Welcome back to the C2C Podcast. Our guest today it Brian Brannon, who is currently a Corporate Marketing Manager over at Gainsight, the leading customer success platform. In his role, Brian develops the Gainsight brand's narrative in order to better connect with their customers, investors, and the public.
Derek Anderson: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Anderson. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400 chapter community based in over 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time, your customers. Yet, I couldn't find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brand in person or at scale. On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does. John Frye: John Frye from the Bevy team here and I'm so excited to announce our next guest, Brian Brannon who is currently a corporate marketing manager over at Gainsight, the leading customer success platform. Now on this episode, Brian and Derek talked about how Gainsight built their own category, customer success, in large part due to the work that Brian has been doing with their community called Pulse Local. They also talked about why customer to customer marketing is such a powerful tool and how their ambassadors are now moving closer and closer to the C-suite as the industry that they have created rises as well. Without further adieu, please enjoy the show. Brian Brannon: Gainsight is a customer success platform that really helps you analyze your customer base and proactively meet their needs no matter what kind of business you are. So if you're a SaaS business, we help you take all the data of how their using your product and how they're interacting with your team, so both the product side and the human first interaction point, analyze that entire customer experience and really help increase opportunities for up-sale, for expansion and for renewal, when it comes time to do that. Derek Anderson: So you have this more and more established, enterprise SaaS product, growing team, growing customer base, talk to us about what Pulse Local is, which is Gainsight's community, how it works and then maybe even take us to the beginning of sort of where it got started, what was the beginnings of why you all started building this community. Brian Brannon: Back in the early days of Gainsight, customer success wasn't a known category. And so unlike a lot of different businesses, we were in a unique position where we had to go out and help create the category around what people were delivering, which was called customer success. And so one of the first ways you go and do that, Derek, is that you have to give someone and give these professionals a place to go to feel like they have sense of community. And so in early 2013, 2014, we announced at our Pulse conference that we were launching Pulse Local and that we were going to help 12 cities really rally around the profession and help grow their own careers and grow their connections and networks within their cities. So that's when we started Pulse Local. Austin, Boston, Chicago were some of the first few chapters, and it's grown exponentially from there up to 60 chapters internationally and we keep growing every single week. And really it's grown from just a regular meet up to now a epicenter within each region and within each city of customer success, and post-sales function as well, so whether in a product management or not, it's really been great to see. Derek Anderson: I think typically the way that people have engaged at the local level with these kinds of customers or potential customers was either in a field marketing program or they'd just force everybody to come to one location for their big user conference, which you have one of those as well. But I wonder, this sort of idea and shift with Gainsight to actually have the customers directly engage with these events and sort of representing your brand there. Can you talk about how that came to be or how the brand got over the idea of letting someone else sort of take the reins and to play a big role in building these communities and hosting these events? Brian Brannon: Really it ties back to something that I know you and this podcast in general it speaks to is that customer to customer selling is the most powerful tool, right? Creating advocacy programs for your customers where they can talk about their personal experience with your company is going to be more powerful than any demand gen structure you can build or any demand gen program you can build because it's more intimate in a way and it's more authentic. And so we made a commitment that said, with these Pulse Local communities we're not here to push product, we're here to create communities and stories based on our customers experiences that will then lead with our products. So we took some of our most successful customers, said, 'You're doing an excellent job in implementing customer success and growing what it means to be a customer success professional and our product is a part of that. But would you take it on yourself to carry the mantle and carry the torch within your own community to share your best practices with those that are trying to develop their own program. Derek Anderson: And what specifically from Gainsight, and we've heard from other brands of why people do this, but specifically for Gainsight, what's in it for these customers to get engaged? What tangibly do they get out of the time and energy and effort that they put into being part of your community? Brian Brannon: Yeah, on the member side, we want to make sure that every event is career-focused in some part, so helping them understand where their vertical opportunity is in terms of moving up within a company. One thing we talk about a lot is that the customer success manager is now a viable pathway to the chief executive officer, and we're seeing more and more C-level careers and more C-level titles being bestowed upon customer success professionals such as a chief customer officer and now even chief operations officers. So we want to make sure every event has some career component where people can come either network, plan their career together, but then also get the operational expertise to go and do their jobs better when they leave that event. So they get a lot of learning and empowerment and enabling from each event, but then