Support Star Interview: Ansa Sekharan of Informatica

Ansa Sekharan

This  month, I welcome Ansa Sekharan of Informatica to the Support Star series (you can find other interviews here,  here, here, and here).

Ansa has worked at Informatica for years, enough to have been promoted more times than I can recall. He started his career as a support engineer at Sybase and he now serves as the Chief Customer Officer. His organization includes Support, Customer Success, Renewals, and Education, over 500 people in all. I noted with interest that he has held an organization-wide offsite kickoff for his team every year for the past 10 years. Unusual, right?

Informatica has been going through an interesting pivot, from traditional on-premise enterprise software to a subscription business. It’s gone private during the transition, and instead of pushing budget cuts, the sponsors decided to grow the company — while still keeping the high profit margins that Informatica has enjoyed historically. It makes for a challenging pivot, especially as the growth target is high.

FT: What changes did you make/are you making to accommodate the transition from on-premise to subscriptions?

Ansa Sekharan: We had to completely rethink the traditional model of having separate functions do their own things in silos. We had to redesign our pricing and packaging so customers can move freely from on premise to subscription, and we had to form new teams to ensure customer adoption. Now, in sales, we have a concept of a selling unit, which brings together the sales rep, the presales specialist, and consulting. We mimicked the same model in customer success and support, and put in place an adoption success unit, comprised of

  • the Customer Success Manager
  • a Customer Support Engineer
  • an Adoption Services Specialist (consulting)
  • and Advanced customer engineering (R&D)

The CSM owns the customer communication and is the conductor of the other functions. All teams are responsible for successful adoption by the customer. The goal is to realize value for the customer within the first year and our first discussion with the customer is to understand their use cases.

We assign CSMs to the top 40% of our customers (representing 80% of our revenue). But CSMs can only orchestrate: they conduct, but we still need people to play the instruments for harmony. With this in mind, we also formed an Adoption Control Center that focuses on the top (larger) 20-30 accounts each quarter, with the goal of doing whatever it takes to make them successful.

FT: Apart from the pivot to the subscription business, what other innovative practices would you like to share with us?

AS: We pride ourselves in the use of technology and innovation to scale our operations. We have a growing team that is responsible for support automation & data science initiatives. One such initiative we are very proud of is that we are can proactively escalate cases on behalf of customers with a high degree of accuracy, based on how many iterations there were on a case, the language used by the customer, the number of cases open at once, etc. This alerts us of any potential issue that could impact business and has been a great value add for our customers and internal stakeholders. We intend to expand the program to predict potential customer churn.

FT: Is there something you learned or saw done earlier in your career that you now completely reject? What was it and what made you change your mind?

AS: I used to have a very transaction-based view of support, with the goal being to close more cases, faster. But now I see adoption as the main goal.

FT: Without stressing you out, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

AS: For me personally, the opportunity to lead a team like ours is invigorating and a learning experience every single day. This excitement and opportunity to be the pacesetter for support and success keeps me going. I don’t have time to worry!

FT: When you look at the support field today, what do you wish more organizations would do or try?

AS: Too many vendors think that there is a silver bullet. There is not. Support is all about execution discipline more than strategy. And it takes time to execute a strategy, maybe two or three years. Good ideas are not enough. They need to be adapted to the unique requirements of customers and products.

FT: Thank you very much, Ansa!

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