Every company out there today claims to be customer obsessed. Just scroll through a random selection of companies and you will see values, pillars, beliefs, cultures all claiming to be customer obsessed, customer first, customers-for-life or with customers-at-the-heart-of-everything-we-do. They focus on great products, great solutions, great service with great people. Is this enough? I am not sure it is but what else really ensures this customer obsession runs through the veins of its employees and the very nature of the company?
Through The Eyes Of Your Customer
The starting point for any company wanting to drive a culture of customer obsession has to be to see what your customers see. Mapping the customer journey is very powerful but 90% of companies make the same mistake – they map this with a group of senior executives in a room with zero representation from their customer-base. The other common mistake is thinking the customer journey starts from contract signing or a go-live date, when in reality the journey starts when your customer interacts with your brand the first time. This maybe through viewing your website, it maybe through marketing activities, it maybe through an event or maybe it is through a dinner party when you talk to someone from that company. Either way, map the journey from the true start point and with your customers engaged in the process.
Everyone Has A Stake In It
Customer experience cannot afford to just be a role or even a department, it has to be much bigger than that with the breaking down of silos and a fully aligned cross functional approach delivering a consistent, high-quality customer journey. Siloed departments result in conflict and lack clarity in accountability and there is only one person who truly suffers – the customer.
Ensuring that everyone has a stake in driving a customer obsessed approach requires all departments coming together to firstly understand the customer journey (see above point) and then map their relevant interaction with each touchpoint. Representation from product to sales, engineering to support, consulting to customer success, and everyone in between. And then measure the impact on that touchpoint……
Improvements & Measurements
As the saying goes, you can only improve what you measure and this is particularly true in the world of customer experience. And a token gesture NPS survey every twelve months just does not suffice. The customer journey involves different people from your customer, different people and departments from your company all coming together with a different goal at that journey touchpoint. So why are you not measuring each touchpoint with a relevant question and aligning that score to the relevant department? This ensures the department has a true stake in it. So measure the pre-sales experience and align that to your sales team. Measure the on-boarding experience and align that to your on-boarding and implementation teams. Measure the implementation experience and align that to your consulting organisation. In my honest opinion everyone should have part of their bonus aligned to some thing that impacts the customer experience and only then will you see a true change in a company wide approach to customer obsession.
Right People, Right Seat
Hiring and developing people with the right approach, the right mindset and the right intentions maximises your chances of delivering a customer obsessive culture but this takes time. You inherit people, you can make poor hiring choices and over a period of time employees will check out if the role and company doesn’t match their own expectations and needs. So hiring the right people is important, but getting and keeping them engaged is where the challenges really start. Creating that right environment to feel empowered and accountable, and where decisions are taken with the customer at the forefront of that decision not only keeps them engaged but drives a true customer obsessed culture.
The next determining factor is how you measure your individual employees and your departments. This is key – choosing the wrong KPIs will be counter productive to your goal. KPIs and the relevant rewards of achieving those will drive behaviour so choose wisely.
Recognise & Reward
Recognising and rewarding your employees doesn’t start and stop with the KPIs and bonuses that reward the achievement of them. As you embark on that journey of true customer obsession take the opportunity to reward your employees in small and large ways. It maybe something very simple and easy such as an email and small Amazon voucher, or it maybe something larger and a more structured reward for a specific execution of a goal. Sales have SPIFs, and so should every other department driving those short-term goals.
Learn From Your Mistakes (Churn)!
Eighteen months ago before I joined SAP I was speaking to a number of companies about customer success leadership roles and as a CS leader the one thing you want to know before taking the role is, what problem are you being brought in to fix. Now, 90% of the responses were around churn but churn is the outcome of a bigger problem. So when I asked what was the cause of their churn it is hugely surprising to see CEOs, CCOs & CROs all shrugging their shoulders and offering a sheepish “don’t know” as their response.
For every customer that doesn’t renew you should have a process that in place that reviews the reasons behind that. Detailed analysis of the product usage, analysis and reviews of your C-Sat scores and comments (plus your action management), reviewing your adherence to the governance model (did you deliver your QBRs, etc.), a customer exit interview if they are willing to provide that feedback and then an internal account review that needs to be transparent and honest. The hard work starts now though – a clear plan to address the failings (and there will be failings) needs to be created and owned, then executed.
Our customers expectations are higher than ever before, the consumer experiences of interacting with the likes Amazon have seen to that. Our customers are more empowered and more free to make decisions than ever before, which not creates challenges for all companies but offers great opportunities to truly differentiate yourself from your competitors.
