October 1, 2018

The "home" of Customer Success: Sales or Product?

Christa White

In my role as Director of Customer Success at Protenus, I am often asked by new colleagues, customers, friends, and family: “What is Customer Success?” When I explain what I do, it sounds something like this: I make sure we’re retaining as many customers as possible through the value they receive from using our products. I can always see wheels turning as the person tries to relate my explanation to something familiar. They often ask, “Is that like customer support? Or is it making sure they keep buying from you?” The answer is yes and yes!

Tech companies are typically formed around two sets of end-goals: creating the product and then selling it. Commonly, the creators are the engineering and development teams, while the sales and marketing teams are the ones responsible for selling the product. Sales and marketing goals are measured by revenue generation and creating new leads that will eventually become paying customers. The goals of the engineering and development teams are to deliver a high-quality and on-time product to the customer base. Well surprise, the Customer Success team has responsibilities that overlap with both sets of goals.

How does an organization decide where Customer Success falls on the org chart, especially in light of the overlap mentioned above? Traditionally, Customer Success has been aligned with Sales (which was not all that long ago since the concept is only about a decade old), but in recent years the trend has shifted and evolved as many of the most successful tech companies have aligned Customer Success with engineering and development (aka the Product Team).

Why the shift? In order to truly represent your customer, Customer Success needs to focus on building the product, not selling it. Here are a few advantages of that approach and why it works at Protenus.

Facilitate open lines of communication

My team (who I lovingly refer to as “warriors”) is in the trenches every day working to understand the customer’s daily operational needs as well as longer-term business challenges. As a result, Customer Success staff at Protenus in many ways embodies our customers. By aligning Customer Success with the Product Team, we can facilitate a direct communication channel between our customers and those building the product. Why change what occurs naturally by aligning Customer Success elsewhere? Here are two everyday examples. Customer Success translates a complex algorithm written by a Data Scientist into a high-level summary for a customer so they can better understand the alert received from our platform. Customer Success documents a feature request from a customer into a user story that the Product Team can dissect into requirements and work tickets. Plus, having an in-house proxy for the customer provides the Product Team access to the customers’ perspective whenever they need it. This allows us to be respectful of our customers’ busy schedules and avoid inundating them with minor questions.

Balance customer and organizational priorities

In many cases, the needs of the customer and the goals of the Product team are perfectly aligned. What is critical for our end-users is equally as critical for engineering and development. However, there are also instances when the Product Team must focus on work that may go unseen by the customer (infrastructure, technology upgrades, R&D, etc.). While these might not be sexy new features at the top of a customer’s wish list, they’re essential for Protenus to scale and mature as a company. When it comes down to it, saying yes to every customer request isn’t always in the customer’s best interest. Saying no might be difficult or uncomfortable, but we firmly believe that we owe it to our customers to balance their requests with the needs of the Product Team. By aligning Customer Success with the Product team, we are equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions about our roadmap and the right timing to agree to a customer request or add it to the backlog for future consideration. What we end up with is a shared company roadmap and not customer priorities vs. product priorities. The right mixture of customer priorities and Product Team priorities is what enables both Protenus and our customers to be most successful - and the success of our customers is our top priority.

Efficiency provides new opportunities for growth

With a mature Customer Success team in place on the Product side of the house, the Sales Team can rest assured that our customers are in good hands, allowing them to focus on generating new business opportunities. In short, the Customer Success/Product Team relationship actually allows the Sales Team to do what they do best. A similar concept applies to contract renewals. When customers find value in a product, they more readily renew their contract at the end of the agreement knowing the company’s Customer Success Team has never left their side throughout the course of the relationship. This enables the Sales Team to be in the position to close the renewal contract with ease when it’s time for renegotiations. This is how those of us in Customer Success roles do our own type of selling: leveraging relationships to achieve customer retention.

The placement of the Customer Success team in an organization’s structure is debatable, since the responsibilities fall within the scope of both Product and Sales. At Protenus, the needs of our customers are our foremost priority, so we gave this decision a lot of thought. As an organization, it is incumbent on us to partner with our customers in addressing their toughest business challenges. Customer Success alignment with the Product team is the right choice to support this level commitment to our customers.

If you’d like to learn more about the Customer Success Team at Protenus, please check out our open job opportunities.

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