Building a Customer-Centric Company: Five Best Practices for Growing to Multi-Digit ARR with Segment and Aloglia (Video + Transcript)

Join Algolia CEO Nicolas Dessaigne and Segment VP of Marketing Hollie Wegman for a session discussing best practices for growing your ARR in your SaaS.

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Nicolas Dessaigne, CEO @ Algolia

Hollie Wegman, VP of Marketing @Segment

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW

Nicolas: Hello.

Hollie: Hi.

Hollie: So, Nicolas.

Nicolas: Hollie.

Hollie: It’s nice to see you here today.

Hollie: We’re here to talk about why customer centricity is so important to growing multi-digital ARR. I think a lot of times it’s easy to focus on growth tactics: “How do I?”, the demand engine, the sales team, and I think that one of the things that we think a lot about, is how to make the company customer centric, and how important that is as a principle for growth.

Hollie: We had a great coffee-

Nicolas: Yeah. We did.

Hollie: -not long back, and had a discussion about, we came up with five principles, or about how you can be better at being customer centric. We’re going to talk a little bit about that today. At Segment when I joined, we were about 150, we’re now 300, so I’ve seen some growth stage.

Nicolas: I started at two, and so we are now 300, about 200 too.

Hollie: Wow. That’s quite a journey you’ve taken.

Nicolas: Yeah. I’ve got a slightly longer journey.

Hollie: No, that’s great. In the beginning when we talked, we had the… we don’t have the perfect answers for you, but we came up with a lot of anecdotes and mistakes we’ve made, and things have gone well, things have gone not so well, and we had these themes. The first was learning about your customer. The next was really being helpful to your customer. We thought a lot about how we create an experience, which is consistent making sure the customers become champions or advocates, and being really intentional with your culture, so that people know that you’re customer centric. This is meant to just be relaxed, and we’re just going to have a dialog.

Nicolas: We actually have slide.

Hollie: That’s wonderful! We didn’t expect that. I had memorized that for no reason, Nicolas.

Hollie: We’re just going to just chat, like how we did in the coffee shop about these things.

Nicolas: Let’s do that. Let’s go with the first one?

Hollie: Yeah.

Nicolas: Learn about your customer. We’re speaking about being customer centric, so of course the first step is to make sure you know about your customers. It’s going to be critical to your success obviously. You need to know your audience, who you are going to serve. It’s going also to be a bit critical to defining who you are, defining your product, defining everything. We’re going to try to share maybe train of thoughts, what we learned, failures, successes.

Nicolas: On this one, I actually wanted to share an experience I had last year with Prospect in London, big media company. I was going there the day after my AE, my account executive, did all the work, met everyone, featured the product. Then the next day, I landed there, I went to see our buyer, and because I was the founder, that’s a big, big advantage. You are the founder, people expect to have just a chat with you. They don’t expect as much formality, and so over one hour, we probably spent 30 minutes just chatting about our life.

Nicolas: Was a big gamer, and related things and so on, and then you start to speak a little business, and you get him to speak about his concerns: what’s going on, what make him do the deal or not, and I discovered that his biggest concern was the support he would get from SF, from eight hours away from London, and was very worried about that. He had no idea, I mean you get my accent, he had no idea that we have the huge base of operation in Paris, same timezone pretty much, and that we are the team local in London with customer success social engineers, in London, who could come on site, basically, 20 minutes away from the office. Basically, two weeks later they closed the deal.

Nicolas: It was very simple, but getting to know them is not only about getting to know their business, sometimes getting to know about them as people. We are in a business where everyone is working between people. You are going to speak to human people, human beings. You don’t need to fake any kind of professional face when you’re seeing, and that can actually help you close a deal.

Nicolas: What about you? Did you have another anecdote to share there?

Hollie: Well, what I really liked about that is that it really ties to closing the deal. It helps people see that there’s a tie between the customer and the revenue, and I like that. I think knowing the people is exciting. I actually still have friendships with customers from Salesforce and other companies I worked for.

Hollie: One other thing that I could add is knowing the product of the customer. At Segment, I mean it’s kind of a true pleasure in some ways, but at Segment we think a lot about… we have customers like Levi’s, and so there are a lot of people who are exciting we order Levi’s and feel very proud that that’s our customer, and that we can learn about that product, but also show that we’re loyal to them. Another one is Glossier, which is a really, if you don’t know about it, fantastic make-up brand, another amazing customer brand I found.

Nicolas: You’re wearing…

Hollie: I’m wearing some Glossier today. I’m trying to think of another… even in our tech stack. If you think about my martech choices, Drift is our customer. I picked Drift. Or, if we’re going to book a room in the city, and we have an offsite, I’m biased to pick up Breather because that’s our customer. It’s a funny way that I can learn, “Oh, this is how their Breather model works, and this is me experiencing their product.” I think that’s a really nice way to learn about our customers. I don’t even know if they know that we do that, but that’s a thing with us for sure.

