Episode 4: Mastering Customer Success in SaaS, The Power of Psychology in CS, Metrics that Drive Business Outcomes, Self-Service Onboarding Secrets, AI's Impact on CS, and Building Cross-Functional Collaboration with Sally Hamdan

May 16, 2024

In this episode of the GTM Spotlight Podcast, we welcome Sally Hamdan, an Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Asana.

We dive into a range of topics crucial for success in the Customer Success domain. We explore the essential metrics and KPIs that help measure and improve business outcomes, as well as the key components that make up effective self-service onboarding programs. Our discussion also covers strategies for collaborating with go-to-market teams and the growing impact of AI on the Customer Success field. Additionally, we gain valuable insights from her on transitioning to Customer Success, and offer advice for professionals seeking a career in this dynamic field.

Sally's experience at leading companies like LinkedIn, Box, and Asana provides a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to excel in the CS domain.

Sally Hamdan

Sally Hamdan is a passionate Customer Success Manager at Asana with 9 years of experience spanning LinkedIn, Box, and Asana.


Shambhavi Mahajan: Hey everyone, welcome to the GTM Spotlight podcast. Today we have a very special guest with us, Sally Hamdan, a passionate customer success manager at Asana. With a background in Psychology, HR, and Learning and Development, Sally brings a unique perspective to her role. She's driven by a passion for making a difference in the lives of professionals and anyone who crosses her path. With experience spanning from LinkedIn, Box, and Asana, join me as we explore Sally's insights on customer success. Thank you for being here, Sally.

Sally Hamdan: Thank you so much for having me.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Sally, your journey sounds fantastic. I'm curious to know more about how your diverse background influences your approach to customer success.

Sally Hamdan: Yes, I'd love to share.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Let me start by asking, what are some of the most important metrics and KPIs you track in your different roles as a customer success manager, and how do they help you drive business outcomes for your clients?

Sally Hamdan: Of course, so this is a super important question. Clearly, customer success management differs a lot between company and company, and the key metrics, but there is kind of a similar thread, a common thread between my three experiences in customer success. All three of them, we always look at adoption and some kind of health score. We try to evaluate how our users are using the tool, are they getting value, are we actually measuring that value, that business value they're getting from our tool. So very important. Adoption alone also is not enough because you could have great users and then they end up churning. We've seen that so many times. So coupling it with business impact has always been key in measuring like real impact of the tool.

If the tool is around productivity, then you know, are they gaining time? Are they gaining hours, work days? If it's a recruitment tool, like it was at LinkedIn, how many are they recruiting with LinkedIn recruiter versus going to agencies, for example? And Box, it was around collaboration as well, like how do you use content cloud, content management to collaborate?

So you have these like two very similar ones. They kind of differed when it came to monetary. I've had a lot of GRR, like growth retention rate, being important. So having like a target on retention and not really getting anything from growth, I've had that in a few companies. And I've had also NRR, it's similar to GRR, but it's just you get compensated for growth. So if you have some churn and you have growth, the growth kind of compensates the churn, which was great, but also it kind of hid sometimes churn.

And so now currently, I'm mainly measured like a small part on NRR, but the bigger part is on GRR. Another way as well to measure KPIs in my different roles, and especially the latest one, is really around building executive connections. Because we believe that if you have good executive sponsorship within your different accounts, even if the adoption is not amazing, it helps a lot. Sometimes the adoption is great, but you don't have executive sponsorship, and they end up churning. So it's very important to that piece in building new executive relations and also nurturing existing ones.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, absolutely. Those are such vital metrics to track, especially as your businesses are different, and how it ties to the high-level business initiative, but also understanding the different customers and, like you mentioned, understanding if there's executive sponsorship or not, that also affects the bottom line. So, yeah, I'd love to learn more about how you work with your customers when it comes to onboarding. In your experience, what are the key elements of a successful self-service onboarding program?

Sally Hamdan: So onboarding is so important. I can't speak enough of how important onboarding is. I think most issues I have with my accounts start with onboarding not kicking off as it should or not having a proper workflow for onboarding, not having a proper process, not having enough accountability.

When it comes to self-service onboarding, there are so many things that need to be put in place to create that sort of accountability. Let's say today you have Asana as a tool or any other. What do you do? Who actually gave you access or told you that you should have access? Did it come from you? Is it something that came from your department or from your company? It's a company initiative, they're moving, they're adopting a new tool, and you have to learn how to use it because this is how your work will be tracked, for example.

So you have really, like you're very much motivated to start learning the tool ASAP. So that piece around why you're using the tool is extremely important. And for the user, first, before they start their onboarding journey, they need to understand why we're using that tool. That tool is supposed to help you gain efficiency, or that tool will help me market my work and show my leadership what I'm doing. Then it will create extra motivation for that person to do whether it's self-serve onboarding or not self-serve onboarding, it will just simply motivate them to go through their whole learning track in order to learn the tool because the motivation is there, the why is very clear.

