CSM Role

It Isn’t One Size Fits All - Customer Success Across Industries

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By Amin Akbarpour

Customer Success is definitely what we’d consider to be industry-agnostic. It exists in all sorts of organizations, albeit called different things like client services or partnerships. Customer success also serves all sorts of organizations. For example, a customer success representative could be working with clients in the consumer packaged goods space and the media and entertainment space simultaneously across their book of business. At times, it can be challenging applying best practices to clients within different industries. Sometimes you have to adjust your process a bit so it makes more sense to a particular client. If that resonates with you, what type of adjustments should you be ready to make?

Speak Their Language

Easily the one thing you should immediately be on the look out for is their industry or organization-specific vernacular. Every industry has their own dictionary and acronyms – think LTV in Retail or ADR in hospitality – and the quicker you understand and learn their business, the more likely the client is to trust you and view you as an expert. How can you expedite this process?

  • Your Colleagues: Talk to your coworkers! See if anyone came from the specific industry you’re now serving or knows anyone who did.

  • Industry Reports: A lot of big consulting firms publish industry trend reports that can serve as a great way of learning about a specific space. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte often publish free reports you can find online.

  • LinkedIn: Run a search and see if you know anyone who could be of help in providing valuable industry information. Don’t forget to see if you can find 2nd level connections or alumni working in the sector that you’re learning about – it's a great opportunity to learn more about a specific space and to network at the same time.  

  • Your Client: First time serving a specific industry? Be transparent. Ask to have an industry knowledge-share session where you’ll learn about their business and terminology in order to better help them down the road.

This is not a “fake it till you make it” scenario. If you hear the client say something that you don’t understand, don’t be shy. Speak up and ask for clarification. It's much better to be on the same page than to create a façade of being all-knowing. After all, early in the relationship there will be plenty of things for you to learn, and most clients are understanding at that point.

Goal-Setting

A big retailer is going to care about different metrics and accomplishing different things than a tech company. Even within the same space, a well-established legacy player will have different drives than a rapidly growing newcomer. As you learn how their business works and what stage they’re in as an organization, you’ll be in position to know what types of questions to ask. Imagine you’re a paid media agency. Some questions of interest might be:

  • Do you have trouble tracking a customer’s engagement with your brand across channels over time?

  • What are past examples of exceptional initiatives you all have run? What have they looked like?

  • Are you mostly focused on retargeting and brand awareness efforts? What are you doing from an acquisition point of view?

I strongly recommend SPIN Selling as a must-read that’ll help you understand how to turn these situational questions into stronger, thought-provoking conversations.

Last piece of advice: make no assumptions. Always present what you’ve learned in past engagements with similar clients as a hypothesis and get clarity as to whether or not it applies to them. Just because most folks do things a certain way does not mean all of them will. Start applying these pieces of advice into your routine today, and see how quickly you can learn your client’s business!

Are you new to Customer Success or looking to improve your CS skills? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a complete CSM Training Program which will provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional toolkit. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

Not Easy, but Bringing the Thunder: 3 Takeaways from a First Year VP of CS

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By Lauren Costella

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, I’ve always been one who believes that nothing could ever ruffle my feathers. After all, I put myself through physical and mental craziness being a competitive swimmer for over 17 years, so I know that mentally and physically, I can do anything…right?

This past year, I took on a new challenge in my career: VP of Customer Success at Medrio. While not physically grueling, I definitely felt challenged in my ability to deliver great results for our incredible customers. And my biggest fear was disappointing them. Through this journey, I realized that I’m probably not the only one who has been in this situation of starting a brand new job that’s really, really big and really, really important.

Inspired by two different songs: “Not Easy” by Alex Da Kid, and “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons, I thought I would offer my my top 3 takeaways in the hopes it encourages others to keep going because it’s “Not Easy” but when you keep going, you’ll bring the “Thunder!”

Big Takeaway #1: Sincere Appreciation for the Decisions my Prior Bosses had to Make

I know it’s a weird takeaway, but when I was in the trenches, as an individual contributor or even middle management, many times I would examine what we were doing and question why. There were times that I knew we could do things better, and I knew how we could get it done. I was always very supported in pursuing those different approaches (thank you, bosses); however, there were times when I was told to wait or told that those ideas weren’t priorities. I remember how frustrating it was to hear that, and I thought, “I’ll never run things that way.”

