With each passing year the Customer Success industry matures and meets new challenges along the way, and this year has been nothing short of challenging in many ways.
Hoping to shed light on the current state of Customer Success and its influence within B2B SaaS organizations, ChurnZero along with ESG and Higher Logic, invited Customer Success leaders to participate in a survey to learn more about the top initiatives and issues facing this function today.
To help make sense of the survey data, give their expert take on what it means for Customer Success teams, and offer up maturity recommendations based on the findings, we invited Megan Macaluso, VP Customer Success & Operations at ESG, and Jay Nathan, Chief Customer Officer at Higher Logic, to join us for a webinar.
If you missed the webinar, you can watch it on-demand.
Stay tuned: The full Customer Success Leadership Study report with more key findings and recommendations for Customer Success leaders will be available in the beginning of January 2021. Sign up for our newsletter so you are sure not to miss the report’s release.
- Megan Macaluso, VP Customer Success & Operations, ESG
- Jay Nathan, Chief Customer Officer, Higher Logic
Being that it’s budgeting season, we polled our attendees to find out if COVID impacted their ability to create budget. The vast majority (85%) reported that COVID did not impact their ability to create budget.
Delving more into how Customer Success resources are now being prioritized differently than they were before the pandemic, Jay expanded on the budget challenges facing Customer Success this year:
[Jay]: I would say for us personally, we’ve been very fortunate in that, for our business, people have relied on engagement with their customers, through even non-traditional means, this year more than ever. So, we’re well-positioned to maintain our customers through this. But the budgeting process for us, and other budgeting processes that I’ve been involved in or have at least seen unfold this year, are really sort of top-down exercises, maybe more than they would have been in the past. Maybe a little bit more provisional, and maybe a little bit more conservative. Like let’s take a more conservative approach in the earlier months of the year in terms of adding headcount. Can we recruit hiring new team members from January to April, or from January to June this year, just to make sure that as we enter in the next year, we’re able to start off with some wins and not get upside down.
Most of us run annuity-type businesses here. If you get behind in the early months of that kind of budget, you never catch up. Getting behind could mean your bookings aren’t where you want them to be. It could be your rev isn’t where you want it to be, meaning that customers haven’t converted from booking to live customers that you can recognize revenue for. Or your retention might not be where you want it to be. So, if you get behind on any one of those things in the early months, then it’s going to be a hard year. Every board meeting is going to suck. I think that the trend I’m seeing is just a more conservative approach, especially in Q1 and Q2 of the calendar year for 2021.
Q: As a Customer Success leader, how do you build cross-functional relationships with other leaders in your organization?
A [Jay]: I think you always have to start with a natural curiosity about other parts of the business. Realize that there’s probably a lot that’s going on that you might not be aware of. Seek to understand that.
Not to go deep into my personal story, but how I got into management was I was a principal, individual contributor at a software company. I was on a small team and it had its own P&L. I was really interested in what that P&L said and what the numbers meant. I asked my boss at the time if I can be involved with this every month, understanding what these numbers mean. Before you know it, I was able to provide input into how to impact that P&L.
Most CFOs that I’ve met, they love it when people come and talk to them about their day to day. Because you can teach them something about what you’re seeing in the customer base and what the customer thinks about what we’re doing. I think there’s a very symbiotic relationship that can and should exist with the finance and Customer Success teams because both really need information from the other.
Just by its very nature, the finance team really isn’t going to reach out unless there’s a problem to be solved. Whereas Customer Success folks are more likely to go create those relationships throughout the organization. I would just encourage people to sit down with the controller or sit down with the CFO or the VP of Finance and ask them what problems they’re trying to solve for and what problems do they see in business. Then, help them connect some dots and offer them some information.
Q: What key metrics can Customer Success share with product to help prioritize their goals?
A [Megan]: When we start talking about feedback loops going into product, Jay said something really important, which is seek to understand. So asking, “Hey product, what are you measuring? What are your metrics? What are your goals? And what does that work look like?”
It’s really easy for us in Customer Success to care about everything our customers want. So, if they need the product to do something that it’s not doing today, and we’re putting feature and functionality requests into product, it’s hard to know what the level of effort is there and to understand what the benefit is to not just one big customer, but to all customers.
