Playing Shortstop - CSMs Winning in the Gaps

By Evan Addams

There is an adage in baseball to put your best athlete at shortstop. The position calls for quick feet, intuitive baseball sense, and great team communication. Even if the player has unique and specific skills for other positions, the team benefits most by putting the best player in the most challenging spot. In the SaaS business model, Customer Success should receive the same opportunity.

As Sales teams specialize in prospecting & closing, and Product teams focus on agile development & product spec, Customer Success must be able to speak all languages: a little sales, a bit of product feedback, and of course technical support & billing. To best interact with these other business functions, a Customer Success Manager should be placed in a gap that does not quite fit the focus of the other teams, acting as that shortstop between 2nd and 3rd base.

In talking with companies, particularly startups, about how to build a scalable customer-centric business model, I find the same confusion:

The problem is our Account Executives are just not paying attention to our signed customers. All they want to do is sell new clients. Then on the other side, our Billing & Product teams are asking clients for feedback or to reconcile AR, but there is no established relationship with the client.

But what if that startup company’s dilemma is not actually a bad thing? What if an Account Executive’s laser focus on selling & a Billing team’s laser focus on accounts receivable is exactly what a company needs? Spoiler: those are actually great things. All that’s missing is your client advocate, your shortstop in the gap, your Customer Success Manager.

Top questions every VP of Sales & Operations should ask about her business model, concerning client relations:

Who cares the most for clients using our service well?
Who cares the most for clients churning away?
Who owns long term relationships for improved LTV?

For most organizations, the answers will be Customer Success. Why isn’t Sales the answer? Because Sales cares the most about net new revenue and acquiring customers. And that’s a good thing. Why isn’t the Executive team the answer? Because Executive leadership cares the most about creating & following company-wide vision. And that’s a good thing. These teams are not apathetic but their primary cares indirectly touch the questions. If the answers today are not Customer Success, you might be asking the wrong things of your other specialized teams. Customer Success cares the most about client engagement, churn, and LTV -- because that’s their gap: the margin between the specialized teams.

An exercise to help position your Customer Success team is to look for “public property.” For instance, let's say your clients are trained by a “team effort; sometimes the sales guys or other times maybe an engineer if the deliverable is complicated." That’s public property -- a gap -- that your Customer Success team can own and grow by being placed in charge of the training function.  By learning the value-based talk track from Sales, and becoming experts on the UX by learning from the Product team, Customer Success can combine all best practices to deliver optimal training sessions.

Another example of public property is a service outage. In that crisis, who cares the most about the overall issue? If your response plan is, “the product team is on top of the server issue while our sales team calls their top prospects”, then who owns network-wide communications? Who owns coordination of not just the sales impact or product resolution, but the entire flow of existing partner communication and SLA compliance? Customer Success can own that public property.

Where are your CSMs today? Incentives, personalities, growth plans -- they all come into play when building and allocating a Customer Success team. Before any bonus structure can positively impact a business, the most athletic and versatile players need to be in the most impactful positions. Find the gaps, give your Customer Success team ownership, and benefit from team chemistry when everyone plays their positions.

Need help determining where Customer Success fits into your company? The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business.  We transform support into success by building metrics, goals and processes that enable customer success teams to perform at their peak.

Evan Addams - As Head of Strategic Accounts at NoWait, Evan has cultivated and owned key existing-client relationships, which have carried NoWait from pre-startup phase into its current rapid growth position. Creating a base-client acquisition model of account management has led into current role of Strategic Account Ownership, building teams around maximizing client value. Evan founded NoWait's Customer Success team which has evolved over time to cover key account relationships, training, churn management, and overall network engagement.