Dec 13, 2019

Read Time 8 min

Q&A: New Manager’s Guide for a Customer Success Strategy Implementation


As a new Customer Success leader in your organization, you must figure out how you’ll measure success, keep your team happy and engaged, and secure stakeholder buy-in to champion your strategy in the new year. But, if you try to build all elements of Customer Success at once, you’ll end up with a recipe for mediocre outcomes. How do you break down your programs to achieve maximum benefit for both your customers and your company?

 To help answer this question facing new managers, we hosted a webinar last week with Emilia D’Anzica. Emilia, Partner at Winning by Design, gives Customer Success leaders a practical blueprint to execute incremental change that won’t overwhelm your team. With 15 years of Customer Success experience and most recently serving as Interim Chief Customer Officer (CCO) at multiple companies, Emilia shared insights on Customer Success frameworks and growth formulas to remove the fear and ambiguity from strategy planning and implementation.  

During the webinar she taught attendees how to: 

  • Prioritize strategic initiatives by defining actions that will have the greatest impact on your business and customers over the next few years 
  • Create a revenue engine through communication and education that enable your team to achieve your organization’s top goals 
  • Leverage technology to scale and identify the characteristics you need most from Customer Success platforms and infrastructure 
  • Manage changes for success by recognizing that what served a purpose for your customers and organization in the past may no longer be relevant to their top goals 

If you missed this webinar or want to listen again, you can view the webinar on-demand here

We engaged in a great Q&A session with Emilia that we wanted to re-share with you. 


Q&A Recap 

Speaker: Emilia D’Anzica, Partner at Winning by Design 


What are your thoughts on a Customer Success Operations role to help team efficiencies, processes, adoption, and accountability?  

A: I can’t tell you how important a Customer Success Operations role is. I believe there are four pillars in Customer Success: onboarding, ongoing growth, support, and operations. All Sales teams have operations teams. Can you imagine a Sales Manager setting up your Salesforce? That would be a disaster. You want to have a Customer Success Operations team. Why are we expecting Customer Success Managers to wear so many hats, yet we don’t expect our Sales teams to. That’s a double standard. I am absolutely a huge advocate of operations for Customer Success. They are the enablers of success for your team.  


Q: How quickly would you build a Customer Success team from one person to many? 

A: It all depends on your company’s growth. [As an example,] I’ll use one company that I worked with. When I joined, there were maybe six of us and in one year we grew to 35 because we had tripled our numbers. We went from 300 to 1,000 customers in one year. I had to keep hiring. I had to build that operations team. It really depends on your forecast. You have to work closely with your Sales Operations to forecast and build. 


Q: We have a non-existent Customer Success program and I am building it out. How do we contact existing accounts who have never had a Customer Success Manager and have been using the tool for six months? 

A: I would do it the old-fashioned way with a phone call. I believe the human element is critical. Feel free to start with an email request and tell them why, of course. Everyone wants to know why and then tell them how much time they are expected to give you. I can’t imagine customers not wanting to talk to their Customer Success Manager. I’ve left vendors because I never heard from them. I’m like, this is a terrible experience. I want to engage more with the Customer Success Manager and they’re not willing. So, I encourage you to do it. Get started. Don’t wait. 


Q: What low-hanging fruit do you recommend focusing on first, and how do you go about finding that low-hanging fruit? 

A: At Winning by Design, we believe that across the customer journey there are seven key moments. If you improve 10% across the seven key moments, then you’ll double your impact. If you try to change everything at once, the chances are you won’t change anything. But incremental change can have the highest impact. Let’s use onboarding. If customers are taking too long [in onboarding], ask customers and look internally as well: why is it taking so long? 

Maybe you need more help from Professional Services to help the customer. Is that a service you can offer customers? I’m not saying give it away for free but what is one thing that is really blocking the success of onboarding? From there, just focus on that one thing. Get it right and then move on to the next.  


Q: What top goals are critical to measure progress against? 

A: Churn and contraction are some of the most obvious ones, especially if your company is trying to raise money to go public. I think that’s what investors are looking at. Being able to measure that is incredibly important. Of course, adoption of a product is another one that’s really important. And engagement, because if your customers are not engaging, that’s a problem. 

I know someone asked me what is a CSAT. It’s your Customer Satisfaction Score. It’s amazing what customers are willing to tell you in surveys that they’re not willing to tell your Customer Success Managers. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers questions. I believe that they welcome it as long as you don’t overwhelm them with too many questions.  


Q: How do you know when it’s time to get a Customer Success Software platform? 

