The Ford Motor Company assembly line is a classic example of the benefits of specialization.

In the early days of automobile manufacturing, it was common for one person to build an entire car from start to finish.

However, Henry Ford recognized that this approach was inefficient and led to inconsistent quality.

Instead, he implemented an assembly line system in which each worker was responsible for a specific set of tasks, such as installing a particular part or performing a certain type of inspection.

This specialization created production efficiencies, improved quality, and made cars affordable for the masses.

While the SaaS isn't an assembly line, the same principles apply.

In our world, there are six key areas of responsibilities that apply when working to maintain a portfolio of SaaS customers:

  • Onboarding
  • Support
  • Enablement
  • Relationship Management & Advocacy
  • Commercial Account Management
  • Outcomes Management

Companies that make customers successful and generate results for their shareholders execute effectively and efficiently across all six.

I'll walk through each below.

Over the past seven years, I've met with executives from over 500 SaaS companies. Based on these discussions, I've come to believe that lack of specialization is a gating factor on customer success outcomes, SaaS revenue retention, and profitability.

As I lay out the six areas of focus below, I'll avoid specific recommendations on which activities to assign to which roles.

Every company is nuanced in terms of its products, talent, and organization structure, and should have deliberate conversations about which roles own which responsibilities.

That said, it is clear that mixing and matching too many responsibilities across these categories into any one role creates problems. Some responsibilities are reactive while others are proactive, and several of the categories beg for scalable options delivered through community, academy, and even live events.

With that backdrop, let's explore each category...


The first step in customer success is onboarding.

Onboarding could be as simple as provisioning an instance of your product and training users.

Or, it may be more complicated, involving consultants, configurations, design workshops, and integrations to other applications.

Wherever your product falls on this spectrum, it is mission critical to create a repeatable, prescriptive onboarding program.

Onboarding is by nature, a reactive activity. The onboarding cycle begins when new customers sign up, and the process should address the setup steps required to get a customer up and running.

But it doesn't stop there.

The best onboarding teams learn where customers are likely to encounter trouble and design methodologies to help customers overcome these obstacles.

They also aim to minimize the number of early decisions a customer needs to make by leveraging best practices and providing intelligent defaults as a starting point for every customer.

Onboarding teams build "getting started" guides on the knowledge base and ensure customers activate in online community groups tailored for new users.

Onboarding is a highly specialized function with plenty of opportunity for optimization, and it requires deep focus.

Technical Support

If onboarding initiates customer success, support is its long-term backbone.

Great support is critical to customer success.

If a customer needs to report an issue with your software, they submit it to support via email or other issue intake method. When done well, technical support triages, resolves, or handles any escalations related to the issue. ย 

Escalations are a common source of workload and frustration for CSMs, but the best support handle escalations at the support team lead or management level. They interface with engineering leads, document their process in the support case record, and inform the CSM of issues where necessary.

A support team that manages its own escalations relieves a massive burden from the people tasked with outcome, relationship and commercial account management.

Customer support is largely reactive, i.e, customers submit their needs, and support responds. But this doesn't mean that these teams can't be proactive as well.

The best support teams invest in measures that anticipate and challenge demand. They provide solutions to common customer needs delivered via a knowledge base and/or customer community.

One of the best support teams I ever worked with had monthly targets for content creation, which helped to build a deep, searchable library of customer solutions.

Support is a mission-critical function in SaaS. It should be specialized.


Enablement is the action of "making something possible." In SaaS, it involves activating users and making it possible for them to realize their desired business outcomes.

Practically speaking, this is user training and product updates.

In many companies the enablement burden is shouldered entirely by customer success managers. Worse yet, enablement is often conducted one customer at a time.

This approach is costly, contributes to team member burnout, and results in inconsistent quality.

The best companies leverage in-house product and industry experts to deliver a mix of resources that customers can access on-demand or live at scale.

This includes videos, webinars and workshops, knowledge base and blog articles, academy courses, and discussion forums in the customer community.

My favorite example of scalable enablement is the new user onboarding program that Erica Akroyd designed at Pendo.

The Pendo "Scaled CS" team holds new user onboarding webinars once per week. CSMs and account managers funnel training requests to webinar sign up forms.

Once Erica implemented the new user webinar, each CSM on the team was able to eliminate five (or more) one-on-one new user training calls per week. Across all the CSMs this amounts to a savings of over a one FTE per year.

