Why customer centricity is your competitive advantage

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This is a podcast episode titled, Why customer centricity is your competitive advantage. The summary for this episode is: <p>Joseph Fuerst, VP of Sales at Base AI, is passionate about customer-led growth, and he knows that to grow successfully, you have to start by humanizing the people you’re selling to.&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p>So stop calling them leads. Stop calling them targets. In fact, stop calling them anything but “people”—because that’s what they are! Sit in on this masterclass for tactical tips on scaling your personalization efforts, changing the way your organization thinks about who they’re selling to, and truly knowing your customer.</p><p><br></p><p>Sign up for The Edge newsletter:<a href="https://www.gong.io/the-edge/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> https://www.gong.io/the-edge/</a></p>
What is customer-led growth?
01:08 MIN
Sales is more than a transaction
00:31 MIN
How to balance resources when you value outcomes outside of revenue
01:16 MIN

Devin: Sheena, what would you say is your competitive edge?

Sheena: I would honestly say that this podcast and the conversations and dialogues with execs is one of my competitive edges.

Devin: I feel like access, whether that's to people or information, is a huge competitive edge, especially today in the digital world. That's exactly why we decided to launch The Edge, which is a new thought leadership newsletter penned by our very own president and COO, Kelly Breslin Wright.

Sheena: It's fantastic. It's this sneak peek into the inner thinking and the experiences of a highly successful female executive who has been there, done that as a board member, as a president of a hyper growth company, as a sales leader. So being able to see her thought processes really get to tap into something that you wouldn't have known otherwise.

Devin: It's really a written extension of what we talk about here. How to scale your business, how to be a better leader, how to adapt to the different trends that are coming. So every month she drops a new addition. It's always less than five minutes. And you know, you know that there's data in that because that's what we do. We love data.

Sheena: So how do we sign up, Dev?

Devin: All you have to do is jump down to the show notes and you're going to see a link. Hit the link, put in your email address, and that's it. That's it. That's all you have to do.

Sheena: Easy peasy. All right.

Devin: That was fun.

Joseph: Guys, we can either be here and sell to people all day, or we can be people who help these people become successful in their careers and their businesses successful. So we can either deliver success, right, or we can focus on actually transacting with people what do you think is more valuable.

Devin: This is Reveal, The Revenue Intelligence Podcast, here to help go- to market leaders do one thing. Stop guessing.

Sheena: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.

Devin: And I'm Devin Reed coming to you from the Gong Studios. Today's episode is a masterclass in customer- led growth. And one of the most impactful takeaways is how internal language guides how we act externally. More specifically, I'm talking about what we call our prospects. They aren't leads, contacts, or targets. They're people. And the more that we call them people, the more that we'll treat them that way. This might sound simple at face value, but it reflects a much deeper vision from today's guest. In our conversation, Joseph Fuerst, VP of sales at Base, formerly known as Crowdvocate, shares why he's passionate about leading with customer centricity in sales and how personalization has led to major growth for his company. Stick around for some tactical advice on how you can scale your personalization efforts and put your people first, regardless of the size of your team. So Base AI, formerly Crowdvocate, has experienced impressive growth over the last three years. Can you tell us a little bit about that growth that you've experienced and maybe what you attribute it to?

Joseph: So at our core, what we are for people who aren't familiar is we're a customer marketing platform. And what we do is we centralize and automate customer marketing advocacy and reference programs to really support rapid expansion and scalability. So what that really means is that we have a software, we have a set of solutions that's designed around helping give maximum value to your install base while also extracting maximum value from your install base to the top of the funnel. So in terms of what our growth is really all about, I think number one, it's all about having a mission and a vision. I think our CEO, Gal Biran, has come up with a really expansive mission for the business and a very, very broad roadmap in terms of where he sees things going. And that mission is really centered around, and I'm going to give you an easier abbreviation to use than customer- centric, is all about what we call customer- led growth, so CLG, right, which is all about acknowledging that. If the install base is the company's most valuable asset, then tools that engage and really add value and encourage advocacy and references are included in that. It really encourages people to help create content, promote your brand in ways that influence the top of the funnel. This is really one of the most strategic things that you can do to grow and solidify our business. And I think we're sitting and acknowledging this. We acknowledge this as a company at our core. And really, our mission is to take the people who sit within those customer marketing type roles, like references, like advocacy and others, and really help empower them to become the most strategic arm of marketing. And for us, I think that's catching onto that mission and that vision like a movement internally is what's really guiding people forward. And there's almost nothing better when you're sitting in this really interesting, vibrant growing startup. I hope everybody whose in sales has the opportunity to feel that. And you feel like you're a part of moving something forward.

