[Photo Credits: Nathanael De Boer https://nathanael-de-
A venture backed company since 2006, Densify is a SaaS company focused on Cloud optimization. Delivered as a service, Densify's patented optimization engine collects and analyzes data from cloud computing services and other IT environments, which is further combined with advisory services of cloud experts who report on cost, explore usage patterns, and project future trends. Densify is compatible with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and hybrid cloud environments.
Amity sat down with Bradley Liou, Director of Customer Success at Densify to ask him about all things Customer Success. Read our interview with Bradley to find out where Customer Success started at Densify, where it is now, and where it’s headed in the future.
Can you tell us about your responsibilities at Densify?
I am the Director of the Customer Success Team at Densify. I’ve been working there for two and a half years. My role was to build the team from the ground up and really grow the team. Things I’ve done included developing the playbook and strategy, managing the people, really helping to coach and train my team, as well as working with the clients directly. I am the GM, the coach and the player. Depending on the day, it could be I play more of the coach, of the GM, or of the player in the front line, but I do all three.
How did you get started in Customer Success, and how has your path led you to your current role?
I started my career at SAP as product support, and then went on to be a consultant. Since I was in the post-sale world my whole life, I realized that it’s hard for clients to get value out of the product. A lot of the time things are reactive. You’re just listening to the complaints, and reacting to the client’s request. My first Customer Success role was Nulogy – it used to be called Technical Account Manager. That was the time when I really learned about product adoption, mitigating the churn risk by being proactively working with the client and making sure they realize the value out of the software they get. So that got me into the CSM world, and later on I became the first CSM hired by SAP Canada. I worked closely with the product team as well as developing the processes and coaching the new hires. I then joined Densify to build the Customer Success organization from scratch. My career always been in the post sales world, so it is a natural evolution of career development.
You have gone from CSM, to Managing a Customer Success team to Director of Customer Success. What are the big differences you are noticing between these jobs?
I think the biggest difference was when you’re in the front line you get to do everything yourself, and it’s a lot easier. You’re the one managing customer expectation, you’re the one talking to the client. Later on, when I became the manager, I realized now I can’t do everything myself, there’s just too many clients and I don’t have enough time. What I really needed to do was to train my team, to coach my team and spent a lot of one on one time with them, making sure they got enough support to work with their client. I think finally when I became the director, it is another step removed from the operational day to day and really thinking about the KPIs, the strategy, how do you evaluate your team, what is vision of the organization, and that’s the difference from working with the customer and setting up expectation directly. In a way, I’m almost the CSM of my team in order to make sure they get the value. Throughout my career path - from a CSM to a manager and now a director, I get to see the bigger picture on the holistic customer experience and customer’s journey.
How is your team structured, why, and how has that structure evolved over time?
In the post sales group at Densify, under the Client Success department, there are four groups.
The first group is the Account Managers, who are there to do the sales job, renewal, expansion, sending out the sales order, and negotiating the deals. The second group is the Technical Account Manager, who is the “presales” of postsales. They are focused on doing POC and support Account Managers on expansion. Then you have the CSM under the Client Success department and our job is to focus on product adoption and value realization. We’re still getting measured by renewal, and expansion, etc., but our focus is not just to ‘hey you need to renew with this client’, our focus is really on ‘is the customer getting value from Densify’, ‘is the customer adopting Densify’ ‘is the customer onboarding properly’, so we are laser-focused on customer experience and customer outcome. Then we got the fourth group which is Technical Services, who does a lot of consulting, customization, and custom reports. All four of these teams form the Client Success department.
What is the most unique thing about the way your team functions?
