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Mastering CS – Candid Leader Insights | Ep 4 – Adam Smith

November 21, 2023 22 minutes read

Summary points:

For our new episode of the Mastering CS podcast, Irina Cismas, our Head of Marketing at Custify discussed with Adam Smith, Customer-Led Growth Advisor at Catalyst Software and Customer Success Leader.

Adam scaled and organized various teams and he shared a few insightful pieces of advice for CSMs and sales teams. Let’s discover his journey.

What you’ll learn:

  • The key metrics to focus on in the early stages of joining a new SaaS team
  • The impact of sales in the customer lifecycle
  • How to prove the value of a product
  • Who needs to see the value of the product
  • Types of CS teams
  • How to build a great CS team
  • How to deal with cultural differences in CS

Key insights and takeaways for CSMs based on the interview:

Early stage key metrics: In early SaaS stages, navigating scarcity in data, resources, and time is crucial. Success hinges on aligning customer success goals with keeping the business operational. While the foundational importance of customer success remains constant, the focus evolves—from early heroics to later scaling of processes for efficiency. The key lies in transforming initial learnings into scalable processes that engage the entire team in ensuring ongoing customer success.

30-60-90-day framework: The 30-60-90 day plan for a new leader transitioning into a startup involves creating playbooks and understanding customer success fundamentals. In a mature organization, the focus shifts to intensive learning, identifying missing elements, and discovering pivotal customer success moments. Making these moments repeatable and scalable processes becomes crucial for sustained success.

Providing value: Ensuring value realization requires collaboration between sales and customer success. The sales process shouldn’t be shortcut, and it’s essential to involve all stakeholders early to align expectations. Asking economic buyers about metrics and justifications during the renewal cycle helps tailor value propositions to their specific needs, creating a more personalized and impactful customer success journey.

Building the CS team: Successful Customer Success Managers (CSMs) need a combination of tech enthusiasm, excellent communication skills, and a strong drive to overcome challenges. The ability to inspire others with a passion for technology and establish trust with both customers and internal teams is crucial for success in a people-centric business.

Mistakes in interpreting customer feedback: A common mistake among early-career CSMs is a tendency to quickly respond to questions without delving into the context. This misses opportunities for deeper understanding, potential upselling, or addressing underlying customer needs.

Podcast Transcript:

Intro

Irina 00:14
Okay, perfect. So, Adam, you are passionate about creating cultures where people thrive, can you share a fun team event or a moment that left a lasting impact on you?

Adam 00:27
Absolutely. So, we’ve had lots of team events that were fun, such as boat cruises or the escape rooms. But what truly comes to mind for me is a process I created. We would have internal QB sessions, bringing the team together once a quarter for a couple of distraction-free days. We’d focus on important industry matters and training. The core of our time together was dedicated to discussing what was working well and gathering feedback in sessions.

After starting with the positive aspects, we’d move into identifying the real challenges the team faced. We’d ask for feedback, allowing team members to share their challenges. Then, we’d have them rate the most challenging issues, focusing on those where we believed we could make an impact. We’d create a list of three priorities and shift the focus from merely complaining to finding solutions. Wearing our “owner hat,” we’d encourage everyone to propose how they would solve the problems, prioritize, and work collectively on solutions. We’d come up with tangible next steps, dividing responsibilities to move these issues forward.

While the fun activities and shared experiences to build memories are great and necessary, the real impact on people’s lives occurred when they had the opportunity to take ownership of their future and improve their situations.

Irina 02:39
Was it hard to manage those types of in-person events during the event? How did you mitigate that thing during the pandemic environment? And how did you transition it now?

Adam 02:56
Yeah, so, during the pandemic, we had to conduct those types of activities virtually. There was an interesting one that involved a scavenger hunt, where we would go around the house and find items—silly games, but they still worked. We were able to focus on solutions and address the most important matters. It’s not the same as being in person, but it certainly helps build trust with team members and allows us to work on the important things we need to address.

Since then, we have returned to in-person events, although it seems like budgets are a bit tighter than they used to be. So, we’ve shifted to more regional events instead of bringing the whole team together for one big event, which I still believe can be really beneficial.

