Customer Success

5 Hurdles to Clear for Effective Customer Success Management

June 1, 2015

Customer success is one of the fastest growing priorities in the tech industry, but that’s especially true for SaaS companies reliant on retention, renewals, and cross-sells/upsells to drive their sustainable growth.

It’s becoming increasingly common to see companies leveraging dedicated customer success teams and customer success software, but having either of those two things alone is no guarantee for results. We recently spoke with Dave Blake, founder and CEO of ClientSuccess, who shared five key hurdles companies need to navigate if they truly want to move the needle with effective customer success management.

1) Make sure you have CEO buy-in

First things first, you absolutely have to have the CEO onboard.

“If the CEO is not onboard, then that culture of customer success can’t permeate throughout the organization,” Blake explains. “So you need the CEO out front waving the banner, preaching the religion, and if they’re doing that, then that’s a great foundation of having a customer-focused culture.”

2) Empower your CSMs to go above & beyond

“The next thing is to have accountability and empowerment throughout the organization,” says Blake. That means giving customer success managers (CSMs) clear goals and perhaps even quotas their performance is being measured against, but also making sure they have the tools, resources, and capabilities necessary to engage in initiatives that support those goals.

“You need your team to be empowered to actually deliver on customer success,” Blake says. “You need them to be able to take care of their customers and even go above and beyond at times.”

3) Develop cross-functional alignment

“It’s not just one department that’s in charge of customer success,” Blake says, “It’s all departments.”

Whether it’s sales, marketing, product, support, or customer success, they have all touched the customer in some way, either directly or indirectly, and so you need to have them each plugged in and aligned with the proper cross-functional accountability and empowerment for each.

4) Have clear roles & responsibilities

It can be especially critical for sales and customer success to work together effectively. Blake puts it this way: “I always ask people if their account executives and customer success managers are BFFs, because they have to be.”

“A common friction point is typically who owns the account,” Blake says. “My answer is they both do. They both have responsibility for making sure that the customer is successful and for working collaboratively together to make sure that that happens across the organization.”

In order to do that, Blake recommends establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities. “For example, who takes an escalation when it’s a product escalation? Does that go to sales, or does that go to customer success? Who owns the sales and the commercial aspect of the relationship? Obviously, that is typically taken by the sales team. Who owns the day-to-day functional relationship?”

Not only is that important for you to figure out to make sure things are running smoothly internally, even more importantly, you want to make sure you’re providing a seamless customer experience. The last thing you want is for customers being confused by the hand-off process or not knowing who they should contact for what.

“You need to have your sales leaders and your customer success leaders seeing eye to eye,” Blake says. “And then fostering that collaboration with their teams so that they are accountable for teaming up on behalf of the customer.”

5) Hire the right people

Of course, you have zero chance of operating at a high velocity if you don’t have the right team in place. That starts with the customer success leader, and as Blake explains, they need to have the right type of people-first mentality in place, and they need to be able to spot that quality in others.

“It doesn’t matter what background they may come from,” Blake says. “It could be someone in sales that’s ready, that loves the customer relationship and wants to move that direction. Or it could be somebody in product who just has a passion for seeing customers leverage technology. The main thing is that they have the ability to develop deeper relationships with customers and align an organization around that relationship.”


Photo by: robert voors

Founder & CEO

Dave Blake is founder and CEO of <a href="">ClientSuccess, </a>which is changing the way SaaS companies manage, retain, and grow their existing customer base. Prior to launching ClientSuccess, he was VP Global Account Management at Adobe and VP Strategic Accounts at Omniture.