Shhhh. Listen. Hear that?
It’s the sound of the SaaS universe undergoing a massive change.
Actually, the sound is more like a roar than a whisper.
Between sky-high interest rates and AI-driven disruption, we don’t see the speed of change slowing down anytime soon. That means every company is in belt-tightening mode. SaaS leaders and investors are scrutinizing headcount closely, especially in departments that aren’t directly tied to the bottom line.
So what does that mean to Customer Success (CS) orgs? Welcome to the brave new world of being more accountable for revenue.
Why CS Needs to Learn How to Speak CFO
For years, we’ve been talking about your CS team being trusted advisors to your customers and doing the important work of helping them be more successful. But now Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are also being asked to become more sales- or revenue-driven, and in some cases, they’re even being asked to own a revenue number. But don’t worry, this is a good thing. Learn more in our blog, Customer Success Teams, It’s Time to Take Credit for Expansion Revenue.
One important thing to keep in mind as we explore these shifts: There is a difference between accountability and responsibility. You can be held accountable for a revenue or retention number, but you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be responsible for actually negotiating or closing a deal to deliver the number. That’s still firmly in the sales team’s purview. (Whew.)
So yes, this is all a big change. But we’ve got two pieces of good news for you:
- You don’t have to make changes in your CS org all at once.
- We’ve created the ultimate cheat sheet for positioning your CS org as critical to your company’s bottom line. Check out new ebook, How to Speak CFO: Real-World Tips for Communicating the ROI of CS the Budget Hawks of Your Business
To dig deeper into this topic, Remco de Vries, VP, Global Demand Generation, Gainsight, recently sat down with Rav Dhaliwal, Investor, Board Member, Venture & Limited Partner at Crane Ventures. Specifically, they discussed Opportunities for CS in a World Full of Change and AI.
Let’s dive into our top five tips that emerged from the conversation.
Tip 1: Learn the Revenue Love Language
CS orgs are now at the executive leadership table and in the boardroom. As a result, CS leaders must learn to speak the revenue love language in addition to their already-fluent customer love language.
As a CS professional, that means bringing a revenue-oriented perspective to how you communicate about the valuable work your team is doing. In addition to talking about business value, outcomes, and opportunities, be prepared to produce and discuss bottom-line data in a way that leadership is used to.
“You want to be able to go into a meeting and talk to leadership about your book of business and how much it’s worth,” says Dhaliwal. “You need to be prepared to discuss your forecast for retentions and upsells for the quarter, as well as what you’re working on with your AE counterparts.
“Even if you don’t carry a revenue target, you still need to be thinking and talking this way. And doing so will help you shine in front of the rest of the organization.”
Tip 2: Invest in Sales Training for Your CSMs
An easy step to get CS closer to the revenue and expansion pipeline is to give CSMs access to the type of training that their Sales team gets. “If you break down what Sales and CS do, a lot of the activities are the same,” says Dhaliwal. “CSMs have to reach out to people with effective messaging. They need to be able to present effectively. They need to be influential. They have to deal with obstacles and blockers and pushback. So having similar training for both teams makes a lot of sense.”
Important caveat: Being able to look at a deal, qualify it, and close it requires very specific training and years of experience. We’re not suggesting that a bit of Sales training is going to turn your CSMs to AEs (nor would we–or you–want that).
But some exposure to Sales training can help CSMs who are creating upsell and cross-sell opportunities be able to more properly qualify the leads so they can more easily be picked up by the Sales team to close them. In fact, Customer Success Qualified Leads (CSQLs) are picking up speed as a common practice at SaaS companies.
Tip 3: Let Your CSMs Shadow Your Top Sellers
If you look a little deeper, you’ll notice something interesting: Your CSMs and your company’s top sellers have a lot in common: they’re both heavily focused on your customer and both have a “special sauce” they bring to the organization.
But chances are, your CSM has been at the receiving end of some bad Sales behavior like selling a customer 2,000 more licenses than they have employees. (Ouch.) That may have given them a clouded view of what good selling looks like. To make sure your CSMs get a clearer picture, pair them up with your company’s top sellers so they can learn from the best. Here’s how:
- Get your CSMs to listen to Sales call recordings or, even better, be a “fly on the wall” to shadow them on live Sales calls.
- Top sellers can teach your CSMs more about who’s who in the organization and how to effectively get multi-threaded.
- On the flip side, working together will allow Sales to learn how CSMs work and how both orgs are successful because the customers trust them. That kind of bridge building goes a long way.
It’s also a good idea to operationalize the Sales to CS handoff.
Tip 4: Prepare to Be Challenged
If your CS org takes on accountability for revenue, then you will be challenged when it comes to reporting time. As a modern CS leader, you’re at the big table now and so that’s to be expected.
And it’s a good thing, actually. “When you get challenged, it’s actually a signal that what you’re doing is considered important,” says de Vries. “And if you report confidently on your own pipeline, you’ll see your importance to the rest of the organization soar.”
TIP 5: Don’t Hide From AI—Use It to Your Advantage
Here’s the bottom line: AI won’t replace your CSMs. But a CSM using AI will successfully will have an outsize impact on scaling Digital Customer Success efforts. So now is the time for your CS org to uncover ways to use AI to automate high-volume/low-value activities to improve efficiency, such as:
- Crafting impactful emails and messages
- Analyzing product data
- Synthesizing a high volume of rich data, like call notes
- Making content recommendations during the customer journey
- And so much more! Thanks to technology like Gainsight’s Horizon AI.
As AI becomes more ubiquitous, it will elevate the work of humans, not replace them. In our recent study The State of AI in CS, 2023, we found that an overwhelming majority of respondents (79%) believe AI will only automate repetitive tasks. CSMs will still take center stage in guiding customers to success and driving a healthier bottom line.
Want to learn more? Watch our webinar Opportunities for CS in a World Full of Change and AI.