MarTech Interview with John Serdinsky, Chief Customer Officer at Pramata

Discover the driving force behind Pramata's customer-centric approach and learn how he fosters lasting relationships for business success.
MarTech Interview

John, can you tell us about your professional background? How did your experience as the Regional VP of Customer Success at Salesforce prepare you for your role as Pramata’s Chief Customer Officer?
I spent a few years in New York City after college working first in Fine Arts and then Publishing, which were really interesting worlds but frankly, it was hard to pay the bills. Then I moved to Colorado and had a really fun 16-year run in communications across a number of roles, including Field Operations, Regulatory Analyst, Federal Program Manager, and Sales Effectiveness leader. I joke I got to wear many hats, including a hard hat, as those roles included trips in company trucks, helicopters, and even the corporate jet.

I then spent seven years at Salesforce leading Success Teams to high performance at the company that essentially created the modern SaaS customer success model. I worked with large customers across several industry verticals – including comms, tech, energy, and manufacturing – helping them best leverage the platform to drive strong business value. In my time at Salesforce, the company grew from 19,000 employees to over 80,000, and I really learned what techniques are most successful, and what you need to pay attention to as you scale. And now I’d like to bring that motion from CRM to CLM.

How do you prioritize customer needs and feedback, and what processes do you plan to have in place to ensure customer satisfaction?
As a starting point, you need sensing built into your product to give you indicators for customer health and adoption. For example, are you seeing the usage you expect, or has anything changed in behavior patterns, etc? But to truly gauge satisfaction, you need to actually talk to your customer. Often they need guidance on things that don’t show up in the automated indicators. They bought a fancy race car and drive it every day, but only when you meet with them do you realize they are driving it in reverse around the cul de sac, and complaining they aren’t seeing the value. Clearly, they need some guidance on how to leverage that product to its fullest capability. As far as prioritizing feedback, if it means new product development or features, it’s always a balancing act. If there is broad value across the base in that feature, likely it is merited. But sometimes it is just a one-off, though even those sometimes need to be prioritized if this is an anchor customer. So it becomes a balance of the strategic vs the tactically necessary based upon that listening and responding.

How do you measure customer success and what metrics do you use to track it?
I think happy, successful customers getting value from your technology ultimately do three key things: renew, buy more, and tell their friends. So metrics for retention rates of NRR and GRR and satisfaction scores like NPS reflect the scoreboard. But the most mature companies have a concept of a Customer Health Score that incorporates elements of both risk and opportunity to help drive proactive action. Such as: are user logins declining, do they have a lot of high severity support tickets, are they active on user forums, are they interacting in the knowledge base, consuming collateral from the website, etc.? A well-designed Health Score can help direct and prioritize the limited bandwidth of your success resources to focus on the most important areas.

Can you describe a particularly challenging customer situation you have faced and how you resolved it?
It’s tempting to talk about a crisis moment with a large customer where there is a platform outage or high-severity case that has been open for a frustrating amount of time. These scenarios occur at every company, and while highly stressful, they have a fairly straightforward path to resolution. Apologize, troubleshoot, fix the problem, and restore performance. So long as you don’t do this to the same customer over and over, it rarely leads to that customer leaving and can even be a way to reinforce the strength of your brand through the quality of your response. I think what can be more challenging for Success Teams is the apathetic customer that won’t really engage and won’t act upon your guidance. I worked with a customer that kept complaining about lack of user adoption, but wouldn’t act upon any of the recommendations we provided. It was like they wanted us to wave a magic wand and would not accept any accountability. It went on for months, and kind persistence was not enough to break through. In this case, we had to go higher up and connect with the senior leader for this group to get them to take action in their half of the partnership, which was challenging from a relationship standpoint. But ultimately we got their buy-in and it took acting upon only a few of our recommendations to change user behavior.

How do you collaborate with other departments to ensure a seamless customer experience?
Honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do – I love understanding all the handoffs and how the whole thing comes together. It’s really important to understand your peer departments – how are they measured? What constraints do they have? What are their inputs and outputs? Having understanding and empathy, and building trusted relationships with other leaders is key to executing through both boom times and crises.

Can you give an example of a successful customer retention strategy you have implemented?
A good retention strategy starts with strong rigor in renewal forecasting and assessments of potential risk. It’s nearly impossible to save a customer within 30 days of contract renewal – these are the rare hail mary passes that actually connect and usually involve deep concessions. But if you give the team 3 to 6 months, then many more high-probability plays can be run. Workshops, technical guidance, change management campaigns, etc. So the strategy hinges on identifying the risk in advance and proactively managing well before contract expiration.

Can you walk us through your approach to customer segmentation and targeting?
Outside of the broader go-to-market motion and account segmentation that takes place, Customer Success needs a way to prioritize where to invest and spend the most time to drive the biggest impact. I’ve always looked at it through the two lenses of risk and opportunity. Which customers are least likely to renew? What revenue can we save through proactive engagement? And which customers have the most growth potential? Not just because of account whitespace, but because of customer ambition and willingness to engage as a partner. As I mentioned before, customer apathy can be hard to combat, and if it isn’t mixed with in-year risk, those customers might not be worth the limited bandwidth of the success team.