Enablement teams identify needs by analyzing support cases, KB and community search terms, and by interviewing customer-facing team members.

They develop resources that will provide the highest value to the most customers, and maintain a roadmap of customer content and programs that need to be created.

A strong, scaled enablement practice provides significant leverage for companies who want to devote time and energy toward customer outcomes management.

Enablement requires a focused strategy and tons of energy to deliver.

It needs to be specialized.

Relationship Management & Advocacy

Relationship management is a discrete set of activities that includes 1) identifying all of the key stakeholders within each customer account, 2) understanding their goals/needs, and 3) aligning them with valuable resources relevant to their role (content, connections, etc.).

Stakeholders can be anyone from an end users or admin of your product to the executive sponsor, budget-holders, or other influencers.

As accounts grow in size and spend, relationship management activities are increasingly mission-critical. As such, they should be clearly assigned to a role in the organization (usually CSM or Account Manager).

For larger customers, relationship management is a specific set of tasks assigned to a discrete owner, and must be measured (usually by measuring data quality and interaction recency in salesforce or the customer success platform).

My good friend Ziv Peled at AppsFlyer has the most robust relationship management strategy I have ever seen. CSMs maintain detailed records of individual relationships, sentiment, and touch points right within

Ziv and his leadership team have real-time insights into the quality of the relationships associated 9-figures worth of customer ARR.

If relationship management is mission critical to customer success, Advocacy is the glue that holds the go-to-market strategy together.

A company's advocates offer social proof prospects need to believe that we can deliver on our promises.

Converting a stakeholder into an advocates is advantageous to her because she becomes the hero of the story. Marketing campaigns increase the stakeholder's visibility, validate them as experts in the field, and help build their resume. Advocacy is a great way to deepen customer relationships.

Recruiting, drawing out stories, developing content, and distributing it are all specialized activities that deserve focus and attention.

Relationship management and advocacy are specialties.

Commercial Account Management

Commercial account management covers renewal, upsell, and cross-sell activities.

SaaS companies have an opportunity to accelerate retention and ARR growth through savvy commercial structures and effective negotiation of contracts.

I've found that a focused overlay team of specialists are often more effective than trying to train a large team of CSMs on selling and negotiation tactics.

The specialists get plenty of practice with tough conversations because they handle the same conversations 0n a daily basis (whereas a CSM might have much less frequent renewal conversations).

As a result, renewal and upsell specialists instinctively and confidently stand behind company policies on pricing, multi-year renewals, payment terms, and other commercial aspects of the relationship.

Commercial negotiations are an art unto themselves. They eventually require specialization to maximize potential business outcomes.

Outcome Management

Last but not least, the holy grail of customer success: managing customer outcomes.

In Greg Daines's analysis of churn across hundreds of saas companies and hundreds of thousands of renewal opportunities, he made a surprising discovery.

Companies that "measure and materialize" customer results enjoy nearly six times higher lifetime value (half-life) than those who don't.

Account churn by whether or not results are measured, c/o Greg Daines and ChurnRX.

The benefits of measurement accrue to those who measure despite whether the results are good, mediocre, or bad.

This would indicate that we should dedicate resources to customer results measurement.

The work here is analyzing customer results, benchmarking against best-in-class performance, and preparing recommendations on process, techniques, and product usage.

It's where CS magic can happen.

For larger customers this may be one-on-one consultations offered through a QBR or other intimate discussion.

For the long tail of customer accounts, we can use analytics and automation.

As a CCO, I receive monthly emails from Zendesk, our support ticketing system. These emails summarize my team's performance and benchmark us against industry norms.

Zendesk is measuring and materializing results at scale.

Meauring and materializing results is the work of customer success. It need not be overly complex, but does require thoughtful design of a measurement framework, distribution methods, and advanced enablement.

Spot on, Michael.

Whether one-on-one customer or scaled like Zendesk, customer outcome management needs focus and specialization.

The case for specialization

To win in SaaS we need to do many things well.

It's impossible to fathom that one person could be good at everything outlined above.

And yet, many companies continue to burn people out and produce subpar results by not focusing on excellence in the six areas of customer management.

Henry Ford proved that specialization is a powerful management strategy that provides the best customer experience, improves employee satisfaction, and enables the best outcome for the business.

The same principles apply to scaling SaaS.

What's your next step on the journey to scaling customer success?

๐Ÿ’ก Weekly Favorites

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