CS Blueprint w/ Kristi Faltorusso: When Customers go Through a Merger or Acquisition
Jeff: All right. We're back with another episode of our CS Blueprint. It's Wednesday. It is 12: 34 Eastern. Hello, Christie. How are you?
Christie: Hello, Jeff.
Jeff: I think it's been, I'm going to guess, I think we've had to cancel like three weeks in a row, right? This is maybe the first time in a month almost.
Christie: Yeah, I think we're three or four weeks out, but you had vacation, Jay had some stuff, he had vacation, I had vacation. So I think that we're all hopefully refreshed. And I'm very excited about our topic today so I think it's going to be fun.
Jeff: I'm pumped too, yeah. We've also had some news that comes through from both sides of the coin. So you were coming out and joining ClientSuccess as their new VP of Customer Success. And I think you're one week into the job now, is that right?
Christie: I'm in week two. This is week two.
Jeff: Week two in the role, which is really exciting so we're pumped for you, obviously. And then we just came out yesterday, Higher Logic had some great news about acquiring Vanilla, which is another community platform in this space and it helps us further our mission to help our customers drive engagement with their communities and members and customers so, we're pumped about that too. So we had vacation, but I feel like we also had some work that was happening in the background.
Christie: Well, we definitely kept busy. How excited are you to be my customer now?
Jeff: I'm excited because I think there's so many possibilities. I think we're both serving this customer success and B2B SaaS market, and we're coming at it from different angles, which I'm excited about because I think there's going to be so much fun opportunity for us to keep this type of thing going in terms of our podcasts, but ideation and just serving the idea that customer success is becoming vital to B2B SaaS organizations and driving retention and long- term growth. I think it's cool because we're both, I think, having that same mission, but coming at it from different angles. So for me, I'm super pumped. And now that we get to be your customer, we can see how Christie works in terms of dealing with her clients. I'm hopefully not going to be a thorny one. And actually I'm excited to learn the platform. So how excited are you to get us as customers? That's the better question.
Christie: I'm excited for you to validate all of the stuff I've been putting out in the community. As a customer you can tell me if all of the things that I say work and create a good experience, actually work and create a good experience. So I almost feel like you guys are my point of validation now to make everything I've said real for folks, so.
Jeff: Yeah, I like it. That's very true. Well, on the eve of our announcement yesterday, it seems like a fitting topic to talk through. When you are in customer success, this does where there's consolidation in the market, there's acquisitions, there's mergers that are happening, there's also maybe the situation where a customer might go out of business and so there's kind of a little bit of these scenarios that have been happening. And so I think it'd be fun. I know you just put out a graphic here this morning as well, just talking through what does it mean when your customers are going through mergers and acquisitions? How do you become that trusted partner? How do you make sure and solidify that relationship? How do you make sure when those companies are transitioning and coming together that you're thought about in the right light and that you're positioning yourself in the best way possible? So, I know we've had some experience in some of our consulting days where we had some customers go through this. I know in your roles you've obviously gone through this as well. So, where do you start with that when you start thinking about mergers and acquisitions? For you, does that really start, again, kind of before that even happens with the relationship that we're building, with the experience that they've had? I'm clearly thinking that that's going to be an area where you're just going into it, there has to be something there to work from.
Christie: Absolutely. Right, so you kind of nailed it. It's if you're waiting until the M& A occurs to get all your ducks in a row, you're very, very late, right? You're going to miss the mark in a big way. So definitely listen, you've got to be prepared. Your journey and how you orchestrate it need to be top notch. You need to be considering the experience and making sure that you are delivering value and delivering on those goals for your customers from day zero. And so if you're waiting until any major event or milestone happens with your customer to react, you're in a reactive model, you are not in a proactive model, right? So let's just establish that. Because even if you have a playbook and you're going to run it in time, if you've not done all the work beforehand you're definitely behind in the situation. So listen, that said, what I've always done is the first time you hear about it, you've got to go understand what the detail, what's happening? So, I'm big on research. So before you even start to have a conversation with your customer, understanding all the elements of what it is, right? Because a merger is not the same as an acquisition is not the same as a company being dissolved, right? There's so many things that can kind of be labeled under the M& A bucket, but if you're going to best support your customer and drive your business forward, you have to understand all of it, right? So who's acquiring who? What's happening? What is the news saying? Go, just do as much research as you can. What I have found to be true is if you're learning about it super early, there just might not be a lot of information so you're kind of flying blind, unfortunately, and in a lot of companies where they are larger M& A takes a long time, right? Even once you've agreed on it and you've signed the paper, you might not have any changes or anything material to discuss for months, weeks, years, right? So, that's where I start, it's just kind of doing your homework. What are your thoughts?
