There’s no doubt that growing a CS team from one that owns everything post-sale to one with narrowly defined goals and specialized roles requires a major lift. But scaling a team isn’t something we should do and learn from on our own. Despite the nuances of running businesses with very different customer journeys, many of the foundational elements of scaling a Customer team remain the same across companies.
That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the best advice from our newsletter and blog on scaling CS teams that can be applied in most companies.
1) Narrow the focus of CSMs
As a team scales, CSMs need to be increasingly focused on helping customers achieve their desired outcomes. CS leaders should look to peel away responsibilities outside that core job of a CSM, and create new teams to manage those activities.
“Directors of Customer Success should begin by looking at the foundation they’ve set for the team. That foundation is something I call the role profile. Having a rubric like this will help define and set boundaries around what the responsibilities of your CSMs are, the metrics they will be measured on, and the expectations they will be held to. A role profile is a document with answers to the following questions:
- Why do CSMs exist at your company?
- What are CSMs responsible for?
- How do CSMs do their job well? (You need to clarify the mindsets and skill sets required.)
- What do CSMs need to do their job well?
- How do CSMs know they’re doing their job well?"
"Once you’ve answered the 5-question rubric, you have a foundation that will direct how to structure everything else for CSMs. Hiring, training, culture, compensation and incentives—all of this stems from the clear definition of the role.” — Brett Andersen, VP of Client Services at Degreed
“At Pendo, CSMs were originally responsible for everything from product adoption, customer health, securing renewals, contributing to expansions, and more. I recognized that we needed to peel the renewal and expansion piece away from the CSMs so they could do what they do best - help customers achieve their business outcomes. To do that, we created a new team within CS called Subscription Success. This team handled expansion and renewals for the commercial and corporate customer segments. CSMs were still responsible for keeping customers happy, driving value, and influencing the renewal and expansion, but their focus was narrowed.” — Jennifer Dearman, SVP, Global Customer Success and Operations at Udacity
2) Create a better handoff with Sales
To create a more consistent experience at scale, CS leaders need to regularly work with their peers in Sales to ensure there’s a seamless handoff with customers. CS leaders should consider when CSMs are introduced and how that introduction is positioned.
“Since I joined Lucidworks, we’ve evolved our process from having a distinct handoff between Sales and CS to one where the AE brings in the CSM when they’re around 70% to closing the deal. This improves the customer experience in two ways. First, the customer doesn’t have to repeat anything. The Success person gets looped into the customer’s situation and goals early and can help them get value out of the product much faster. Second, the customer gets to see what it’s like to work with Lucidworks. That’s going to give the customer much more confidence and increase the AE’s likelihood of closing the deal.” — Jess Jurva, CCO at Lucidworks
The Success leader can also establish regular internal touchpoints to ensure Sales understands what it takes to get a customer up and running with the product.
“Here’s a problem many Sales and CS teams experience: There’s not a clear understanding of what it takes to actually onboard a customer. Areas that are often misspoken about include the many roles required to get customers set up (technical people, project managers, etc.), how long it will take for different product implementations, and the level of effort the customer needs to put in to fully onboard. To fix that, Success should help prepare Sales to answer questions around Time to First Value, key milestones, and the types of roles the point of contact needs to bring in to have success adoption of the product. Preparation can come in the form of one-pagers, slide-decks, or even call coaching. ” — Emilia D’Anzica, Founder, CEO - CS Consulting at GrowthMolecules
3) Eliminate friction with CS, Marketing, and Product
At scale, it’s increasingly difficult for Marketing and Product team members to stay close to the customer—and it’s the Success leaders’ job to make sure those teams have the customer data they need to make informed decisions with the customer in mind.
“There are three areas CS leaders can focus on to build a strong feedback loop between teams, so they can get the information they need about customers:
- Start with training all customer facing teams to properly extract feedback from customers, which will help them ask questions to get to the problem root cause vs collect random feature requests.
- Try hosting bi-weekly meetings with key stakeholders from sales, support, success, product and marketing to share qualitative feedback and inform front line teams of product releases and marketing campaigns. This will create better alignment and collaboration between these teams.
- Finally, conduct quarterly deep dives into customer feedback, surveys, closed-lost opportunities and churn reasons to uncover meaningful trends. Synthesize this information and share with the company and use it to inform the product roadmap.”
“In my experience this process has generated important insights that inspired real change.” — Megan Bowen, CCO at Refine Labs
4) Consider how you'll serve the long tail of customers
“There’s a well-used playbook for building foundational elements of Customer Success. It’s scaling the Customer Success organization where the playbook begins to diverge. Some companies focus solely on the high-touch experience first because, frankly, it’s easy to give these customers more love. On the other hand, it's a lot harder to touch customers at scale. I'm a proponent of creating a model that affects all customers at the same time instead of only starting with one segment. Every customer deserves an investment in their success and a more comprehensive engagement model provides value to all of your customers regardless of their size or contribution to your business.” — Jennifer Dearman, SVP, Global Customer Success and Operations at Udacity
5) Invest in CS Ops
“We started building out our CS Ops function when we noticed a few dynamics happening in the team:
- The team was nearly maxed out in terms of bandwidth. They needed enablement help, and there wasn’t anyone responsible for transferring best practices across the team.
- We started building out more of a tech-touch model, and needed resources to help manage those programs and campaigns.
- And we got to a point where we couldn’t manage our reporting in excel anymore, and couldn’t rely on PowerPoint and Google Slides to organize and share all our decks. We needed help switching to a more formalized system.
Those were all things we felt that encouraged us to invest in building a CS Ops function. Now that we’ve experienced what it’s like to have this function embedded in Customer Success, I can say that CS Ops is the glue for the Customer Success team. They’re focused on making sure we can scale both our team and our customer experience, and they’re helping make everyone’s life easier.” — Jeff Heckler, Global Head of Customer Success at Pipedrive
This week's top posts
Can Customers Afford Your QBRs?
This week Dave Jackson, CCO at DeepCrawl, brought up an interesting point: “Before thinking about how to deliver a good QBR ask yourself should you have them at all?” Customers are busy, and QBRs tend to be more about the vendor than they are the customer. Consider whether there’s a better approach that’s less time consuming for the customer (and do you need to replace QBRs with anything)?
Tough Love for Managers Who Give Feedback
Lara Hogan, Leadership Coach, shares a concise and powerful letter to managers. “You owe it to [your reports] to be better at [giving feedback], because you have 100% of the power in this relationship.” One of the best reminders from her list: “Your feelings have no place in feedback for your reports.”
How to Start a New Tech Exec Job
Here’s a quick list of reminders when joining a new company. Two of the more common patterns I’ve seen are “rushing to provide value” and, sometimes, “belittling past efforts.” Take time to learn about the team, the processes, and what they’ve already tried before offering your opinions.
Optimize Training for Customer Learning
Ed Powers has a knack for distilling his ideas about Customer Success related topics in a thoughtful way, and will surely facilitate an interesting discussion about how we can be more effective in training CSMs (and in educating customers). Join his free, online discussion on February 24th.
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.