What’s the role of Customer Success in a product-led, self-service scenario?
As the PLG model is dominating the SaaS landscape, and customer success people everywhere are wondering about its impact, we decided to answer this question during our first webinar together with Irina Cismas, Marketing Manager at Custify, and her special guest, Claudiu Murariu, CEO and Co-founder of InnerTrends.
Below are the main topics they talked about:
- How to optimize self-service onboarding with data-led support
- How to make your marketing and communications better and how to decrease churn
- The partnership between customer success and product teams
- Striking the right balance between automating communications and getting in touch with the customers
- How to get value from the onboarding process
- How to have the right context for communications
- How to focus on problems that exist
- Deep dives into product offerings
Optimizing Self-Serve Onboarding with Data-Led Support
Hello, good morning, everyone. Thank you for registering for our first webinar session with the theme: customer success in a product-led growth organization. I’m Irina Cismas. I’m the Head of Marketing for Custify and, together with me, I have Claudiu Murariu, who is the CEO and co-founder of InnerTrends. And both of us will slice and dice in the following hour on the topic of how to optimize self-serve onboarding with data-led support. Claudiu, thank you for accepting our invitation. It’s not the first time when the two of us are actually interacting. We have a professional history, but it’s definitely the first time when we are in this formula – me as a host and you as a guest. So for those of us who do not know you, I will ask you to do a quick intro. And then I think we should jump directly into the topic because we have a lot of things to discuss and almost one hour.
What is the Product Promise, and How Can Customers Experience it?
Thank you. Thank you very much, Irina. Indeed, our professional relationship goes way back. And I remember when we first interacted on a major project, and it was actually related to customer success and product performance. So I think this webinar fits very nicely into that.
I’m the CEO of InnerTrends, a product analytics solution that delivers pre-built product analytics reports. So basically, we offer pre-built reports that our customers simply click on in order to get the insights they need. The reports run automatically and identify data.
So this gives us the ability to understand the customer data. And the last bit I’m going to present today is from our learnings, from the data we’ve seen and analyzed over a couple of years already, and the relationship with customer success. I’m really, really excited about this session. So let’s jump into it.
As Irina mentioned, we’ll be talking about product-led growth and customer success. And more specifically, we’ll be talking about how to optimize self-service onboarding with data-led support. As I said earlier, I’m the founder of InnerTrends, and I’m going to share a lot of data today. And pretty much everything that’s going to be shared is from my experience and my team’s experience with hundreds of SaaS businesses. And I’m going to focus specifically on the relationship between customer success and product.
I’m going to set up the basics here. So the presentation will focus on a single stage of the customer journey. And that is the onboarding process. We have data, and we analyze all the stages of the customer journey metrics, but today, we’re going to be talking only about the onboarding process. And of course, we need to start with the definition of the onboarding process, so we get on the same page. At InnerTrends, we define the onboarding process as the process that takes people from signing up, to experiencing the promise of your product for the first time. So the onboarding process isn’t an email guide, email sequence, product guide, wizard, video, or some checklist. It’s actually the process that people go through from signing up to getting to that promise. That promise is found on your website, homepage, social media, ads, and pretty much everything that you communicate to your user. It’s your value proposition. If you want to name it like that, though, I do prefer the “promise” name because it’s more personable.
So I’m also going to share the framework we use for defining the promise of your product and the steps to get to that promise because that’s very important. With a good and common definition inside your organization, you’re going to be way better set up for success, rather than having different definitions for different departments or asking yourself what the onboarding process is, what is an onboarded or inactivated account, and so on.
So the promise is the value that your product or app can deliver to the user. That’s why they come to you. We promise something, they say yes, they want that; it fits the value that they want to receive. And they’re going to sign up, hoping to get to that value as quickly as possible. With that in mind, I can say that the purpose of product and customer success, especially in a product-led company, is to make sure more customers get to experience more of the promise.
The purpose of product and customer success, especially in a product-led company, is to make sure more customers get to experience more of the promise you make to them.