Jeff: Yeah, I agree. No, and especially your point about the fact that this might not happen for a while, the thought that comes to my mind right now is Salesforce bought Slack, two public companies, so this is an extreme example, but two public companies and that acquisition was announced, I think, towards the middle of last year and it's still not complete, we're almost in the middle of this year. So it's going to be maybe at least 12 months before that thing's complete. So imagine being a Slack vendor, you're kind of sitting here for this entire year and like you said, there's a ton of research that you can be doing about that. The other thing that I like to think about too, you mentioned if you hear about it early, then there might not be a lot of information. And so I like to think about a couple of other things as well, which is going to even research the market more heavily so looking at things like G2 Crowd, or if there's a Gartner Report that's out there. Why would they be doing this, right? What are some of the factors that you could start just asserting yourself? If you start looking at some of the information that the CEO's or the other acquiring company might be looking at. So I think even just going beyond the surface level of like," Hey, what's happening in the news? Hey, what's happening on LinkedIn? What's the actual public announcement look like?" What are some of the other ways that you can get information about why they might be doing this and kind of the behind the scenes look. Another one is utilizing something like a Crunchbase or PitchBook, which typically has funding information and, or can give some more details just about revenue history or other players in the company. So just trying to leverage some websites like that, that maybe aren't something that you utilize on a daily basis. So trying to go outside of your sweet spot. So I agree with that a lot. The second point you put on here too, which I think is kind of nice- crosstalk.
Christie: Whoa, before we go there, I want to label two more additional resources you can go into. If they are a public company, go back and listening to previous quarterly earnings reports you'll hear thematic things that might indicate certain things might happen, you might get some insight into that as well as 10- K reports. So, if it's a public company, leverage all of that information that's available, right? The investor section of their site would probably have a ton because they have to share that information. So, they have to put it out there, go use it to your advantage. I'm telling you go back a couple quarters because especially at big M& A, it's not happening, it's not like it just started right before you heard about it, right? This is probably a year in the making if you think about, or maybe longer, right? All the research they have to do, what they're looking at, how they're evaluating the market. So go back and listen to those conversations. Most of them are prerecorded and live on a site, again, for public companies. So just, I think going back and using that as a resource also.
Jeff: Yeah, no, I'm huge on that. I always love to do that too. I've told people if you're going to interview for jobs to do that, go look at public companies, search for 10- Ks. Even if it's not the company you're applying for, they still have a ton of market information on there, or themes that are happening that you can kind of pick out. So yeah, I think it's a good one. What's your second one?
Christie: I think I kind of just combined them. I think it was more like the quarterly earnings and then the recorded calls and then the- crosstalk
Jeff: Oh, yeah. Yeah, and I think it's true, the other thing that I've always tried to go do as well as just YouTube as many recordings as possible of the recent executives. And now it might be a little harder because there's not necessarily a lot of conferences or things that are happening where there might be speaking, but what webinars they've been on recently, just where they've been publicly. That is such a good, I mean, to your point, they're going to talk about things that even if you're not going to learn about the specific acquisition you're learning about the acquiring company, hopefully, that is saying," Oh, they care about X or they're talking about Y a lot or Z is happening." So yeah, I agree doing as much research as possible. And actually, I just found out this search technique that you can use on Google. So you know how Google Sheets and Docs and all that kind of stuff is technically, if you open up to the public you can search for those things. So I just found a search, I'll share it with you later, but I just found a search where you can actually search all the public Google Docs that are out there and Google Sheets and all this kind of stuff. So I've had some guys show me recently how you can look up like somebody had a list of all the VCs that are out there and it's just in this nice Google Sheet with all this information already added, and it was just a public Google Sheet that was out there. And so there's this way that you can also get information. So maybe that's a way to look at where's your company listed in some of these public documents that are available. So just another technique I just found recently.
Christie: I love that.
