Ep 255: Vikas Bhambri is SVP Sales and Customer Experience @ Kustomer, the startup providing Real-time, actionable views of customers with continuous omnichannel conversations and intelligence that automates repetitive, manual tasks. To date they have raised over $113m in financing from some of the best in the business including Tiger Global, Battery Ventures, Boldstart, Canaan, Cisco, and Redpoint, just to name a few. Prior to Kustomer, Vikas spent over 20 years implementing, consulting, marketing, and selling CRM and ContactCenter solutions with companies like LivePerson and Oracle.
In Today’s Episode We Discuss:
* How Vikas made his way into the world of SaaS and came to be at the rocketship that is Kustomer.
* Why does Vikas believe that a wave of SaaS incumbents are about to be displaced or disrupted? What about the changing tech stacks and infrastructures makes them vulnerable to up and comers? Does this not lead to a consolidatory environment? How does Vikas see the space play out in the coming years when it comes to acquisitions?
* What have been the dramatic changes that have happened in sales over the last few years? What is the right way for startup founders to address sales rep onboarding? Why is it so crucial to invest in enablement in the early days? How should this enablement be structured? How does this change sales rep payback periods? What is a good payback period?
* How does Vikas feel about discounting? If accepted, what must the startup ask for in return? How does Vikas think about multi-year deals? When are they good? What sort of terms make them less beneficial for the vendor?
* How does Vikas think about professional services? What is a good margin for professional services? What ratio of revenue is healthy for professional services to account for? When should one look to hire their first customer success reps? What should they look for in those reps?
Ep 256: As a global technology provider powering thousands of SaaS companies, Google is at the forefront of driving exciting and innovative technologies to market. Eyal and Megan host a fireside chat between Google Cloud and Zenoss, a leader in software-defined IT operations. They discuss the most common and emerging challenges facing SaaS companies today. You’ll also learn how leading SaaS companies are able to scale and thrive in this complex, dynamic environment.
SaaStr’s Founder’s Favorites Series features one of SaaStr Annual’s best of the best sessions that you might have missed.
This podcast is an excerpt of Eyal and Megan’s session at SaaStr Annual 2019.
Missed the session? Here’s what Eyal and Megan talk about:
- How to develop software faster
- The emergence of new A.I. services
- Why the “strongest” conversations need to happen between engineering and marketing
If you would like to find out more about the show and the guests presented, you can follow us on Twitter here:
Below, we’ve shared the full transcript of Harry’s interview with Vikas Bhambri.
Harry Stebbings: We are back and you are listening to the official Saastr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings, and it’d be great to welcome you behind the scenes here into our process and how we make the shows we do. You can do that on Instagram at hstabbings1996 with two Bs. It’d be great to see you there. However to our discussion today, and this was a very, very unique show. I wrote a schedule for the show as I always do, with 13 questions and I proceeded to ask just one of those planned questions. The conversation was so natural and free flowing that we just went freestyle with this one. So with that I’m so thrilled to welcome Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and Customer Experience at Kustomer, the startup providing real time, actionable views of customers with continuous omnichannel conversations and intelligence that automates repetitive manual tasks. To date, they’ve raised over $113 million in financing from some of the best in the business, including Tiger Global, Battery Ventures, Boldstart, Canaan, Cisco, and Redpoint, just to name a few.
Harry Stebbings: Prior to Kustomer, Vikas spent over 20 years implementing, consulting, marketing, and selling CRM and contact center solutions with companies like LivePerson, Oracle, and a huge thanks to the wonderful Mr Brad Birnbaum for making me intro today. I really do so appreciate that.
Harry Stebbings: However, you’ve heard quite enough of Harry and so now I’m very, very excited to hand over to Vikas Bhambri, SVP of Sales and Customer Experience at Kustomer.
Harry Stebbings: Vikas, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show today. I’ve heard so many great things from Brad, but thank you so much for joining me today.
Vikas Bhambri: Harry, I’m really excited to be chatting and it’s always good to hear an English accent in the morning. So looking forward to it.
