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Proving the revenue-driven value of CS Part II | Webinar

June 17, 2024 27 minutes read

Summary points:

Welcome to part II of our webinar on Proving the revenue-driven value of CS. This episode brings back together two Customer Success experts De’Edra Williams, EdTech SVP & Advisor for Women in CS, and Saahil Karkera, Vice President of Customer Success at Oaky. You can find part I here.

In this episode you will discover more about:

  • How to prove value of CS with a limited budget
  • How to build a business case
  • How to motivate your team
  • How to communicate ROI results

webinar-play

Intro

Irina 00:01
Hello, everyone, welcome. I’m glad you could join us today. I’m Irina Cismas, Head of Marketing at Custify, and your host for this webinar. Exactly one month ago, we were sitting in the same formula with as we are today, with De’Edra Williams, former SVP at an Edtech company, but also one advisor for Women in Customer Success and Saahil Karkera, VP of Customer Success at Oaky. And we started discussing how to prove the value of the CS teams and capture the attention of the leadership team.

We tackled your biggest challenges, or at least the ones that you guys mentioned, linking CS to revenue, getting the leadership buy in, showing CS strategic value and creating and compiling CS stories. And Saahil walked us through their recommendations. And how can we navigate those challenges, and we’ve been discussing about customer journeys, about ICP, time to value and how can we transform the CS department from a cost center to a revenue center.

Definitely, one hour was not enough. So here we are at part two. I know that you guys had a lot of a lot of questions. I’m sure that you have new ones prepared. So please don’t be shy. Throw it to both Saahil and De’Edra. You can use the chat function. You can use the question tab at bottom right of your device. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna try to navigate between the conversation and moderating the chat conversation. For those of you who are joining for the first time,we will record this conversation and we’ll send it.

We’ll try to answer all your questions. But no worries, even through the conversation, we’re at the end of it in a dedicated Q and A I also mentioned this last time, this conversation doesn’t stop in with this. With this webinar, we’re gonna make sure that we will send you additional resources that hopefully are tailored to your challenges. If not, feel free to come back and let us know that wasn’t clear.

We want to make sure that you have everything that you need to prove internally, the crucial role of the CS department. And I have to say that because I know that there are also people from Romania that are watching us. I’m happy to let you know that we will meet in person for the ones that are in Bucharest, if you aren’t in Bucharest, but if you still want to join, we are organizing the first in person event under the umbrella of Bites and Bonds, CS Connect event. Once again, thank you, Saahil for challenging me and asking me about the Bucharest CS community. Thank you for helping me organize the first event. I’m super hyped about the about it. So if you are in Bucharest, if you are not in Bucharest, but you are in Romania and you want to join, feel free, if you are out of Romania, but still want to join. We are waiting for you on Tuesday 9th of July, 6:30 pm and with this being said, I want to be also mindful of your guys’ time.

Let’s start discussing the things that we have planned for today and from the challenges that you guys mentioned last time, we didn’t discuss about the budget-limited one. So I want to kick start the conversation with this in mind. And I want to pass the question to you, Saahil, because I think that this is something that I see it more predominant in the startup environment, and you’ve been working with a lot of startups.

So how do you deal with limited budget and resources when working in a startup? Is it a curse? Is it a blessing in some cases? What’s your take on this?

Limited budget and resources

Saahil 04:44
Yeah, really good question. I think there are a lot of layers to unpack there. Budget cuts, or limited budgets, are something that every organization is facing. The scope or magnitude of this issue is quite significant, especially for smaller startups, such as those in Series A and Series B. This is likely because they spend a lot of money acquiring customers but not as much effort on retaining them.

Now, the board, investors, and VCs are all asking, “Where’s my money going? What am I supposed to do with these high churn numbers?” So yes, there’s pressure coming from the board. CFOs are being educated on the fly, especially in these smaller companies. A trend I see now is CFOs in small companies learning about CAC, LTV, and CAC payback ratio.

Is it a curse? Yes, in the short run, many roles are being made redundant, and there are no backfills. If there is an opportunity for backfilling, it’s often in countries where hiring is less expensive. It’s a stressful situation, and many teams are going through this phase right now.

However, I also think this represents the biggest opportunity to rethink CS. It’s a time to get closer to your customers and understand the experience they’re looking for, the value they want from the product, and how to reengineer some of these aspects with limited capacities. We may never again have such large CS teams, so the question is not just how to work smart and determine the right things to work on, but how to do it at scale. This is a significant opportunity for us in CS to rethink, reengineer, and reimagine customer success.

