The results are in: a strong alignment between Customer Success and Product Management teams creates stronger and more successful companies. In UserIQ’s 2019 Customer Success + Product Management Alignment Benchmarking Report, conducted in partnership with SuccessHacker and ProductCamp, we found that one of the greatest opportunities for companies today is a stronger alignment between their customer success and product management teams.
Since we first conducted research on this topic in 2017, we’ve explored so many of the reasons why this alignment is so important, but there’s still a big question to be answered: what does buy-in for CS + PM alignment from the highest levels of management looks like, and how do you get it? The individual contributors on both teams are the “boots on the ground” making the alignment happen, but a cultural shift from the top down is still needed to exemplify its importance and drive the strategic vision.
To tackle this question, let’s dive into what our benchmarking report uncovered about how the most successful teams are making alignment a reality and getting buy-in from the C-suite along the way.
The Impact of Aligned Leadership
If you’d like to get upper management on board with your alignment ideas, you’re not alone. 77% of survey respondents said executive buy-in was important or very important in creating alignment between Customer Success and Product Management teams. Before you get to work getting your executive team up to speed, it’s useful to know what the alignment actually looks like and the role the leadership team should play. Here’s what our report found out about the most aligned companies.
True alignment is only possible with leadership buy-in
First and foremost, it’s impossible to be fully aligned if leadership isn’t making it a priority. In fact, leadership that’s excited about alignment is a nearly universal requirement. An astounding 97% of respondents who said their customer success and product management teams are fully aligned also indicated that alignment is very important to leadership. On the other hand, only 46% of respondents with somewhat aligned teams have leadership that thinks alignment is important. That’s because well-aligned teams are the proof in the pudding. Their efforts show leadership the tangible results of alignment so leadership has evidence to invest in this alignment from the top-down.
Heads of departments report to CEOs in aligned companies
Given that communication between teams is essential for alignment, it makes sense that a direct line is also needed for leadership alignment. Almost 40% of respondents said their head of Customer Success reports to their CEO, while 45% said the same for their head of Product Management. Of these, 86% (Customer Success) and 78% (Product Management) said their leadership considers alignment either important or very important. This signals that these shifts in organizational structure are usually a result of company-wide buy-in.
Aligned CEOs enforce a shared vision
What sort of discussions do Customer Success and Product Management leaders have when they report to the CEO? One survey respondent noted their “CEO and heads of each channel ensure and enforce that both Client Success and Product Management share data with each other, sales teams, and the executive committee and the Board.” Having leadership on board with cross-team alignment helps drive strategy and priorities from the top, and is another check to make sure collaboration is happening.
This sort of oversight is necessary, because we found that 54% of respondents reported no shared service level agreements (SLAs) and 19% were “unsure” if such performance tracking measures existed across teams. Plus, 34% said they had no shared metrics at all. This tells us that accountability and a shared vision for this alignment is lacking in many companies today, which is exactly what leadership buy-in can bring.
How to Get Leadership Buy-in
When the C-suite believes in the cause of alignment between Customer Success and Product Management, lasting change happens from the top down. Organizational structures shift to open up communication, and there’s accountability to share information.
That all sounds wonderful, but what are you to do if your leaders don’t share your ideas yet? Here’s a step by step plan.
First, assess your current level of alignment
There are four pillars of customer success that a company needs to have to serve users better. Before talking to your boss, go through the list and see how many you currently have in place. Understanding the different facets of customer success alignment makes it easier to articulate where improvements are needed.
Don’t forget to also use voice of the customer data identify areas where stronger alignment would benefit your users. Voice of the customer is an incredibly compelling measurement for how your organization is serving its users, so taking that into account when planning your first steps and getting leadership buy-in is critical.
Then, define the areas of improvement
Once we’ve determined how many pillars are currently in place, you can create a plan to implement the other areas of customer success. From these missing pillars, you can create a tactical list of changes to be made. For example, your Customer Success team may already have “intelligence” in the form of product usage data. If, however, you may not have a way to turn that data into actionable “insights.” In that case, you need holistic information such as health scores to share across departments.
After deciding which tools are needed to support the Customer Success team with all four pillars, you’ll need a plan to share with the Product Management team. These alignment touchpoints include:
- A routine schedule to share data and insights
- A shared service level agreement
- An onboarding strategy that combines Customer Success insights with Product Management team skills
- A method to share feedback and customer issues
Finally, share your plan and reasons
After you’ve done your homework and figured out exactly what needs to happen within your organization to achieve and maintain alignment, it’s time to talk to leadership. You can prep for the conversation by reading and passing along both the 2017 Benchmarking Report: Customer Success + Product Management Alignment and the 2019 Benchmarking Report on Taking Customer Success + Product Management Alignment to the Next Level. Both of these reports have the stats to back up your call for alignment. Coming ready with a list of action steps makes the plan that much easier to implement.
Having leadership buy-in for cross-team alignment creates a structure that prioritizes and enforces sharing. At the end of the day, having all teams on the same page leads to greater customer success and less churn. To make lasting change in your organization, you need to assess current alignment, identify gaps, and propose a plan.
Want to see what else we learned in the 2019 Customer Success + Product Management Alignment Benchmarking Report? Read about creating alignment throughout your entire organization here.