Jeff: Well yeah, you mentioned opportunity assessment. And I think, to me as that next step, and to me, I think about it as two ways to look at that opportunity assessment. One is the direct opportunity of like, okay, who's the acquiring company? Are they a current customer of ours? Do we have current contact? Do they have a similar platform to what our thing does? Understanding what is that kind of direct correlation? And making sure that we understand what that is and starting to connect the dots there. I think the second one that I think about too is just the larger market opportunity that it exists in, why is this happening? What does this mean for the larger market as well, right? So if this acquisition is happening between two companies or merger, what's happening to the other five players in the market? And so how do I help our company, maybe from a sales perspective set up," Hey, I'm learning about this acquisition and I'm seeing this, here's five of the other competitors, or here's five of the other players that are in the space." And what do we do about these as a market opportunity now? Do we go after them or maybe they weren't on our list before, should they be now? But I just think I would say don't take for granted that everyone is thinking that way or thinking about the opportunity the same way you are. So just be vocal in your company of saying," Hey, here's the total market here, here's what's happening between the acquired companies." Go work with the sales reps to do that, but then also making sure to present kind of the market opportunity. So, I don't know if you think about it that way too of kind of two opportunities to make sure that we're thinking about, but that's the way I kind of took your opportunity assessment as you laid it out in your steps.
Christie: Yeah. I mean, I think it could be as big as the scope as you guys want to make it as a company, right? If it makes sense in those other competitive companies or fit in your ICP, definitely go and explore it. I'm big on staying true to your ICP so if they don't make sense, understand their behaviors and other solutions that they're using, things like that, because there could be a rippling effect, but definitely before I'm starting to pursue anything I want to be a little bit more targeted. But yeah, absolutely. Listen, you have to understand the opportunity and risk with your existing customer, you have to understand the opportunity and risk with any potential acquiring or merging company. I love hopefully, many people have the ability to go dig into their CRM and understand that. But I can tell you I've uncovered a wealth of information because many times the either acquiring company or the company that was acquired or whatever the case may be, the one that's not our customer today, we've tried to get them to be a customer, right? So you'll find a lot of information from them as a prospect, right? And ultimately why they do move forward with your solution might have a wealth of data as well. So maybe you start to uncover what solution they are using, that way you can start to get ahead of some risk and conversations, anchor on differentiators as you're talking to your customer, right? There's a lot of strategies and levers you can pull with that insight. So I think, listen, if the salesperson is still there, definitely go partner with them, go understand what those conversations look like, go back and listen to any Gong recordings with that call, right? Go really do your due diligence. Don't just take what's in writing as law, really spend the time to understand what happened, why aren't they a customer? Why aren't they a customer yet? And really use that advantageously to decide and determine what your next steps and paths should be. But that's big, right? I can tell you we, over the past decade, in customer success, I've definitely worked in companies where I, myself or my team have missed the mark on doing that due diligence and definitely kind of like shoe in your mouth like just that," Oh God, why? Oh, we missed that." So just be smart about it, right? You've got a ton of information, use it.
Jeff: And I think too, when I think about those first two steps like you mentioned, right? That's not even talking to the customer yet. So this is all internal research, this is all, and I think too, when you think about that, how are you coordinating that and just making it easier for your teams, right? So how do you have a folder that has all this stuff? How do you share it with your teams appropriately? But I just can't stress enough how as you look at your leaders and the executive team in your company how much they will appreciate if you come to them and say," Hey, I've already got this file started. It's got these five documents. I named it this way for a reason, you can go through and search for certain things. Hey, I wasn't able to go research this, can you go do research this for me?" Use that to your advantage. But I think just making it as easy as possible to present that information internally is going to go such a long way, when you start thinking about, yeah, we just talked about how the first two steps are all just internal research and research yourself, anything you can on Google so, I would say take that advantage too.
Christie: I love that. Right, how you package it up to have that internal dialogue with the account team, right? Which your team is going to include your executives and other key players in your business, it's not just the CS team, right? You include everybody, right? And your executives in particular, because at that level they might have purview and insights into things much bigger and broader than you do, right? They're hearing behind the door conversations, so hopefully they can lean in with that. But I love the point that you make, because I like to be super organized, is put it all together, right? And I think even as a CSM, if you are proactively preparing all that information in a way that can be easily consumed by your peers and stakeholders internally, it'll go a long way, right? It really shows that you've got command over the situation and that you can help them properly navigate it. So I think if you're a CSM, it's a huge opportunity for you to lead from the front and really show your ability to command that audience.
