Tuesday, June 21, 2016

5 Things Your Customer Success Managers Are Doing Wrong



I have had the opportunity to work with some exceptional Customer Success Managers over the past few years. At SuccessFactors, where Mark Bissell and I developed the Customer Value function (read how here) we were able to hire an incredibly talented team from both inside and outside the company. This team, hired globally and working remotely, came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and worked hard to deliver exceptional customer retention while evolving with our growing team. At HireVue, where I built and scaled the Customer Success function, I had the opportunity to define the organizational model for Customer Success and hire a new team to execute on that model, leading us to some exceptional results (read about that here). That’s not to say that every hire I have made has been a success. Like any hiring manager, I have made my share of poor hiring decisions. At times, I discounted the advice of my team, looked past obvious red flags for the sake of expediency and ignored the gut feeling that something didn’t add up about a candidate. And in those cases I paid the price with a bad hire. But poor results aren’t always the result of a hiring mistake. The role of Customer Success Manager is new and evolving in many organizations and there are few role models for how to successfully balance the role (read about that here). Having had the opportunity to build and scale three successful Customer Success teams, including hiring and developing more than 50 Customer Success Managers, I have found that there are five things that CSMs do that can lead to poor results. 

Focusing Too Much on the Technology

When dealing with complex software implementations and integrations, disruptive technology that doesn’t always work as advertised, and the long difficult process of changing a customer’s processes, it is really easy to get lost in the weeds of How it works and lose sight of Why it needs to. A common mistake CSMs make, especially eager and well intentioned junior CSMs, is focusing too much on the technology and not enough on why a customer needs it. This goes beyond the basics of “What are your business goals?” and “How do you plan to measure success?” It requires that a CSM understand the customer’s business and business processes absent the technology solution. “Why do this at all?” and “How do you do this today?” are important questions for a CSM to understand if they are going to deliver the value and impact of the solution. If a CSM can’t whiteboard the customer’s process without talking about the technology they might not understand it well enough to drive value in their role.

Doing the Same Things and Expecting a Different Result

One of the most painful aspects of being a CSM is the unresponsive customer. The goal of Customer Success is to make the customer successful. Period. There is no charge for the services. The CSM is not trying to sell the customer anything. They are simply there to help. But sometimes, customers don't acknowledge, let alone return, emails, phone calls, or text messages. They go silent and the CSM is stuck. CSMs can’t drive value if the customer won’t engage. But silence is not always a sign that things are off track. At HireVue, we often struggled with unresponsive customers because the software simply worked and it was not a burning problem that they needed to solve. But the CSM, tasked with driving adoption, can’t accept that everything is okay. So they call and call and call. The mistake is trying the same thing over and over. “Well I left them five messages and sent them five emails and they never responded”. The best CSMs adjust the medium early, adjust the message often and look for alternate channels after the second unresponsive attempt. If a customer doesn’t respond to two emails, the message isn’t resonating. It is as simple as that.

Not Leading with a Sense of Urgency

After the contract is signed the clock is ticking. Time to Implement – the clock is ticking. Time to Value – the clock is ticking. Time to Renewal… you get the idea. A mistake that CSMs make is enabling the customer’s project team to slow roll an implementation, to slow roll an adoption plan, to over-complicate the process and slow everything down. The best CSMs lead with a sense of urgency right out of the gate and embrace disruption at the first sign that the customer’s team is not feeling the same. The customer’s project team isn’t ready to meet for three weeks? Let’s get the sponsor on a call today and light a fire. The roll out plan calls for a pilot followed by six months of expanding adoption? Let’s get our partners in Sales on the phone with the sponsor; maybe they don’t understand the value of the software and the cost of delay. Urgency doesn’t just happen and the best CSMs create it.

Managing to Process Not Outcomes

Process is important. Creating scalable processes is important. They are, in my mind, a necessary evil and a sign of a growing organization. They can also become an excuse for CSMs. It is easy to focus internally on process development and bureaucracy, who is supposed to do what, when customer results are less than stellar. When a customer is failing, it is easy for a CSM to point to the project plan, issues log, or governance model and explain that they did everything they were supposed to do. Scalable processes are important for driving consistent success but cannot replace common sense when a customer situation requires something different. The best CSMs understand this and find the balance between one-off solutions that maintain the “whatever it takes to drive success” mindset with the scalability needs of the organization.

Customer Success Manager as Hero

A common mistake of Customer Success Managers is adopting the idea that they need to be a hero in an account relationship to secure recognition for their good work. They adopt a mindset of relationship control that is more focused on limiting access to the customer than celebrating their health and success. Taken to an extreme, they can sometimes go Lennie and the rabbits, inadvertently leading to the same outcome. The best CSMs understand that a successful customer is not the result of their work alone but the strong partnership with Sales, Professional Services, Support, Marketing, Product, and Engineering. It takes the entire team working together toward the same end. The CSM is simply leading the charge. Instead of controlling and limiting access, effective CSMs ensure outreach and connections are synchronized so the customer is not asked the same questions about their success or overloaded as a reference or a speaker.

Great CSMs don’t just happen. It takes hiring the right individuals, creating smart processes and tools for them to use (more ideas) and working with them to avoid these five common pitfalls.


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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