Blog Webinars and Podcasts

2023 in CS: Heaven or Hell | Webinar

Updated on June 4, 2024 30 minutes read

Summary points:

What to expect in 2023 from customer success? Is this ever-changing industry going to be “heaven or hell”?

In our final webinar for 2022, we’ve discussed with 4 great CS professionals:

During the 1-hour webinar, the experts talked about Customer success challenges, how CS jobs have changed, and what to expect in the next year.


Irina 00:05
Good morning! Good afternoon and happy Tuesday everyone! I’m delighted to be hosting our final webinar of the year. For the ones who do not know me and who are here for the first time, I’m Irina Cismas. I’m Head of Marketing here at Custify, and I’m going to be your host for the following hour.

I am joined today by four special guests and together we will discuss what happened in the Customer Success industry this year, and we’re gonna try to do some predictions for the upcoming year.

Irina 00:42
I don’t want to do any formal introduction for my guests because you already know them. I’m pleased to have here Daphne Costa Lopes from HubSpot. I have Peter Armley, VP of Customer Success at ESG. I have Maranda Dziekonski, Chief Customer Officer of Swiftly, and last but not least, Philipp Wolf, co-founder and CEO at Custify and also my boss.

Thank you all for accepting our invitation! I’m looking forward to our talk today. And judging by the number of messages that I personally received on my Slack and on LinkedIn, so is our audience.

Irina 02:35
Before we start, I want to give a few more minutes for the late joiners to attend. I want to take the opportunity to wish a happy birthday in advance to Daphne because I know tomorrow is her birthday. So happy birthday from the whole customer success community. How are you celebrating tomorrow?

Daphne 03:12
So tomorrow is a big birthday for me. The big milestone one, I am personally not doing much tomorrow for the day I am having dinner with friends. But I am actually going to Brazil in a few weeks. I’m from Brazil, for those who don’t know, and that is where the party is. That’s where I’m getting my family together to celebrate in style. So it will be another two weeks until I do that. So tomorrow, just dinner.

Irina 03:32
Okay, I hope you enjoy it. And once again, happy birthday.

Irina 03:44
Because I know that we have a lot and we announced a lot of topics that we want to address. I want to start the conversation with an icebreaker and the icebreaker would be a poll that I’m gonna display as we speak. And I’m gonna ask the audience can you all see the poll?

I want to ask:

What were your biggest customer success challenges?

Irina 05:39
Perfect. You have the possibility to select multiple options. I’m curious to see what were your biggest customer success challenges this year.

Philipp 06:47
So the top challenges so far are:

  • manual work
  • lack of sources
  • lack of visibility
  • lack of clarification
  • segmentation
  • outdated processes.

Irina 06:58
Let’s give it a few more seconds. And then I’m curious to see how you guys comment on distribution. Does it come as a surprise to you?

Irina 07:18
We also have some “no budget to automate” answers, somebody wrote on chat.

Irina 07:36
So basically, the top three are manual work, lack of resources, and of course, lack of visibility.

Irina 07:45
Does this distribution come to you as a surprise? We also had too many battles at a time, lack of prioritization, and segmentation. And some of the people also voted on Align goals and KPIs, struggle to prove value to leadership, managing team motivation, and also bet culture.

Philipp 08:12
I can start. For me, the manual work is, of course, not very surprising. I’m slightly biased, of course, because Custify is basically helping with that particular part where without the proper solution and automation, manual work is taking up a lot of time with all the systems a CSM typically is in, like, looking into support, looking into the old product utilization, when is the next billing, etc. So all those tools that are there and then sending manual emails and all those things. So for me, that one is not surprising. The lack of sources in combination with manual work, of course, is a bigger challenge. Which means doing the job right is what was really difficult.

Maranda 08:55
I think that lack of resources causes manual work. This checks with what I saw in 2022, from the conversations that I’ve had with other CS leaders, and what I’ve personally experienced, budgets are tightening. So I think we’re going to see that happen even more in 2023, just given the uncertainty in the economy. I don’t think this will change. However, I think that leaders that know how to build a case to show how you get, $2 back for every dollar you spend, will be able to invest in the appropriate tools to bring that manual work down.

Daphne 09:45
Yeah, yeah, it’s all system problems. I think they all stem from a systems issue. If you have your processes are outdated, it’s likely because you don’t have the right systems to support you. If you don’t have visibility, it’s because you’re probably not using the right systems. If you’re doing manual work is because you’re lacking the systems to help you automate.