A: Usually companies that I’ve worked with get it when it’s too late. It’s when they tried to hack a CRM to death to turn it into a CS platform. They are working off spreadsheets. The manager is wasting hours and hours every Friday trying to make sense of what happened that week and the numbers. That’s just too late. The moment you have an operations person—someone who can manage it—is when you should start thinking about it. I’ve worked with companies who have a hundred customers, but they are high-value customers. They’re spending a lot of money and that’s been too late for them because they weren’t able to manage these customers well. It really depends on the company and where you are in your maturity. It’s better sooner rather than later to get a pulse on your customers.  


Q: How do you encourage consistency across your Customer Success team? 

A: Oh, I love that question. I believe that the best leaders are coaches. They shift that mind spring from a manager to a coach. Coaches have regular meetings with their teams. I’m not talking about an hour-long, boring meeting. I’m talking daily stand-ups of 15 minutes [to discuss] where you’re struggling and what you plan to accomplish today.  

Those kinds of quick meetings with a general type of thinking will really help your team. In those 15 minutes, you can do roleplays. [If] someone has a very difficult renewal coming up and they’re super nervous, let’s all roleplay. Who is the customer? Who is the Customer Success Manager? What are the challenges? Let’s go. 

It takes two minutes to roleplay and suddenly your Customer Success Manager feels empowered. Setting up a regular cadence and sticking to it can be so powerful. It can be every day from 12 to 12:15 p.m. before everyone sits down to eat together. Let’s do a roleplay. Let’s meet. That’s how you will get your team aligned speaking the same language. 


Q: Should a Customer Success Manager be a revenue quota-carrying role? 

A: I believe it should be. I know there’s so much controversy around this question, but I have worked with teams who have no bonus. It’s just a straight flat salary. Then there’s a change to [their] bonus and base and suddenly the results are very different. 

Having a number target makes people more accountable. People become more hungry. They become more collaborative. They are willing to ask for help more often. They show up with a “let’s do this” attitude. It’s very different. I’m a huge advocate of tying a number to Customer Success.


Q: What are your recommendations for reporting Customer Success team activity to leadership? 

A: A Customer Success platform can do all of that. You have a bird’s-eye view of customer contact and what’s being discussed. If you use a product like Chorus, which I’m a huge advocate of, you can record all your customer calls. They’re great opportunities, not to make your Customer Success Manager feel bad, but they’re coaching opportunities. For example, being able to play a snippet of [a call] to your leadership team to show these are the kinds of conversations we’re having with customers and here’s a big highlight. Let’s celebrate this. Or, here’s what our customers really need in the product. I think it’s really important. It humanizes Customer Success. It’s not just constantly a number. 


Q: What do you think about Customer Success teams that are involved or own the pre-sales process through onboarding and account management? 

A: It really depends on the maturity of the company. I’ve been in roles where I owned everything and at a certain point, it’s completely overwhelming and you have to break up the teams. The other thing is salespeople get so much training on having sales conversations. If you’re not training your Customer Success Managers to have those conversations, you’re setting your team up for failure. You wouldn’t ask your salesperson to be a Customer Success Manager. Why would you ask your Customer Success Manager to be a salesperson? If you want them to do those roles, then get them training.  

We offer training. We have a Winning by Design YouTube channel with free training. There’s no excuse to ask your Customer Success Managers to be doing things and not enabling them first. 


Q: Do you have any tips for protecting or shielding your Customer Success team from tough customers or difficult teams? 

A: The best way to shield them is to enable them to have difficult conversations and that means education, training, and role-playing to prepare for that. If you’re not prepared to work with difficult customers, maybe being in Customer Success isn’t the right role for you. Being a Customer Success Manager is being in a role where you will inevitably, at some point, have a difficult conversation and that means being able to listen and understand. What is the customer’s concern? How do we disarm this customer? How do we diagnose the true issue? How we do we describe success moving forward? At Winning by Design, we have the three D’s which include disarming [the customer], diagnosing the situation, and describing success.  


Q: What traits do you recommend looking for when you are building a team of Customer Success Managers?  

A: I love hiring hungry people. People who are really willing to learn and get out of their comfort zone. I look past the resume. You can go to the best school and have a really bad attitude. Hire [based] on their attitude, willingness to learn, and communication skills in both written and presentation. During your hiring process, definitely ask the Customer Success Manager to come prepared to present to you. It doesn’t have to be a big, long presentation, but think about how they will represent your brand. They have to exude confidence. When I think about a Customer Success Manager, I think about a leader because that’s the role. They’re leading a partnership with your customers. That’s what you want to be hiring a leader. 

To get a practical guide for building a scalable Customer Success program at your organization, watch the webinar on-demand. 


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