SalesTech Interview with Andrew Mahr, Chief Customer Officer at Triblio
Tell us about your journey into Sales and Customer Success. What attracted you to join Triblio?
Prior to joining Triblio, I led Account Management at a Product/UX agency. As part of my role, I was responsible for leading the discovery and strategy portion of engagement, which we’d then translate into a project plan for our design, UX, and engineering teams. I loved working directly with customers but over time realized I wanted to work at a product company where I had the opportunity to develop longer-term partnerships.
I’d known Triblio CEO, Andre Yee, for a while and he was the one to explain to me that what I was looking for in the world of SaaS was called Customer Success. As it happened, Andre had been deliberating at the time between whether to hire a sales leader or a customer success leader first at Triblio, and as our conversations progressed we both got really excited about me joining to build out the Customer Success team.
Starting with Customer Success was not the norm in SaaS startups at the time, but for Triblio it was crucial because the founders really wanted to build the company around the customer from the ground up. So it was important to have someone in place early on who could translate product capabilities into the customer’s business context, but also synthesize our customers’ needs into cohesive product feedback that would serve the market well.
What we realized over the course of a few years is that the consulting and educational approach we’d built in Customer Success is actually what we wanted in our sales process as well. It’s a great fit in emerging marketing such as ABM, because prospects need expertise just as much as they need product features.
So over the last 8 months, I’ve led a re-engineering our process and training so that when someone engages with a Triblio sales rep for the first time, it’s a highly consultative discussion that feels a lot more like working with a CSM than a sales rep. And that approach is generating great business results so far.
How different is Customer Success for Marketing and Sales Technology products compared to other technologies, for instance, IT SaaS and Cloud?
I think the major fault line between how CS teams work probably has more to do with market maturity than the specific vertical.
In a mature market, end users are typically well versed on their own technical requirements and how those map to strategy/outcomes, so the role of CS is going to be in helping them deploy successfully and maximize value within an established program. They are product experts and adoption advocates.
In an emerging market, such as the one Triblio occupies, many practitioners are still relatively new to the discipline. That means CS needs to function as an expert guide beyond just the product. They are experts in many aspects of the market (technologies, success patterns, pitfalls, etc) before their own customers are. It’s a very consultative role and buyers are going to stick with the companies that guide them well, not just the product with the longest feature list.
How is your role at Triblio different from what you had at your previous companies? How did your role at these previous companies prepare you for the new challenges at Triblio?
Serving as an engagement manager at an agency honed the skills I needed for my role leading Customer Success at Triblio, because it’s where I really learned how to lead cross-functional teams (design, UX, engineering, content, PMs, etc) to shared outcomes for customers. Working at a young startup (I was full-time employee #10 at Triblio) was very similar—every day was a mix of cross-functional projects where I was working on development or marketing or hiring, and so on.
There are certainly differences though, and the biggest one is understanding how to build and expand recurring revenue over time. That’s very different from a services business where the revenue opportunities are more project-based.
How do you differentiate Customer Success from Customer Service? How have these changed in the past 5 years with personalization and ABM?
When most people think of “customer service” they’re probably thinking of a reactive function. For example, if a guest at a hotel wants extra towels or is unhappy with the noise level of their neighbors, a customer service representative will step in to rectify the issue.
Customer Success, by contrast, is fundamentally proactive. If you’re doing customer success right, you’re focused on understanding where the customer needs to be in 12 months (or longer) and how to steer them to that goal. I tell my team that I want successful customers before I want happy customers, and in fact, sometimes you have to upset a customer in order to make them successful down the road.
ABM hasn’t changed that but what it has done is to increase awareness of how important it is for businesses to expand revenue within existing accounts, and that’s going to be driven largely by the CS function. It’s sometimes lost in the scramble to gather new logos but the majority of revenue is going to come from retaining and growing accounts.
Tell us about your revenue retention success. What advice do you have for those falling short of their revenue generation goals?
We’ve been very fortunate at Triblio to do really well in terms of revenue retention. Emerging markets are difficult and marketing departments have a lot of turnover, but we’ve nevertheless been able to keep the vast majority of business we’ve won year over year.