So I think they all stem from having the right systems in place. And I completely agree with Maranda, it’s a matter of the ability to make a case for budget for those systems. Because those systems exist, they’re out there. I think we’ve come far enough now, in the journey of customer success, that there are incredible tools out there for us to use. So it’s no longer a market where you can’t find the right tool, it’s more the ability to secure the budget.

Peter 10:33
And I’ll just add that none of this surprises me, I’ve been in customer success for a long time. And these are just very common themes year over year. So I mean, that tells us a couple of things, I think, is that people are still struggling to understand how to build a fully functioning Customer Success practice, which is a little disappointing for people like me because we’ve been trying to lead this effort for a long time. We do see good examples of it.

However, I also think these things exist, these themes exist, because customer success has exploded in the last couple of years. And so many more companies are embracing, at least the idea of a concept of customer success. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that so many are starting from step one. They’re not really understanding that a lot of this has already been understood. And they should be learning from experienced companies, and maybe starting at Step Five instead of One. And so a lot of these, a lot of companies are experiencing pain that we’ve all felt 10 years ago, eight years ago, and don’t understand that there’s a faster way to get to where they need to get to.

How to overcome Customer Success challenges and improve?

Irina 11:48
You mentioned, and I know that you’ve been in this industry for many, many years. For a veteran in the industry:

  • What would you recommend to people who are seeing the same struggles?
  • How can they build a better case?
  • How can they get the budget that they need?
  • How can they gain more visibility?
  • How can they gain a place at the negotiation table?
  • What would you recommend to them?

Peter 12:23
So I think a quick answer to that is to say that we all need to acknowledge the economic conditions that are happening all over the place. And it’s been said in our community and I agree with that, you need to become best friends with your chief financial officer. I think that relationship is supercritical right now. You know, understanding what the business needs financially, should dictate how you go about thinking: How are you going to architect the practice to address those considerations?

We can imagine we want to continually focus on advocacy, which is obviously a noble goal. But until you put in the foundation of addressing the needs of your employer, for securing and retaining revenue, the advocacy is just a dream. And so I think you really double down on developing relationships with senior executives who need to invest in your practice.

Maranda 13:27
Yeah, I agree with Peter. I think one of the things that all sales leaders need to shift if they’re not already doing this is to understand how business works, understand how to read the P&L.

I know that sounds crazy, but really understand, what are we spending money on? What are our levers? What does the business need to look like by the end of 2023 in order for us to succeed together? Instead of thinking in a silo, really look at how customer success and sales can better partner together, or how you can leverage marketing as a tool and as a resource to drive customer engagement.

There’s so much that can be done when resources are tight, to operate more efficiently. But I think it really starts with understanding the unit economics of your business and the levers that you have available to you as an organization to move that in the right direction.

Daphne 14:40
Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think that the other piece of this is, we talk a lot about scaling, right? Scaling is about breaking linear growth and Customer Success organizations that are growing in the species that we have grown for the last maybe two or three years have probably solved many problems by throwing people at those problems and just hiring more and more. So we could afford for the last two years to have those bad habits, but we can no longer afford that.

So every story that you tell your CFO, your CEO, should be anchored on how making those investments will break linear growth for your CSR org and therefore make your business more sustainable. Unless you can prove that, then it’s just bells and whistles. Is not necessary, and is not infrastructure. So I definitely think that looking at how a system that will enable you to stop doing manual work makes the entire organization more efficient like those are the kinds of business cases that you want to be making.

Maranda 15:43
Definitely! When I build out my forecast model, I specifically build around headcount, I usually do it with three line items. So if we make no changes, and just continue to use, the technology that we have, this is how many heads I’m going to need to be able to support the growth that we’re projecting, if I invest with ABC, this is how many heads, if I really double down and invest even more, these are the efficiencies we could potentially gain. And therefore these are the heads that we would need. And I show the difference between, the first level, which is no investment to the last level, which is a significant investment but reduces headcount by x. So it’s right to what you said like we have to break those bad habits of just throwing bodies at the work, we have to get smart about it, and think through what are the tools that are available to us. And how do we use those tools just to work smarter?

Peter 17:04
Yeah. And I would just go a little bit further and say hiring bodies to solve this problem is actually making things worse. Yeah, I know that might be debatable, but I just feel like that’s an avoidance strategy. And it’s really delaying the inevitable that Daphne and Maranda are both talking about the scale.

Maranda 17:23
Oh, right. That’s what this is called 2023 in CS: Heaven or Hell. And I think a lot of organizations are like, look, we’re all seeing it. A lot of layoffs are happening right now. And to Peter’s point, you know, I think folks were a little bit heavy on hiring a little light on building the right processes infrastructure, using the right tools. And now, investors are paying closer attention to where money is being spent. So it’s forcing folks’ hands to really look at the overall structure of the organization and figure out where they can find efficiencies.