Harry Stebbings: That is far too kind of you. If only everyone said that. But I want to kick off today with a little bit about you. So tell me, Vikas, I love the world of SaaS, but how did you make your way into the world of SaaS and come to me SVP of Sales and Customers today?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah. It’s actually an interesting journey and unique in that unlike most folks these days, a lot of them can stem their history with SaaS starting at SalesForce, as an example. I think I’ve listened to quite a few folks who started their journey there. I actually started it at Oracle and it was by accident. So as I was making the move, I was actually based in the UK and was looking to transfer back to the US within Oracle. I got approached around this startup within Oracle called the CRM on Demand group. So when Oracle acquired Siebel, funnily enough, they had this hidden gem, which was Siebel on Demand, which was a SaaS CRM platform, competing with the likes of SalesForce.com, that Oracle had acquired. So they asked me if I would like to be part of that group and my answer was flat no. I thought CRM, in the cloud, et cetera, was never going to be anything. So what do I know right?
Vikas Bhambri: Three weeks later, I hosted a CIO breakfast in London and I had CIOs from some of the biggest banks in London, as well as some of the US banks that had a significant presence, i.e. at JP Morgan in London, and to a person, they said they would never spend another penny in on-premise CRM. I looked around the room and they all mentioned SalesForce.com, and this is in the early days, and I said to myself, “Okay.” So I made the call back and I said, “Listen, is that opportunity still available?” Luckily for me, it was. So when I moved back to the US, I was part of this group within Oracle to build out the CRM on Demand business, and we did. We did amazingly well in the early days competing with SalesForce.com. So that’s how I made my journey into SaaS was by accident, but through the wisdom of these CIOs basically telling me that on-prem CRM was not a viable option for them anymore. So that’s how the journey began.
Harry Stebbings: My word, that’s a very worthy breakfast. I’m sure you’re glad you hosted that one. I do want to break the interview today up into a couple of different parts really. I want to start on a top down maybe how the industry is changing and evolving and how, especially the sales process, is changing and evolving. Then maybe dive a little bit deeper on especially scaling sales and customer experience in particular. Does that work for you, Vikas?
Vikas Bhambri: Absolutely.
Harry Stebbings: So if we still on top down on the industry, we’ve chatted before and you said something very poignant to me, which is we’re in the first wave of disruptors that are built to take out the godfathers of SaaS. Now, me loving anything to do with the Godfather, I have to ask. Who are the godfathers of SaaS first, and why will they be replaced?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah. If you look at the godfathers of SaaS, I think especially in our space, the two that come to mind are SalesForce.com and Zendesk. Then if you look at some of the other areas outside of CRM, you see the likes of Workday, SuccessFactors, et cetera. This is the wave I call SaaS 1.0. Why do I think these companies have an opportunity to be disrupted in their own right, as they once disrupted many of the traditional on-premise vendors, is two-fold. I think from one perspective, at the end of the day, technology does become dated. The mere fact of just the advancements in tech that we’re seeing through the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook, that are putting open source technology out there, things that you can use to modernize your infrastructure at lower cost, one of the things that really has escaped a lot of folks is how challenging it is for a SaaS vendor to basically rip out parts of the engine as they’re moving full speed ahead.
Vikas Bhambri: You think about the number of customers that you put on the platform and now you’re trying to make changes and it becomes a real challenge to do that in your core infrastructure because you’re literally running 24 by seven operations of customers on your platform. So for you to make changes, it becomes really difficult. So one is just the sheer technology aspect of it. The second is many of these companies have grown significantly and their product portfolios have grown as they’ve had to obviously acquire more revenue out of their existing customer base, as they have acquired other technologies. You’ve seen SalesForce with a number of significant acquisitions in the last 12 months, as an example. So that in itself generates a complexity because as you have to remember, it truly is software as a service. As you get bigger, more complex, more confusing to your customers, it becomes harder for you to deliver that service. So I think there’s an opportunity for what I look at as the second wave, companies like Kustomer, Dialpad, et cetera, coming in and being very focused in an area and owning that and thus disrupting those traditional vendors.
Harry Stebbings: So, I have to say, I do listen to the thesis and I do find myself nodding my head at 99% of it. The 1% of me that goes, “Ah, but wait,” is the element of consolidation and what could happen in that respect. We see SalesForce and Workday have such large balance sheets. How do you think about actually just generating a wave of consolidation even in the billions of dollars? We saw Adaptive Insights being bought for 1.3, I think it was, by Workday. That’s a huge than they can pay. Is this not just a natural market for consolidation?