And you will see that I’ve put this purpose for both departments because that’s indeed very important. And in so many organizations, it doesn’t happen exactly like that. I think that’s a very important aspect. And that takes me to the next thing: how do product and customer success teams work together? We already know that the purpose of the product team is to design features, deploy them, and measure the quantitative data to understand if the feature that was launched was a good feature and if it delivered the performance that was required from it.
We also know that customer success has the purpose of targeting people that need help to advise them to reach their goals and also to measure qualitative data. And in a product-led strategy, all of these should come together. Quantitative and qualitative data coming together in analysis from a product perspective (which means focusing on delivering value to as many people as possible) will ensure customer success has a huge impact. Again, that analysis should always happen together. One of the purposes of customer success is to transfer knowledge to the product. Customer success is probably the best link a product manager can have to a customer.
And that’s something where I’m also going to ask Irina to jump in here because I think this is also very aligned to how Custify thinks of customer success. Customer Success isn’t only about the mindset of “let’s get people to pay more for my product.” In a product-led approach, customer success proposes building a better product for customers. And then asks “how can I transfer that information both to the customer and the product department?”
How Customer Success Makes Communication Better and Lowers Churn
So actually, thanks for mentioning this; if I had said it in the beginning, everybody would’ve thought I was biased because I’m working for a customer success company. But actually, I second everything that you said. And in our case, the CS team acts as an advisory; they are investing a lot of time into understanding the context and background in which the client is activating. They want to understand what their goals are, what they want to achieve, what challenges exist, which challenges they want to overcome, etc. So in this respect, I think we are more like a business partner rather than a software solution.
We have all the customer insights into, of course, our own product because we are actually using Custify (we like to drink our own champagne). We then use those insights in everything that we do in marketing, sales, and also in the product. And for us, the alignment between those four core functions is mandatory. I was having a conversation a few days ago with one of our customers, and I wanted to know how it all started, what their journey was like, etc., and they were curious to understand this part. They started saying that initially, they were only looking for an onboarding solution. They then realized that they needed more than an onboarding solution. Long story short, they implemented Custify, and now have all their customer insights in one place. And they’re actually using those types of insights; they’re using it in their marketing strategy and have better marketing messages.
Because of the way they tailored communication, they got better results in sales since the sales department gets more qualified leads and a better conversion rate. And because they reached this product-market fit, their churn decreased by 25%.
And because of the way they tailored the communication, they got better results in sales since the sales department gets more qualified leads and a better conversion rate. And because they reached this product-market fit, the churn decreased by 25%. They had a very clear segmentation and they were combining customer attributes with product-led events. So they had the chance to actually understand how a specific segment was using their product, which types of features customers were using, and at what frequency. They could ask questions like “what does this mean?”, “what do customers value”, etc., and all those insights were communicated in marketing. Because of better communication, the sales process was smoother and the churn decreased. So I think this supports everything that you said in the way those functions truly work. So okay, it’s more than customer success and product, but the insights that both departments are gathering can be used in marketing and sales.
The Partnership Between Customer Success and Product Teams
Yes, the bottom line is that customer success, especially in a sales-driven organization, is a lot about one-to-one relationships. So if I find an opportunity, somebody that I can upgrade or ensure that they don’t churn, I advise that person to fix that relationship. With a product-led approach, the purpose of customer success is the same, but in this case, it’s “one to many.” And when you have one to many, you understand what’s happening, you document it clearly, and you share that with the product team or product manager so they can implement a solution for that target. So you still decrease churn and have an impact on upgrades. You do this not by talking to one person or another but rather by learning from that person; you learn what needs to be done, communicate to the product team, and implement it.
But let’s get into four clear scenarios because when there’s a lot of theory, practice is usually better. So I’m going to focus on four scenarios in this presentation.
- One is: users get stuck during the onboarding process,
- another one is: people take longer than expected to onboard.
- then: automated emails are not fixing the issues,
- and lastly: people pay before they get value.
These are very common, we’ve seen them very, very often with the customers of InnerTrends. I’m going to show you how product teams, together with customer success teams, tackle them. In a product-led approach (I’m going to emphasize this a lot during today’s presentation) you must form a partnership between the product team and the customer success team if you want to deliver results. So to optimize the road to the promise, you’ll first need to define your onboarding process. And as I mentioned in the beginning, it’s about that framework for defining the onboarding process. Think of it as the technical requirements a user needs to go through in order to experience the promise of the product.
