Startup Employees: Here’s What To Do If Your Startup Is Acquired

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Imagine you’re working for a fifteen-person startup known for its tight-knit, values-driven, outdoorsy culture, and suddenly, one day, you’re pulled into an all-hands meeting letting you know that your company has just been acquired by a big company headquartered across the country. You may know a little or a lot about this company, but either way, very soon, you will become their employee.

For startup employees, an acquisition can be a nerve-wracking time due to the number of unknowns.

Some questions that may arise:

  • What will change, and will any of it markedly affect my work experience?
  • Will the parent (acquiring) company share the same values as my current startup?
  • Will my job become redundant and/or will I no longer be needed?
  • More immediately, what will happen to my PTO, benefits and will my spouse still be covered on my health insurance?

In addition to the potentially negative consequences of an acquisition, it’s important to remember that there can be many positive outcomes. For instance, you could get a promotion. Or perhaps you had equity that you could turn into cash in the acquisition. Regardless of whether you have equity, there may be an opportunity for you to leverage the value you bring to the transition to negotiate a nice windfall. Acquisitions and their resulting transitions can be highly emotional times, and no two acquisitions look quite the same. That being said, there are some ways you can empower yourself to make the most of an acquisition.

In 2015, Analiese Brown was the HR Manager at the time of acquisition of ShipCompliant, then an approximately forty-person self-funded, privately-held SaaS company headquartered in Boulder, CO. During the acquisition, Analiese’s role involved helping ShipCompliant through the transition, and much of her work centered around trying to help employees feel empowered throughout the process. Analiese oversaw changes in employee benefits, policies, and procedures such as well as the integration of HR systems and record-keeping with the acquiring company, Sovos. But Analiese also managed the “human” side of the transition, which involved helping employees grapple with the emotional elements of the transition. Read Analiese’s blog post sharing lessons learned from working at ShipCompliant.

“The CEO filled me in as it became more of a reality that it was going to happen,” said Analiese. “At that point, my focus became understanding  the acquiring company’s processes, employee benefits policies and handbook, and other things that might potentially affect our team once acquired.”

For Analiese, being on the team spearheading the integration was challenging; she oversaw details such as how to honor everyone’s time off balance and roll it over into the new policy, and also had to determine how to communicate the changes to employees. Analiese learned that the key to successfully navigating a startup acquisition as an employee is to focus on how you can shape what’s happening, and to find ways to re-frame it from something happening “to” you to something you have the power to shape to better your future.

Here’s what Analiese recommends if you’re a startup employee finding yourself in an acquisition scenario:

Upon learning of an imminent acquisition, take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can.

While there will be much that you don’t know and can’t know right away, obtain as much information as you can about the acquiring company. Research the acquiring company’s leadership, financials, and key customers and stakeholders. Editor’s note: You can search for recent press releases about them and check Crunchbase and Angellist to determine whether they’ve fundraised and/or if they plan to one day go public. Try to find out what happened when they bought another company; did the founders stay, and if so, how long? How many employees stayed?

Some of this information won’t be readily available, but you’d be surprised what you can dig up with some modern sleuthing. You can learn from internal resources, too. There might be a designated go-to person at your startup (the company being acquired) you can ask questions of who may be CEO of the company, startup’s founder, or whomever is managing HR or Finance. Whoever it is, there is probably some designated go-to resource you can look to who will be able to provide you with information to help you feel empowered, but remember they may not have all the answers or may be unable to share information one-on-one before announcing it to the whole group.

For as long as you’re planning on sticking around, commit to doing an outstanding job.

Don’t let the shifting sands environment of an acquisition be an excuse not to be a stellar performer. Keep up the great work — regardless of how long you plan to stay, you need to put in extra effort during this period because upon staying or leaving, you will have new people to impress either at the acquiring company or a new role very soon.

Sam Altman of Y Combinator says, “Most acquisitions are not smooth sailing. Go into it knowing it’s going to be hard.” Sam recommends employees wait at least six to nine months before making a decision that it’s not going to work (Source). In many cases, you’ll benefit from staying long enough to fully explore the opportunities present in an acquisition.

Empower yourself by becoming actively involved in the transition.

