I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Boyd, a long-time customer success leader who has just stepped into a new challenge as the VP of Customer Success at Vanta, the leading automated security and compliance platform that helps companies continually monitor people, vendors and assets to automate compliance and scale IT security practices. He’s held customer success leadership roles at Tanium, SecurityScorecard and Pythian as well as professional services leadership roles at NCR and Progress Software.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Can you tell us about your journey in Customer Success and post-sales?
I often say that I’ve been in customer success my whole career, I just didn’t know it.
I started my professional career in accounting at both small and big firms doing non-technical things — auditing and compiling financials for IPOs. My tech savvy skills helped keep those projects organized. That led to an early, small fintech where I was on all sides of the customer — presales, product planning, capturing customer needs, implementation, field delivery, support and upgrades. I learned I could translate between customer needs and technology to guide both customers and dev teams to a common solution.
My post-sales work started with a decade on Progress Software’s Professional Services (PS) team — a company making tools for software companies and in-house development teams — and another five years at NCR’s Travel and Hospitality PS team. That was a huge challenge working with federal agencies, global airlines, airports and other travel providers to simplify for travelers all the complex tech behind the scenes.
Formal customer success (CS) roles started in 2014 when I saw Lincoln Murphy on-stage at a conference. I sent pictures of his slides back to my team saying, “Hey, I know what we do now!” My CS roles have ranged from monthly subscription models for enterprise customers (just like your current cell phone plan), jump-starting a CS practice from scratch, all types of CS touch models and helping CS teams guide customers to their goal. I use a lot of mountain guide and GPS-map analogies when talking about what CS does.
Tell us more about your current role and company, what makes it unique?
I’m currently the VP of Customer Success at Vanta, the leading security and compliance platform that automates compliance and simplifies cybersecurity.
What makes Vanta unique — and well aligned with a Customer Success mindset — is that we actually start with the customer’s desired outcome. In our case, that’s helping our customers quickly achieve the cybersecurity industry’s most important standards — SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA and others. By staying focused on that outcome, and aligning all of our post-sales work to that goal, we help customers get there faster, saving them time and money.
But Vanta doesn’t stop delivering value once the desired outcome is achieved. Through continuous security monitoring and automated evidence collection, Vanta helps companies stay secure. And when it comes time for an annual audit or test, Vanta enables companies to keep finding success again and again. That’s great value and it’s the real driver behind our tremendous growth — growth that just had us named #25 on the Inc. 5000 list.
What is it that excites you about this space?
Making cybersecurity and compliance — which are pretty complex topics — easy for most companies to accomplish. The good news is that these problems are very process-centric and data-heavy — they’re perfect for using a technology platform to automate that work. It makes it easy for our users to focus their precious time on the biggest risks and problems instead of crunching data and manually performing process steps.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see CS & post-sales teams face? And any advice on how to tackle them?
First, stay focused on the outcome or goal. Customers do not invest in technology to add more work, they invest to be more efficient and work smarter. However post-sales teams often lose sight of that and end up making things more complex for customers.
Next, walk in the customer’s shoes. If you are not considering the problem from the customer’s view, you’re not making it easy for them — you’re just making it easy for you.
Finally, be one team to the customer. Post-sales teams are often the tangible part of the company the customer sees and interacts with. Embrace that special position and be the voice of the customer inside your organization. This also helps spread the CS story internally and reinforces that customer success is everyone’s mission.
What advice do you have on how to prioritize as a CS leader and operator?
High growth companies are like a race car — all the gears in the engine need to align for the car to go fast. CS leaders need to prioritize keeping that alignment with the other gears — product, engineering, marketing, ops, sales and leadership. If those touchpoints are working, you will be able to throttle the whole company up or down accordingly.
While focusing on the customer’s desired outcome, don’t neglect focusing on your goals. Find that north star metric for your CS team — gross retention, net retention, health score direction, etc. — and relentlessly validate and align all CS efforts to that north star. Data trends and directional changes will show you where to prioritize.
The biggest prioritization skill is learning to say no. This is for both you as a leader and for your team. While CSMs always want to do whatever is needed for the customer, the question is: does that task align with keeping your gears aligned and being data-driven? Start-stop-continue exercises are great at getting consensus on what to say no to or to make room for.
What major trends do you expect to see in this space in the coming years when it comes to driving revenue — renewals & expansion — in the customer base?
Customers will continue to increase control of the buying process. Companies will need to continue reducing customer friction — those points where your product is not easy for them — so the customer will continue using your solutions at their pace.
CS will continue to provide Voice-of-the-Customer insights to the whole organization to simplify the digital experience — auto-renewals, easy push-button or automatic upgrades, just-in-time dynamic services — all things that reduce the time a customer needs to solve their problem.
That will evolve the post-sales function from today’s solution onboarding and adoption-centric models into how to best use your solution to evolve the customer’s organization faster than their competitors.
How do you view the importance of CS tech as part of your resources tool belt?
Tech helped the auto and manufacturing industries evolve from human-run assembly lines to master just-in-time, automated operations. Our CS teams cannot scale without CS tech to provide visibility into the customer’s journey — our version of the manufacturer’s assembly line — and to provide the right information, to the right user, at the right time in the journey. That enables CS to provide just-in-time value and scale without crushing CSMs with mountains of work.
If you had to share, “words of wisdom,” with a CS leader, what would they be?
Stay customer-centric — if you’re not making it easy for your customer, someone else will.
Remember to iterate — we’re never perfect on the first try. That’s OK. A first-generation process that’s in use is great, but soon it will become outdated and a barrier to growth.
How can our readers follow you on social media or elsewhere?
This was very insightful. Thank you so much for joining us!