Chris Battis:                  On this episode of Intent Topics, we have special guest, Dave Babst from Othot. Today we’ll be talking about building a successful sales, marketing, and customer success engine.

Chris Battis:                  All right. Hey Dave. We’re excited to have you on the show today. Why don’t you tell us what you’re doing now and how you got there?

Dave Babst:                  Absolutely. And first, thanks so much for having me. Really great to be with you both. So I’m with a company called Othot. It’s O-T-H-O-T. Othot’s sort of a mashup of original thought, which ironically enough is trademarked. But Othot is a predictive and prescriptive analytics platform that’s been designed in its early form for higher education institutions. We’re helping colleges and universities to enroll the right students and to help them graduate. And we’re helping them do that through the more progressive and advanced forms of analytics that are available today.

Chris Battis:                  Wow.

Dave Babst:                  And we’re bringing that to them in the form of a technology based platform.

Chris Battis:                  Wow. Cool. Can you talk to kind of what some of these analytics are? And I’m kind of curious how you help people graduate. That’s very interesting.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah, absolutely. So we’re basically bringing a variety of forms of data together through multiple data sources, most of which are proprietary to the institution. And then we’re bringing that all together through machine learning algorithms to fundamentally better understand who a prospective student is, what makes them tick, and what it is that an institution can do to better engage them, whether they be a prospective student or a current student, to a specific outcome. And I think the biggest two advancements that are working in concert with one another are … the real advancement in advanced analytics that has occurred since I got involved with it is through prescriptive analytics, which essentially enables data to change outcomes.

Dave Babst:                  And so we’re bringing that type of discipline to analytics that we employ. And then we’re also combining that with technology and essentially equipping schools with what if simulation functionality in the form of a platform to really understand what it is they can do to help a student with a particular outcome. And so we’re getting down to the individual student and helping them see where, in the case of something like an enrollment decision, helping them out to know where their marketing efforts could be most effective, where they can make best utilization of their recruiters, how their financial aid dollars can be put to best use. And then when it comes to graduation, we’re doing the same thing but really focused more on those initiatives that exist within the school and the resources that exist at that institution. It. Can help the student to achieve that outcome.

Chris Battis:                  Wow.

Logan Kelly:                  So what role inside the institutions are you typically dealing with? Is it admissions or guidance counselors? Or what’s the-

Dave Babst:                  Yeah, good question. So it really depends on the engagement, but when it comes to an enrollment type engagement, we’re typically dealing with an enrollment management office. That office is typically led by a VP of Enrollment Management or a Chief Enrollment Officer. And then when we help with graduation related engagements, we’re typically working with a Vice President of Student Success. Sometimes at an institution, the person that’s responsible for enrollment is also responsible for retention and graduation. And then in other cases we might be working with a provost or a Vice President of Academics.

Chris Battis:                  Got you.

Logan Kelly:                  So not naturally the techiest of types.

Dave Babst:                  No, although I would say that certainly on the enrollment side in particular, they’re becoming more adept. But I would say as a general rule of thumb, higher education tends to be a late adopter when it comes to technology and to more innovative solutions. So some of what we’re bringing to higher education has been available in the private sector for years. Right? You see companies like Google, Amazon, make use of AI and AI informed decision making on a regular basis.

Logan Kelly:                  Sure. Yeah. And I think that that sets the table nicely for, I know what Chris is chomping at the bit to talk about-

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Logan Kelly:                  … around customer success and we’re talking about prescriptive AI in an industry that has just a gigantic amount of brain, right? But not necessarily the frequent use of technology like we might have in our sales jobs or customer success roles. So…

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Logan Kelly:                  This is exciting.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah. Talk to me about what things you’re seeing in regards to retention and retaining customers on the tool and how you’re keeping people renewing, et cetera.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah. So I think a couple of things that are important when it comes to ensuring that customers are happy. I think first and foremost, so much of it is rooted in how a prospect is sold and ensuring that that expectations are set appropriately, that they really understand what it is that they’re buying and that fundamentally there’s a really seamless handoff on our side when it comes to understanding goals and what’s important to the customer.