Those metrics are going to look at the impact. What is the broader financial or customer-facing impact within the product? Because I would imagine, if you’re getting a lot of positive feedback about some element of a product, and the customers are really happy with it, that should also be coming through. So, it really is bigger than a breadbox conversation. It’s understanding what product needs and wants, and how they operate, and really running as one team as much as you can.
[Jay]: The thing that we’re trying to get to in my organization – and I increasingly see this happening across the SaaS world and I think it’s easier for companies that are born in the cloud and companies that aren’t born in the cloud have to run to catch up here – is getting alignment between product and Customer Success and all the other organizations that are involved in commercializing product features as well as having a shared adoption goal for a release.
I saw a startling statistic the other day from Pendo, which is that only 12% of product features are actually used. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but my guess is that it’s probably not far off. I’m sure ChurnZero has some statistics on this that they could share as well. But how many of us who have worked for software companies have seen tons and tons of time invested in a product feature being developed and then not used and not adopted widely by the customer base either because it was too narrowly focused, or it just didn’t quite meet the mark? We tend to go on to the next thing when that happens, and we don’t finish the job. But if we’re aligned around specific metrics that tell us that a release has been successful (with a shared understanding of what that means) then maybe we’re more likely to double down after that initial release. Finish the feature. Make sure it’s rolled out. Make sure it’s widely adopted by the customer base. For me, it’s adoption, which hopefully could be a joint leadership between product and Customer Success.
[Megan]: That’s even more broad because how is it sold? How was it marketed? What expectations were set initially with customers? How aware are they that this exists? Have we identified use cases for that? Is it being trained? Are people not using it because they don’t like it? Are they not using it because they don’t understand it? Or because they don’t know what’s there? Or they don’t know how that’s effective within their business? Then you’re broadening the scope beyond Customer Success and product. Why isn’t it being adopted? Try to find that out quickly. And then understand what are the resources required for adoption and is it worth it to put forth that effort and those resources?
Q: How do you know when a team is ready to implement Customer Success Operations?
A [Megan]: I’m going to say that I like it right at the beginning. People that start with that mindset of get the operations right first, and understand the data, and understand the customers. And have the time to do it. Frankly, that’s not always an option. But I would say, if you can fight for that level of understanding from the get-go, that would be my recommendation.
[Jay]: I 1,000% agree, because even what I’m seeing right now, we have a high-touch model, but even in our high touch model, I’m seeing ways that we can engage on a one-to-many fashion, even with our largest customers. If you start with that mindset, you can lay the framework of communication and that constant cadence and feedback loop and cycle. It’s something for everybody else to build upon.
The other thing that an operations team can do is there’s the cadence of communications to customers, but then there are certain things that need to happen – whether it be realigning customer accounts as things change in the CSM team or rolling out a new segmentation model. At some point, you need some specialized help to just make those things happen faster. You may not be able to get it from the sales ops team anymore. That’s when you would definitely want to have a role that’s focused on systems and data for the Customer Success team – when it’s sort of beyond what you expect your Director of CS to do or it’s more than they have time to do, and that sort of thing. So, I think it’s a critical role that’s emerging.
[Megan]: At least from what I’m hearing, Customer Success Operations is emerging quickly as something that companies are looking for. But there’s some ambiguity around what that means. I don’t think sales ops and CS ops are apples-to-apples types of roles. Just understanding what it is and how it functions and what’s important within your organization. A lot of Customer Success leaders are responsible for all of it. A lot of Customer Success leaders are running a team and they’re a point of escalation and they’re responsible for the budget, and they’re responsible for a churn number, and they’re responsible for strategy and execution and the operations. That’s a tall order. So, if you can get that operational support where someone’s focused on the business and someone’s really focused in on the customer and the team, it can go a really long way.
For a first look at our top survey takeaways and to benchmark your team against others in the industry, check out the webinar.
And don’t forget to stay tuned for the full Customer Success Leadership Study – with even more benchmarks and recommendations – releasing in the beginning of January 2021.
Customer Success Around the Web
- Does the Player/Coach Model Work for Customer Success Leaders?– If you are responsible for the management of a team of CSMs can you hold on to and maintain your own portfolio?
- How to Make the Most Out of Your Executive Business Review – Learn what the critical components to EBRs are to make them beneficial for everyone.
- Learning Subscriptions: The Future of Customer Education – Read how SaaS companies can catch up to create a customer education program.
Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero