We are seeing layoffs continuing all across the Customer Success community, at all levels. Entire groups are being wiped out. Senior CS execs, with sterling qualifications and years of experience, are suddenly on the job market. Open job announcements are lower than I’ve seen at any point in the last 5 years. Why?
The Customer Success profession was brought into being by the very nature of the subscription business model. Customer Success is not an option; customers who do not get the value they expected do not renew or expand. They churn, often becoming dead losses to the vendor because the acquisition cost has not been recouped. The hidden meaning in this scenario is that companies who thought that they were selling technological marvels were wrong from the get-go. The true product is the profitability and productivity relationship over time. To build, and keep, that relationship going is what Customer Success is all about. Why, then, is the profession in trouble?
I read the “tea leaves” on a constant basis, and have done so for more than a decade. The posts and commentary in the Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn and the other online communities, the patterns of readership on the Customer Success Association website and Library, and the myriad of online webinars all offer clues to what keeps CS folks up at night. Here’s my take; what’s yours?
The three biggest challenges I see are:
- Not being perceived as being “core.”
- Not being able to accurately describe your functions and their value, and from that base create a defensible staffing model.
- Not understanding the importance of domain expertise.
When Customer Success is not “Core”
This is the product question. If Senior Management and the Board perceive the company as being all about producing technology, where the key competitive advantage is the skill of the Dev team in creating disruptive killer apps… Customer Success will never be seen as a necessary, core aspect of the company. Nice to have, when you can afford it, perhaps, but not required in order for the company to succeed over time.
When the Customer Success role is vague or ill-defined
Sales projects that they will add 100 new accounts next quarter. How many new CSMs must be hired and on-boarded to meet the needs of those new customers? Do you know? Can you readily prove your answer? If not, then Customer Success is -not- a scientifically designed and professionally managed long term business strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven profitability — in your company.
When Domain Expertise is not a Strategic Requirement
The customer is looking for a strategic partner, a trusted advisor. A Customer Success Manager that doesn’t fluently speak the language of increasing profitability to the customer is not ever going to attain the status of a trusted advisor. The business expertise that is the foundation of the voice of authority is not something gained overnight or in a training course. It takes years of experience to build that confidence, and it doesn’t and shouldn’t come cheap. If your company doesn’t clearly demonstrate that they place a high value on this factor, it’s time to leave.
There are more, of course, but these, all interrelated, are the biggest in my view. What do you see? Join us for discussion in The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn. Here is the link to the topic there.
Mikael Blaisdell is the founder and Executive Director of the worldwide Customer Success Association and of The Customer Success Forum. He’s done continuous research into the development of the profession of Customer Success for over a decade, and his vision and commentary about how companies can optimize customer relationships is read in over 160 countries around the world.