More often than not, we have limited purview into all of the dynamics occurring within a company. My bosses had to make difficult decisions, and when I said I would never make those same choices, I now seem to find myself in similar situations. As a leader, you have a responsibility to make the tough choices because you have the full picture, and sometimes you’re privy to information that the team doesn’t have. Making those challenging calls, without always the ability to share why, is one of the toughest moments I’ve had to face as a new executive team member. As such, it makes me appreciate what prior bosses had to do (more so now than ever before), and it seems appropriate for me to recognize that and them.

Big Takeaway #2: Just Keep Swimming

No matter what level you’re at within a company, complexities in our jobs and personal lives can distract us (rather easily) from accomplishing goals. This isn’t necessarily new for me, and in fact, I would pride myself in being able to be sharply focused. However, as a new executive this past year, I didn’t (or maybe couldn’t) anticipate the whirlwind of day-to-day activities that changed so significantly from my prior roles. I had led teams and managed complex global operations, but as the executive lead for the department, there were some things that just really threw me for a loop, and while it was frustrating to not accomplish everything I thought I would have this year, I look back now and think, the biggest advice I have for anyone starting is “just keep swimming.”

Job Stuff that I didn’t anticipate:

  • The major business changes that happen when you take funding for the first time. We had to (and rightly so) completely change the way we measured the business.
  • Having my entire team turn over, while building a proactive CS division. Of the 22 people on the team today, 18 have been here less than a year. And not only is CS a new division, it is a new concept for the clinical trial industry.

  • Our entire executive team was hired only one year ago. So while I’m learning, they are learning too, and yet, we have to make decisions together.

  • Leading a team to plan for, execute, and then (unanticipatedly) firefight the biggest release of our company history. While I’ve been through many releases before, to go through such a huge release in a regulated space, I couldn’t have anticipated the incredible amount of work needed by the entire team to make this successful.

On top of all the job stuff that I didn’t anticipate, I experienced a major personal crisis when my brother had emergency brain surgery. He came out of surgery with incredible success but nevertheless, a super stressful time. None of these things are necessarily excuses for getting off track, but what it taught me was that sometimes things take a little longer to accomplish than you think--whether work or personal whirlwind distractions. And it’s important not to beat yourself up too hard over it. Instead, don’t give up, keep pushing toward those deadlines, and look back at what you have accomplished.

When I look back now, I can see that we actually accomplished a lot! We built out a brand new hiring and onboarding program for new CS employees, launched a brand new Customer eLearning/onboarding program, created a new Customer Community, we built an entirely new division of CSMs, revamped our Professional Services team, and hit our performance goals. Wow!

Big Takeaway #3: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel and Trust your Kick-Ass People

I can’t begin to say where we’d be without the incredible folks on the team and within Medrio. Specifically, on my team, I was blown away by how incredibly well folks stepped up to take on new responsibilities. For example, one of my Senior CSR’s stepped up and took over managing the entire support team. He grew it from 2 to 12 people, raised our Case CSAT score from 88% to 93% and moved our closed on first contact from 18% to 33% in one year!

And finally, don’t be afraid to utilize the amazing CS Community! I received so much help and guidance from a ton of great resources!

It’s “Not Easy” stepping up into a big role, but I can tell you (from experience) that it’s possible. Just don’t give up too soon! And you’ll quickly find yourself and your place and be ready to bring the “Thunder!”

Are you a new CS Leader or looking to improve upon your existing skills? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that proudly offers a complete CS Leadership Training Program that can provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional toolkit. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.

How Do I Break Into Customer Success?

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By Steve Schwartz

Building on what Ashley brought us in her 3-part series on Searching for Success, I frequently get asked by job seekers early in their careers “how do I break into Customer Success for the first time if I’ve never done it before?” While I may have taken one of the more straightforward routes to find myself here, I know that there are many possible ways to find your first job in the field. I’ve heard a lot of common themes about why people feel they aren’t qualified to even apply to certain Customer Success jobs. I offer the following advice to those who are struggling to break through and I hope it can help you find your way.

I’VE NEVER DONE CUSTOMER SUCCESS BEFORE

This is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about themselves when it comes to Customer Success. Have you ever worked as a server or bartender in a restaurant or in a retail store of any kind? Then you’ve done what I’ll term real-time Customer Success. So how do you show that with a resume and cover letter?