Early-stage key metrics

Irina 03:58
I want to start from the very beginning. And I want to ask you in the early stage of joining a new SaaS company, how do you prioritize which customer success metrics to focus on?

Adam 04:17
Yeah, great question. In an early SaaS business, you’re dealing with a lot of scarcity in various ways—scarcity in data, resources, time, and people to tackle those problems. So, at different stages, you have to assess what will make our customers successful and what is crucial to keep the lights on in the business. Once you understand the eventual goals and trace back, you can determine what’s most important at the moment.

There’s no question that the foundations are true regardless of the stage. You need customers to derive value early in the process and to renew and expand over time. The focus, however, varies based on the stage. In the earliest stages, there are numerous heroics involved as you develop processes and figure out one-off solutions to make customers successful. Eventually, it becomes about scaling these processes, making it less time-intensive for customers to find value, repeat it, and ultimately succeed with your software and solution. The key is to take these learnings and apply them to a scalable process, ensuring the entire team contributes to making customers successful.
The 30-60-90-day framework for leaders

Irina 06:10
Speaking of different companies, different sizes, different stages – How does the 30-60-90 day plan differ when transitioning from a startup to hyper-growth phase?

Adam 06:25
When you say 30-60-90-day plan, are you talking about a new leader coming into the company?

Irina 06:30
The new leader, yes.

Adam 06:34
When I consider an early stage versus a more mature organization, a 30-60-90 day plan for an early-stage company is essentially having a playbook that outlines the customer success activities crucial for the organization. It involves assessing whether we understand churn, how customers derive value, and gathering feedback through CSAT and NPS. Additionally, having well-documented playbooks and processes that are understandable for all teams and individuals is essential. The breakdown of the 30-60-90 days is roughly 30 days for learning, 60 days for strategizing and figuring out what needs to be implemented, and the final 90 days for deployment. This includes developing the plan for the upcoming year.

In a more mature organization, you’re likely to find that many of these elements are already in place. The focus shifts to identifying what might be missing or hasn’t been explored yet. The “Learn” part of the 30-60-90 day plan becomes more intensive and involved. This involves engaging stakeholders from various areas and spending more time with customers to understand what may be lacking. A crucial aspect is identifying the moment when the lights turn on for customers. While mature organizations may have data on usage and customer sentiment, pinpointing this pivotal moment can be challenging. Discovering and making this moment repeatable, training the team on it, and ensuring the right systems and people are in place can lead to scalable processes, creating a win-win for everyone involved.

The impact of sales in the early stage of the customer lifecycle

Irina 10:17
What’s the one thing you wish more sales companies would do within the first 90 days of our customers lifecycle?

Adam 10:28
I think that those first 90 days are so crucial to the ongoing pace, that your renewal is mostly decided within that time.

Irina 10:42
Is it?

Adam 10:43
I believe so, yes. What happens in those first 90 days is crucial, especially depending on the complexity of the solution. Not everyone might have the solution fully implemented or live within that timeframe, and they may not be receiving the expected value yet. However, the primary goal in the first 90 days should be to nail the first use case. In very complex platforms where a single use case can take a year to implement, the situation might be different, but let’s set that aside for now.

Regardless, even within the first 90 days, you need to secure quick wins. Demonstrating to the customer that delivering ultimate value is of the highest importance is critical. It’s about showing the customer that you’re committed to ensuring they receive value early and consistently throughout the relationship. This sets the foundation for success in renewals and beyond. If, at the 90-day mark, you haven’t showcased the value, you’re not positioning yourself for success.

For a one-year renewal, by the 90-day mark, you should have already delivered value. You should be actively exploring the next area of value you can generate for the organization. This proactive approach ensures that by the time the one-year renewal comes around, they are already experiencing the expected ROI. It sets the stage for a roadmap to deeper value and higher ROI over time. Quick wins are essential in initiating the flywheel within the organization.

How do you prove value?

Irina 12:35
Thinking about discussing value and those crucial “aha moments” in the product, how do you ensure that you nail that value? And how do you find the real one, not necessarily the one that is sometimes disclosed in the first onboarding? Usually, I find that it’s one thing they say, but there are actually other things that are important. While you might have different stakeholders for your solution, that value might differ from stakeholder to stakeholder. And with only, I don’t know, what you mentioned, 90 days, you have a very short period of time to make an impact. How do you make that value?

