Getting Ready For The Epicenter Of Customer Success: Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

Tomorrow, I’m attending Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015 alongside team members from my amazing client, ServiceRocket, who are proud sponsors of the event. I’ve been watching the meteoric growth of Pulse these past few years, and am truly excited to be joining 2000+ other Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners this year–the first time I’ll be in attendance. I’m excited to meet great people, learn a lot from the expert panels and sessions, and soak up all of the vibes and insights from the premier Customer Success event of the year.

In anticipation of Pulse, here are a few of the latest projects I’ve been working on in the Customer Success world:

The Ultimate Guide to Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

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I worked on this guide alongside others from the fantastic ServiceRocket team. It includes recommended speakers, panels, events, and even events to enjoy when you’re in town. I really recommend viewing and downloading if you’re coming to Pulse this year. Published on ServiceRocket website.

Convert Your Prospects Into Customers With Pre-Sales Training

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Through introducing customer training into the pre-sales equation, CSMs can help seal the deal and sow the seeds of software adoption and customer loyalty. Here’s why it’s so smart to leverage training to help convert your prospects into customers, as well as some tips for getting started. Published on the Learndot blog.

How To Build Training Programs Your Customers Will Actually Use

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To link your customer training to business outcomes and ultimately business return, you need to build training that your customers will actually use. To do this, you’ll need to create courses that are personalized to your customer personas with respect to delivery method, individual users’ professional growth, and ongoing feedback. Wherever your company is in the software training maturity model, you can get started building training your customers will directly benefit from and love to use. Published on the Learndot blog.

Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse

Top 100 Customer Success Influencers at Pulse.

In other exciting news, MindTouch unexpectedly listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was surprised and honored by the mention, and look forward to connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserve to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.

Thanks so much for reading! If you’re at Pulse and want to meet up, tweet me at @SEBMarketing and say hi. As always, if you have any questions about the amazing companies or software mentioned here, please feel free to drop a line.

Roundup: Recent Posts I’ve Written For B2B SaaS Clients, March 2015 Edition

Happy March! Here is the latest roundup of recent blog articles I’ve written for my clients. Feel free to drop a line or leave a comment if you’re curious about any of the amazing companies I work with or any of the ideas and concepts mentioned here.

SuccessHacking: Customer Success As Growth Hacking: #CustomerSuccessChat Recap

Successful SaaS companies are recognizing and leveraging the relationship between growthhacking and Customer Success. After the February #CustomerSuccessChat, the fifth in the series, I wrote a recap for the Frontleaf blog on SuccessHacking — Customer Success as GrowthHacking. Lots of great expert insights were shared during the chat, and it was fun to rehash it and re-live the highlights. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

6 Exciting Emerging Trends In Customer Success 

If you’re committed to achieving your Customer Success goals in 2015, there’s never been a more opportune time to do so. We’re truly in the Golden Age of Customer Success, with ever-improving tools and processes available for reducing churn and increasing customer engagement. After Frontleaf co-founders Rachel English and Tom Krackeler released an episode of their always-awesome Customer Success Radio podcast discussing new trends that are emerging and taking hold in Customer Success, I wrote a blog summarizing their findings. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

How To Train Your Customers To Reach First Value ASAP

Onboarding is one of the most delicate (and critical) periods in the customer lifecycle. After the sale closes, when CSMs and CEMs first engage the customer (if they haven’t already come through pre-sales, to help drive success during a free trial), onboarding is the first chance to help your customers achieve success. Delivering the right customer training is paramount to ensuring your customers reach “First Value” as soon as possible during onboarding. “First Value” or “First Value Delivered” (FVD) is defined as the initial success your customer has with your software, according to your customer’s definition of success. Like Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), ARR (annual recurring revenue), MRR (monthly recurring revenue), Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV), and churn, time to value (TtV) is now one identified by industry experts as a crucial metric that counts for SaaS customer growth and as a predictor of ongoing customer retention.  I wrote about some actionable strategies for training your customers to get to first value in the shortest time during onboarding. Published on the Learndot blog.

Interview with Rob Castaneda and Lincoln Murphy: Customer Training and Customer Success

Lincoln Murphy and Rob Castaneda featured on Sarah Brown Marketing

It was a thrill to interview ServiceRocket’s CEO Rob Castaneda and Gainsight’s Customer Success Evangelist Lincoln Murphy. Rob and Lincoln discussed best practices for training and customer success, as well as their visions for the future of training and learning software. We did an audio interview, and I did a writeup as well. Definitely worth a listen if you’re looking to incorporate Training into your Customer Success program (which you should!). Published on the Learndot blog.

