Episode Four: How to Deliver Enterprise-level Customer Success with Jennifer Dearman Image

Episode Four: How to Deliver Enterprise-level Customer Success with Jennifer Dearman

In this episode, Allison Pickens (Chief Customer Officer, Gainsight) sits down with Jennifer Dearman (Vice President of Global Customer Success, Kronos) to understand the mechanics of delivering enterprise-level customer success. Jennifer has run several global customer success teams at enterprise organizations with wild success during her career. Prior to her position at Kronos, Jennifer served as Director of Customer Experience and Engagement at Redhat, where she led the development and implementation of RedHat’s Global Customer Success organization.

Jennifer has been widely recognized for her unique ability to not only run the day-to-day operations of large customer success organizations, but solve the unique challenges that most leaders don’t see coming during change management, hyper-growth, and more. As you listen to her story in this episode, you’ll be able to tell that although the path wasn’t easy, Jennifer never let challenges slow down the outcome of creating success across her organization. Deep-dive into why she claims that strong training programs, company-wide buy-in, and a little bit of fun all play a role in delivering enterprise-level success.

Subscribe today on:             iTunes             Soundcloud             Stitcher

Who is Allison Pickens?

Allison Pickens is a broadly recognized thought leader on Customer Success and scaling teams during hyper-growth. She is Chief Customer Officer at Gainsight and Host of the Customer Success Podcast. She is a frequent speaker and blogger, is an Advisor to several companies, and was named one of the top 50 people in sales and business development. She started her career in management consulting for Fortune 500 companies while at Boston Consulting Group and later worked in private equity investing at Bain Capital. At both companies, she worked with organizations on driving change and scaling effectively and has brought that expertise to Gainsight.

nick mehta
Who is Jennifer Dearman?

Jennifer Dearman is the Vice President of Global Customer Success at Kronos. An expert in running and scaling large enterprise customer success organizations, Jennifer knows what it takes to drive success outcomes for her customers. Prior to her time at Kronos, Jennifer served as Director of Customer Engagement at RedHat, a leader in open source software. You can follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter

Episode Four: Delivering Enterprise-level Customer Success

How to organizing Customer Success Team

Figuring out how to effectively divide up any customer success team is extremely challenging. Every single customer interaction will be determined by how effective each customer success manager is at scale. According to Jennifer, you have to first consider how your company currently segments customers. For instance, Kronos currently segments customers (and prospects) according to industry-verticals. Each segment has sales experts and customer success experts dedicated toward their industry’s unique challenges. However, Jennifer highlights that the most important element of any strategy is alignment between teams. Dividing your team by persona is also a deeper-level of segmentation that Jennifer suggests for more mature teams in order to elevate your strategy.

“Ep.4 #CSPodcast | When organizing, #alignment is key according to @jldearman #Customers #CustomerSuccess”

Making Customer Success a Priority to the Executive Team

If you’re leading a customer success function at an enterprise company (or any size company) you’ve probably had more than one conversation with your executive team about the ROI of customer success. Executive buy-in doesn’t come cheap, relaying the value of your customer success team early on is essential. Jennifer advises that your teams should be, “ Strategic, Funded, and Aligned.” Customer Success cannot be a pet-project or a hidden gem of another department. Both of these common scenarios result in the teams adopting that organization’s metrics and behaviour which often misalign the function from it’s core goal: delivering successful customer outcomes.

“#CustomerSuccess has to be strategic, funded, and aligned ” @jldearman #CustomerSuccess #CSPodcast

How to Measure the Impact of Customer Success

There’s an age-old saying in the SaaS industry, “what gets measured gets managed.” What to measure when implementing your customer success team can be a daunting task, but starting is often the hardest part. According to Jennifer, adoption is a great place to begin as it directly showcases how your CSMs are executing the new program. Adopting of how well your customers are adopting your program is a great next step as it will be a long-term foundation for your team’s health.