Irina 06:51
Do you see AI as a viable solution for startups facing limited resources? Can they effectively implemented it, and to what extent to deal with the less of budget, with the reduced budget?

Saahil 07:10
I think there’s a saying going around everywhere: people are worried about AI replacing people. I believe AI will never replace a person because you still need empathy and those soft skills, which are very hard to train. However, people will increasingly leverage and understand how to use AI in their day-to-day activities. For example, using tools like Update AI or TL;DV to send meeting summaries immediately after a meeting will improve customer experience. Additionally, consider how to integrate AI into your product. If your product requires data from a third-party source, can you use Generative AI to pull that data from the web and populate your data, thereby shortening your time to launch and, hopefully, your time to value?

Leaders will need to educate themselves about what Generative AI means, get their hands a bit dirty, and experiment with it. There is no escaping the fact that you will have to use AI. However, it’s crucial not to let this happen at the cost of neglecting soft skills.

De’Edra 08:22
Well, the quote, and I think that Saahil was going to add this, but the quote that I’m hearing, with some variations, is: “AI will not replace you. However, someone who uses AI will.” And Saahil is like, “Yeah, I can cosign to that.” So, yes, AI is not going away, but from a productivity standpoint, there are so many gains. It also ties into employee experience and customer experience. So, Saahil is spot on. AI is here to stay, and we have to leverage it and find ways to make it a value proposition for what we’re doing. From a CS perspective, absolutely.

Saahil 08:59
And I think, just to add to what you just mentioned, every platform CSMs are using has started to incorporate AI. If you’re using Intercom, they recently introduced Copilot. There is no escaping it. You might as well make it a part of your learning strategy to learn, use, and leverage this to your best abilities. Absolutely.

A practical example of this is one of the things I always say: to make your life easier, you need to understand human psychology. None of us are experts in human psychology, but now you literally have this genie in a box where you can say, “Hey, using XYZ psychological principles, write me an eight-piece onboarding email cadence,” and you can refine it from there. You don’t need to rely on copywriters to do that. This is where you really have to start experimenting, learning, and leveraging AI.

So, what are your opinions?

De’Edra 10:01
I have to give a shout-out to one of our attendees because Jay, I see your message. I’m going to read it so everybody can see it. Jay, who has done a couple of presentations for my team on AI, says, “AI is meant to wash the dishes so we can do art. So, what are the dishes I have in CS that I need to be cleaned? I can do that with art.” Utilizing AI to wash the dishes from a customer success perspective is a great insight. Thank you for that, Jay. I appreciate it.

Saahil 10:35
If you look at what specific things we can leverage AI for I think that calls for a whole other webinar.

De’Edra 10:44
It is another webinar, but I would say that if you want to look at the core of what CS does at every touchpoint in the customer journey, you can utilize AI for onboarding. One of the tools that I’ve been using lately is Zapier, which allows me to build out workflows for developing a customer journey.

From onboarding to the adoption phase and all the way out to the engagement phase, at every customer touchpoint on the journey, you can utilize AI tools to help build out those journeys, frameworks, and even success plans. This way, you can drive value for your customer at every single touchpoint in the customer journey.

How to prioritize and handle budget cuts?

Irina 11:26
We discussed budgets, and I want to ask you to elaborate because I know you have more experience working with bigger teams. Even larger teams and companies are not immune to budget cuts. How do you prioritize what is mandatory and needs to remain, regardless of what we do? What is the minimum we need? And what do you place on a nice-to-have, wishful list? How do you decide what stays and what goes away?

De’Edra 12:08
Yeah, the first thing I want to say is that, and I love this question, by the way, so thank you for it. Everyone in customer success should understand the concept of value equity. And what that means is, as Saahil alluded to earlier, what value does Customer Success bring to the organization? From a customer success standpoint, where I’ve been able to avoid massive budget cuts, whether in larger or smaller companies, is by focusing on two very key revenue drivers: understanding our retention metrics and proving to the organization, whether public or private, what the revenue looks like.

We’ve all heard this a million times—between 70 to 80% of almost any company’s revenue, regardless of size, comes from existing customers. So you need to be able to prove that value equity to your stakeholders, internally or externally, private or public, by showing what the retention numbers look like. This usually involves looking at metrics like the average revenue per customer and determining how much revenue you’re deriving from existing customers.

That’s the first revenue driver. The second one is how you are growing that customer base. This is the additional value. Are you using CSQLs (customer success qualified leads)? Are you expanding within your renewals? Are you continuing to grow your existing footprint with your existing customers?

