318: The Customer Journey After the Sale, with Michael Watkins

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How to fix a broken Customer Journey after the sale is no easy feat, but we have the man who did just that.

Originally from Australia, Michael Watkins VP of Partner Success at Vendasta, packed up his family and took on winter in Canada. Watkins takes us through the customer journey by reviewing all of the talk tracks, all of the scripts, and all of the vignettes, or whichever word you want to use for your customer success teams. It’s important that it’s not just a one and done but instead takes iteration after iteration. It requires listening to the team, listening to customers, watching the conversion points, and seeing what’s working and what’s not. Once that process is defined, be prepared to make constant changes to refine it.

Watkins is passionate about helping business owners and marketing professionals understand the digital ecosystem as it continues to evolve.
His recent highlights include:

  • 11% Digital revenue growth benefit through a successful digital sales transformation program.
  • $2.35 Million in revenue growth delivered through tactical webinar project.
  • Leader of 17 talented individuals, responsible for: 50+ Sales tools, L&D and customer experience.
  • Developed strategic partnerships with global vendors to improve and progress sales development.

With over 10 years of professional digital marketing experience, Watkins remains focused on expanding his skills and continuing his career progression towards a Strategic Marketing/Program Management role within Innovative Digital Products.


George: It’s a Conquer Local podcast season three. We are talking and digging into SaaS sales, and we’ve been talking about inside sales for the last few episodes. We’ve had some fabulous special guests and speaking of special guests, I went halfway around the world to find this gentleman. Michael Watkins, the VP of partner success at Vendasta Technologies. Hello Michael.

Michael: Hey George. Thanks for having me.

George: Well, and we’ve got an interesting history. I wanted to touch on this off the top because it’s very interesting how this whole thing came together. I remember being at a convention about six and a half years ago, and my friend Kirk Davis, CEO of Gatehouse Newspapers, stood in front of the people that were gathered and he said, “My number one role of CEO is finding top talent.” And I never forgot that. You know, recruiting, always having your eyes open, looking for that next great person that you could add to your team is a very important part of, I think, every manager’s game, regardless of what tier of management you’re at, whether it’s manager, director, VP, C-suite.

George: And I was in Melbourne, Australia about three years ago and I had a chance to spend Saturday with a gentleman that was working at Sensis Yellow Pages and I happened to have that gentleman right now on the podcast, Mr. Michael Watkins. We went to a, I can’t remember the name of that restaurant, but it was right on the water there in downtown Melbourne, about two blocks from the Crown Casino where they have the-

Michael: Good steak sandwich and a cider.

George: And the fire that came up from those torches.

Michael: Yeah.

George: I’m glad I stayed an extra day and I actually changed my flights, I’ll never forget that, to spend an extra day with you and you took Jackie Cook and myself to a footie game and that was fantastic. What’s that place called? The G?

Michael: Yeah, The G, locally. The Melbourne Cricket Ground. Footie is a tough sport. It’s good to watch as well.

George: So Michael Watkins, at that time, was running customer client success inside Sensis Yellow. And I remember getting a phone call late one night and he’s like I’ve taken a package and my family, my wife and I have had a conversation and we would love to pack our kids up and move to Canada and work for Vendasta. And that began, what was it? About a one-year recruitment process where we were able to finally put a deal together. And in the cold of January last year, Mr. Watkins and his family arrived on a plane, one of the coldest days of the year and now are in Canada. And I have the privilege of working with you every day. So I wanted to give that backstory. We’ve known each other for a number of years and we have the privilege of working together every day.

George: So now let’s dig into why you’re here. Customer success. I remember when my boss walked in, he says, “We need to do customer success.” I’m like, “What is that?” And he said, “Well, it’s like servicing the customer, but it’s also growing the customer and it’s retaining the customer.” And I said, “So you mean customer service?” So it’s a fancy name for customer service, but you eat, live and breathe it, Michael. You bring a very unique perspective to our organization. I will tell you, and anybody that’s been listening to the podcast for the last couple of years, I don’t mince words, we screwed this thing up. We kicked it down the field so many times and we seem to be in a much better place today. Michael, when you arrived, what did you notice was broken inside our customer success organization?

