Founded in 2010, Influitive helps over 300 customers worldwide discover, mobilize, and recognize their customer advocates. Allowing them to drive referrals, references, reviews, word of mouth recommendations, and more.
We sat down with Julie Persofsky, VP of Customer Strategy and Account Management, to discuss how Customer Success has evolved at Influitive over the last 4 years.
Can you tell us about your responsibilities at Influitive?
I am responsible for Customer Revenue. Predominantly, driving revenue from existing customers.
How did you get started in Customer Strategy and what was your path into your current role?
When I was a Customer Success Manager at Eloqua, the role was managing accounts (Renewals, Upsells, Cross-Sells, Success Planning). I really loved the combination: it was part consultant, part sales, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the job. I then moved to a similar role at PharmaTrust, where there was a lot of implementations but also expanding the company’s footprint.
I found that a lot of companies end up, especially at a certain size, splitting the role so the Customer Success function is all about success retention, and then you have more of an account management focus.
Two years ago we decided to split off the role and split out Customer Success Management from Account Management. Today, I am responsible for revenue growth and work closely with our VP of Customer Success, Jesse Goldman, who is responsible for Customer Success Management.
How is your team structured?
We’re a pretty lean team, and we sit right between Sales and Customer Success. How we stay lean is by leveraging the other team members. My team is structured the same way that our Sales Team is structured. We have our Enterprise Sales Reps, our Regional Sales Managers, and our Account Executives and that’s how we’re structured as well.
“We’re a pretty lean team, and we sit right between Sales and Customer Success.”
What do you think is the biggest advantage of your team structure?
One of the advantages of working with a lean team is there is no shortage of things to be done. People talk about fast-paced environments but this is incredibly fast-paced. There is always more to do so you have the luxury of being very picky with your time. If you’re not working on something that is going to help you achieve your goals, you shouldn’t be working on it. So we are pretty focused on that.
It’s also really great working with other teams and working with partners. One of my fondest memories is when I was working as a Customer Success Manager at Eloqua with Jill Rowley. The two of us would go on road trips to the Bay Area, and we felt like partners in crime because I knew her strengths, she knew mine, and we could really play off each other. We were really successful together as a team and so I am really trying to create that here. We partner with either the Sales Rep or the Advocacy Coach on some accounts and make a game plan together, create our roles and work together as a team.
It’s also really good from a practical standpoint, like vacations, because your customer doesn’t stop being your customer because you went on vacation for two weeks. If you have a partner, there is someone else as a backup who is familiar with the account. Also, having some consistency on the account when there are transitions is really valuable for a customer.
“Your customer doesn’t stop being your customer because you went on vacation”
What would you say is the biggest weakness of your team’s structure?
Role confusion, both externally and internally (sometimes). Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so we might have one Customer Success Manager who has some really strong selling skills, so they’ll do that a little bit more than some other CSMs.
I think sometimes there is a blurring of the line in terms of who does what, from both our standpoint and the customer’s standpoint. There is a big trend; you see this a lot in smaller companies, where the Customer Success Manager does everything, and as you expand and grow, you segment and you really split off the role.
“There is a big trend, you see this a lot in smaller companies, where the Customer Success Manager does everything”
What do you think the culture of Customer Strategy looks like at Influitive right now?
We have 10 values at Influitive and we look at them every single day. The whole company literally gets together remotely from every office around the world for a 9-minute sync up every day. During those 9 minutes, we recognize 1 person who’s gone above and beyond and met our values. One of them is around creating customer value.
The whole company, and it’s probably the nature of what we do, is a little customer-obsessed. That’s why Customer Success was the first business hire at Influitive after Product and Dev. Our first hire in Marketing was a Customer Marketer. I see these articles about “How to prove the value of Customer Success to your CEO” and we get that it’s extremely important. We are all really focused on creating a great Customer Experience and creating value for our customers.
How have you seen this culture change?
When you’re a team of 7, 10 or 15 people and you’re sitting in one room all together, it’s really easy to share your customer stories, talk with developers about a problem or even pull a developer in on a call.
I think that for me personally I used to know every single one of our customers because I was the first person in Customer Success. I onboarded our customers and created a process around it. I felt truly invested in all of our early customers and knew them all really well. I knew everyone from the CEO to the Advocate Marketer. Now, I don’t know all of our customers as well. That’s definitely a culture change.
“I felt truly invested in all of our early customers and knew them all really well.”
What does a typical day look like for a member of your team?
We don’t have a typical day but we’re getting a little more focused on creating that. Typically our Advocacy Coaches will be sitting on customer calls, planning for renewals or sitting down with their coach counterpart. We do co-planning on renewals, so 4 months before a renewal, the coach and strategist sit down to review every single renewal that’s coming up and make a plan around it. They will typically do that once a week with one of their coaches.
We are on the road a lot too. My team will typically be on the road once a month on the road visiting clients and doing workshops with them.
Do you find value in having face-to-face visits with your customers?