“Ep.4 #CSPodcast | The CEO’s of the future will be, and should be CSMs @jldearman @PickensAllison #CustomerSuccess”

Why Customer Training is Essential for Customer Success

The education function in an organization is usually seen as a strong ally for customer success managers. Jennifer suggests starting this process early as it is a determining factor for future interactions with your customers. The success team and the education team should work closely together in order to ensure that your customers are being equipped with the right information at the right time. According to Jennifer, short content that is timed correctly is the most effective training for adoption and in-the-moment success.

“An #educated customer is usually a successful #Customer” @jldearman @PickensAllison #CustomerSuccess”

Listen to the full podcast for even deeper insights from Allison Pickens and Byron Deeter on the Rise of Customer Success!

Full Transcript

Allison Pickens: Jennifer thank you so much for joining us today.

Jennifer Dearman: Thank you for having me Alison.

Allison Pickens: To kick things off, I would love to know what makes you passionate about customer success?

Jennifer Dearman: That’s a big question. There’s so much to be passionate about. I feel like I’ve been in customer success really my whole career starting out in the Big Four consulting world. It’s always been about doing what’s best for the customer and helping to solve their problems and keeping them happy. So that’s what that’s what excites me about customer success.

Jennifer Dearman: We’re on a mission, here right?

Jennifer Dearman: We are! Girl, we are on a mission to build this into something tremendous.

Allison Pickens: Absolutely.

Jennifer Dearman: Jennifer you’ve been a part of the Gainsight community for a long time and so one of the things that you might know about us is one of our values is childlike joy, where we try to bring a sense of playfulness to our work and authenticity. So I’d love to know, what gives you childlike joy in your life?

Jennifer Dearman: I do love that about Gainsight, I love how you build that into your themes at conferences and almost every interaction that we have with you is focused on that value, so I love that. With childlike joy, It’s hard not to go right to my kids, with a 14 year old and an 11 year old that are super busy in sports and all kinds of things like that, that’s what brings me joy.

Allison Pickens: That sounds wonderful.

Allison Pickens: So, diving into the meat of our podcast, one of things I would love to talk to you about is organizational structure in customer success which I know a lot of companies are thinking about. For example, many large companies I talked to are wondering, “on what dimension should we divide up our customer success team?” “Do we split teams on the basis of the size of the customer, the vertical, the customer the geography, the product line – Where should we start?”

Jennifer Dearman: Yeah, always a compelling question when you’re starting a customer success function for sure. You know I think every customer deserves our investment in their success. That’s important to keep in mind when making this decision. I think first and foremost you consider the dimensions the company uses to segment customers. Let’s say for example. a customer a company segment’s their customers by vertical like we do at Kronos. In our case, sales and services both align to the vertical model and that’s proven to be really successful. So, it makes sense for us to align success in that same way. So, we can partner with both teams and deliver that industry relevant experience to our customers. You could use that same analogy for companies that segment on product line or even geography. The important element is the alignment and once that’s understood segmenting further and other things like ARR or persona takes it to a deeper level and enables you to create a more specific experience for those customers.

Allison Pickens: It totally makes sense that the alignment would be the key thing that you would optimize for.

Jennifer Dearman: Right.

Allison Pickens: A lot of customer success leaders are wondering; how can I make sure that customer success is a priority across my company? How do I make sure it’s a priority at the highest level in the inner circle of the executive team?

Jennifer Dearman: Yeah that’s a great question and to me it’s really a simple three variable equation: It’s got to be strategic, funded, and aligned. Customer success has to be a strategic initiative of the company- Full stop. It cannot be a pet project or something that someone is chartered to do with an existing budget. It can’t be a group that’s buried in sales, services, or support. If you do that, they tend to take on the behaviors and metrics of those organizations and miss the point of customer success entirely. If it’s truly a strategic initiative, one that’s reported to the board, then it will have executive team support, a defined and separate budget, and will be equally aligned to other departments. If any of these three variables are missing it’s a big red flag.

