“How do you prevent CS from becoming an overblown support team for enterprise?” — The President of a prominent tech company asked me this question today.
It’s a great question. I believe this is a contributing factor to some of the Customer Success reductions we’re seeing in SaaS right now: CS teams have become indistinguishable from support. And therefore putting unnecessary stress on Gross Margins.
So how can Success leaders make sure their function is seen for what it is — part of the go-to-market function — and not an unnecessary cost to the business? Here’s my advice:
- Make sure Support and Sustaining Engineering are performing well. When the CSM — the person who is supposed to be proactively investing in the customer’s success — is having to constantly jump in and put out fires, they get stuck in a reactive mode. Leaders can make sure there’s a sentiment analysis engine in place that’s tracking the back and forth customer communication, that notifies CSMs when a customer conversation needs their attention. They can also review how customers are responding to the feedback mechanisms that the support team has in place, and from an Engineering standpoint they can see whether the number of weekly bugs fixed is higher than the number of bugs reported.
- Make sure all incentives align towards retention and your growth targets. Pay, promotions, performance evaluations, leaderboards, team wins and celebrations, and recognition in 1:1s should all be around revenue retention and growth. It encourages a mindset shift away from being focused on tasks and support.
- Give CSMs a relationship development goal. Meaning, how many contacts and at what levels do we need a relationship to succeed? An example playbook when selling into the enterprise is to follow the 1, 2, 3 rule. For each account, the CS leader should have one executive sponsor, two champions, and three power users. The Success leader provides detailed tasks for CSMs to build from champion to power user, and from champion to executive sponsor, and then measures progress across the portfolio. This way, if any of these people leave, the Success leader will have enough relationship coverage to recoup before it impacts the renewal.
- Make CSMs responsible for harvesting references, reviews and success stories. Even referrals if possible. CS leaders can start by breaking it down for the team. Think about everyone who wants something from your customers: Product wants to talk to customers for validating and developing new features, Product Marketing wants to do interviews for refining their ICP, for pricing, or for case studies, and the UX/Design and Brand teams want to survey customers as well. Your customers are in high demand. So as a CS leader, you need to prioritize what’s most important for the team to move the needle on your retention and growth targets. Create goals around the activities you want to incentivize, then communicate with your peers about what they can expect from your team in the next quarter.
- Ensure that CSMs understand how the company adds value beyond just using the product. It’s not enough to say that when a customer uses the product, that means they’ve received value. Make sure you as the CS leader are clear on the true indicators that customers have received value, and then make sure every playbook in the company is oriented around ensuring and validating whether that value has been received.