Adam 13:28

Well, first of all, I think that we can’t shortcut the sales process. I’ve been the recipient of clients where, maybe because the customer was ready to buy, the salesperson said, “Okay, I’ll get out of your way; you want to buy it, why would I ever stop you to question anything?” Consequently, we had customers with expectations founded on assumptions, thinking it would look a certain way based on what they read on our website or elsewhere. We didn’t spend the time to qualify the value they expected or talk to the right stakeholders within the organization to ensure alignment.

A good sales team, on the other hand, will say, “Great, we’re going to help you purchase this thing you want. Before we get moving, let’s make sure we get all the right stakeholders in a room. Ensure they understand the value we can drive within your organization and what’s required of you to get there.” It’s challenging to get a salesperson excited about this if it’s not clear in the sales process. There needs to be a quick understanding where we set the right expectations, internally and externally. We say, “In order for this to be successful, these are the people within your organization we need to speak to right away, not later. And, as a part of that, we’ve got to educate them, not assume they already understand what’s required and what our solution will bring to their environment and how that value will come.”

Once you’ve reached, I would say, halfway or into your renewal cycle (the first 90 days might not be the right time), you should have a frank conversation with the economic buyer, the person responsible for getting the renewal approved. As customer success team members, we’re often hesitant to ask, “How do you justify this platform to your finance team? What metrics do you report on to say, ‘I need to keep this tool, this platform, funded within my organization?'” While it might be scary to ask, it’s better to find out halfway through the renewal cycle if we’re not hitting those metrics. Understanding what they care about in terms of value to the organization early allows us to orient around those priorities and uncover more areas of value for their organization. We then speak their language, addressing what’s important to them, rather than assuming our standard value proposition aligns with their needs.

Who needs to see the value of the product?

Irina 17:13
When dealing with different needs or expectations, especially in implementing even a CSP solution, which I’m closely involved with, I often observe that CSP teams want to use the tool but struggle to convince their managers that the tool is a necessity for them to be effective, productive, or whatever the case may be. The question arises: who is the tool sold to? Is it the manager, and what values or use cases are important to them, especially if they are not using it on a day-to-day basis? Or is it to the team that is actively using it, experiencing value, albeit perhaps not the same value the manager is expecting? I find it not necessarily contradictory, but it presents a conflict that needs to be resolved.

Adam 18:23
That’s a great question. So, I’ve worked for two decent-size software firms. The first one was Smartsheet, and I joined when we had 170 people in the company, with only six CSMs. I worked there for five years, and we went public during that time. We experienced hypergrowth, scaling from 170 to 1500 people in five years. The second one was Mavenlink, which later became Cantata. When I joined, the organization had around 30 CSMs, and the company was about 250 people. It scaled past 500 people, and we had over 60 or 70 CS team members by the end of that time. While I mentioned the size, the more important aspect related to your question was the type of solution each company offered.

At Smartsheet, the solution appealed to the masses. It was often the boots-on-the-ground individuals, the ones doing the work, who discovered the platform and saw significant value. They would initiate the usage, form a coalition, and find a way to secure approval or fund it through their budget. Eventually, we had to assist them in selling the solution to their managers, progressing up the hierarchy from team leads to department heads. In larger organizations, we aimed to gain approval and enablement for the entire organization so that various teams and departments could adopt and acquire licenses for the solution. This strategy was effective as every customer was both a customer and a potential prospect, creating a wide reach across different levels and departments.

However, the challenge in this environment was scalability, especially for horizontal platforms. While they were quick to provide value and accommodate various use cases, downstream implications, such as data organization, became complex. Ensuring that data governance was in place for insights to flow seamlessly across department heads and the organization was crucial for extracting value beyond individual teams.

I know this is a long answer to your question.

Irina 22:27
Keep going, It’s very useful. It is a real pain.

