I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Poppen, Chief Business and Customer Officer at involve.ai recently. We discussed all things “Customer” and how to drive amazing customer experiences at scale while growing Net Revenue Retention!
Mary Poppen is the Chief Business and Customer Officer at involve.ai. Responsible for driving the Customer Intelligence category in the market, she is building a world-class team focused on helping companies leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to become customer-centric.
Prior to involve.ai, Mary was Glint’s Chief Customer Officer at LinkedIn and Chief Customer Officer for SAP’s Global Cloud business before that. Mary holds a Master’s Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has over 20 years of customer success, business consulting and executive leadership experience. She is a well-recognized customer and employee experience thought leader, speaking at global events and authoring several publications in this space. She recently published a book entitled “Goodbye, Churn. Hello, Growth!” In addition to her current role, Mary enjoys serving as a Board Advisor and executive coach, and has a passion for giving back through female mentorship programs.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Can you tell us about your journey within Customer Success?
I started in “Customer Success” long before today’s understanding. I began working for SuccessFactors, the first HCM SaaS solution, in the early days, before Software as a Service was understood. As expected, the traditional software delivery of the on-premise days was applied to SaaS and sure enough the customer received implementation services and technical support, but the actual adoption of the software was highly unmonitored. I like to say it was moving from “Building Houses” (on-premise) to “Renting Apartments” (SaaS). With SaaS, if you didn’t like your landlord or the apartment building, you could up and leave quite easily, unlike the traditional on-premise software deployments. SaaS changed the focus of software to become a customer-centric sale and delivery vs. a product-centered sale and delivery. It was an opportunity to put the customer at the center of the value proposition. This was the era of refining what customer experience and value meant and put Customer Success in the forefront of delivering on it. I had the opportunity to be involved in shaping customer-centric software and delivery from the beginning.
What is it that excites you about this space?
With SaaS, there is an opportunity to innovate and personalize around the customer’s specific unique business requirements and outcomes. I get inspired by the opportunity to do things differently to drive value for customers, for the company, and also for the employees who serve those customers. There is a significant linkage between employee and customer experience. This is something I’m very passionate about.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see CS teams face? And any advice on how to tackle them?
One of the biggest challenges is to align to revenue growth. CS teams don’t typically get investment and prioritization unless you can show revenue outcomes for the organization. CS Operations was created to be able to show the linkage to revenue and to scale CS team size. Any organization who has leadership that believes new logo growth is more important than ensuring existing customer success is a red flag in my book. Keeping and growing customers brings far more success at lower cost than focusing on new customer acquisition (I believe it’s 1/7th the cost to retain a customer vs. to find a new one). This can help the organization grow significantly at a fraction of the cost and an added benefit are the referrals and case studies that are created by existing customers. Once you get a customer, you should focus on keeping them for life! This starts at the top regarding priority and filters into the culture of the company. In today’s economy, this is even more important…growing NRR through existing customers vs. trying to bring in new customers.
How have you seen the CS space develop and change in recent years?
CS a decade ago was only CSMs and generally tied to adoption and/or renewal. Today, CS is typically the entire post-sale journey for a customer…onboarding, services, customer success, support, customer education and operations are critical to creating an ideal customer experience for your customers. Focusing on customer empowerment through training, community and digital touch have been a big focus for scale, and CS operations to help rollout new processes, systems and metrics has been a significant focus for many companies to build scale and efficiency. In addition, there is a much greater recognition that the post-sale journey for customers is key to retaining and growing revenue. This has made CS that much more important to revenue generation than ever before!
How do you see the role of CS tech in the coming years?
CS tech needs to take data and create insights so that teams can be proactive and personalized in their delivery. AI is critical to scale this and Customer Intelligence is becoming extremely important as a focus for organizations. After decades of collecting data on customers across functions, it’s time to bring the data together to tell a story on what drives customer success and double down on actions (across all functions in the organization) that will retain and grow customers. In addition, the tech stack needs to align to drive a meaningful and value add customer experience and outcomes for customers. Siloed data and processes are no longer going to differentiate the customer experience and create value for customers. The entire customer journey (from prospect to renewal/expansion) must align and be cohesive. Data and AI will help achieve this outcome. Customer Intelligence, applying customer behavior and sentiment to priorities and resources, will become more and more critical for organizations to compete and succeed in the future.
You have written a book about CS, “Goodbye, Churn. Hello, Growth!”, what can you tell us about the book?
I wrote the book to focus on the evolution of how far we have come with putting customers at the center of our businesses and what that means to revenue. Companies that still focus solely on revenue growth and product innovation are missing the boat on the true impact of customer success. When customers are at the center of your business, great things happen for the customers, the employees and the company results! The book is a guide for deploying a more customer-centric focus in order to create “WOW” outcomes for your company, your employees and your customers!
If you had to share, “words of wisdom,” with a revenue leader, what would they be?
New logo growth is awesome, but if you don’t keep an eye on existing customers, you could be facing an uphill battle for revenue growth. A leaky bucket on the backend means you have to sell that much more new incremental revenue to make up for contraction and churn. If you can work on both in tandem, the organizational revenue growth can be amazing! Customer Intelligence will help you focus on what is really important to your customers and therefore will help pinpoint where to focus investment and resources for maximum return. Consider the customer experience as a means to create your growth strategy!
How can our readers follow you on social media or elsewhere, and where can they buy your book?
You can find me on LinkedIn at: marypoppen/linkedin or email me at email@example.com. You can find a copy of our book by clicking on this link for a complimentary copy or going to Amazon at this link:
This was very insightful. Thank you so much for joining us!