Devin: Love flow state. Anything I can do to get closer to it, I'm about it. Okay, so I was going to ask you to define customer centricity because, to me, it could be a bit of a buzz phrase. But I did a little bit of research on you and I saw on your banner on LinkedIn, community- led growth, CLG. I'd never seen that before. Is that the same thing or how is it different? And is that something that you and Base AI came up with?

Joseph: Yeah. So it's really, for us, customer- led growth, but it's the same concept. You're right. It can be a buzzword like so much of what we do in the sales industry and tech, but for us, what customer- led growth really means is first it's a practical definition. It means that we help use your install base to feed the top of your funnel. So literally when we talk about customer- led growth and customer centricity, we're talking about an approach tactically, strategically, which is about using essentially, forgive the term that asset of your install base, not just to sit there and wait to be sold to in this perpetual sales cycle, but to add value to them in ways that we do for example, through our tools and solutions. I'm not going to go into in detail, and then encourage them to also re- share advocacy, content, videos with other people that are really going to help them actually use that solution better and optimize their business. It's really about that approach to it. And then taking that information and allowing it to influence the top of the funnel. This is what I think real customer centricity is about practically from that pragmatic point of view, getting that installed base to influence the top of the funnel. I mean, that's the most pragmatic thing you can do in terms of being customer- centric. There's a business culture component too. And I think that, when we talk about customer obsession, it's about from a sales point of view, not viewing people in terms of customers or prospects entirely. It's really about partnership and seeing our addressable market really as a community. And when we view them as a community, our approach shifts. So we're not just seeing them as targets, prospects, suspects that we're going after to try to bring them into the funnel, to try to twist their arms to buy our software, to hone them, and really get them to give in and just see us as being the best, by being in their faces 24/ 7. We're stopping, we're taking a step back. And what we're saying is the people who are in these roles, they're our people. That's how we talk about them internally. We say our people. What will our people think about this? And someone who's a new employee said, you keep saying our people. They didn't know what that meant. And I was like, oh, I'm talking to our customers, to our install base, to our market, the whole overall vibrant community of people who this business literally exists to support. And so when we start viewing them in that way, we start viewing them as people who we have to partner with. And partnering is all about being consultative. And I think a lot of the consultative piece that we have, we're very lucky. Our CEO, Gal Biran, he was essentially a marketing consultant for many years before forming this business and working in other large companies. But his approach as a consultant is really, really well refined. And when he was in the sales process with prospects explaining to them the advantages of the tool, he's not just helping them understand how this tool is great, how it's wonderful. He's giving them a vision for how they can execute their jobs in a massive way. And so what we found there was is that he's really someone who can not only amplify the problem and the solution really in an effective way for the customer, but he's someone who adds real value because he's giving advice and being very casual as he talks through it in a way that people can digest. So that philosophy of being ready 24/7, of being prepared to accept all people who come our way as our people who we need to help, and of course our aim is to help them as a business, but to help them achieve what they need to do. That's really at the core, I think, for us of being customer- centric and the culture we're trying to build here.

Devin: Target audience never felt quite right when you're talking to somebody, but yeah, calling a person a target, I think you said suspect, which was new to me.

Joseph: That's an even older term I'm pulling out for you. But yeah, that's even more indicative of viewing people in this objectified way, instead of viewing them as people who need help.

Devin: I'm a big proponent of the words and phrasing that you use every day, especially internally. They're going to either reflect or change the meaning of what you're trying to say. You know what I mean? And I think a lot of times, it bleeds externally. Yeah, if you call someone prospect, prospect, target audience, target audience, you're going to start viewing them as a thing and less of a person.

