Alfred Diez of Certify,Inc on the importance of breaking down silos and how building trust with your employees is essential to their development and motivation
Alfred Diez is the VP of Customer Success at Certify Inc, a leading cloud-based travel and expense management solution for companies of all sizes. Alfred began his career as a software developer and Project Management Leader with an innate passion for helping others grow. He has held leadership roles at B Sharp Technologies and Nexonia Inc, and has a knack for optimizing processes and building scalable frameworks. He is known for implementing innovative and cost-effective strategies in customer success and specializes in organizational health, leadership and culture building, SaaS, M&A integrations and employee engagement.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
I started off my career as a software developer and actually really enjoyed that kind of technical work. Over time however, I developed an interest and passion for wanting to develop other people’s careers and that’s what ultimately took me down a different path. I started to realize this once I began transitioning towards more project management work where to be successful you very often need to motivate others. I also really loved taking a look back at a successfully completed project and feeding off the energy of the team after doing a job well done. Over time, I was fortunate enough to grow into a number of other leadership roles, and eventually ended up leading the customer success function at B Sharp Technologies. That was an amazing experience. I made a lot of mistakes along the way but that’s the way we often learn the best. After 15 years at B Sharp however, I was looking for another challenge and was drawn to the emerging SaaS customer success landscape, which is what ultimately led me to Nexonia and now to Certify.
How did you make the jump from being in a very technical role to being a people leader?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you start your career off in a super technical role as long as you have a genuine passion and interest in working with people. If you don’t have that in you, that’s when making the jump is hard. I loved working with clients but I also loved the technical side of things. It allowed me to become that bridge between the technical and non-technical world. If you have a knack or interest in wanting to understand people, it’s always possible to make that jump.
The Customer Success (CS) role has become increasingly more important over the past few years. Why do you think that is and what does an amazing Customer Success professional look like?
More and more, we are seeing business models move towards a subscription based approach. This phenomena is now surpassing just the SaaS world and is extending into areas like banking and automotive services, etc. With that kind of model however, there needs to be a function that specifically manages customer retention; it’s not enough to just keep selling and bringing on new customers if you are losing existing customers. I believe that every industry, not just the tech world, is now thinking about these things from that perspective. You need to devote time and effort towards maintaining your customer base because without customers, you don’t have a business.
What makes an amazing customer success (CS) professional is someone who really understands a customer but more importantly, it’s someone who gets the unique journey that each customer goes through in using your business’ services and products. It’s about connecting a tangible end goal for a customer to the experience that they are expecting. Additionally, great CS people know that when something isn’t going well, it’s imperative not to work in silos. Product and Sales are often critical partners to engage when things go off the rails and if sales for example has been selling services to the wrong customers, we need to be able to holistically learn from our mistakes.
So how do you break down those silos?
CS is often thought of as just an extension of Customer Support but it’s much more than that. Businesses need to know what the CS function is all about, and CS professionals often need to build strong relationships proactively. For example, CS should be working closely with the sales team in order to understand the true lifetime value of a customer for the business. You don’t want to bring on a lot of new customers so that you hit your short-term revenue goals if those customers are just going to cancel a year later. It’s often CS’s role to help socialize that kind of thinking around departments. CS is about getting the business to think about the customer long term.
What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?
The first thing for me has been that change is actually a good thing. In order to challenge yourself and grow as a person, you need to always be inviting change into your life. If you don’t, you can quickly become stagnate in your career.
The second thing would be around how to motivate people. Managers often think that the best way to motivate someone is through material gains and that is not always the case. Money is very important but it can get in the way of having a real honest conversation about an employee’s career and development. You need to make sure that your people are being compensated fairly so that money isn’t even a topic on the table. To truly motivate someone, you can’t take a cookie cutter approach. Get to know the people that you work with and make the effort in understanding what personally motivates them.
What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?
Leadership is not rocket science, but it is definitely a lot of work. It all starts with building trust. That is what I have always strived for; if you truly listen to people, take the time to consider their opinions and provide opportunity for learning and development, that’s what it ultimately comes down to. Even small moments can be development opportunities. I’ve had times where I’ve taken a step back from a situation to ask my employees how they would like to handle specific situations and this ultimately helps them learn how to solve problems for themselves. Overall, it’s so important to maintain a pulse on people because you can’t build a successful business without it. You might be able to get by for a while, but eventually things will catch up to you.
For the next generation, I think it’s very important to focus more on the qualitative sides of leadership. People often shy away from those kinds of things because it’s hard to translate into numbers; it’s about more than just KPIs and data. Those things are important to be successful but they aren’t everything.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
You always want to ensure that you have a good sense of who you are and where your strengths are. If you know that, you can navigate your way into roles and experiences that will allow you to make yourself indispensable to an organization. Fulfillment is often a result of knowing yourself well. Take ownership of understanding what motivates you because you are ultimately the driver of your own career. I’ve come across a lot of people over the years who don’t find their careers fulfilling and it’s often because they don’t have that baseline self-awareness.
That being said, you need to also challenge yourself constantly because without that, you become rigid and stuck. Your strengths are good grounders but to keep your career interesting and evolving, it’s often about working through those challenges.