That differentiator should be your people so enable and empower them and as Richard Branson says, “Look after your people, and they will look after your customers”.
Nothing screams credibility like proven customer success. Decision-makers can spend hours listening and interacting with knowledgeable experts who clearly articulate inspirational examples of real-life examples and use cases expanded over time to build up their customers’ capabilities. And just the notion that a vendor, supplier, or software provider can retain customer favor through a steady string of successes may become a good reason to sign on the dotted line.
This approach may be a useful sales tool, but it is also a gross mischaracterization of the fundamental philosophy underlying customer success management. It’s not a way to grow a reference list, protect revenue, nor amass marketing fodder to be shared with businesses all over the world. In fact, its true value has nothing to do with furthering the marketing and sales agenda.
So, what is customer success management? It’s a function of accountability for delivering success that is financially sound, scalable, outcomes-focused, and growth-driven throughout the life of the customer.
Tipping the subscription economy towards the outcome economyA while back ago, the introduction of software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings is said to have ignited an economy driven by subscriptions. Goodbye one-time, large purchases. Hello affordable, incremental, monthly payments. But if we know anything about our highly digitally enabled world, it’s the reality that nothing stays the same for very long anymore.
As digital technology is increasingly supported by the cloud, the promise of SaaS is opening up an entirely new economy. Known as the outcome economy, the physical world is moving online, creating a landscape where the value of everything is quantified and accessible. One prime example is Slack’s business model, which closely ties pricing and refunds to the volume of transactions and achievement of desired business outcomes.
How is economic shift related to customer success management? If you think about, customer success management is all about delivering measurable outcomes consistently throughout the life of the customer.
Finding the higher purpose of every interaction with customer success managementThe application of customer success management has evolved over the last decade, primarily fueled by growing SaaS adoption. For businesses moving from an on-premises model to one that is cloud-based, the constant cycle of monthly, bi-monthly, or even quarterly updates can be just as overwhelming as it is exciting.
From my experience, many businesses are rightfully concerned whether certain upgrades and add-ons to their SaaS landscape will deliver significant outcomes that further the boardroom’s agenda, asking:
Since the initiative was tactical and operational in nature, our customer relied on the help of a customer success manager to explore the “why” behind deploying a mobile HR solution. After engaging our customer in a series of discussions, surveys, and workshops, the customer service manager uncovered viable reasons that support the implementation from a different perspective.
Key findings included:
Bringing discipline and proactive action to digital innovationGiven the scale and the pace of technology innovation, customer success management cannot be used as a channel for selling technology, managing accounts, and creating marketing content. Instead, it should become a discipline of accountability and proactive action to allow businesses to refresh their cloud landscape in a way that best meets their need and on their terms.
Customer success managers can become a business’ best partner when it comes to intelligently assessing, for example, specific work behaviors, collaboration preferences, data usage, and digital maturity. This information empowers businesses to proactively advocate for the capabilities, tools, and interfaces that can elevate the ability to gain the most value possible from a cloud investment.
Originally posted as part of three part series for SAP’s Digitalist Magazine:https://www.digitalistmag.com/tag/true-value-of-customer-success-management-series
I have been here before.
Sitting around the garden dining table, surrounded by my wonderful family consisting of my children, both sets of parents, both sets of grandparents and more. A few drinks may have been consumed (Pimms for me, it is a glorious English summer day after all!) and that question is asked again. The one that I have been asked several times before. After the initial questions around how my new job is going, it is quickly followed by the one. “So, tell me Matt, what actually is Customer Success?”.
Rather than the standard responses I have tried in the past (it’s like customer service but proactive not reactive….it’s like sales but rather than making promises, I keep them….etc.), I thought I would try and get this answered once and for all. There I set about trying to talk to them about the ever-expanding global subscription economy, whilst making it as local and as relevant for them as I can.
After all, they all pay for their broadband as a service. Some of them have Spotify. Some have Netflix or Amazon Prime. My wife has Birchbox (it’s a monthly make-up subscription service before you ask). I have my shirts washed and ironed (well, I did until Laundrapp stopped servicing my area) as a fortnightly service. The subscription economy is booming and not just in the B2B space where I have spent the last ten years of my career, but in the B2C space too as you can see with the wide range of subscription services available.
However, “something” as a Service is not a new phenomenon and growing up I remember clearly The Readers Digest (anyone under 40 or outside the UK please Google it!) magazine being dropped off monthly to my nan and my daily pint of milk on the doorstep arriving before I set off to school.