So, whenever I’m trying to decide what to keep or potentially lose, before I even have that discussion, I want to be able to go to my leadership and say, “This is the value equity that Customer Success provides. These are the revenue retention numbers. This is my revenue growth.” Then, I’m usually able to either mitigate that budget cut or reduce it. Anything that doesn’t lead toward revenue growth and revenue retention are the things I consider removing. But anything that increases revenue growth and revenue retention are the things I prioritize.

Irina 14:17
Saahil, do you want to add anything?

Saahil 14:19
I think, spot on, very well articulated there. What I would love to add is that if you’re operating in a seed stage, Series A, or Series B, as I alluded to earlier, financial literacy tends to be on the lower end of the spectrum. So, if you’re a CS leader or an individual contributor in that space, like De’Edra mentioned, understand those financial metrics and improve your financial literacy. Know your CAC, work closely with your CFO, understand customer lifetime value, CAC payback period, NRR, and then link your day-to-day activities to those metrics.

In smaller companies, the perception of CS is often that it’s merely support or responding to product questions. Unless you start discussing these financial metrics and numbers, you’ll always be put into that bucket. You have to make an effort to shift the narrative. In smaller companies, the CEO, CFO, and CRO often have different perceptions of CS. Unless you change that narrative, you’ll always be the first on the chopping block when it comes to budget cuts.

As De’Edra mentioned, if you can link your activities back to revenue growth or revenue saving, it gives you much more leverage to shape the story and demonstrate the value of CS in progressing the company.

De’Edra 15:51
Spot on, Saahil. I would also add that really understanding the financial literacy part is crucial. I watched a presentation the other day, and the presenter commented on how many customer success leaders fail, unfortunately, due to a lack of financial literacy. If we don’t do a better job of understanding these metrics—like you said, NRR, cost of goods sold, cost to serve, customer lifetime value, and net present value—we’ll struggle. I’ll speak more about net present value later, but it’s essential for preventing budget cuts because it defines the equity value I mentioned earlier. Having that financial literacy, as Saahil pointed out, is really going to make a difference in the future of Customer Success.

Saahil 16:40
And just to kind of also add to that, because I don’t know the audience in terms of where they are in their customer success journey, you will never have all the data. You need to make assumptions and start where you are, building and iterating while cleaning up the data. If you take that ownership, leadership will start to view you differently compared to just seeing you as someone who does support.

What I also always recommend is starting to track things at a granular operational level. A tangible example I can give is someone I’ve been coaching. In this person’s team, they had to make a few people in customer onboarding redundant because they only had anecdotal information about how difficult and time-consuming onboarding is. However, when we started tracking the unit effort to onboard a customer and mapped that over the sales trajectory for the next 12 months, we clearly saw that the current team, after the redundancies, would be overutilized by 700%. This gave the person much more leverage to have a conversation with management, saying, “We are overclocking. We need more resources in terms of manpower, or we need to reduce the effort in onboarding by doing PLG and automated onboarding,” and so on.

So, you have to be financially literate, but you also need to track operational metrics. Both the operational and monetary metrics are crucial.

The importance of data

Irina 18:19
Speaking about data, I see something posted in the chat by Jay: “Data, or it didn’t happen.” I used to work with a CEO who always told me, “If we have the data, share it with me. If all we have are assumptions, then we might as well go with wine.” That was his approach. So, if we have data, great. If not, and all we have are assumptions, then we might as well go with wine, because as the CEO, he could take it.

De’Edra 19:01
We talked about this in the last podcast—being a data ninja, really digging into what data you have access to. Saahil, you’re spot on. You’re never going to have all the data. I hate to use absolutes, but having complete data would be utopia, and we’re not in that world. However, having financial literacy around what data you need and having access to the people who can get you the right data and parse it is crucial.

We talked about this last time: any type of telemetry reports, cohort reports, are things I rely heavily on to figure out, going back to that ICP. But again, it all needs to tie back to and support your company’s overall goals, regardless of its size, and what you’re trying to achieve. Use that data to leverage that equity value because it helps you prove your point to your internal stakeholders and demonstrate value to your customers. You need to have financial literacy when speaking with your customers as well because it’s the language they use to make business decisions.

Building a business case

Irina 20:04
Let’s discuss how we build a business case for CS. What are the steps you take? How do you organize yourselves in building this? Let’s start with you, and then we’ll pass it to Saahil.

Saahil 20:26
When I’m trying to figure out what value, or what value equity is for customer success, it really goes to net present value (NPV). This involves looking at my customer base and projecting out from a growth perspective, using trend analysis and also considering the future value of what those customers will bring.