Allison Pickens: You mentioned that it’s super important to think about metrics when you’re organizing your customer success team. What are those metrics that cut for success?

Jennifer Dearman: Leaders should focus on measurements really important and early on that can be a challenge. I look at things when I’m starting a new customer success program like how well my team is adopting the program. I think that’s really important, that the program that we put together that we think brings value to our customers is well executed and delivered to our customers. So early on that’s what I’m looking for. Not necessarily adoption of our product which is of course a key measure that we will be looking at but adoption of the program to me is really important.

Allison Pickens: It’s interesting so often I think we focus on adoption at our clients but we don’t often measure internal adoption which is so critical given that most customer success leaders spend their days thinking about change management. Right. Right. I found that the education function sometimes called training or enablement can be a really strong ally to customer success. What’s the right way for customer success and education to work together across the journey?

Jennifer Dearman: Yeah, education should be a huge ally to the success team. An educated customer is usually a successful customer. So, determining the path for delivering the right training – at the right time – is so important and it starts early and onboarding and continues throughout their journey. So, the success team and the education team should be working very closely together on content, timing, and delivery method. It should be a really close partnership.

Allison Pickens: There are probably a number of folks in the education space who are listening to this podcast. If you had to give them advice about the latest trends that they should be taking advantage of. What do you think those would be?

Jennifer Dearman: I think what customers are looking for is more on-demand, short, snippets of “how to” information and “did you know” type of information that they consume on their own schedules, on their own times. And that’s the trend that I’m seeing, that’s certainly a direction that we’re headed in Kronos.

Allison Pickens: One of the trends that we’re noticing in customer success is that some companies are actually starting to charge for it as a sort of premier customer success offering. Under what circumstances you think it’s the right thing to do to charge for it?

Jennifer Dearman: You know I am a big believer in monetizing the subscription success in which customer success is part of. What I mean is, I prefer the approach of bundling multiple services together like support, success, education, and other specialty services like a technical account manager or something like that in a tiered model that delivers incremental value at each level. Customers can opt in to that type of a subscription model. I think the values in the bundles rather than in our a la carte kind of model. But you know I do see circumstances where a dedicated CSM offering could be monetized, I just think at this stage and where we are with the industry it’s a little bit of a harder play.

Allison Pickens: What’s the reaction from sales teams that you’ve noticed when launching a premier customer success program?

Jennifer Dearman: Well, super excited for sure because we’re definitely taking things off of their plate. We’re definitely going to be delivering value to their customers that they probably haven’t been getting, previously. So, there’s a lot of excitement about it. One of the challenges is sales folks think that all of their customers should get the premier level of customer success. You know, it’s impossible to treat every customer the same way. So, that’s certainly a challenge when you launch a premier program, making sure that everybody understands that the overall program is bringing value to all of our customers not just the premier program.

Allison Pickens: Does selling a premier customer success offering help you justify investing more in your customer success team?

Jennifer Dearman: Well it’s certainly nice to be funded. I’ll say it from that standpoint the idea of you know being in that cost of goods sold line and impacting margin is certainly something that’s always on my mind. So, the ability to charge for customer success, even if it’s part of a subscription success model, is certainly interesting to me.

Allison Pickens: How does your CEO at Kronos think about this journey you’re on in customer success?

Jennifer Dearman: So, our CEO is a huge supporter of customer success. He’s the one leading the charge of Kronos is transformation to the cloud and a big piece of that, of course, is customer success. He ensures that, you know, this is a strategic initiative that all of the executive team is aware of and supportive of and he is very excited about the idea of being able to deliver this type of support and success to our customers. He’s also really excited about the potential to monetize a service like this as well. And that’s something we’re starting to begin conversations around, how do we bundle many of our services that have traditionally been one offs? You know we offer support, we offer education, we offer services. How do we bring this together and bundle it under a success umbrella and deliver that to our customers?