Construct a master resume with as many bullet points about each job as you can, including metrics and milestones you’ve hit, KPIs you’ve been measured against and how you delivered, new skills you’ve acquired, projects you’ve led and delivered, and anything else you might ever want to highlight. For each job you apply to, take the specific job requirements and skills they are asking for and pare down that resume to one page, with the bullet points focused on matching your experience with those requirements. Then use the cover letter to get into more detail about how those things align and make sure you show what you know about, and are interested in, the company (“do your research” as Ashley says!).

I DON’T HAVE PRODUCT OR INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE

Don’t let this stop you from applying to a job that says it’s required or preferred. If you can show me that you can learn new technology or a new industry through your experience and passion, I’m listening. If you back that up with the key skills that I’m looking for like, strong and empathetic communicator, analytical and critical thinker, and self-motivated learner, I’ll believe we can teach you the product and industry. In my experience, bringing a new hire with customer skills up-to-speed on a product is far less risky than trying to turn an industry expert into a customer-facing professional.

I KEEP APPLYING AND AM GETTING NOWHERE

You’ve applied to companies that you’re passionate about, but haven’t been able to break into the Customer Success team directly. What do you do next? Do you broaden your search or is there another option? Are there entry-level roles at the company such as support, sales development, or lead generation? Because these roles are typically fast learning and have high turnover, they will give you an opportunity to gain valuable product and industry knowledge, exhibit your customer-facing skills, and showcase your analytical abilities in a very short period of time. Good managers of these teams will recognize that they won’t be able to keep you for long and should be empowering advocates for your transition into another team, whether that be Customer Success or anywhere else that your passion and knowledge can benefit the company.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re passionate about electric vehicles, electrification, or energy storage, I’m hiring a Customer Success Manager to join my team at FreeWire.

Are you a new CSM or looking to break into the field? The Success League offers a complete CSM Training Program that can provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional toolkit.  For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Steve Schwartz - Steve is a customer success leader who enjoys starting and building high-performance teams at early-stage startups. He has worked in energy startups for the past 10+ years in a variety of customer-facing roles. By engaging with customers during the sales cycle, he ensures customer expectations are fully understood and can be exceeded. When not writing for The Success League, Steve is leading Customer Success at FreeWire Technologies. He holds a BS from Tufts University and an MS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spends his free time with his wife and two kids exploring the Bay Area.

Pack Your Bags, We're Hitting the Road: Planning For Successful Client Visits

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By Amin Akbarpour

In high touch account management or customer success management roles, one of your responsibilities will be visiting clients. These visits aren’t a presidential tour of shaking hands and kissing babies, or just a chance to “put a face to the name” for both you and the client. They are an opportunity for you to have the undivided attention of the client and make huge steps forward in developing the relationship. These are meetings that need to be well planned and carefully thought out. Here are four tips for a productive, in-person client visit.

Set a Clear and Structured Agenda

Unless you’re based down the street from the client in question, you’re going to need a good reason to make an onsite meeting. A typical, weekly status agenda isn’t going to cut it. Any of the following can be the basis of a strong agenda:

  • Relationship milestone: things like a new product kickoff, quarterly business review, or reviewing the results of a project

  • Multi-team meetings: if you need to meet with multiple groups or divisions, schedule them all for the same day and do it onsite

  • Opportunity creation: Would the meeting serve to create opportunities to expand your working relationship? Letting your client see and meet you onsite shows dedication and commitment. It demonstrates that you aren’t just a vendor but should instead be viewed as a long-standing partner.

Once you have a strong purpose for the visit, you should be able to generate buy-in on the agenda. Be sure to share the agenda on the meeting invitation so everyone knows what to expect, and prepare any of your team members who will be attending so they know what and when to contribute.

Secure Champion Buy-In

You rarely want to walk into a room sharing or discussing content that’s 100% brand new for everyone involved. Get your champion brought up to speed with what you’re planning on sharing early. That way he or she can help you tailor the conversation based on the attendees and can add relevant details and information throughout the meeting. Leverage their tribal knowledge. After all, no one knows the client’s business better than…the client. This is also an excellent opportunity for them to show off a little and share the results they have been achieving with your solution.

Set Up Early

Expect the unexpected when it comes to technical snafus. Show up early, bring all the dongles and adapters you could ever imagine you’ll need, and ask the client for access to the room you’ll be meeting in 10-15 minutes early. So many onsite meetings are derailed because of technical challenges. You can’t avoid all the possibilities here, but do your best to proactively handle it by planning ahead. Don’t let a technical issue frazzle you or delay the meeting.