Adam 22:32
The other company I worked for was top-down. We would sell to the head of the department or the head of the company, and they would say, “Hey, team, we’re going with this solution; implement it.” That was the tale of two cities for two platforms. The one built for the boots on the ground was adored; people loved it and even had tattoos of the logo. However, getting their bosses and department heads to buy in became difficult. On the other side, the bosses loved the more complex and purpose-built solution, but it wasn’t as well-suited for the day-to-day users. The people on the ground found it cumbersome due to its architecture, designed to extract valuable insights from the platform. While the bosses wanted insights, the individuals struggled to love using it and putting good data into the system.

So, we faced challenges on both sides: difficulty getting bosses to use one solution and struggling to get individuals to use the other, plus inputting valuable data for their bosses’ insights. It became a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation—how to capture both audiences to bring the most value. I would say, if you can have a solution built for decision-makers to extract value while not losing sight of the daily users, that’s crucial. Yes, get product feedback from bosses for long-term design, but invest time in user research with the boots on the ground. Ensure that using the platform doesn’t feel like a requirement but a choice because it brings so much value. The key is building with the end in mind but providing value every step of the way for the individuals who need to use the platform.

Cultural differences and challenges in CS

Irina 25:13
That was for sure a very strong answer, and I’m definitely going to use it as is because it helps, especially when describing this part in our next meeting with product, sales, and customer success. Now, speaking about sticking with teams, considering you led teams both in the US and abroad, how do you navigate the cultural challenges in customer success? Are there challenges? Do these cultural difference exist or is it just a myth?

Adam 26:03
That’s a great question. I think it depends on the market, right?

Because you have this interesting challenge between Eastern and Western culture. There are more stark differences between, say, the collective mentality versus the individual mentality. I would say there are definitely differences between North America and Europe, especially Western Europe, but they’re more similar in many ways than Western Europe and Asia, China, Japan. In these cultures, there are more stark differences in the way those two areas interact with customers, challenge authority, and provide feedback. So, if your solution is successful in different markets, you have to have a thread of things that are the same everywhere. But you also have to make allowances for approaches to customers that meet them where their culture is coming from.

This will show itself in the processes you use with customers, the types of meetings, whether they’re more in-person or through Zoom, if they’re more formal presentations or relationship-driven. Are you discussing personal matters like someone’s kids, or focusing more on their boss and metrics? These are things we, as leaders, need to listen to our team members who are familiar with and understand the culture more closely. If we don’t have CSMs in those different locations, we should be asking our customers these questions. For example, “This is how we typically do it in another region. How does that resonate with you now that you’ve been a customer for a while? Are there better ways you think we can approach this situation?” We have to maintain the core of our market positioning and the value we bring to businesses, but we also have to tailor the message to speak to customers in all different cultures.

Types of CS teams

Irina 29:24
Now moving from cultural challenges to type of teams, and you’ve handled teams that are quote-driven and those that are solely focused on customer health, which structure do you think is more challenging and why?

Adam 29:43
In teams solely focused on health, what I find is that the company tends to perceive those teams as a cost center, while revenue-generating teams are seen as a revenue center. Consequently, the cost center teams often end up shouldering additional responsibilities, becoming a catch-all for various tasks. On the other hand, revenue-generating teams typically have a stronger position to assess and prioritize tasks, saying, “While I see the value in that, focusing on it might impact our revenue generation. Is that a decision you want to make?”

Leaders focused on revenue understand the importance but weigh it against potential revenue impact. This dynamic leads to more intelligent conversations about staffing and the value the team brings back to the organization. It helps the entire company focus on what makes customers successful, resulting in better value for them and increased revenue for us.

Building the CS team

Hiring the right people

Irina 31:28
When building teams, what’s the one common trait you look for? What’s the non-negotiable trait a candidate must have? What’s the most important factor when making a hire?

Adam 31:45

I don’t think there’s one thing, and I think that’s the challenge of customer success. You have to have people who love technology and can talk about it. They don’t have to be engineers, but they have to get excited about technology and communicate about it in a way that inspires others. They also need to be great with people to become a trusted adviser for their customers, both externally and internally. It’s a people-centric business, so being excellent with people is crucial.