Irrelevant of whether we are talking about the B2C market or the B2B market they share one key challenge – barriers to adoption.
Those barriers are not specific to the consumer or to the business market:
And as I tell my family, now sitting and watching me with baited breath (I may be building this up too much now!) – this is what customer success is – the removal of barriers to adoption of a subscription-based service with the goal of delivering on your desired outcomes.
The range of subscription services available to the consumer continues to grow with most things you can purchase now being offered in a convenient, cost-effective, alternative to the up-front, permanent purchase offered today. Car manufacturers are very aware of the need to provide alternative methods to the traditional car ownership model with the likes of Porsche, BMW and Jaguar launching subscription models. The millennials of the world are not demanding cars and the ability to finance one, but rather the need to be mobile, in a cost-effective, convenient way. A Netflix style offering will be available and consumed by one in ten of us in the next decade say industry experts.
As the B2B subscription industry also grows with increased momentum, businesses are slowly understanding the need and criticality of long term, sustainable relationships between themselves and their customers. Businesses today cannot risk not understanding their customers and how they use your products. Therefore the role of the Customer Success Manager not just exists but is now business critical for all subscription services (and arguably non-subscription services too).
Just checking LinkedIn tonight sees a wealth of advertisements for Customer Success Managers all focusing on the need to understand customers better whilst driving the adoption of subscription-based services.
I have just finished reading “Subscribed”, the book written by the CEO of Zuora (a SaaS finance platform), Tien Tzuo. He clearly believes the subscription industry is here to stay boldly claiming the product economy will fully be overtaken by the subscription economy in the next 50 years.
I look forward to seeing his prediction come true.
Appendix – After a recent debate with a member of my Customer Success network we came to the conclusion that maybe the subscription economy in this current format is not here to stay, well; at least not for 50 years. Maybe we are now transitioning to the “outcome economy” where we are not paying for a subscription to “something”, but rather based on the outcome of that subscription. I feel another blog post coming on……
Article originally published internally at SAP
Social Selling is a way of positioning yourself as a credible individual, a way of promoting the purpose of your company and a way of promoting the value proposition of your solution and/or service. So, is “Social Selling” just for sales? Maybe. But if that is the case, surely “Social CS” is a thing and a thing for all Customer Success professionals to understand, value and practice.
I understand (actually, I am unsure I do) the apprehension of creating a digital presence in the role of a senior executive but what are the risks of creating your digital presence as a Customer Success Manager? Or is the real question, what is the risk of not creating a digital presence? Let me explain further.
You are a Customer Success Manager at 321 Software Company, a leading HR platform and have just been named as the new CSM for XYZ Diagnostics. You have just been introduced to them – their Chief Technical Officer, their Chief Human Resources Officer, a number of IT and HR professionals, and many more. They will check you out on LinkedIn, and they will do it immediately. What does your LinkedIn profile say about you? How does it make them feel as they read and learn more about you? Do they feel confident, maybe even excited to have you as their CSM – have you demonstrated the skills and competencies they are looking for, do you exude ability and credibility, or do they see you as just another face of 321 Software Company? Worse than what they may find, is what they maybe don’t find. You do not have LinkedIn profile or you have a profile but it is scarcely complete. So, what is that telling them about you?
Your LinkedIn profile is your brand – maybe not all of it, but in today’s business world then a major part of it.
Above I give an example of why you need to ensure your own profile is up to date and relevant, but you shouldn’t forget there is also information out there for you too, making your life easier as a CSM.
You should be using LinkedIn (and other social media platforms) to understand your customers, your stakeholders and your competitors.
So, what is your view on the use of social media within Customer Success? I look forward to hearing your views.
At the time I am clearly not seeing this as a “blessing in disguise”, and like most people experiencing redundancy I went through the typical 5 stages of grief. However, I surprised myself how quickly I came to terms with it and immediately started to build a very specific plan for my days, and the coming weeks and months. There were things I had been putting off doing for months that I now had time to do, both in terms of professionally and personally. I was able to spend more time with my young family. I was able to exercise with more frequency and structure. Yes, I wouldn’t have chosen this scenario, but it was an opportunity and one that I was keen to make the most of.
So, what did I do? What did I learn? What advice would I pass on to anyone else experiencing this?