Joseph: I'll give you an example. We had a conference we came back recently. One of the first in- person in a while for us, and we have the list of leads, right? The leads, where are the leads? And I spoke with my team who are people who we've recruited because they understand this language so well, and it's hang on a second. These aren't simply leads. These are people who came to our booth and have a business problem. We did take notes. We understand that they have this problem. Let's discuss the problem first. So let's think about our partners and our people and what it is they actually needed. And then we can talk about the leads, that transactional aspect. And it made a big difference. I think everybody sat down afterwards. We, for everyone who had notes from the show, we didn't forget them and leave them in a notebook. We pulled them out. We added them into the Excel to understand exactly what the issues were. We talked through how we would prepare to address the challenges we think that they could have. And we started seeing very quick responses to emails because it was easier to customize or personalize an email when you would customize the thought process for approaching that person.

Devin: Well, I like it too, is you're doing some of the unscalable things like taking handwritten notes, putting them into Excel doc, actually looking at them, not just a dropdown of three problems, adding that additional layer of context per person, and just reminding folks, hey yeah, these are humans. They made a decision to come to our booth and invest time with us. Let's reciprocate that. Let's make it worth their time with the way we interact with them afterwards.

Joseph: Part of that is also acknowledging that, guys, we can either be here and sell to people all day, or we can be people who help these people become successful in their careers and their businesses successful. So we can either deliver success or we can focus on actually transacting with people what do you think is more valuable. And that's the conversation I have. What do you think makes more sense? What's the approach that works right for you? And so, basically, in order to really make sure that approach is inculcated in the team, we make a significant component of our compensation based on those behaviors. If we see you going above and beyond in a few key areas, we're going to reward you in that way too because that's really helping build the mission and the brand.

Devin: I'm curious, Joseph. What are some of the reactions of your, oh, I almost said prospects and clients, you're already teaching me, of your people when you have this approach to them? What is that market feedback that you're hearing?

Joseph: I mean, I think the market feedback, we touched up front. It's about the fast growth that we've gone through. I can't go into the details on those numbers, but that really is the result for us. We engage within our community. Our people who we are interested in doing business with are some of the most kind, authentic people who I've ever worked with in business. They're people who are in marketing frequently and who are customer- focused. That's a very, very unique person within the whole go- to market. It's someone who really cares about not only making the customer successful, but about making other people internally successful, making the customers business successful, and partnering with them too. So I think we've created a lot of great bonds with our community, with our people. And the result is the revenue and the growth that we've been seeing so far in the last year and a half. And the fact that we're able to really engage people in a really profound way. We're able to help people with their requirements documentation. inaudible spend a substantial period of time working on defining of requirements. This is one of the later funnel metrics that I tick off to be able to track to start measuring and figure out how scalable is that, how much will help. And that can be time consuming. That's why we save it for a specific time in our choreography. And one of the other things that I'm tracking too there is how much individual personalization are you using in your presentation or demo.

Devin: How do you balance the resources, right, of knowing, hey, we need to have scalable predictable revenue, but at the same time, we're going to do unscalable, maybe unpredictable, things to get there. So maybe you can help reconcile that a little bit of maybe how you view balancing some of those different things.

Joseph: So there's two or three things that we do to help us balance that. Number one, we've got a really nice amount of inbound lead flow. That makes spending time on personalization of things like presentations a lot easier. Two, with the items that aren't coming in inbound, we have a really detailed and really highly curated target account list that we work on for each AE. And we also have an outbound approach inherent within our culture. So once we're able to focus the personalization on inbound for the presentation and the personalization on the outbound for the target account list, then that really creates a very balanced context for where we're using that personalization. You can't personalize every email. We do distinguish between personalization and relevance. And over years and years and years of testing, personalization and relevance, and again, I don't really have a clear distinction for you, but I think every AE who's out there knows that, every BDR out there, knows the difference between what it takes to do a highly personalized email that you spend an hour on preparing versus creating a pretty well- tailored template that feels conversational and geared towards maybe a particular industry or role or title, basically just changing the person who it's going towards relevant information. That's much more scalable. So we do try to push on that. And it's a learning process too, at the moment. I think because we are fast growing business, but we're still relatively small team, we're around 45 people today in that type of environment, we want to grow quickly. And growing quickly for us means really connecting with our customers early on. So in a way, yes, for a hundred person sales team to be doing that might not be as scalable. For a smaller team like we are today with I think the unique approach that we take, for us, I think it's helping us create traction. There's definitely opportunities that we miss for sure. And there's times when we have to stop and say, okay, maybe we need to pull it back a little bit on the amount of time and attention we're paying on a particular opportunity because we're not quite there. The people we're working with there, who we want to partner with and make our customers, these are people who they're not yet ready for it. And we're not forcing it. We want to wait for them to come to us. You need to be in a position where you've got the pipeline to be able to do that of course. But I try to say, I was laughed at the other day, but I try to say, it's like love. Sometimes you've got to let it go and it will come back and be yours, right, if it does. So there's a little bit of that balance in there.

Devin: Going back to what you said, which I really liked about the relevance versus personalization, the way I've viewed it, having been that AE writing a very personalized email is, to me, true personalization is if I'm running to Joseph, this email only makes sense to Joseph. Relevance is, well, I can send it to all VPs of Sales, because I know they have these core three problems and it will be relevant to Joseph, but it'll be relevant to Jane VP Sales, Joe VP Sales, et cetera.

Joseph: Yeah, definitely. Personalization is about, of course, the person, but relevance is about the function, the role, the company. That's what those things tend to focus on.

Devin: You said something earlier, which is interesting, which is people are coming to us to learn about our approach. That's different. That's a mindset. That's a new way of operating, which is going to pull people towards you, not a new tool to do something that they already know exists, right, a better, faster way to do something. And you know what I mean? It could be both. I don't obviously know the tool, but there's a difference between oh, we have this thing and we need a better version, versus what is Base AI doing because I'm hearing this thing about customer- led growth and I want to go learn more about it because it sounds like there's a better way to operate.

Joseph: The approach for us is highly software driven. A lot of the people that we work with just from a practical point of view, whether they're reference managers who are managing their entire reference program inside of Google Sheets for potentially dozens of references for hundreds, sometimes even more prospects and customers that they're working with, they just have this really non- scalable way of doing things. They know this. This is what they tell us. And our approach from our software point of view, helping automate and scale this piece, so they're spending their time on actually executing on what we think of as that customer marketing or reference management piece 80% of the time versus doing admin 80% of the time. That's a part of the approach. I think the other side of it too is that we've expressed a lot of thought leadership online even as a small business over the last few years, I think because our CEO, Gal, has really come to live these principles that we've talked about and really come to understand the gaps in the products that a lot of our people have. And then, he's really thought this through as well as our product team, and we've learned a lot from the field. And I think this has allowed people to say, hey, this is a company that gets it. And then, now let's see also the technology.

Devin: I'm all in. Like I said, you had me at customer- led growth on the LinkedIn profile because I was like, huh, something's happening over there. I'm curious, Joseph. Are there other things that you're measuring to say, hey, this is specifically how we operate as a customer- led growth company or what else are you looking at?

Joseph: So some of it is basic. We've built out this RFP requirements document that a lot of our people come to us and they need to maneuver internally if they want to buy something like this. And so a huge portion of what we do is help them understand how to buy this internally, what they're going to need to do. So a large amount of our effort is dedicated to that. And I think that's a unique portion of being customer- centric in that context where it's not about the value proposition, and showing the value to people, and helping them understand the value of the solution, or being consultative. It's being a guide to people and helping them understand how to do this internally. The space for customer marketing solutions and reference management or advocacy programs, it's not a massive space and not everyone who's in those roles today has a lot of experience actually buying solutions. So big part of what we do is we want to give them the confidence of understanding how to build the business case internally. What they need to show people, what they need to show a CFO and a procurement team in order to get moving. And that's an area we spend a lot of time on because we can tell when someone feels really comfortable with being able to buy a solution internally. They know the process. And when they don't, we don't sit back and say, oh, they don't know how to buy. Well, too bad for us. It's just the opposite. We see that as a massive opportunity. So one of the things I look at is for our later stage pipeline and how many of these deals and how many of these opportunities have you actually helped come up with requirements and build out the business case for them. And we have a tool that we built internally that we use for that. But how many have had that? And we look at the metrics on those and we know that those are going to close at a certain point by over an 85% rate, so we know how important it is to have that. Could be other factors too. We're still young, we're learning a lot. But that, to me, is a big one for the late stage. For the earlier stage pipeline, it's about how much personalization are you putting into that presentation. I want a slide. I want you to come up with a slide. I want to see what you've put in there based off the discovery that is going to speak directly to what it is you think they need. Where do you think the gaps are in their understanding about how to approach this, whether it's understanding how to manage it, how to deploy it. And then finally, I think the simplest one is upfront when we talk about those target accounts per rep that we have. We have a very fixed amount of them. And I do expect that in each one of those accounts and we have a weekly session where we review it, we're small enough where we can do that. I want to get a sense of not just why this is a fit, that I usually understand pretty much immediately because of how we curate the list, but I want to understand what the business logic someone's going to be leading into that account is if they're going after it outbound. So those are pretty much three ways I'm tracking.

Devin: Base AI is definitely not the only brand seeing success with personalization. According to Crescendo, 93% of companies with a personalization strategy experienced growth last year. Like Joseph said, this personalization can be anything from personalizing one slide deck in a pitch to crafting a totally custom email to grab the attention of the person you're reaching out to. At the end of the day, sometimes you just need to put yourself in their shoes. Think of how you would want to interact with someone trying to sell to you. I'd be willing to bet that you'd love to be treated like a human and not a lead. Now let's get back to Joseph's advice for how to scale these personalization efforts even if you've got limited resources. Joseph, I imagine that our listeners are excited, they're bought in, they see the vision, they know what to measure, but how do we get started? This might be the question. So maybe let's start with this. How do early stage startups faced with limited resources get customer centricity right from the beginning?

Joseph: First and foremost, this is a principle that I feel pretty strongly about in terms of sales management that I think works in this area pretty neatly. And we're talking specifically from the sales, the commercial side of the business, the go- to market. The first thing is that sales can be, even in startups and especially maybe in startups, sales can become an isolated function to an extent where it might very early on be a business that's created by people who don't necessarily understand or know sales. The salesperson gets hired, and the expectation is sales is magic. Go sell. Make the selling happen. And the challenge of that is is that it's a very isolating approach and it says sales will create its success by itself. And to me, that's not the case. To me, it does, to borrow return take a village, to really, really get sales done, to get customers on board, to be able to deliver value. And for us, it's all about everybody having, leading and lagging indicators directly connected to revenue. I don't want to be in a world where someone thinks, well, that's a sales job. We've given them MQLs. Let's argue over the definition of an SQL. I just don't have the time or the patience for that type of thing and I don't think our people do either. They want us operating in a really efficient way with them to help them get what they need, whether it's creating content and value added webinars and podcasts that are going to help them do their job much better, or it's just being to the point when they want something. So I think that's the first thing about being customer- centric as a business. We aren't product, marketing, sales, CS, all separate. No. We're all connected to the overall revenue. And each of us have a different function within that broader scope. And keeping that connected is really, really important early on because I've seen it kill more than a few startups to have all of the operations very siloed and very separated. So that, to me, is a really big piece of it, but we're also building for the next stage. That's really important as a leader. You need to make sure that everybody at the start is creating the playbook. You don't want to just rely on one person's playbook and structure because more often than not, that person is just going to take what they did at the last company to this new one. And the type of market that we're in, with the unique audience that we work with and the value we want to deliver, that's not scalable. That won't track. It won't work. So we need to make sure that everybody, whether it's people who are in marketing, or in CS, or in sales, they're all contributing towards what the sales playbook will look like long term, from the CS side of what successful handovers look like, that's everyone, but how does it work for customer- led growth business? When it comes to marketing, it's how do we get the right types of people in the hands of sales to speak with, how do we make sure that these are our people upfront. How do we do that? Because we know that our people, when it's people who are that right type of fit for us, they're going to convert much better than people who are on the borderline who maybe don't need what we have quite as much. And we don't want to force people and twist their arms into convincing them why this is valuable. I want to get to the people who need this right upfront. So that's an important piece there. And with my own team, it's what did we learn this week? We have a remote team at the moment. We have a touchpoint every single day. What did we learn this week? Let's go through the top calls. What did we pull out? Was there a piece of personalization we used that really stood out and created a wow factor? Was there a wow factor? Was there not? I used wow factor as a filter and gone with the word wow. Wherever it appears, I get an alert on that. Someone said wow from the other side, boom, into the investor's deck on the wow factor. So that's an important metric for me. And that's I think how we're approaching it, I think how most people approach it.