Vikas Bhambri: It is and it isn’t. I think there’s certainly an opportunity to consolidate as you’ve seen different technologies being acquired by these larger players with these amazing balance sheets. But I think what it boils down to is also how newer technology is being developed and the ability for it to inter-operate with other platforms. What we’re seeing is where once upon a time people were looking at best of breed software, then everybody went to the suite approach and suddenly you had the likes of the NetSuites, the Oracle, ERPs, the SAPs, et cetera. Now you’re seeing people saying, “Look, I can really assemble, without major IT overhead and challenges, the best in breed in different subject areas. So I can bring in a Kustomer for customer service. I can bring in a Marketo for marketing, et cetera, and assemble with a very low cost overhead, these best of breed solutions to do what they were meant to do, the subject area that I’m trying to deal with them.”
Vikas Bhambri: So I think that’s an interesting thing that has enabled the buyer, the companies that we deal with. The other thing is the flexibility of SaaS, where I can now hold these vendors accountable to their subject matter. If they don’t work out, I can swap them out right? So really going back to that service, which once again I think a lot of customers that I deal with on a regular basis, even those that are “wall to wall SalesForce” feel that they are “locked in”. I think going back to the change in the buyer behavior, that’s not a place that people want to feel right? That’s how they felt 20 years ago with the on-premise vendors, that I’m now locked in. They don’t want to be back in that same position now with the SaaS vendors.
Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, do you not think actually, even in the world of SaaS, we still have incredible amounts of lock in. Be it managed databases, be it storage repositories of data that are locked into platforms specifically. Do you not think that actually we’ve just transferred to cloud lock-in versus on-prem lock-in?
Vikas Bhambri: I do. I think so in the terms of the SaaS 1.0 vendors right? I think a lot of them were architected with that in mind. What I often say to folks is for every dollar that a SaaS vendor gets, there’s another probably $20 in an ecosystem of ISV partners, systems integrators, et cetera, that are making money off of that $1 that the SaaS vendor is making. So there’s a lock-in, not only from a technology aspect, but just from the ecosystem around it. I think what’s happened now is people are starting to feel like me, even moving systems, getting off of one platform and moving to another, is a challenge. I think where we’re seeing is really opening it up where we’re making it really easy here at Kustomer for customers to really get their data out of our systems, seamlessly integrate it with other applications.
Vikas Bhambri: At the end of the day, yes, it puts more onus on us to constantly innovate and deliver a quality service. But I think what I’m hearing for our customers is just the mere ability to get data out of our system in real time and then do things with it, makes them feel more comfortable. That they’re not being locked in and they’re not having that, like you said, the traditional database environment where just the mere thought of moving off of one system to another, now invokes army of systems integrators invading my premises.
Harry Stebbings: Totally. I love the lack of lock-in that you guys have. I think the question for me is, if that clearly changes how you think about customer success and customer experience, in terms of the sales side, though, how does this fundamental transition and really how we engage with software, how does that change the sales process itself?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah. So the sales process, it’s changed dramatically right? I’ve been doing this for 20 years and you’re just seeing how it’s changed. I know there’s everything written about how 57% or 68% of the buyer journey is done before they engage a salesperson because so many people are researching online. I’ve got my own thought on that, but for me, it really comes to the sales process being about what is the challenge that the customer is trying to solve for. If we look at that and at the very beginning of that journey, we say, “What are we trying to solve for? What are the KPIs that you guys are going to hold us as a partner accountable to?” Then driving that through the sales process and constantly coming back to that, that as we architect a solution, as we think about how we’re going to, which of our packages are you going to select, how are you going to integrate them, et cetera, constantly coming back to, are they going to meet the objectives of those KPIs?
Vikas Bhambri: That seamlessly flows through then when you hand off to the implementation team or the customer success team, are we meeting those KPIs? To me that’s the true part of the software as a service, which, frankly, I think a lot of people forget. I think that’s where if you look at, we are very proud of our churn rate, being in market now for two years with 0% churn. I think a lot of that being driven by this philosophy, that the service starts at the very front of that sales cycle.
Harry Stebbings: I totally agree with you in terms of where the service starts. I guess my question is, how is service best embodied in sales? What does that actually look like in terms of the tangible customer relationship? Is that more of an ABM type approach?
Vikas Bhambri: Well ABM’s interesting, and I do think so much of it is driven by how and where you engage the customer, right? Whether they’re coming to you because there is, either an awareness in the market or something that they’ve read about or a particular problem they solve. So much of the buyer journey today starts with simple word of mouth. In our world, in the customer experience, customer service space, there are so many forums where VPs of customer service partner on everything together from how do I train my teams, how do I incent them, et cetera, to then what technologies are you now using. So it’s that. When we are going through an ABM approach and going through a concerted effort to approach the market, it’s also going back to tying into the qualities and the problems that we solve.