Your company may form a group of employees who are interested in shaping the transition. If there are ways to get involved, you’ll have access to information and will be in a place to shape the transition process. Every acquisition and integration is structured differently – the more you can be actively involved, the better chance you’ll feel positively about the outcome.

Sam Altman recommends adopting the mindset of “bridge builder”. “You don’t want two warring factions,” says Sam. “You want the new company to support you and you want people to like each other.” He advises making it your personal business to develop strong relationships with as many people as you can at the acquiring companies and be a bridge as tensions inevitably rise. (Source)

Give up on trying to keep things the same.

Things will change. That’s a given. The only thing you can control is what you do about the changes. Take time to mourn or celebrate the startup experience you had, and then roll up your sleeves, learn and decide whether you want to stay and/or if you need to go. Sam Altman says that often agreements will be reached with acquired companies to stay fairly autonomous, which can be a great thing if you already like your work and its processes.

“I would push the founders to make sure you got such an agreement to operate as independently as possible,” said Sam. (Source)

Unfortunately, even if such an agreement is reached, the reality of what “staying independent” looks like can be vastly different in each scenario. There may be certain processes like vacation time or required internal systems that will bend towards the parent company’s way of doing things. Figure out what will change as soon as that information becomes available.

Determine whether the new reality aligns with what’s important to you, and determine which things are non-negotiable for you.

Analiese recommends reading What Color Is Your Parachute?, a classic career discovery book, which can help you do the crucial work of discovering what’s important and what ultimately will be most fulfilling to you in your career.

Upon deciding to join the company, you probably have evaluated a number of factors that you’ll now have to re-evaluate. This includes: preferred geographic location, office environment you thrive in, and essential company values. Analiese says coming back to our own needs and desires provides a framework to evaluate whether the new reality of your acquired company will support and fulfill these things (or not). This personal inquiry is valuable regardless of whether you’re currently undergoing an acquisition, but is especially crucial when your company is experiencing major change.

Analiese reminds us that it is a human impulse to fear change. Figure out what’s important to you personally. Are you unwilling to move to a new city? Will you draw the line if the acquiring company doesn’t value inclusiveness?

If you have equity, understand how it works.

Understanding the impact to you as soon as you can will equip you with information about whether there’s a choice to be made, whether there’s an obligation to you around how that is paid out. If you don’t have equity you may feel the ship has sailed, but there may be some individuals who were very involved in transition or contributed heavily to the company’s success in the recent past  who may be then be in a position to be rewarded in some other way. That can be discretionary. It’s worth having the conversations. If in doubt, consider hiring a lawyer or business advisor who specializes in startup equity; you’ll be glad you did.

You may be acquired by a parent company with bonus or Management by Objectives (MBO) culture and if you’re in a key position, you can negotiate with the parent company for a favorable compensation structure or bonus. If you’re someone integral to transition, whether or not equity is part of your current compensation package, you may have some leverage.

Consider negotiating for a new role or a promotion.

If you’re planning to stay, once the shock wears off and people wrap their heads around what’s happening, incredible opportunities may surface. It may not even be something you have to ask for; you may see a restructure and be asked to take on a new role, or perhaps travel more or be based out of an office in a more desirable location. Analiese suggests looking for potential opportunities to learn and grow and develop as much as you can during an acquisition process. You may need to explicitly ask for a promotion if you’re being assigned more responsibilities or your role is being enhanced. Often larger companies acquiring smaller ones  may have more well-articulated career paths, or may look at the role you’re doing in a new way. At smaller companies, you may be a Jack or Jill of all trades, but upon acquisition, you may find that in this new reality, your multi-faceted role puts you a peg higher in an organizational chart.

You may also find that you are qualified to be in a higher-level role, and the acquiring company will likely have more funds or resources for learning and development. This may include going to conferences, workshops, or perhaps an internally-created leadership development program. There may also be more structured rewards and incentive program.

In the early post-deal stages, Analiese reminds us that it may not be totally clear what new career paths will be available or who will be impacted and how. Analiese says, in an ideal scenario, managers are a good first line of contact to ask for information and discuss how you’ll be impacted along the way. Hopefully, your manager will have the inside track (or be able to point you toward the right resources) to explore promotions or other opportunities.