they also get tightened into the broader Pulse ecosystem which now contains over 20 events worldwide every single year, including our major conference, a digital component coming later this year which we're really excited to plug everyone into and world tours which span every single continent, except maybe Antarctica that we can. So a really big ecosystem that we're trying to build out to help further the community. Derek Anderson: I love that idea that these events are, that you're so overtly focused on actually helping these customers be successful, and the career path. We see all different types and some sort of bridge on the side of maybe being more sort of company focused or helping a product and I feel like the Gainsight events are really more sort of focused and tied into really helping the organizers and the needs that they have. Did they always start out that way? Did that evolve over time? Is that something you learned from trial and error or was it just instinctively, this was the way to do it from the beginning? Brian Brannon: I think when we started the program, I know our CEO Nick Mehta is extremely passionate about doing things authentically and doing things that put the community first. And so we knew that, to your previous point, hosting a field marketing event would almost always be taken as a vendor pitch and that truly to build an authentic community around empowering the category and the industry, we have to enable the people that were already doing amazing things. A lot of our chapters are led by leaders that already have meet-up groups around customer success or already have monthly webinars around customer success that are already cultivating their communities and growing them together, and we just plugged them into our ecosystem of speakers, of sometimes sponsorship supports and our broad category of all the content that we've built year over year in our conferences and within our own research within the category. So yeah, it wasn't necessarily an initial thing, but it's something we knew we had to do long-term to make sure that the community was taken authentically and not as a vendor pitch. Derek Anderson: One of the other things that I really respect about the Pulse program in general is you've tried so many different things. I think at one point you made a music album and Gainsight maybe more broadly gets credit for this, but had a book and there's all sorts of different programs that you've done. And maybe some of them worked really well and maybe some of them didn't but it feels like the organization overall has been really open to taking a lot of risks and trying things knowing that we may get laughed at for this, but yeah, it's clever or maybe people won't think it's clever, but we're still going to try it. Maybe that's driven by Nick or driven by the leadership on the team. What happens in those meetings when these sorts of ideas start coming up? How do they actually get from, 'Hey, I've got this crazy idea' to actually getting out in the wild? Brian Brannon: Yeah, there's a lot of enthusiasm and passion at our company from Nick all the way to our CMO and across the board, for some pretty wild ideas, to your point. What we always try to bring and one of our core values at Gainsight is childlike joy and bringing a learners mind, two of our values, bringing a learners mind to everything that you do. So we always have a sentiment that the best idea wins and we're willing to double down and we're willing to chase that idea as far as it goes. Now that doesn't always mean that the best idea is having your CEO as a rap star, which by the way, little plug here, if you want a great, hot track off the thing, check out iTunes Apple for Who's Fired Up, the first rap video in customer success, very great. But we always think as long as we can push the boundary of the norms, especially in enterprise software, or do something unique that is community-focused and that is fun oftentimes, then that's a great way for us to do that. But Nick's very passionate about chasing some crazy ideas and our CMO Anthony Kennada has some crazy ideas that he loves chasing, whether that's a Backstreet song or bring Vanilla Ice to our conference last year. We're always trying to push the envelope in some way. Derek Anderson: So 12 cities, now upwards of 60 cities, what happened over that span of growing the community? Did it maintain sort of what the core always was? Did it evolve? Did it change? And then what do you think the future looks like? Or is 60 the optimal number? Talk to us about that. Brian Brannon: Yeah, it's really a testament to the growth of the industry as a whole. Over the last few years we've seen an exponential rise from 2015, where there was less than 5,000 customer success managers, all the way to today where there are about 35,000 true CSMs according to LinkedIn and it's just growing more and more every year. I mean, it's really a testament that businesses are shifting the way that they approach and think about the customer relationship. And to your point, is 60 to optimal number? No. We think that customer success and really the customer experience and how that effects subscription growth will affect every business in the future as every business becomes more subscription oriented and more oriented around software. Derek Anderson: What do you see as the biggest challenges for you in 2019 to take it to that next level and to really see through on that vision? Brian Brannon: For the community aspect in a whole, it's all around becoming better at enabling individuals and leaders that are already being successful in their own groups. From the community standpoint, we're a small team here at Gainsight, in terms of managing communities and really finding an effective way to communicate one to many and enable leaders in a one to many fashion is going to be essential for scaling. And is going to be essential for making sure that our leaders that already exist are successful and can successfully host events and manage events at scale. Derek Anderson: Brian, thank you so much for joining us. Great to have you. Brian Brannon: Thank you so much, Derek. Appreciate it. Derek Anderson: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you'd like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to BevyLabs.com/pod. Again, that's BevyLabs.com/pod.