Daphne 17:58
And to Peter’s point of making the problem worse, is once you define that customer engagement strategy, your customer experience strategy, and is completely based on human resources to dial back from it and completely change that experience, and bring maybe digital elements to it marketing elements, you literally resource your entire team wrong.

You’re short on skill sets that are needed for scale, like for example marketing, customer marketing, and automation, and then you are on the surplus for the CSM role, which is more about high-touch engagement, and value delivery. It just means that shifting gears then becomes very hard because it is then inevitably, things like layoff, for example, if you hired wrong. I think in 2023, defining that strategy of scaling is extremely important, much more than just figuring out your headcount numbers for the year.

Maranda 19:01
I just wanted to call out just for the audience. I think one thing that we didn’t do at the beginning is a little introduction about the differences between our businesses and what we own. So I come from Series B, tech startup. Usually, I operate in between Series B to A, you know, usually under 500 people in the company, and Daphne comes from a much larger organization, and Peter, he sees everything.
So we’re coming from three very unique perspectives in where we operate and function and I thought that would probably be an interesting tidbit for how we come to these perspectives.

Philipp 19:47
No, I was just saying that my view is also slightly biased. I’m still doing a few sales calls myself, not many, but a few just to get exactly that kind of market feedback also, and obviously to those that
I talk to, those CS leaders typically have a business case already. And there’s a question in the audience also like how do salespeople learn how to eat p&l is one of the things that we do, for example, is helping to build a business case because that’s not always something the head of CS is like, super trained in. So what numbers do I put there? How do I make my case for this automation, for this software that can help me? So that’s something that we, for example, help with. And yeah, I mean, p&l in the end it’s a spreadsheet where we have expenses, categorized in certain categories.

The bigger question, from what I see from the leadership is: Okay, what’s the ROI of this? What’s the ROI of this tool, for example, that helps you? So Miranda, regarding what you said before, I’m curious, so you mentioned that you have three line items, one is “we don’t change anything”, and the third, you’re basically three cases for the management to pick and decide or for the CFO or the board to decide. And what’s your experience there? What do they typically choose?

Maranda 21:18
Usually the middle. The CFOs trend a little bit on the safe side, on the more conservative side. They don’t usually do nothing, but they don’t give me everything that I’m asking for. That’s actually why I do the three-prong approach.

I already know that what I’m getting is probably the middle ask, and not the top ask. But I show everything that we could do if we threw the kitchen sink at it, versus, what is actually probably what we could do with the resources we have, versus let’s do nothing and then just throw bodies at the problem.

Daphne 22:08
I’m a big fan of the three options too, Miranda. Psychology on the options that you always kind of go in the middle.

Peter 22:18
You might think of it as a game, but it’s not really a game because it’s a conversation. And yeah, sure, you know, both parties might think: Okay, we’re gonna land in the middle. But the conversation’s worth it. I think it gives you the opportunity to explain what your vision is, even if it’s not financially obtainable at the moment.

Maranda 22:35
Exactly, exactly!

Irina 22:39
You guys mentioned earlier about scaling and I know that this is a very hot topic in the CS community as we speak.

The realities of scaling in Customer Success

My question to all of you is, how do we differentiate between them because there are some leaders who consider that scaling means throwing everything on customer success, and doing more with less?

So I would consider this not necessarily scaling. How do you make sure that we don’t end up in this situation? And how would you teach the audience to take a step back and say, No, that’s not the thing that we should cover and this doesn’t fall under scaling? Because everything can because either “Well, we are just scaling”. Not necessarily.

Maranda 23:35
There are a few ways that you can approach this, especially in a smaller startup, where you do tend to own a little bit of everything. One is making sure you have very clear RACI models. So that’s your swim lanes, your responsibility, accountability, all of that in your charts.

Also, make sure that you have clear documentation of your service offerings and customer success. So this is what customer success does. And based on all of these things that we do, these are the outcomes that we expect and this is the headcount, we need to do those. If we want to change anything or add anything, then we have to negotiate and figure out what we take off. Or do we add heads? That’s one way.

Another is just continuously looking at specialization within your organization. There comes to a point or you’ll get to a point where you can no longer have your customer success managers do onboarding, CSM, Work Support, renewals, all of it, and you’ll have to start specializing. So if you’re seeing a lot of stuff, get tossed over to customer success, really look at:

  1. Does it logically belong in the Customer Success organization? If yes, great.
  2. How do we specialize that? Is it the right time to specialize in it?

You just come up with a whole bunch of questions you ask yourself to make sure that this does belong here. We can support this we should support and then have your ask of how you’ll support this.

Daphne 25:05
I think Miranda is also kind of hinting at the fact that you need a strategy, right? Like, it’s not about just throwing employees into the customer success team. It’s having strong leadership that has built a strategy for what customer success is within your organization.

And, you know, I come from a company that has more than 7000 employees, but I wasn’t a tiny startup in the past. No matter the size of the company, I’ve been a strategy has been extremely important because the strategy is, it’s how we win. And we make decisions based on the commitments of that strategy. If we change the strategy, the decisions we make change. So without that clear Northstar of what are we trying to do, it’s hard to have those conversations of negotiation.

Because how do you push back? I think strong leadership here is important as well, for modeling forecasting. What is the growth path for your organization for next year? And what are you expecting to see as the model that we’re building today, building the foundations for the model that we need in the future? Or is it going against what we’re going to need in the future? Let’s build upon that vision and not just work for today but work for 1-2-3 years down the line.

So I think strong strategy and leadership are important. Trying to move the organization, even if it’s a small one by yourself is very difficult, you have to pair up with your leader who will build those stories, who will have those conversations, and be much more close to other sides of the business like Miranda was saying before.

So I think that also knowing what role you play in this conversation because it is a big topic that has to be decided at the leadership level.

Maranda 27:12
You know, it’s interesting, you made me think of something, Daphne. Our product teams, never have a problem saying no, right? They never have a problem saying no because they’re looking at the big picture, they see where the product needs to be six months, a year out, and sometimes longer than that.

That’s how CS needs to operate. It needs to operate with a good roadmap, of course, be flexible, when you need to be flexible, but have a strong roadmap that to where you understand this is where the organization needs to be six months, a year and hold pretty firm to that and understand what that means.

Peter 27:52
Yeah, but as long as that’s underpinned by what Daphne’s kind of trying to focus on, which is the strategy. I think that’s absolutely true and maintain that kind of storyline. And I think, you know, we talked about scale, you have to start at defining what that means.

I think it’s true with most a lot of senior executives, scale means you’re going to affect change, to some extent with all of our customers. You can’t just say we’re going to affect change with 20% of our customers, that’s not scale. And so you have to have a plan, how you’re going to do that. And I don’t think any senior executives are going to expect you to do it tomorrow.

They do expect they have your thoughts about it, you’re going to plan out a strategy that will be willing to eventually mature and address the details that Miranda was describing. I think that’s all part of the scale.

And in 2023, I think there’s no turning back. This is the year when scale “scales”. It starts taking off because there’s no choice. This will inform a sea change in the persona of customer success professionals. I think the shift towards more science in customer success, which many of us have been predicting for a few years, is upon us now because the tools are there, the experience is there, and the expectation of other organizations for customer success to find and deliver on the promise is there. We have to deliver and I think the only way to do that is to change the way we execute and that will involve hiring new kinds of people more into the future.

The ever-changing role of CS professionals

Irina 29:50
Because you mentioned the way that the role of the CSM changes and all of you mentioned different skills that you need.

I’m curious, how did your role change in the past few months? What did you need to adapt? What did you need to change so that you can fit the current economic circumstances, and what will change next year?

Daphne 30:22
It’s funny, I say to people that asked me about my role in HubSpot, that every single year, my job has been different, even though my title might not be changing, just because the company is completely changed, right? Every single year, we have grown and evolved, which means that it requires me to think and behave differently.

I think one of the really important shifts that I have had to make over the last year is that we had such fantastic results in 2021, that we kind of we didn’t look under the hood, we were happy with what we were seeing. And this year, obviously, when the macroeconomic factors started hitting us, and performance was something we were looking much closer at. I was required to just like, dive much deeper into data. I mean, my background is science, and I come from a chemistry background and business analytics background, so it wasn’t like a new skill that I had to acquire.

But it was definitely one that I had to flex and use, and then layer on top of that the storytelling for the team so that they didn’t feel like looking at the performance was micromanagement. So that they felt that we were looking at the performance so that we were able to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work. So it definitely felt like a year of investigation, discovery, and storytelling for me.

Peter 32:01
It’s excellent. Good to hear. I just liked that a lot. I think that supports what I was saying, move in that direction. So great that HubSpot, thinking that way, that doesn’t surprise me. It’s a smart company with smart people. And I think we need a lot more of that going forward. So I’ll just stop there because I think I’m building on a point that I’d like to hear from Phillip.

Philipp 32:26
Well, I’m a leader of the leaders of the Customer Success department. But it’s a bit difficult for me to answer that one. I guess for you guys, it’s a bit more interesting. What I can definitely say is
to be more data-driven, if you are in a tech world, if you work in a SaaS company like HubSpot or Custify or any other I guess it needs to be a bit more tactical, not just human-driven and building the relationships definitely became more relevant.