By understanding that 80% of our revenue comes from existing customers, I can sit down and say, from an ROI perspective, this is the value of our customer base today. This is the potential value over their lifetime. Saahil mentioned the lifetime value of a customer, and when I can articulate that, I’m able to build a business case not only for the value of customer success but also for the potential revenue growth we can bring to the organization.

This helps mitigate potential budget cuts and redundancies we discussed earlier. It also helps me retain staff because if they understand the value they provide, they take greater pride in their work. To make a decision, start with what that value equity is, look at the NPV, and then build out a case for it. Present this to your stakeholders, whether it’s a publicly or privately traded company.

Irina 21:50
I’m also curious because we have some people watching us live. I’m curious about what your challenges are when trying to build that business case we’re talking about. I’m super curious. Drop it in the chat. Maybe some of the things can be picked up by De’Edra and Saahil, and maybe they have some concrete tips for you. Let us know how hard it is in your organization to build a business case. If it’s hard, why is that? Do you feel like you have leadership support? How are those conversations going in your current companies?

And Saahil, moving to you, how do you start building the business case?

Saahil 22:38
So I think all the things I would have said are covered. Very spot on. It’s always important to start with the net present value and then see how you can maximize it using different levers. One of the approaches that has always worked for me over the last eight to nine years, and that’s also what I always tell people, is the first thing a CS leader can do is align very closely with your CFO and your CEO. Try to understand what company milestones you want to hit over the next six to twelve months, and then start incorporating that and seeing how CS can deliver on those numbers.

For example, if your CEO tells you, “In the next 12 to 18 months, we want to raise Series A,” what does that mean? What financial metrics and numbers are investors going to look at? They will look at retention numbers. How can CS drive those numbers? If I need to contribute by taking our retention number from 85 to 95, I need to run these campaigns and need these resources. Pretty much like De’Edra mentioned, start from where you are and then build backwards towards how we can bring value and hopefully help you raise a Series A or B.

Because with each of these funding or investment milestones, investors are always looking at one metric or another. For Series A, retention is for sure one of the important numbers. But they are also looking at whether you can scale quickly enough and onboard a volume of customers quickly enough. That’s the area we will focus on, and that’s how we will bring and showcase the value of CS to the organization.

Irina 24:25
You go on, and then I’ll read, because Jay shared his view.

De’Edra 24:32
Yeah, I was about to go to that. I’m going to co sign everything that Sahil just said, but I also was going to pivot to Jay’s question. So I don’t know if you want to maybe bring it in.

Irina 24:41
Let’s bring it in.

De’Edra 24:45
Yeah, Jay, it’s a very valid point. I’ve had similar experiences. To read out the question for those who aren’t seeing it, I’ll try to encapsulate it. At the end of the day, a lot of times, leaders aren’t listening. Unfortunately, Saahil agrees with me on that. I’ve been in that position, but it really goes back to what Saahil just said. We need to make sure that we’re speaking their language.

For example, I do a lot of mentoring, and I was coaching one of my mentees to pull together a board presentation. They were still focusing on what I consider Customer Success 2.0 and Customer Success 3.0—things like adoption and sentiment. Those things are interesting and important, but we need to have financial literacy and tie it back to the overall goals and objectives, exactly as Saahil said. If you’re talking about things that are not specific to your company, it’s ineffective.

I’ll give you a case in point from my previous position. When I first joined the company as VP of Customer Success, my team reported to sales. The metrics sales were being measured on did not align with the customer success metrics. We were perceived as the do-anything department, a support entity. However, I insisted, “No, we can drive revenue, renewals, retention, and growth. Let’s make sure our KPIs and OKRs are tied to those.”

What I did was exactly what Saahil said. I sat down with the CEO and asked, “What are you trying to achieve over the next three to five years? Let me show you how we can help.” I had already looked at my customer cohorts, sat down with the VP of Sales to review their targets, and knew our trajectory. Based on our existing customer base and potential revenue, we could determine the value we could provide. That’s when the CEO started listening to me.

So, to answer your question, Jay, make sure you’re speaking the executive’s language, using financial literacy, and showing your value equity. Demonstrate that customer success drives revenue growth and retention. I hope that answered your question, Jay. I know you’ll tell me if it didn’t.

Irina 27:15
I think he had. He also had a follow up question. And he’s asking you, if you have those kind of conversations frequently, and what’s the cadence to have them?

De’Edra 27:28
I will answer that question, but I want to ask Saahil if he wants to add anything before I jump into it.

Saahil 27:36
Please go on. I couldn’t address the question any better than you.