We try to be the trust advisor to our customer, both from a business and technical perspective. Our clients are typically cloud architects, we need make sure our CSM team has the domain technical knowledge to act as the trust advisor. When I say the word technical it’s not like my CSMs write code, it’s about they understand our customers, they know the industry inside out, and they can provide advice from the industry perspective, not just from account management perspective. That led to us trademarking our Customer Success Manager as Densification Advisor. On our website, there’s a specific page about Densification Advisor: they are the people that work with you closely as the extension of your team, and make sure you get the value out of Densify service. We went all the way to trademark this term as we believe that our Customer Success Manager is our competitive differentiation. I believe this is really unique because we see that our team as a competitive advantage, over just having a CSM doing a support or renewal job.
We went all the way to trademark this term (Densification Advisor) as we believe that our Customer Success Manager is our competitive differentiation
What is the biggest challenge facing your team, and how do you address it?
Scaling the team. I think the hardest part was how do you correctly forecast the sales in order to forecast the right headcounts. You have to think ahead. A lot of the time it’s also hard to say hey, we are going to close 25 customers in this quarter so we need to get 3 CSMs. So, before you hit that point, how do you make sure your team gets enough support to really work at one hundred percent utilization, or a hundred fifty percent utilization. Scaling the team from that perspective to me would be the most challenging part.
What does the culture of Customer Success look like at Densify?
Culture always depends on the leadership & the manager. Personally, I think our culture can be defined by three words: Vision, Discipline, and Passion. We truly believe in the things we do, and we have a clear vision – provide the best customer experience while helping them achieve their business outcome. We also understand that in order to be a great CSM, there are things you have to do outside of work, including studying the industry and practicing your CSM skillsets. Finally, we love our customers, and the passion is contagious.
Personally, I think our culture can be defined by three words: Vision, Discipline, and Passion
How has your user base evolved over time, and how has that affected the way your team operates?
When we first launched our SaaS model, our user persona was defined as a system administrator. Therefore when we designed our CSM engagement model, we were focused on how does this person work as an user on our platform. What we came to realize was that the user of our platform often times isn’t just a system administer but an IT or Cloud Architect. Our software becomes part of their whole IT ecosystem that they use to optimize their cloud environment. That elevates our team in terms of the skill set and the domain knowledge required to speak the same language.
What does a typical day look like for a member of your team?
Lots of meetings (LOL). I think at end of the day there are only three things you do:
1. Taking information
2. Giving information
3. Marking a decision.
You can only do all of that through meetings – whether it’s internal or external meetings. For example, our CSMs get information from their client, they get information from their manager, they give product information, they coach the customer, they onboard their customers, they train the customer, they conduct a QBR, etc.
We mapped our customer journey in four stages: deployment, onboarding, continuous adoption and renewal. For all four of the stages we have concrete tasks and playbook that a CSM has to perform. So whatever they are doing (through meetings) is something to has do with one of these four stages. Specifically, here are the typical day-to-day work of a CSM during onboarding and continuous optimization stage:
What metrics do you watch most closely?
I am lucky that our software track the value that the customer has realized over time – in hard dollars. The metric I’ve observed most closely is how much the customer has realized their Cloud Cost Saving after using our software. Since Densify optimizes customer’s infrastructure cost, I literally can get to see how much they’re spending in Google Cloud or AWS month by month, and how much they have controlled or reduced the cost. This has a direct correlation with our renewal and expansion, so aside from the typical metrics that Customer Success uses, (NPS, customer engagement level, product usage, onboarding time), the customer cloud saving dollar is the metric I paid the most attention to.
The metric I’ve watched most closely is how much the customer has realized their Cloud Cost Saving after using our software
What role does Customer Success play in developing the overall business strategy at Densify?
We are part of the Densify go-to-market strategy, so when our sales reps sell the product, they are also very proud to tell people that after you buy our product, you will be getting a Densification Advisor working closely with you. The role we play in the overall business strategy is that we provide the advisory value in addition to the product itself. We make our customer’s life easier by helping them adopt the software and realize the value (hard dollar value) in a short time frame.
We provide the advisory value in addition to the product itself
Where is Customer Success headed at Densify, and what are you most excited to do in the coming year?