Why? Because as soon as you invest in a tool, like Custify or any other automation tool, you have to rely on the data and the end, and you are the one that has to also steer a little bit what data comes into the system.

And that’s one of the things that you need to really understand your product. What does a customer health score actually mean? And how do we actually build? Do people just log in? Usually not, right? Because nobody buys my product just to log in. So they do something. So what is that what they do? How can I build this health scoring as precisely as possible?

Getting back to the scaling challenge: How do I know which customer to focus on and when and why? So this is what the tool typically helps you with. But of course, the tool also relies on input. So bad data input, bad output.

In the end, you can’t rely on your health score, you will talk to customers that don’t need to be talked to in this very moment or the other, or worse, you miss important things because you thought logging is enough.

So long story short, I would say the need for CSM, to be a bit more technical or to be a bit more oriented also into the product world, understanding what you actually sell like what is your sales team is selling. Why do people buy your product in the first place? And not all of our customers at least have an extremely high touch environment where you have a QBR and you do a check-in in the beginning and tell me why did you actually purchase the product? Some of them have a kind of mixed touch. It is somewhere in the middle where you have certain customers where you can’t spend too much time as a CSM because simply the revenue doesn’t get you this time back. And yeah, for those it’s really important to figure out the segment of customers that really need your help so you can focus on those.

And in order to do so, you really need to understand why people purchase your product. How do they actually use your product and be a bit more into what Daphne mentioned like digging deeper to see what happens. This is definitely a challenge when I talk to one or the other CSMs simply because where they came from is mostly relationship building and purely this partnership, which is still very, very important, right? So it’s still your main job as a CSM. But this underlying data or this underlying understanding of data is definitely something that has already become more important throughout the last couple of months.

Peter 35:50
So for a guy who said he couldn’t answer this question, you did a good job there. And that’s why I threw that to you, Phillip. I was expecting you to kind of elaborate on it.

And before we hear from Maranda, I just want to say my role in the last few months changed a lot.

Because all of our clients are also experiencing change, with economic conditions and all that kind of stuff. And so I’m focusing on working with the senior executives, to make sure they understand that the path we’re working with them on is the right path. And to help them develop, have the right kind of tools available storytelling or conversational budgeting, all that kind of stuff that they can continue to kind of keep their allies in their organization on board to maintain this momentum that they’ve been building for a while.

So that’s exciting. And also finally, the webinar series that I’m running, I’m branching into adjacent kind of topics around customer success that I believe will inform the future of customer success, they’d be the AI or, you know, tuck hearing from a chief revenue officer, those kinds of entities that need to be part of the future of customer success.

Maranda 37:06
I think I’ve already said enough for the entire webinar. What has changed in my role this last year? So I’ve always owned, or, you know, have had a portion of my performance based on, of course, my gross renewal, and then my net retention. But there has been a much bigger focus on revenue in my role than I think I’ve ever had in my career. So doing a lot of things to help folks understand what model I’m in. I’m in B2B enterprise government technology. Contracts range from a few $1,000/year upwards to $1.2 million a year. So, and a lot of accounts on the larger side, a lot of accounts over $200,000 a year.

So we’re doing a lot of looks at green space, a lot of account planning, a lot of unification of the CSM and the account manager, in figuring out what is the right motion for the organization to be able to continue the growth on the back to base revenue.

This is the first time in my career, and I’ve been doing this for 23 plus years, that I’ve seen this much of a focus on this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been a focus, but we are really doubling down on this trying to figure out what is the right model. Who should own what, and how much green space are we targeting? And what are we going to target? And how do we leverage, you know, marketing and sales and CSMs to work together as a very unified go-to-market team? All of that. I mean, it’s a heavy double click.

Daphne 38:51
I probably spent the year doing the Daphne row tour of customer outcomes, and this is something that I think we’re still so behind as an industry, and we talk a lot about health scores. For example, we talk a lot about other leading indicators like engagements and stuff, but not many companies are actually measuring if customers are getting results from what they bought.

Like Philipp was saying, you know, our customers buy our products for specific reasons. They don’t buy to log in every day. They don’t buy to use a feature five times a week, they don’t buy it to integrate with another product, they buy it to get an outcome. And until we are able to measure that outcome. And I use a lot of the jobs-to-be-done framework. Again, I have a background in product management, that’s all my master’s in it. So I’m very passionate about jobs to be done. You look at that framework like that, and it’s like what job are our customers trying to do with our product, and how do we measure this? Like if you’re selling a promise to the customer that is “We help you increase your leads, we help you increase your revenue, we help you increase productivity”.