The most important factor in that success has been our founders’ focus in building the company ground-up as a customer-first business. It really comes through in how every department operates, and our customers experience that unified focus as a very high level of commitment to their success.
For Customer Success leaders, in particular, my main advice is to think about every customer interaction like its a renewal conversation. In the end, they all are. You don’t know the moment a customer will choose to leave, but you can make every conversation about advancing toward their stated objectives and soliciting feedback about whether or not you’re on the right track together. Customers appreciate being asked for a candid perspective on whether or not a partnership is working out and what needs to be done to fix it. If nothing else, it reinforces for them that you are focused on their long-term success.
Tell us how you achieve marketing-sales alignment. How does it impact your targets?
This will probably sound simplistic to your readers, but I think a lot of sales-marketing alignment “issues” boil down to a lack of empathy between teams. It cuts both ways. If your marketing team is delivering an asset that doesn’t meet the sales team’s needs, it’s either because they don’t care or they didn’t have enough information about what the true need was. If it’s the former issue, then obviously there was a hiring issue to correct. But in most cases it’s the latter — Team A just doesn’t know what it’s like to sit in Team B’s shoes in a given context.
Both teams need to lean into the problem to close that gap. It means curiosity and a willingness to learn on one side, and transparency about problems or deficiencies on the other. When empathy is genuinely established and you’ve built the right team, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised at how little the alignment issue comes up.
What are the core strategies you focus on for global business development? How does it impact your revenue channels?
Because we’re in an emerging market our core strategy is to educate marketing and sales professionals on what we see working in ABM and what doesn’t. Part of that is done through our Real World ABM Tour, where we tell audiences about real examples of ABM success and answer any questions they have about the technology. We want to serve the market as an honest broker about what works in ABM, and what’s just hype, so that people can make good decisions and succeed in their careers. What we’ve seen is that when prospects know that we’re the ones cutting through the hype and providing them with an honest assessment of what’s really working, they’ll come to us when it’s time to buy.
What is the current state of “Account-Based Marketing” technology? Could you elaborate with some examples that you practice at Triblio?
I’ve been onboarding customers “doing ABM” for three years now. During that time, the market has evolved rapidly and matured significantly. Adoption is red-hot and there’s a much clearer idea today of what best practices are.
One of the books that most influences how I think about the market state is Geoffrey Moore’s timeless “Crossing the Chasm.” Using Moore’s model, I would say that ABM is currently between the “early adopter” and “early majority” stage — i.e. we’re crossing the chasm right now. The market is still fairly young but anyone starting an ABM program today is standing on the shoulders of what others have done in the past few years. You are still likely to be the vanguard within your own organization but there are plenty of people at other organizations who have already implemented similar programs.
What is the sales culture that you represent? Why is it important to build a sales-focused culture for any business?
The sales culture we’re building at Triblio is one where we really try to emphasize respect towards both colleagues and prospects. We just went through SKO and the message I gave the team is that at the end of the day they are the stewards of the work that their colleagues across the company have already done, and that they must handle that responsibility with the care it deserves. Sales is the culmination of a team effort and every conversation and demo with a prospect has had a huge amount of work put behind it.
We can never take opportunities for granted, and honestly, my view is that sales works for the rest of the company. Yes, individuals are going to be recognized and compensated for their work, but that’s not because they are the most important people in the company. And this is for their good because I believe a humble sales team is one that the rest of the company is going to be excited to support in the tough moments where it’s needed. In a market like ours, I don’t think sales can succeed without a lot of collaboration from other functions, so as a leader I want them to be positioned for success and collaboration with their peers.
The other thing I’m looking to build is a sales culture that’s very transparent. At a smaller company, every person needs to have an “owner mentality” — a long-term, systematic mindset — but they can’t do that without information. As such, we try to make information as widely accessible as possible. For example, we do sales pipeline reviews in the common recreation area and anyone is able to attend and listen in.