So that's why we always work with our buyers or sponsors, like what is your why statement? Why are you buying this tool, and how will this tool help you achieve your business objectives? So I think that we start with the why is the most important.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, absolutely. The why can, you know, dictate the urgency of the problem, the high-level goals, and the initiatives behind why they're trying to adopt the tool. Those are great insights.

Sally Hamdan: Yes, 100%. And then once the why is clear, then we can go into, okay, what are best practices around self-serve onboarding? And I think, first of all, ease of access. The more in-product the onboarding is, the better it is. Because if I have to go click, sign in, register, whatever, do a lot of clicks, it might, you know, take me away from the product. And I think in-product onboarding can be really helpful, especially for the self-serve piece.

If I'm like using the tool for the first time, I'm guided like step-by-step on what to do, and I'm actually, you know, applying at the same time. Because, you know, this is something also I learned from my Learning and Development career in HR, is you know, everyone has a different learning style. We all learn in different ways. Some people are more visual, some people are more practical, they need to really apply what they're learning on the spot.

So I think being aware of these different styles of learning in your self-serve onboarding is important. Doing like hybrid, you know, different types of blended learning, we call it. Different types of learning, of giving the info. It can be a video, it can be a live webinar, it can be, you know, in-product like step-by-step, so very practical, it can be workshops. So I think mixing the type of content in your onboarding can be really useful because then it will cater to many needs with different people.

Another thing that also motivates is the gamification piece, is creating competitions, is doing games, is kind of making, adding a fun element to the onboarding and creating like milestones. Like, okay, this is like my week one, I have a big milestone, you know, I do something like maybe a quiz or we gather as a team, like something that will keep you going and keep you motivated and create that, you know, internal competition. I think it, like of course, inter-healthy competition between different people that are getting onboarded, I think it really helps.

And finally, you know, it comes a bit with the why, is how management is involved in this. Do they care that people are getting onboarded? Are they really holding the different employees accountable, and how are they doing it? So also going back to the why, it's very linked, like understanding why I'm learning this tool. Is this just another tool, you know, or is it, you know, a tool that I'm going to really prioritize and I believe that it will add value to my work? And also, in parallel, how is this getting backed up by my leadership? Are they using the tool, or are they just, you know, giving us, you know, theory and they're not even, you know, walking the talk?

So it's important as well to see, like, if this is like a company initiative, me as a user, are the people imposing this on me using it as well? This will inspire, I think, the individual user to go through their onboarding and, you know, stick to the end.

Shambhavi Mahajan: I really loved how you touched upon so many points coming from your background in psychology, learning, and influencing customer education in a way, talking about delivering the right content in the right context, and so many things about the initiative, you know, the why itself, most importantly, why the user is using it, why the user is adopting it, versus why the team is adopting it. Such good insights.

So, speaking of customer education, let's talk about collaboration a little bit. As a CSM, you clearly work closely with various go-to-market teams, so there's marketing, sales, and others. So how do you collaborate with them to ensure smooth communication and alignment?

Sally Hamdan: Okay, so clearly this goes back to the culture of collaboration that exists in the different companies I worked with, but it can take different forms. So either you have a direct channel with the different teams. So I work a lot with product, for example. A lot of my clients surface needs like product enhancements or they bring new ideas, and having a clear channel with the product and knowing who is the product manager of what feature in the tool really helps forward that need.

Of course, in Asana, for example, we have a project on Asana, clearly we manage this through Asana, where I can log a VOC, a voice of client. And in that VOC, I mention the different product enhancements that are coming from my client. And then I also attach that VOC to the account plan that I have also in Asana. And so it helps me to follow up and tag the right people in my kind of product request and get the different feedback.

So I think collaboration with product is crucial, and the client can see it, can see when the customer success manager is really being their voice internally within the company. I'm also being the voice of Asana with my clients, but I'm also the voice of my clients with Asana. So I really try to be really true and to share exactly the feedback I'm getting, because the product team, they really need that sort of feedback, and that's why they put the whole thing in place. So this is with product, and I think it's extremely important.

And sometimes it's what keeps clients loyal to your brand, because they know that we are, I mean, this company, I mean, they listen to us. And we were so happy when, for example, I get a request and a few months later we get it and it's live, and I'm so proud to announce it, like we have this live, I mean, you contributed to us bringing this live to all our clients. And they feel so proud, and when you feel that connection is there, it's really, very, very important.

When it comes to marketing and sales, I mean, sales, I'm not going to even, I mean, of course, sales, I mean, they are, we work in really close partnership with sales. We really, I've seen different levels of partnership with sales, but when we are aligned, when we have the same objectives, we work much better together.