Vikas Bhambri: So rather than going in and touting we’re the greatest, we’re number one and all of that, which fundamentally everybody says, it’s more, look. Here are the problems we solve. At the end of the day, if you don’t have these problems, God bless. You go about your business and you keep doing what you’re doing. But if you are facing these problems then a) we should talk, and then once we start that journey, then it’s, as I said, holding us accountable consistently through that process of, are we coming back to, is this still a problem? Is it a problem we solve? I think that’s how we approach the sales end of it.
Harry Stebbings: No, totally. I love that approach. It’s a formal, human and less transactional than I find a lot of sales processes, to be very honest. I do have to ask though, having just said about less transactional, we mentioned KPIs. KPIs are a big one for me, especially for you now as SVP of sales. How do you think about setting on the KPI side? Ambitious enough KPIs that people really have to stretch, but also not too ambitious that they’ll get very disheartened if they don’t hit them. How do you fit that nice balance?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah. It’s an interesting one, right? Because I think there’s so much involved in it. You look at where people look at metrics and they look at on-target earnings. In a SaaS business, you want to be anywhere from 4 to 6x, your on-target earnings from a quota perspective. What I have worked on and work with my leadership team, my peers, with Brad and finance as well as our board, is there’s different points in the journey as you go through that. Meaning, I think where a lot of people come in and they look at a rule of thumb and they say, “Okay, we’re going to go to 6x right out of the gate, not understanding that your infrastructure needs to catch up. What are you expecting your salespeople to do? So one of the things, as an early stage company, I came into the realization when I joined Kustomer is, look. We’re going to get to those optimized metrics, but we’re not going to be there day one because we’re going to ask our salespeople to do more than just sell out of the gate, right?
Vikas Bhambri: We’re going to ask them to build territories, build awareness, create their own pipeline, et cetera, especially in the mid-market enterprise, which you also have to understand also takes time. It’s not an SMB where you’re getting volumes of 100 a day. So with that in mind, you have to set optimized metrics, but also making sure that your team is aware that, look, it is going to change over time because the brand will grow. The deals sizes will grow, all of that. I think if you’ve pitched that early on and you don’t suddenly show up one day with $10 million quotas, people understand that that is a journey that they are going to be part of. I think transparency is something I’m really proud of. In fact, I’m hosting my QBR in New York this week and that’s one of the things that we have so many new team members. I’m very transparent with where the business is, how we’re doing it, why we’re going about it, and getting them bought into that journey that they’re on.
Harry Stebbings: [inaudible 00:17:18] and I do totally agree and I love the transparency that you’re instilling in the team. Again, so unfair of me, but more things that I have to unpack. You mentioned that the almost differentiated role of sales in the versatility of the role that you really kind of offer with Kustomer in terms of what salespeople do. New chat, new territories, new processes, new structures. How do you think about sales rep onboarding? It’s the biggest question that I get from new and maybe first-time founders. I’ve hired my first sales reps. How the fuck do I onboard them?
Vikas Bhambri: This is an interesting one, right? Because here’s how I’ve gone about it. I think where I think a lot of startups make the mistake, early stage companies, is they think they can do everything. What I mean by that is they think they can bring in people, “freshers or fresh off the street” and teach them how to sell, teach them subject matter expertise and then they’re left scratching their heads when people are unable to be successful. I’ve taken a different approach. My approach is, look, we cannot as an early stage company, teach you how to sell. There are great companies out there that have entire infrastructures, teams, investment around teaching people how to sell. So why am I going to go and try to do that? Why not get somebody who’s already been through that program? Number one.
Vikas Bhambri: Number two, this will vary depending on the area you’re in. For me, I’m very fortunate that we’re in a space that has been around. The contact center is not brand new. So for me, I can not only get people who have sales experience, but I can actually get people that have subject matter expertise. So those are two things that I look for in every candidate. Then ultimately, what my responsibility is and my organizational responsibility is, to teach you how to sell and position Kustomer. That’s why I’m able to get people out of the gate really quickly. Now having said that, even then I need to invest in that enablement. So one of the things that I did, pretty early on here as we knew we were going to scale the team, was I set up an enablement function.