Michael: Well, look, George, I think the key point you made is around the team. And it’s not that the process is broken. It’s about making a transformation to go from a reactive support service to a proactive success partnership that’s really hoping to drive revenue. And I think that’s the big key there, is that it’s a four-stage process. And I’ve had the luxury of being through many different experiences, being in small agencies and being in enterprise where I’ve seen different approaches go wrong as well, and our customers are evolving over time. They’ve got different expectations now.

Customer Success – the Never-Ending Evolution

George: So the first piece then, the learnings that we’ve had, and if you don’t agree with me, of course, jump out and call me a liar. But it is an iterative process that is never complete.

Michael: Absolutely. Yeah. So I like to try and think things out and I like to learn from my mistakes as well. And when I first arrived, even just by web, we were talking a lot about what the pain points are and the leadership team did a great job on looking at, well, what’s changed? It’s not that the people are necessarily the problem or the customer is the problem, it’s something’s changed. And we’re living in a pretty exciting world where change is happening every day. And so a simple four-stage plan, which takes a year to do. Has at least 20, 30 mini-steps along the way that we’ve gone through just to understand what needs to be done.

George: I remember the very first meeting that you arrived at our executive after you’ve had a chance to analyze some of the things that you saw inside the organization. You came with a very well thought out plan. And I remember looking around the room at my colleagues on the executive and they were like, “Wow, this guy has been there, done that, is a subject matter expert.” How many iterations did you have inside the Sensis Yellow organization when you were undertaking this role?

Michael: Look, I got some good mates there still, they’re still evolving today. They’re constantly changing. It’s a tricky one when you think of the big players in town, like the Google, the Facebook, the Amazon, the Microsoft. They’re disrupting and they’re changing and they’re competing and they’re getting really vicious. And so when it comes to any digital business, even if it’s not directly marketing any commerce, when you think of security and FinTech, it’s all being driven by that competition at the top. And then at the bottom of that funnel of change and confusion lies a small business. And they’ve got a difficult job comprehending it. And when you’re a service provider helping them out, you need to also make sure you keep it really simple for them. But being ready for change is a big thing, don’t expect it not to change. It will change every single day.

George: I remembered you and I meeting in the foyer, you had been with us for about three or four weeks, no, I think it was three or four months. And you said to me, “I’m going to rip this thing apart and I’m going to get what I need to be successful.” And I admired the boldness of what you were doing because you knew that it was broken. We told you that there were things that you needed to change. But then the other piece is, talk is cheap. But what you did was you started to follow through that and we’ve arrived now at a point, six, eight months into the process where you were right. The things that you were putting in place were right. And even the people that were averse to that change have now adopted. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the tactics that you used to get your vision to come true.

Michael: Yeah, sure. Look, I think to simplify things is, there are four steps that I knew we needed to go through anyway, right? And so the first conversation I had with the team was, hey, I need to listen, I need to learn, shoot me through the videos or the talk tracks. Introduce me to some of your top customers. I did the signup process of the product itself and experienced that as well just to spend a little time to get my head around it because it’s a big beast. But the four stages are around design and listen. And then you go through a define stage, which is where, that’s when you make the change and then you go through the accelerate stage, where I like to refine the process and ramp it up.

Michael: But the last part, which we’re still working through now is, and then there’s going to be iterations as you said before, but there’s a bring it home to life phase. I think it’s got to be said that for any customer success transformation, moving from that support reactive to a proactive partnership has to have the customer at both the start and the end in mind. And you should be celebrating together at the end.

The First 90 Days: Crucial for Clients Post-Sale

George: So we’ve been interviewing SaaS leaders in this season three and then we went internally and started talking to some of the leaders that I have the privilege of working with day-to-day and have brought into the organization and watch them grow. And we started with the tip of the spear where those first people that are talking to the customer, then we started talking to the people that figure out what the customer needs and delivers it to them and closes the deal. And now we’re talking to the individual that is responsible for retention and growth. And the one thing that I noticed that you really doubled down on out of the gate was that first 90 days when the customer has joined the ranks. You not only made some personnel changes, but you really focused on that. Can we talk about that stage and why it’s so important?

