This month’s webinar, Real Talk: Facilitating Post-Sales Alignment, was dedicated to uncovering what it takes to align post-sales funnel stakeholders, like customer success and product management teams. Alignment is not just a nice to have. SaaS businesses must find better ways to proactively plan and take action to deliver superior product experience, share and use data, and take mutual accountability for each customer’s success. To frame this topic, we were delighted to host two subject-matter experts who have witnessed the evolution and sophistication of the buyer’s journey and are now facilitating organizational harmony throughout the customer journey in their respective companies: Andrew Stapleton, VP Customer Success at G2 Crowd, and Nate Skinner, VP Marketing at Salesforce.
If you couldn’t join us live, you can still tap into their expertise and learn more about how you too can leverage the synergies of the product management & customer success power couple. Below are the main points we tackled and some actionable takeaways.
Benchmarking sales and marketing alignment
Over the past decade, organizations have focused a lot of attention on aligning marketing and sales functions to build and sell on coherent value propositions. Marketing benefits have been carefully studied to address customer pain points and are clearly communicated to sales teams such that they know how to speak to customers, hit the mark, and close deals.
What lessons can customer success and product take from their sales and marketing peers as they start to create a path to alignment?
According to Nate, it’s not enough to rely exclusively on a strong brand and messaging and then just hope for the best. “We have to measure everything we do to validate and justify the programs we run.” But for that to happen, it’s essential that all the relevant teams are properly motivated and have aligned objectives. Most importantly, “we also have to listen to what our customers are saying.”
Why is it important that both groups not only share the same data but also do so using the same technology?
Andrew talked about customer contact data as a simple but good example to highlight the relevance of using integrated technologies accessible by everybody — all the way from marketing and sales to customer success and product teams. For instance, marketing converts a visitor into a potential lead, typically getting a phone number or email address. Sales then cultivates contact details and collects additional information in the system. Customer success continues growing the account and very often sets up meetings between those contacts and product team members. Compiling all this information on a single platform allows customer success to send insightful requests more easily — knowing how many people are behind them and their roles — to product teams and push for a functionality change.
Sharing KPIs and SLAs help build alignment
Marketing and sales teams share many KPIs and SLAs which have helped build alignment. However, one of UserIQ’s findings is that 34.88% of Customer Success and Product Management teams don’t share any KPIs or SLAs. We’ve asked our experts about their thoughts on the subject.
Why is it important that both teams are mutually invested in a customer’s success? How does having teams share success outcomes enhance operational efficiencies?
According to Andrew, product and feature adoption are great KPIs that both groups can share to become more efficient. “At SteelBrick, we could measure overall product adoption looking at the number of quotes created, and we would count how many times a customer used a feature like creating a price rule. This data is huge for product.” But it’s up to the CSMs to evangelize features to customers and bring back both positive and negative feedback to the product team. This is a virtuous cycle in the best organizations, but it is not easy.
Following-up on that point, Nate mentioned that leveraging on the work that customer success and product teams are doing together is also very valuable for marketing and sales teams. Hence that’s an opportunity to improve marketing benefits and selling points, and making sure that they stay relevant for customer acquisition.
From reactive to proactive customer success
We heard over and over again in our survey that both customer success and product management teams overwhelmingly feel like they are in reactive mode and constantly putting out fires or dealing with support issues. But managing customer experience and reducing churn is a strategic undertaking that requires all important stakeholders on-board.
What are some best practices to get everyone — customer success, product, sales, marketing — more involved and proactive in the post-sales process?
Nate explained that the whole organization should recognize the importance of being proactive and having a streamlined process to facilitate retention, expansion, and advocacy. “If you don’t focus on that, you won’t be in business for very long in today’s subscription economy.” The good news is that, if this becomes a priority in your organization, everybody wins. Your customers continue to receive more value and improve the ROI on your solution. In parallel, your company has a more receptive audience who are more likely to stay longer, spend more, and tell their friends about you.
Andrew recently attended a customer success-focused event with heads of success from 100+ companies of all sizes. A recurring theme there was that CEOs and leadership need to invest in customer success as a culture, not just as an insulated role. If an account churns, smart companies don’t just point the finger at a CSM and say “your fault.” Everyone needs to own good customer experience.
That said, CSMs are at the center: “They are the quarterback and must have excellent and deep relationships with all company functions to be able to help customers.” And they must have enough resources to proactively manage portfolios rather than spending their time exclusively doing reactive work like escalation, bug fixing, or support.
Knowing and leveraging ideal customers
Not all customers are equal. To succeed, SaaS businesses need to know which segments to prioritize when tough calls need to be made. That’s why everyone from sales and marketing to customer success and product must bear in mind who their best customers are, how to keep them, and how to find more of them.
What’s the most important data to look at to get information on who your best customers are, how to keep them, and how to get more of them?
Andrew talked about the importance of monitoring customers who leave a review, for example on G2 Crowd. These clients are motivated as they spend time and effort answering questions about a vendor and the performance of its products. Companies can access and use that data to create competitive intelligence and build advocacy campaigns with customers who are most likely to refer your solution.
From Nate’s perspective, it’s not only essential to consider who your best customers are; it’s also important to spend time focusing on the right category of leads. Marketing and sales teams can use technology to investigate their sales funnel and focus on quality visitors that are more likely to convert, rather than quantity alone. Once there’s more clarity on who these leads are, it becomes easier to prioritize and get more of them.
The single biggest benefit of product management and customer success alignment
Our two panelists agreed that making customers highly successful is the greatest outcome of post-sales alignment and a win-win for everyone. Successful customers continue receiving higher value and are more likely to expand and become advocates while customer success teams can improve their ROI and build stronger relationships. In addition, product and development teams receive detailed feedback to improve functionality. SaaS businesses as a whole enjoy low churn, fewer escalations, and additional business coming from referrals.
We are grateful to Andrew and Nate for taking part in this discussion on facilitating post-sales alignment. While this recap post gives a good overview of the points tackled, do not hesitate to download the full recording of Real Talk: Facilitating Post-Sales Alignment for more actionable insights and great examples. You can also access the 2017 Benchmarking Report: Customer Success + Product Management Alignment to learn more about the current state of alignment today and areas for improvement.