In 2019, my business partner, Jeff, and I launched a podcast called Gain, Grow, Retain.
We didn’t know it then, but that initiative would lead to a movement around customer success leadership.
By the time the pandemic occurred in March of 2020, we had created dozens of podcast episodes, garnered thousands of followers on LinkedIn, and had begun to foster a community of SaaS executives who believed in the power of customer-led growth.
At the time, we were consultants. We worked with B2B SaaS companies to develop and launch customer success programs.
Our customers were often CEOs, boards, and other executives on the hook for business results. Primarily net and gross retention - NRR and GRR.
Through the course of our travels, a genuine mission emerged.
We helped our customers grow faster by focusing on their second most important asset, their customers.
Along the way, we saw several variations of “customer success.”
Across early and late-stage, funded and bootstrapped, enterprise and SMB, and various end markets, we saw confusion.
Many companies created customer success teams whose roles and responsibilities weren’t differentiated from other existing departments such as services, support, and account management.
Some had tried to implement a customer success platform as a proxy for a customer net retention strategy.
Still, others simply hadn’t put any rigor or operational resources into analyzing the customer base, segmentation, and applying appropriate levels of effort against critical cohorts of customers.
Meanwhile, using funds from 9-figure capital raises, customer success software providers drove the customer success narrative to “create the category” and compel companies to hire people who would eventually become their users.
To a degree, that strategy worked.
But now, the B2B tech industry finds itself in a predicament.
The music has stopped.
And while customer retention is crucial to survival, companies are rethinking their approach to ensuring that it happens.
We can no longer wave our hands, tout customer-centric virtues, and expect CEOs and boards to approve of gross margin-erosive spending that doesn’t directly correlate to renewals, expansion selling, enablement, adoption, and support.
It’s time for us to get back to the basics.
Here’s what that looks like from my point of view:
- Providing GREAT support - somewhere along the line, our support teams have been reduced to tactical teams who defer more complex issues around product adoption and enablement. Customer success teams have created “pooled” success teams that answer questions on a reactive basis out of case queues, often using the same technology as the support team uses with email aliases (e.g., email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org), making the customer experience more difficult to navigate for the customer.
- Aligning proactive outreach to commercial outcomes. Multi-year renewals, conversion to annual from monthly subscriptions, and expansion purchases make customers sticky. The teams responsible for driving these outcomes must surface issues and blockers that work against net retention.
- Creating simple and prescriptive experiences for customers to follow on their journey. All are supported by a knowledge base, a community of peers, and scalable programs that deliver best practices, benchmarking, and self-service. This includes designing products that are easy to launch, use, and manage.
Customer success is an outcome, not a team. But it does take a team of focused people aligning around a standard set of business problems to deliver customer success.
Oh, and the most valuable resource a company has is its people: employees, shareholders, advisors, and advocates.
It’s time to simplify the delivery of customer success.
Where will you start?
p.s. When I started writing this piece, it was about what a real community looks like, but it turned into more of a rant on the state of our industry. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Please reply and let me know if you agree, think I’m smoking something, or somewhere between.