Networking – Networking and doing it well is critical in your search for a new role. A month or so before being made redundant I sat at a Gainsight networking event in London hosted by Dan Steinman and sat at a table with some great Customer Success leaders. On that table were two people that latterly became significant in my search for a new role. One, was a recently promoted Global VP of Customer Success who was looking for an EMEA VP reporting into him and although I went deep into the interview process I lost out at the final stage. Two, was a gentleman called Adrian Beck who was responsible at the time for building the Customer Success function and team at Tanium. Adrian, has since become a trusted member of my Customer Success network and not just because he introduced me to SAP that resulted in my new role that started in January 2018. The moral of this story, is to continuously take the opportunity to extend your network and learn from your peers. This was not the only event I attended after my redundancy with a number of regional Customer Success networking events plus Gainsight’s Pulse Europe where I took the opportunity to speak and host events. Clearly, without that initial chance meeting with Adrian I would not have found my new role.
Social Media – LinkedIn has always been one of my preferred social media platforms and in the search for a new role it becomes invaluable. Yes, it provides job search functionality, but it should be seen as so much more. It gives you a platform to communicate to the world that you are actively looking for a new role, it gives you a platform to discuss and debate with peers, it gives you a platform to write posts like this one sharing your knowledge and opinions. Use your time out of work to build your social media presence, connect with ex-colleagues or industry peers, interact with industry thought-leaders and to have a voice.
In terms of other social media platforms, I made the choice several years ago to have a separate “professional” twitter account and I also use this to interact with colleagues, peers, customers, thought-leaders and more.
Website/Blog – If you utilise LinkedIn for sharing your knowledge and opinions then the next step may be to create your own website or blog. Over the time of being out of work I decided it was the time to transition my blog from the WordPress platform to a full website courtesy of Weebly. With a long-term career objective to look at providing a customer success consulting offering I felt this was a great opportunity to start “sowing the seeds” for this. Hence the website was created with content provided in both written and audio formats. I transitioned my blog posts over and launched my #CustomerSuccessMatters LIVE! podcasts (which is now up to five episodes strong, with a total of ten guests).
Training – Training does not have to be something that costs several hundred pounds, there is plenty of training available if you know where to look that is free of charge. I would suggest start by looking at what LinkedIn has available. During my time out of work I learnt about topics ranging from SaaS finance to storytelling, to customer experience to leadership. There is a wide range of content available and with a little bit of thought and research you can build an extensive training program for yourself.
So while I did “a lot”, I also knew that this was a chance to bring some perspective to my life and regain some balance that arguably had been lost over recent years as I placed work before most other things in my life.
While the above was all done with the aim of making me more attractive to future employers, there was a number of other things I took on and did that was done with the wider aim of bringing calm, reason and balance to my life, including:
As I have alluded to, I am now back in work with a great role at a great company and I can look back at this setback in my career positively and a time that I learnt a lot, both professionally and personally. I hope that this helps any of you that find yourself in this position either now or in the future.
Gainsight’s Pulse Europe 2017 is over after its 3rd and most recent visit to London resulted in near on 1200 Customer Success, SaaS and Venture Capital professionals hearing from a large number of speakers. While nearly 40 countries being represented is impressive, what really hit me from the heatmap presented by Gainsight was how many attendees made the trip from North America even with their very own Pulse in their backyard. This to me really shows that the European based speakers that made up the majority of all speakers have great insight, knowledge and experience that has a demand to be shared from a global perspective.
Customer Success has momentum in Europe and this was reflective of the three days spent at the QEII Centre in the shadows of Big Ben and Parliament. As being an ever-present of all three Pulse Europe events I am well-placed to call out the changes I have seen. While I have spoken about the number of attendees over those three days, it should be pointed out that Pulse Europe has seen near on 100% YoY attendance growth over those three years. The quality and calibre of the speakers continues to improve, the number of senior executives in attendance increases, a wide range of companies were represented from a number of start-ups to the likes of “giants” like Microsoft who sent well over fifty people. All of this alongside recently “adopted” Londoners Dan Steinman and Lauren Olerich building Gainsight’s EMEA presence are all indicative of that growing momentum.
While the large number of talks I attended on the whole were awesome, the value for me still largely comes from the networking opportunities that arise by being under the same roof as some of the most influential EMEA-based Customer Success leaders around including Rav Dhaliwal, Cyrille Saulnier, Adam Joseph, Steven Lewandowski, Adrian Beck, Kelly Long and more.
In terms of talks, my two favourites were Wednesday’s talk from Slack’s global Customer Success leadership team of Rav Dhaliwal and Christina Kosmowski only just beaten by Sage’s Chris Rauch, a newcomer for me in terms of CS leaders but one I am sure to follow more closely now.
Finally, a huge thanks to the team at Gainsight who have done so much to build this community of Customer Success professionals, or in the words of Nick Mehta this “movement”. So, Dan Steinman, Lauren Olerich and Kevin Shirley specifically thank you for all of your support and efforts. You have raised the bar once again!
Let’s get this straight from the start, I am no expert and I do not have a library of all the best interview questions. However firstly, I do have considerable experience interviewing candidates and building high-performing Customer Success and Account Management teams over the last ten years. Secondly, after being interviewed several times over the last 2 months I am shocked at some of the poorly prepared interviewers there are, and how many poor questions are being used.
Hiring is one of the biggest use of time and money at a company. Finding the right person is big business – aligning to both the skills required to do the job, and a culture-fit to the company. Poor performers in your company and team can be disastrous, and as a leader can suck time and energy not just from you, but also from your wider team. The managing of poor performers can have wide-spanning impact on your team hitting morale hard.
To keep your interview process impactful and streamlined means you only have a short period of time to spend with candidates, so asking the right questions is of paramount importance. This article makes the (fair) assumption you know the profile of your Customer Success Manager and the weighting of relationship management skills, technical skills, industry knowledge, etc. so select questions based on the relevant make-up of your CSM profile.
Below are some of the questions I use, have been used on me or have heard being used by some of my leadership thought-leaders I follow. I have tried to provide some context on why I think these are good questions to ask when interviewing for a Customer Success Manager.
Ownership is a fundamental skill associated with being all profiles or “flavours” of being a CSM, and to ascertain this skill I look to ask:
Tell me a time when you experienced not getting the desired result or response from an internal stakeholder while representing your customer’s best interests. How did you react, how did you respond and what did you do next would all be suitable follow-up questions.
At this stage you are assessing their level of maturity, their professionalism, their resolution solving, negotiation skills and how they own the situation to a suitable conclusion.
Curiosity is a skill I really like seeing in my CSMs, the art of wanting to know more with strong questioning techniques and I would suggest a question to test this would be:
Tell me the last time you really became obsessed by something.
I like to see their intent to learn and how they take responsibility for their own learning. How obsessed did they become? What research did they do? What was the end result of this obsession?
Delivering Value is what defines a Customer Success Manager and anyone that knows or follows me will understand that value must be two things: tangible and acknowledged. So, in this question I am looking explicitly for evidence of that. A couple of questions I like to use are:
Tell me about a time where you had measurable impact on a customer.
Tell me about a fellow Customer Success professional you admire and the reasons behind that.
Both of these questions you are looking to see how they translate activities into value, and why that value is relevant and important.
Customer Success Passion – I have a huge passion for the role, the industry, the community and the value that a good CSM brings to not only their customers but their employer too. I always like to challenge this “passion” for Customer Success by asking a series of questions, including:
What are the current trends in the Customer Success space?
What books, blogs or podcasts do you follow?
At a family party, how do you explain your role when asked what you do?
As I have said before, sometimes when you are hiring for a Customer Success Manager it just comes down to a “gut feel”, but that feel usually comes from a passion for doing the right thing for, and by your customer so the answer to these questions give an overwhelming instance of that passion.
Culture Fit – As I become more specific with where I choose to work I have also become more particular on the culture fit of candidates I choose to hire so questions that ascertain that fit are critical. I like this question that I have picked up from an ex-leader I worked with:
Tell me about the last time you encountered a rule or process at a company you worked at that you thought made no sense. What was that rule or process? What did you do, and what was the result? What did you learn from this?
This question allows you to evaluate many different components; is this a candidate that ignores it or addresses it, how does that candidate address it, what was their thought process, what was the impact and the result. There may not be a right or wrong answer to this, just one that doesn’t align to your company culture.
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and have them stay” – Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company
“Successful people invest in their education, development and their personal motivation – knowing that these are the tools to success” – Grant Cardone, Entrepreneur/Trainer/Speaker
“Only the people who take learning, growth and skills development will be tomorrows leaders” – Alli Worthington, Business Coach
There is a lot written around the desired profile of a Customer Success Manager when hiring but whatever that looks like that static profile will not be enough for your business moving forward. Neither should it be enough for you as that Customer Success Manager if you wish to continually progress your career.
In a recent survey it was reported that 85% of workers indicated that employer-provided training increased their own workplace loyalty significantly. That same survey showed that workers who trained just one hour per week saved nearly two hours per week through productivity gains. Clearly there is significant RoI on training, yet when you look at statistics and depending on what survey data you look at, between 50% and 33% of workers interviewed did not receive employer-provided training in the previous 12-month period. So, if the return is clear, why do employees not get that training and who is to blame, if anyone?