The third aspect, which is harder to interview for but equally important, is drive. Drive to overcome obstacles, not letting the customer solely decide the direction, and being able to assert, “I understand your perspective, but for your success, you need to follow these strategies that we know will make our customers successful. Otherwise, we might find ourselves discussing in six months why the solution isn’t working for you.” It’s the combination of these three elements that I believe makes a really successful Customer Success Manager.

Most crucial roles and factors in a CS team

Irina 33:29
What are the most important roles in a CS team that you are building? What are the crucial factors that can make or break the team?

33:42
In the beginning, you need CSMs, and eventually, someone needs to rise from a CSM to a leader. They have to shift focus from managing accounts to managing people. However, after operating in that capacity for some time, one of the most crucial roles becomes Customer Success Operations. Sales teams usually grasp the importance of Sales Operations early on, understanding the need to manage Salesforce or revenue ops for better deal closures.

Yet, when organizations decide to allocate some of that team’s time to customer success, challenges arise due to overlap, especially when the sales team generates more revenue. The ops team’s time tends to prioritize the sales team, leaving limited resources for customer success. Therefore, having a dedicated role in Customer Success Operations is vital. This individual should focus on efficiently guiding the team to deliver value to clients promptly, providing them with all necessary tools, such as AI and customer success platforms, to enhance efficiency. Having someone not involved in day-to-day activities, solely administering and organizing these platforms, is crucial for the long-term success of the team.

Irina 35:40
You’ve definitely scaled several teams and reorganized them depending on the company’s stage, momentum, and objectives. Do you have a story where you can share that a setup you implemented is no longer functional, and you needed to change it? I’m curious about a story that led to this transformation and its major impact, if you have one.

Adam 36:13
Yeah. Let me think about it. The question is “how did I pivot to make something successful?”

Irina 36:23
Exactly, exactly. And what triggered this. What was the signal that you received that showed you the structure that you have, it’s no longer working. So we have to change something, we need to do what we need to adapt.

Adam 36:53
I do have a good example. Just between us, as this doesn’t need to be on a recording. During my time with Smartsheet, when the team was rapidly growing and scaling, we faced a challenge. Initially, we had a team of generalists, moving from conversations with manufacturing to technology to professional services companies. Our organization was primarily based on company size rather than industry verticals.

Recognizing the need to understand specific industry use cases, we decided to pivot to industry verticals. We grew the team to a point where we could focus on both company size and industry verticals simultaneously. This shift proved highly successful. We organized teams around verticals like large enterprise technology, SMB to mid-market professional services, and more. It not only allowed us to align better with the needs of different industries but also facilitated collaboration with the sales team.

Instead of following the sales team’s annual restructuring, we took a more intentional approach. This strategic alignment enabled us to target industry verticals more effectively, secure key logos, and leverage these successes to unlock further opportunities and use cases. The approach was a significant success, transforming our team’s dynamics and impact.

Teaming up Sales and CS

Irina 39:54
Because you mentioned that initially you follow the sales structure, then you realize, is that okay? Maybe it’s a good thing to have your own and do things a bit differently. And then you mentioned something about pairing sales with CS. Do you think this is a winning strategy if they basically team up from the beginning of the sales cycle.

How do you do it? Because we speak a lot about this handover where and basically everyone considers the handbook handle where when the sales end, and then it’s no longer my problem. I got the revenue, your problem no longer in my yard.

Adam 40:35
I think any organization that doesn’t keep a portion of the variable compensation for your sales team, any organization that doesn’t tie a piece of that commission to customers staying on for a certain period of time is missing something. Because any salesperson that’s just focused on getting a customer in the door is going to sell the right solution to the wrong customer.

Our solutions are the right solutions when you have the right customer. If you sell them to the wrong customer, all you’re doing is creating pain for the organization. It’s eventual churn and a lot of sales, marketing, implementation, and Customer Success time leading to churn at the end, which is bad for our evaluation and strains the business. So we have to be better at tying long-term success to the initial sale of the customer.

That’s one piece of it. But the other piece is, does it make sense to have people who are out hunting for new business also stick around for the long term? I think that if you tie their compensation to long-term success, you don’t necessarily have to have that. But there’s something gained from being involved with the customer after the sale that helps you be a better salesperson. You can have an idea of how something might work and talk about it that way in the sales cycle. But when you actually make a promise and see that promise fulfilled or unfulfilled through the lifecycle of a customer, that helps a salesperson change their methodology or the way they speak about a problem in the sales process, so that they can be better and have more successful customers over time.

