What makes a successful customer success team? What does customer success look like at an early-stage company, and what do you need to think about as your company grows?
We recently sat down with Azim Nagree, EVP of Operations at Scorpion, to talk about customer success, account management, and scaling a customer team (the full video of that conversation is here). Based on that conversation, here are some of the major questions CS leaders need to consider as they build a successful customer success team.
What do you want your customer success team to obsess about?
Think a lot about your team's focus. In the early days, do you want your CS team obsessing about retention? Or do you want your team obsessing about selling more seats? Because that will impact the types of people you hire for your team, as well as the processes and compensation structure you implement.
When your company is in the early stages, it's great if you can expand an account from 10 seats to 20 seats, but that's not what you want your team to be obsessing about. Your team should be obsessing about making sure the 10 seats you do have are wildly successful, and that will open up more opportunities. So early on, your team should obsess about retention, not expansion. As your team and your company mature, then you need to focus on retention and expansion.
Where does account expansion fit in customer success?
Account managers are typically very comfortable in a renewal conversation. But many AMs are not as comfortable with expansion conversations. It's important to challenge account managers and CSMs who are responsible for account growth, to not think of their goal as to sell. Instead, they should think of their goal as to help solve problems for the customer. And sometimes that problem can be solved with the existing product set. Other times it can be solved with a new feature that can be turned on for free. Other times, it can be solved with a new feature or a new product that requires an upgrade. And just sometimes, it may not be able to be solved at all.
But the thing a lot of account managers (and their managers, and even the executive team) forget is the goal is not to sell. The goal of a new business sales team is to sell. The goal of the account management team is to ensure that the customer is getting value out of the platform and that their pain points are being solved. And if they're not, then hopefully you can find a way to solve those problems, which result in expansion opportunities.
How close are your CSMs to your customer?
One of the most important things you can do to ensure customer success is staying close to your customer. You need to understand if and how they're using your product. Which parts of the product are they using? What are they using it for? Understanding what the true stickiness of your product is, is absolutely critical because that will give you some indication of whether your product can it move from a nice-to-have to a must-have for your customer. Obviously the ideal is to become mission critical to your customer. That's a lofty aspiration, but it starts by understanding your customer.
Stick close to your customers to understand what are they happy with and what they're not happy with. Which aspects of the product, which aspects of the customer service, which aspects of the company are they satisfied with, and which are they dissatisfied with? Find this out early, and check in on it often.
What's the role of competitors in customer retention?
Another reason to have constant conversations with your customers is your competition. A skilled CSM can tease out and ask the right questions to understand what's happening in the competitive landscape. If you're in a competitive industry and you've got a customer on a one-year contract, there will be a competitor pitching your customer seven or eights months into that contract. And to the extent that you can understand what that competitor is pitching in terms of products, pricing, and packaging, that will help you understand whether that account is at risk or not.
Because if the competitors are coming in more aggressively with better products and with better pricing, then your customers are at risk. But if your product is superior, your customers are getting as much as they can out of it, and they feel like they're getting good value for what they're paying, you're more likely to be safe for renewal.
What makes a good CSM or AM?
The account managers and CSMs who are born to do this have a mentally of winning and re-winning customers. You can't be too focused on losing the customers who are at risk. Yes, you want to keep those customers around, and you should do everything you can to keep them. But mentally, you should try to continually help and re-win the ones who are going to stick around. What can you do today to make this a successful outcome for your customer?
The most successful CSMs don't take the approach of "I'm trying to not lose these customers." They take the approach of "I'm trying to win and re-win these customers every single day." The right mentality is to think about winning every single time you keep these customers around. And yes, it sucks if you lose one, but that should serve as inspiration to make sure that you don't lose any more and continue to win others.