Episode 7: Comfort with Ambiguity
This week’s Pipeline Podcast features Liz Pearce, Chief Revenue Office (CRO) at Portland-based Streem. As the CRO, Liz wears a variety of hats, but always maintains a clear focus on the customer. She offers incredible insight on what it means to be a flexible leader that is comfortable with risk. Listen to the latest podcast and let us know what you think! How do you get comfortable with ambiguity?
Read the full interview transcript below:
Joe: Welcome to the Banzai Pipeline Podcast. Today we’re here talking with Liz Pearce. Liz is the Chief Revenue Officer at Streem, formerly CEO / marketing consultant at Liquid Planner and has worked at a number of other companies in sales and marketing roles over her career. Liz thanks so much for joining us today.
Liz: Thanks for having me.
Joe: First thing I want to talk about is your new company Streem. You’ve been there for not quite a year, right?
Liz: Six months.
Joe: Six months, so definitely not a year. And you’re the chief revenue officer. Tell everybody what Streem is.
Liz: Yes, Streem is actually a Portland-based company. I’m located here in Seattle, the company is in Portland. We do mobile AR. So our mission is to make the world’s expertise more accessible and we do that by connecting pros outside of the home to consumers in the home and we give pros an augmented reality toolkit so they can drive the conversation with the consumer and they can actually use things like a laser pointer or a 3D arrow to mark things in reality and help the consumer understand how to fix their appliance on their own without having to wait for a truck to show up.
Joe: And it all works through your phone screen?
Liz: Yeah. We’re also doing some interesting things with the data. We’re capturing the depth information in the home, so the pro can after the call collect remote measurements and we’re also doing character recognition and object recognition with what we capture. We’ll actually label your model number or serial number. It’s really easy for the pro to get that information after the call.
Joe: Liz, your role at Streem is Chief Revenue Officer. This is a role that has only come into prominence in the last few years. You didn’t see this kind of role 10 years ago. What does the Chief Revenue Officer do in an early stage company? Is it sales, marketing? What function does it serve?
Liz: I guess formally the CRO role, at least its Streem, encompasses marketing, sales and customer success and those three functions really encompass the whole customer journey and then with the subscription model it is really important to understand that entire funnel and the funnel doesn’t stop when the deal is closed. You continue to nurture that customer and nurture the relationship and ensure that you’re providing great service all the way through the life of that customer with your company.
Joe: You might argue that it really just starts when the deal was closed.
Liz: You might. I think you should. For us we’re doing a lot of pilots and proof of concepts right now with the companies and each one is different. They all take different shapes and so a lot of time is spent on figuring out exactly how to structure the relationship. Thinking about pricing, thinking about the business model, and thinking about how best to evolve the product to meet the needs of those customers. It’s a really expansive role, a really exciting role. And I’m super pumped to be doing this particular job right now.
Joe: So maybe half of the role is finding that product-market fit and honing that. Who are we serving? How do we go to market with that group? And then half of it is figuring out how do we provide an extraordinary customer journey once someone is onboard.
Liz: I think that’s fair. I think in an early-stage company you don’t always know what’s around the corner all the time. And as we just talked about with Streem, in particular people see the technology and they think six different ways they could use it in their organization. We’re out there trying to find the lowest hanging fruit, the fastest way to provide value for them, to get feedback on the product, and to turn that back around into product improvements and new functionality. That’s the focus right now. Once that gets a little more solidified, we may turn our attention to driving demand and in specific markets segment and ask customers to come onboard, beginning to do more customer marketing and things like that. It’s a great role if you like variety and you like to be quick on your feet and responsive to what the needs of the customers are.
Joe: It may evolve over time as you said early on, it’s about finding revenue and then it’s going to be about scaling revenue down the road.
Liz: I think as you’re growing a startup you may have the ability to add one more head. I want to hire one person, where do we put that role? You can really look across that customer journey and try to identify where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. What resource can we add that will have the biggest impact on the overall revenue for the business. And it may not be in sales, it may be in customer success because you think you’ll be able to help drive growth and adoption with your existing customers more effectively than necessarily going out and pounding your doors for new business.