De’Edra 27:41
Okay, well, I will tell you that at the company I mentioned, I had a weekly cadence with my CEO where we went through a dashboard. I pulled up my dashboards based on the OKRs I just mentioned. Once a month, I did a presentation to the board that covered four metrics. First and foremost, what my team’s NRR was to date. It also covered what we considered Customer Success Qualified Leads (CSQLs) and the close ratio for those. I also talked about sentiment because, while NPS and CSAT are commonly discussed, customer sentiment can impact revenue, so I presented that to the board.

Additionally, one of the metrics I created as part of my OKR was my employee engagement numbers and where my employees stood in terms of sentiment. This was something I presented to the board as well because how we treat our CS teams and their motivation is critical, as it drives revenue. We can have an additional conversation about that, but those are the four things: NRR, CSQLs and close ratio, overall customer sentiment, and, importantly, employee experience (EX).

Saahil 29:04
Fantastic point. Just to add from my side, I think this will really depend on the organization, right? Some CEOs, like in the case of De’Edra, may want a weekly update to have that pulse. Others may prefer a monthly update and be fine with that. It depends on what metrics you discuss and what’s valuable for the CEO to know because you need to consider both leading and lagging indicators.

I always recommend proposing a balanced scorecard approach that you can publish once a month or once a quarter to show progress over time. It’s essential to keep in mind the trend line—whether it’s looking like an upward trend or a downward trend. From a CEO perspective, the goal is to make this data easy to understand so they can track your team’s progress. Is it upwards or trending downwards?

Also, as De’Edra mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to understand what specific areas the board needs you to step up on. For example, if your time to launch is off compared to industry benchmarks, include that specific metric in your balanced scorecard. Once you achieve that number, move it away.

Additionally, consider sending an internal monthly newsletter to your key stakeholder group. If you report to the head of product, send a short summary update to the head of product, sales, marketing, and the CEO to keep everyone aligned.

Irina 30:44
I think there’s one thing you guys definitely have hands-on experience with in customer success. What I want to summarize, because Christiana mentioned that she reports to someone whose background is not financial but engineering, is that it’s important to understand the persona to whom you are reporting. Understand their priorities and how you can help them.

In most cases, maybe 90%, it’s all about revenue and financial metrics, and the CEO and CFO have that financial mindset. But if it’s an engineering background, then you need to understand how to navigate developer conversations and prove your value in that context. It’s about understanding your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and the persona insight of the person you will work with.

De’Edra 32:06
I’m going to cosign absolutely on that, and I’ve been in that position. What I will say is Saahil mentioned something critical: building out a dashboard that is tied to the individual, particularly within the C-suite. For example, when I talked about those revenue metrics, that’s generally the conversation I’m having with the CEO.

However, I spent a lot of time talking to the CIO and the CTO in my previous roles as SVP. One of the things I always did was provide customer feedback from a product perspective because they are not generally customer-facing. That customer feedback usually comes from customer success, offering a different perspective. I can still tie it back to revenue because they have to make product decisions, and often, they might build something the customer doesn’t want.

If we give them the right insights, they can make product decisions, co-innovation decisions, and enhancement decisions based on that particular customer feedback that customer success provides. More importantly, this does impact revenue. If the product team builds products that customers don’t want, we lose product-market fit. However, if customer success provides the insights they need, they can build products that increase revenue and retention.

So again, it’s still tied to revenue. The data points on the dashboard might be different for the VP of Product or the CTO, but it should still be tied to the overall revenue that the company can potentially earn or retain.

Irina 33:50
Very well nailed. I would say, and I don’t want to move away from the topic you mentioned about employee sentiment. I’m curious, how did you measure it? How did you report on it? How did you pick the data to associate with it? Was it a feeling-based thing? How was it measured? I’m super curious.

De’Edra 34:12
I was really lucky. In one of my roles, I was able to improve employee satisfaction by 30%, and that was a metric I included as part of my OKRs. As I mentioned, I reported this to the Board because it does impact revenue. We can drill into that. One statistic I find incredibly fascinating is that 59% of employees are more likely to stay in an organization if they are satisfied. This ties back to revenue because constant attrition impacts two things. First, it affects morale internally, as those left behind have to cover the work of those who left. Second, it impacts your ability to engage with customers and build lifetime relationships.