5 Steps For Implementing Your First Customer Training Program

Learndot Enterprise Training Maturity Mode

Software companies who are still manually delivering Customer Training are learning the hard truth: If your company doesn’t yet have a formal Learning Management System (LMS), in effect, you are your LMS. Whether your customers are already knocking on your door asking for training or you’ve independently realized the revenue opportunities of implementing a training program, getting started doesn’t have to be difficult. I wrote about steps to getting started with your first Customer Training program. Published on the Learndot blog.

Building Success: Product Roadmap and Customer Success: #CustomerSuccessChat Recap

Creating products that customers love to use is crucial for retention and growth in the world of SaaS. But like delivering stellar Customer Success, this is easier said than done. Today’s fast-growing-software companies (FGSC’s) build products that reflect the voice of their customers. Yet they also recognize when the best thing for customers is to say no to some of their enhancement requests. So how do you determine which of your customers’ product concerns should be prioritized? And what are the best tools and strategies for aligning your Product and Customer Success teams and keeping customer experience at the forefront of every new deployment? I wrote a recap of the Customer Success Chat exploring these topics and more. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Thanks for reading! – Sarah

Roundup: Recent Posts I’ve Written For B2B SaaS Clients, February 2015 Edition

I decided to put together a roundup of a few recent blog articles I’ve written for my clients, in case you’re interested in reading what I’m up to. Feel free to drop a line or leave a comment if you’re curious about any of the awesome companies mentioned here.

3 Ways CSMs Can Use Social Media For Customer Education

Customer Education article by Sarah E. Brown

How can customer success managers make use of social media for their customer education campaigns? I focused on some general best practices and case studies from Hootsuite and HubSpot, two SaaS companies who do this very well. Published on the Learndot blog.

Interview With Samuel Hulick: User Onboarding And Customer Education

Samuel Hulick by Sarah E. BrownIf you don’t know Samuel Hulick yet, you’re really in for a treat. I interviewed Samuel about the convergence of user onboarding and customer education and customer success. Lots of great insights in here for any SaaS company looking to nail these. Published on the Learndot blog.

Which Customer Success Analytics Platform Is Right For Your Business?

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I wrote an in-depth review of three customer success analytics solutions: Gainsight, Bluenose and Totango. The review came out of hour-long demos with each company and plenty of email exchanges to clarify additional questions. It’s kind of a long read, but I think it gives a pretty solid overview of the platforms if you’re interested. Note: After writing this article, I started working with Frontleaf, another amazing customer success analytics platform I highly recommend checking out. Published on the Learndot blog.

Staff.Com and Time Doctor Co-Founder Liam Martin On The Future Of Contract And Remote Work

My client Trada has created an awesome solution for small businesses who need help with their pay per click (PPC) campaigns called PPCPath. Through PPCPath, companies can hire AdWords experts on a contract basis to improve their campaigns at affordable rates. For the PPCPath blog, I interviewed one of the leading experts in contract and remote work, Staff.com and Time Doctor co-founder Liam Martin. Lots of good info and predictions in here, if you’re interested in the topic. Published on the PPCPath blog.

Avoiding The Pitfalls Of The Small Business Do-It-All-Yourself Mentality

I wrote this piece for Trada for a guest post on Duct Tape Marketing, one of the world’s most popular small business blogs, focusing on why and how small businesses need to outsource. Published on the Duct Tape Marketing blog.

To Boldly Go Where No Podcast Has Gone Before: Customer Success!

Frontleaf blog on podcast by Sarah E. BrownI helped come up with the concept for Frontleaf’s new podcast, Customer Success Radio, the first podcast of its kind in the industry, as part of their overall content strategy. Frontleaf’s co-founders, Rachel English and Tom Krackeler, have been churning out epic episodes featuring experts in Customer Success from the industry. I wrote about the story of the podcast and why and how it came to be. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Growing Successful Customers: The Ins And Outs Of Upselling

This post highlighted the discussion from the most recent Customer Success Twitter chat I ran a few weeks ago for Frontleaf on the topic of upselling/cross-selling and customer success. I came up with the idea of facilitating a regular Twitter chat for Customer Success early on in my work with the company. There had never been a Twitter chat addressing Customer Success before, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for them. Customer Success for SaaS companies is such a hot topic, the Frontleaf team and I correctly suspected experts and enthusiasts spanning the industry would be interested. I really enjoy facilitating the chats each month, and writing the recaps. Published on the Frontleaf blog.

Reflections On Being Out In Tech

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.

