Nailing Implementations the Gainsight Way

Sridhar Gollapalli (VP - Customer Success) and Sudheer Sharma Goda (Director of Professional Services) of Gainsight share implementation wisdom
Srikrishnan Ganesan
June 7, 2021
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In this episode, we have Sridhar Gollapalli (VP - Customer Success) and Sudheer Sharma Goda (Director of Professional Services), Gainsight. Sridhar has over two decades of experience working in the software tech space and has worked with the likes of IBM and Microsoft. He transitioned from engineering leadership roles to customer success at Gainsight. Sudheer has a master's in Data Science and Analytics. He spent 15 years in tech consulting before he joined Gainsight to lead their professional services function.

In this episode, they talk about:

  • How the Customer Success function was established at Gainsight
  • How the Professional Services team comes into the picture
  • How the team decides on who should engage with the customer
  • How workshops for customers cut down their go-live time

...and more.

Here's how the conversation transpired:

Sri: Welcome to this episode of Launch Station, where we speak to some of the top professionals and thought leaders in customer onboarding, professional services, and customer success.

In this episode, we have two leaders joining us from Gainsight. Sridhar Gollapalli, VP of Customer Success, and Sudheer Sharma Goda, Director of Professional Services.

Sridhar is a veteran in the software tech space with over two decades of experience working with the industry's big names like IBM and Microsoft. He transitioned from engineering leadership roles to running and building the customer success function at Gainsight and then went on scaling it. Sudheer comes from a strong data background. He has a master's in data science and analytics. And he spent a decade and a half in tech consulting, before joining Gainsight to lead their professional services function. 

We all know Gainsight is a pioneer in customer success. So today, our topic is nailing implementations the Gainsight way. And we are going to get into detail on how implementation and professional services have evolved at Gainsight, some of their best practices, and key initiatives that have helped them over the years. 

Welcome to the show, Sridhar and Sudheer.

Both of you have spent a whole decade working together first at Oakton and now at Gainsight. So, how's the journey been working together for so many years? And do you have any observations about each other's working style that you can share with us?

Sridhar Gollapalli: That's a great question, Sri. When switching companies, people often hope to have a better or different manager. However, in this particular case, it seems that things didn't work out that way. Unfortunately, even though he changed companies, his manager remained the same. I'll let Sudheer add more color to the matter.

Sudheer Sharma Goda: I want to add that I have the privilege of choosing my manager. Wherever my manager goes, I just follow him.

Sri: It must be great to have that sort of mutual trust and respect that takes you on a common journey together for so many years. Now, we want to learn a little more about your journeys at Gainsight. 

Sridhar, can you share how the customer success function came into existence at Gainsight?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Sure, Sri. In 2016, we began establishing the CS function in India as we already had a fully operational function in the US. Our goal was to replicate a similar full-blown organizational structure in India. Initially, we started with just 11 team members in the support team, which we internally refer to as the Tech Success team. Over time, we expanded the team by incorporating professional services and customer success roles from within the existing team.

This growth strategy consisted of two approaches, cross-skilling existing employees familiar with Gainsight into professional services or customer success roles, as well as recruiting externally and providing training for lateral hires. From starting with a team of 11 in 2016, we have now grown to a team of 100+ individuals, encompassing various functions such as Support, Professional Services, Customer Success, and Customer Success operations.

Reflecting on our journey over the past four years, we encountered difficulties in finding suitable candidates and generating interest in the role. As a result, we decided to recruit solutions engineers and nurture them into customer success or service professionals within Gainsight. Since then, our recruitment efforts have been successful, with us interviewing solutions engineers, explaining the customer success function, and discussing potential roles in the CS or PS domains. This approach has allowed us to continuously build and expand our team over the past four years.

Sri: That was quite a lot of growth and momentum for the team, Sridhar.
Sudheer, I know Gainsight has a few implementation partners as well. So where do your own professional services and solution architecture teams fit into the picture? 

Sudheer Sharma Goda: So, once the project is awarded to Gainsight, there is a team consisting of solutions architects, technical architects, and solution engagement managers (also known as strategic engagement managers). These three teams collaborate to determine responsibilities and create a plan for executing the project. Strategic engagement managers are essentially project managers who oversee the entire project schedule. They handle customer communication, assign timeframes, and ensure the overall project goals are met. 

The solutions architects assist by gathering customer requirements and documenting them in spreadsheets. At this point, the technical architects step in to review the requirements and consult with the solutions architects. Together, they establish the project schedule, determine when to start and conclude the assignment, and thoroughly understand each component of the deliverables. The technical architects focus primarily on the configuration stage, particularly during discovery workshops to address any technicalities. Their expertise is vital during the build phase of the project.