Final Thoughts

If you’re facing an acquisition, adopt a learner’s mindset and find ways to become an active participant in the transition. Your goal is not to try to resist the change or preserve status quo, but to understand what the new scenario will be and to determine if the new company “reality” aligns with your values and needs.

If you’re resourceful, the acquisition of your startup can be an incredibly powerful catalyst for your career and personal development.

When evaluating startup “extras” ask yourself: Is it a perk, an essential benefit, or a distraction?

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At well-funded startups, “perks” like coconut water, nap pods, dry cleaning on-site–even ping pong tutoring sessions–and more have become the norm (as well as the subject of plenty of jokes within and outside of Silicon Valley). Tech journalist Kara Swisher calls this phenomenon “assisted living for millennials.” Competing for our talent with other companies of comparable size and growth, many startups use perks for recruiting and retaining talent in addition to cash compensation.

Here are a few of the perks offered by tech companies:

  • Google offers a concierge service to run employees’ errands and save them time.
  • Apple pays for fertility aids including covering female employees freezing their eggs.
  • Airbnb offers $2000 travel bonus to go anywhere in the world.

Essential benefits vs. perks

Let’s break down perks into “nice to have” and essential benefits, aka things that you really do need in order to maintain your general well-being and feel happy at a company.

Essential benefits include: health, dental, and perhaps vision insurance, a solid retirement plan, fair parental and sick leave policies, decent vacation allotted, flexible hours and remote work policies. On the less essential side but still very good may include things like good, strong coffee onsite and snacks so you don’t have to leave the office and walk twenty minutes in order to get a bite while in the middle of a coding session. For you, other essential company benefits may include a formal education stipend so you can continue your education and increase your skills, or childcare reimbursement, or flexible spending accounts, or a gym onsite so you can work out during lunch to feel balanced and help you focus. Or maybe a remote office stipend so if you’re a remote employee you can work outside your home in a community-filled, secure, reliable location.

When is a perk a distraction?

Geography of Genius author Eric Weiner argues that so-called perks can actually curtail creativity. Weiner says we need some friction in order to facilitate the creative processes so crucial to startup success. Weiner says we actually do our best work without all of the perks. “Discomfort, and even a degree of hardship, are what drive creativity, not bean bag chairs and ping pong tables,” says Weiner. The “is this a perk or essential benefit?” question is encapsulated in this sardonic tweet:

Indeed, perks can masquerade as valuable but may actually be a distraction from something essential a company is failing to offer. If your company introduces yet another kind of cereal but fails to offer a sane parental leave policy, then that perk may be a distraction from a real benefit. If a startup offers annual lavish trips to the beaches of Mexico or skiing in Tahoe, but has a cutthroat culture and doesn’t allow employees to actually enjoy their PTO undisturbed (at least most of the time), then that perk may be a distraction. User onboarding expert Samuel Hulick calls this “getting drunk off our own kegerators.” If your company has a luxury massage chair onsite but offers crappy health insurance, then there’s an issue.

Final Thoughts

You are the only one who can determine which benefits are truly essential. If you’re considering working for a startup, think about the benefits as they relate to the total compensation package, as well as your experience at a company.  Don’t overlook startups that don’t offer tons of fancy perks, as long as they offer the essential benefits you care about. By re-framing the lack of flashy perks at a company as potentially a commitment to invest in essential things, you could find a work opportunity you really love that you’d otherwise overlook. Ensure the essential benefits you care about are covered in addition to things like alignment with the company’s core values, or risk missing out on an otherwise awesome startup work opportunity while you’re beelining it to the nearest nap pod.

October & November 2016 Recap: Workplace Partnership Launch, New Articles And The Latest Helping Sells Episodes

This post is a recap of some of the projects I have been working on this fall.

Launched ServiceRocket’s Workplace Partnership In London

In October, I traveled to London to launch ServiceRocket’s partnership with Workplace, the enterprise productivity platform developed by Facebook. It was fantastic meeting and working with the Facebook team in London alongside ServiceRocket’s CEO Rob Castaneda and getting to know a few of the brilliant minds (and hearts) behind Workplace. Our team is really enjoying collaborating with Facebook,  other Workplace partners and customers — stay tuned for more articles, webinars, and more on the topics of the future of work and productivity.

