The Value of Customer Success Operations Image

The Value of Customer Success Operations

Customer Success executives are starting to recognize the need to hire a Customer Success Operations person. The question is, given the relative newness of this role in our industry, how do you explain its value to your CEO in order to secure budget for it?

ROI on Customer Success Operations is significant.

The return-on-investment (ROI) from hiring a Customer Success Operations person is the same as the ROI from hiring a Sales Operations person: the role increases the productivity of your customer-facing team members, so that you can hire fewer people.

Interestingly, most CEOs don’t ask VPs of Sales to justify hiring a Sales Ops lead; they simply assume that they’ll have to hire someone after the sales team reaches a certain size.  The question is “when” – not “whether” – the hire should be made.

By contrast, because of the newness of the Customer Success function, VPs of CS are still asked to justify the CS Ops role, even though the value of CS Ops is (at least) equal to the value of Sales Ops.

In fact, a CS Ops lead’s responsibilities parallel those in Sales Ops.

 Responsibility  Sales Operations Customer Success Operations
  Data
1. Reporting Report to executives and the board on past results and sales forecasts, e.g. through dashboards and presentations Report to executives and the board on past results  and renewals and upsell forecasts, e.g. through dashboards and presentations
2. Analysis Track leading indicators of sales, and analyze them to understand what’s going well and what’s not Track leading indicators of renewals and upsell, and analyze them to understand what’s going well and what’s not
  Processes
3. Customer Engagement Process Determine the timing and content of meetings with prospects, to optimize conversion of pipeline to opportunities, close rates, and pricing Determine the timing and content of touch points for CSMs along the customer journey, to drive optimal adoption and high net promoter score
4. External Communications Coordinate with Marketing on email nurture activities for prospects Coordinate with 1:Many Communications lead (within CSM team) to synchronize email outreaches with CSM touch points
5. Risk Management Give executives visibility into deals that are at risk Detect early signals of at-risk renewals, design playbooks for CSMs to address them, and provide path to escalation
6. Opportunity Identification Identify top accounts Identify top candidates for upsell
7. Cross-Functional Coordination Coordinate cross-functional processes that help meet sales targets and deliver on prospects’ needs Coordinate cross-functional processes (with Product, Engineering, Support, Services, and Sales) that help meet renewal and upsell targets and deliver on customers’ needs
  People
8. Team Structure Create segments of prospects,manage account executives’ territories, and forecast hiring needs Tier existing customers, assign them to CSMs, re-distribute workload as needed, and forecast hiring needs
9. Compensation Determine commission structure and quotas Determine the metrics on which bonuses are based, and define targets for those metrics
10. Enablement Sales enablement, including providing materials and data that help account executives work more effectively CSM enablement, including providing materials and data that help CSMs work more effectively
  Systems
11. Systems Implement and manage software that facilitates Sales Ops activities Implement and manage software that facilitates CSM Ops activities
 

We take it for granted that these Sales Operations responsibilities are valuable; we should attribute equal value to those same responsibilities in the Customer Success realm.

Even so, it’s not surprising that many Customer Success teams don’t have CS Ops leads yet. Sales Operations is an older (and therefore more trusted) function, having originated when CRM software made it possible to design, manage, and report on processes. Still, given the recent development of Customer Success software, companies now can design, manage, and report on processes in post-sales as well, presenting an opportunity for an Ops lead to drive tremendous value for CS teams.

You should hire a CS ops lead when you have about 5 CSMs.

Now that we’ve answered “whether” you need a CS Ops lead, the question becomes “when”.

Once you have about 5 CSMs, you’ll need to start developing smart processes for running your team. That’s when you’ll want to make your first Ops hire.

Once you have about 10 CSMs, your CS Ops lead will want to hire a junior person, perhaps an intern or a recent college graduate. This will allow your Ops lead to spend more time on strategic activities, to thoughtfully manage the workings of a larger organization.

You’ll want to screen candidates based on the following attributes:

  • Passion for designing processes that scale
  • Ability to break down ambiguous problems into concrete, manageable components and think through optimal solutions
  • Enjoys "getting their hands dirty" by digging into complex operations
  • Takes high degree of ownership over their work
  • Clear communicator with professional presence
  • Strong listening skills; open to input from other team members and departments
  • Ability to lead through influence

Click here to see a sample CS Ops job description that you can use in your own recruiting.

Email me any questions at apickens@gainsight.com or follow me on Twitter @PickensAllison for more updates on this topic.

Picture of Allison Pickens
Allison Pickens Chief Customer Officer
2 Comments
  1. Guilherme Lopes
    Jul 28th, 2015

    Hi Allison,

    Awesome blog post. (Btw, your video about ‘at risk customers’ at Pulse Check was great too.)

    We’re about to promote one of our CSMs to CSO. A bit late maybe, we already have more than 30 CSMs and CSEs :-S

    I still have some concerns about the differences between a CSO and a Customer Marketeer, though. It seems that the two jobs overlap some times. Specially on the itens 3, 4 and 10 you’ve showed on the table above: Customer Engagement Process, External Communications and Enablement.

    How do you see theses responsibilities across these two jobs?

    Thanks,
    Guilherme Lopes
    @guilhermelopes
    Resultados Digitais

    • Allison Pickens | VP Customer Success & Business Operations | Gainsight
      Aug 2nd, 2016

      Hi Guilherme,
      I apologize for the delay in responding!

      At Gainsight, we consider Customer Marketing part of the Ops role. We consider Marketing to be primarily responsible for generating new business leads. Customer Marketing includes any scalable customer-centric processes (including 1:many customer communications) that are intended to drive adoption, advocacy, renewal, and upsell — metrics that the CSM team is typically responsible for.

      Hope this is helpful! Feel free to join the CS Ops Networking group and check out more best practices materials on the Community.

      Best,
      Allison

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