Chris Battis:                  Okay.

Dave Babst:                  I think everything sort of starts with that level of understanding. I think along with that it’s really critical for us to understand who within that institution is going to be really important when it comes to adoption and what their model is for working with across their people. Right? And so in a lot of ways I think when you understand the goals, you understand how they work and you understand who and how you need to deploy the solution, it’s really helpful in setting the table for success. And I think along with that there comes a level of understanding when it comes to just being the resource to the customer and what that means to them. For some, and especially in the early days, I think you’re figuring some of it out as you go along. But I think it’s really important to figure out what the customer expects when it comes to having a healthy relationship with their partner and how they define that. Because in this space in particular, probably more so than any I’ve worked in, a happy customer is so invaluable because they tell their friends, right? And they, in a lot of ways, if they are very happy, they can become your sales force or an extension of your sales force.

Chris Battis:                  Totally. Yep. Yeah. Are you finding that your sales team is good at identifying good fit customers? Or is that a challenge for you?

Dave Babst:                  I think in the early days we were trying to figure out who that right customer was. And so we took on customers that were interested in working with us and that allowed us to learn. I think this year we’ve developed a better sense for within our market what the profile is for a customer that will likely be a really good customer for us.

Chris Battis:                  Okay. Cool.

Dave Babst:                  And I think over the course of the past six months, we’ve looked to really translate that in a way that’s understandable for the sales team.

Chris Battis:                  Cool.

Dave Babst:                  And that’s been probably a big part of what I’ve been focused on over the course of the past six months is helping with that translation, really creating sales enablement tools, reassessing our brand positioning within the market, and really translating that voice of customer into what our message is as we put it out into the market place.

Chris Battis:                  Very cool. Love it.

Logan Kelly:                  So Dave, there was a point you made, which I think is an interesting point to talk about for anybody in kind of a startup role or launching a new service line. And that was there’s that sort of iterative process where you’re taking clients on, you’re learning from them, you’re not necessarily … we’re starting relationships, but maybe not … they’re not lasting as long as you want. What are some of the things that you kind of pull out of those that you guys have incorporated in your game today? And what are some of the things that you think are okay? If you were to do this again, you’d be like, “You know what? That’s going to blow them up in my face. But I’m glad that it did because it told us XYZ.” I’d love to hear about that. Because I do think that that’s one of the biggest, most stressful points of creating something new is figuring out the fit. Right?

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Logan Kelly:                  So I’d love to talk about that.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah. So I think that there is an iteration to it. I think you do have to have a strong hypothesis for what it is that you’re going to do to create value. In having that hypothesis, it needs to align with the message that you bring into the marketplace and with where your product is in terms of its readiness for commercialization.

Chris Battis:                  That’s a good point.

Dave Babst:                  We were really fortunate in the sense that we have a very seasoned CTO and there was a lot of work that had been put into developing a platform that predated me. So, I think when it comes to that element, I was fortuitous in this particular venture. But I think those things are really important. And then I think there needs to be an openness to explore what’s working and what doesn’t. One of the things that was extremely attractive for me in taking on the role at this company, albeit at a really early stage, at least for where I’ve taken roles in my past, is that it gave me the opportunity really to build from the ground up the functional units of sales, marketing, and customer success. And so I had the ability to, in a lot of ways, ensure that what we were doing was very connected in terms of what we learned from the customer, how that could make its way into our marketing message, and how that translated into what we talked about when we were selling the product. So…

Chris Battis:                  And even probably into the product too itself. Right?

Dave Babst:                  And then from there I think also in to how we can inform the product roadmap and where the platform [inaudible 00:12:18], right?

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Dave Babst:                  So those pieces in the early days I think are incredibly important. And I think it’s really critical to ensure that even if you don’t have a role that allows you to create those more direct linkages that you’re working in such a way that you’re able to bring those things together, not that you’re ever going to solve it in it’s perfect form, but you’re going to continually make it better.

Chris Battis:                  Right. And do you have a product team that you’re in communications with that’s receptive to this?

