From the Trenches: Things Your CSMs Wish You Knew

By June 10, 2020Blog

Gaining a new perspective is a valuable exercise, no matter the industry or situation. We’ve talked to members of the C-Suite about how they view the contribution of customer success to the business, so this time we turned the tables. 

In the webinar From the Trenches: What Your Customer Success Team Wants You To Know, we talked to three customer success specialists about what they want the C-Suite to know. Tyler Daley, Oliver Nono, and Anna Di Ruocco all shared their perspective on topics such as:

  • What executives often get wrong about customer success management
  • How CSMs tie their day-to-day work back to the business strategy
  • Advice for how to be a great CSM and how to move up the ladder

Here’s what we found out. 

Price to value alignment doesn’t exist automatically

Pricing strategy is a tricky decision for every SaaS company at one point or another. While the monthly cost may be justifiable, it doesn’t guarantee that customers will see it that way immediately. 

Tyler Daley, Director of Success Management at ChartMogul, shared that a C-Suite misconception he’s seen is that price to value alignment comes naturally. 

“One thing that we see often, and this can be company-wide or just within customer success, is the price to value alignment. So often, the leadership team or the company will associate a certain price to the value of the products. But the end-user or the customer may not always see this same alignment.”

Tyler added that this misalignment isn’t inherently bad, but there needs to be transparency between customer success and leadership that there’s work to be done.   

“Perhaps [customers] don’t value it the same as what we think they should, but that’s not to say that the pricing is wrong. Pricing is definitely a hard thing that many SaaS companies struggle with. But it could just be a matter of working with that customer or those customers to help them see the true value and to help them maximize the usage. So that’s something that we have to kind of be transparent with the exec team and relationship team about. These are the reasons why our customers aren’t seeing this value or why they can’t justify the price. As managers of the CS team, it’s our job to work with them to improve that as much as possible.”

Renewals and retention aren’t a given

Customer success is, at times, as much of an art as it is a science. As such, the process isn’t always straight forward. Tyler Daley also expressed that there’s a misconception that securing renewals as a CSM is a simple procedure. 

Tyler said, “Another misconception is around how much time is actually involved or goes into renewals. deally, in the perfect world, we could ask them how things are going, [hear that] things are going great, and then get straight into the pricing [and renewal] conversation. But oftentimes this can be quite complex and there can also be a lot of stakeholders involved.”

“Over time we may have lost touch with the appropriate stakeholders, so you might have to re-engage or engage with the proper stakeholders. You have to get an understanding of how they’re using their system, the value that they’re seeing, and their general experience. Many layers have to be peeled back to help maximize the revenue retention that goes into this renewal to ultimately be as successful as possible.”

Oliver Nono, Senior Manager of Customer Success at Zendesk, noted that he’s seen an executive misconception around customer success’ ability to always retain a customer. 

“[A misconception] I feel executives have about our role is that success can prevent alternate contraction, which is not necessarily true. I mean, obviously, there are instances where we can influence and get customers to stay with us. But there are circumstances where a company goes out of business, or they’re acquired by a company that has a strong relationship with our competitor that can’t always be prevented. There are plays that we can run in those situations. But in general, I think there are misconceptions that [customer success] can prevent alternate contraction, which is again not true.”

CSMs provide value, even if it’s hard to measure

Measuring performance and compensating customer success teams is a hot topic as of late. While many understand that customer success managers play a valuable role in company success, quantifying the impact can be tough. 

Oliver shared that “one thing that executives get wrong is how to truly measure the value that CSMs are bringing to the company. [Erika] mentioned all those things that a CSM will do that hopefully lands a successful renewable, and all those little things are very hard to measure. So here at Zendesk, we are measured by turning contraction. Right now, we’re trying to really figure out how all of those [customer success] activities help with that and sort of measurements.”

Later in the discussion, Oliver noted that “the trend that I’ve been seeing is to drive more revenue from the role and even charge for success. So it even goes back to like how we’re measuring success instead of the challenges there. And so I’ve seen more companies, I think the one company that comes to mind is Oracle, who is now charging for the success role. [They’re] offering it to customers as an added benefit instead of free as part of the [customer and vendor] relationship.”

Anna Di Ruocco, Customer Success Specialist at Covisum, has also seen a misunderstanding amongst leadership about where customer success fits in and how to measure its value. A trend she’s noticed is “having people understand what customer support is, what customer service is, what customer success is. They’re all so close, and they’re all part of this customer experience. [Customer success supports customers], but we[do that] by being that consultant, where a support team might help figure out why you’re having that issue and why that bug is happening. [A challenge] is making sure that leadership teams aren’t saying, why do we have a customer success team? But instead, why don’t we have a customer success team? Seeing the real value behind it.”

CSMs have to balance customer input and company strategy

Anna knows that she acts as the voice of the customer when she steps into a meeting, and it can be tough to balance customer wishes with the company vision. Though she works closely with her executive team, they may not fully grasp the balance she has to strike. 

“It’s more knowing that when I go into a meeting that I’m the voice of the customer. And so I’m trying to figure out what that customer-first perspective is and voicing what they would want, but also remembering what our vision is. A quote that I really like is by Enzo Ferrari is, “The client is not always right.” So it’s not saying they’re wrong or anything like that. But maybe it’s just not the right fit. For example, we work with retirement planning. So if someone’s an advisor who’s focusing on college planning, our product and what they’re wanting isn’t going to align so they can come to me with every request asking for something.”

“I can voice [the feature request] it but doesn’t mean it’s going to be right. So it’s knowing what the mission that you have as a company and then seeing what your customers are wanting and trying to make sure they’re aligned. [Also] reminding the leadership team who their clientele is sometimes. Because you might get a feature request and then feel like you need to go that way, but it might not be what we need to do.”

Customer success is still an evolving field, so there are still some questions unanswered within teams. As customer success managers and executive teams work through topics such as alignment, operations, and KPIs, it’s essential to keep communication open and honest. 

Want to hear what else the panelists had to say about their roles and routines working in customer success? Access the recording of From the Trenches: What Your Customer Success Team Wants You To Know here.

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