Let’s go through an example: for a product that’s designed for electronic signatures, the technical requirements for somebody to sign a document are as follows: create an account, upload a document, send it to a second party that needs to sign, and get it signed. Customers can’t experience the “promise” if one of these steps doesn’t happen. And usually, when you think of them as technical requirements, the process becomes linear. Furthermore, it becomes much easier for you to understand which particular technical requirement of your product is getting people into trouble or making them feel overwhelmed.
It’s not about your interface, the guides, or anything like that. It’s about what is required technically from your users. So once you have that, inevitably, you’ll get to identify an onboarding step where you are losing most accounts due to technical requirements. And of course, that’s what you should focus on. Where you’re losing the most accounts is your biggest opportunity to identify a problem, it means that you should have an understanding of what’s happening there.
Where you’re losing the most accounts is your biggest opportunity to identify a problem.
One pre-build report we offer helps you identify the actions that influence people to get from one technical requirement to another. That report is going to help you analyze three things: actions that are specific to successful users, actions specific to drop-offs, and actions without impact. Actions that are specific to successful users are good friction, friction that we want to happen because when it does, people are more likely to be successful. Actions that are specific to drop-offs lead to very bad friction, which is something that we want to avoid. Actions without impact lead to something called “probably bad friction,” which is most likely an area where people lose time. You also want to avoid that.
So a product manager will go into a product analytics tool and generate a report such as “what are the actions that people perform between onboarding steps,” and we get the buckets that I was telling you about – actions that are specific to accounts that reach the next step and actions that are specific to accounts or to drop off. So here, we are in an email marketing product; we see that people who add clients or create the first campaign are more likely to add subscribers.
So this is better information for me as a product manager, but I understand that I don’t get the context of everything. What kind of campaigns do we create? Why do we create campaigns before adding subscribers? Shouldn’t they do it the other way around, as they would expect? What’s with the clients? The product manager could say that they didn’t expect them to add clients at this stage. So the product manager knows where the problem is and what needs to be fixed, but doesn’t know how to fix it. So that’s when communication to the customer success team comes in. Product goes to the customer success team and says, “Hey, I have a large number of accounts that did this and were successful, but a lot of my accounts that were created didn’t do it, so I want to understand how to push this to more customers. And I’d like you to get in touch with them.” So they give you the scenario that needs to be fixed with very clear details.
Having that scenario, as a customer success team, you have two options: direct contact and automated targeting. I encourage the first option, which is to get on a call (direct contact) with the customer. Because remember, the purpose is to understand why and how you need to take notes. You also need to document that scenario to send to the product team so they know how to tackle it inside the product. Essentially, you feed the product team with an idea that will increase the conversion rate from one step to another, in turn, you will have a huge impact.
So the first option is direct contact, and the second is automated targeting. However, you cannot talk with hundreds of customers with a product-led approach. So you can get on a call with five, ten, maybe fifteen people, but for the rest, you must automate using email campaigns to get more information and try to fix the problem through email. So basically, you can start A/B testing on different messages to see what works and doesn’t; the purpose is to feed that knowledge to the product team. And, again, here’s an area where Custify knows much better how to do this. So Irina, what do you recommend to your customers to address issues like these?
How to Have the Right Message, at the Right Time, on the Right Channel
I think in our case, or at least for the customers who are in a PLG model, we recommend that you mix between the two, essentially striking the right balance between automating communications and also getting in touch with the customers. I know that one of the pains the CS team has is that people don’t react to their messages, or they don’t want to talk about it. They just want to be left alone. And I’m going to tell you how we managed to solve this, and I’m curious to know what your recommendation would be in our case.
In our case, we have the advantage of building a relationship with our customers from the very beginning. So it’s harder when you have a solid relationship to be ghosted. But I think it’s also about having the right message at the right time on the right channel. And when it comes to the right time and the right channel, as you said, this is something that isn’t a recipe you can simply recommend. There are best practices and trial and error scenarios that must take place. But when it comes to messages, I think you’re gaining from the right message and the right personalized message, even if you’re sending it through automation. If you have the context and insights, you can pretty much understand the customer.
Now I want to give you an example. You can have two types of communication with a customer:
- First: I know that you aren’t using feature A and I would like to jump on a call or try to show you a demo or explain it differently to help you better understand.
- Second: I know your main business goal, and I noticed in your accounts that there’s a fluctuation in some things that can have an impact on your main goal.
So as a CS person, I have some scenarios that I want to run by you (the customer), and I want to understand and know how we can better help you reach your goal. It’s harder to be ghosted with this type of message because it’s not about me wanting you to use the product, it’s about me actually understanding how I can support you. So it goes back again to this advice in the assisted part. And the reason why, as you mentioned, it’s important to have direct contact and the automation part is because automation gives you the time necessary to focus on other things.
Time is the most limited. It’s the most important resource we have, and it’s limited. So by automating the things that you can automate, you gain the time you need to spend getting in touch, discovering, and talking to the customers. And now turning the question back to you, Claudiu, what would be your recommendation when people are facing ghosting from customers? What would you recommend for them to do?
Get Value From the Onboarding Process
Ask a question instead of providing a solution. That’s something that we often see works really well. If we come back to the previous example, we see that people who create our first campaign before adding subscribers are more likely to be successful, but only 249 of the people who created an account did that. So I would say okay, let’s target the people that didn’t do that. This isn’t a mandatory client or a mandatory onboarding step, but I could ask the client, “Hey, why didn’t you add any subscribers to your account?” Well, not in this way, but that’s the idea. Ask them why the subscribers aren’t added. And try to hint at the fact that they may feel the need to start a campaign right away because they don’t already have one. You’ll find out quickly since it’s an easy answer on their part; they may say “no, I don’t have a campaign to start” or “no, I’m actually waiting to implement one later.” But they won’t have this feeling of going into a call because we’re going to try to sell something to them, so they’ll be much more receptive.
The onboarding stage is all about your customers getting value. At that point, they don’t care about offers or upgrading.
I think especially in the onboarding process, and I can talk a bit more about this; it’s all about getting value. Customers don’t care about your offers or about upgrading at that point. It’s all about getting value. So ask the right question(s). And typically, the question that works best for us is, “what’s your challenge?” In this case, “what’s your biggest challenge when adding subscribers to your account? Is it that you haven’t figured out a campaign yet?” It’s such an easy answer to give. And what I’ve seen happen is the response rates are much, much higher.
So yes, that’s one recommendation I would give. Another one is related to what you just said, to go off of context; don’t target all 510 people that didn’t add subscribers. Target very specific groups, depending on specific actions that you know are successful or more likely to get them dropped off, and so on. The more contextual, the better.
Let’s get into another one; how do you optimize the road to the promise? Let’s look at the time it takes to reach the product promise. This is very important. A lot of companies measure the time to finish the onboarding process as an average, even as a means sometimes, but still an average. And what we’ve seen time and time again when we analyze data is that the time it takes to finish the onboarding process looks like a power-law distribution or better known as a long tail (time). So a lot of people will finish it really fast, and then we’ll have people all over the place who take forever to finish the onboarding process.
Therefore, you need an algorithm to define the long tail. So, ask yourself what the uncommon behavior and what the common behavior is. The common behavior tells you the average. If you calculate an average, you should be doing it based on the common behavior. If you have a person who finishes the onboarding process in two months, this will skew your average. But when you look at that average, it will only describe one or two accounts, it won’t describe the majority of your accounts. This report will tell you, after you analyze the long tail and you take out the uncommon behavior, how long it usually takes (or what’s the normal amount) for people to finish the onboarding process. And once you have this information, you compare it with your expectations and send the information to the product team. In fact, the product team designs certain features and they already know approximately how long it should take to go through those features. Based on that, you need to assess the need to intervene and to time the email automation.