To answer your question about how I measured it, one of the companies I worked with used a tool called Lattice. Every one of my direct reports had a Lattice dashboard, and we reviewed that dashboard weekly, depending on their reporting level. This was a small startup, so I’m not talking about hundreds of employees, but it’s something that could be scaled. I knew their sentiment because, at the end of every week, they sent a sentiment report to me. This allowed me to pivot quickly. Waiting until a 90-day, 60-day, or six-month review is often too late to course-correct for your employees in customer success.

On a weekly basis, I could sit down with my team. The sentiment report used smiley face emojis, and if I didn’t get a smiley face emoji from everyone, I knew something was wrong. This prompted me to sit down with those individuals and figure out what was going on.

I focused on three things with my teams, which I call the three Cs:

– Clear understanding of motivations: We are all motivated by different things.

– Clear communication: Ensuring that I communicate what their leadership, either myself or their direct supervisor, expects and why.

– Clear path to success: How they can succeed in their role and how I can enable that success.

Using tools like Lattice or other employee resource tools allowed me to measure sentiment over time, rather than relying on lagging indicators. I hope that answered your question.

How to motivate your team?

Saahil 36:53
Brilliant, spot on. I wouldn’t add anything more there. I do think the space we are in now, with all the changes happening, especially in smaller companies, feels a lot more frequent. I always say clarity equals speed. As a leader, you really have to be clear in terms of what is a priority because in startups, today’s priority might not be tomorrow’s. Bringing that clarity to your team in terms of what’s important really helps with the speed of execution.

Jay also mentioned in the chat that engaging with your team on a regular basis shows them you’re engaged. I sometimes empathize with middle managers because they are getting pressure from both the board and the team they manage. They have to manage expectations on both sides.

What always works for me is going for a walk around the block. There’s something about walking next to a person in an open environment that makes people open up more. I make sure that once every month we go for a walk around the block. Throughout the month, engage with them at different levels. Have your weekly team meetings, bi-weekly portfolio review meetings with the CS team, and outside of the walk around the block, have one meeting focused on career growth.

Engage with people across different layers and tell them, “This is your space to talk about your pain points and challenges, and also give feedback to your leader.” I expect my team to be brutally honest with me, saying, “Hey, you’re being very unclear,” or “You’re being very demanding right now,” or “You are coming up with way too many initiatives. Can we stop this?” It goes both ways.

I genuinely hope for the audience here that you have open managers like that as well. If not, I always recommend opening up that conversation. At the end of the day, we are all humans. We are empathetic people. I hope your leader takes that as good, positive feedback.

De’Edra 39:11
Oh, again, I can cosign everything Saahil just said, and he obviously said it brilliantly. I would also agree that reflective feedback is so critical as a leader. I have learned so much from the individuals who report to me, not only from the sentiment tracking I do through a tool or personal one-on-ones, but also from the reflective feedback.

It’s interesting that you mention this because one of the CEOs I reported to would take us for a walk once a month. He would get the entire executive team, and we would walk for an hour. What was interesting was that it was informal—no PowerPoint presentations, no discussions around metrics. It was a way for us to have informal conversations, sometimes about difficult topics that are harder to discuss in an office setting.

If you’re walking in a beautiful park or a natural setting, as he often arranged, it can facilitate engagement. Many of us were new in our roles since it was a startup, but those walks led to some of the most valuable conversations we had, outside of board presentations and our weekly leader meetings.

So, I love the idea of a walk around the block, and it can be very helpful. Additionally, that reflective feedback is essential.

Saahil 40:31
And just to also add, I remember reading this somewhere, though I don’t recall where it was from, but it said that when you’re having a meeting with someone, always try to sit next to them. Sitting across from each other feels very interrogative. So, 90% of my one-on-one conversations with my team members are sitting next to them. It does something psychologically—I don’t know exactly what, but it makes a difference.

De’Edra 41:00
So now speak to that if you’re in a virtual environment, because there’s so many individuals, and I’m seeing some of that coming up in the chat that are working, how do you create that side by side in a virtual environment? Not to put you on the spot, but I’m curious.

Saahil 41:14
Ah, it’s a really good question.

De’Edra 41:20
I love the idea, I work remotely for like, the last 15 years, so it’s rare that I have an in office one on one.

Saahil 41:26
Yeah, so I think what we’ve done at OKI, and this started during the height of the pandemic two years ago, is to incorporate some of those habits even now. A major part of our meeting, especially at the beginning, is all about small talk. It might feel awkward, but it’s important. For example, I hope my team won’t watch this before next week’s meeting, but we’re all going to put on those funny Google Meet masks, like the animal filters, to keep it light and engaging. You have to think of these fun activities.

I know the team we have in Kuala Lumpur has a virtual breakfast together or a virtual lunch once a month. You have to create those in-person coffee moments virtually as well.

