Monday, February 13, 2017

6 Characteristics of High Impact Customer Success - The Mover Mindset

I have been reading Carol Dweck’s excellent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and thinking a lot about how the ideas apply to the role of Customer Success. The “growth mindset” she talks about is critically important to everyone, and especially those working in software startups today. Achieving success in the Customer Success function requires a growth mindset as a foundation, but it also requires something more. Labeling it the “Customer Success Mindset” is inaccurate (and a bit too cliche). It’s about more than customers and it’s about more than success. It is a mindset focused on harnessing the power of the organizations, both the customer’s and yours, to utilize the full potential of the people and realize the full potential of the software. To me, it’s about moving things forward. I’ll call it the Mover mindset. 

Over the last few years, Customer Success has evolved from the new must have function to an essential element in startup and scale up growth plans. Everyone now understands that new revenue growth alone isn’t sufficient to grow a business if churn and negative customer references create a counteracting force. The role of Customer Success is to not only minimize the negative forces, revenue churn being the most obvious, but to augment the positive forces of customer advocates, references and up sell revenue expansion. The Customer Success Manager’s role sits at the center of the organization and the more effectively they leverage the Mover mindset the more effectively they can affect this balance. Here are six characteristics of the Mover mindset that I look for when hiring, developing and growing Customer Success teams.


One of the most essential characteristics of great Customer Success Managers is passion. It is also one of the most difficult to identify, hire and develop. In the interviewing process it can be difficult to see through the typical answer of, “I really enjoy helping customers succeed,” to identify those individuals who can set aside their own ego to truly focus and thrive by helping the customer realize their potential. The success of Customers often goes hand in hand with the success of Customer Success Managers. But for those individuals who truly possess a passion for customer success the results play out differently. As difficult as it is to identify true passion during the interviewing process, it is even more difficult, if not impossible, to develop a passion for customer success in someone. 

I look for the passion in both obvious and subtle ways when interviewing and developing/coaching the teams that report to me. “I just launched a fantastic new campaign with Company X” suggests that the CSM is more focused on their role than the customers. “We just launched a fantastic new campaign with Customer X” suggests a good customer success partnership focus. “John at Customer X just launched a fantastic new campaign” shows the passion. It’s not about the CSM - I. It’s not about the partnership - We. It’s about the Customer - John - and his success. The connection to Our success as a team and company is obvious and to the individual with the passion for customer success it is important but secondary. 


The role of Customer Success Manager often sucks. It is deeply discouraging to reach out to your customer’s executive stakeholders with a well crafted, thoughtful - we spent an hour working on the wording - email and not get a response. It is depressing to work night and day to solve a key customer’s challenges, coax the organization to jump through hoops and negotiate a steep discount on pricing, even agree on a go-forward plan and then have them cancel and opt to go back to the old process. Sigh! 

Customer Success Managers who possess the Mover mindset don’t just deal with or manage through the negative aspects of the role but thrive on the challenges and opportunities that they create. This is a foundational element of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. It is also an essential element of the Mover mindset. Developing persistence in Customer Success Managers requires ensuring a continuous, persistent focus on ensuring they see the connection between input and output. Much like developing Sales reps who need to learn that X number of calls = Y number of conversations = Z number of opportunities, Customer Success Managers need to learn that engagement alone does not drive results. Consistent follow through and pulling the right levers to drive action and results does. And persistence in ensuring follow through is at the heart of the Mover mindset. 


Customer Success can be confused with consulting sometimes: when poorly executed, both can be summed up as hand waving. A CSM shows up to the big meeting. All of the stakeholders are there. This is about business value, driving outcomes and hitting the financial targets. The CSM has done their job and gotten everyone in the room ready talk about leveraging the software solution to drive the company’s success. Well developed slides are shown, relevant anecdotes about what the market and competitors are doing are shared and the meeting wraps up with handshakes and smiles. This was a really impactful meeting. Cue the crickets. 

All too often this is how the story ends. Ideas not execution. This is the moment of truth for software as a service. Does the conversation drive adoption. Everyone has a great idea. Every product is going to drive business outcomes in a way that the customer hasn’t imagined. No one shows up saying this is a nice to have, non-strategic point solution. As software as a service customers you will forgive us when we roll our eyes at your “next generation” “platform” to “drive business”. Customer Success Managers need to possess the discipline to deliver beyond the hand waving. CSMs need to understand that the meeting is only the first step and the customer’s success is dependent on them following up, guiding the actions, and providing the motivation, support and expertise to execute.


Understanding your customer’s challenges is a critical component of being a successful Customer Success Manager. One of the three pillars I frequently reference, subject matter expertise is essential if you are going to effectively guide your customer in the adoption of your product and achievement of the business outcomes. Empathy is something more than just understanding. The best Customer Success Managers I have worked with possess the skill set to not just understand but put themselves in the shoes of their customers when dealing with the challenges and issues. They fully appreciate how the customers feel about those challenges and engage with them in a way that demonstrates they want to impact not just the issue but the emotion that it causes the customer. 

Emotional Intelligence

Empathy is one essential element of the Mover mindset, but closely related is emotional intelligence. The CSM must be able to discern between his/her feelings and the customer’s feelings about a particularly challenging situation (empathy), but they must also be able to manage their own emotions in a way that enables them to effectively impact the situation (emotional intelligence). 

During my time as a Customer Success Manager I managed a number of Fortune 500 accounts valued at several hundred thousand to several million dollars in ACV. During phases of rapid growth the solution we had sold didn’t alway scale as quickly as the customer’s needs. In some cases, and anyone working in software will gasp, our product had bugs. In one particular situation our solution had failed in multiple consecutive months despite personal assurances from myself, the CEO and CTO of the company. Leading the call, for the third month in a row, prepared with explanations of why this month the issue was different than last month, required an incredibly high level of emotional intelligence. This is not a humble brag. I didn’t handle it well. But I learned a great deal about what not to say in that situation from both the customer and our CEO. Customer Success Managers need to learn about the fundamental aspects of  emotional intelligence, not as an academic topic, but as an essential element of the way they work. I don’t think you can put too much emphasis on this important characteristic.   


The Mover mindset is not complete without the willingness, desire and ambition to act, to just GSD (Get Shit Done). The Customer Success Managers who possess the Mover mindset exude this quality. They are the individuals in the organization looking for solutions to the big hairy problems, challenging the status quo and picking up and solving the small long standing friction issues that slow everyone down. The Mover mindset is not just about the ability to execute but the innate desire to try. 


Success in start ups and as high growth companies scale requires a growth mindset, and Carol Dweck has written an excellent book on this. But success in the Customer Success function also requires a Mover mindset, a combination of special skills and capabilities that are key to realizing the potential of the software, the customers and the CSM to move things forward. 

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