I was told a few years ago by a mentor of mine that there are only two people that genuinely care about your career; one is your mother and the second one is you. So, if that is the case, the responsibility of your development and learning falls firmly on your shoulders. But is it that simple? Frequently, it’s a matter of time and how companies make time for their employees that prevent this from happening. Therefore, your employer has a responsibility to enable you to pursue your continuous development and learning. How can they go about doing this?
The make-time-for-training debate is one that hits both the employee and employer. As a Customer Success Manager, with an already packed agenda and workload, with customers and internal stakeholders all wanting a piece of you and your time it is easy for training to slip down the list of priorities to the point of extinction. As an employer, with a number of projects that arguably can be seen as a greater priority it is easy to understand how this doesn’t make it onto the roadmap.
So, what can you do to ensure that training is higher up the list of priorities, both as that employer and as that employee?
Training and development must be seen as part of your company culture
A commitment to providing training and the time to complete that training sends a very strong message to the workforce that the company is fully committed to the continued development and success of their employees, together with their general well-being.
That is easier said than done though. So, what can you do as the CEO of that company? It can start with a very clear vison and commitment written into the company’s value or mission statement. Ensure this is lived and breathed from the top down; demonstrate these behaviours across the leadership functions and ask your managers to own this into each of their own teams.
As an employee, as a Customer Success Manager you have your own commitment you need to make around how you will continue your pursuit of development. While training is and will always be a significant part of your development plans do not limit it to just that. Open your mind and activities to more; social media activity, blog writing, job-swapping, networking, event attendance, webinar viewing and more, are all hugely impactful in your development.
Reward & recognition
As alluded to previously, as a Customer Success Manager the demands on time is continuous with customers alone, never mind all that comes with that internally. As a leader, either of an entire company, a department or a Customer Success Team it is important you recognise the commitment and sacrifices made. That recognition can come in many formats whether it is a companywide communication through newsletters, town halls or email or something much more personal through a 1-2-1 coffee. However you do this it is important you recognise the dedication to their ongoing development and progression.
Dedicated training & development time
This is arguably the hardest element to implement and even more challenging to maintain on an ongoing basis. As a leader ensure a dedicated time per week for development or training is created for your team; block book this time, insist that phones and emails are switched off, create a suitable environment for learning. Show your commitment to your team and their career, ensure you are continually reiterating to them the importance of their personal development.
More often than not, these positive intentions are made with the greatest will in the world but very rarely kept to. Something comes up, there is an urgent customer situation, someone can only see or speak to you at that exact time scheduled for your development. This is where you as a Customer Success Manager must take control of your own development, holding yourself accountable. Ask yourself honestly, will giving up that 30 minutes dedicated to your career have such an impact on that situation? Very rarely will it but it does potentially impact your levels of concentration during that time. If that is the case, then you need to make that decision yourself – what is best for you and your commitment to your development. Look at your diary, look at where you can make sacrifices, are there meetings that have little to no value than can be removed, or are there meetings that with greater focus can be reduced from an hour to 30 minutes.
Remember, only two people care about your career – your mother and you, so give yourself what you deserve.
For my own development I commit to a number of actions:
How do you ensure your continued development and career progression? What activities or actions do you commit to? What do you do for your team members to ensure their development?
It would be great to hear what is working and not working for others.
There are a lot of articles that have been written with many experts believing that a Customer Success hire should be a single-digit hire for start-ups, i.e. employee number one to nine, but here in the UK I don’t believe we are at that stage yet, or at least not consistently. What we are seeing though is the growing appreciation for a Customer Success team but not yet as a priority over a sales or marketing function in start-ups. Why? I guess there is still a belief it is more important to win new business rather than keeping (and growing) what you already have. More worryingly though, as I speak to owners, founders, and CEOs is that they don’t always know why they are creating a Customer Success team, almost like they are just following the most recent industry trend. Keeping up with Joneses if you will (unsure if this translates! See: here for explanation). I will get back to this point later but let’s first look at when you should hire a Customer Success leader.
Before I start though….
Disclaimer: I am an experienced Customer Success leader looking for my next opportunity.
In my experience, if you are a SaaS start-up or scale-up and have made the decision you want (and more importantly need) a Customer Success team you will eventually come to the conclusion where you will need to hire your first Customer Success leader. This can happen one of three ways: firstly, you may choose to hire an experienced Customer Success leader as your first customer success hire and ask that person to spend some time “getting their hands dirty” until ready to expand the team. Secondly, you choose to hire a Customer Success Manager with the aim of that person growing into a leadership role in time as your business and the CSM team grows, investing time and effort into their development. Third and finally, you hire a number of Customer Success Managers before you decide to hire an experienced Customer Success leader to lead that team – and usually this number is between 3-6 CSMs but can also vary hugely – with the CSM team in the meantime reporting elsewhere, sales or operations usually.