Allison Pickens: What’s the biggest challenge that you think companies are having when they’re trying to transition from on premise of a cloud?

Jennifer Dearman: Yeah, this really resonates with me because Kronos is making that transition today. About 18 months ago we started down this journey of trying to be a global customer-first SaaS company and to do that it required transforming our entire company – not just adding a customer success team. Right, it meant, basically, overhauling our entire back office of systems and modernizing them. It meant defining what our customer experience was going to be for our customers, leveraging customer input on that. Helping our employees understand what it meant to be a customer-first company. And of course, some key initiatives like building a customer success function. So, it’s a lot to bite off when you’re making that transition from the on-premise world to the cloud.

Allison Pickens: I love what you said about how it’s not just the customer success team’s job to make that transition happen, it’s truly a company-wide effort that needs to occur.

Allison Pickens: Absolutely.

Allison Pickens: Jennifer, what do you think is the role of customer success operations at a recurring revenue company?

Jennifer Dearman: This is one that’s sort of near and dear to my heart. Some lessons learned, for sure, in the customer success ops space. I think it’s the backbone of a success program. They’re responsible for building the tools and processes and resources used to deliver success to customers. And without that type of structure, it’s impossible to deliver a consistent, reliable, and measurable program. Under-funding the CS ops team is a big mistake. Even if you manage to get a foundational program in place, it’s been my experience that it’s nearly impossible to iterate the program without the appropriate team.

Jennifer Dearman: So, in my mind, investing in an ops team early is a best practice.

Allison Pickens: It’s a great lesson for her folks to think about. How should you attract and retain talent in customer success especially given that it can be such a challenging role?

Jennifer Dearman: Yes, it’s challenging and it’s a super competitive market. I mean look at the number of customer success manager open positions there are Google that – it’s like 5000 or some crazy number. So, attracting and retaining talent is certainly on my mind. I think, you have to have a defined program with the proper tools to deliver the program and the ability to measure the success. And that attracts talent. The lack of the proper tools in a program is really demotivating. I also think you must invest in your teams’ professional development, customer success manager as an identified role is fairly new even though the title has been around for a long time. Many people moving into these roles come from sales, services, and support. I’ve seen situations where people were simply retitled as customer success managers with no training on what it meant to be one. And then generally what happens is they revert to what they’re comfortable doing which is probably not in line with customer success goals. So, training on the program is needed, of course. If your company is vertically aligned, then vertical training is necessary to build credibility. Product training is, of course, important – at least the use cases in which your customers are using your products and soft skills training is so important. I like things like influencing without authority, negotiating, communication skills, presentation skills, consultative skills. These are all necessary to build confidence within your team.

Allison Pickens: It’s a tough job because you’ve got to learn so many different skills to help clients. It’s amazing. Advocacy is one of those hot topics that everyone is talking about and customer success. How can you turn happy customers into advocates of your product or service who actively recommend you to prospective customers?

Jennifer Dearman: Yeah, I think advocacy is so important to customer success. I think first and foremost, you need to be able to recognize your advocates. So often we don’t even know we have advocates that we could be leveraging. You should be able to see this in a well-designed health score, once you recognize them then you have to be willing to ask them. Most customers that are happy are willing to advocate on your behalf if they’re just asked and there are many ways to advocate. It doesn’t mean they have to get on stage at an event, they can give you a public quote to use, author a white paper, give a peer to peer reference among many other things. Eventually, you can move a happy customer up the advocacy maturity curve.

Allison Pickens: Jennifer, if customer success had a spirit animal what would it be?

Jennifer Dearman: Hmm…maybe a tiger because as a customer success manager, and in this industry, you really need tenacity to be successful. So, I’m going to go with Tiger.

Allison Pickens: Tiger! I like that! Awesome.

Allison Pickens: Jennifer thanks so much for joining us today. This is great.

Jennifer Dearman: Thank you for having me.