Different types of salespeople

Irina 43:02
You mentioned something about the sales team being a hunter and then being along the journey. This means that you have, along the customer journey, do you have to have different types of salespersons? So the person who sells at the beginning and the person who continues to sell, and then the CSM, how do those combine?

Adam 43:29
That’s the challenge. And that’s one of those questions that I think there’s no right answer to. But I’ve seen it work both ways. I’ve seen it so you have people who are out hunting and then also as an account executive on existing clients, and they’re splitting their time between new sales and sales for existing customers. The problem is, when you have somebody out hunting new business and farming existing business is sometimes there’s maybe a big New Deal that they’re really excited about, all hands on deck. And then you’ve got a CSM that’s like, “Hey, we got an opportunity, we got an opportunity, we got an opportunity,” and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m focused on the big whale. I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it.” And you leave money on the table with your existing customers when you’ve got a big whale that is pulling the attention of your salesperson. So that’s the downside.

The plus to having somebody new business and existing business is that if new business is slow, then they can actually focus better on the existing accounts, make their quota because they’re able to pull from two different sources. And if they’re doing a good job of farming opportunities or uncovering opportunities in both of those areas, then they can continue to keep the flywheel going in both ways. But I’ve also seen it work very well, where you have a new business salesperson, and then it transitions to CSM and account manager or the account executive that is just focused on existing business, existing customers. And I think that works really well when it’s done properly. To have a combination of the two, maybe you have the CSM focused on the revenue of small upsell, cross-sell opportunities and renewals.

And then the AE or your account manager is focused more on the larger opportunities within a book of business. And they’re tag-teaming or dividing and conquering for those opportunities as well. But it does beg the question, do you need both of those roles in post-sales? Or can the CSM own health and revenue? And that’s a question that works well in some organizations and not in others, depending on the solution they’re selling.

Customer health and revenue

Irina 46:13
Do you know when combining health and revenue under the CSM umbrella is not healthy? What are the signs that indicate this? So, how can you make the decision whether you need two roles, or if one is sufficient?

Adam 46:34
I think it has to do mostly with the complexity of the sale, okay? And what I mean is if, post-initial sale during the customer’s lifecycle, you have other modules, adding licenses, or things that are fairly simple and don’t require a complex process to sell into organizations, then I think a CSM, if trained well to close deals and navigate confrontational conversations, can successfully handle revenue generation without the need for an account manager.

However, if, for instance, you’re adding something with a six to seven-figure value, involving presentations to procurement, finance, and IT teams, and requiring the specific skills of seasoned salespeople to navigate complex and confrontational situations, then having a dedicated salesperson is likely the better option. Salespeople bring the necessary expertise in handling complex sales cycles, understanding procurement processes, and assisting clients in purchasing products they may not fully comprehend. In such cases, focusing on closing deals is a specialized skill set that requires full-time attention from a dedicated sales professional.

Irina 48:57
I promise that I’m almost there. I know. I didn’t necessarily stick to the script. But the conversation led me to those and I saw an opportunity to basically answer to the things that I am searching for answers. So I was a bit selfish when it comes to this discussion.

Adam 49:18
Yeah, you should be.

Mistakes in interpreting customer feedback

Irina 49:21
So I wanna I want to discuss both mistakes because I consider it an important source of learning. We are usually afraid of making mistakes. But I think because we don’t make mistakes we don’t develop we don’t grow we do not learn faster fast enough. And when it comes to when it comes to mistakes, I want to ask you what are the common ones you’ve noticed when CSMs try to interpret customer feedback?

Adam 49:51
That’s a great question. And when we talk about customer feedback, you know, customer feedback comes from all different directions. I think the most easily misinterpreted customer feedback is written, be it email, Slack, however, a customer is interacting, product survey feedback. And that’s what I see, that’s where I see the most mistakes. It’s because there’s no tone, there’s no context. It’s just, “Here’s a sentence or a small paragraph.”