Sri: That's interesting. Sudheer, I am also curious about how you make your decisions about who should engage the customer. Should the partner be onboarding the customer, or should it be the internal team, how does this get decided?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: We have a mix-and-match approach to customer onboarding that takes into account various factors, including urgency, internal team availability, and partner collaboration. Sometimes, we receive requests from customers who require immediate attention. In such cases, we assess the availability of our team members and segment our customers like enterprise customers, SMB customers, and so on, based on their needs. We have dedicated strategic advisory teams and other teams who engage with customers in different capacities.

Regarding partner engagement, we initially prioritize internal teams for major customer projects. However, in cases where team members are not available, we have agreements in place to involve our partners. Partners may take on roles such as solutions architects or technical architects, depending on the specific needs of the customers. The engagement model allows us to mix and match team members and partners based on the situation at hand. It is not a fixed rule that partners are solely solutions architects or technical architects – it depends on the circumstances.

Sri: That makes a lot of sense. So Sridhar and Sudheer, do your teams handle customers globally?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Yes, we currently have customers worldwide, spanning various regions including the US, EMEA, and Asia Pacific, including Japan. Our team is responsible for serving these global customers. Our teams also work across different segments such as enterprise, win market, and SMB.

Sri: Got it. Sridhar, a few months ago, I came across a social media post from Gainsight. They mentioned a workshop-driven approach that reduced go-live times by half. I'm interested in learning more about this approach and how it has been successful. Is this something that benefits customers of all sizes?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Absolutely! Like any company, Gainsight is committed to continually improving and reinventing itself. We have received feedback from our customers that there are about 12-13 key features that Gainsight offers as a platform – making it challenging for them to select the top three or four to implement. This often leads to longer implementation times and delayed time to value.

To address this issue, we introduced a new approach. During the sales phase, we work closely with customers to understand their requirements and map them to specific Gainsight features. Together, we prioritize these requirements and plan the implementation in phases. This allows us to deliver value to the customer in the first phase and streamline the overall implementation process.

We also offer Gainsight Advisory Services (GSAS) for our enterprise customers. This service involves our expert team engaging with different teams within the organization, such as the data team, CRM team, and business team. They propose an implementation plan with timelines, which are then reviewed by the customer's team.

By incorporating prioritization and workshops, we have been able to streamline the implementation process and reduce the overall implementation time to four to six weeks.

Sri: Awesome. That sounds like a model that every company can copy and learn from. Here's a question about these workshops. Do your customers need to come prepared for these workshops? And how do you measure their readiness levels?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Great question, Sri. Workshops are planned meetings; they are scheduled on the calendar. During these meetings, we discuss the required audience and skill sets. For example, if I'm speaking with a customer, in the first meeting, we may need an SFDC ( admin, a Gainsight admin, and a member of the business team who can explain the business requirements. However, not all roles may be necessary in the initial meeting. We may start with the business person and then involve the SFDC admin later to determine which objects should be integrated with Gainsight. We schedule these discussions based on the required skill sets and roles to ensure successful and productive meetings. The meetings are all scheduled on the calendar and specify the necessary resources and roles.

Sri: That's very insightful. Sridhar. Are there any other initiatives that come to mind that have helped you shorten the time to value for your customers?

Sridhar Gollapalli: We have made numerous improvements through automation, Sri. 

Sudheer will discuss Gainsight’s Configuration Wizard functionality, as he was part of the team that developed it. Additionally, Gainsight offers success plans, which are like mini-project plans. You can track the progress of these plans within Gainsight to assess your implementation's success, including the variance and completion status. This method can be utilized internally or for certain customers, where we can document requirements, monitor progress, and align it with Gainsight features, creating a dynamic collaboration tool between the customer and the Gainsight implementation team. These are the two approaches. 

Sri: Perfect. Sudheer, It would be great if you could elaborate on the configuration wizard that your team built to help you and your customers. It would also be great if you could share the impact and any stats about what this has done for you.

Sudheer Sharma Goda: We have recently introduced a Configuration Wizard based on multiple feedback evaluations. This wizard allows us to onboard our customers quickly and efficiently. The implementation time varies depending on the size of the customer, ranging from three to eight weeks. Through our evaluations, we have identified the most important aspects to prioritize during onboarding, while leaving some configurations for later stages.