Joe: Well this is a mistake that we made Banzai early on. We put way too much emphasis on the new logo and not nearly enough emphasis on customer success. Actually, they weren’t even different departments until earlier this year. How do you make that decision? How do you think about how to prioritize those scarce resources across the customer journey?
Liz: I think it’s a challenge that a lot of companies have. I actually went through this at my last company a little bit. My background is marketing and so it came really naturally to drive demand and get new leads in the door and work those new leads and that was kind of the easiest thing to do. The lowest hanging fruit at that point was like, “oh all these people are coming in and signing up, we can’t we can’t ignore those people.” In the meantime, customers are signing up and maybe not getting quite as much attention as they deserved. We were missing an opportunity to expand into those businesses. We ultimately corrected that and shifted a lot of resources and focus to existing customer growth expansion and cross-selling, but I think a lot of companies think we need to get more different customers, more logos, more references. It always is a tradeoff. But research shows that it’s much more cost-effective to grow your existing customers than to bring on new. It was just a cultural shift.
Joe: Not to mention churn, right? When You’re churning customers out. That’s just that many more customers you have to bring them before you can grow.
Liz: Exactly. So super important to keep those customers, grow them and all aspects of the business have to be focused on it. A lot of times marketers get pigeonholed as people that are focused on bringing in new business but just as much marketing effort can and should go into working with those existing customers telling their stories, finding patterns in those customers and using that to benefit the whole business.
Joe: If I am thinking, hey I want to be a chief revenue officer, what’s the one essential thing that I must learn to succeed in that role?
Liz: I think you can be successful in a CRO role coming up from any of the feeder functions if you will.
Joe: Marketing, sales, customer success.
Liz: Exactly. I started in marketing, I added in sales a little later in my career and really enjoyed it. I added in customer success after that. My kind of starting the vantage point was marketing. Now my main focus is sales, but it could shift depending on the company. I think the most important thing is to be really customer-focused, to be creative and analytical, and think about the big picture right.
Joe: Keep everybody focused on what’s the number one priority.
Liz: Where do you put the most effort to get the most reward. It will probably shift over time. Again, you have to be adaptable to the needs of the business are.
Joe: So, adaptability probably is the key?
Liz: Yeah comfort with ambiguity.
Joe: The fog of war.
Liz: Exactly. Leave everything on the field.
Joe: When it comes to that customer success role. You said you did this liquid planner and you’re thinking about the customer journey here. What are the things that you found are essential that are different than a new logo, demand generation?
Liz: I think with customer success you have to be really naturally curious about your customer’s business, and willing to go deep to understand their ecosystem, their challenges, and how to best apply your solution to solve those things. No technology exists in a vacuum. When we bring Streem into a company, we have to understand all the other tools that people that are using Streem use to do their jobs. And can we integrate? Can we complement? Does it fit into the workflow? What do we need to adjust to address any areas of friction? It can be somewhat technical, and it can be very detailed and so you have to have the patience for getting into that level of detail with your customer and you also have to build that trust with the customers that they’re willing to open up their playbook to you and share that. You have to look at it as a partnership because if that trust isn’t there and you can’t work together to solve those problems you won’t get the adoption that you need. You won’t have a long-term relationship with them. Product adoption won’t expand within the company.
Joe: Right. So really digging in building that trust them, getting into the trenches with them understanding how they do their job. But what keeps them up at night.
Liz: Exactly. I just last week visited the call center of a customer that we’re working with and sat on the floor with call center agents.
Joe: Well that’s very literally in the trenches
Liz: Literally in the trenches and a great experience because you there’s no way to build that empathy with what your customer is going through without seeing it and a lot of cases, maybe that’s not always true. But for us it’s true. To see how they do their jobs, to see them maneuver through the different systems they have to work with is an eye-opening experience. It makes me think about our product in a different way and instantly generated a ton of different ideas and things that we need to solve for. You don’t always have that luxury of going and physically being there on-site with people but any information that you can glean from your customers about how they work and turn that around into your own product thinking and customer thinking can help your business. The biggest thing there is just being curious and wanting to understand
Joe: Gathering that data even if it’s not quantifiable, but just taking field notes.