Where are the metrics that you can go back to your customer to show that you are doing that? Like how can you have a QBR and expect an executive to sit on that QBR when you don’t have those metrics? It’s a very difficult thing and I think a lot of customer success organizations are still struggling with the fact that they don’t have that number, and a lot of products don’t have a mechanism to measure those claims. And next year, as customers are evaluating their tech stocks, looking to consolidate, looking to cut costs, that is going to become essential. The vendors that are able to show that kind of data will win.

Maranda 40:48
Yeah, that’s actually the cornerstone of CS motion. And even in 2020, which was the worst year for public transit, which we serve, we ended the year with 116% Net retention. And I think we’re at 94% gross. So we had a very strong year, even the worst year ever for public transit.

We have a very strong ROI motion, we track it, and we collect goals, but it’s heavy touch. So it’s very heavy touch, we collect goals, and we try to make sure the goals are measurable, we track them, we present on them, and while we’re doing our Executive Business Review, we collect new goals right in the Executive Business Review and agree that this is what we’re going to work on for the next six months. This is how you’re going to leverage our tools, and so on and so forth. And then we show again, and again and again, that we’ve managed to save you X amount of hours or improve your service predictions by X amount to impact X amount of riders. So we figure out ways to quantify almost every goal that we can.

Revenue targets for CSMs – good or bad?

Irina 41:59
Based on what you guys are discussing, I wanted to ask if it’s true or false, because it’s a very debated thing. Are revenue targets basically incompatible with developing and maintaining customer trust? But based on what you said Miranda, and also based on what you said, Daphne, I’m assuming that it’s a no. Why do you think that this is so contradictory or controversial? Revenue targets are associated with actually building and maintaining customer trust.

Maranda 42:33
I would urge CSMs and CS leaders alike, to stop being fearful of growing the revenue on your account.

One, it’s not their personal money, so you’re not going out and asking somebody to write you a check out of their bank account. I know it feels weird, but it’s not their personal money. Two, if you’re doing your job, you’re showing value, you’re making their lives easier, and you have solutions that they aren’t using that could make their lives even easier, why not partner with them like that? If you are viewed as a trusted adviser and a trusted partner, they will want to know what other things you can do to make their operations more efficient to save them money. So that’s simply how I view it.

Peter 43:27
That’s exactly how I see it. I think Miranda, you and I’ve had this conversation. So 100% aligned on that. I just like the idea of having a target. Because A, it will mollify the chief financial officer and the CEO and everybody else who expects some sort of measurable financial return from their investment in customer success. And secondly, it ups the game for customer success to have that metric or set of metrics that they’re held accountable for. I think the time has gone now where we can just argue that we are good at relationships, that’s not good enough. It’s not even good enough for the customers as Maranda is saying; I think they have an expectation.

If you’ve been working with them for a while, and they do see value in the engagement, they will have an expectation that what’s next, they want an answer from you that what’s next and it may involve them investing more and they’re okay with that, if it makes sense for them. That’s all.

Maranda 44:33
Yeah, Peter. One of the ways that CSM and CS leaders can get around this feeling like they’re selling things, create a maturity matrix, create a maturity model. Every time you have your business reviews, put it up there and say look, customers that are similar to you, these are the things that they do as they move along the maturity scale of utilizing our product. You are here. This is your report card. Here are a few things you could do with the things that you’ve already invested in to get you here. Here are a few things that you haven’t invested in, that would take you here. Right?

Philipp 45:08
Sales it’s not a black-and-white thing. I guess anyone in the audience probably got this cold call or got someone trying to sell them something that they really didn’t need. Like, why would I need this wiper? I don’t even have a car. So there’s literally no reason for me to have it.

In customer success it’s very different, though, right? Because Maranda, you said it, I know pretty much exactly what that customer is already doing. I know that there are other things that we have that would really help them.

As long as you sell this, as you see selling as in-depth, like more helping, of course, it’s generating revenue, of course, maybe an upsell, of course, maybe a bigger product line, maybe it’s more support hours, or product hours or service hours or whatever, you have the chance as a CSM to sell. But if you see it from the perspective of helping rather than just selling, you really know what they need. And it’s not just like you don’t just sell them something that they really don’t need.

I mean, that’s probably where it becomes very difficult for a CSM to just sell if they have astronomic targets or some artificial things that they should sell with a completely different product line, which has nothing to do whatsoever with the challenges of this customer, then it becomes a challenge. But as long as it’s all aligned with the company’s strategy, and the challenges of this customer, I also agree that this is probably the easiest sell ever compared to someone who cold calls and first needs to find out if you have a car, and then they can sell you the wiper. But I fully agree there.