Devin: And so now I'm curious. Which is harder, Joseph, in your experience? Being customer- centric as a large enterprise organization or as a startup? I have to imagine there's, I'll say pros and cons, but really things that are easier versus harder for both.

Joseph: That's I think a really good question. So in the early startup, I think the ability to have this well- oiled, closely- knit team aligned with a specific mission and vision, very motivated by that as a driver is huge obviously if you can capture that. As an organization, scales and the people change. People come, people go. It gets a lot harder at scale to do that when it comes to the types of tactics that I've talked about. And so there is that lack of scalability there in that at certain stages, and that's where you need to be able to come in and use the functions that support that customer level focus, whether it's internal teams like your enablement team obviously, or say product marketing teams, or customer advocacy, loyalty teams, reference management teams, people who are engaged with speaking with the install base, making sure that those people are constantly able to add value to how sales approaches things and influence the playbook really very directly. I'm a true believer at this point. I know that aside from the employees, the install base is the most valuable asset your business has. If that's the case, then you've got to figure out how to leverage that for the top of funnel. And then, you've got to figure out how to leverage that for the sales playbook too. So I think it's a little easier to summarize there for larger businesses because they have access to so many different types of tools and solutions for roles that they can bring in. And that adds in a unique layer of support for being customer oriented if you're able to go to those customer- centric roles, in particular customer marketing roles, and take what they're learning and put it into the top of the funnel, not just in revenue, but an advice for how to sell.

Devin: Well, Joseph, this has been, dare I say, a master class of customer- led growth here. I'm going to ask the question we ask all of our guests. Joseph, how would you describe sales in one word?

Joseph: Partnership. It's an old kind of hacky sales thing that we say people don't like to be sold to, but they love to buy, and they buy from someone they trust. I think the better way to say that is people buy from people who really do make an effort to partner with them, right, especially in tech. People are coming to me and us, and they want to buy the solution, and they want to buy the partnership we're bringing to them. And when people are buying solutions, you're putting your neck on the line. You're going out there buying, you're spending thousands of dollars on a software, you're taking the resource internally, get it deployed, something that I try to tell every customer. I understand that this is an investment. I understand that you're going out there and you're putting your reputation on the line with every piece of software you buy. And I understand that. I've been there. I've done it successfully. I've done it unsuccessfully for myself personally as a sales leader. And I know what it means to fail doing something like that. And because I understand that well and because of just who we are as a business, you're going to have my support in creating our support in general, but my support specifically, my partnership and making this successful 10 times out of 10 of the business. So for me, that's what it's all about. Just partnering with them to make them successful in their roles.

Devin: If you want to see how revenue intelligence can help improve your go- to market effectiveness, head over to gong. io. And if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you're listening.


Joseph Fuerst, VP of Sales at Base AI, is passionate about customer-led growth, and he knows that to grow successfully, you have to start by humanizing the people you’re selling to. 

So stop calling them leads. Stop calling them targets. In fact, stop calling them anything but “people”—because that’s what they are! Sit in on this masterclass for tactical tips on scaling your personalization efforts, changing the way your organization thinks about who they’re selling to, and truly knowing your customer.

Sign up for The Edge newsletter: https://www.gong.io/the-edge/

Today's Host

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Danny Wasserman

|GTM Enablement

Today's Guests


Joseph Fuerst

|VP of Sales at Base