Liz: Yes, and you will start to see patterns and trends. If you can bubble that up to the folks making product decisions every day, then you’ll ultimately be able to solve similar problems for other customers in the future and that’s what you’re really looking for is a scale.
Joe: Carrying that flag to say like hey here’s what the customer needs to be successful. Being that customer’s representative within the organization to make them more successful. I mean customer success in a nutshell right.
Liz: Yeah. Every customer will be different. You can’t design around one particular customer, you’re really looking for patterns. What things can we solve for in a generic way that can be adapted to the specific circumstances of each new customer that comes along. The other thing I’d point out is that when you’re selling into an organization and supporting an organization, you have to understand the different roles in the company really well. You may have one main point of contact and everything is going through them and that actually is a bit risky. We all naturally have our own interests in mind. If you’re only dealing with one person that creates blind spots right in the relationship. So, it’s great if you can develop a network of people within your customer organization that you can have one to one communication with. You can have relationships with, that you can reach out to understand how you can help them solve their particular challenges. The person writing the check has a different job than the person who has to manage security, and IT compliance has a different job than the person who is using your product day to day right. And to build that partnership you want to get as broad an understanding as possible across these different roles.
Joe: So, it’s collecting that information then maybe from three or four different people who might all individually be able to blow up your deal.
Liz: No one person makes a buying decision these days in an organization. And you know it’s your job as a customer success manager or a sales manager or marketing manager or whatever your job is to have a good understanding of that map within the company and how they relate to each other what their different needs are in and how that could impact your relationship with them.
Joe: That’s a terrific insight. I mean I think that’s the kind of thing that marketers, at least in my experience often don’t think about. They’re thinking about who are my leads, what do my leads look like? In other words, who are submitting my form on my web site or who am I targeting with my ABM campaign. But they’re not thinking about what is that iceberg of people under them look like below the surface.
Liz: Exactly. If you think about it in relation to the funnel concerns that you just mentioned are very top-funnel concerns, the things I mentioned are mid-funnel concerns. Once you’ve gotten them interested, once you’ve gotten that first meeting, once they’re engaged, can you pre-empt the objections and the needs of the other people who are in the room? So, when the person says, “well, I need to get this approved.” What’s your answer to that? Ideally, your answer is oh it’s going to finance for approval. Great. I have a business case justification already written up targeted to your industry. Can I send that to you? Boom. You’ve just made their job easier. And going out and getting that buy-in from your financial buyer. Similarly, for every other role.
Joe: For whoever you know is pulling the strings.
Liz: Exactly. Yeah. And that’s the thing you develop over time. But it does make a longer sales process shorter if those things are at the ready
Joe: Being in the CRO role and having oversight over all three of customer success, sales, and marketing functions do you think the insights you’re gaining from one of those is able to inform the other functions?
Liz: Yes. Our focus is sales and so I’m using my time and working directly with customers to identify the common use cases, the common personas that are part of the buying process and codify them in a way that each new person we bring on can quickly ramp up on who they’re going to be dealing with right. So we brought in a new salesperson recently and one of the things I wanted to have him focus his time on initially, is understanding the different use cases of Streem. There are really five primary use cases that we’ve identified so far, and we have a number of customers and prospects that fit into each of those five buckets. We set up almost a little project plan for him read all of that opportunity notes, read the proposals that are out, read the correspondence, identify trends in the industries that are drawn to each use case, and then actually do writing samples and draft emails and copy to describe the use case as if he were sending a cold email. And it’s almost an academic or intellectual exercise but it is a great way to steep in that buying journey for that particular type of customer right. It’s been really fun to see his understanding of the product and the market evolve through each of those different use cases.
Joe: That’s a really cool insight. How have you guys operationalized that. I mean that sounds like something that a lot of companies could benefit from doing.
Liz: Yeah, we’re actually using Trello for that, so each use cases is a little project, has a card, has a checklist. And we just go back and forth. I think the more time you spend at the beginning to bring someone new onto the team, to educate them, and expose them to the information they need to know, the more you get out of it. It’s one of those things where it’s not necessarily urgent but it is really important. And I’m hoping that this way of ramping him up on the Streem business can be applied to not just salespeople, but marketing people and customer success people and even engineers, moving forward.
