7 Ways Executive Leadership Can Drive Customer Success + Product Management Alignment

Your company will go nowhere fast if all of your departments work within a vacuum. As we’ve uncovered in both our 2019 Customer Success + Product Management Alignment Report and its 2017 counterpart, it pays to put customer success at the center of your organization. 

For starters, 87% of respondents in 2019 with a churn rate of less than 1% said their Customer Success and Product Management teams are either fully or somewhat aligned. Why do aligned companies have such low churn? When customer success shares insights with product management (and vice versa), the entire company moves together to help users achieve their goals. The outcome is engaged users that stick with the company they know has their back. 

Customer success and product management alignment doesn’t develop on its own, though. 97% of the respondents who said their Customer Success and Product Management teams are fully aligned also indicated that this alignment is very important to their company’s leadership. The culture of being centered on customer success has to start from the top. 

We wrote previously about the critical role that leadership plays in this alignment, but if the idea of being a leader who bolsters company-wide alignment still seems abstract to you, this post is for you. Let’s dive into some actionable things you can add to your to-do list to make a change. 

1. Host a learning day so that teams speak the same lingo

The first step in making sure your customer success and product management teams can work together is making sure they speak the same lingo. When a CSM mentions “delighting the customer,” does the PM understand what they want to achieve? Similarly, are there any technical PM terms or workflows that the CS team needs to follow to articulate their ideas? 

Set up a time—like a lunch and learn—for each side to learn a more about what the other does and how they talk about it. 

2. Connect department heads with the C-Suite

After the teams have cleared up any team-specific information and terminology, you need to give them a direct link to leadership. 

When we surveyed customer success and product management team members about the state of alignment, we learned that 40% of customer success leaders report directly to their CEO, and 45% of product management leaders do the same. In addition, we found that 77% of respondents said executive buy-in was important in creating alignment between the two teams. This tells us that ensuring department leaders have frequent, direct access to their CEO to give them a common link for reporting, alignment, and a proven commitment to alignment.

Consider rearranging your organizational structure so that heads of customer success and product management report to the C-Suite, or at the very least that these two leaders have frequent 1:1’s with the CEO. Having direct lines open between aligned teams and leadership also keeps everyone accountable and informed.

3. Make sure teams understand their role in company-wide goals

In our video series “From the Experts: Customer Success + Product Management Alignment,” Ben Winn, Founder of CS in Focus, explained that leadership needs to make sure CS and PM members understand their roles in hitting the big targets. For example, if the company sets a revenue goal for the year, make sure team leaders and their direct reports know how their efforts play into that. Otherwise, you risk teams working at odds with one another without realizing it. 

Don’t forget to emphasize the fact that their cross-team alignment can lead to lower churn, which benefits the entire company. In fact, 56% of customer success and product management teams who said they use email or chat to stay in sync have churn rates of 10% or less. As each team begins to prioritize alignment, reminders about the ultimate benefit of this alignment should be ever-present. 

4. Establish shared metrics and agreements

In addition to ensuring CS and PM team leaders know how their efforts contribute to company-wide goals, it will be critical to establish shared metrics. According to our research, 34% of teams reported no shared metrics at all—a huge opportunity for improvement. 

While customer success and product management will certainly have projects and metrics that are all their own, you can find overlap for each department to work towards. Examples of shared measures include churn, customer lifetime value, and NPS. (Read more on metrics your customer success and product management teams can share.)

If your company doesn’t have a service level agreement between the CS and PM teams (which only 46% of companies do), it’s time to create one. For the teams to work together, there needs to be a foundational understanding of who handles what. 

By measuring both teams equally to reduce churn through shared SLAs, they are more inclined to work together to identify churn risk and put solutions into place. 

5. Empower customer success with the right tools

The best of intentions and goals will fall flat if your team members don’t have the tools for the job. The customer success department needs actionable insights to do their best work and bring strong, data-driven reasoning for requests back to the product team. 

Our survey found that two thirds (66%) of customer success teams provide updates and feedback to other departments. The right tools should give your company a comprehensive view of the customer journey, including individuals’ or groups’ needs, goals, expectations, and feedback. Customer success software will also put customer-centric information in a digestible format to share across the organization.

6. Hold teams accountable for sharing with check-ins

You’ve set up departments to have a direct link to the C-Suite as well as mutual goals; now it’s time to make sure collaboration is happening. At the end of each quarter, talk to CS and PM leaders about how often the teams communicated, and what was shared. Ask the groups to talk about what they learned from each other and what customer success insights have been most and least helpful to optimize communication even further. 

Quarterly check-ins are a great place to start, but find the rhythm that best works for your team. Our survey revealed that more than 31% of CS and PM teams meet weekly while another 29% share customer feedback on demand. There’s no “right” way to do this part, but start somewhere and iterate as you go. 

7. Celebrate alignment wins

While company-wide alignment and a culture centered on customer success is a worthwhile pursuit, it may take some time to implement. Keep track of successes and feedback or stories of teams working together, and celebrate them at the end of the quarter or year. You could even offer incentives hitting specific shared goals or growing in alignment. 

While motivated customer success and product management employees can do a lot to align their efforts, the most impactful change has to start from the top. Creating lines of communication, setting shared goals, and checking in on collaboration are all a part of the C-Suite’s role in company-wide alignment. 

Want to learn more about the impact of alignment on churn and the role of leadership in alignment? Download the 2019 Customer Success and Product Management Alignment Benchmark Report

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.