Michael: Yeah. Look, as my boss would say, everything’s a funnel in life and in business as well, right? So when the contract is signed, the game changes. It goes from convincing someone that there’s a gap to be filled and delighting them in that respect to contract signed, now it’s all about delivery. And one of the interesting learnings I took from the processes, working with the teams and huge amount of talent at all of those different stages, right? But as they were having the customer conversation, the customer was moving a little bit further down that trust part. And it makes perfect sense that when you’re first dealing with any business, you want to hold some of your cards up your sleeve. But as you get to the stage where you’re ready to sign the contract, whoever’s responsible that they need to clearly articulate how they’re going to solve a problem.

Michael: But once the contract’s signed, it’s game on. It’s solve all my problems. And so what we found was that we need to have a really good open conversation to reset the framework of what needs to be achieved again. And it’s not that it was a difference or an error, it’s just that more trust had opened up and we needed to set a clear goal on what is that early win? What are the resources that are available, what is the tasks that can be achieved to achieve a revenue result as quickly as possible? We had to get one across the line.

George: Well, an interesting thing that has just come up in the last few days preceding us recording this episode, so I want to bring it again. I think it’s a really important piece of the puzzle. And again, it’s one of the things that we’ve made errors on. I hold myself responsible for it, is the story has gotten lost because we have these different groups that are dealing with a customer base at the various stages of the funnel and I think it’s hard sometimes for customer success to deliver on what has been told to them because we’re lacking a consistent story. I’m not saying all the time, and I’m not saying that it’s something that, if 10% is a complete bed-shit, we’re probably somewhere in the range of about a 75 on it. It’s something that, what I would love to do as Chief Revenue Officer is reduce the churn a little bit, and I’m sitting here watching all the various teams.

George: So, I’m not saying that we’re down there at a 10% but at the 75% level, I think we could get to 90% retention level if we could just have the same bloody story from the moment that they come into the funnel from the marketing material to the moment that they arrive with you and they get through that onboarding. There’s that consistency to it. And that has been an enormous struggle as the organization is growing. How are we going to fix this? I know I only brought it up to you less than 12 hours ago, but I know you’re smart and you’re already thinking about it. So how are we going to fix that problem?

Michael: Well, to be honest, we already are. We just need to do it in a more consistent manner. So this is where you’ve got your talent at the different parts of that journey and they’ve got to play to their strengths. At the start, you’ve got to have people who are really super keen at having a consistent conversation about how we exist, who we are, what we’re here for, what’s that value proposition, the next team that carries that conversation on has to be good at really tidying it up. But the how we are, who we are needs to be reiterated and the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve needs to be reiterated. But the point of differences along the way is where the skill comes from. So definitely have your aces in places and get your teams coaching each other and get your managers coaching your teams and keep on having a conversation.

Michael: Because to my earlier point, the reason why we’ve sort of lost sight on the simplicity of the process and simplicity of the conversation, it really hasn’t changed. The same needs are there; it’s just a lot of offer in the world. There’s a lot of things going on, there’s a lot of movement and sometimes people latch onto the things that are available as opposed to the reason why they’re doing it. And I think if we keep that part of the conversation consistent and open, as soon as the trust us to open up, you can reroute it. It’s definitely like opening an hourglass. You have to understand that as your customer is opening up to you, they need you to deliver. And so the quicker you can deliver the smallest amount of value, the better it is for you on them so that you can then redirect the conversation to find out what really needs to be delivered. And that’s going to change over time. Competition is an amazingly complex thing in itself.

Turning Retention Into a Proactive Measure

George: So the two final things that I want to cover with you because we could go on for hours and we have already in our path over the last three years. So the first one is, one thing that I noticed looking from the outside in, as you came in and took extreme ownership of the tasks that you had been brought to the organization to deliver was, the people leading aren’t necessarily the people that were leading when you walked in the door. And that’s always a hard conversation. And I don’t think that anyone was exited out of the building. I think you were able to find them other things that they were good at, but you now have a team and they are flourishing. So how important was it to you to find those leads and get them put in place?