Daphne 46:48
Yeah, and also like it’s we’ve been shouting and screaming for a seat on the table. For years, customer success has been asking for this. The first part of 2010s has been spent screaming for a seat on the table telling everybody why customer success is important, and why it added value.

And one of the key arguments for customer success is that customers who are healthy and adopted the product are more likely to stay and buy more from us, like that is a core part of the argument. So now that we have been given the seat on the table, we’ve been given the budget and trust as part of the strategy of how our company grows. Now it’s time for us to deliver on that strategy and having metrics around that is just natural.

And I mean, as a CSM, you don’t want to be a note taker, you just don’t want to be seen as a vendor that the customer comes to and says, here are all the things that I want, take my list, go off and find me those things and come back. You want to be a partner, you want to be an advisor, you want to be a respected party in that relationship that brings in knowledge, know-how, and market information, and can give the customer the value of that relationship.

So for your customer to see you as that strategic advisor, you need to flex the muscle of value-selling of consulting. And I think the more you run away from this, the more you are staying on the past version of customer success, the customer success 1.0 which was just about more reactive relationship-based kind of fending questions, versus actually proactively adding value to your customers.


Irina 48:49
I want to because we only have 11 minutes, and I promised the audience that we’re gonna address the questions as they come, but I didn’t want to interrupt the discussion.

We received some more questions on the chat.

Noemi asked:

Our organization has just begun focusing strongly on end-user communication to improve adoption because half of our customer champions don’t have enough supportive management and or the tool they invested in is optional.

Do you see that as an important area to focus on for the next year?

Maranda 50:00
Sounds like I was gonna say it kind of depends. So I’ve been part of seven startups, and also a company that had 35,000 employees globally, right? So I’ve seen all ends of the spectrum. Just because somebody’s logging in every day doesn’t mean they’re achieving their outcomes, their desired outcomes. So you have to determine if it’s healthy for your product if it is one of those products that just passes the toothbrush test, like customers log in at least twice a day, then yes, you have to figure out if that’s the right model for your organization. There’s not a one size fits all answer for this.

Philipp 50:50
Just as you said, I can explore everything, I was there everywhere. I know HubSpot. I know all the things in HubSpot, but I might never use them again. What does it mean? Is that product adoption, I get the checkmark because I explored everything, or what is that? So it’s not product adoption, is not what I would look for, I would look for value, as you mentioned already.

I would search for value, I might get super great value with 10% of your feature set and the product and I’m super happy. That’s why there’s no need for me to get the rest of the 90%. I’m perfectly fine. I’m a happy customer.

Maranda 51:00
Yeah, I would also say do a persona mapping activity and understand the personas that leverage your tool. What health means for them? What are the problem statements that they are solving with your product? Also, around the question about having champions, you always need champions, I look at that as part of just like, customer success 101, you should have, you know, advocates internally, and also the individual who signs the check or gives the Thumbs Up on the credit card.

Those folks should really understand the value that your product brings. And not just once, but again and again. So they see that it’s worth that line item in their budget.

Peter 52:22
Yeah, I mean, we should be honest, that has there ever been a customer who’s renewed that, that they’re a champion does not exist in that account? I find that hard to believe there has to be a believer in that account.

Daphne 52:26
And I do think like that, how you map adoption, like Phillip was saying is very important, because adoption when done right can be a leading indicator of retention, right?

So if it’s like logging into your system every day, that might not mean anything. But if you are looking at why your people are buying your product, and what are the maybe two or three features that they have to use regularly, in order to get that value, it might tell you the information that you need. Because again, let’s face it, nobody that doesn’t use the product gets value. So you need to find some sort of adoption, but how you define it is extremely important. And I’d say if you don’t have a clear picture of what that is today, or if you have one that maybe you don’t believe in, I think that’s really worth exploring because it is a good leading indicator when done right.

Irina 53:25
Somebody from the audience is asking:

How do you get multiple champions within a customer?

Peter 53:32
So in my experience, you find the one, and you make them wildly successful. I know we’ve talked about scale, but let’s just say you’ve got a set of accounts, and you’re working with these people, you know who they are, you know the contacts, find someone who is really interested and working with you. And if you can make them successful so that they can then translate in their mind how this is going to help them in their growth path, they become your channel for broadening the communication across, and you would encourage them to do that.

Not to say that “here’s your next step in your career, I’m going to help you get to that next level” it’s more around making them feel like they’re fulfilled at work, and they’re getting value from working with you to the extent they want to help their peers, their teammates, and I think that’s the easiest way. Then they may sponsor a meeting where you have the opportunity to present to the other people, and then, you know, broaden that kind of inside community inside the company.

