What Does Your CEO Think About Customer Success? CEOs From Box, Zuora, Xactly and Gainsight Weigh In Image

What Does Your CEO Think About Customer Success? CEOs From Box, Zuora, Xactly and Gainsight Weigh In

Some are born great
Some achieve greatness
And some have greatness thrust upon ’em

– Wm. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

I’ve been preaching now for at least a couple of years that Customer Success is only in its infancy and, as an expertise, the explosion and proliferation of roles in this area will happen over the next five years and beyond.  If you have chosen Customer Success as your career because you saw this coming, congratulations.  If you find yourself in this role because you’ve worked hard and proven you can be trusted with significant responsibilities (like customers), well done.  If you have simply been minding your own business and a Customer Success role has just fallen in your lap, you might want to buy a lotto ticket, too.

However you got there, you are part of a select group of people who will be teaching much of the rest of the world some extremely valuable skills over the next few years.  Think about it this way – what if you had decided in 2001 that this Salesforce.com thing was not just a fad but was going to be one of the key pieces of infrastructure in hundreds of thousands of businesses over the rest of your career?  And what if you had acted on that supposition and learned everything you could about how to administer and customize Salesforce.com?  The plethora of opportunities that would be before you today is extraordinary.  And the value of those skills is simply skyrocketing.  That, my friends, is the coming path of Customer Success.

The recent Pulse conference, hosted by Gainsight, was attended by 300+ Customer Success professionals.  This alone lends truth to my statements above.  No conference attracts that kind of attention on the first try unless there’s something more than just a great keynote (no offense Geoffrey) going on.  I was honored to deliver one of the keynotes at Pulse and my message bears repeating.  Customer Success is a movement.  It is not just another cool technology.  Nor is it merely executive lip service.  And it’s much more than just another application space.

It’s a wave driven by an even bigger wave – the recurring revenue model or, more accurately, pay-as-you-go.  Virtually all new software companies will have a recurring revenue model, and all the old ones are moving in that direction as rapidly as they can.  And, as we all know, that model places a true emphasis on making your customers successful.  What a concept, huh?  You don’t succeed unless your customers succeed and are truly satisfied.  Sounds a lot like every retail business that ever made it.  And it sounds not at all like the enterprise software companies many of us worked for in the 80s and 90s.  How is it that companies were, at least briefly, wildly successful without actually providing great value to their customers?  A topic for another blog post I think.

One of the most fascinating sessions at Pulse was the CEO Panel.  The panel guests were CEOs Chris Cabrera from Xactly, Aaron Levie from Box, Tien Tzuo from Zuora, and Nick Mehta from Gainsight.  Virtually everything they said gives momentum to the statements I’ve made above about Customer Success.  Listen to some of what they said.


Four CEOs at four major SaaS companies talking about Customer Success as a fundamental cornerstone of their businesses.  If that doesn’t make you feel good about your position in this domain, it should.  It should also give you confidence.  Confidence to ask for resources and tools to do your job better.  Confidence to take some risks as you try to figure out what works and what doesn’t.   Confidence that you belong at the “big boys’ table.”  Confidence that your company does not thrive, or even survive, without your contributions.

In the same soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that I referenced at the top of this post, Malvalio also says “but be not afraid of greatness.”  That is my wish for all who have decided to venture down this Customer Success path with me.  Don’t shrink from greatness.  We need you to find it and grasp it and share it.  There’s so much for all of us to learn from one another that we must root for everyone else to achieve greatness.  Even our competitors.  Because their success, too, will lift us up.  We will all, as Sir Isaac Newton said, “see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

As you go forth and conquer, I’ll leave you with one last quote from the Pulse CEO Panel.  This one is a description of a Customer Success Manager, in the form of a haiku:

She sleeps eats rarely
World on her shoulders always
Cleaning up for sales