Over the past several years, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role leadership plays in customer success and SaaS.

As a community, there are some well-worn ruts in the road.

You can find a thousand articles on how to conduct a business review. There are training courses to teach the fundamentals of how to be a good CSM.

It's become a given that subscription companies will have customer success strategies and teams.

The customer success movement is here to stay.

But there’s one area where customer success needs to grow up: leadership.

I did a three-year stint in product management in the early 2010s. At the time, I felt that product management was a tech company's most difficult job.

The sheer volume of inbound feedback, stakeholder management, and communications to manage has the potential to make even the most stoic of executives crazy.

That said, I regularly encourage CS people to get experience in Product Management. It's a fantastic stop to make as you grow your career.

But I don’t think it’s the most demanding job in SaaS anymore.

I now believe that dubious honor belongs to the customer success team.

These teams bear 100% of the accountability for customer net retention. And yet, they possess little to no direct authority over the resources needed to drive it.

For example:

  • Go-to-market - did we find a sell the right business at the right price points?
  • Product & Dev - is the product roadmap keeping up with market needs?
  • Support - are we creating low-effort help experiences?

Not to mention, do we have the team and leadership internally to keep all the moving pieces aligned across these areas.

All of these things impact net retention.

Given this fact, CS leaders must be among the best in the business at leading with influence.

The average tenure of a director or both of CS is less than two years. I’ve seen many CS pros take a new job only to be quickly demoralized by product, sales, and customer service issues.

They feel they were brought in too late to make an impact.

But it’s at precisely this moment their leadership is needed most. To address the root cause issues that lead to poor customer experiences, outcomes, and ultimately to churn.

My good friend Nils Vinje says, “The source of and answer to every business problem you have is leadership.”

He’s right.

Illuminating product quality issues internally while reassuring upset customers.

Changing sales messaging while helping customers that have the wrong expectations.

Helping prioritize product feature requests from a customer while helping them find a suitable workaround.

These are all situations that CS leaders don’t control, but they must influence.

Through cross-functional collaboration amd presentation of issues via facts and data vs. opinions and customer-centric dogma.

They bring a balanced perspective as it relates to impact on employees, customers, and the business.

In the immortal words of Dale Carnegie, they “Arouse in the other person an eager want..." And "He who can do this has the whole world with him."

This is the work of the CS leader: influencing others to create positive customer and business outcomes.

Make no mistake, sometimes it’s a game of inches, but if we get just a little bit better every day, we’ll look back a year ago and be astounded by our progress.


View the original discussion on LinkedIn:

Jay Nathan on LinkedIn: #customersuccess | 43 comments
Over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about the role leadership plays in customer success. As a community, there are some well-worn ruts in the... 43 comments on LinkedIn