So sales, like, anyway, in Asana, for example, we are part of the sales organization. In Box, it was different, it was, we were part of a CX organization. In LinkedIn, we were also a part. So it really depends where in the hierarchy you are, but I think sales is so crucial, like to me is the most important sort of collaboration you build is with sales.

Marketing, customer education, customer education also, because this is also where your needs are coming. You have needs that are coming from your clients, but you also, yourself, you're building all these tracks, all these onboarding with your clients. I mean, also depends if you're doing the onboarding or not, depending on the companies, but you know, some CS, like for example, in Asana, I don't do onboarding. In Box, I didn't do onboarding. In LinkedIn, I used to do onboarding. So it really depends, it differs.

But customer education, we were very close, and by the way, I don't know if you didn't mention this in the intro, but I started in customer education in LinkedIn. That was my first job in the world of customer success. So I did that for two years, I was a customer education consultant in LinkedIn, and this is how I entered the world of sales. So I know very well the job of customer education and how important it is. And so, yes, always great communication.

And just to tell you about the tooling, so how do we use it? It can be through regular meetings, it can be through all hands, it can be through Slack, it can be through collaborative tools. So the tools are there to help us collaborate, but there should be also like the right processes in place.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Oh yeah, absolutely. Tools are just a small supplement to your process.

Sally Hamdan: Okay, so let's shift gears a little bit, and since you mentioned tooling, talk about the hot topic, which is AI. So how is AI changing the way you work as a customer success manager, and what are some specific use cases where AI has helped you to become more efficient or more effective in your role?

Of course, so I consider myself an AI rookie, okay? I'm using it, and we share a lot of best practices within my team. So I'm using it, I consider it a basic way, but it's really helping me already. Like, I'm already at a basic level and it's helping me a lot.

So by basic way, I mean like drafting texts in general. Like if I have an email that I want to draft, I want to, you know, make some corrections or I want to shift the tone a bit, or I want to message someone, for example, a chief operations officer at a certain company. So I would ask the tool, like, okay, draft me an email with these elements, to this person whose job is X, working at this company, they have these priorities. Like, I try to feed it as much info as possible, this way the actual response is very, you know, precise.

So I use it a lot when it comes to drafting texts, invitations, emails. I kind of also ask for industry knowledge when contacting a specific executive. I ask also AI to summarize annual reports for me. I kind of copy-paste the whole PDF document, like give me like the most important elements that I need to know about, or, you know, while emphasizing on qualitative versus quantitative, you know, impact of XYZ. Like, I try to give like very precise prompts to get what I need.

So it's been helping me really like gain time when it comes to all this, I'm going to call it intellectual work, because, you know, reading and summarizing and understanding. So I don't know if this is a good sign for humanity, if I'm asking, if I'm not, you know, practicing to do this on my own, which, you know, because it's a muscle, right? And if you stop doing it and using that muscle, maybe, I'll maybe, I won't have the capacity to summarize myself and, you know, get that information.

So this is the whole debate around AI, I guess. But I think all that work that takes a lot of time, intellectual efforts to do, AI can really help us with. So this is what I've been using it for so far.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, absolutely. I think about it all the time too, because I use AI tools all the time. And the comparison that I would draw is using a calculator. So pre-calculator, I did it all in my head, and then once I started using a calculator in school, everything just got accelerated. I wouldn't say, yes, sure, maybe, you know, it's debatable, like what I have, but yeah.

Anyway, looking ahead, how do you think AI will continue to shape the future of customer success, and what skills will be the most important for professionals in this field?

Sally Hamdan: I think AI will continue to remove all the, you know, repetitive, boring work that we do, that maybe does not touch the core of our job. The core of our job is to help businesses grow, help businesses grow, is to build great relations with our clients, and to also bring that consultative aspect of our work.

And so it probably will replace all the enablement that we do. Hopefully, one day, a new user, for example, in Asana will come to the tool and say, like, I have this process, you know, they can feed it in their process. It depends how, you know, maybe the confidentiality piece as well will be an issue, but you can feed it all the info you want and tell them, like, build me, you know, a work process on Asana using XYZ information, and then it should, it could do it. Maybe one day this will happen.

It clearly depends on the complexity of the tool we're using. But the thing is about AI, I don't know, maybe I'm not aware of it, but it will not challenge their process, because, you know, you're feeding it, this is how I'm doing things, please give me the right way. I want to like use the product to do this same process. What do you propose? It will probably do the same. It will not go and tell them, wait, is that really the right way to do things? Like, why do you do this? And, you know, and all the challenging piece that comes, really, I believe that the customer success manager should be excellent at, is challenging also the clients that are using a specific tool.