Jeff: Yeah. That's such a good point too, about how that really is like a skill and a for you an actual responsibility that you're taking on accountability that you're showing. And so it's like, hey, the next time an opportunity comes up, or maybe there's something that you can actually be looked at in such a positive light for taking advantage of this opportunity in a big way. So you kind of put next to your two, is the discuss with the customer. And so I think the first thing that comes to mind for me, as you start thinking about engaging the customer is, I always like to say, don't assume, right? The assumption might be," Oh my gosh, this is great," for everything I read, right? Everything is going to sound great and rosy when you read it in the news, right? That's what it's meant to do, but don't assume that your day- to- day contact is going to feel the same way about that, or feels the same way about the acquisition. So I think you have to go in with this mindset of a little bit of reserved of trying to feel out, how are they feeling about it?" Hey, I heard about the news, it looks like this is a great opportunity for your companies," and then see how they react. Or you get on the phone, if they're really pumped about it then you can react in that way. But I just think making sure that you're showing empathy to that person specifically, if it's your day- to- day contact, because you don't know how they feel about it, you don't know if something's going to happen in this acquisition that they already know about and so maybe they might have to move on from the organization or that responsibility is going to move over to another person so they're kind of losing maybe some responsibility that they had. So I think there's just, to me, a lot of uncertainty and you have to kind of approach with this ability to kind of look at it from an empathetic light to begin with, and then kind of feel your way around that, at least the initial part of that conversation.
Christie: Jeff, it's as if you read my LinkedIn posts, right? So I put out these steps, but the first thing I said is to your point, right? Don't assume, we don't know if this is good news or bad news. And I'll tell you, people, when you're cutting back and scaling and adjusting budgets, people are sometimes the first thing to go. And so your main point of contact might be feeling very uneasy about their security through this entire change. For some folks it's super exciting, the sky's the limit, there's a ton of opportunity and potential and for others, it's just not the same case. So whatever we said is that initial conversation, maybe park your agenda entirely, right? Don't even go in with an agenda, maybe it is to your point, right? We're just going to go in and feel it out. Is this a celebratory milestone or is this something that people aren't feeling really good about? And so it'll help you navigate it effectively. We talk about CSMs need to be empathetic to situations, this is a great time to demonstrate your ability to be empathetic. So, go in there with just an open ear, open heart, and just kind of really connect with the individual, right. If it's happy, celebrate it big. If it's not, help them navigate it, right? And if you've done your job as a CSM, right, and something does happen that's not great, if they've been a champion, it's a great opportunity for you to find them a new home, another solution, right? So there's a lot of avenues this could go down if you play it right.
Jeff: Yeah. And I think too, like you said, thinking about, I've always tried to approach those conversations too as singular one- offs before there a bigger discussion. So if I have a great relationship with my day- to- day contact, then it's just like you said, I'm going to do that where I'm going to reach out to them, text them, call them, do a quick email, try and feel that out. If I have others in the organization that have relationships, we want that to happen too. Like," Hey, if you have a one-on- one relationship, I need you to kind of leverage that field out right now, see what's happening." And then I think that's where you come back together again with that account team, like you said, right? It's really more, this becomes less about the CSM managing this and it's more," Hey, we're bringing together this account team, we've got all this internal research. We had some one- on- one conversations. Here's what we're feeling out and hearing." Okay, what should the next meeting be, right? What should that EBR look like? And how do we really start to get to the new team? How do we start to bring that EBR so that we're actually bringing value and talking about what's going to matter to this joint company or this merger acquisition that's happening? But I think that one- to- one conversation to me, I think, sometimes gets overlooked. I think people are too quick to say," Oh my gosh, this happened. Let's get everybody on the phone. Let's get into a big meeting. Let's do it." And then, again, you're kind of going there with this agenda and you haven't really felt out, okay, is this a positive celebratory or is this a negative situation or what's going to happen? And then you get to this meeting and then it's just hijacked because you don't know which direction it's going to go. And it just seems like a waste of time. So I think Jay always talks about this, right? There has to be a meeting before the meeting. You need to have a little bit of that meeting ahead of time to kind of set yourself inaudible that the next two steps you talked about, right? Are we getting introduced to the right people at the new organization? How do we start establishing relationships early? And then how do we have that quick EBR where it's like," Hey, we're bringing value to the table right from day one," so how do you set yourself up to do that? So to me, that's why I think those one- to- one conversations become so important.
Christie: Absolutely. And I mean, you nailed it, right? All those conversations are sequenced. If they're sequenced the right way, they're going help you be more successful so you've got to execute it correctly. Getting access to the new team is huge. Keep putting the asks out there, hopefully the team will be able to facilitate those, but a lot of times when you're going through M& A, they don't even know who that new team is, right? So again, don't make the assumptions that they are being blockers or they're not willing or able to help you. They just don't know. So, just be cautious about how you proceed, make sure that you're just very clear in your intention. One thing you did hit on, which I also want to just emphasize, you talked about your agenda, well, that's the whole key point of the trust equation, right? Self- orientation. Put your agenda aside for a second, don't let your customer feel your agenda or your intent, regardless of how panicked you are about what this means to you and your business, for a minute. For a minute, make it not about you. And then that will go a long way.