Maranda 54:45
And another great way is when the deal is signed, and you’re doing the handoff, and you’re, you know, if you are an organization that does a kickoff call, to collect stakeholders, right then, and you know, folks that you could potentially work with and other groups that could benefit from this, just do a brainstorm session.

That is the time when the customers are very disarmed, because, you know, they’re eager to get going and they want to get this tool up. There’s that excitement. It’s kind of like the honeymoon period. So it’s a great time to say, okay, these are the problem statements we’ve identified. Are there any other teams that you think could benefit from this? What kind of problem statements do you think they would have? And who would we talk to? And, you know, we work in an unlimited-seat model. So that works super well. At HelloSign, we had charged seat model, and it worked very well there as well.

Irina 55:46
Another question:

For CS organizations that have been around for a long time, how have you maintained systems for partnership data without the tools that have been created in the past several years?

Daphne 56:01
Partnership data, I’m guessing this is a partner channel that you have in the business that maybe is reselling and servicing customers? Is that what you understand?

I think personally, I have a biased view here. I’ve worked with partner models for quite some time. And I think it all needs to live in one system, right? It’s your CRM data, we need to have it all in there. Whether you give your partner access to a limited license to your CRM, where they can use your CRM instance, but not see everything in there, or whether you have an API integration with their CRM, and you’re pushing information back and forward.

More advanced companies might have a partner portal that connects directly to the internal CRM, Whatever you do, the data needs to end in the CRM, because you need to know what’s happening with those customers. They are your customers; they might be shared customers with your partner, but they are using your tool. So you need access to that information. And I think most companies will have a CRM system, and you probably have one too, Irina. So I do think it’s it’s the best place for that data.

Peter 57:19
Yeah, don’t make the mistake of using a spreadsheet. I agree with Daphne. Use the CRM, because think of it conceptually, as the partner is just being an extension of your customer base, they need to be served just as well as your as your one-to-one customers.

Maturity Metrics

Irina 57:33
Maranda, I think you mentioned at some point or maturity, a template about maturity metrics, and Julie’s asking about that. Do you mind actually sharing it with me?

Maranda 57:49
My particular template is very specific to share, and it wouldn’t be helpful.

I would be more than happy to chat if you want to reach out on LinkedIn to kind of talk you through some of the ways that you can think about this. I started very simply with a good better best model, just thinking of pure outcomes and problem statements. And you know, looking at it from that perspective.

Daphne 58:18
HubSpot has one called the growth grader, which is public and you can have a look, and drill into that as well. Well, it’s like Miranda said, = it’s basically just giving benchmarks based on what great looks like in your product.

Irina 58:35
Because we only have one minute or two, I want to ask all of you to give some pieces of advice.

What would you recommend for CSM to pay closer attention to next year? What would be your recommendations for them?

Philipp 58:59
Make sure you’re not seen as a cost center, but also as a growth engine in the company.

Maranda 59:07
I plus one that and I also say double click into your health modeling.
If there are things in there that make no sense. For example, sometimes NPS is put in a health model. I would say that’s probably true for some organizations and not for others question all of it, question, what’s in your health model, so you can have some leading indicators to potential risks.

Peter 59:37
I would say over rotate towards science approaches, getting more comfortable looking at data connecting the dots, telling stories, and building arguments based on data that’s going to be the future more and more of customer successes. If you can’t provide the data, underpinning your argument then nobody is going to listen to you

Daphne 1:00:02
Yeah, and for me, I think it’s relating to data. As a CSM know what are your leading and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are things you can affect change immediately on that will have a positive impact on the outcome that you want to see. So whether it’s retention or growth or what we call that revenue retention, like find out what drives those metrics and know what you need to do day in and day out, week in and week out, in order to drive those numbers forward. You’re not going to be able to control the market, the environments, the fluctuations in currency, like all those things are way outside your control. However, what activities you do every day is 100% in your hands, and figuring out what you invest in is important. I say to my CSMs “Control the controllable!

Irina 1:00:57
Great advice! I think that’s a wrap. And thank you all for a very delightful conversation! Have an awesome day, and see you all in our next webinar session.

Do you have any topic requests you’d like us to cover in future webinars? Reach out to us and let us know.

Nicoleta Niculescu

Written by Nicoleta Niculescu

Nicoleta Niculescu is the Content Marketing Specialist at Custify. With over 6 years of experience, she likes to write about innovative tech products and B2B marketing. Besides writing, Nicoleta enjoys painting and reading thrillers.

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