We have gathered input from various customers to determine the immediate onboarding problems we can address. Within Gainsight, we have identified product areas that can be quickly onboarded, allowing customers to familiarize themselves with the project and product. This enabled us to streamline the remaining questions for later stages. The Configuration Wizard guides customers through each step, starting with customer service and then progressing to contacts and beyond. We have automated certain processes to reduce implementation time and provide customers with time-to-value.

Initially, onboarding customers used to take three to four weeks, but now it has been reduced by 60 to 70 percent. We have already onboarded 40 to 50 customers using the configuration wizard. Additionally, we have analyzed external data coming into insight, and identified common patterns and trends that customers need. We have integrated this external data, such as from Zendesk and JIRA, into Gainsight by ingesting, transforming, and providing insights to customers. This process takes approximately one week. We have also templatized certain data points and developed a platform called Sightline integration, which allows for quick deployment and onboarding of customers within hours. It used to take four to five days for deployment and validation in Gainsight, but now it can be done much faster.

Sri: That's a lot of good ideas in there, Sridhar and Sudheer. So moving to the next question, how do you sort of keep all the stakeholders on the customer's side, aligned and motivated throughout a project? For example, if you take Gainsight implementation, I can imagine that sometimes the CS head at your customer end is fully motivated and aligned and wants to get this up and running ASAP. But they may be engineering and product leaders who have other items on their priority list and for them to get the integration done to push the data into your system, etc. How do you ensure that that alignment happens? And what do you do when it isn't there yet?

Sridhar Gollapalli: I think the role of a strategic engagement manager, as mentioned by Sudheer earlier, serves as the key link between Gainsight's implementation team and the customer. The role of the strategic engagement manager is focused on developing strategies to ensure alignment among executives. The implementation teams then work towards the goals set by the executives. The strategic engagement manager creates plans, such as success plans or project plans, to share with the customer and their team. These plans outline the details of the requirements being delivered and assign tasks to individuals. Often, some challenges arise when coordinating across departments or functions, such as with the CRM system. In these cases, the strategic engagement manager takes on the responsibility of setting priorities and guiding teams through the process.

Sri: What about customer experience at Gainsight? Can you share some best practices employed around providing a consistent, delightful, and a five-star experience to all of your customers?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Great question, Sri. I believe the promise of customer success is two-fold. Firstly, it involves delivering excellent outcomes to customers. Secondly, it encompasses providing a positive experience throughout the entire journey. This means ensuring that customers not only achieve their desired outcomes but also cherish the journey. This is where the essence of customer success lies.

When engaging with customers, we strive to understand their requirements and expectations from both a value and experience standpoint. This process begins during the sales process, where we interview the customer to gather information. It continues throughout implementation, with mid-point check-ins and phase one or two assessments using NPS, which gives us insight into customer sentiment. Furthermore, we proactively communicate with CX-level and VP-level individuals involved to capture any nuances or expectations that may not have been thoroughly documented initially.

To address the details and ensure a smooth experience, workshops are conducted. These workshops help in mapping the flow of data into Gainsight, creating reports and dashboards, and overall planning. This level of detailed planning contributes to a positive experience and keeps customers engaged.

Toward the end of the implementation, we conduct an NPS survey to gauge customer satisfaction. Depending on the feedback received, we explore the possibility of turning satisfied customers into references for future clients. If we receive negative feedback, we work with the customer to identify the issues and develop corrective actions to rectify them.

Sri: Sudheer, do you have any techniques to assess the readiness of a customer before a project comes to the professional services team?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: When customers come to Gainsight, they often want to understand what exactly Gainsight is and how it will work for them. Before our professional services team gets involved, our pre-sales team takes the time to understand the customer's setup and current structure. This includes understanding their data, the systems they have, and how these systems are integrated. Our pre-sales team gathers this information through a template-based questionnaire that we send to the customer.

Once the customer purchases Gainsight, our professional services team, along with the sales team, revisits the customer's IT readiness. This includes questions about their CRM and how they will transfer data to Gainsight. Based on the customer's responses, we estimate the time required for the project. We also take into consideration any deployment cycles or schedules that the customer has in place. For example, a customer may only be able to deploy on Wednesdays or refresh their systems on specific days. We factor these details into our project estimates to ensure they align with the customer's needs. By evaluating each component, including deployment cycles, system interactions, and internal processes, we can provide an accurate estimation and execute the project accordingly.