The vision for the team is to continue building out the team and growing the team to foster the next generation of CSMs. Next year, the goal is to scale the team and develop them to be the trusted advisor who help our customers gain competitive advantage in their market. What I mean by that is, we are looking to build a team where when people talk about software vendors, they will say things like “you got to work with Densify, because the people they provided, the CSM / the Densification Advisor, know their stuff and understand the industry”. We aren’t just here to tell the customer where to click in the product or the status of a support ticket. We will advise our clients about the road map of AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, and the best practices that other big enterprises use to architect their cloud environment.
At the end of the day, how can you tell that you’ve made your customer successful?
Two things. The first one is customer experience. It can be easily measured by NPS; are we doing better this year, this time compared to last year this time. From the customer experience perspective, we also get references and marketing videos from the customer, so that sort of tells me if our customers happy and have a great experience.
Second thing is the outcome. Since the outcome is easy to measure, we can actually present a report of how much our customers have saved in the cloud - based on Densify’s machine learning recommendation. When customers have achieved their business outcome and they have good experience, it tells us that we are making our customer successful. Customers may leave their old company for a new one, but they will bring our product from company to company. So we not only make our customer’s company successful, we also make our customers (the individual) successful as they can leverage our product to advance their career growth.
Our champions may leave their old company for a new one, but they will bring our product from company to company. So we not only make our customer’s company successful, we also make our customers (the individual) successful as they can leverage our product to advance their career growth.
In your everyday life, what does success look like?
- When my team comes in and they have high energy and excited to start the work
- When they finish the day, they look exhausted but satisfied.
You come in with high energy, you are excited and by the end of the day you are tired ( I expect you to be tired), but you are satisfied because you know you are helping a customer to be successful.
What is the most powerful part of your Customer Success process?
I think the most powerful part is we really focus on success planning and creating a concrete 90 day plan, a quarterly plan, for our customer. The process is done during the onboarding stage, and then every three months we would revisit and build it. We engage with the customer biweekly and check on the status. The 90 day plan is really focused on the customer’s outcome, not just the product itself. The most powerful part is something we call a maturity model, which tells the customer by using our software, what are the six different value domains you will receive and what are the different levels of maturity you can achieve. We have six value domains and five maturity levels. Think of it as a matrix with thirty boxes in it. We map all our customers to each of the boxes and we talk with their executives saying, which step do you want, do you want to go to level 3 this year, do you want to go to level 2 because of the internal process. Based on that we create action items. I think that is our most powerful part in our engagement model.
The 90 days plan is focused on the customer’s outcome, not just the product itself. The unique part of this is that we build the plan based on Densify’s maturity model
What blogs, newsletters, or books are you reading to stay on top of Customer Success and to make sure you’re constantly learning?
Amity is always a good source. I get a lot of articles from Gainsight as well. From the Torontonian community, Kia is great. Her content, material and blog is insightful, and I think at the same time her blog is extremely practical because she’s been doing that for years. From the book perspective, I am telling all of my team to read the book “Customer Success” by Nick Mehta and Lincoln Murphy. There are a lot of practical things that you can leverage out of this book. Aside from reading all the blogs, I also follow a lot of CS leaders on LinkedIn.
If you don't know where to start, Amity has a great resource page. Everyone should start with that page, and follow all the resources listed there.
Do you have one piece of advice for Customer Success professionals who are just getting started today?
Read a lot and network. Book a coffee chat with every Customer Success professional around you for an hour. When I first started in Customer Success four years ago, I was just an entry level CSM. I was lucky to meet John and came to the Customer Success meetup, and I met a lot more people. And every person I met, I tried to have a follow up, whether it was on LinkedIn or a coffee chat, I learn from everyone. I learn their best practices, their career experiences, I learn what sort of advice they would give to someone like me. Through the years, and now as a Director, I have the chance to work with a lot more younger Customer Success professionals...and I always tell them the same thing: network with people, talk to people, asking questions, and book coffee chats. And pay for the coffee!
About the AuthorMore Content by Gabriella Sutarno