I think we're 18 months in, so we got a bit of a way to go. But it's super exciting to be in this generative AI space.


Alex Kracov: Very cool. I know you're like three weeks in, but I'm curious how you just think about your first 30, 60, 90 days at a new company. What's your mentality? What are you doing? Because I'm sure it's overwhelming. You got to learn a new product, meet new people, all this stuff. How do you think about that challenge as you start at a new company?


Eloise Salisbury: I mean, I'm not going to lie. It's hard, right? Because you start somewhere, especially in a leadership role. And just this kind of influx of information and your to-do list gets as long as it has ever been before. I did sit down sort of the week before I started it at Autogen. I tried to put a little bit of process behind how I would tackle my first 30, 60, 90 days. The way that I typically like to think about it is kind of these four areas that I want to understand and dig into. One of them is people. The second is process. The third is product. Then the fourth is portfolio. So we had this quadrant plan. Then within each of those, I just dotted out the most important things that I wanted to understand.


People is going to be things like talent within the team, hiring plans for the rest of the year and how we think about headcount. It's also going to be things like, what's the culture and the norms across the team? How do we do performance management? How do we think about development plans? Within process, the big one there for me is the customer journey. So do we have it mapped out? What are each of the key milestones and the processes that support them? But then you get into other things, like, how do we work with product? What are our rules of engagement with sales? So there's a lot when you scratch beneath the surface of process. Then product is probably the easiest of the four which is just, what does our roadmap look like? How do we surface feature requests from customers to our product team? Then portfolio is like a meaty part of the first 90 days. Just understanding our customers. Where is the risk? Who are our personas and our profiles, right through to, do we have a customer advisory board? How are we engaging execs across our portfolio?


So there is a lot. But that helps me to at least bucket my thought areas. Then, of course, all of that goes out the window the first day you start. Everyone's like, "Hey, we need you on this. This is a really big initiative." So I then have a laundry list underneath of initiatives that I just keep adding too. Then every couple of days, I just reprioritize, strikethrough the ones I've done, bulbs, the initiatives that are in motion. Yeah, so it's a lot of admin.


Alex Kracov: That's a really good framework. I think what's so important too when you start at a company is like you got to manage up and show other people what you're working on and show, "Hey, here's how I'm thinking through this problem." And so I really love, like, I would call the three P's framework, I guess. Yeah, it's a really good one.


Eloise Salisbury: I hate starting a new job only because I'm used to being an expert. I'm used to if someone asks me a question, I know the answer, or I know that customer inside and out. And so I get a lot of anxiety going into new roles. Because I want to add value from day one, but I know that the reality of me being able to do that is unlikely because there's just so much I need to learn.

Founding Women in SaaS (WISe)

Alex Kracov: So you're the founder of an amazing organization, Women in SaaS, also known as WISe. Can you talk about the origin story behind this organization?


Eloise Salisbury: Yes, I get so much joy out of this organization. I've been really fortunate enough to live and work in some pretty amazing tech hubs. I started my career in London, but then I moved back home to Sydney, Australia where I worked in sort of the loyalty marketing SaaS space for five years. Then I moved. My husband and I moved to San Francisco where we lived and worked for five years before coming back to London sort of full circle.


Two things about my career have always stood out to me. One is, I've found particularly as a woman in tech to be somewhat isolating. I think when I started in tech, one, I was the only person in my friendship group that had a tech job. Because it just wasn't really considered to be something that a lot of women went into. And two, no one in my family was in tech. So even today, I'm not sure that my parents really understand what I do. And so there just weren't that many people that I could talk to about what I was experiencing or how I would progress my career. And so I did find it so isolating and lonely. That's been a pretty common trend throughout my career in tech, especially as you get higher, I think, on the leadership ladder. I was quite young when I got into leadership roles, so that was also a bit of a barrier for me.


But then, the second thing that has been important or noticeable across my career is, when I was in Sydney and in San Francisco, there were a lot of groups for women in tech or entrepreneurs. I used to go to a lot of those events and meet other people that I didn't get a chance to meet in my friendship group or in the office. And so that was such a nice experience. I learned a lot from going to those events. Then I moved back to London, and I searched really hard for women in tech groups or meetups that I could go to, like I would frequent in San Francisco, and nothing really jumped out at me. So I decided, well, why not start a women in SaaS organization in London? And really, what we're aimed at is allowing people to network but also have conversations that maybe they haven't felt comfortable having as a woman in a technology company. So things like, how do you talk about maternity leave, or impostor syndrome, or the pay gap? How do you gain skills on how to negotiate for an awesome package when you go into a new role? Things like that just aren't really spoken about in your own company. Because you think, well, as soon as I have that conversation, a red flag is going to go off somewhere within your manager or your HR department. And that's going to negatively impact my career progression. So yeah, it's just about creating that space where you can have those conversations. You can learn from other incredible women, and also network and find a mentor.


Alex Kracov: I mean, you've had an amazing career in technology and also a woman. I'm curious, what advice would you give to maybe a younger version of yourself? And more broadly, just a young woman who's coming out of college or something, what advice would you give to her to sort of have a thriving career in technology?


Eloise Salisbury: I think the biggest thing for me - I talk a lot to a lot of women about this - is I suffered, and I still do today with very bad imposter syndrome. I often thought early on in my career that this was something I should never talk about, and that the best thing to do was just to fake it till I made it. I actually think that there is a lot of value in being authentic, showing your vulnerable side. As a leader, that's actually how I generated the most fulfilling relationships with my team. It's through showing that vulnerable side. So I just wish that I had put my hand up more, asked for a little bit of help, and not just internalized that impostor syndrome feeling and then worked my ass off until midnight every night trying to learn everything that I thought I should know that I didn't.


I can't remember. It might even be Steve Jobs. But somebody once said, like, you don't want to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, find another room. Honestly, that always sticks with me. Because you should be surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do in different areas, because that's how you learn. So it's okay not to have all of the answers. I think if I could go back and give myself some advice, it would probably be, like, don't be afraid to be yourself. Ask for help. And it's okay if you don't have all the answers.


Alex Kracov: I think that's an awesome place to end it. Thank you so much today for the wonderful conversation, El. It was really fun.


Eloise Salisbury: Thank you, Alex. It has been so awesome reconnecting in this way. So I really appreciate it.


Alex Kracov: Awesome.

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