Interview with Maarten Peters, Head of CS at Marvia
How did you get into Customer Success? What does it take to start as the first CSM to become a Head of CS? Proactive vs reactive approach CS? What were the SaaS Awards like last year, as winner of CSM of the Year? Different characteristics of a Sales person compared to a CSM? – Maarten Peters, Head of CS at Marvia shares his answers!
Hey Maarten, welcome to the SaaS Newsletter Deep Dive. Could you please introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is Maarten and I’m the Head of Customer Success at Marvia. Marvia is a company that streamlines and scales local marketing and branding for big, multi-location brands around the world. Our clients include big corporates, and big franchise chains like food and beverage or retail chains in the EU and US.
We focus on enabling local marketers, franchisees, and store owners to run effective marketing campaigns. Typically, the branding and campaign managers at the head office come up with a great campaign or visual, and we help local stores personalize and execute that campaign. For example, we help a local store in Amsterdam buy billboards and run Facebook campaigns to promote their “second pizza for free” offer. We do this through our portals, which are used by over 325 brands in 90 countries. Our company’s HQ is in Amsterdam, but we also have an North-American office in New York.
Opening the office in the US, is that to be closer to the American market which you are trying to enter?
Yeah, so when I started at Marvia, we had nine people working there. When I joined, we had a developer team of four or five people. There was no marketing or sales team, and both sales and marketing were done by the CEO back then. It’s actually still the running gag that a blog written by the CEO still ranks really well on Google. I was the first operational person and had to do implementation, support, and help with sales calls. I also did a bit of product owning, translating customer wishes and bug fixes to the developers. I was the person doing everything in between the CEO and the IT guy. Two days after I started, Marvia hired a SDR, and we started developing an actual team of disciplines and people doing their actual role. Because it’s bootstrapped, we used to grow one full-time employee (FTE) per quarter. In February, we’re growing with five FTEs in one month, and the snowball effect is actually happening now. We had to open an office in the US and are on the verge of hiring a CSM in the US as well. With our focus on franchising, over 25-35% of our newly-signed customers are now US-based and the product is really getting traction in that market. We used to only have customers in the Amsterdam area, and it’s now also shifting to the US market.
”Back then, there was no marketing or sales team, and both sales and marketing were done by the CEO.”
How did that happen?
We have found that our product works exceptionally well for franchises, which are a big thing in the US. This is also a significant trend in Europe. We’re currently in talks with franchises in the US that have over 1200 locations, which is considered a medium-sized company there. Our product caters well to multi-location branding, making it ideal for such companies. We have already worked with most of the big companies in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. However, we need to expand to different markets. For example, we are in talks with a hairdresser in India that has 900 locations, and also with a chain in Japan. These markets also require a tool like ours.
”I was the person doing everything in between the CEO and the IT guy.”
You said you joined the company at a pretty early stage. Was it your plan to go into CS? Or did CS find you?
Before Marvia, I used to work at a company called Guidion, where I was part of what they called the “escalation team”, which dealt with pretty extreme or unusual support tickets. These were cases like customers having really bad experiences with our technicians or even instances where a customer felt uncomfortable with a technician’s behavior. Our team was responsible for solving these cases and helping our technicians provide the best possible service.
I was passionate about solving these cases, helping and enabling our technicians to deliver the best service. I was passionate about that, but most customer service jobs are reactive, focusing on answering emails and reacting to complaints. I wanted to be more proactive, schedule work and prevent issues from happening in the first place, instead of always reacting to emails and phone calls on the fly. That’s why I joined Marvia, where the role had a really big product development bit to it and really gave me the time and the responsibility to improve and educate our customer base instead of being only known as the problem solver.
So you were the first CSM at Marvia?
Yes. Initially, as the first CSM, I was the only point of contact for the entire customer base, around 50 at that time, even though only 8 to 10 of them were actively reaching out to us every week. Most of them knew about our software and how to design marketing materials like leaflets or social media posts for local usage, but they never really contacted us. We didn’t have regular weekly calls with all customers or even QBRs or minor evaluations. They knew where to find us if there was a bug. But that was the rough stage of Customer Success back then.
”I wanted to be more proactive, schedule work and prevent issues from happening in the first place.”
As the company and the client base grew, how did you go from first CSM to Senior CSM, and now Head of CS in charge of a team?
Well, I was first on the ground, improving my skill set, becoming more mature in the role. Building from problem-solving skills, and later progressing to analytical and strategic skills. As a marketing software solution, we also help clients with their marketing strategies. We expanded to various countries, including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, and now we’re exploring opportunities in for example Canada and Japan, which has led to significant growth in our accounts. We experienced minimal churn rates, around 1.5% in some years, showing that the process of developing CS was successful. My role has also evolved, from talking to marketing managers and project managers to now talking to CMOs, while our own CEO is no longer involved in day-to-day business operations. This evolution of the team has been a nice development.
What would you say are some of the main processes or structures which ensure that a CS department is being proactive instead of reactive?
First of all, to stay focused and productive, it’s important to turn off notifications and stick to your service level agreement (SLA) and prioritize deep work over ad hoc emailing. It can be really fulfilling to jump on every issue and ticket and solve it or get a response out, but blocking off specific times in your schedule to check emails can be helpful, as well as letting your colleagues know when you’re in a focused moment.