I feel like when you go on the road, magic happens. You never regret a trip. Mark Organ, our CEO, is always telling us to get on a plane. I’ve never had a member of my team go on a trip and not see amazing things happen.
When you’re face-to-face with a customer, there is an honesty and a truth that comes out and there is a relationship that gets built. You can also have dinners and get to know people outside of work. I have had meetings doing mani-pedis with clients. It’s a great opportunity for me to get my nails done, which I never get to do at home because I have kids, and it’s a really incredible bonding moment. I don’t play golf so that’s my golf.
People might not join a call but if you’re going to fly out to their office, they are going to meet with you. They are going to bring their boss and other members of their team if you ask them, so there is value in that too. I have also been encouraging all of our customer-facing teams to do more video calls because it helps build that relationship too.
“When you’re face-to-face with a customer, there is an honesty and a truth that comes out”
How have you seen your user base change since you started?
In the beginning, everyone was an early adopter in the sense they just believed in Advocate Marketing, and they were willing to take a chance on a product that, frankly, wasn’t amazing and to give us a ton of feedback to help us improve the product.
Now, we’re getting a lot more people coming to us and saying, “I want to build an Advocate Marketing Program” or “I have a mandate to build an Advocate Marketing Program”. Four years ago, people were asking us, “What is Advocate Marketing?”
Now we have an industry conference called Advocamp, and this year we had over 800 people attend. Most of the people who attended went with a mandate for Advocate Marketing and to understand what it was and how they can implement a program within their organization.
We do get a lot more people ready to buy than before. They not only have resources but they have an executive that believes Advocate Marketing is something to prioritize.
“Now, we’re getting a lot more people coming to us and saying, I want to build an Advocate Marketing Program”
What blog/news sites are you currently reading at the moment?
I read a ton and I rely on people to be my news feed. Surprisingly, 90% of the content I read is Tech, SaaS, Business and 10% Kids.
I belong to a great Startup North Community on Facebook that gives me a lot of great Canadian Tech news, which I love to learn about. Jason Lemkin’s blog is fabulous and First Round Capital creates a really great blog that I keep a pulse of. There are a few key people whose content I always read and if they are going to share it, then for me it’s worth reading.
Since Advocate Marketing is such a new category, how do you do things different than your competitors?
Since it’s such a new category, we are the Advocate Marketing company. Some of our features definitely overlap with other companies, but no one focuses on the Advocate experience like we do. We are pretty relentless and we focus on creating an amazing experience for our advocates. We have community elements, social amplification, references, referrals, and every aspect of what an advocate will do in your organization.
Some of our competitors would be community vendors who would focus on building a community, but they are missing the advocacy component. We have reference vendors, who are our partners because if you have a sophisticated process around references, you need a sophisticated reference management process and a tool, so we partner with them. We actually partner with all of our competitors, which is one of the reasons why we invited all of our competitors to our Advocamp. We did that because we want to build up this category and the only way we can do it is with competitors.
“We actually partner with all of our competitors”
What kinds of metrics do you watch closely?
Cross-sell, upsell, retention.
Customer Health is important and usage of the product. It’s part of our process just to check in with our customers half way through their contract and talk to them about where they want to go. This is a really valuable way to assess, “is there an opportunity for growth?” or “is this someone who I need to invest a little bit more time in?”
If there is someone who is happy where they are, then we have very capable people on our coaching team to make sure they see value time and time again. 30% of our customers upsell on renewal, so that’s a really important time for us and a metric to keep monitoring. It’s a really good indication of customer health. If at renewal they are going to continue to invest in this program, it’s a great indication of customer health.
How can you tell that you’ve made your customers successful?
For me, there are a few things:
Are they starting to adopt a culture of advocacy in their organization?
Do people know about their program?
When they are adopting a culture of advocacy, do they believe that advocacy is a key aspect of their organization?
When different department heads realize that they can leverage this incredible resource of advocates.
When you infuse that across a company, that’s success.
What does success look like for you in your everyday life?
I’ve thought a lot about this because I started my career as a single person in New York. I worked really hard and work was pretty much my life. Now I have a family and my husband has a really busy job too, so I find almost setting up goals around it helps.
For me, having dinner with my kids 4 days a week is a priority. That might not seem like a lot but I want to make sure I spend some actual quality time with them. I try to every single day and that’s a huge priority for me.
Balancing the travel. So trying not to travel, as good as it is and as important as it is for the business, I try to only travel once every month or two. So that way I am not away from my family as much.
Having goals helps keep me in check.
What is it like to work for a fast-growing company like Influitive within a brand new category?
It’s really exciting. I mean, it’s ever-changing. I love creating new things and I like the startup world.
I’m good with ambiguity and a little bit of a lack of structure. Being able to have your job changing, be creative, leverage all sorts of different skills and watch a company grow from 7 to 150 employees — I mean, that’s been incredible.
I remember sitting with a team of 7 people defining our values. Now seeing that three and a half years later those values still hold true today and are woven into the culture of our company, that’s incredible to see.