Manage Engagement

This isn’t a phone call or a video conference. Read the atmosphere, body language, facial expressions, and the emotional stimulus to know when you’re losing the audience vs. keeping them at the edge of their seats. You don’t have to be a showman here, just know that if you go over a certain data point and see some concerning looks, address it. If there’s been particular silence for an extended period of time, don’t just keep going through your talktrack. Stop. Sit in that silence. Engage the audience. This doesn’t mean asking if there are any questions. Instead take the last point you made and ask a specific person in the room if that’s something meaningful to their business. Be personal and specific.

Takeaways

Once you reach the end of the meeting, don’t forget to cap it all off. Review what was discussed, summarize the major takeaways from the conversation, and define the action items and who owns them. The last thing you want is for this meeting to be a period in the relationship. You want it to be a comma, and to carry the momentum from the meeting forward. Additionally, be sure to follow up the meeting with all of those points in writing as well as a thank you note.

Now you have yourself the recipe for a successful on-site meeting! Have a clear and structured agenda, get your champion involved and bought in, get there a little early to set up, remain tuned into your audience, and make sure to summarize the action items and takeaways when it’s all done. Hit the road, and let’s make customer success happen!

Do you want to improve upon your CSM skills this Spring? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops on core CS topics like Customer Goals & Outcomes and Kicking off the Relationship. Learn more by visiting our website - TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

Customer Success and Expansion Opportunities

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By Kristen Hayer

Whether you’re tasked with selling or not, customer success has an impact on expansion opportunities. If your team closes expansion deals regularly, this isn’t news to you. Likely, you’re already operating in a way that mimics your sales organization. But, what if you don’t close deals? How do you demonstrate the impact your customer success team is having on revenue? Here are 4 ways to maximize and communicate your team's impact on expansion opportunities:

Track Early

Unless you work for a very early stage company, your sales team is using a CRM. Get your team seats on that platform, teach them how to use it, and start creating the opportunities that you’ll be handing off to sales or account management. If you kick off the opportunity creation process, you’ll be able to track the number of opportunities the customer success team creates and follow them through the sales cycle. Train your team to add opportunities to your CRM system as soon as they identify a potential need. Even though this increases the number of opportunities that are lost, those losses provide valuable information about where your products and pricing may need adjustment.

Build Value

Your success team should be able to qualify an opportunity so that they aren’t wasting the sales team’s time with deals that won’t ever pan out. However, the qualification process for existing customers looks very different from what an SDR would do to qualify a prospect. CSMs should be able to ask questions that uncover problems you can solve, determine the impact of those problems on the customer’s business, and learn what the customer would value most about your solution. Since the job of a CSM is broader than that of an SDR, they need to be adept at weaving these questions into the conversations they have with customers day-to-day.

Communicate

Once a CSM determines that a customer has a clear, qualified need they need to hand off the information they have gathered to sales or account management. Again, your CRM solution can be helpful in this area. If you need to, add some fields to the opportunity object that can be used to track things like the customer’s pain points, what they value about the solution, their budget and timeline. If the opportunity is large or complex, it is worth taking some time to do a verbal handoff to the rep who will be working on the deal. In addition, be sure to communicate losses or disqualified opportunities to your product team so they understand any solution gaps.

Measure Results

Once you’ve set up your CRM system, you’ll be able to track the tangible impact your team is having on expansion opportunities. You should measure the number of opportunities created, the number handed off to sales, and the number that end up closing. You should also track the revenue that originated from your team. Tracking this information doesn’t mean that your sales team doesn’t get credit for the work that they do to close these deals. However, it is important that you and your company’s leadership team clearly understand the positive impact that customer success is having on expansion revenue.

Maximizing and communicating this impact positions the customer success team as a revenue producer, rather than a cost center. This means your company will be more likely to invest in the people and tools you need to provide customers with an exceptional customer experience.

Does your team need to learn to ask questions that uncover customer needs and values? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a class called Asking Great Questions. This course is offered as an online class or an onsite workshop, and covers a proven methodology for asking the right questions at the right time. For more information on this and our other classes and workshops, visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington. She currently resides in Silicon Valley with her family and an energetic German Shepherd puppy.