Nicolas: As I was looking on the notes, it’s another thing that I can share on getting to know customers. How do you do support? It’s very important to get to know them, and the best way to know them is to have interaction with them, so how do you make sure that everyone in the company gets that customer facing experience? For us, it was support, so of course it changed as we were scaling. When we started, every single person in the company was doing support. It was a way to make sure everyone was in touch with them.

Nicolas: We are a technical product, our audience are developers like yours, and so we switched to having only our engineering doing support, and we only created a support team last summer. Until last summer, we had no one dedicated to support. That doesn’t mean that we were not doing support. That just means that everyone was doing support, making sure that our engineers felt the pain, the challenges, the needs of the customers. You’ll see a small tweak, difficult to scale forever, but that can help you make sure you get to understand them.

Hollie: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more actually doing support shifts myself. At Envoy, I learnt a lot about that sign in-

Hollie: No, no. I would be happy to do them in… It’s the thing where you learn so much about the customer, and you also learn how they’re experiencing the product in a way, which is different than you might imagine. The kinds of questions that come up, you think, “Oh, I never thought that someone would think that.” And so, from a marketing perspective, it helps me think a lot about how people actually are experiencing the product.

Hollie: The vein of our next point, which is about being helpful, I think that there are different ways that people experience the product. One of the things we think a lot about at Segment is how can we be helpful to the customer in ways that are convenient for them? For instance, one thing that comes up with companies at early stage trying to learn, and sometimes coming upon segment is analytics and how do they make analytics work. So, we built an Analytics Academy. That is something that people have a pretty good reaction to, and we’re really excited about, and we keep innovating on it, presently doing so. I think it’s just a way for us to… we’re not trying to sell you anything. We’re just trying to give you some helpful material in a way that you might find valuable.

Nicolas: Awesome. Okay, maybe it’s time to share a failure on my side. We said we would share a few. Feature adoption. You know when you help customers, you help them to do something. In that case, we weren’t able to fully monitor how customers were using us, at least not enough. But we were not monitoring that to closely. What happened was some of our customers high paying customers were not fully using the most valuable features of the product. In a way they were paying too much for the value they were getting, and we missed it, until we got the first churn because of that. You know, when a customer churn not because they are closing doors or whatever, but because they don’t get value enough from your product, it’s a big wake up call. So now, we do have that monitoring dashboard where we can see the adoption of every single feature, and it even became part of the playbook for our CSMs, the key objective of the CSM is to ensure that our customers actually leveraging the product, and getting the most value possible from that. It was a big wake up when we realized that we lost a customer just because we were not making sure they were getting value.

Hollie: Yeah. I think that’s a key point on the being helpful. I think similarly at Segment, we had an epiphany about this where you get the customer to be a customer, and that seems like the important thing, but you don’t want to lose the customer. So, one thing that we do at Segment, which I think is something I’m excited about is we have a team of people that focus on activation. They’re really thinking about, “How do we make this customer successful? What are the usage patterns? If they for instance have this type of source, they’re going to probably want this type of destination. How do we get an email to them…” This is all after they become a customer, so we’re already got them in the door, but they don’t get usage out of the product if we can’t find ways to get them onboarded and to make the experience also delightful being a user of the product, then it isn’t customer centric, and it also isn’t going to help us in the long run.

Nicolas: Speaking of experience, a transition to our next point about providing a consistent experience. One important thing for customers it’s we create trust in the brand, in the company, and that also comes from consistence of your experience wherever that can be: with the product, with the support messages they could receive, even with the people interactions they have with anyone working for the company. Do you have any good anecdotes there?

Hollie: I do. I think sometimes because I’m a marketer, I look at marketing a lot. I don’t know, how many of you have had an experience where you know a lot about the product, but you maybe never used it before, and when you get in the app, you’re surprised by how it actually looks? I’ve had that experience before because I think that what happens is you don’t necessarily tie the idea of a whole customer journey, beginning with the marketing, going into the product, and even after the product, like the events they attend or the other activities. One thing I think that can cause that, that I’ve seen in companies I’ve worked for, it is different at Segment, but I think is that design runs marketing differently than design runs product. It’s two different people, maybe they don’t even talk to each other. I think the unification of the experience from edge to edge is something that is becoming a trend now, and I think it really helps.

Nicolas: How did you solve that? Did you have a unique team?

Hollie: At Segment, we have just one person that runs design, both for marketing and product, so one mind over the whole life cycle, which is somebody very talented and amazing too. I’m really excited to be able to work in that way.