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Received ServiceRocket’s “Share The Knowledge” Award

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I was honored to receive ServiceRocket‘s “Share The Knowledge” Award at this year’s team building in Palo Alto. Each year we vote for team members who exhibit each of our core company values. Startup values are tremendously important. I am grateful to work for a company whose values align with my own. Read my blog on this topic.

Published New Articles And Podcasts On Software Adoption, Customer Success and the Future of Work

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Workplace by Facebook is communications platform that is changing the way business is done on the planet by empowering companies to collaborate across geographies and departments through better communication, work, and sharing tools. One of the most exciting applications of Workplace is leveraging it to surmount the most common obstacles that modern Customer Success functions face. In this post, we explore some of the ways Customer Success teams can solve their biggest challenges through Workplace by Facebook. I wrote an article about how Customer Success teams can solve their biggest challenges with Workplace by Facebook.

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Workplace paves the path for organizations to work smarter and more effectively in today’s mobile-first world. In this post, we share tips for building smarter, better business communication and workflows through mobile with Workplace. I wrote a post highlighting how businesses can take advantage of mobile with Workplace.

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New Helping Sells Radio podcast episodes

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Bill Cushard and I co-host Helping Sells Radio, a podcast about helping your customers discover, adopt and thrive using your software.

Listen to a few of our latest podcast episodes:

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season. Thank you for reading! Sarah

Finding A Startup Aligned With Your Values

people-woman-coffee-meetingAccording to a study reported in the New York Times, “One of the most important dimensions of job satisfaction is how you feel about your employer’s mission” (Source). Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell University, reports that equal incomes may produce significantly higher life satisfaction if the person aligns with the mission and values of his or her workplace. “When most people leave work each evening, they feel better if they have made the world better in some way, or at least haven’t made it worse.” (Source)

Where we work and the nature of our work greatly impacts our life satisfaction. We owe it to ourselves to find a startup that aligns with our values and will enable us to produce our best work.

Company decisions are driven by values. These values impact everything from what the office looks like on Friday afternoon to how customers are treated. When evaluating whether a startup is right for you, you need to understand the company values and how they align with your own.

Startup Values: What Are They, Really?

Each startup operates within an implicit or explicit value system; this is the set of principles that guide every aspect of the business and will deeply shape your experience working at a company.

Values help companies orient and make decisions when they reach impasses. They provide the answer to the question: “does this align with what we want to achieve?” and should be consulted before proceeding with any major decision.

Company Values Drive Behavior

Whether implicit or explicit, these values shape company behavior. They encompass: hiring, firing, how employees are treated, the kind of office environments fostered, the formality of employee attire, philosophies towards customers, parental leave policies, the kind of products built, how products are marketed and sold, and…so much more. Companies’ values will shape every experience you will have at a startup. Here are a few examples of stated company values:

  • Talk straight. (ServiceRocket)
  • Results first, substance over flash. (Rackspace)
  • Focus on the user and all else will follow. (Google)
  • Deliver WOW Through Service (Zappos)
  • Respect for the Individual (Accenture)
  • Move fast and break things. (Facebook)
  • Take work but not ourselves seriously. (Kapost)
  • Feel Free (Twitter)
  • Judgement (Netflix)

According to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go.” (Source) Netflix is known for its strictly enforced culture code, which is publicly available through their “culture manifesto” on the web.

Netflix’s culture manifesto highlights the relationship between values and behavior through a famous example of corporate fraud, Enron, which stated high-and-mighty values in their lobby like “integrity, respect and communication” that clearly did not translate into company-wide behavior. These values, as the Enron example and Hastings quote illustrate, mean nothing without corresponding action. In almost every case, unless you’re working with a very early company, the values will be explicitly stated.  

How can you tell if a company lives its values? A few questions you could consider asking before joining a startup:

“How are values lived at this company?”

“When has the leadership team had to make a difficult decision in order to stay true to company values?”

“When a team or individual strays from company values, what are the consequences?”