What role does data analytics play in your decision-making process for customer-related initiatives?
It is always the starting point for creating a point of view and guiding the initial strategy. We have these renewals mapped to these usage and health indicators indicating this degree of risk. Then you need to probe deeper and have both internal and customer-facing discussions, starting from data and analysis. And of course, you need to factor in your confidence level in the data. How accurate is our propensity to buy or propensity to churn model? Are there unique factors in the current macroeconomic climate to add in?

How do you ensure that all customer-facing employees are aligned with the company’s overall customer experience strategy?
The key to achieving optimal customer outcomes is building a high-trust, high-performing team of customer success professionals that love their jobs and grow with us. Everyone needs to know the why, not just the what So leadership needs to communicate the strategy in a way that team members can understand at a core level, and use that compass to guide their day-to-day decisions. Does this help us grow, for example? We have an incredibly strong international team, and it’s an exciting time to be here now that our radically simple approach and product have been perfected. Our team bleeds customer empathy, and that combined with a winning culture that celebrates and rewards growth through customer success is key.

Can you share any customer feedback that has particularly stuck with you, whether positive or negative?
One of the great things about working in B2B software is you can really make a big impact on individuals and their careers through effective partnerships. I’ve personally worked with mid-level leaders to help them use our software solution effectively to drive a top-priority initiative, and seen them get promoted multiple times over a couple of years. Director to Sr Director to VP. Through these relationships, I’ve built strong personal friendships, and it’s been really gratifying. So the feedback that most stuck with me was a heartfelt “thank you” over a really nice dinner celebrating one of those promotions.

How do you approach customer advocacy and evangelism programs?
It’s important to curate relationships with your best customers. And I say best rather than biggest as it’s not always the same. Those customers that are really using your solution correctly, getting great value, but also pushing you to improve it and giving helpful feedback. Sometimes they can be really demanding, but that feedback is so important. And of course, these are usually the same customers willing to be a reference for a new prospect, or even post a positive review on an influential site. So these relationships are vital, and like any healthy relationship, there has to be mutual commitment and value gained on both sides. So you need to think about how you can deliver more value, or acknowledge how special the relationship is through personal touches. I know that’s a bit vague, but it can really manifest in many different ways, adding a feature in your backlog that doesn’t necessarily have broad appeal, hitting their favorite restaurant after the Customer Advisory Board meeting, or even the sincere “thank you” over coffee.

Can you describe your approach to handling customer complaints or negative reviews?
Well, they say feedback is a gift, but it certainly doesn’t always feel that way. And with today’s online forums, sometimes reviews are blatantly unfair, but now it’s out there. Because it’s all so public, you can’t afford to ignore it. Strong brands will demonstrate their transparency and efforts to make things right for the customer. So I think you need to lean into these with honesty and openness. Sometimes it is unfair, but more often there is an insight to be gleaned to improve your company.

How do you balance the need to meet customer demands with the limitations of resources and budget?
I think it helps that our product works really well, and we have a top-notch product development team that continues to deliver meaningful innovations on a regular cadence. Making sure customers understand our vision, leverage our best practices, and make full use of the platform really satisfies most of that demand. Beyond that, we reserve some development capacity for smaller quick-hit items where we need to make small tweaks to optimize how our customers are using the product. So those bigger items mix with the ongoing improvements to really deliver a great experience that gets better the longer customers are with us.

How do you ensure that the voice of the customer is heard at all levels of the organization, including executive leadership?
It’s important to feed the voice of the customer back into our product teams to inform our ongoing development roadmap through the lens of simplicity and efficiency.

How do you envision the future of customer experience at Pramata, and what initiatives or investments are you considering to stay ahead of the curve?

Radical simplicity and ease of use are key differentiators for Pramata and permeate our culture. We ask customers to just dump hundreds of thousands of legacy documents on us and we clean them up, get rid of duplicates, organize them, and hand them back in this beautiful structure that drives meaningful insights. It’s awesome. And that’s the customer experience vision – “Wow, this is awesome!” My top priority is ensuring our customers are so immensely successful in achieving their business goals with our platform that they want to tell everyone about it. The truth is most CLM solutions don’t inspire rabid fans – the more typical reaction is frustration at times to implement and users still defaulting to legacy tools. But I’ve seen firsthand how much users from sales, legal, operations, and finance fall in love with Pramata – it’s real! We need to get the word out and spread that joy. From my days at Salesforce, I know customers can be extremely passionate about enterprise software, and yes, even legal professionals. We need to show that passion is possible with CLM.

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John Serdinsky, Chief Customer Officer, Pramata.

John joined Pramata in 2023 as the company’s first Chief Customer Officer, but his first time working with the company was more than a decade ago as a Pramata customer. As Chief Customer Officer, John is focused on ensuring all Pramata customers are maximizing the value they receive from their investment in Pramata and acting as the “voice of the customer” to inform Pramata’s ongoing product roadmap. Prior to joining Pramata, John was the Regional Vice President of the Customer Success, Enterprise organization at Salesforce. During his 7 years there, he led high-performing Customer Success teams across several different industry verticals, driving best-in-class results for renewals and growth. Before Salesforce, he led the Sales Enablement team for CenturyLink (now Lumen), an enterprise technology platform. John has managed multi-year software implementation programs, successfully directed massive platform migration projects, and created winning sales enablement programs for Fortune 500 organizations LinkedIn.
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