Dave Babst:                  Definitely. Definitely. And I think-

Chris Battis:                  Yeah, cool. That’s huge.

Dave Babst:                  … one of the learnings for me in taking the role with Othot is I’m working now more with engineers and developers than I ever have. And that’s a different skillset, different mindset, and-

Chris Battis:                  Yeah, of course.

Dave Babst:                  … different personality type. Right? And there’s some adjustments that anybody needs to make in order to effectively communicate with folks that think, act, and process information differently.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah. Yeah. You get to the point where you have to almost put yourself in the mindset of the engineering team to explain either a feature or bug, right?

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  You have to speak very specifically so that they understand what you’re saying.

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  But once you get that down, you could find yourself being effective, at least I’ve been able to once we speak each other’s language.

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Dave Babst:                  And I think the thing that’s probably worked as well for us with that is anything is it’s kind of like if you don’t want to hear from me, hop on the phone with the customer. They’ll tell you. Right?

Chris Battis:                  Yeah. Which would you prefer?

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Dave Babst:                  And I think oftentimes that can diffuse whatever misconceptions there may be or even whatever egos are might be involved. And who’s right or who’s wrong. At the end, it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or you’re wrong, it’s who’s on the other line.

Chris Battis:                  Customers saying this. Yeah. And here’s X number of support tickets that they’re asking for this. And there’s the volume of that. Yeah. That data always drives those conversations best. Numbers don’t lie. So being that your kind of growth, sales, customer success, I’ve been dying to ask. And I kind of proposed this to our own team months back because we’ve been thinking about scaling. And I introduced this idea that I’ve heard of a couple of companies doing and it’s this idea of the sales person lives with this customer through selling, onboarding, and retaining. And I’m curious what your thoughts are on that or if you’ve tried that or if you have any opinions on how that could be successful.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah, so I think in the early days that is a really interesting way to think about it. And in some ways it was one of the benefits I had in the sense that I had responsibilities that cut across sales and customer success.

Chris Battis:                  Right.

Dave Babst:                  And I think it is I think a way to train new folks to really understand what a customer goes through on the sales side. I think that does become more challenging as you start to think about scalability and really building out teams that are focused on growing and serving at different rates and levels than what the company may have been doing in prior years. I think as you continue to grow and scale and invest institutional dollars, part of what you need to contemplate is how to increase the level of specialization in every area that you have without losing maybe some of the magic of being able to move in an agile way and to bring the voice of the customer into every interaction that you have just because you’re involved in it all. Right?

Chris Battis:                  Right, right. But that’s what I love about it is … so I understand that you may be potentially sacrifice a skill set to have a well rounded kind of role. For example, some people are just in their comfort zone selling, right? But when it comes time to onboard a customer and the technical setup and stuff like that, it’s just fish out of water. Right? So I understand that. But you have to imagine that to be with the customer through that whole journey must be kind of the most value you could possibly bring to that customer so long as the software does what the company needs it to do. But I feel like it’d be super valuable and I like the trend. I’m just curious to hear if others are kind of adopting it.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah.

Chris Battis:                  Would you…

Dave Babst:                  I think it’s a wonderful concept and I think that … like I said, in the early days it wasn’t anything that was overwhelmingly challenging. I think as you grow and scale, there’s probably a hybrid that can utilize teams to sort of create that experience and really the empathy that is required to serve the customer through that journey-

Chris Battis:                  Totally.

Dave Babst:                  … while at the same time not losing really the focus and the expertise that you’re looking to build in a larger team.

Chris Battis:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. There’s nothing like being out with the customer in their first few weeks. And they’ll tell you something that, whether it was said or whether it’s what they perceived, but you’ll be like, “The sales rep told you what?”

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Chris Battis:                  You’re like, “That’s not even close to the realm of possible, but let’s come up with a solution here because here we are.” Yeah.