Many companies state values that sound great, but actually allow for toxic behavior. “Above all, win,” sounds nice, but it could leaves the door open for jerks to be gainfully employed–as long as they “crush it”. If there’s a stated company value that sounds fishy or nebulous, you’d be wise to ask questions. Don’t accept vague answers or leave without concrete stories and examples of how values are put into practice–or prepare to be disappointed.

It’s important to note that even startups that fail to define their values (again, most often very early-stage companies) have them; They’re just implicit. Any company that doesn’t explicitly state its values is more likely to operate under values that they would be embarrassed to put to proverbial paper. According to Netflix’s Co-Founder and CEO Reed Hastings, “Real company values are the behaviors and skills that we particularly value in fellow employees.”

For example, among their nine values, Netflix explains that their value “Judgement” looks like this in practice:

Judgement

  • You make wise decisions (people, technical, business, and creative) despite ambiguity
  • You identify root causes, and get beyond treating symptoms
  • You think strategically, and can articulate what you are, and are not, trying to do
  • You smartly separate what must be done well now, and what can be improved later

(Source)

Early-Stage Startups

As previously mentioned, early-stage startups are the least likely to state values but are, of course, still guided by values–they’re just implicit and/or default. A company made up of just two co-founders, for example, may not be mature enough to have created a fancy deck like Netflix, but perhaps they created the company in order to perpetuate the good ol’ days of University where they met.

If you’re thinking of working for a very early-stage company, encourage them to discuss their values among the leadership team (ideally including you, especially if you’ll be joining the leadership team) and ensure there’s alignment before going all-in. Also, expect early-stage startups to pivot quite a lot, and as a result, to potentially re-align their values when they pivot. If a startup starts out serving bankers, but then pivots when they realize their real customer base is high school-level educators, the values and culture will likely change as a result (though, of course, not necessarily).

If a company doesn’t claim values around something you care about, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t champion them. But it is less likely to be a priority. On the flip side, a company may state a value but not actually take actions that reflect it. Look for a startup that incorporates values you care about into their every decision.

If you’re considering working for a startup, inquire about their values during the interview process. Research ahead of time what values the company states on their website, and then ask about how they are actually lived at the company. What was a difficult decision the startup made in order to stay true to one of their values? Listen for stories that include plenty of details. You’ll quickly get a sense if the values hold meaning or are just there for show.

May 2016 Recap: Gainsight Pulse Conference, Boulder Startup Week And More

I have been part of the unique, dense, and constantly-evolving Boulder, CO startup ecosystem for nearly three years. During this time, I have had the privilege of working closely with a few local startups as clients through my former marketing consultancy. I currently work directly with several local companies who are sponsors and partners of the inclusivity-oriented tech meetup I founded, Flatirons Tech.

Boulder’s unofficial startup community ethos is “give first,” a phrase coined by local VC Brad Feld. This philosophy drives the entrepreneurial community here in Boulder, and is part of why the community is so dynamic despite its relatively small size and considerable distance from the heart of Silicon Valley.

Andrew Hyde, the founder of Boulder Startup Week, reached out to me earlier this year asking me to be on the Boulder Startup Week organizing committee and help run an event within the “Change The Ratio” track, which focuses, broadly, on startup culture and inclusivity. I said yes, and worked closely with many great people, including local startup SendGrid and Boulder Startup Week organizer Amy Button, to put on an event called “Creating Inclusive Startup Cultures” at SendGrid’s Boulder office. 

Panel speakers came from Silicon Valley and local tech community; ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand spoke at the panel, alongside QuickLeft’s Chris McAvoy and Gorilla Logic’s Rachel Beisdel, whom I spoke with on a panel last November as part of NewCo Boulder, and SendGrid’s Josh Ashton, with whom I work closely through Flatirons Tech meetup.

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ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand also spoke at an another event organized by SheSays Boulder on creative entrepreneurship. It was an awesome night of inspiration from  some of the best c-level talent in Boulder and beyond, who just happened to be women.

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With ServiceRocket COO Erin Rand, A Featured Speaker At Boulder Startup Week 2016

I loved attending and helping shape Boulder Startup Week this year. I look forward to next year and continuing to be involved in its success.