How do you achieve this culture-balance at Triblio? What percentage of this is driven by the application of technology, reporting tools and coaching?
Coaching is the most important because the culture we talk about really has to be backed up by the habits we build as a team. If we want the team to be data-driven, humble, and collaborative it’s ultimately about building the right habits.
That said, technology is a big enabler for us. For performance management, we use a pretty broad set of metrics that expose challenges or growth opportunities in different parts of the sales process. Those are metrics the whole team has access to as well, so everyone knows where they stand each day and who on the team to seek out if they need help or advice relative to a certain sales issue.
How do you leverage AI and Automation at Triblio?
I think Customer Success and sales are both managing conversations in which a human is always going to be involved, at least for high-value deals. However, AI does help us understand where best to focus our time. For example, AI can analyze reams of data to score accounts and flag those that may be at risk of churn or to highlight prospects who may be interested in our solution but don’t know about us yet. So at this point, AI is helping by finding the signal in all the noise and helping to prioritize activities.
Which Sales Tech Automation tools do you use? How do they make your work easy?
The two main ones that come to mind are Triblio, which we use internally to reach and engage target accounts as well as send insights back to the sales team, and SalesLoft, which we use to power our sales outreach campaigns.
How do you promote sales coaching to empower your sales teams to deliver on the performance targets?
When a new rep is onboarding, we formally designate a few more experienced reps for them to shadow while they complete their certification work. That gives them a chance to absorb the “caught, not taught” part of our sales process, as well as get feedback on their training work. That’s the most structured part of the program.
As a company, we are moving so fast that I have to think about coaching more as a network than a tree. Purely top down would be too slow. So my focus is on feeding good information into the network at the place and moment it’s needed (e.g. helping a rep out with a specific deal or process improvement), and at the same time building an environment that facilitates the efficient spread of that information. It’s a model that works in a small, fast-moving organization like ours.
What are the major pain points for sales-driven companies in leveraging programmatic technologies for their own benefits and for business development?
In my experience, the use of programmatic technologies is more common with marketing departments, and I think that’s the right place for that expertise to reside.
What are your predictions and observations on the “Role of Chatbots and AI Conversations” influencing sales journeys?
Because true Machine Learning takes massive data sets to train, B2C companies will tend to have earlier sales and marketing applications of that technology. Chatbots today in B2B are really just progressive forms with better tooling — useful but not really AI in my opinion. So I would look to B2C transactions to see how and where chatbots show up with real AI first, and then see how that translates to B2C transactions that have B2B characteristics (e.g. real estate, where there are multiple stakeholders, more dollars at stake, and the purchase cycle is long). In short, though I feel like AI-driven B2B sales conversations are a long way off. When a group of 10 stakeholders is making a six- or seven-figure solution purchase that influences huge business outcomes, they’re going to want to talk to a real person.
My Sales Magnifier
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Customer Success leader?
Get to understand what AI actually is beyond the hype — what can it do, what type of data does it need to perform well, etc — and be a leader in imagining how it can help your business. Much better to be ushering in the technology than having it “happen” to you.
Which events and webinars do you most occasionally attend and why?
I attend a lot of B2B marketing events, mostly because they’re great venues to catch up with a lot of our customers in one place.
Your advice to Customer Success executives and salespeople in the ABM industry—
I would just encourage everyone to participate in building the market for the long term, rather than seeking out short-term wins. I’ve spoken to so many people who were burned by inflated promises because a salesperson was more interested in moving some technology or a media buy than helping a prospect achieve actual results. At Triblio, we’ve tried to move the market toward real strategy development and it’s a trend I hope will gain momentum.
Tag a person whose answers to these questions would like to read from the industry.
Thank You Andrew, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again, soon.
Triblio provides Account-Based Marketing (ABM) software to generate demand and engagement from target accounts. ABM targets the known and unknown stakeholders in the top-revenue producing accounts to accelerate the purchase journey and deepen engagement. With Triblio, marketers can target accounts using multiple channels just like Marketing Automation.
Andrew is Chief Customer Officer at Triblio. He was previously VP Product & Services at Domain7.