Nicolas: Yeah. I would share too that, making sure that the voice of the company is consistent, it doesn’t stop at design, but should go everywhere, including even your outbound messages, like if you’re doing outbound to reach out to customers. This first interaction is also key. If they don’t recognize the same brand, they are going to work with after, it’s going to slow you down, it’s going to create doubt in their mind. In our case, we make sure that the outbound messages are also consistent with the brand, going as far sometimes as preparing videos that are tailored to the customer website, the customer context, with the search. So, we’re going to capture a video about how their search worked, and could be better. Again, circling back being helpful right away.

Hollie: Yeah. Being helpful, but then when the video comes through and it’s consistent with how Algolia is, that also. It’s like the double whammy right? You got the really impactful moment.

Hollie: Going to the next point, how do we create advocates, but how do we honor the advocates? I would say that there’s a mistake that I can talk about, which is that I think sometimes you tend to focus on the people that are vocally really happy. They’re the ones posting the happy tweets about how much they love your product. That’s where you go to find your champions, and I love a story because that’s a mistake that I make, and you have a story that we talked about, which I thought was really cool.

Nicolas: Yeah. I was sharing with Hollie before. We had that customer in… a Lebanese customer who was, I mean, super, super demanding. Very hard negotiator, always wanting more, always wanting more, and then shortly after we were starting to raise our Series A, and we asked him if he could be a reference, speak about us to our prospective investors. He accepted, and actually was such a crazy champion for the company. He had basically committed to use us, and just became a champion and spoke about us in a really great way. We closed the Series A. We sent him, and do that also for your champions, we sent him a small gift just to thank him for being a reference, normal.

Nicolas: Well, a few weeks later, we received an email in the mail, huge boxes of Lebanese sweets. Delicious! It took us like three months to finish them. We basically had created a champion for life, whereas at the beginning, we were only wondering, “Do they actually like us?” And, we took the bet, the risk, because their use case was quite… actually that’s the reason we asked them, because their use case was a media use case, super good expression of the capability of the product, and it ended up as a big advocate, a big champion for our Series A and later.

Nicolas: Be careful about people who may be so nice that don’t really think about it, whereas like people that are the real fan may not be as visible.

Hollie: That’s definitely a mistake I’ve made. I don’t look at the power users that are not as vocal and appearing happy. I like that learning from you. Thank you.

Nicolas: What do you do for your champions?

Hollie: We have this one champion at Segment, who has been with us since the very beginning, always giving us feedback. Every company this person goes to, they take Segment with them, and it’s something that we’ve learnt about our champions is that once they become positive and they become meaningful, getting meaningful use and value out of the product, that they will not only advocate to people they know, but they will actually take the product with them to other companies. One champion every single Segmenter knows, and he’s almost like an icon in our company. Whenever we talk about the champion, we talk about this particular person, and I think those are great. I think that too, having those people come and be part of your company activities for instance. Like, we have customer champions and customers come to our company all-hands, and talk about how they’re using Segment. I think that helps the company see that these people mean a lot to us, and that this is what we’re all working for. We’re working to make sure these people have helpful experiences, and it makes it more vivid.

Nicolas: Probably going to reuse some of your hacks about the champions later on when I go back. Inviting your customers at events, internal events, is a good thing. We actually had a couple of them coming to an offsite we did last week, sharing their experience. That was really valuable. Maybe, another thing, it may be a little more controversial is how do you respect your early customers? Of course, if they get to use the product more, getting new features, it’s normal they would upgrade to new plans. But, if they don’t, if the product they signed up for is still the right product for them, why would you ask them to pay more? Whereas they actually trusted you, took a risk on you when you were much smaller, so maybe that’s a philosophy here.

Nicolas: Actually, earlier today, I was in the speaker lounge speaking with another speaker and just said, “Hey, we’ve been customers of Algolia for more than four years.” And I’m like, “Wow! I had not idea.” Having that feedback, and knowing that they still love us was so good to hear.

Hollie: Yeah. The original customers, right? I love that idea though, these are the ones who took the risk on you before you got to be, where were growing to be today. I think that that’s a form of loyalty. It’s nice.

Nicolas: It’s the loyalty you want to built, because it’s going to help you down the line. And, it’s also so easy to lose it if you are not too careful, careful enough, which leads us maybe to your last point about being intentional.

Nicolas: The company grows, and as you get to a certain scale you probably have the risk of losing touch with the customer. You have a quota to reach. The quota becomes sometimes more important than solving a problem for them, and that comes with a lot of risk because of course if you lose that customer centricity, it’s the future of the company you possibly putting at risk.