Gainsight Pulse Conference And Customer Success Updates

Earlier in the month, I attended Gainsight Pulse Conference on behalf of ServiceRocket, who sponsored. This was my second time attending the awesome annual gathering of the Customer Success community, of which I am proud to be a part.

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With Helping Sells Radio Co-Host Bill Cushard And Guest Emilia D’Anzica of WalkMe Recording An Episode Segment At Gainsight Pulse Conference 2016

We’ll be releasing several episode of Helping Sells Radio that include interviews with experts from the conference. In the meantime, here’s two episodes we launched during the conference featuring Customer Success experts Todd Eby and Catherine Blackmore

Named Top 100 Influencer In Customer Success By MindTouch and Customer Success A-Lister By Amity For 2016

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I was honored to be included in MindTouch’s Top 100 Influencers In Customer Success among such amazing leaders in the industry. Thank you to MindTouch for including me.

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I was also honored to be named A “Customer Success A-Lister” by Amity.

Helping Sells Radio Listed In “What’s Hot?” Section Of iTunesCjQttKbVEAA7JkG

The podcast I co-host,  Radio, was listed in “What’s Hot” section of iTunes in Tech podcast category. My co-host Bill Cushard and I have been speaking to more great technology experts, including Geoffrey Moore, Aaron Ross, and more.  Listen to past episodes.

Thank you for reading. -Sarah

 

Introducing Helping Sells Radio Podcast

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I’m proud to be co-host of a new technology podcast called Helping Sells RadioHelping Sells Radio is a podcast about helping customers discover, adopt, and thrive using your software. In the inaugural episode of Helping Sells Radio, my co-host Bill Cushard and I talk about what Helping Sells Radio is, why we are doing a podcast, and what listeners can expect in upcoming episodes.

There are a lot of technology podcasts, but none that specifically address the topic of helping enterprise customers buy, adopt, and get the most out of the software they use. Even more specifically, there isn’t a podcast that talks about how this idea of helping customers, without expectation of reciprocation can actually help both customers and software vendors (or anyone that sells anything for that matter).

Helping sells can be summed up by looking at many of the areas in business where helping sells can help people thrive.

For example:

  • In Marketing: Create marketing that educates people to help them make a decision.
  • In Sales: Sales that challenges and helps prospects. Help prospects improve their own businesses.
  • In Consulting: Geoffrey Moore described it this way: Strategic acts of generosity.
  • In Customer Success: It is not about the renewal. It is about helping customers do their jobs better or otherwise achieve a desired outcome.
  • In Training: Not just teaching features, but education people on a new way of working.
  • In Support: Proactively helping customers with things they have not even asked about yet. Anticipating their needs and addressing those, but customers think to ask.

We plan for show guests in all of those areas to discuss their particular helping sells approach to technology and business. In our first few episodes, we talked to experts from Optimizely, Gainsight, Evernote, Zuora and more.

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We’re also proud to announce that our podcast Helping Sells Radio currently ranks under “New and Noteworthy” for the categories of “Technology” and “Tech News” in iTunes! Thanks to everyone for listening and helping the show top the charts!

Listen To Helping Sells Radio Now

Year In Review: Reflections On A Spectacular 2015

From client acquisitions to speaking on several panels for the first time, to stepping away from my consulting business and becoming a full-time, proud Rocketeer, to helping grow the local diversity in tech group I founded in my home city of Boulder, CO, Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, to over 225 people, plus hosting and participating in a dozen local events in Boulder and beyond, 2015 has been a year to remember. Best of all, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people, companies, and mentors. To close out this memorable year, I thought I’d share some of highlights.

Three of My Clients Got Acquired–And Then One Of Them Acquired Me

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbury the day after joining the company.

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Rob Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbery the day after joining the company.

Perhaps the biggest professional news of my year involved the extraordinary success of my clients. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success-driven businesses sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line. Read more about the acquisitions, and how thrilled I am to now be a Rocketeer at ServiceRocket.

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

Top 100 Customer Success Influencers at Pulse.

This year MindTouch listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was honored by the mention, and enjoyed connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserved to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.