Michael: Yeah, super. It’s a tricky process, and I’ll keep this part short. But when you’re lucky enough to jump into any high-performing team, no matter where it is, one of the risks you have is that they get trapped doing work and they do it really well and they just get caught in a little pocket of the problem, which becomes a task-orientated focus. And that is particularly likely to happen in a support or a fulfillment arm. And so then there’s a disconnect with the actual initial goals that the sales rep or the business development manager was talking to the customer about. So as soon as you have that gap, you have a problem.

Michael: So we had to find where people had strengths and make sure that we reconfigured the team to align them to those strengths. And the second thing we had to do is we had to reconnect the conversation with the person on the other side of that contract signing. And that’s where a lot of communication improvements are happening every day and we’re continually getting better at it. But the tighter that relationship is, the better it is for the customer and they get set up for success much quicker.

George: Okay. So let’s go to your regular weekly report that you bring to the executive. And about a month and a half ago or two months ago, you started playing games. Not with us, but with your team. And it blew me away. You’ve come up with a way to gamify customer service and customer support and customer success. And can we talk about the first game that you played, which is one of my favorite TV shows? It was based on Survivor.

Michael: Survivor. Yeah. So I look at this as feedback from the team. The team were actually incentivized with a spiff. And the spiff was the same spiff over time and we needed to make some significant changes. And so what we did is, we sat together as a leadership team. We talked about the changes that needed to be made first and why those changes were important. And then what we did is we built a game around it because we needed to create some energy in the room. We needed to create some internal PR, we needed to make it loud, we needed to make it feel new, we needed to make it feel different. And most importantly, it needed to be fun.

Michael: So the Survivor game piece was really just a change management technique. And this can be done on a big scale or it can be done on a simple small scale. But when we think about commissions or trying to incentivize people’s behavior, there’s two objectives that have to happen. One is, it has to achieve a customer-centric, business-centric outcome. So that has to be, in our case, our customers have to be making money as a result of these changes. And the second thing is, it has to be a motivational function. And when you’re doing lots of changes really quickly, the best thing you can do is add a bit of fun to it.

George: Well, and today your theme is an Olympic, can we say Olympic-

Michael: Yeah.

George: Or do we have to do a trademark or something on that? The thing with the five rings that they have every four years, yeah. That’s what Michael is doing right now for his game.

Michael: Yeah. And that’s just a different lens on it. So the same process. Think about the metrics first that you want to achieve. The fun part about the Olympics is we deliberately, so we set up, in the Survivor challenge, that’s the change where we unpacked the bucket of support services. So we segmented them into the functional areas that we thought were the right ones, and we played the game at the same time. So we could have some fun testing some pretty significant organizational changes. The team loved the changes, they saw the success and now they’re in that team. But with the Olympics, we did a cross-functional spiff. And the reason why we flipped it to cross-functional is because the types of things that we wanted to do more of, which was identify real opportunities where we could help our customers grow.

Michael: They still come in different ways and different parts of the journey even after the contract. And so those four sections that we’ve got in our group is, the onboarding process, which is that first 90 days you mentioned, then you’ve got support. So when Google and Facebook and complex things happen, there’s questions all the time. Then we have our growth team and they’re like a sales team that are deliberately helping the customers be more effective at sales. And then we have our retention team. And our retention team is making sure that if the business situation changes, we can adjust our offering to our customer as that changes.

Michael: And sometimes, as I mentioned before, that can be as simple as competition, right? But what we needed to do as that team is, keep them focused on the customer goals and they needed to learn a little bit from each other as well. Because typically, technical support isn’t good at sales. That’s not what they’re here for. But there’s parts of sales that need to be taught to technical support and there’s certain levels of upskilling that need to be taught to the sales team as well. And so it’s just getting a bit of a mix up there to make sure that you’re always aligning and realigning.

