It’s no secret that the Customer Success profession has exploded over the past few years. What began as an innovative approach taken by SaaS vendors looking for more effective ways to support their customers and break away from a traditional account management technique has now become a flourishing industry in and of itself—bringing with it a new set of unique challenges. Why is it so important that Customer Success leaders secure themselves a seat at the exec table?
The power shift in organizations
Following suit from the B2C world, many B2B SaaS companies have moved to subscription-based offerings that allow customers to change vendors more quickly, easily and often. Subscription-based payment plans mean that the value of each customer is generated cumulatively over time, and not at the time of purchase—as is the case with traditional one-off payment purchases and contracts. Retaining your existing customer has, therefore, become less expensive than acquiring new ones.
Defining Customer Success
Customer Success technology leader Gainsight defines Customer Success as “the concept of achieving business growth by adopting a customer focused approach.”
But what does this really mean?
In our view, it means ensuring your existing customers get maximum value from their investment. It’s simple: no value derived = no continuation of services.
So unlike the traditional account management approaches we used to see in the B2B space, Customer Success doesn’t just focus on renewals and up-sells/cross-sells. It also goes further than traditional support metrics like customer happiness, Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and customer advocacy and engagement. What Customer Success really does is raise the bar in terms of proactively working with customers to make sure they derive maximum value out of the product in question. Think along the lines of stellar onboarding, fast and easy product adoption, easy contract expansion and no-brainer contract renewals.
Of course, Customer Support is still a fundamental part of Customer Success and the two work closely together. But there’s a clear nuance in terms of roles, responsibility and way of working.
Hubspot has it right:
“…while customer support works reactively on the front lines — fielding one-off customer questions, issues, and requests over phone, email, live chat, and social media — customer success is focused on working proactively in partnership with customers over the course of their time working with your business to help them get more value and share their feedback.”
B2B SaaS companies that are scaling have their fair share of challenges to navigate, and focusing on and improving revenue growth is usually priority #1. More than 90% of companies surveyed by a number of industry reports have a standalone Customer Success team, and over 50% of these report directly to the CEO.
How does Customer Success bring their knowledge & expertise to the rest of the organization and secure a seat at the exec table?
In a number of ways:
The Customer Success function helps Marketing get a clearer understanding of the customer base: which real world scenarios and challenges are customers experiencing, what are their pain points—and importantly, how do customers themselves articulate these. Based on these unparalleled insights, Marketing has a much better chance of targeting their demand generation activity effectively.
Competitive insights and specific use cases that Customer Success can share will also amplify the Product team’s focus and progress. It’s not uncommon for Product Managers to work closely with key customers and their CSMs to understand how to continue improving and evolving the product.
And finally, Sales needs the knowledge your Customer Success function holds. Understanding key target personas and customer profiles and how to communicate with them effectively is key to sales success.
It’s pretty clear, then, that without a Customer Success leader bringing these insights to the table, gaps in overall company strategy are going to emerge—when the insights necessary to fill them are sitting right there within your organization already.
“Your CS Executive is the customer-focused piece of the puzzle that helps drive your business success and revenue growth.” Irene Lefton, Strikedeck
It’s clear the value that Customer Success brings to B2B software companies—you only need to take a look at Gainsight’s super-successful Pulse event that attracts thousands of Customer Success professionals every year.
So what should you do if you’re a Customer Success leader struggling to make your voice heard?
- Take specific action to improve company results
- Immerse yourself in company strategy, and inform it
- Build strong relationships that add value to other functions
- Be proactive and assertive, not passive and reactive
- Advocate a customer-centric approach
Are you being proactive or reactive right now? Do you use your team’s valuable insights to help guide the company’s strategy and vision for the future? Take ownership, show up and claim your seat at the exec table.