Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Qualities of a Future Customer Success Leader

I have made several great hires since joining Kahuna seven months ago, but our next addition to the team, the Director of Customer Success, is perhaps one of the most challenging roles to fill. I am passionate about the role a Customer Success Manager can play in driving the success of a growing software company and the Director is a key driver of that team’s success. Having spent years at SuccessFactors before the Customer Value organization was established, I saw first hand the gap in business performance created when there is no one team or individual specifically charged with driving long-term customer value and success. After the Customer Value function was established I fully appreciated the tremendous opportunity the role and team represented.  Our team at Kahuna has grown to the point that it is time to add a Director of Customer Success to lead a team of Customer Success Managers and help drive long-term value and success for our fantastic customer base.

Below are the six things that I look for when hiring a Director of Customer Success.

Customer First Focus  As with all roles on our Customer Success team a focus on the customer must come first. This sounds obvious but it can be surprisingly difficult to identify individuals who are as passionate about serving customers as they are about building CS processes, hiring great people and leveraging technology. It is easy to get distracted with the building and forget the why. In our search for the Director, we are looking for an individual who gets as excited about the customer’s success story as they do their own. Our ideal hire frames the success of the CS programs not on the organization’s growth, process efficiency or recognition, but on the results it drove for the customers.

Thought Leadership  The role of Customer Success Management is still evolving. Over the last few years we have seen the rapid evolution of the function as more and more companies come to understand the potential of Customer Success and iterate the roles and responsibilities to find the right return on the investment. In our search for the Director, we are looking for a thought leader who will embrace the opportunity to define best-in-class Customer Success, understanding that best-in-class tomorrow won’t look like it does today.

Voice  As much as I love the Customer Success function, I appreciate that my opinion of how to build and lead the function is just one of many. In our search we are looking for an independent leader who will drive their own innovation and balance input from the executive team, including me, with a passionate defense of their own ideas and vision for the team.

Partnership  I have noted in a prior post that the role of Customer Success Manager is a difficult one. The most effective Customer Success Managers leverage the team to solve problems and the most effective Customer Success leaders take a view of success broader than just the Customer Success Manager role. Our ideal Director will take a full customer lifecycle view of the function and seek to build strong partnerships with our Director of Technical Services and our Manager of Technical Support to create a seamless partnership for our customers. This will require building strong relationships within the team as well as earning the respect and collaboration of our key partners in Sales, Product Management and Engineering.

Execution  In my mind, execution is everything. Our Director will talk the talk AND walk the walk. Period. In a fast growth business like Kahuna nothing is more important than execution.

Career Development  Supporting the development of others should be a priority for every leader. Professional development is also a passion of mine and one of the reasons that I enjoy working in a startup environment.  Along with the rapid growth of the business comes rapid career development opportunity. Startups like Kahuna create a wonderful incubator for future leaders and our Director will see the role as a leader and a developer of our talented team.

I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to hire our Director of Customer Success. This hire will be crucial in providing our customers with another level of advocacy and subject matter expertise within the business. The role will also provide our team with a leader who can drive execution through collaboration and partnership both internally and externally while providing learning and growth opportunities for the team and building tomorrow’s best-in-class Customer Success function.

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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