In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)

But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.

For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention my partner. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.

In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.

When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still does.

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, founder of Fog Creek Software and out leader in tech.

Having dinner with Joel Spoksly, out founder of Fog Creek Software, through Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup.

Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

A recent Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup held at Quick Left in Boulder, CO

Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software,  gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.

Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, it was illegal for me to marry my partner. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.

These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.

Thanks for reading. – Sarah

Book Review: Uncommon Stock Series By Eliot Peper


Uncommon StockImpressive (adj.) A male writer who spends only six hours in Boulder and is able to craft a compelling story starring a Boulderite woman entrepreneur. Also see: Eliot Peper.

Dissatisfied with the sparse startup fiction landscape, writer and startup vet Eliot Peper took matters into his own hands and wrote Uncommon Stock 1.0 and its sequel, Uncommon Stock: Power PlayBesides practically creating a new genre, Peper launched an entertaining and compelling series centered around startups, Boulder and human relationships.

Without spoiling too much of the plot of book 1.0, Mara, the outdoor sports-enthusiast protagonist, and her co-founder, James, get themselves into a lot of opportunity, excitement, and life-threatening trouble with their startup Mosaik. Along the way they deal with challenges like building the company, getting beta customers, managing founder roles, fundraising, risking their lives uncovering dangerous secrets through Mosaik’s software, and oh yes–being hormone-filled young adults.

Eliot Peper

Uncommon Stock Writer Eliot Peper

The plot twists and turns are undeniably gripping (without spoiling too much, let’s just say some ex-lovers get a little too crazy about amateur private investigating and pay the price for it), but, for me, my favorite part of 1.0 was how Peper captured Boulder’s startup vibe. I found myself nodding while reading about the savory dishes at local restaurants, beautiful descriptions of the Rocky Mountain landscape and local Boulder institutions.

Power Play takes us along for more adventures of Mozaik. Mara deals with the reality of being CEO at one of Boulder’s fastest growing startups, and the consequences of that role–less time out in nature, and more responsibilities and risk. More lives are at stake in this book, too.

I feel privileged to have been based in Boulder, CO for the past couple years, and really enjoyed reading descriptions of the local restaurants, trails, sights and institutions. If you’ve ever been to Boulder (for even six hours!) I think you’ll love that about this series, too. If you haven’t been to Boulder but appreciate early stage startup drama, Uncommon Stock will also be up your alley.

Peper (who seems overall like a really awesome guy) emailed me that he’s working on Book 3. I can’t wait to read it, and recommend you catch up on one and two so you can get excited about Book 3, too. You can follow him on Twitter to stay abreast of Uncommon Stock news.

What I Learned From My First Unplugged Vacation In Two Years

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Relaxing in Blue Lagoon during my recent unplugged vacation in Iceland.

As a consultant or freelancer, there’s an incredible amount of freedom in terms of the where and when of your work. As a result, it’s often surprisingly hard to take a fully unplugged vacation. Many of us are only paid for time worked or results delivered, and because we can often take our work with us anywhere, it can be pretty hard to fully “get away,” even on a so-called getaway.

I’ve spent more than a few working vacations where I’m partly on vacation, and partly working. I actually really like working vacations. For instance, while on vacation in the Bay Area earlier this year, I was also able have a productive business meeting with a local client and as well as get other work done at the San Francisco office of my local Boulder coworking space, Impact Hub. I really enjoyed that trip, but even a semi-working vacation is a very different kind of experience than a fully unplugged vacation. There is some relaxation, but never the fully “off” feeling you get when you unplug completely.

This great New York Times article on the importance of vacation highlights research indicating that that even before we experience signs of fatigue, it’s important to take fully “off the grid vacations” to reset our brains. It turns out we’re biologically wired to take pauses from the constant influx of information, both work-related and otherwise. Many startups are starting to offer unplugged vacation as a perk, and some even make them mandatory in order to keep talent feeling fresh. (Source) This makes sense from a business perspective, as “several studies have shown that people who work overtime reach a point of diminishing returns.” (Source)

Last week, I took my first fully unplugged vacation in two years: a 6-day trip to Iceland. While soaking in geothermal hot springs, hiking mountains, visiting glaciers, volcanos and lagoons, spending quality time with my partner completely off email and iPhone, I put all of my energies towards two tasks: adventuring and relaxing. I came back feeling renewed and more ready to solve problems for my clients than I think I would have if I’d taken a semi-working vacation. Maybe it was placebo effect, but I really did feel a “brain rest” that’s been fueling me now that I’m back in Boulder.

The ‘net is littered with stories of Tim Ferris-types who’ve moved their business to paradise, or who are on a full-time global travel spree, all while maintaining a successful consultant business. As I mentioned before, that’s great if you want to constantly be half-working, half-vacationing. And garden variety semi-working vacations are still great. But for me, taking a week off in Iceland showed me that it’s really important to take unplugged vacations, even if you don’t feel you need them. Even though I didn’t feel “burnt out” before I left, I feel remarkably refreshed upon my return. In terms of the business that I usually take with me on trips? One of my clients had one of the best weeks ever in terms of visitor traffic and user acquisition while I was gone, in great part due to the content, social and ad setup I’d put in place the week prior to leaving. With ample planning, you can take a fully “off” vacation, and you can likely feel confident it’s going to make you happier and more productive upon your return.

If you’re thinking of taking an unplugged vacation, and can find a way to make it work, I really recommend it.

I’d be curious to hear in the comments if others prefer semi-working vacations, or those of the unplugged variety? 

Follow-Up Interview With Neil Patel: Should You Hire A Marketing Consultant?

I recently wrote a rebuttal to Neil Patel’s post on hiring marketing consultants, and simultaneously reached out to Neil to see if he’d be interested in doing an interview with me to discuss the topic. I’m delighted to report he agreed, and to share our dialogue with those who have been following the debate on whether or not you should hire a marketing consultant. Topics covered: what’s the difference between a consultant and a contractor, and what should entrepreneurs keep in mind when hiring? 

Sarah Brown: In your post, you mention how successful you were as a digital marketing consultant; you said you got rave reviews, and still receive tons of inquiries from companies wanting to hire you as a consultant. You clearly delivered real value to the companies with whom you worked. Even so, you say companies shouldn’t hire digital marketing consultants in most cases. Can you explain why you had this change in perspective?

Neil Patel: Hiring a consultant is great if you want to speed up your growth. Most people look to hire marketing consultants to solve broad problems. The issue with this is most consultants aren’t jack-of-all-trades. For this reason you should only look to hire a marketing consultant when you want them to help you solve a specific problem that will result in an increase in growth.

SB: You qualified your pretty controversial article title by saying that companies should sometimes hire marketing consultants, but only after they’ve laid the groundwork themselves and are truly ready. How do you define “readiness” for taking on a digital marketing consultant? Can you elaborate on this?

NP: Once you have a business that is generating revenues well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, and you’ve tested a lot of different marketing channels and approaches yourself, you can then take that data to consultants and see what they can help you with.

SB: You mention that digital marketing consultants can’t solve every problem for a client. I completely agree! But, I’m curious, are you really seeing a lot of consultants billing themselves as miracle workers to prospective clients?

NP: A lot are. Consulting shops make more money when they are full service, for this reason they try and do everything even if they aren’t experts at “everything”.

SB: I totally agree that a CEO needs to lay the groundwork before they are ready to hire anyone (sales, marketing, customer success, PR, etc.). But can’t a consultant help with that process, especially if they’re super experienced in the market niche? Wouldn’t that be a good case for companies to hire a consultant, as long as goals and deliverables are clearly defined?

NP: In this scenario it would work, but it is an expensive solution. Unless your business is well funded, I wouldn’t recommend this solution. Nonetheless, if you hired the right consultant, it would speed this process along.

SB: Sometimes, startups can’t afford to hire a full-time expert in content marketing, social media, PR, etc. but they can afford an expert consultant for part-time work. In that case, the marketer is more like an “in-house asset” vs. an employee or typical consultant. Would you still recommend companies hire interns or college students rather than take on an expert in these cases?

NP: Yes, I would prefer to hire hungry college students. Ones that are quick learners and can help you with a lot of your marketing problems. At the beginning you don’t need an expert to come in and solve your problems. You need someone junior who can just execute and lay the ground work. An intern is going to be much cheaper as consultants rather not focus on the execution part.

SB: Given the growing remote workforce movement, would you recommend a first hire be a marketing employee vs. a consultant? Or, maybe an employee-ish consultant? Maybe we’re having trouble with terms, here. I consider myself an in-house asset or contractor, someone who strategizes and executes vs. what you’re describing. What do you recommend for startups?

 NP: I prefer a contractor. This way you can pay them for the time you use, yet they won’t charge you an arm and leg like a consultant.

Thanks to Neil Patel for engaging in this dialogue. In the comments, I’d love to hear your views on the subject.

Neil PatelNeil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 online marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. He was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by the United Nations. Neil has also been awarded Congressional Recognition from the United States House of Representatives.