Because some people buy a tool and they expect it to solve all their problems, and it's rarely the case. It rarely works like that, because after all, it's just a tool. And sometimes they need to be aware of loopholes in their processes. And sometimes when someone external is just learning and being curious and being very interested in their job, asking all these questions, and you know, asking, you know, very like simple questions, and sometimes they're like, exactly, that's an amazing question, you know, it's like, wow, how have they never like thought of this question?

And sometimes it comes from the CSM as they're exploring their work, because we want to just help them move that into Asana, but sometimes it cannot move as is, it needs to change. And so I don't know if AI will be able to do that immediately. Maybe it will take more time.

So all the consultative piece, the relationship building, all of that, I think will be the CSMs will need to foster and make it even, we should get better at it in any case, because I think many aspects of the role might be replaced with AI, but not that challenging, consultative, relationship-building piece, at least as far as I know.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, not yet, at least. We will see what future takes us. But speaking of emotional intelligence and consultative skills, I'd like to hear more about how your background in psychology and HR influences your approach.

Sally Hamdan: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because when I did my psychology degree, it actually, all it did is to teach me how to be a better human. And I think every single professional should start there, like, not professional, every single student finishing school should do a BA in psychology. Like, everyone should do it, irrespective of whether they want to become engineers, architects, doctors, especially doctors, any like any job, I think, requires a basic knowledge of human behavior.

And I think that's what my BA did. I never continued in psychology, because I transitioned into HR, didn't do like clinical, but it gave me that base of like understanding myself first and others. So it helped me a lot build that empathy part in me, like trying to put myself in the shoes of others, see where they're coming from.

And also, when you do that, automatically, you build meaningful relationships with people, if you are capable of being empathic and being in listening and and being very authentic and true. You automatically build meaningful relations. And this always helps you, especially when you are managing relationships with clients, with accounts, because they are not just accounts. They are people, they are human beings that you need to connect with when you're working with them.

So I think all of this helped me become a better Customer Success Manager.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, that is such great advice. But is there anything else that you would like to finally add to professionals who are interested in pursuing a career in customer success?

Sally Hamdan: Of course. So first of all, if you're not in customer success and you want to join that amazing field, first of all, start by targeting companies that sell a tool that is linked to your specialty. So I'm going to give an example. This is what got me into LinkedIn. I used to be in HR, and the tool was a recruitment tool, a talent acquisition tool. So it's like, target, I mean, I was the target audience.

So if you are transitioning into customer success, you're not in customer success, and you're interested, target those jobs. If you're in communication, target companies that sell software for like comms, like webinars, like whatever. If you're in HR, target like companies that sell HR software, for example. If you are in finance, target fintech companies, you know.

So I think this is a great gate, because you come with the knowledge of the industry and the job and your audience and your future clients. So I think first, this could be a great entry point for you.

And as you know, and for existing customer success managers, I would say first of all, just be very curious. I think curiosity is the number one skill that a customer success manager should develop and work on, if it's not already there. But I think, I think naturally, customer success managers are curious by nature, because, you know, when I joined LinkedIn, I had to learn like a whole new tool. When I joined Box, I have to learn, you know, the whole tool inside out. You need to be curious and interested. When I joined Asana, I needed to understand the tool inside out. So that curiosity, I think it comes, I think, built-in with customer success.

But be curious, don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they're silly. Sometimes they're often not, and sometimes these silly questions often open the eyes of people you're talking to. So, yeah, just don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you want to understand better your client. And of course, actively listening and showing interest.

I think what's been working well as well with me is, I'm really someone very authentic. I bring my full self to the conversations I do with my clients. I don't fake, I don't pretend to be someone I'm not. So I think being yourself is extremely important, and it automatically shows.

And of course, join a lot of CS communities. There are so many out there. I'm just going to list a few. So the Customer Success Network, the CSN, the CS Snack, Women in Customer Success. So these are the ones that with whom I work a lot and volunteer with.

Connect with CSMs on LinkedIn. Like, make a decision to connect with CSMs, search for them, you know, be proactive. Listen to podcasts, okay, like this one. Engage with other CSMs from other industries, because they will make you grow. They will, you will get out of that, you know, bubble. Sometimes we live in a bubble, we think that this is it, but no, you learn a lot when you get out, get out of that bubble.

And attend events, for example, events such as, such as Pulse, such as CCC, Engage Paris, I mean, these are some of the events I attend and I always grow after I attend. So, yeah, these are a few of the tips and advice I can give.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah, and I have to say that these are some of the best communities, since customer success reps are so good at building relationships and nurturing them. So this is the best way to learn, to learn from others, to learn from events like you mentioned.

Sally Hamdan: 100%.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Yeah. So, thank you so much, Sally, for sharing all of your insights and experiences with us today. It's been such a pleasure having you on the GTM Spotlight podcast.

Sally Hamdan: Of course, it was my pleasure to share all this, and thank you for your amazing questions.

Shambhavi Mahajan: Thank you. See you next time.