Logan Kelly:                  Well, I think that’s a training thing, right? And the sales culture thing so-

Chris Battis:                  Yeah. It’s a functional need thing too. Right? It sits-

Logan Kelly:                  Well, I mean, salespeople. You’re sitting in front of one. We don’t just say what we need to say to close the deal, I think on an average. But I think the question that I have for you, Dave, is when you start to get that specialization, right, I think it’s like easy to … like right now with the union, personally am kind of in between three different worlds, sales, operations, and the actual delivery. Now, if I was to clone myself for each of those three sort of areas, that obviously becomes difficult. What are some of the things that you’ve done or that you’re working on that are kind of working to sort of stitch that specialization together without losing that alignment?

Dave Babst:                  Right, right. So great question. And one that I think is not easily answerable-

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah, of course.

Dave Babst:                  …. because it is such a difficult question to address. But what I would say is that there are ways to do that while you are trying to scale. And some of the things that I’m involved with today that I hope are going to be helping to sort of achieve that involve a lot of the customer impact illustrations that we’re trying to bring to life in terms of how we actually talk about the engagements that we’re in and what the customer benefits from and we’re trying to use … we have this theme going on on our blog right now it’s called “The Game Changer Series” where we’re trying to focus on individual customers within the partner schools that we work with and what it was that they did in working with us to do something cool and to see a result. Right?

Dave Babst:                  And so, there’s bringing those stories to life in such a way that other people can tell them as if they were there. And I think that when done really well on the marketing side, that thing help to create that type of an experience in the way that the solution is positioned and in the way that the stories are told to illustrate the value. I think some other examples that I would offer up include how we can better utilize video to show how the platform works in a way that’s not just educational, but also create a kind of a level of excitement in what somebody can do and how they can do it, this notion of empowerment that we try to instill in what we’re offering to our prospective customer. Right?

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah, that’s-

Dave Babst:                  So those are sort of examples on the marketing side. And then one of the things that we’re doing right now with our positioning, with our message, is really sort of reevaluating what it is that we say about our solution, which is fairly complex in nature. How do we use simple language to talk about what we do in a way that that really gets at the essence of what it is? And so, I think those are examples that are probably more marketing related, but that sort of get at this notion of bringing the voice of the customer and what it’s like to be one of our customers into interactions that we have on the sales side.

Chris Battis:                  Cool.

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah. In sales, I would say the prospect will make a buying decision when value exceeds cost.

Dave Babst:                  Right.

Logan Kelly:                  So it’s interesting. I’m picking up on this where it’s like you have to continue to build value throughout the process or otherwise the cost becomes … it’s like, “What am I paying for this?” as opposed to, “What value am I deriving from this?” That’s interesting. So it’s not selling or anything like that, but it is the same sort of basic concept that the value has to stay in front of the prospect, which is fantastic.

Dave Babst:                  And then-

Logan Kelly:                  I like that.

Dave Babst:                  And then I’d say one of the other things that we’re trying to do certainly as our team grows … with every customer that we have, we do a post-mortem at the end of whatever cycle it is that we’re working on in the engagement. And so we try to at least invite folks across different functional teams to participate in those interactions. Because I think you get really sort of a microcosm of the engagement in the sense that you’re doing a recap of what happened, where we were helpful. Oftentimes you’re getting feedback, whether it be you guys were great or we had these challenges. And then you’re also getting reactions to product roadmap items and ideas on, hey, wouldn’t it be great if you could do this? So I mean that’s another sort of example more rooted on the customer success side of how you can kind of create at least that experience while you’re trying to scale and do it in a way that oftentimes requires more specialization from your teams.

Chris Battis:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Cool. Cool. So what evolutions or trends in your industry do you see as having the largest impact or potential impact on you? And how are you guys adapting?

Dave Babst:                  So there are a couple of things that I think are happening from a trend perspective. I think fundamentally there are some demographic patterns at play across our country that are going to fundamentally change the size and the mix of perspective college and university students within the next 10 years. And that is going to have dramatic implications and already is with colleges and universities across the country. I think that coupled with the potential for different forms of educating, i.e. online or through more experiential learning that are available today at a much lower cost are going to really challenge the way that major institutions do business. And along with that it’s going to require that those institutions need to, as with any institution or with any organization I should say, they need to really know their customer, which is the student, better than anybody else. I think at a macro level there’s this kind of element of a retail-like business model that is of making its way into other industries. And this isn’t a new trend, but it is certainly one that I think is becoming more of a reality in higher education moreso than [inaudible 00:26:55].