If most people finish the onboarding process in a day, you don’t want to start sending emails after one, two, or three hours, because you will scare a lot of people away. And yes, that happens; I’ll talk about that later. But you also don’t want to wait a week to start sending emails because, by the second day, the behavior is already not common anymore, it’s all over the place. So that’s how I look at the time to onboard. The product team can tell you these numbers, so then it’s up to you to decide on customer communication methods, based on what you get from the product team. The most you get out of this report is knowing when to time your automation. And maybe also timing – the moment when you’re about to contact a customer to see if there’s a problem.
And that takes us to the next topic, which is how to measure the influence of the email channel during the onboarding process. You’ll start sending automation and emails, and you want to make sure that they have a positive influence. So typically, most companies measure how many emails are being sent, how many emails have been opened, and what’s the conversion rate of those emails. This type of report actually has a very strong history with Irina here, because many years ago when we developed it at InnerTrends, Irina was the reason we built this report. She came to us and said, “Hey, I’m creating all these campaigns, I’m sending them, and we have a conversion rate. But our CEO isn’t convinced that we’re having a positive influence on the onboarding process.” And then, we thought about how to measure that influence.
We measure that influence by comparing the conversion rate of the people who opened the email to the people who didn’t. Now, you’d be surprised, like I think 80% of all InterTrends customers have no difference in these conversion rates. People who open emails convert the same as people who don’t open them. We have some exceptions with clients who have bigger conversion rates for the people who don’t open emails than those who open them. And again, a few really big success stories where people who open emails convert twice or three times higher than the people who don’t open their emails, especially when those are very targeted. So I’m also going to let Irina here talk about their background.
How to Have the Right Context For Communications
You actually reminded me of an interesting topic; one of the members of our qualified team is someone with whom we’ve been building those emails. And I think we were sending 50+ emails (automation, event-driven, etc.) at some point, and whenever an event was triggered, we created segments. So we were sending a lot of emails, and I didn’t want to see comments that asked me, “Okay, are you sure that you’re actually moving the needle?” I was somehow convinced that we were.
So I came to you to validate the assumptions that I was making an impact. And when you came up with the report, I remember that what surprised me and actually also confirms everything that we have been discussing until now is that the only email that had a positive impact on the onboarding part was the newsletter. If there are marketers in this call, they will understand that everybody considers that the monthly newsletter doesn’t have an impact. So they say to focus on the transactional one, the upsell ones, the dedicated onboarding, how you can use this or that, etc. But our customers didn’t need that. So I think this shows that you definitely must have the right context. And I think at this stage, we are neglecting those with whom we didn’t interact because we only analyze the ones with whom we interact, yet, we don’t know what others do. So do we have an accurate benchmark?
Focus on Problems that Exist
Yeah. And I’m going to bring some more context here because I remember the case very well and I was also shocked because I know how hard you worked on that project. And I remember that when we looked at the email that had the least impact, they were the emails that were trying to get people to upgrade during the onboarding process. So you’re sending them financial offers (get a discount, buy now, etc.) to people who simply want to see how the product works or if the product will be good for them or not. That was their main concern.
So, yes, trying to sell to people during the onboarding process will bring you to a situation where the impact will be very small or even negative. But the newsletter, which was content-driven, and was trying to present case studies and support, was the stuff that people going through the onboarding process needed. Now, I also remember that after you got access to this report, you went right back to work. You managed to switch the situation; you got the conversion rate of people who opened their email to be higher than the people who didn’t. Therefore, having access to this information is crucial. And that’s something that the product team can feed to you easily.
Remember, you should always focus on emails that deliver a positive influence. Otherwise, I think if people don’t open the email and convert the same as the people who open the email, not sending that email will have the exact same impact or be slightly different. So yes, you don’t want to spend resources and fix problems that don’t exist, instead, focus on fixing problems that do exist.
Now, I’m going to go through one of the last scenarios, which is probably the one I care the most about. And it’s one where the customer success team can have a huge impact right off the bat. For every single business that we looked into so far, at least at some point within the business’ lifetime, we found a scenario where people paid for the product without experiencing the promise (without being onboarded). So when we look at what the performance of a specific goal is, by default, we’ll look at the relationship of that goal with the onboarding process.