De’Edra 42:23
I love that! What my team did was have “Friday Fabulous.” This was a small startup with about 50 of us. On Friday Fabulous, all the respective teams—whether product or customer success—would jump on a call and talk about what we did that week. My team called ourselves the Guardians of the Galaxy because I’m a big MCU fan. Each individual on my team assumed a Guardians of the Galaxy persona, and we would do cosplay or dress up as those characters and do our presentations in character.

So, there are fun ways to engage and motivate the team, and that was one of them.

How to communicate ROI results?

Irina 43:10
I want to go back to the revenue part and the business case part. You actually addressed how to keep your team motivated, and it’s nice that we ended up there. Somehow, you answered the question without me asking. I want to go back to the revenue part and the business case part. Regardless of how well we are prepared, there is always a level of skepticism from some leaders.

So, I want to ask, how do you communicate the ROI results to those skeptical leaders? Especially when you encounter situations where the CEO says, “If all we have are assumptions, we might as well go with wine because I’m the CEO.” How do you navigate those tough conversations where the CEO puts on the CEO hat and dismisses your assumptions? It’s a tough and demotivating situation, but I want to help the audience prepare for those conversations as well.

De’Edra 44:33
Yeah, it’s a difficult question, and I’ve had them. I think the most interesting conversation was with the CTO at a startup once. I remember in our weekly one-on-one, he started the call by saying, “I owe you an apology.” I thought, okay, I don’t recall. He started the conversation off like that, so I was unsure which way this would go.

It goes back to something Saahil said. At that point, I’d been with the company for a few months, coming in as a new VP. My team and I had worked very hard to provide clarity around what customer success was. We saw it as a strategic, proactive, value-driven organization—that was our mantra. It was part of any presentation we ever presented, both internally and externally. We thought we were doing a really good job. We had improved customer engagement by 40% and had become a trusted advisor to our customers. Customers were coming to us to do QBRs. As you guys heard me talk about core meetings, customers were coming to us saying, “When is our next customer objective meeting?” similar to a QBR.

However, what we had not done a very good job of, at least in the CTO’s mind, was articulating what customer success was within the organization. That was an epic fail for me as a CS leader. What he was apologizing for was that he knew we had done all of this externally, and he really had not listened to any of it. To his credit, even though we’d done it externally, he participated in our Friday Fabulous calls, so he knew what we were doing. But we had not sat down with him and his team on a regular basis to talk about what we were doing for them.

When they started objecting to some of the things my team wanted to do, I sat down with him after this apology and asked, “Tell me what you think my team does.” He said all those things that Saahil mentioned: “Oh, you guys handle support tickets, deal with escalations, and are just all about making the customer happy.” I said, “First off, there’s another organization that does that—it’s called support, and we’re not that.” He thought CS meant customer support.

So, I said, “Let’s step back and let me explain to you, based on the conversations I’ve had with our CEO, what customer success does.” I used the data and value metrics that made sense for the CTO to explain the value we provide internally and to his respective teams. After that, he went to the CEO, and on one of our Friday Fabulous calls, our CEO said to the entire company, “De’Edra’s team is not customer support.” My Slack channel blew up; my entire team was like, “That is amazing he said that!”

More importantly, it provided clarity for everyone. Some of the cuts they wanted to make to my team were reconsidered. After these conversations, a lot of that noise went away because I was able to clearly articulate, using the data and the appropriate language for this individual, the value we provided. He was then able to advocate on my behalf to the CEO, and I was able to mitigate some of the possible cuts.

It was really about having clarity around who we were and what we did. That’s how I overcame that particular objection. I hope that makes sense.

Irina 48:13
Sahil, do you want to add anything?

Saahil 48:15
Yeah, I’m going to take a bit of a different tangent on this. By the way, I completely agree with what De’Edra mentioned—it’s always about showing with numbers what you do and what you can potentially achieve. I also think every team, with the best intentions, always believes they are the center of the business and that they are the ones doing everything. Sometimes, we in CS are in our own little bubble.

As De’Edra mentioned, it’s also about collaboration. It’s about talking to other teams about the metrics that matter to them and creating synergy between the teams. But it’s also hard. Just because we in CS understand the importance of CS doesn’t mean everybody gets it, and it’s tough. It’s your job to educate them. In some cases, people will get it right away. In other cases, it will take a few weeks, months, or maybe even a year before they understand.