I am sure each of these three options have their merits but for me I will take the words of American author, speaker, leadership expert and pastor John C Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way” and to that point I would always suggest your first customer success hire is one who “knows the way”, and for me that is a Customer Success professional with at least two years’ experience in a Customer Success role and ideally one with some form of Customer Success leadership experience. However, before you start your hiring process, ask yourself what you want that Customer Success leader to be responsible for. As I am sure you are now understanding, there are many different types and interpretations of what a Customer Success Manager is and what they are accountable for, and therefore this is mutually reflected in a Customer Success leader.
If you are a start-up or scale-up then I guess you want this person to potentially have built or grown, and scaled up a Customer Success organisation. What other companies have they worked at before? Have they worked at large SaaS companies or only start-ups, or do they have experience of both? What type of industries have they come from? What is the sales & customer success engagement model at those companies? How is success measured both for the team that person leads and for them individually? How have they performed against those measurements? What can that person demonstrate or evidence they have done, built, enhanced or learnt? Critically, you would also want to understand the culture of the companies this person has worked at. For small organisations like start-ups it is imperative that new hires “fit in”, they won’t “rock the boat”.
One component that may be restrictive or prohibitive in all of this: your budget. Currently in the UK whilst the role of a CSM is now established the role of a CSM leader is still in its infancy, mainly due to the number of CSMs reporting to leaders based in the US. The fallout to this is twofold; one is there is still confusion around what the Customer Success leader is accountable for (outside of the direct team management) and secondly, the salary for these roles are below market rate in comparison to the US or other leadership positions in the same organisation. Whilst experienced Sales Directors in the SaaS space can easily command north of 6 figure basic salaries the equivalent Customer Success Director is starting at 75% of this, with many roles a lot less than this. Jason Lemkin wrote an excellent article a few years back now around the need to hire a Customer Success leader and the justification is that any initial sale of a reasonable size is worth more than 6x the initial ACV over its lifetime. And you know who is responsible for that happening: your Customer Success Management team.
As Jason says “So you are hiring someone now not just to manage your $750K in ARR today, but more than that, to make sure that $750K grows to $4.5 million (6x) over the next 36 months”.
So when you make that Customer Success leadership hire, remember that you are not just hiring someone to manage the customer portfolio of £750K today but someone you are giving responsibility to in ensuring that you maximise that CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value) and this in my eyes, has to be a Customer Success leader.
However, this is where I play devil’s advocate and refer to my early point regarding “Keeping up with Joneses”. What problem is your Customer Success team looking to solve? What problem is your Customer Success leading being hired looking to solve? If, for example, you expect to grow your team to 6 CSMs and beyond in the 12-24 months, and you need someone who can grow that team from experience with the right people and the right processes, to avoid some of the common pitfalls, then it would be the right thing to do.
But if you are planning on having a small team and have no plans for aggressive growth, and/or your CSM team will be “low touch” then you may choose to hold off for as long as possible with no direct Customer Success leader.
For me though, if you can afford it I would always look to bring on the most senior Customer Success person you can. They will learn the product and the customer-base by being “hands-on”, and they will fully understand the day-to-day job and the relevant needs for the required processes, tools, organisational structure and dynamics. They must be aware though that this is a hands-on job and they will have to get their hands dirty for this to work.
Finally, the hiring of your Customer Success leader assumes great responsibility. It will fall to this person to drive a Customer Success culture through your company and this is one of the most challenging elements they will take on.
Customer Success Teamwork Makes The Dreams Work
The Liverpool football (soccer) team of the 80s. The Chicago Bulls basketball team of the 90s. The New England Patriots American football team of the 2000s. Plus many more teams can lay claim to being a great team, but what are the ingredients that make up a great team. Many teams will have a superstar or two in their ranks, but is it that superstar that makes them that great team or is it the sum of the total parts? What about that missing role from your team? Often good teams identify a missing part or player that transitions them from the “good” to the “great”. So, what does that change bring? Often that additional player brings a balance to the team that ceased to exist before, it allows your original players to play to their strengths whilst not distracted by other responsibilities, it ensures clarity on accountability and it maximises the opportunity to be successful.