Sri: That's very useful. Moving to the next part of our show, which is questions from our community. Preflight is our community for customer onboarding, implementation, and Customer Success professionals. We are also going to take questions from our audience on LinkedIn and Twitter. So, here's the first question. What are some of the common mistakes teams make during the initial days of setting up their professional services and implementation teams at their organizations?

Sridhar Gollapalli: The first thing we learned was the importance of nailing handoffs between the sales team and the onboarding/implementation team. This ensures that customer requirements are not repeated and that the customer feels the transition is seamless. We have implemented a handoff process that includes a checklist and a meeting to discuss requirements. The sales and professional services teams communicate internally, and the requirements are passed on to the implementation team.

The second thing we learned is the importance of prioritizing implementation time. We have realized that prioritization and focusing on a four to six-week launch phase allows us to demonstrate value to the customer quickly. This has been a valuable lesson for us over the past few years.

Sri: Can you share any ROI calculations you have that help with prioritization and determining the desired level of ROI to achieve within six weeks?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Certainly! After considering customer demands and Gainsight's obligations, we have developed packages based on our expertise. We have organized our knowledge into different categories and communicated the value to our customers through these packages. Sudheer can delve into the details of these packages for you.

Sudheer Sharma Goda: During our journey, we discussed the roles of strategic engagement managers, solution architects, and technical architects, which make up our professional services team. We also have another team called professional services sales, which helps us identify the type of customers we have. We segment our customers based on factors such as the amount of data points they have, the number of files they need to provide, the duration of the project, and the post-project activities.

Taking all of these points into consideration, we have developed different packages like Quickstart launch and Quick adoption. Each package has its deployment timeline, ranging from three to four weeks, four to six weeks, or more than six weeks. We have categorized our packages according to our customer's needs, and our sales team communicates with customers to understand the use cases and which package is the best fit for them. Each package comes with predefined elements such as success plans, reports, and data sources that we always include. Any changes to these elements may affect the overall package and project cost.

Sri: That's interesting. So, here's the next question from the community. Where does the implementation team's role end and where does the customer success team's role begin at Gainsight?

Sridhar Gollapalli: If you look at the overall structure of customer success, from a lifecycle perspective, there are different teams involved at different stages. After the sales team, the onboarding or implementation team takes over. Once the customer goes live, they hand it off to the customer success team.

The support team, also known as tech success, is engaged for any technical issues or questions. Customers can log a ticket and the support team will address it.

Regular cadence calls are scheduled between the customer success manager (CSM) and the customer to discuss any updates or implementation plans based on their segmentation. This is an ongoing process throughout the customer's lifecycle. During critical points like renewals at 30, 60, and 90 days, specific action plans CTs are executed to ensure the customer receives value and adopts the product in the right direction.

Sri: Got it. Does your company tie any component of the payment or subscription fee to the adoption of your product? I know this isn't totally in your control but is this something that Gainsight follows?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Yes, our sales approach involves a base package that is usually a mandatory purchase. In addition to this base package, customers have the option to add on various components. To illustrate, let's consider the scenario where most customers begin with the Gainsight basic package. As they approach their initial renewal and after six months of implementation, they may desire the capability to automate journeys for their SMB customers using Gainsight's journey orchestrator, which is a valuable feature. However, this functionality is not included in the base package, so an extra fee would apply to enable it. In this way, our offerings can expand based on the specific needs of the customer, allowing them to purchase various components that go beyond the base package.

Sri: Got it! I understand that all of it is tied to adoption because only when they're using those features, do those features need to be enabled, and only then do they end up paying for it.

Sridhar Gollapalli: Yes, true to the promise of SaaS.

Sri: Now we're going to the final part of the show, which is our rapid-fire questions. Just answer based on what comes to your mind immediately. I'll start with Sridhar first. So, Sridhar, if you weren't a CS leader, what would you have been?

Sridhar Gollapalli: I would be a Java architect. I have programmed in Java for 15 years of my life starting from JDK 1.1 to JDK 1.8. So, a Java architect.

Sri: Sudheer, what about you?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: Yeah, I'd be somewhere swimming through the data world. I came from a typical data background, implementing data warehouse models, and now the term is slightly changed to the data analytics role. So I would be somewhere in the world of data science, visual intelligence, or analytics maybe.

Sri: Got it! What's one thing that keeps you motivated?

Sridhar Gollapalli: In my opinion, the greatest happiness I have experienced during my five years at Gainsight is the collective success and adherence to the golden rule. I am truly captivated by Gainsight's vision statement, which reads "You can win in business by being human first." Previously, I believed that achieving business success required cutthroat tactics and shrewdness. However, my time at Gainsight has shown me that prioritizing human values and following the rules of success for all and the golden rule can lead to victory in business. This new perspective on life fills me with a tremendous sense of inspiration and energy.