And in this case, we can see that we have 120 accounts that paid before finishing the onboarding process. We have 448 accounts that paid after finishing the onboarding process, so most accounts pay after the promise is delivered. But we also have 34 accounts that upgraded to paid and then never onboarded. Now, this last segment is probably one of the lowest hanging fruits you have available to improve retention and decrease churn.
Whenever we look at the data, these three different segments have different lifetimes or lifetime values. There’s an especially huge difference between this cohort of the accounts that paid and didn’t onboard and the other two cohorts. This cohort usually churns in the first or the second month, when they remember that they’re paying but they’re not using the product. They don’t even know what the product actually does. They know from marketing materials, but they haven’t experienced it themselves. So fixing this will either eliminate or significantly decrease account churn that occurred in one or two months. That means that the average churn will be much higher because churn works the same – there are a large number of accounts that stay with you and there’s a long tail of accounts that are all over the place. However, if they only stay with you for one or two months, the average will be very impacted. Fixing that will have an immediate impact on the lifetime value metric for your customers and on how many customers use your product.
And these customers will thank you profoundly; they already paid, so you don’t need to ask them for anything. You only need to help and advise them to finish the onboarding process. And once you do that, that information is crucial to bring to the product team, because that segment should not exist. It should not occur by default. The product should be built in such a way that paying customers always finish the onboarding process.
Products should be built in such a way that paying customers always finish the onboarding process.
Now, let’s move on toward some benchmarks. This can help you get an understanding of the product-led approach or where you can expect things to be. The benchmarks are built from hundreds of customers at InnerTrends. And for the definition of the onboarding process, as I mentioned, starts from the moment customers sign up to the moment they experience the promise. So because we have this framework in place, we were able to build that benchmark. So something very important, maybe some of you who are in this webinar have part of your business as a sales-driven model, but you’re also opening a line of business for self-service. What I’m presenting here is about the self-service line of business. We expect 40% to 60% of the customers who create an account in a B2B self-service product to finish the onboarding process, especially if you’re on a free trial or a freemium business model.
If customers need to pay upfront, usually, the conversion rate is higher. The onboarding process typically takes hours or days, while upgrading takes days or weeks for most companies. However, that’s something you need to double-check. We worked on a project in a business where this wasn’t the case. But there’s a huge correlation between finishing the onboarding process and deciding to arbitrate. Typically, if your onboarding goes down, upgrade goes down, and if onboarding goes up, upgrade goes up. This isn’t always the norm; it happens, but you need to find out if it’s the norm for you or not.
Deep Dives Into Product Offerings
So I recall the projects that you were mentioning, and I think one mistake that I initially made was I didn’t apply proper segmentation. I was taking a look at the whole base, and then when we segmented, we took a look at how the free users were onboarding and how the paid users were onboarding. Because there was no correlation between the free product and the upgrade, we went into a deep dive to understand. And we realized that the free product was the commercial offer where the product offering was so strong that people didn’t actually need to buy; they had everything in the free product. And depending on the business strategy, that’s also okay.
It was exactly like there was a persona within the product that only needed the free version. Essentially, what they needed from the product never required an upgrade. If the onboarding rate of the free accounts went up and down, of course, the upgrade was not affected because that persona was never going to upgrade. But when we applied the correlation for the accounts that started using the features that are specific to the paid plans (or they started using a feature that we know is going to lead to a paid plan), we saw a strong correlation between finishing the onboarding process and upgrading.
Why I’m telling you this is because the purpose of customer success might not be to get more money from your customers; the purpose of customer success might be to give your customers more value and acquire that value faster. That value correlates with upgrading. If you manage to give your customers more value, as a result, you’ll make more money from those customers. It’s a change of mentality, but I think it’s very, very important because it changes the communication strategies from asking customers to do something to offering customers something which they perceive as valuable.
To build off of what you said, it’s also the difference between being reactive, being proactive, and again, being that advisor who asks how we can actually help instead of thinking about what we can sell to you or convince you to stay longer. It’s not a transactional conversation; it’s about how we can support you in this journey with our product.
Feed Knowledge to the Product Team
Definitely. And again, in a product-led approach, one of the main purposes of the customer success team is to feed knowledge to the product team. In the product management world, a product manager’s job is to talk to the customer. Most of the time, the product manager talks to the customer through customer success. Customer success has a relationship with the customer because it’s much easier, they get way more data, and they know how to get their answers from the customer way better than a product team. So when they work together, true magic happens.
Again, I’m going to emphasize the customer journey metrics because they are very important and should be well-defined. Customer success considers onboarding one thing, while the product team considers onboarding another thing. So instead of having an infinite loop that builds (a good thing), you’ll have a spiral that leads nowhere (a bad thing). And you don’t want that. There are actually studies out; Forbes, for example, presented a study at some point that said that aligning teams alone has an impact of 10% or more in growth (only for alignment!). Nothing else but simple alignment between teams. So, define your customer journey metrics; we offer a free tool for you to do that! You can use ours, or you can do it in Excel or whatever other tools. But define your customer journey metrics and make sure the whole team is fully aligned on what the definitions are.
Now let’s jump into questions.
So I invite you all to use the Q&A button in your tab session. And until you all think of some questions that you want to ask both Claudiu and me, I want to ask you something, Claudiu. You emphasized a lot this idea on Product working with CS. But there are voices out there that say that in a product-led organization, CS is redundant. So they think they don’t need CS because Product has all the jobs, they have an awesome product, and everybody’s focusing on the product. What’s your take on this?
Siloed Knowledge Can Be a Problem
It’s like, yes, there is this thing that’s said that the product manager is a hero. He’s a salesperson, a customer success person, a project manager, a product manager, a single person who does everything in a product-led approach, etc. True, product needs to talk to the product. But tell me, what department is better at talking to customers than customer success? I don’t know a department that does that better. And one other thing that’s very important to note: product management is a lot. Yes, you do talk to customers, but you can’t talk to customers every day. While customer success does talk to customers every day. There is knowledge that builds up every day. The problem is when that knowledge sits in silos. And I can tell you that from the perspective of our own company, we fought for our customer success team to have a very good relationship with product. Our customer success team was (and is) very good at reporting problems. “Hey, we have this problem within the product; a person doesn’t understand what needs to be addressed.” The product team appreciated that very much.
And then, we realized in one of our meetings that the product team doesn’t know how successful people behave. They only knew the problems; they didn’t know what success looked like. And when we started talking about what success looked like, the debate between product and customer success was amazing. Product started telling customer success things that are possible within the product that customer success had no idea about and vice versa, product learned things about customer success. The product team realized that a lot of the customers are doing that, and yes, they are successful. But they can work on making that 10 times faster and easier.
And they realized that the impact on our product would be good if we could remove a lot of that friction to make even our code and deployments better simply because we know how that works. That’s just from our own company. So remember, don’t only talk about problems, talk about successes too. And it’s true that in a product-led approach, the product manager needs to know everything. But it doesn’t mean that we have to find it by ourselves. Sales, customer success, and other departments work with product to feed that knowledge.
You Can’t Have Customer Success Without Support
And I think this is something that I’ve learned the hard way. Because again, a few years back, I made the wrong assumption, saying that if we have customer success, we don’t need support. So everybody’s doing customer success, nobody does support. I combined the roles, although they are two totally different things. And they said that because they have success, they no longer need the sales department. And I realized, okay, knowing what I know now, that this was definitely a mistake. I didn’t understand why this happened. But I think each department has its own role in the customer journey, and there are different touchpoints. But again, as you said, the alignment is very, very important.
I also want to ask you what you mentioned about onboarding in a product-led approach. I know that the sales-led approach is not the topic of this presentation, but I want to ask you, in the initial slides where you presented about onboarding, does it remain the same regardless of if it’s a product-led or a sales-led approach? Because in a sales-led organization, onboarding comes after the clients paid. What changes? So in a sales-led organization, that segment that you’re mentioning (the customers who paid and aren’t onboarded) is the majority. What do you think changes?