It’s also important to prioritize tasks based on their urgency, following your SLA for response times. Trying to fix everything at once or respond to every question right away can be overwhelming and unproductive. By sticking to your SLA, you can schedule your work more effectively and have more time for deep work.
Additionally, notifications can be a major distraction and take a long time to recover from mentally. Consider using tools like Asana or HubSpot to manage tasks and tickets, and focus on preventing issues from happening again in the future, rather than just solving them as they come up.
By standardizing processes and reducing onboarding times, you can be more efficient and productive in your work. Remember to take small steps every day to improve and make the most of your time.
What would you say are some common characteristics or traits in CSMs that they should or should not have? Could be having this fear of picking up the phone, or being rejected, or having a challenging customer on the other side of the call. What would you say from your own experience?
I have noticed that some members of my team are afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer. However, I believe that acknowledging one’s limitations is actually a strength. During meetings or conversations, it is important to convey a passion for finding solutions, be an active listener and adore helping others, even if you cannot provide an immediate answer. Following up later with thorough answers to any outstanding questions is also crucial. While digital communication can be useful, calling or meeting in person is often more effective. In any customer-facing role, including sales, it is important not to take things personally. Most times, customers complain about a lack in the product, not in the service. It’s important to draw that line between product and service offered.
Do these characteristics differentiate Sales from CS then?
At our company, we often provide sales support due to our in-depth knowledge of the product. We can assist with demos and illustrate how to better sell the more detailed features, not just the main modules. For example, we might suggest mentioning certain features to customers because they’ve been successful with similar customers or look-alike prospects. However, the Sales team challenges us to not do everything for free. As a SaaS product, we have a monthly recurring revenue, but we also charge for one-off requests or new feature adjustments. Sales encourages us to be more commercial with our time and to actively sell around renewals and upsell opportunities. They also help us discover cross-sell opportunities with other brands under our customers’ umbrella brands. Sales is a CS enabler, thanks to their mindset, but there needs to be a balance between being commercial and having the best interest of the customer in mind.
”I believe that acknowledging one’s limitations is actually a strength.”
You’ve come a long way from first CSM to Head of CS. What is it like to be the manager of the CS department?
Being a good manager means enabling others to finish their work without burdens or issues. It’s not about being better than your team, but helping them become better at their job. This involves removing any impediments they may face along the way. For example, Justin on my team is better than me at solving problems, while Rudy excels at onboarding new customers way faster and more efficiently than I do. I support them both by helping to resolve any issues that arise. Ultimately, being a good manager is about enabling others to do their job to the best of their abilities.
Any big trends you foresee in CS in 2023?
I believe we will be in a recession next year, for sure, with all the inflation going on. But it really motivates us to work hard for the value of our product. It’s always an eye-opener that it’s much easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones. So we are really focusing on our customers, our champions. We have a cool maturity model to help our customers get the most out of our software, which is based on process, technology, people, and internal infrastructure at the company we work for.
We have stages of the maturity level of the customer, and based on the maturity level, we provide certain advice, training, or a specific set of modules of our products. We never have a one-size-fits-all mentality around QBRs, evaluating the product or solving the needs of a customer. We are really focusing on helping our customers grow in maturity and how they benefit from our solution one step at a time.
Because of this approach, we have a really high retention rate. If a user switches jobs from one company to another, they often convince their new employer to either switch to or for Marvia, since they are familiar with and enjoy our product. It’s actually happening quite often, and it’s an easy sell because they already know the product. The onboarding is quite rapid, and they know the team and the development. Most of our customers come to the office often or have a strong social connection with the Marvia team. We try to become the go-to solution for their needs, and we want them to really feel like we are a must have solution for their day-to-day job.
So this year, we are trying to grow from our current customer base, or the current contacts we already have at our customers who are switching jobs. That is where we as a CS team step in to make the most of what we already have.
In terms of techniques, we are focusing heavily on onboarding scalability this year. This includes incorporating videos within our app, as well as testing in-app product tours, notifications, feedback, and help. We are also building out a help center so that users can go there directly for all their questions, rather than coming to us.
Let’s talk SaaS Awards. As the winner of the CSM category last year, can you tell us how you experienced the event last year?
It was really cool! Overall, I feel that there are not enough SaaS events compared to other countries. So I am glad that the SaaS Awards are picking up the initiative. Last year, I met loads of people, including a couple I already knew. I also met new people from mostly Sales and CS roles, who were either nominated or attending the event as colleagues. It was a great networking opportunity, and I loved the venue. Although I was a little late for the event, I heard that people arrived by boat and really enjoyed the venue. Talking to people and feeling their passion for working in tech was cool, and it energized me to keep working in one of the coolest industries in the world.
Quick-fire, one-worded answers. Favorite book?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
“How I built this” by Guy Raz.
One person to follow on LinkedIn
Jacco van der Kooij, from Winning by Design.
Favorite Growth hack?
In general, I’m a bit anti-tooling. I believe people use tools to compensate for their own shortcomings. When they lack skill, focus, analytical mindset, or any other quality, they try to solve the problem with a tool. However, tooling is mostly like makeup. If you purchase a tool but don’t commit to working with it, you’ve wasted your money.