Saturday, December 13, 2014

This isn't going to work




The role of a customer success manager can be difficult. Okay, that is a bit of an understatement. It can be incredibly difficult, frustrating and downright depressing. Being a Customer Success Manager requires solving problems. Really solving them. Not just selling past them, working around them or changing the focus. Solving them. And solving problems is hard. Another understatement. Customers who don’t want to adopt the product they purchased, technology that doesn’t work in the customer’s environment or with the customer’s processes, stakeholders who leave without selling the solution internally… these are all big problems and a typical day for a Customer Success Manager. When the problems surface and it becomes clear there is no simple answer it is easy for doubt to creep in and to think, “This isn’t going to work.” It is easy to give up.

In my career as a Customer Success Manager and leader of the Customer Success function I have experienced my share of difficult days. The most difficult are not just when we lose customers but when we know we deserved to lose them. Maybe there was more that we could have done as a team, more I could have done as an executive, more we could have done to find a technology solution faster. Whatever the reason, there is almost always more that we could have done. We live and learn and constantly improve, but losing always sucks. It can be especially depressing because in Customer Success we own it. We are often the last line of defense. We need to solve the problem or it doesn’t get solved and the customer leaves.

Over the years I have found a few things to be effective in dealing with difficult customer situations. 

Understand the problem  There was a great quote on the walls at SuccessFactors, “If you don’t want to do something, any excuse is as good as another.” Customers make excuses. They make excuses for not adopting the technology, embracing a new way of working or managing the change associated with it. To solve the problem you need to understand the real problem. It isn’t always the technology that doesn’t work. Sometimes it is the people trying to use the technology. Fixing a slowness issue or a broken workflow isn’t going to solve the problem of someone who simply doesn’t get it, or worse, doesn’t even want to.

Take it personally  This is not A problem. This is MY problem. The best Customer Success Managers make the customers’ problems their own and work to solve it as if their own career depends on it. If you don’t feel personal accountability for getting it resolved, it is hard to continue to find and fight for solutions to the most difficult issues.

Use the team  While Customer Success Managers need to own the problem, it is not theirs alone to solve. The most effective Customer Success Managers leverage the team to solve the problem. They build relationships and credibility along the way that allows them to come back again and again as different issues surface.

“If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.”  I love this line from Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One. In Customer Success and in solving the most difficult customer situations it is absolutely true. To solve problems you need to get into it. You need to get into the details, get into the issues, keep digging until you get to the heart of the problem. It doesn’t work to nibble around the edges. Problems don’t get solved that way.

I have also found a few things to be effective in dealing with the disappointment and often outright depression that comes with losing customers.

Own it  You need to take it personally to solve the problem and if you try and fail you need to own it. If you blame the team, the technology or anything other than your own ability to execute, you can easily slip into a sneaky hate spiral that leaves you depressed and defeated. Losing sucks. It should. Owning it is the fastest way to feeling better.

Walk it off  Walking helps. Really. Get some air. Change your view. Think through the problem, the failure and the lessons learned while walking. Sitting at your desk brooding is ugly. Walking it off will make you feel better.

Learn from it  Shit happens. Asking yourself what you are going to do differently next time, then putting a plan in place to do just that will help you feel better.

Solve it anyways  I love the movie Tin Cup. In the final scene, Tin Cup is convinced he can hit it on the green. He misses. He misses again. He has lost the tournament and is at risk of not qualifying for the next. But he keeps trying until he gets it done. Solving the problem that couldn’t be solved in time to save the customer can be very consoling and make you feel better.

The role of a Customer Success Manager can be a difficult one and involve complex problems that defy simple and fast solutions. Some customers will be unhappy. Some customers will leave. It sucks every time. Customer Success is about finding the path forward, owning the issues and dealing with the outcome, win or lose.


About David Verhaag 


David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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Fear


With the Customer Success teams I have had the opportunity to lead we focus on continuous improvement and moving from "good to great". One of our team exercises is to post both things that we needed to start doing and things we needed to stop doing to move from good to great. Fear is often a common theme. Fear of weaknesses being uncovered, of asking for help, of stepping outside the status quo, of stepping outside what is comfortable and known, fear that we don't have anything to say for blogs and social media, fear of criticism or saying no to customers and meeting requests. Many of my team members have noted that fear led them to second guess themselves. Fear erodes their confidence. Worse, fear stops us. It keeps us from leaning into opportunities and challenging ourselves to work at the next level. Fear keeps us from testing new ideas, new ways of thinking and fixing what we can see is broken. Fear can, and fear will, prevent us from achieving our goals. It will prevent us from disrupting and achieving our potential. It can prevent you from achieving your personal career ambitions.

Earlier this year I confronted two of my personal fears, a fear of heights and a fear of helicopters, by heli-skiing in Alaska. It was absolutely terrifying. As the helicopter rose into the mountains outside of Valdez, I imagined all of the things that could go wrong. I looked out the window at the jagged peaks and imagined falling out of the sky. As we flew up the ridge, each small gust of wind served as a reminder of how small and fragile our helicopter was. As we passed over cliffs and the earth fell away beneath us, I could hardly bear to look at how far we had to fall. It didn't get better after we landed. The helicopter touched down on a ridge top in a space no bigger than a small car and hovered while we carefully stepped out, unloaded our gear, and then huddled together as it lifted off again and dropped down over the ridge. On one side of the too small snow pad was a cliff that plunged thousands of feet, and on the other, a cornice and our route down. In that moment, if I could have backed out I probably would have. I was terrified. But standing on the ridge looking over the cornice to the run below there was no backing out. No escape. I was forced to confront my fear and drop in to the bowl.




Unfortunately, in career development and in trying to move from good to great, it is all too easy to back out and escape our fears. We can put that blog post off. We can pretend that we don't see or don't have time to embrace that speaking opportunity. We can tell ourselves that it isn't the right time for a networking event. We can tell ourselves we will speak up in the next meeting, we will challenge the status quo tomorrow, we will have time to offer up that new idea or solution next week. But in sidestepping our fear, we will miss the opportunity. We won't move as quickly as we could. We will fail to achieve everything we can as a company and in our individual careers.

Ask yourself, how is fear getting in your way? And then challenge yourself onto the ridge where you have no choice but to go for it. Then drop in.




About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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The Big Picture


Your development
An old forest full of trees
Visualize your path

A development haiku for the week. The message: Don't lose sight of the big picture. It is easy to get heads down. Focused. Specific. Tactical. And that's not a bad thing. It is often what we need to do to execute. In work or in development it is no different. I am going to focus. I am going deep. I need to get into the details. Into the weeds. I have to get this one thing done. I need to develop this skill. This expertise. 

But remember, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. Why am I doing this? Why does it matter? What is my plan, my purpose, my vision? Where do I see myself and how does developing this skill help me get there?

Don't lose the forest for the trees. In work or your professional development.


About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

Follow on Twitter Connect on LinkedIn