The Basics of How To Leverage Customer Success as a Growth Engine

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks


As the SaaS and technology industries become more crowded with niche products, software companies are facing new challenges around customer retention. Specifically, companies are struggling to meaningfully onboard clients and help them understand their product and its true value, which results in subpar retention rates.

To solve this problem, organizations have started to add customer success functions to enhance the customer experiences. Customer success managers (CRMs) are responsible for helping customers understand and get the fullest value from their product, thus improving retention.

The customer success function has grown since its introduction in the early 2000s, and some companies are even beginning to use it as a revenue generation vehicle; as customer success teams work more closely with customers post-purchase, they’re able to both keep and grow customers by identifying unmet needs and upsell opportunities. Even further, CSMs can use their deep customer insights to identify potential new features or products, resulting in huge revenue opportunities. If you want to scale your customer success function but don’t know where to begin, consider these foundational steps.

Integrate Customer Success With the Entire Organization

Customer success should be completely in sync with marketing, sales and customer service. Together, those four teams shape the customer experience, which should be crafted carefully and executed intentionally. This means each team should have insight into the other teams’ functions and roles within the customer lifecycle.

This can prevent duplication of efforts and clearly define responsibilities across those four teams so employees are empowered to act when appropriate and know when it’s best to seek counsel from other teams. After you document each role’s contribution to the customer experience, ensure you provide outlets for meaningful cross-team collaboration to improve the customer experience over time.

Use Data to Determine Your Funding and Pricing Strategy

For some teams, customer success is a free value-add that comes with a product purchase — but that doesn’t mean it’s free for an organization to execute. Some companies are experimenting with adding customer success as a paid upgrade, while others are still in the process of figuring out how to fund the initial team.

If you’re in the latter group, leverage existing customer data to prove the success of the customer success function. Find and present data that shows the return on customer success activities (retention rates, product upgrades, etc.) to support your position.

Find (and Keep) the Best Talent

It’s already hard to find great talent, but it can be even more challenging to find quality customer success managers. A few factors contribute to this. First, customer success is an emerging function, which means there aren’t many experienced professionals to recruit. Second, because of the role’s newness, many companies aren’t able to define what a quality customer success manager looks like.

To overcome that challenge and empower your recruitment process, identify what skills and capabilities your current customer success team has. You may have a small customer success team, or you may have people who are in sales or customer service who are executing customer success-like tasks. Either way, identify the people executing customer success now and what makes them great in that role.

After you’ve recruited great talent, immerse them in a sophisticated learning program to grow them immediately after hiring. This training should be both on the customer success function and on your product or service — they need to be experts just as sales, marketing and customer service staff members are. In the long-term, consider adding certification programs that continue to keep quality talent engaged, satisfied and growing.

Apply Social Selling Principles to Learn From Data

While customer success isn’t a sales-only function, modern sales processes and best practices can inform a customer success team. Today’s best sales teams use a social selling approach, meaning they use digital tools to identify and create sales opportunities and learn what activity drives sales success.

Customer success should be no different. As you strategize an analytics approach to your customer success efforts, consider starting small. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by metrics and tooling. Instead of striving to plan and execute a long-term analytics approach, start by tracking a single metric, like retention rates or upsells. This gives you time to learn from your initial experiment and doesn’t tie you down to a five-figure analytics stack from the get-go.

Keep Company Culture Customer-Centric

To make the most of a customer success team and experience the greatest impact on business objectives, companies should create a culture centered around the customer experience. The customer experience isn’t the responsibility of a single team — it’s a mindset and commitment that’s shared across an entire organization. As you roll out the customer success function across the rest of your organization, ensure all teams involved in the customer experience remain customer-focused.

To help with this, task someone on your leadership team with overseeing the customer experience and its execution across each department. This will empower someone with a bird’s-eye view to make improvements and encourage collaboration across teams.

Whether you’re growing your customer success team or just beginning internal conversations about hiring your first CSM, consider these strategies to maximize your efforts, grow a sustainable team and prove their value to the organization.


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