Customer Success Twitter Chat Thrived

In 2014 I launched the first-ever Customer Success industry Twitter Chat (#CustomerSuccessChat) while consulting with Frontleaf (acquired by Zuora in May ’15). Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English were totally on board, and together we launched the chat back in 2014, and in 2015, it really took off. The monthly twitter chat brought together Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners to talk shop, share best practices, and discuss overcoming challenges.

The chats consisted of lively real-time discussions including a series of questions on one topic (onboarding, sales and customer success, etc.) leveraging the #CustomerSuccessChat hashtag Twitter. We asked subject experts to mark their calendars to guarantee a high-level discourse, and others from the world of software adoption and customer success were also invited to weigh in on. After the chats, the Frontleaf team and I compiled chat recap blogs highlighting the gems from each one. This one on Customer Success as growthhacking is my favorite. At the moment I’m not running the chat, but maybe some form of it will return in the future.

Helped Launch The World’s First Customer Success Podcast

When Frontleaf asked me to devise a new channel to reach their target audience, I researched and created a plan to launch the Customer Success industry’s first-ever podcast exclusively dedicated to that topic. In early 2015, Customer Success Radio, the first-ever podcast about all things Customer Success and the cloud, hosted by Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English launched to great acclaim. The show served as a phenomenal source of leads and buzz for the company. The podcast archives are really worth a listen. While the podcast is currently on hiatus, Tom and Rachel tell me they will hopefully continue the podcast in some form at Zuora.

The experience of creating a plan for a podcast from soup to nuts was invaluable, and the lessons learned along the way have been very helpful in the creation of the brand-new podcast Bill Cushard and I will be co-hosting through ServicerRocket Media. Look out for “Helping Sells Radio” podcast in the first quarter of 2016.

Grew Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup

Flatirons LGBTQ Tech MeetupIn May 2014 I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in tech in Boulder, CO and beyond. In 2015, with the help of epic co-organizers, we hosted a dozen local events, became a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance Member, and continued to be supported by our amazing sponsors SendGrid, Pivotal Tracker, Galvanize, and more. We even got a shout-out in the Denver Post and hosted an official Boulder Startup Week event. I’m so proud of the community we’ve built and are continuing to build here in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I look forward to working with more local companies and organizations and to hosting and participating in more events in 2016.

Moderated ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” Webinar Series

Throughout 2015 I co-hosted the webinars in ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” series alongside ServiceRocket’s Head of Training and Director of Marketing, Bill Cushard. This year we interviewed industry leaders talking about customer education, customer success, software adoption, and more. Guests included expert GitHub trainer Peter Bell, Behavioral Design (Gamification) Expert Yu-Kai Chou, ClientSuccess Founder/CEO Dave Blake, and many other industry thought leaders. You can check out the archives and look out for more great webinars featuring all-star guests in 2016.

Spent A Month At ServiceRocket’s Office In Santiago, Chile

This year I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month working out of ServiceRocket’s office in Santiago, Chile. ServiceRocket is a major contributor to the growing startup community in Santiago, and it was a blast to join the team there to host and participate in events and work on projects together.

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Enjoying empanadas with incredible ServiceRocket team in Santiago, Chile.

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Hiking in the Andes near Santiago, Chile with ServiceRocket colleagues.

Was A Panelist At S-Factory Event In Santiago, Chile

In October, S-Factory accelerator, which is run out of Start-Up Chile, invited ServiceRocket’s Chief Operating Officer Erin Rand, accountant Noelia Rio and me to speak on a panel to discuss how we’re “rocking it”. I was honored to speak to the entrepreneurial audience about growth marketing, our company values, and how we approach software adoption and customer success. S-Factory Executive Director Patricia Hansen was an engaging moderator, and I enjoyed participating as well as listening to and learning from insights shared by colleagues Erin and Noelia.

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Speaking at S-Factory (part of Start-Up Chile) in Santiago in October 2015.