Vikas Bhambri: So I’ve got somebody who leads an enablement function and we’ve built out an entire playbook curriculum. It’s really interesting to bring in people from those SaaS 1.0 vendors, the Zendesks and the SalesForces that have really deep pockets and huge infrastructures. They come back and say, “Your onboarding is as good, if not better, than what I’ve experienced at these mature companies.” So it’s something I’ve definitely invested in and then putting the other pieces around it, such as revenue operations, the right tooling, so acquiring the right software, as well as then sales engineering and other supporting functions.
Harry Stebbings: Totally get you, no, absolutely. I do have the other element to ask in terms of unpacking. You said there about mid-market and it not having the same velocity of SMBs. A couple of questions on this. I clearly don’t get out enough if I have a couple of questions on mid-market versus SMB, but let’s go for it. On the mid-market actual deal size, how do you think about–Tomasz Tunguz before has written and said that mid-market’s a very tough space because it’s almost no man’s land in SaaS pricing. How do you feel, having mastered and navigated that landscape very, very well with Kustomer for the last few years?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah, so first of all, Tomasz is, as you know, one of our board members.
Harry Stebbings: [inaudible 00:20:22] it’s contrarian with that one. Yeah.
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah, yeah. So I am very fortunate to get his wisdom firsthand and he understands our metrics, what we’re doing as a business and how we’re going about it. So the interesting thing for us is one, it has a lot to do with our platform itself and how it enables that transformation and that scale that people are looking to hit. But I think from the mid-market perspective, we find that pricing piece of it, it’s not only that the buyers are more self-aware, have the infrastructure around it and have navigated, and many of them coming from the SaaS 1.0 vendors, already have that experience and know what they’re getting into.
Vikas Bhambri: So they’re a more seasoned or mature buyer, but once they engage, it’s not as fast as a transactional SMB sales cycle, but it actually does move fairly quickly. What we see is 90 to 120 days for them to get through that evaluation and that buyer selection process. So it is pretty interesting. Then I think the fortunate thing for us is that they really want to partner for a sustained period. So looking at multi-year deals and how they really engage us as part of their core strategy in customer service going forward.
Harry Stebbings: I think this is an episode where I should be famed for tearing up the schedule entirely, but you mentioned there the payback being 90 to 120 days. It’s another thing that founders always asked me, which is, I know VCs look at payback. What’s good payback? What would you advise founders in terms of the paybacks that they should be aiming for and whether or not they should actually be prioritizing it at certain phases of company growth?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah, look. At the end of the day, and I know CAC is one term that it’s amazing how often it gets brought up. I think you are going to over invest in the early days, right? That’s just something you have to wrap your head around. I think as long as there is an awareness that yes, we want to get to … It’s like I talked about on the comp side. That yes there are best in class metrics and we aspire to get to them, but in the early days, it’s really what are we building for? If you’re looking to build a sustained business model, you are going to invest early on and as long as you’re tracking it and you’re saying, “Look at certain periods, it’s got to come down. Our payback has to hasten.”
Vikas Bhambri: Completely respect that and appreciate it, but it’s going to take time as, once again, we build brand, we acquire customers, we have those customers out there speaking on our behalf. Because you’re going to, when people factor these things in, you’re looking at all your investment, whether it be on the marketing front or the sales front, and you’re going to front load it to get that market scale. So I think that’s one of the things where I’m pretty fortunate between Tomasz, between Neeraj and Brad, is having those conversations that yes we want to get better, but it is going to happen over time and it’s not going to happen at the snap of a finger at day one. I think that’s where, speaking to some of my peers and some of the pressures they’re under, it’s that lack of realization where everybody wants to hit those best in class metrics right out of the gate. That just, to me, is a very challenging environment to put your teams in.
Harry Stebbings: I know, I totally agree. I think it’s probably a SaaS podcast with terrible British podcast so as to say these wonderful metrics that are to blame for [inaudible 00:23:27]. I’m just really sorry for that, but I do have to ask. You said also about multiyear. I’m always quite confused by multiyear and the way that, essentially, if it’s not an up front payment, you’re just switching renewal from customer success to the finance team. How do you think about the benefits of multiyear? Should you always go for multiyear and are you not also potentially loosing price optimization on the next year with price changes potentially?
