Customer success isn't a team.
It's the purpose of a SaaS company.
The reason for it to exist.
Putting aside the technological innovations that enabled SaaS in the past two decades (virtualization, cloud, multi-tenancy, etc.), the subscription business model itself is one of the greatest and most disruptive innovations we've seen in the technology space.
It democratized technology, allowing companies of all shapes and sizes to benefit from automation, analytics, and integrations previously only available to large, tech-savvy businesses that could afford large-scale capital investments in tech.
With no big upfront purchases to make, lower switching costs, and multiple competitive offerings in almost every category, B2B technology buyers now have the upper hand.
What does this mean for us as technology vendors?
The only way to win is by making successful customers our mission and working as one team to fulfill that mission every single day.
In the early days of SaaS, customer success focused almost exclusively on adoption. Multi-tenancy databases allowed us to monitor adoption across the entire customer portfolio and measure whether customers were (or weren't) using our products.
From there, we could intervene with customers when usage showed signs of trouble.
This was a novel capability and still is today for many companies that weren't born in the cloud (and even for some that were).
But customer success is evolving past adoption to outcomes. As machine learning, automation, and cloud-based integrations between products continue to improve, the best product usage is no usage at all.
From the business user's standpoint, our products will be judged not by how easy they are to use but by how much we have to use them to get a job done.
Less is becoming more.
Instead of high utilization, buyers will judge their ROI on productivity gains.
The only way we, as software providers, can provide that type of ROI is by making customer outcomes the company's core mission and aligning product, sales, marketing, and customer experience efforts behind it.
When outcomes are the mission, we design products that require minimal usage. We don't accept useless clicks, bugs, and feature bloat that make products harder to understand and more cumbersome to use.
When outcomes are the mission, companies optimize time-to-value. First, from a product perspective, they make it prescriptive and pre-load with intuitive defaults. It works out of the box even though you may choose to tweak its settings after initial configuration and launch.
When outcomes are the mission, top-of-funnel brand marketing focuses on education. It calls attention to customers' common problems and offers strategy, people, process, and technology solutions versus a product pitch.
Hubspot is an excellent example of this. They educated an entire generation of marketers on a new demand creation and capture model: inbound marketing. In doing so, they have helped thousands of customers grow their businesses and, in turn, have grown Hubspot into a multi-billion dollar juggernaut.
Their purpose? "Helping millions grow better."
Hubspot's mission: "There's this notion that to grow a business, you have to be ruthless. But we know there's a better way to grow. One where what's good for the bottom line is also good for customers. We believe businesses can grow with a conscience, and succeed with a soul — and that they can do it with inbound. That's why we've created an ecosystem uniting software, education, and community to help businesses grow better every day."
When outcomes are the mission, we sell to specific customers with specific problems. It's easy to see what deals are inside and outside our ideal customer profile (ICP), and we optimize our sales motion for those with the best lifetime value potential.
When outcomes are the mission, the customer success function delivers education, training, and consultation at scale to ensure that every customer, regardless of size, has access to the industry and product best practices they need to give them the best chance at successful execution.
When outcomes are the mission, the leadership team aligns around end-to-end metrics representing the whole virtuous cycle of customer success. As my old CFO used to say, leads to demos to closes, bookings to revenue to EBITDA.
But that's not how the story ends in SaaS. We have to close the loop by adding outcomes to retention to advocacy.
And so the virtuous cycle continues. This is the modern formula for a winning subscription business.
How are you making customer success more than a team in your company?
Is it your mission?
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts, blogs, or videos from the week:
- Since I referenced Hubspot above, I'll plug The Sales Acceleration Formula by Marc Roberge. It's still one of my favorite Customer Success books of all time (That's correct, not a typo. A book about sales is one of my favorite books about customer success 🥸).
- A detailed playbook for customer success capacity planning by my friend Samma Hafeez with Insight Venture Partners. Just in time for 2023 planning.
- And a non-traditional share... When I find a new song that I like, I listen to it on repeat until I know every word and chord change. Ben Rector's Heroes is my latest favorite, with a message about how your worldview expands as you grow up. The lead guitar parts of this song are just unreal (for my musical friends, looking at you, Jeff K., if you're reading). I hope you enjoy this one half as much as I do.