That’s the mindset you need to have—you should not give up. Using metrics and numbers, as De’Edra mentioned, and speaking to them in their language will eventually shift and change the narrative. There is no silver bullet to this. There’s no single metric or number that will suddenly make everyone say, “Aha, that’s what you do.” It’s impossible.

De’Edra 49:36
And it’s reiterated—you keep having to say it. That’s the challenging part for my teams and myself as a CS leader. It’s never a one-and-done. It’s an ongoing process. You have to pivot, you have to be agile, and you have to keep saying it over and over. Exactly spot on, exactly what Saahil said.

Challenges in presenting the business case

Irina 49:54
I have one more question for you both. I’m curious, as you have different experiences and have interacted with different types of companies, what were the common obstacles or objections you encountered when presenting business cases? Regardless of all the data and how well-prepared you were coming into a meeting, there are situations where there’s always one question you didn’t prepare for or didn’t think about. What were those common challenges?

Saahil 50:48
Yeah, I would genuinely say, early on in my career, not being in sync with my sales counterpart was a major obstacle. At the end of the day, the CFO looks at this from a unified company revenue and financial model perspective. So, you can’t have a completely different story compared to your sales counterpart. That was one of the genuine mistakes I made early on in my career.

The CFO would ask, “How does this track and overlay compared to the sales projection?” and I’d realize I had no idea. At that point, my plan would fall apart, and I’d need to go back and rebuild things. Questions like, “What’s your unit effort to onboard a customer?” or “Why are you asking for these additional resources?” were common and challenging.

These have been painful learnings over the years. If you’re asking for a dollar, you need to think about all the ways and reasons you need that single dollar and speak from that perspective. My learnings from the past include coming up with numbers, only to have the CFO poke holes in them, realizing there were a lot of holes. Then, I’d have to go back to the drawing board and come back.

De’Edra 52:00
No, again, spot on. Cosigning on all of that, I would say a similar variation of the challenge is something I heard constantly, often coming from sales. The idea that “customer success is a cost center, that’s all we are. We’re not a profit center. We don’t generate revenue. Sales owns the customer, and you do not.”

What I had to learn was sitting down with the VP of Sales, sitting down with the CRO, who I reported to directly in my previous role as SVP, and saying, “Actually, we are not just cogs. We’re not just a line item on a P&L. We can own a P&L, and more importantly, we can generate revenue.” Then, I would demonstrate how we generate that revenue.

It goes back to something I said earlier: sitting down with the VP of Sales or the CRO and the CEO, in some cases, and saying, “This is the average revenue per customer that my team generates currently.” Then, looking at the customer lifetime value and NPV, saying, “Over the lifetime, this is the potential trajectory of additional revenue.” Using statistics to say that, for the most part, if you look at a customer success qualified lead, it has an 80% conversion rate versus a marketing qualified lead, which has a 2-3% conversion rate.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that if I go with a customer success lead, the sales cycle will be shorter, the retention rate will be higher, and the average revenue will be much greater than with just a marketing-generated lead.

That’s one of the things I’ve used to overcome those objections, but it tends to be an objection around, “All you guys are is a line item on a cost sheet.” I have to constantly sit down with leadership and say, “No, we’re not. There is an ROI. We do drive value, and we can be successful within your organization.”

Saahil 54:00
Just to also add to what De’Edra mentioned, not everything can be measured so tangibly. Sometimes, it’s about the feedback you pass along to your sales colleagues, like, “Hey, we’re hearing this from the market. Incorporate that into your qualification questions.” Or, “This is what we hear from our ICP, so marketing team, sharpen your value proposition.”

I don’t know how you could put a number or a metric to it, but that’s something you can always speak to. It’s where you need to closely align with your GTM counterparts and your product counterparts.

De’Edra 54:38
You’re spot on. It’s not always a quantitative metric. Sometimes it’s a qualitative metric. One of the most valuable insights that customer success can provide throughout the organization is that feedback loop, which can go to the product team or the sales team.

You cannot always quantify it, but you can qualify it. When you look at product decisions made based on customer feedback or sales cycles and frameworks influenced by customer feedback, there can be a through line to a revenue metric. However, it isn’t always a one-for-one quantitative metric.

But you’re spot on, as always.

Irina 55:23
Guys, it looks like we covered almost all the questions, including those addressed through the conversation and the ones I had prepared for both of you. So, I think we can call it a day. Of course, that doesn’t mean the conversation stops here—actually, far from it. We want to stay in touch and keep discussing through different channels.

A big thank you to both De’Edra and Saahil for your valuable insights, and to everyone who contributed to this conversation and participated in today’s webinar. Until next time, take care and have a great day, everyone. Thank you!

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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