Monday Guest Mary Poppen
On the personal side, I married my best friend, Jim, who is the best human being I’ve ever known and we have two amazing sons, Dylan (19) and Ryan (17), who light up our lives and keep us on our toes!
We live in Minnesota, but love to travel to warmer climates whenever we can.
On the professional side, I am currently the Chief Business and Customer Officer at involve.ai, a CS Angel Founding Investor, and author of “Goodbye, Churn. Hello, Growth!” Prior to involve.ai, I happily served as Chief Customer Officer at LinkedIn and SAP.
In addition to my current role, I enjoy being a Board Advisor and executive coach and have a passion for giving back through female mentorship programs.
We asked Mary to take us through a journey telling us about her career path, how she spends her workday, what advice she can share with someone starting as a customer success manager, and many other questions.
Enjoy reading this interview
Tell us about your career path?
I started my career as a Consultant focused on organizational development and business process redesign to help companies deliver a better experience to their customers and employees.
I then moved into the technology industry to help companies leverage new solutions to improve employee and customer experience.
I was fortunate to be a pioneer in Software as a Service (SaaS) companies and help design and implement solutions that would put people (customers and employees) at the center of businesses.
How did you join Customer Success?
I started in “Customer Success” long before today’s understanding. I began working for SuccessFactors, the first HCM SaaS solution, in the early days, before Software as a Service was understood.
As expected, the traditional software delivery of the on-premise days was applied to SaaS and sure enough, the customer received implementation services and technical support, but the actual adoption of the software was highly unmonitored.
I like to say it was moving from “Building Houses” (on-premise) to “Renting Apartments” (SaaS). With SaaS, if you didn’t like your landlord or the apartment building, you could up and leave quite easily, unlike the traditional on-premise software deployments.
SaaS changed the focus of software to become a customer-centric sale and delivery vs. a product-centered sale and delivery. It was an opportunity to put the customer at the center of the value proposition.
This was the start of refining what customer experience and value meant and putting Customer Success at the forefront of delivering on it. I had the opportunity to be involved in shaping and evolving Customer Success from early on…and it’s been an AMAZING journey!
How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?
In my experience, the ideal CSM is customer-obsessed, intellectually curious, a creative problem-solver, self-motivated, views learning as a journey, and has extremely high integrity.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?
If you always do what is right for the customer, you can’t go wrong. You are the customer’s voice within the company and it’s up to you to share the customer’s feedback and needs with the product, sales, and executive teams so that internal decisions on the roadmap, investments, future direction, etc. are aligned to delivering on what will bring the most value for your customers.
If you always do what is right for the customer, you can’t go wrong. !
Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?
🙂 Sure! What I will say is that no day is ever what I think it’s going to be. The best-laid plans are not guaranteed, so make sure you leave room to expect the unexpected 🙂
A typical day includes 20% sales calls, 20% customer calls, 20% 1-1s with team members, 20% internal/executive meetings, and 20% administrative time.
What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
With SaaS, there is an opportunity to innovate and personalize around the customer’s specific unique business requirements and outcomes.
I get inspired by the opportunity to do things differently to drive value for customers, for the company, and also for the employees who serve those customers.
There is a significant linkage between employee and customer experience. This is something I’m very passionate about.
What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
🚩 I LOVE race cars! I had the opportunity to drive a Nascar at Daytona and after that, I was hooked on driving fast in cars that could corner on a dime!
Who do you look up to the most?
My husband. He is the most patient, caring person I know. In addition, he seems to know just about everything (but isn’t a “know it all”) and can fix anything that breaks with any tools or materials lying around (think “MacGyver” if you know who this is from the US TV Series).
What are your top 3 priorities now?
– Helping my company establish a WOW delivery experience for our customers
– Taking care of my team
– Growing revenue
What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?
– Don’t let “Imposter Syndrome” hold you back…the worst that can happen to try something new is that you will learn something from it.
– Find your own personal “Board of Directors” made up of friends, family, colleagues and mentors…people with different views of you in different aspects of your life who can provide honest feedback and inspiration.
– Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, go after them! People won’t offer you opportunities they don’t know you want. Be vocal about your career aspirations, ask for and incorporate feedback in your development journey and be aware of your greatest strengths and blind spots so that you can continue building on what’s working and learn from what’s not.
What’s your favorite book, and why?
“Chief Customer Officer” by Jeanne Bliss. Jeanne clearly outlined that organizations are most successful when they put the customer at the center, and she shared tips for how to go about getting there. It helped build my confidence that it was possible as a CCO to transform my company and the experience for our customers.
Jeanne’s publications inspired me to write my own book entitled “Goodbye, Churn. Hello, Growth!” to pass on my knowledge and key lessons learned to others.
» Check out the 10 Books a CSM should read to advance and improve their skills.
Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
I have had several moments like that…when I got promoted to run my first team, when I took on my first CCO role, when I spoke at a conference to over 50,000 people, when I published my book!
I believe all key milestone moments create that feeling…but there’s more to the journey, so the “I’ve made it” moment is really the opportunity to set new goals to go even further! 🙂
What should I have asked you but didn’t?
What is a consistent challenge you see CS teams face?
One of the biggest challenges is to align to revenue growth. CS teams don’t typically get investment and prioritization unless you can show revenue outcomes for the organization.
New logo growth is awesome, but if you don’t keep an eye on existing customers, you could be facing an uphill battle for revenue growth. Sharing the impact of the CS team’s work on revenue retention and growth can help elevate the voice of CS across the organization!
Where can people go to find out more about you?
The best place to find me is on LinkedIn.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your knowledge and for the opportunity to know you more.
Do you have a Customer Success Leader, Expert, or Influencer you would like to know more about?