Ep. 33 | Gainsight VP of Marketing Anthony Kennada Says Customer Experience Will Shape The Next Frontier Of B2B Customer Success


Anthony Kennada

VP of Marketing at Gainsight

Anthony Kennada is the VP Marketing at Gainsight, building and leading the Customer Success industry. He is responsible for managing the company’s global marketing strategy, from demand generation to brand marketing, and is credited with creating the “Pulse” community of Customer Success leaders. Today, over 3200 executives attend the annual Pulse Customer Success conference in Oakland and the over 30 chapters of PulseLocal communities across the globe. We chatted with Anthony about the Business of Customer Education, Pulse Conference 2017, and the future of Customer Success.

Anthony Kennada's journey from sales to biz dev to product management to marketing

gainsight-logo.pngAnthony started his career as a tech recruiter fresh out of college in 2008. His focus was to place Bay Area engineers with startups. The 2008 credit crunch happened and job reqs got closed out. It was a short-lived run, but he had the opportunity to place an engineer at Box, and as he was looking for his next thing, he reached out for the folks at Box and asked to join the sales team as an entry-level employee. He moved from LA to Box under the first 50 employees and fell in love with startups and the tech world. Box was shifting from selling to consumers to selling to the enterprise. From the entry-level sales role, he moved to a business development role, then joined Nick Mehta (now CEO of Gainsight) at Live Office and was at until the company was acquired by Symantec. Post-acquisition, Anthony took on a product management role even though he wasn’t technical. Then when Nick started Gainsight in 2013, Anthony joined. Even though he’d never been in marketing before, he brought in the sales and technical side to frame their point of reference.

Nick Mehta said to Anthony his 30-60-90 for how he’d run Product was good, but told Anthony he should try on marketing. Anthony then went on Wikipedia and looked at what marketing required. Gainsight had to create a new market, so anything Anthony found wasn’t helpful in terms of catalyzing community and building a movement around Customer Success. Anthony said he fell in love with the process, working closely with Nick, a lot of experiments, many that worked that and many that didn’t.

Building out a new category: How Gainsight developed the Customer Success industry

Anthony started Category Dev to share how he and Gainsight have moved beyond the standard playbook of marketing. For example, account-based marketing (ABM) didn’t exist previously. Companies are getting excited by net new products and services.


#HelpingSells Ep. 33 | @GainsightHQ's @akennada Says Customer Experience Will Shape The Future Of #CustomerSuccess. https://ctt.ec/5b1pa+

Pulse: Home to all things customer success

Pulse is Gainsight’s community-building initiative. It encompasses best practices, networking opportunities, education. Pulse is separated from Gainsight brand on purpose. Pulse has grown from 300 people in its first year this year an anticipated 5,000 people. Customer Success should also include partner organizations and those who are invested in customer outcomes, which is why Gainsight is excited to partner with ServiceRocket in terms of customer training. On May 9-11, 2017, join Pulse, the home for the Customer Success community. This year the Business of Customer Education (BOCE) Conference will be integrated into Pulse.

Building a new category and community: It can’t be all about you and your product

Gainsight had to do this; they had only four customers during the first conference. Had Gainsight had a larger customer list and decided to do a user conference, it would have been fine from customer satisfaction perspective, but it wouldn’t be “larger than life” and that’s important for a young startup trying to build a brand in a new space. Gainsight wanted to legitimize the category of Customer Success and aligning Gainsight as a thought leader along that journey. People who attend hopefully provide value and are learning how to do their jobs better.

How do you still provide content specifically for your customers when you’re running a category-focused conference?

Gainsight does help customers who want to build customer health scores or manage QBRs with Gainsight, but doesn’t want to shift into a user conference. Anything product- or customer-related is sequestered from that area, and moderators and speakers are coached not to say whether they’re a Gainsight customer or validate their use of the product to maintain the trust of the product. There is a booth in the sponsor hall and there’s a Gainsight-on-Gainsight track that is in another room marketed only to customers. Everyone is welcome but Gainsight goes above and beyond to separate it and also message around it appropriately. Gainsight does have a user summit within the conference where they do awards and talk about the roadmap, but again, that’s only marketed to their customer base.

Events marketing: Quality AND cadence matter

Event marketing is the biggest budget item for Gainsight from a category perspective. The reason is Gainsight found that Customer Success people love connecting with others and want to share and learn from each other and they found they wouldn’t be successful taking a typical B2B PR approach seeking TechCrunch articles to rationalize it in the broader media. Gainsight built their own database and following in the Customer Success industry. Quality and cadence mattered; they became a programming channel for their customer base. CCO Summit and Pulse became an expected way to provide value to the industry. Anthony emphasized: Cadence is crucial, and slowing down would diminish the value.

Anthony’s predictions for emerging trends in Customer Success: Customer marketing and advocacy matter, as does the overall “customer experience” in B2B SaaS

Five years ago the CSM role didn’t exist; CNN Money just listed it as a "top job of 2017". Customer Success is becoming a fast-track to the CEO office and a role that’s growing in prominence. Customer Marketing is becoming more involved in the advocacy sense. On the 1: many side, how do you leverage products like Gainsight to help drive adoption at scale from end users leveraging the health context? The 1: many person is starting to come up in the CS teams. That’s been called “Customer Operations” as an evolution of sales ops to leverage data in terms of when to intervene with customers at risk, or if customers are showing advocacy and expansion potential.

How does the customer experience world fit with the Customer Success world? VOC initiatives in feedback, surveys and NPS are informing decisions the CS team can make to drive adoption and expansion outcomes as a new emerging trend.

Customer experience is about making data actionable across functional groups within the business--all in service of driving an outcome. How can we, as CS teams, make data that comes in through different programs actionable and work with partners in other departments like support, training, and marketing to drive outcomes on behalf of the customer?

Earning customer loyalty in B2B SaaS

When we talk about outcomes in front of B2B vendors, we’re talking typically about those vendors’ outcomes. The future billing models may be tied to outcomes, particularly in terms of consumption-based players like AWS.

Customer success is becoming the hub of the post-sales world

Gainsight even considered head of Product rolling up to CS. In the short-term, CS becomes the hub of the post-sales world within the organization. We need to re-define our understanding of what Customer Success is and extend it to other parts of the organization. Anthony says to break down other silos, marketing, operations, onboarding, support and professional services, we need to unify everything around the customer. If you truly believe we are flipping the funnel where ABM is driving growth, the fundamental thesis means you’re starting with your customer and modeling what that looks like across your customer base. Landing net new logos won’t be about sales – it will be a function of Customer Success. Potentially we’ll be discussing CS owning the pre-sales world in 2023.

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Sarah E. Brown and Bill Cushard

Written by Sarah E. Brown and Bill Cushard

Helping Sells Radio co-hosts, Bill Cushard and Sarah E. Brown, are Rocketeers based in Palo Alto, CA. Reach out to them by emailing marketing@servicerocket.com or on Twitter using the hashtag #HelpingSells.