Where I see the big mistakes, especially with people who are earlier CSMs, who are earlier on in their careers, is they see a question and they say, “I want to answer that question and then move on.” So they fire back a response to a customer. Maybe they answer the question, maybe they didn’t, but what they definitely missed was the opportunity to understand the context, which may have actually opened up an opportunity for either deeper value and learning for the customer or maybe even an opportunity for a sale.

We don’t have the time for every conversation, for every question that comes in the email, to jump on a phone call, and on a video chat with a customer and talk about it. But that’s one of those mistakes that I see CSMs making often is not backing up from the black and white of the question to say, “What’s the context? What else should I know that could make this a bigger discussion that would be really helpful for the customer? And actually, for me, how do I better understand this customer and how to meet their needs better?” So that’s a big mistake. And I think it’s made oftentimes because people are just afraid. They don’t like confrontation, they’re afraid of picking up the phone and calling somebody. Our lives are full of interpersonal, not very personal communication, social media, text messaging, emails. It takes some bravery to pick up the phone or to reach out and say, “Let’s have a live conversation about this.” But the best CSMs are the ones who are comfortable doing that and get over the anxiety of people and say, “We’re doing this”.

Irina 52:46
On the customer feedback part. Because I know that this creates a bit of confrontation between customer success and product. When I ask you, how do you help your team tell apart the loud few from the actual majority feedback?

Adam 53:07
One time, our product team came to me and said, “You know, we see all this feedback that gets submitted from the CSMs and from the customers, but there’s a lot of noise. So help us prioritize that list of feedback that’s coming from customers so that we have actionable insights.” So what I did is I created a survey for each of our CES team members and left it very simple, intentionally simple, to say, “What are the things that you understand within your customer base are going to drive the most value for your customers? Not just what are they complaining about, but if we were to work on one area of the product that you think would make your customers achieve more value, what would that one thing be?” And they only got one.

Because we had a big enough team, we could take all that feedback together and look for trends within that. Inevitably, one or two things surfaced. And then once we had that, we reached out to the CSMs and said, “Okay, what are the examples? Which customers are going to get the most value out of these things?” Now, it only kind of answers your question because it could have been the loudest person that they just got off the phone with that they felt like, “Oh, that’s the most important thing.” But of course, we validated that with the customer feedback that was coming in and the volume of feedback.

This is true of customer advisory boards that I’ve run in the past as well as internal and external feedback. If you just ask somebody to say, “What do you want?” you’re gonna get a feature. But if you say, “What value would you like to drive within your organization that you think we can help with?” then you’re uncovering much deeper solutions than a feature. It’s my idea of how I might want to solve the value problem that I have. But if you can get somebody to focus on the value and say, “Here’s a way that you might solve that value problem,” you can find that there are 20 different people who are looking for the same value and five different ways that we could get there. But we could handle all of those through a different avenue to this all the value.

Irina 55:57
As we bring this interview to a close, I’d like to end it on reflection. And I want to ask you, seeing the customer success industry as a whole and where it might be heading. What’s your vision for the future of it? And where should upcoming CSM focus their energy to stay ahead?

Adam 56:22

Yeah. Well, there’s no question that AI is changing the industry. And there’s a misunderstanding that AI is going to make it so that we need very few CSMs, you know, actual humans, that AI can do most of it. AI is augmenting and helping make the CSMs’ day more efficient. I think that what people should be focusing on is the human-to-human interactions and getting better and better at the things that AI will never be able to do.

That’s asking the good questions too. I keep bringing up value in this conversation because, at the end of the day, if that’s what’s most important, that’s value is what drives outcomes with your customers, which leads to revenue and renewals and better customer health, expansions, all that stuff. It has to start with value. If we train our people or help people understand CSM understand that it’s in interpreting data and talking to customers that you uncover the potential value that exists within an account, within a company. That’s where all the value is, that’s where you bring value to your organization and your customer. The person-to-person aspect of how you get there, then all the AI and all that stuff is just going to help you be more efficient at doing that.

Irina 58:17
Thank you very much! I feel like it was more than an insightful conversation!

Do you have a CS leader you want to receive tips and tricks from? Let us know and we’ll reach out for an interview.

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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