For years now, Gainsight has been leading the campaign regarding the value of customer success and its return on investment.
Entire fields of industry are catching on, investing in the ideology and practice as a means of retaining and growing their customer base and capitalizing on the results. Interestingly, despite the overwhelming proof that customer success has a rightful place in business, especially in times of rapid growth, some remain unconvinced. This issue was the recent focus of a Gainsight webinar hosted by Adam Joseph, Regional VP-EMEA, and guest Ian Anis, Regional VP of European Customer Success at Tableau.
Tableau, a Salesforce company, is on a quest to empower people by seeing and understanding their data. Through the use of its self-service, visual analytics platform, Tableau has been aiding both organizations and individuals to make better, faster, and data-driven decisions with its advanced analytics capabilities since 2003.
Ian believes that his journey of understanding rapid growth and change evolution comes from a deep background working as a consultant and within various companies like Sybase and Red Hat. He has especially enjoyed the last 10 to 15 years of coaching, mentoring, and advising people to get into customer success and nurturing both companies and people to become successful at it.
Tell the Story With Words and Data
During Ian’s time running a services team, he realized that something was “missing” from the customer support process. He asked himself, “What are the stories that convince me that I actually need to go to a customer in a different way? How do I build a relationship, which is not based on asking for money as much as anything else, as well?”
Ian soon put his thoughts into practice. At Red Hat, he transitioned a technical support team into a customer-focused team. Despite his customer-facing initiatives, Ian found that people didn’t correctly understand what he was trying to accomplish. A colleague shared with Ian a perspective that helped solidify that he was going in the right direction. His colleague shared, “This is a role where you have to earn trust up until a point where you can start to demand trust inside an organization, as well.”
That advice stays with Ian to this day, convincing him that fostering the customer relationship needed to be seen and valued by the customer and his company. There is no doubt that anecdotal stories are moving and impactful. However, to get the proper reaction from internal stakeholders and decision-makers, you need to find the information that makes a difference. Yes, it will still be based on your experience and actions surrounding a customer, such as how you have grown and retained them. But the real impetus for buy-in and justification by leadership is with numbers and data that describe value. That description around that data is highly dependent on the language that you choose.
Begin with a Charter
Adam weighed in on Ian’s situation. He shared that, first, for CS leaders and organizations facing a predicament of getting executive buy-in, a clear charter for customer success is the best place to begin. It is no longer sufficient to say that your CS org is a catch-all, a department of everything, or it is meant only to prevent churn. A more mature and evolved customer success function has an “ethos” that permeates the whole business.
Second, there have to be clearly established metrics attached to the CS function. One of the common “push-backs’ from CFOs and CEOs surrounding the formation of customer success teams is regarding metrics and measurement. When speaking with the Board or executive team, the discussion needs to center around the objectives, quantifiable motions, and measurable items. The presence of critical bottom-line metrics that your CS org will be measured against brings credibility to the discussion. Knowing what precisely the CS org “owns” in comparison to other teams, like Sales, enables your CS leadership to put actions in place so that the team can adequately measure their success.
Ian agreed with Adam’s assessment, especially about a clear charter. He remarked that in his early days at Red Hat, he gained permission from his global head to place large posters in the office that stated, “No customer left behind!” It became a mantra for his team and was their way of saying, “I will take on that role and find the right way to engage with the customer to make sure they get the level of service that they should be expecting.” They eventually built metrics around that charter using the acronym VHT: value, health, and temperature.
Importance of Language
Language is central to the practice of CS and essential to the description of what you want to accomplish. Over time, the language surrounding CS metrics progressed at Red Hat and in the CS field. Ian was explicit about the nature of the intent to define and explain where your actions should fall and what they should accomplish to resonate with many people in your organization—for example, illustrating what detailed motions were occurring outside of the sales cycle. However, there is a need to tell a story that puts the proper perspective on situations.
At the time, there was a general reactive demeanor to CS, with too many people focussing on a particular or negative facet of an event, such as escalations, trying to link the number of escalations with growth or revenue directly. Ian revealed that he often would “discredit” the piece of information or play it back differently to ensure that the truth about the data is in the proper context.
Going back to the growth and revenue equaling escalations, Ian would simply supply information surrounding overall escalations from the customer base. Instead of perhaps looking at 12% escalation, he focussed on the percentage of customers without support tickets or escalations. Then, Ian would explain what those numbers mean—low rates of escalations indicate that customers are successfully using the product and are finding value in it. Rephrasing facts positively allows you to use data while partnering it with a narrative that you can control.
Selling the Dream Internally
There is a picture to paint to sell the dream internally about customer success. Obviously, the process does not contain a one-time explanation, and there is victory. Sometimes, it takes continuous proof that must be seen in terms of adoption and achievement of predetermined goals. Adam explained that while you may get that initial investment, people on the executive Board get a “little bit jittery.” At that point, you must take a step back and make an evolutionary next shift. However, as a company moves past the first iteration of CS, you may have to justify the investment, ongoing funding, and budgeting for continued support. As a CS leader, Adam asked, how do you make that pivot and obtain that funding?
Ian explained that, just as there is an evolution in the customer success journey, there must also be a transformation in the rationale of its financial allocation. Many successful CS organizations are reactive in nature, handling escalations or “calming things down.” Funding for this model can be written into service contracts for identified customers who may need this type of service. Another method is to get some funding through a percentage of the revenue because your team provides retention.
Ian explained that while that may go pretty well in the first stage, it will not suffice as a company enters a period of scale or hypergrowth. “There’s a point where you get to that tricky conversation, which is, ‘Well, we can’t just keep throwing more CSMs as we scale the business because these businesses are doubling in size of business every two to three years.’” Consequently, CS professionals may have to take on larger books of business to increase revenue.
According to Ian, one proactive practice that proved lucrative is segmentation strategies. By “targeting the right services to the right customers at the right time,” you demonstrate the value at each stage of your CS journey. Eventually, you start to get better at telling the story internally. Another method is to examine the renewal rate or the net retention rate between those customers with a CSM and those that didn’t have a CSM.
Adam echoed this methodology and stated that a Gainsight customer had done the same thing. They illustrated the impact and secured further investment in CS by showing those customers who had a CSM were able to realize value two or three times quicker than those who had no CSM., Then, they demonstrated how CSM accompanied accounts impacted things like NPS, renewal rate, and advocacy more than those without. Once the Board saw the results, the light bulb turned on.
Ian added, “You can start to tell those stories and differentiate that actually, yeah, there is a marked differentiation with the different types of engagement the customer’s willing to do with you over a period of time.”
Time adoption is another positive attribute story to share. For example, it could have taken a customer three to five years to get to 5,000 users, but now it could be 18 months if you change how you engage with them. Then, you can plot and show the information to justify what you’re doing.
Ian returned to a message about earning trust. “My measure of success is if I can get the Sales directors and the general manager in the region to say, ‘I need more CSMs.’ because of the work and the stories they’ve heard. They’ve spoken to customers directly and said, ‘We’ve been successful because of this service you provided to us.’ That, for me, is a very compelling way to also make sure you’re getting that next stage of investment that’s coming in.”
Lastly, Ian suggests that if you struggle to get that story told internally, some organizations are now looking at funding directly from customers. It is something that is changing in the industry.
Some customers, especially in the early stage of their investment with your product, may want to pay for a customer success service agreement. They are willing to do this because they have done it with different vendors and are used to this model. If it’s not something they’re getting with you as a vendor, offer them a funded way to get on the program.