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s why it gives protection to the customer as well, right? In terms of them being able to forecast out for their budget purposes, their expenditure, what it would be over two or three years. I think one of the things that we as the vendor have to look at is, how do we become more efficient over that period? So that certainly puts a challenge on the engineering team to look at, but I think it’s a win-win. Because for us, at the end of the day, I look at the contact center as a core solution. So people don’t want to have to necessarily think about renegotiating or having that situation come up where maybe the vendor does gouge them on pricing after year one or whatever it is.
Vikas Bhambri: So I think it’s a win-win, and for us, it does create that environment where we have to keep delivering an amazing service. However, we can also see our run rate out for the next 18, 24 months where it’s amazing to me, companies that have even month to month contracts, where how do you forecast out the business, right? That becomes a very challenging environment and so you’re certainly right. You can’t suddenly go up to a customer after year one and suddenly say, “Hey, our price has gone up from 100 to 200,” but I do think as a SaaS business, one of the things we’re all looking at on a consistent basis, is actually how do we continue to optimize and run a more efficient service even at from a technology perspective.
Harry Stebbings: No. I’m totally with you and I think that’s absolutely the right train of thinking, so absolutely aligned on that. I am aware that we’ve covered half of your role in immense detail in terms of the sales, which I love. In terms of the customer experience, I am super interested, because you know we have many different names and a huge amount of nomenclature around roles today in SaaS. How do you define customer experience today without being too [inaudible 00:25:32] aggression? How does it differ from customer success?
Vikas Bhambri: So for us, customer experience is three core areas of the business. It’s professional services, so the team that actually goes in and implements the platform, and today we do that all ourselves with our internal team. Customer success, so the team that manages the success and the health of our customers, and then our support team. So those are the three functions that roll up into our customer experience that I now manage alongside sales.
Harry Stebbings: Got it. Okay. That makes total sense. Again, off schedule, professional services. Super interesting one, because a lot of VCs sometimes pull their face or squirm when they hear professional services. How do you think about professional services? What level of margins are you like, “Actually this is a comfortable and a strong part of our business.” How do you think about it?
Vikas Bhambri: I can completely understand why they grimace, right? For us, it’s definitely, as I mentioned earlier, it’s one of those investments that we’re making early on because for us, these first thousands and thousands of customers is critical for our long term success right? So for us, every one of them needs to be delivered with an optimal solution so that we know we can have the likes of Rent the Runway and Glossier out there touting the benefits of partnering and working with Kustomer. So it’s not something at this stage of the game that we’re willing to hand off. Frankly, that goes back to what I said. With so much of the SaaS 1.0 vendors, we talk to customers now that say, “Look, my relationship is no longer with that vendor. It’s actually with company x, y, z that’s doing the services work.”
Vikas Bhambri: That creates a great opportunity for us in the market. So I think from that standpoint, it’s definitely an early investment that we’re making. I think something that we will look to diversify over time. We’re already starting to engage on that front but want to be very selective and well thought out into our strategy around that and who we work with, right? Like I said, I can completely understand why the VCs would grimace on that, but I think for us it’s definitely an early stage investment as both we as a company and the platform continue to mature.
Harry Stebbings: No, I absolutely agree with you in terms of the brilliance they can do in terms of retention with customers especially. I do have to ask, in terms of customer success then, if we move from professional service to customer success. It’s one of the hot topics in SaaS today, obviously, as you know. How do you think about when’s the right time to build it out as a separate function within your company?
Vikas Bhambri: Right. So we built it out pretty early on and the reason being, as I said, we’ve got enterprise and large mid-market customers and so for us, that was extremely critical. Once again, not only to strengthen the relationship but give them an opportunity and a voice. Because many customers that partner with early stage companies, one of the reasons they do it, not only because you have great technologies, because they want a seat at the table. They want to be able to invest and give you feedback on your strategy. So otherwise they’re hanging out with the product team everyday, right?
Vikas Bhambri: So for us it was a critical function in not only maintaining those relationships and doing the quarterly business reviews, et cetera, but also giving them a sounding board as to how we can continue to improve both as a platform and as a partner. So that’s why I invested in the role pretty early on and in fact, have grown it probably faster than some would say. I actually now have a team of five people that are focused on this. Because once again, I think it’s so critical early on to get those customers engaged, get their stories, get their feedback and make them really be part of that journey as you continue to grow your company.
