It’s hard to believe that the customer success (CS) function barely existed a few years ago, when today its interest and distinction within SaaS companies and beyond is seen as critical to market success. We can clearly see the steadily increasing interest in “customer success” over the last five years.
As a relatively new function, customer success is evolving in real time. As companies have begun to adopt technologies with more flexible consumption models (subscription, cloud, etc.), the switching costs have decreased dramatically, and customers have demanded to see tangible value for their dollars spent. Because of this, the CS function has become the most sought-after solution for increasing user adoption, decreasing churn and strengthening customer loyalty.
After interacting with thousands of executives at some of the world’s most successful companies, our search firm recently presented at a customer success forum to share the best practices and key learnings that we have gleaned to help leaders identify the right customer success leader for their business.
While there’s no single ideal profile for someone to move into a customer success role, there are certain types of backgrounds that can produce great CS executives. Here are the five functional backgrounds that we have often seen result in effective CS leaders.
1. The Professional Services Executive
This individual partners with executive stakeholders and drives technical implementations and transformation programs for customers. As a product and implementation expert, the professional services executive understands how to help customers get the most out of their investments.
- An innate ability to get customers up and running.
- Strong knowledge of customer workflows/needs because they are in the weeds implementing the product.
- Based on their compensation model, they may employ a “get in and get out” approach.
- May rely on prescriptive methodologies and a desire to solve problems one at a time.
2. The Support Head
This individual interfaces with customers and deals with their issues during stressful periods. They know the power of customer listening and customer advocacy.
- Grew up in an environment focused on tracking customer experience.
- Uses net promoter score (NPS) and other metrics to move the needle in delighting customers.
- The legacy-trained support executive is not always proactive and focused on root-cause analysis of a problem.
- Instead, metrics such as time to resolution and cost-cutting are prioritized.
3. The Consultant
This leader understands that customers’ problems and needs are unique, but they might lean on consulting methodologies, going back to a structured set of activities for any problems.
- Manages multiple stakeholders in large, complex organizations.
- Listens to users and charts a path to success and a specific outcome.
- Might not be able to “un-consultant” themselves — a standard methodology cannot be applied to every customer.
4. The Sales Leader
This individual builds out teams and rallies them behind goals. This leader thrives in an environment of clear-cut metrics with a starting and finishing point. Dissimilar from sales, in CS, you need to think about customers over their entire life cycle.
- When CS is revenue-generating, the sales leader has the ability to upsell and uncover additional customer needs and pain points.
- When CS is implemented at a high-velocity sales company, they can handle high volumes of customer interactions.
- Focuses on closing the deal versus the holistic customer experience and life cycle.
- May hide behind metrics versus diving into customer problems and solving them through unorthodox means.
5. Sales Engineering Leader, The Technical Relationship Expert
This individual assists in the sales process by problem-solving key technical issues for customers. They manage the technical customer relationship, oversee product and solution briefings and coordinate technical resources as needed.
- Has a blend of technical experience and people skills, excelling at managing customer relationships that are focused on technology.
- Develops the strategy to resolve technical roadblocks for customers and works cross-functionally internally in order to close the sales deal.
- Uses these skills in the customer success function to identify technical customer needs and get them addressed and implemented using internal relationships.
- Customer relationships go beyond their technical needs, and some sales engineers leaders have trouble building these muscles.
Surprisingly, I have seen very few sales engineering leaders reach the top customer success role. However, companies are beginning to understand how their skill sets lend themselves to the function, and I anticipate seeing more of these leaders in the future.
I know the different types of customer success backgrounds, but what else is important to know when evaluating these leaders?
Keep in mind that there are nuances to take into account depending on your company size, business model and internal talent pool.
Individuals with any of these five backgrounds can succeed in moving into a customer success role, depending on a company’s core business needs:
- Maturity of the organization (sell versus evolve customer engagements).
- Complexity of the product.
- Type of revenue model (high velocity versus true enterprise).
However, the end result should always be the same: CS supports the customer and is a resource to empower and enable the end user, and CS brings more joy to onboarding, implementing and learning to use the technology.
This article was originally produced for Forbes.com — link below: