What Would Be Your Top 3 Interview Questions for a Candidate CSM?

  1. What evidence do you have that speaks to your domain expertise and credibility in my company’s vertical market? Conference presentations, blog articles, white papers, certifications earned, awards received — please describe your professional background that would suggest to my customers that you should have the standing of a trusted advisor for their business.
  2. Please describe the proven economic value that you have assisted customers to realize in your work with them, and how you accomplished it. (They should answer in terms of how they got the customer to define value in the customers’ terms and what they did to prove that value/outcome was realized.)
  3. Please describe how you expanded the customer relationships to build more proven economic value for your previous company, to increase the ROI for your employer from your work.

All three of these are vital issues. The mission of customer success is to increase sustainable proven value for both the customer and the company. If they can’t speak the language of profitability for both fluently, it’s unlikely that they will be successful as a trusted advisor in either direction.

 

What Are The Best Certifications for an Aspiring Customer Success Manager?

There are some vendors (technology and training/recruiting/consulting companies) that have offered certifications upon completion of training courses for some time now. There is clear value in the training courses.
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I have been asked many times over the years by job hunters if there are certifications that would make their holders more employable or offer an advantage in some way to the process. My answer has always been no, that I have never seen a position announcement that asked for any such certification.
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The key factor, in my view, for any customer success professional is their domain expertise. In order to be perceived as a trusted advisor, one has to speak the language of a particular vertical fluently. Therefore, the best certification for a customer-facing CSM is whatever validates that CSM’s domain expertise in the business that the hiring company is in. For example, having a business/accounting degree for a firm offering accounting software. An HR certification for a company offering an HR management system. For a CSM who will be working with customers of a fleet management system, having some certification testifying to competency in fleet management would be of definite value.
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You can teach a person all about a software product, Support teams have been doing that forever. But what sets a CSM apart is the credibility, the authority in their voice when they advise the customer on how to get the maximum value from their subscription/investment.
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About the only scenario where I could see a generic CSM certification as being an asset in a job search would be if you were going to apply for a CSM position with a customer success management system vendor.

 

What Are The Most Impactful Customer Success KPI’s?

The mission of Customer Success is to increase sustainable proven value for both the customers and the company. Therefore the prime KPI for a customer success group is the value they have brought to the customers and to the company — measured ultimately in money. For the customers, a key factor is the individual customer success plans your team has developed with them, and the progress that has been made towards those goals. It’s vital that the customer acknowledge and agree that such progress has been made — that’s the purpose of the regular Customer Value Reviews that your team does with them.

There are a whole host of metrics that can be and often are applied to the work of a Customer Success team — CSAT, NPS, revenue and logo retention, numbers of customer meetings, recruitment of references and customer advocates —- and they have their uses. But the prime metric is increase in sustainable proven value.

 

For a customer-facing CSM (as opposed to a team-leader Manager of Customer Success), the most likely career path, apart from staying in CS, would be into Sales at some point, capitalizing on their domain expertise. That ultimately could lead them to a CCO -Chief Customer Officer position. Or they could move into CS team management, in which case the career path could also run all the way to CCO.

Either way, at some point, a shift would be required from being an individual contributor over to serving as the leader of a team.

 

Businessman pushing iCloud button with technology array

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What are the elements of a good Customer Success Technology Suite?

Which software vendors are active in the Customer Success space?

These questions are constantly being asked by Customer Success teams and their companies worldwide.  Two of the most popular pages on the Customer Success Association website are the Customer Success Technology Vendors List (CustomerSuccessSoftware.com) and the Customer Success Technologies Map (CustomerSuccessTechMap.com).   The CSA site had over 100K -new- visitors in 2017, and we expect many more for 2018.

The Elements of a Customer Success Technology Suite

Open laptop with data and reflection of user's face.Customer Success teams have a wide number of integral functions that they must perform – and perform well in order to accomplish their mission.  Just as with any other role in the company, the CS team needs appropriate technology to enable data collection, analysis and reporting as well as the management of the team itself.  The following 12 categories make up the CS Technology Map:  (The list of vendors offering products in each category is included in the Customer Success Technologies Map [CustomerSuccessTechMap.com] — you must be logged in as at least a Basic/free member to access this page.]

1. The Master Customer Record

Ideally, the ability to both access and edit/update data about the customer should be directly available to members of the Customer Success team from their main dashboard.  Some Customer Success Management Systems maintain master customer records inherently within their applications, while others integrate with CRM systems or other systems of record for this information.

2.  Application Engagement/Usage Tracking & Analysis:

The ability to see in real time exactly what a customer is doing with the functions and features of the product is critically important for Customer Success teams.  For software vendors, this capability can either be a design function of the company’s own technology or it can be added later via a 3rd party application.  The functionality also includes license usage.

3.  Value Management:

The mission of customer success is to increase sustainable proven value for both the customers and the company.  Being able to monitor the return on investment (ROI) for the customer is therefore a vital capability, necessary for the preparation of regular Customer Value Reviews (sometimes referred to as QBR’s, etc.)  Value Management functionality also includes deep churn analysis and reporting, tracking and reporting on up-sell and cross-sell potentials and actuals, and analysis of sales pricing, commitments and deal quality.

4.  Customer Intelligence: Gathering, Reporting

Knowing what is going on with the customers’ business overall is very important for customer success managers.  If key members of the customer’s management team leave, and otherwise stable relationship can quickly move into the at-risk category.  Other significant factors can include mergers/acquisitions or general downturns.

5.  Customer Feedback

Customer feedback concerning enhancement requests and/or about their perception of your company’s products, or company overall often can be transmitted in various ways.  Regardless of the communication channel used, it’s vital that the feedback be captured, recorded and made readily available throughout your organization.  Customer success managers have a key role to play in this area as they are the most likely people to gather the feedback, and therefore this functionality needs to be in their technology suite.

6.  Customer Advocacy

Customers who are willing to serve as references for the quality of your products and company are strategically significant assets, and need to be managed accordingly.  As with customer feedback, customer success managers are often the most likely people in your organization to know which customers are most suitable to be asked to be references.  Social media activity is another key value.  Your customer success technology suite should include the capability of tracking customer advocates and their effectiveness.

7.  Data Integration / Synchronization

Over time, the various departments of your company will collect enormous amounts of very valuable data.  Having that data accessible to the Customer Success team is a core need.  The Customer Success Technology Suite must be able to accept data from and update other company systems such as the main CRM or Sales Force Automation tool, Customer Support ticketing system, Development’s bug-tracker, website visitation monitor, learning management systems, the project management system used by On-Boarding/Professional Services, Marketing Automation tools, etc.

8.  Customer Health Monitoring

The ability to assess and to monitor the health of the ongoing customer relationships, both individually and as segments/portfolios is a core requirement for customer success teams.  The technology used for tracking customer health should include predictive analytics and robust filtering and visualization capabilities.  This category also includes the ability to map the customer journey in various ways, especially tracking progress according to individual Customer Success Plans and/or cohort monitoring.

9.  Customer Success Manager Workflow Management

Each Customer Success Manager needs to have direct access to technology for tracking their daily work/process, including specific functionality for:

  • Dashboard of tasks to be done by CSM; prioritization, status of assigned customers
  • Status of assigned tasks, alerts
  • Activity and outcome tracking/recording; Interaction category, duration, outcomes, volume, channel
  • Best practices playbooks
  • Playbook effectiveness / outcome monitoring
  • Internal team communications/collaboration capabilities and tracking
  • Project management

10.  Customer Success Team Management

Just as individual Customer Success Managers need access to all available data about the customer, the Customer Success Executive requires in-depth knowledge about the functioning of the team as a unit.  The CS executive dashboards and reporting capabilities need to include specific functionality for:

  • Status of all tasks/activities by both both individuals and the team
  • Utilization of individual CSMs
  • Effectiveness of individual CSMs

11.  Self-Success Management / “tech-touch”

A major challenge facing all Customer Success teams is the question of scalability.  Individual Customer Success Managers are expensive resources for a company to recruit and maintain, and not all interactions with the customers require human assistance.  The determination of which classes of interactions need to be done with human resources and which may be automated is a strategic one, but the necessary automation resources must include:

  • Knowledgbase content creation, distribution and effectiveness tracking
  • Automated e-mail distribution of content to individual customers & analytics
  • Online community resources and usage analytics
  • E-learning management

12.  Communications Channels

A variety of communication channels needs to be readily accessible by the members of the Customer Success team.  The technology should include:

  • In-app messaging
  • Text messaging
  • Video-conferencing
  • Online meetings (webinars, etc.)
  • Phone
  • Email Management (Segmentation, list building, etc.)

Which Software Vendors are Active in the Customer Success Space?

The Customer Success Association maintains a complete list of all known vendors offering products for Customer Success teams on the CustomerSuccessSoftware.com page of the CSA site.  There are about 48 vendors listed currently, and more are undoubtedly coming.

 

What Benchmarks or Industry Standards are there for Customer Success?

“What’s the Industry Standard for number of accounts per CSM?”

“How often should you do Customer Value Reviews or QBRS, etc.?”

“What percentage of the company by employee size is customer success?”

 

Definition: Benchmark / Industry Standard

  • A standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed
    • a surveyor’s mark put in a wall, pillar, or building and used as a reference point in measuring altitudes
  • Something that serves as a standard by which others may be measured or judged. (Merriam-Webster)
  • Standard, or a set of standards, used as a point of reference for evaluating performance or level of quality.  Benchmarks may be drawn from a firm’s own experience, from the experience of other firms in the industry, or from legal requirements such as environmental regulations. (Businessdictionary com)

Customer Success Benchmarks / Standards?

Currently, the answer to the question is very clear:  there are no accepted industry standards or benchmarks for Customer Success.  Further, this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.  Why?

Comparing Apples to Oranges?

The term “Customer Success” as commonly used internationally covers too many variables.  Companies use the label (or one of its many variants) to describe everything from ad-hoc “firefighter” or “churnfighter” teams to full-fledged established groups with complete ownership of every aspect of the ongoing customer relationships — and everything in-between.    When companies set out to create new Customer Success groups, the typical first step is to go out to LinkedIn or other recruiting source and simply copy the open position announcement of some other firm.  After changing a few words, the company then publishes the result as their own job posting and starts looking for candidates to do the work of designing and building the new group.  The result is a lot of confusion and high turnover rates — especially for Customer Success executive team leaders.

The mission statement of one group may be specifically about increasing customer adoption of the product’s features.  Another may be focused on raising customer satisfaction levels, NPS, or “happiness.”  There is often little correlation between the stated role of a Customer Success group and the metrics used to measure its performance.  Yet all will use the same terms to describe their group and its process.

The Customer Success Standards Committee

For the past few years, the Customer Success Standards Committee has been working on a draft set of standards, based upon the ongoing research of the Customer Success Association into the practices and policies of customer success groups worldwide.   The intention of the committee is to ultimately produce an open specifications document that may in time gain general acceptance in the customer success community.

One of the outcomes has been the compilation of The Questions of Customer Success resource, a bank of questions intended to guide the efforts of company senior management teams as they work to define the strategy, process, people, and technology of their new customer success group. While the CSA’s mission statement for Customer Success, to increase sustainable proven value for both the customer and the company, is strongly recommended as a beginning point, the vital factor is that whatever the company may decide as the focus for their group, the process, people, and technology aspects need to be in alignment with that foundation.

Recommended Reading:

The Definition of Customer Success

The Mission of Customer Success

The History of Customer Success

What is the Definition of Customer Success?

Customer Success is a long-term, scientifically engineered and professionally directed strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven value.  Note the key words/concepts in that sentence:

  • Long-term:  A viable, effective Customer Success team and program is not something that can be built overnight.
  • Scientifically engineered:  You can’t win at Customer Success without collecting and analyzing extensive and accurate data about your customers
  • Professionally directed:  Just as domain expertise is a necessary and vital attribute for customer-facing CSM’s, CS executives have to be highly skilled in running a profitable and effective group.
  • Maximizing customer AND company:  Both are equally important.  A customer will leave if they do not perceive value in the relationship with your company.  Your company will not continue to have a Customer Success team if it is not delivering strategically significant levels of ROI.
  • Sustainable, proven value:  The sale is never final.  The relationship will persist only if both parties perceive measurable continuing value in it.

In practice, Customer Success Management is an integration of functions and activities of Marketing, Sales, Professional Services, Training and Support into a new profession.  There are three necessary building blocks for this emerging profession: an in-depth knowledge of the customers, effective knowledge of the product being sold, and extensive domain expertise.

Recommended Reading:

The Mission of Customer Success

The History of Customer Success

What is the Mission of Customer Success?

The Mission of Customer Success is to increase sustainable proven value for both the Customers and the Company. The essence is found in three core words: sustainable, proven, and value. The goal is increase, and the beneficiaries are the customers and the company.  This is who Customer Success teams and professionals are and what they do.

While Customer Success professionals do a lot of different things, including (but not limited to!):

  • Customer Intelligence gathering / analysis
  • Sales Engineering
  • On-boarding / customization design & delivery
  • Business coaching/consulting/advisory
  • Encouraging user adoption of functions and features
  • Training
  • Reporting
  • –and much more

all of these activities need to be directly tied back to the production of more sustainable, proven value for the customers and the company.

Recommended Reading:

The Definition of Customer Success

The History of Customer Success

Where is the best place to advertise for open Customer Success positions?

In addition to all of the standard approaches to publicizing an open Customer Success Manager position or for an executive CS leadership opening, the best place to advertise is in the Jobs section of The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn — and best of all, it’s free.

To post the announcement, log into your LinkedIn account and go to the Forum.  Select the Jobs tab just beneath where it normally says “Start a Conversation with your Group” and “Enter a conversation title.”  You’ll see the labels in that area change once you click on Jobs to be:  “Share a Job” and “Share a job with your group.”  Go ahead and post a brief description of your opening, and add a link to the full description on your website.  (Note: The Forum rule against putting links in new discussion topics doesn’t apply in the Jobs section!)

The announcement normally stays up about 2 weeks — but if it disappears, then just enter it again.  Once you’ve filled the position, please remove the announcement.

Here’s the link for The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1913401

And this link will take you directly to the Jobs section:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1913401/jobs

Where can I find local Customer Success Association chapters or other meetings?

The Customer Success Association maintains a list of local meetings and groups on the CustomerSuccessLocal.com page of the CSA website.  We also publicize links to meetings, if the local group submits them, in the monthly Customer Success Calendar email blasts via The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn.

How can I get my first Customer Success Manager job?

This is a very popular question as people hear of Customer Success and realize that it’s the kind of job they’ve always wanted.  But getting that first customer success job can be a challenge.

The prime attribute of a Customer Success Manager is domain expertise, knowing a field (e.g. fleet management, sales management, healthcare operations, financial services, etc.) well enough to serve as a trusted advisor to others in that field.  The next most important attribute is knowledge of the customers.

In order to “move into Customer Success,” start by identifying your domain expertise.  The next step is to look around for companies that offer products and or services into that vertical market, and begin to talk to them about how your expertise could be useful.

Attending local Customer Success meetings can also be effective, as CS executives may be there looking for candidates.  Read blog posts, and The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn to familiarize yourself with the language of Customer Success.

How should a company start to design and build a new Customer Success group?

The decision to design a new Customer Success group is not something to be treated lightly.  The role has to be carefully crafted if the team is to have any chance of long-term success.  Unfortunately, the typical approach is simply to go out to LinkedIn, copy somebody else’s job announcement for a Vice President or a Director of Customer Success, and tell the candidate that their first assignment is to design the group.  That’s a recipe for failure.  Either the new hire will get frustrated with Senior Management’s lack of understanding of what Customer Success is all about and quit, or the Sr. Mgmt group will start to realize the potential and then recognize that their new hire is not what they needed after all.  Either way, the cost is a lot of wasted time and miss-steps.

The Questions of Customer Success

The starting point is for Senior Management to get clear on the role and the expected results from their investment in building a Customer Success team.  To help with that process, there is a resource in the Customer Success Library here called The Questions of Customer Success.  The resource is a bank of questions that will need to be answered in the areas of Strategy, Process, People, and Technology.

Another resource that can be of significant assistance in this process is to get a Briefing for the Senior Management team to acquaint them with the full range of options and best practices in Customer Success as practiced by other companies worldwide.

Once the role/mission of the new group has been clearly defined and understood by the Senior Management team, the next step is to proceed to the design phase, to the creation of a blueprint for the implementation of the customer success team.  At this point, it may be appropriate to start the process of identifying and recruiting an executive.  Up until this point, it is recommended that the company consider retaining an interim Customer Success executive for leadership of the implementation.  There are several consulting firms listed on the Customer Success Consulting Services Catalog that offer interim management services.

An effective Customer Success group is not something that can be built quickly.  Companies should expect to spend at least two years in the effort.

Recommended Reading:

The Definition of Customer Success

The Mission of Customer Success

The History of Customer Success

What is the Process/Workflow of a Customer Success Group?

The Process or Workflow of a Customer Success Group are the normal range of activities that the individual Customer Success Managers do as they work to increase adoption of the product and to build more sustainable, proven value for their customers.  These activities include such things as telephone calls, online conferences, site visits, analysis of product feature usage patterns, general research into a customer’s company and/or business, meetings with other teams within the company, etc.

It is very important to be able to tie all such activities back to the mission of the Customer Success team, to understand the role of each in increasing value to both the Customers and the Company.

Customer Success Process Data

As much as possible, Customer Success teams should keep track of their utilization across the range of activities of the group.  All activities should be grouped into categories, and within each category, gather data on volume (number of times the activity is done), duration (how long does the activity last?), frequency (how often is the task/activity done?), priority (what is the importance of the activity?) triggers (what causes the activity to need to be done?) and outcome (What is the deliverable for the activity?  How do you know that it is complete?).

Customer Success Process