Jeff: That was a good catch because it should be right about if you're having the right one- to- one conversations then you already can start to shape what the needs are of their business, right? And like you said, how do you start getting into the, what are they going through? What are the things that they're going to need? How do you make it as easy and effective as possible, right? I even think about things like, I've gone through a number of acquisitions before and it's like, okay, we're combining our CRMs, we're combining all this marketing, we're combining Microsoft or whatever. All these tools are being combined so it's like, you are one on a list of 50 tools that have to be migrated over. And so even just thinking about it from that perspective of saying," Okay, what do I know that their IT teams are going to need in the future? What do I need? What do we know?" And so it's almost like starting to come up with, how do you just bring that to the table or at least have that prepared? You don't have to bring that to the first meeting, but how do you start preparing that stuff so that at the flick of a switch, you can be that vendor that's like," Hey, I'm so easy to do business with because I've already gotten this stuff for you. I'm here at the ready when you need it." Instead of being," Hey yeah, let me go talk to our team and figure out what I need to get you." Right, and then it becomes this back and forth and weeks later, right? So how do you start expediting some of those things and thinking ahead of time of they're going to do this 50 times, how do I just start getting ahead of all the questions that they're going to be asking in terms of the actual transition or migration over? And how do we do that? So, I think that's another big piece that I think about too.
Christie: Create a folder, put your contract in it, put any EBR that you have in there, anything about your product that's going to help them do a competitive analysis, because again, I'm sure it's going to go to procurement, legal is going to want to see things. It's not just your team. And just remember that there's going to be a lot of folks involved. So again, to your point, customer experience doesn't start inaudible with the customer success team. It's kind of a well- rounded experience across everybody that they have interactions with, to your point, make it easy to do business with.
Jeff: Yeah. I think we've only got two minutes. I'm going to leave with one thing that I've always thought about or appreciated as well which is, okay, let's say you get through kind of the first, I think five steps we talked about, right? So you've done the upfront research. You've had the right one- on- one conversations, you're meeting the new team and you're kind of coming into that first, we'll call it EBR type conversation with that combined team. So you've got the old team, the new team coming together, you're coming to the table and you're providing value right from day one. One thing I always think about is obviously at that point, you've probably already set an agenda, you've got a deck, right? You've got all this stuff, material prepared. To me, yes, that's great stuff to send out ahead of time, but also think about this, they've been in this acquisition, they're doing a hundred things, there's so many things going on, right? So how do you think about getting that down into one slide? How do I get that into one slide that I can send them ahead, right? The day before the meeting, how can I send them one slide that basically it goes into what I think of as three things, which is, who are we and what do we do for you? What are the results that we've driven up until now? And then understanding what we know about this merger and acquisition, what do we think is the right next steps to be taking? And I think if you can boil it down into that into one slide, I think that goes a long way with executives and other teams who are coming to the call and just wanting that quick hit information. And then you can walk through your deck, right? All that stuff is great for the call and you can go through into a conversation, but I just think boiling it down into one slide to me sometimes it's just so nice and again, effective, and easy to do business with where it's like," Oh, now I understand what they do. I understand what results they've driven recently and understand their perspective on what's going to happen next." And so I just think about that a lot. I've appreciated that when reps do it in some of the acquisitions that I've gone through.
Christie: I love that. I think it's such an important point. All right, well, with this last minute, I think the only other thing I'm going to leave everyone with is this is not going to be an overnight thing. This isn't a playbook that you can run and execute in two weeks, you're going to have to manage through the change. That risk or that opportunity is going to be looming, you've got to be comfortable with the fact that that is, and it's going to be something we're going to have to stay very close to until it's complete. And guess what guys? It's never going to be complete. There's always going to be some elements of it that'll continue and nuances for a while. So just stick with it, make sure you're managing it effectively and try not to do it alone would be my advice.
Jeff: Yeah. No better way to end. Don't do it alone. There's a team there, but take accountability and responsibility, but don't do it alone, I think, is just the message there. So, all right. Well, Christie, it was fun to do it again. Glad we're going to get back on a regular cadence hopefully. Excited you're at ClientSuccess and excited we're a customer now after our acquisition. So we'll talk to you again next week.
Christie: Awesome. Thanks Jeff. Talk soon.
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