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Participated In NewCo Boulder Diversity In Tech Panel

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Speaking at NewCo Boulder “Diversity in Tech” panel in November, 2015

In November, I was a panelist on the “diversity and inclusion” panel at NewCo Boulder, hosted at Quick Left in Boulder alongside Quick Left’s VP of Engineering Chris McAvoy and Executive Leadership Coach Gerry Valentine, moderated by Rachel Beisel. I loved being a part of the discussion and getting to chat with people after who wanted to continue the conversations about “bringing your whole self to work.” I shared personal stories as well as lessons I’ve learned from working with Silicon Valley Women of Influence, ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand and VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, both of whom do amazing work to increase inclusion in tech. It was cool to hear that people enjoyed the panel and that QuickLeft may want us to recreate the panel again.Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.45 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.30.28 PM.jpgScreen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.32.21 PM (1).jpg

Interviewed Hooked Author Nir Eyal With Bill Cushard

Sarah_graphic-05I helped crowdsource edit the book Hooked by behavior engineering expert Nir Eyal and have been a huge fan of his work for a while, so it was a big honor to get to interview him and Bill Cushard for ServiceRocket Media. It was an amazing discussion about behavior psychology, customer education and software adoption. Listen to the interview.

Looking Forward To 2016

I’m grateful for the amazing people and companies with whom I had the privilege of working in 2015. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special year, and for being on this journey together.

I’m excited for what’s to come in 2016. In the first week of January, I’m headed to ServiceRocket’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for team building and to work on projects with our team in KL. ServiceRocket Media has some awesome projects in store including a brand-new podcast, epic webinars, and much, much more. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. Sarah

Three Of My Clients Got Acquired This Year, And Then One Of Them Acquired Me

For the past few years I’ve specialized in digital marketing consulting for B2B SaaS companies. I’ve really enjoyed helping my clients build out their marketing programs to reach their target markets. I’ve helped bootstrapped and VC-funded startups define their positioning, increase their brand awareness and thought leadership in their niche, and generate increased leads and sales. I’ve learned so much. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some phenomenal people and teams.

A Series of Client Acquisitions

One of my clients, a Google Ventures-backed veteran in the SEM space, famously shuttered this year. But most of my clients, I’m pleased to say, have wildly succeeded this year. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success business sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line.

Joining ServiceRocket As Senior Manager of Growth Marketing

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbury the day after joining the company.

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbery the day after joining the company.

I had loved working with the Learndot team. I did some of the best work of my career at that point with founder Paul Lambert and the Learndot crew. One month after the Learndot acquisition (February 2015), ServiceRocket hired me to consult with them on a part-time basis to help promote Learndot, and we quickly ramped up to a full-time consulting engagement. In retrospect, my work with ServiceRocket was a bit like falling in love–slowly at first, but then all at once. I hadn’t realized it, but even before I was consulting with ServiceRocket full-time, I was thinking about them and our work together constantly, reflecting often on the amazing team with whom I was working and the really interesting and creative projects we were working on.

With the amazing ServiceRocket team at Gainsight's Pulse Conference 2015

With the amazing ServiceRocket team (and special guest SalesLoft) at Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

I truly believe in ServiceRocket’s mission, leadership, values, and culture, driven by extraordinary CEO Robert Castaneda. ServiceRocket enables Customer Success for software companies and their enterprise customers through training, support and utilization. When ServiceRocket invited me to join the team as a full-time employee as Senior Manager of Growth Marketing, it was a dream come true. My work as a growth marketer is a fun and challenging blend of content, PR, social media, and demand generation, and is truly further extension of all of the work I’ve been doing in the Customer Success world all along. The team is led by VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, an award-winning Silicon Valley Woman of Influence and incredibly talented marketer and leader. I feel honored to work with and learn from her and the rest of the talented ServiceRocket team every day.

Final Thoughts

I’m so incredibly proud of my amazing clients who have “leveled up” in big ways this year, as well as the small but meaningful roles I got to play in their successes. I’m also prouder than I can express to be a full-time Rocketeer! I am still learning constantly every day, especially from leaders in our field who inspire me, and I look forward to continuing on that journey and creating valuable marketing experiences and content for ServiceRocket customers and the Customer Success industry. I plan to continue blogging here to share insights, news and ideas from the world of customer training, Customer Success and SaaS marketing. I hope you’ll stay connected and continue growing with me on this journey in the membership economy.

Thanks for reading. Sarah

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

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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

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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