Nicolas: Do you have anything you are doing in your culture, or in the values of how you…

Hollie: The values, definitely. For certain. We’re very values focused company. We have four key values. One of the values in there is that we will be helpful, unassuming and trustworthy with our customers. The interesting thing, I think what makes it vivid for the company is just that the highest award you can get in our company, in terms of performance is not monetary, but it is the highest, most recognized award, we call it the Citrus Price. It’s a very tall, it must be six and a half, seven feet tall, gold trophy and a sash, it’s pink, and it says, “Props to me.” So, then you can wear it. But, the point of the trophy is to show that it’s somebody who’s… You can only win this price if you are uniquely expressing our values. And, since one of our core values packed in there is to be helpful, trustworthy and unassuming to customers, you basically can’t win this price unless you have that customer centric view. I think that helps convey to the company. It’s this intentional way of conveying that customers are part of our values and our culture, and in a non-monetary… it’s really just a lot of fun, and people feel very proud of it. I think that’s one thing we do.

Nicolas: Yeah. Something that’s maybe not as fun but that happens to all of us is bugs or problems in the production. Even the best companies have this. And you know what, this intentionality in your culture is so critical here. For us it’s the trust and it’s transparency with customers, so if a customer, we are going to communicate with them. We’re not going to try to hide anything. We need our goal here is to be transparent. Own your mistakes, because at the end of the day it’s on you, even if it’s not your fault, you need to be responsible here. As you get through that interaction with them, being transparent, of course they are not happy, but you can really build a new relationship, a new rapport with them that can be even beneficial.

Nicolas: What I’ve seen is that sometime customer that don’t have a perfect product, everything is working, they don’t know about you more than the product, it works, it’s perfect, they are happy, are not as loyal as the one who are going to face so failures that leads them to discuss with you, to interact with you to see who you are as people. And, because of that people interaction, despite of fail, they’re going to become way more loyal, way more like a fan of the company, because they have that connection, because they saw that you cared about them. It’s maybe counter-intuitive… Well, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to create failures on purpose just to create this connection, not a good idea. But still, every opportunity, every occasion is a good opportunity to connect better to customers and show them who you are as people and show them that you care about them, care about their success.

Hollie: I too think this is especially important. If you think about the news cycles now about what we’re learning about people talking about companies and how they’re treating their customers and how they’re doing their business, there’s a stronger eye on, “Is this company being honest with me? Is this company being transparent?” I think that what you’re saying of just, “Hey, even if it doesn’t work, even if it’s a bug.” We can just say that, and we can say exactly what’s going on. People might not be very happy with it, but it makes them understand that if it happens again, that you will also be transparent again.

Nicolas: You have their back.

Hollie: Yeah. It’s reliability in a way, even though you’re being open about your failures. I really like that, especially in the kind of environment we’re in now. It’s great.

Nicolas: Yeah. Speaking of that, maybe I have a last anecdote to share, speaking of authenticity. Getting back to one of these meetings with Prospect being the exec sponsor and so on, I was going to meet a Prospect, pretty big market place, and I ended up trapped of some sort. Their search product manager had already prepared a long list of demands, things that were not going well, questions about the product, and started to be on the receiving end. Wow! Answering and showing again that you are open, that you care, try to solve their problem and so on.

Nicolas: At the end of the meeting, I didn’t know for sure if it went well or not, to be honest, difficult to judge. And then, we connected over LinkedIn the next day with this product manager, and what she shared was, I still can’t remember not the word, but what she shared is that, that was the first time she had a partner that was so open, so ready to help, so ready to try to solve their questions or problem that it was so refreshing. That basically created trust that we needed to move the deal forward, because she trusted us to have their back. She trusted us to help them get to a better stage with the company, and the deal closed a couple of weeks later. And, a few months later, they were already having plus 20 person conversion of the market place because of us. That was like a big, big win for us and for them.

Hollie: I think that’s a great way to almost wrap up, because you’re touching on so many of the things: the understanding, the being helpful, and really being authentic and real too. I think is kind of built in there, even though we didn’t explicitly call that out, and how that yields a really great customer relationship for the business.

Nicolas: And, I think the business here is maybe the important piece that we have not spoken too much about. Of course, it’s great to be nice, but all of that at the end of the day brings more business. It’s just a very good way to help the company grow, because these customers that you are going to close, that are going to upgrade, adopt the features, are going to be your revenue of today and tomorrow.

Hollie: Yeah. I completely agree. I think revenue is an accident of customer centricity, in a sense. I think it’s an easy accident because of all the things you get to learn about your customers, and how actually enjoyable it is to have those relationships.

Hollie: Thank you for being here today. Thank you, Nicolas.

Nicolas: Thank you, Hollie.

Hollie: Enjoy the rest of your experience at SaaStr.

Published on June 18, 2019

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