Sri: And what about you, Sudheer?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: I constantly challenge myself in all aspects of my life, whether it's in my work or my personal life. I thrive on challenges and always seek more. Overcoming these challenges gives me a sense of fulfillment and motivates me to aspire to the next level. I stay motivated by reading books and studying the entrepreneurial journeys of individuals from both India and other countries. This helps me learn and understand how they are achieving growth in their careers. Through continuous learning, I strive to develop myself in various areas.

Sri: What's been the lockdown's best gift for you?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: I think it's a pretty common experience for everyone. I've been spending a lot of time with my kids lately. When I was a child, I loved doing art with paper, which I haven't taught my kids yet. I have a son and a daughter. Instead of just letting them use phones or watch TV all day, I've started teaching them some things in our native language. Spending quality time with my kids and playing with them is my favorite thing to do. It's like a special gift.

Sri: And Sridhar, What about yours?

Sridhar Gollapalli: One of the things Sudheer mentioned, which applies to all of us, is that I have spent more time with my kids in the last year than I have in the past two decades. It's not an exaggeration to say that being at home during this quarantine has allowed me to truly appreciate the amount of time I can spend with my children.

Another discovery I made during this lockdown is the resurgence of board games in our household. We unearthed games from our childhood and were amazed at the logic behind them. It's fascinating to see how these games were created and the kids have thoroughly enjoyed playing them. 

Sri: Awesome. And now to make things a little more interesting, we're going to have both of you ask questions of each other. So Sridhar, your turn first. What would you like to ask Sudheer?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Ah, nice. So, Sudheer, if you were to look back at your five years at Gainsight, and had a chance to do something differently, what would that be?

Sudheer Sharma Goda: I’ve been very happy with my Gainsight experiences –  especially due to my strong interest in analytics and data. However, if I were to explore other options, I would be particularly interested in product management. I enjoy staying up-to-date with the latest market developments and providing suggestions to enhance the product. Being part of the product team would allow me to contribute in these areas and take the product to new heights. That being said, my experience in delivery services and implementation teams has deeply ingrained a passion for effectively delivering projects from a product perspective.

Sri: And Sudheer, it's now your turn to ask Sridhar a question.

Sudheer Sharma Goda: I’ve never had a chance to ask this before, Sridhar, what is the reason for you to stick to Gainsight?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Over the past five years, I've noticed a significant shift in the discussions about objectives. Each year feels like a fresh start – it’s as if I'm joining a new organization. This is largely due to our adoption of the Alliance philosophy, which Reed Hoffman wrote about in his book. Every year, we discuss with the executives to set our goals for the year. It feels like a whole new company because we're asked what impact we want to make and in which specific area.

This approach is how the executives at Gainsight tackle their responsibilities. Our agreement lasts for a year, and at the end of that period, we re-evaluate and embark on a new contract. While there's no physical document, this engagement is aligned with the principles of the Alliance philosophy. Despite it being five years, each year has brought a different journey, and you can see how the team has grown and evolved. The focus shifts from one area to another, meaning that every year brings something new and different to work on.

Sri: Thanks, Sridhar and Sudheer. Very beautifully answered by both of you. And now the last question of the show, this is to Sridhar. What's your advice for Customer Success leaders out there?

Sridhar Gollapalli: Absolutely. Firstly, it's great that you're interested in the customer success field. A recent LinkedIn survey shows that customer success is one of the top six jobs in FY 20. Additionally, there is a significant demand for CSM professionals, with around 1.3 lakh positions available but only 37 to 39,000 CSMs currently in the market. Even if you expand the scope, the demand still surpasses the supply. So, you have chosen a field with high demand.

Now, for someone entering the customer success field, my advice is to take advantage of the resources available to you. Gainsight, for example, offers various blogs and publications that you can read in your free time to enhance your knowledge. Additionally, attending their annual conference called Pulse will allow you to connect with the customer success community and gain valuable insights. By immersing yourself in the literature, books, and community surrounding customer success, you are sure to excel in this field which holds great promise for your future.

Sri: That was fantastic! Thank you so much for joining us, Sridhar and Sudheer. It was a pleasure having you both on the show.

Sridhar Gollapalli: Thank you, Sri, for hosting us.

Sudheer Sharma Goda: Thank you, Sri. It's a pleasure talking to you.

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