George: So complex problem, but you’ve really nailed it down into four items that you were able to accomplish. And I know it’s a work in progress. We’re not over the finish line, nor do I ever think that we will be. But the onboarding was key. Get the customers, get them started properly-

Michael: Yeah.

George: And then you’re going to have support issues. Google changes the algorithm, the API breaks, you’re going to have to deal with that.

Michael: Yeah.

George: Software is not a perfect space. And then you have that growth piece where you have your growth managers but it’s not just three people inside your group that are growing. It’s every single group has that mandate of growth. And then you’ve got five-alarm fire and let’s go do retention. But you said earlier you were trying to make that proactive. So how do you take retention and make it proactive in your opinion?

Michael: Well, it’s the same as objection handling. People are looking for something to be delivered and retention is a really great opportunity to make sure you’re resetting and re-helping your customers come back on board. Most often, retention is a result of the circumstances of the business changing. Nothing that your processes do because your processes are generally consistent. So it’s a great way to understand what needs to be done. How do we realign? And if you’re a business that can adapt quickly, openly, and focus on what needs to be done, you often find that there’s a lot of growth and retention. And that’s also back to the world we live in is changing. It’s changing every day. You watch when these businesses stop buying each other at the top end of town. It’s going to have impacts to the way all of the strategies are done. And that’s something that we’ll be looking forward to and be looking forward to supporting our customers with.


George: Michael, we could talk for hours, but if folks want to reach out and learn more things from you, I would encourage them to join the Conquer Local Slack community because inside that community, you could speak directly to Mr. Michael Watkins and ask him questions when it comes to customer success, onboarding, retention, growth, and all sorts of items in that realm. He definitely is an expert in the space and we appreciate the learnings that we’ve had from you today on the podcast.

Michael: Thanks George. It’s been a pleasure.

Colleen: Hey, conquerors, it’s producer Colleen. That’s right. I do exist. If you love the Conquer Local podcast, then you can’t miss the Conquer Local conference. We are heading to Montreal June 8th through 10th at the stunning Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. It’s only two days before the Canadian F1 Grand Prix. It’s the must-attend conference for companies selling digital solutions to local businesses. We have a special discount for our listeners. Book by January 31st to save $100 off the already discounted early bird price using promo code PODCAST100 that’s a total of $500 in savings. Plus, you’ll automatically be entered to win our VIP Grand Prix package of two tickets and three nights at the Fairmont to take in the biggest sporting event in the country. Get your tickets and book your rooms today at conquerlocal2020.com. Again, that’s promo-code PODCAST100.

George: Well, I know one thing for certain, Michael and I could talk for hours and actually have talked for hours about the customer journey after the sale. I’m glad we went through that lengthy process to get Michael and his family to move to Canada and make him an official conqueror. He definitely has brought an incredible skillset through his career on this whole idea of the customer journey. And a lot of individuals just talk the talk, they don’t walk the walk. And Michael definitely puts his money where his mouth is. Let’s look at this thing again.

George: One of the things that Michael talked about was reviewing all of the talk tracks, all of the scripts, all of the vignettes, whatever word you want to use for what your people are saying. It’s important that it’s not just a one and done, it’s an ongoing process where you’re listening to the team, you’re listening to customers, you’re watching the conversion points, you’re seeing what’s working and what’s not. And once you’ve defined that process, be prepared to make constant changes to refine it. So definition is important, but refining it to make sure that it’s really hitting the mark is the key. And I believe that the story gets lost after a period of time. And the larger your organization, the more chance that’s going to happen.

George: The other thing that’s happening in the digital marketing space is that it’s moving so quickly. The ground is moving underneath our feet as there’s new technology created all the time. There’s new algorithms on Google, whatever it might be. Those events and things that are happening in the space means we need to be on top of that ever-evolving story and making sure that sales, marketing and then the people making the customer successful are all saying the same thing and following that same set of expectations that has been set with the customer.

George: A big thank you to all of our conquers taking advantage of the Conquer Local Slack network, our community that we have and shout out to Mitchell Slater for connecting with producer Colleen and gave us some great ideas for topics that we’ll be sure to be tackling in upcoming episodes. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.