So, does this transfer to business and specifically to the Customer Success organisation? Yes, in a word. My previous VP of Global Services at Autodesk, Roberto Sigona often spoke about the Customer Success Manager being the quarterback of post-sales interactions so let's take that metaphor further. So, Tom Brady may be that quarterback pulling all the strings, calling all the plays and directing the strategy but he can’t be successful without his running back, his wide receiver, his full back or his tackle, or a number of other players. So, as a Customer Success Manager can you be successful without your colleagues, be it in marketing, support, sales, operations or professional services? If you can or are currently being successful I would argue that it is only for the short term and for long-term, sustainable success you need to come together as one team with colleagues that have skills that you may not have.
However, this is when it gets more complex and arguably more controversial. When building that great team, or that great Customer Success organisation do you just rely on the resources available or do you go out and build the team you want with the exact skills you require with the right personality to fit your team culture and dynamics? I guess there is a desired state and a realistic one, but let's take it to the desired state. When does your Customer Success organisation go from being a team of CSMs to one that includes specialist functions with the aim of providing specific, niche skills and critically who are these additional “team-players” who will take your good team to a great team?
1. Customer Success Operations –
It has been long and widely accepted that a successful sales organisation performs to its optimal level with a Sales Operations function supporting it. Most CEOs therefore don’t question or challenge the CRO, or VP of Sales to the need to hire one. However, this same logic should be applied to a Customer Success organisation but very rarely gets the same level of acceptance.
So, what does or could this role bring? A Customer Success Operations Manager takes ownership for the key CS-related data and outputs of data to the wider business, owns the key customer success processes and therefore maintenance of them, reports team performance aligned to KPIs/MBOs, and if relevant maintains and owns the Customer Success platform.
And the benefit of all of this is a more efficient, a more focussed and ultimately a more successful team of Customer Success Managers.
2. Customer Success Marketing –
The main focus of customer success based marketing is wholly centred around advocacy. Customer Success Marketing lives in post-sales with a reporting line identical to Customer Success Management; i.e. Through to the Chief Customer Officer. Advocacy demand is increasing and therefore needs to be managed through the Customer Success Marketing function. The demand increasingly comes from sales and marketing (pre-sales) and the supply will come from the Customer Success Managers but how do you ensure the supply meets the demand?
Reading a recent article from Gainsight, they have created a target for their CSMs of a set number of CSQAs (Customer Success Qualified Advocacy) per quarter which focuses the CSM team on a constant flow and pipeline of advocacy. This I think is a great idea and without having a target and ultimately maybe even a reward for hitting that target then arguably the focus is not there, and the pipeline is bare.
Now it is easy to associate advocacy outputs just supporting “Land” opportunities in the form of a case study demonstrating value and RoI in a specific or particular manner. However, advocacy covers a range of outputs not just supporting new business drives but also, retention and expansion. Therefore, advocacy is self-helping for the CSM team ensuring event speaking, webinar involvement and guest blog posts drive mutual expansion, deeper penetration and peer-competitiveness.
It has long been proven that humans respond better to examples, to story-telling and to real-life scenarios of a use of a product, solution or service and hence why advocacy is so critical in your customer success organisation.
3. Customer Success Onboarding –
Ask Customer Success leaders and professionals the world over and I am sure most of them will admit to the onboarding phase being the most critical in setting customers up for success. Saying this, when does it become an option to look at a specific onboarding role or function within your customer success organisation? For me you have two key drivers for this; firstly, are you onboarding vast numbers of customers per week/month and this is causing a resource and time drain on your existing CSM team. Secondly, you have a complex product or service that requires vast training, support, consulting before your customers start to see value in their investment. If the answer to either (or both) of these is yes then I would suggest a dedicated onboarding function is one to look at.
The measurement of success for a specialist onboarding function has to be Time To First Value (TTFV) and you want to be reducing that number of days pre-introduction of the function. The quicker a new customer sees real, tangible value and RoI the more confident they are in making the right purchasing decision, validating and verifying all the work they did selecting your company.
These are three of the roles that you may want to consider when building out your customer success organisation; remembering that it is not just about your Customer Success Managers who have responsibility for delivering value and RoI to your customers. They need the support of the wider business and specifically individuals with certain skills that they may not have. As your customer success organisation continues to grow and expand I am sure there are other roles you may want to consider. Looking around over recent weeks there are several customer success related roles that go some way to supporting your Customer Success Managers and adding value in their own right: Customer Success Analysists, Customer Success Architects & Technical Customer Success are just some that are being recruited for today.
"Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people" - Steve Jobs
Matt Myszkowski - experienced Customer Success leader & founder of CustomerSuccessMatters