Make the Customer a Hero
But yeah, that’s a very good question. And I think sales-driven organizations use product as a tool that is often used by the customer success team to deliver value for the customer. They don’t have as many expectations from the customer to use the product, but rather, they set them up with an account person whenever they need to set something up, get on a call with them, maybe do some screen sharing, etc. And in that case, product is just a tool that customer success and sales teams use to get money from the customer.
Basically, the customer is paying for the customer success team or the sales team. And a lot of companies realized that it’s difficult to scale that. Especially when they realized that a lot of money is left on the table for companies that paid but not paid as much as was necessary. Furthermore, they wouldn’t want to use the customer success team for that kind of money. And that’s when I think the migration to the product-led approach started. That’s why a lot of companies have two lines of business. Customer success teams (who work with the big customers, the high-value customers) are truly advisors, even when they do a product-led approach. Like, instead of saying they need you to send them a campaign to vet now, customer success can talk about why you’re sending this campaign. CS lets you know that you could send it differently and lets you know how customers are sending things, instead of being like a robot: spending time working and replacing the product. Becoming a consultant gives CS a chance to get more value out of that product.
And yes, you could just get on a call and tell the customer what they need to do. If the experience is amazing, you don’t even need to touch the product from the customer success team. The customer will do it, and they’ll love it. We need to understand the purpose of both product and customer success teams, which is to make the customer a hero, make them feel like they gained power that they didn’t have before. Customers love to do stuff that makes them feel powerful. They love to set up campaigns that they create themselves. They click and get an amazing conversion rate, and they go and tell their friends and colleagues.
They know they can replicate what’s important to them. Otherwise, they talk to the customer success team and have a campaign delivered. But what if that customer leaves that particular team and gets another customer success agent who’s not as good, and they’re no longer in control or don’t have the control that they need? That’s not good either. While with an interface, customers are empowered; they do stuff and they feel powerful. And that’s why I always say that you should promote something that will raise a lot of good friction. Customers want that friction; that friction delivers value and makes them feel powerful, and it’s very important that we push that friction as much as possible. The more we push, the less we do. So we make more profit every time.
How to Create a CS Team
Thank you. I think there are no other questions from what I checked. I’ll give it one more minute while we are here. Or if you don’t want to ask questions now, we’ll send the recording. Somebody asked in the chat if we are also sending the presentation. Yes, we are also sending the end, including the presentation. Some of you already connected with me on LinkedIn during the presentation. Get in touch with either me or Claudiu.
Oh, we have a question. I have a question. So before we head out, it’s on the chat.
What steps should one take when creating a new CS team? I think I would need a bit more context to understand the question, where do you want to get?
Let’s do it like this; let’s answer this question from the perspective of new products. But it’s going to be product-led and they want to implement a customer success team. And yes, InnerTrends is product-led and has a customer success team.
So, what steps should you take? If you are a small team starting out very small, I would probably assign the CEO (or the highest position in your company) to run the CS team. That’s the case at InnerTrends. Customer success, not as a department but as a concept, is the most important thing for business. If my customers are successful, I’m going to make a profit, and I’m going to hire a great team to build a better product, deliver more value, deliver more successes, and so on.
So in our case, it’s me, the CEO, who runs the customer success department. But customer success is not about focusing on individual accounts; it’s about learning. I do a lot of profitable and scalable customer success. I get on phone calls with all types of customers, even those who stay on the free plan, because I know they have a very valuable problem, so I get on that call. I help them, and they help me because they transfer amazing knowledge to me that I then transfer to the product team.
So the most important person in the company should run the team. Focus on learning, not converting, especially in the beginning. You want to learn as much as possible. As you grow, customer success team roles should start hiring people that are great in communication and automation. And you probably should have a bundle between a person who excels at talking to customers and a person who excels at sending email campaigns in different scenarios.
So I can send you, if you’re interested, steps on how to scale a CS team, depending on which stage of the lifecycle you’re in. I want you to be prepared for that, and I can actually email this to you. It describes the tools you need depending on the particular stage, what you need to do when you’re a startup, when you start experiencing growth, and what you need to do after your first inflection point. So if that would help, yeah, for sure, I’ll send it to your email.
If there are no other questions, I want to thank you all for participating. I hope you enjoyed the talk product led customer success.
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