Joe: Looking back now. When I think back like 10 years ago, I think that there’s so many things I wish I could go back and do differently. If you could go back and like write a letter to yourself ten years ago and say look here’s what to look out for or like don’t screw this up, please for the love of God. What would those things be?
Liz: I think a lot of us that are Type A, perfectionist type people that find their way in business has a lot of fear of messing things up. Sure, it’s better to take more time to get it right than making a wrong move right and risk failure.
Joe: Analysis Paralysis.
Liz: Yeah. I would say that you have to have some inclination towards risk if you’re to be in a startup at all. But I think I would tell myself to move faster and not worry so much about breaking things and over the years, especially as CEO, I can think of a number of times where I didn’t let someone go as quickly as I should have. I started to worry too much about the company being fragile and I realize now that it was not fragile at all. It was very strong and companies that are built with a solid foundation of a great culture and a great product and a leadership team that cares about its employees can withstand a lot of change and a lot of adaptation to changing markets and competitors and people coming and going which is just part of life in a company. I would try to release some of that fear of things breaking.
Joe: So, you would just say like it’s okay for things to go wrong?
Liz: It’s OK. It’s OK if people are upset about things. It’s OK if not every decision is right. Maybe you can move a little faster and take more risk if you’re not as worried about that. Of course, you have to have done the work to build that foundation. But once it’s there, trust it.
Joe: What advice do you have for people who like Streem, are just starting out or like Liquid Planner when you guys were in the early stages of trying to run a lean startup, trying to find that product market fit or that growth. What’s your advice for them?
Liz: My first piece of advice is to really fanatically focus on your differentiator. Find that thing that sets you apart from the other players because there will always be other players and make that thing the best it can be. Once you’ve done that or as you’re doing that go out and find that part of the market that just has to have what makes you different and sink as much energy and attention and time as you can into understanding that market, building on it, funneling that back into the next stage for your product, and then start thinking about how to raise money from your customers. That’s the kind of money you want to raise revenue. And those customers that care about your differentiator are going be the first ones to show that with their wallet.
Joe: And if they if they’re not doing that, you’ve got a problem anyways.
Liz: Exactly, is anyone going to pay for this? That’s the first question that you want to be able to answer. And with a lean startup, as with any good business practice you have to be constantly prioritizing. I think the cream really rises to the top. Your customers will tell you what the thing is they must have to make this work for them. Your employee will tell you which one of them is most cut out for the ups and downs and peaks and valleys of running a startup. Pay attention to those signals like you will intuit what needs to get done right now. What employee has to be nurtured and which one has to maybe move on to another opportunity. In another interview I did I talk about the Rubik’s Cube of leadership and your challenge as an entrepreneur is to take this set of resources that you have that’s finite and constrained and figure out how to twist and turn it to get the most out of it for the company. It requires kind of looking at it with fresh eyes every day.
Joe: And viewing it through that lens of like how can I drive customer value.
Liz: Exactly. Even with Streem six months in, three months ago I was like okay we need to get ready to really start driving demand and doing more marketing. Two weeks later I was like, no we don’t. We don’t have time to do that. We have a lot to do with our existing opportunities. So never mind. And you have to be willing to turn on your feet and go back on what you said because this is what the business needs right now.
Joe: You have to kill the things you love to do what you have to do for the business.
Liz: And just because the book you read said that this is what you need to be doing
Joe: Or the podcast…
Liz: The podcast you listen to, just ignore advice and you get what you pay for it. Do people pay for this.
Joe: No. Maybe we should start.
Liz: You might want too. I mean all of those things should feed into to your own viewpoint of what should be a priority. But ultimately the end of the day you know it’s going to come from your gut.
Joe: That’s great advice Liz thank you so much for doing this with us today. Tell everybody who’s listening how they can find you and find Streem.
Liz: Sure. I’m on Twitter @lizprc and on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizpearce/
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