Chris Battis:                  Yes. Meaning like more transactional?

Dave Babst:                  No, meaning more like there’s an expectation from the customer that you are going to know me and that you’re going to anticipate my needs.

Chris Battis:                  Right, okay.

Dave Babst:                  And that I’m willing to maybe trade information about me that is private in order for you to know me better and to anticipate what I want. And so I think there’s that level of expectation that exists in younger people today moreso than it ever has. And so along with that, it’s requiring the market that we serve to adapt. And what’s accelerating that as much as anything is that there are going to be less students that look like the students that are at their institution today in the years to come. In some areas of the country, there are going to be clear winners and losers and there are going to be schools that go out of business.

Chris Battis:                  Really?

Dave Babst:                  And we’re seeing that, I think, in New England area in particular the last couple years.

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot of schools … one in Boston that I remember visiting, a nice school. It wasn’t one of these degree mill schools. Wild. Do you see a higher level of engagement with the students? This is purely for … has nothing to do with really the tactics of customer success. But do you see a higher engagement of the students as they are sort of requiring institutions to know more about them? Or is this kind of part of this millennial trend? I’m a millennial so I can say it. Where it’s like me, me, me, me, me, but then there’s nothing really in return for the institution. Right? So how’s that playing out?

Dave Babst:                  So the simple answer to your question is yes.

Logan Kelly:                  Okay.

Dave Babst:                  The more complicated answer is I think it’s a little bit of both in the sense that I think there is that sort of millennial mindset that you described pretty well that does exist. But I also think that it’s one of those things where like, “I’ll engage with you and I’ll engage more deeply with you if you really know me. And you actually look to engage with me on my terms. If you’re going to send me a view book that it looks like it was made for my parents and it’s not something that’s not a way that I consume information, I’m going to tune you out.” Right?

Logan Kelly:                  Interesting, yeah.

Dave Babst:                  So I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s kind of like you’re dealing with the mindset and really that mentality to begin with. And then if you’re going to hit them up in a way that they don’t appreciate, they’re going to tune you out. But on the flip side-

Logan Kelly:                  So it’s-

Dave Babst:                  …. if you do a good job with it, they’re going to share it and they’re going to share a lot more than you and I probably ever would have when we were that age.

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah. Yeah. So it really is actually relevant. It’s like if you spend a lot of money, you spend a lot of time and a lot of resources trying to understand your prospect and you get it wrong and you message to it wrong, then you lose. But if you get it right, like as you’re saying, it really gains traction. So that’s interesting. That’s really, really interesting that I didn’t realize that was happening. My little sister’s in college right now, so I’m going to talk to her about kind of how she’s interacting with her with her university. That’s fascinating stuff.

Dave Babst:                  Yeah, and probably topic for another day and not necessarily related to the topic at play with this podcast. But I do think there’s a dimension to that that exists in the workplace today when it comes to millennials and Gen Ys. Probably moreso Gen Y’s now really interacting with Gen Xers in the workforce. And there’s a way … I mean I don’t profess to have it all figured out, but I will say I’ve been working with that generation for the past 10 years of my career pretty extensively. And how you manage, coach, interact with, and get the most out of folks from that generation is really different. The flip side is if you do it well, it’s amazing. The productivity and the creativity that it can come out of folks that I’ve worked with from that generation is really amazing. So topic for another day I imagine. But it does translate.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Logan Kelly:                  That’s awesome.

Chris Battis:                  We could spend some time on that one.

Logan Kelly:                  Yeah, we could.

Chris Battis:                  Yeah.

Logan Kelly:                  Cool.

Chris Battis:                  Cool. Well, Logan, let’s wrap it up. This wraps up this episode of Intent Topics. I’m Chris Battis.

Logan Kelly:                  And I am Logan Kelly. Thank you so much for tuning in and thanks Dave for stopping by. Please give us a five star rating on whatever podcast app you listen on and we will see you next time.

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