Harry Stebbings: I couldn’t agree more. I always say turn customer success into customer acquisition channels. So totally with you there and it’s fantastic to hear about the growth and the investment you put in early on. Vikas, as you can tell, I’ve covered none of the schedule, but I’ve so enjoyed the chat. I do want to dive into the quick-fire round now. So I say a short statement, you give me your thoughts in 60 seconds or less. Are you ready to roll?
Vikas Bhambri: Let’s do it.
Harry Stebbings: Okay, so what do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your time at Kustomer?
Vikas Bhambri: Hire the next level of leadership sooner. That’s the one thing I wish I would have done. At one point, I think I had probably about 20 people reporting directly to me just because we were growing so fast and that was not only unfair to me, but frankly unfair to them. So feedback I’d give my younger self is hire that next level of leadership sooner rather than later.
Harry Stebbings: Speaking of hiring, building diverse teams. What’s your secret? Because you have excelled at this.
Vikas Bhambri: Yeah, look, it’s still a challenge. I’m not going to lie, but I actually think one of the things that helps is being “a diverse person” myself and not fitting maybe a lot of the traditional mold of who a sales leader is, how they get to be a sales leader, and what they look like. I think that certainly helps and then I think understanding that, look, you need the best talent and the best talent comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and the buyer, frankly, is also a diverse pool. So you need to be able to have diverse teams to frankly make yourselves better because the ideas, the thoughts, the experiences, that’s what salespeople are all about. If you think you’re going to get cookie-cutter salespeople, good luck. I really like to get individuals that bring the, I always say, “Bring your flavor to the dance every day.”
Harry Stebbings: I love that. Tell me the sales leader you most respect and admire and why.
Vikas Bhambri: So I had the benefit of working for Erica Schultz who is the Global CRO over at New Relic . I worked for her at Oracle and I worked for her at LivePerson and got to see firsthand side by side of what it takes. The level of due diligence, looking at the data but also at times going with your gut. Bringing in the right people around you, people who at times might be smarter than you in certain areas. Erica is somebody I tremendously respect and value and who I had the opportunity to learn from firsthand.
Harry Stebbings: Listen, I loved having her on the show. Very special episode indeed. Tell me, discounting. Is it always bad and what’s your thinking on discounting?
Vikas Bhambri: Discounting, it’s an interesting one. Look, I think so much of it is just driven by the buyer behavior and I think I often laugh when I hear people talking about you need to sell value. Your finance peers will always tell you, “Why are you discounting? You need to sell value.” I think there is a certain thing where so many of the buyers go to their own procurement schools and seminars, et cetera. So it’s created a very interesting thing. My thing with anything on discounting is what am I getting back in return? This is a partnership and we’re going to give. What are we getting back in return? That to me is the real discussion and the true sense of partnership. That’s exactly how I approach it when I am dealing in a negotiation process with the customer, is we’re going to partner. You want a discount, but how are we going to make this a win-win for both parties? I think that’s been a very successful approach.
Harry Stebbings: Yeah, no, absolutely, and couldn’t agree with you more there. The final one though that I do love to ask and it’s if you could change one thing about the world of SaaS today, what would it be and why?
Vikas Bhambri: So if I could change the one thing about SaaS in its whole, I would say is, really, it’s the S. The service piece of it, I think, we all need to revisit and focus on. I think that’s one where you mentioned earlier, no, are we just running a different business model or technology model from the traditional on-prem vendors? So for me that’s a big focus as we look to deliver customer service ourselves but also enable the customers that use our platform to deliver that service. So to me, every business now it’s a subscription business. I don’t care whether you’re a B2B high-tech software company or you’re selling clothing. So for me, it’s all about focusing on the S in the service.
Harry Stebbings: Listen, Vikas, as I said at the beginning, I heard so many great things from Brad. I can’t thank you enough for putting up with my creativity on that, leaving the schedule so fast, but it’s been so much fun.
Vikas Bhambri: I really appreciate it and will continue to be a listener.
Harry Stebbings: You are a hero. Thank you so much for that, Vikas.
Harry Stebbings: What did I tell you? Such a special guest to have on the show. And as I said, absolutely no questions on the schedule were asked other than the intro. So that was surely an interesting one for Vickas. Poor chap, but I do want to say a huge thank you again to him for giving up the time. If you’d like to see more from us, you can find us on Instagram at hstebbings1996 with two Bs. It really would be great to see you there.
Harry Stebbings: As always, I cannot thank you enough for tuning in and I can’t wait to take you to the other side of the table. Next week is the investor side of the table with a very special episode.