In the coming years, customer success teams (CS) are going to need more strategies, tools, and tactics to better align with their most important stakeholders — their customers.
With Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Mike Redd joining the Quala leadership team, we wanted to take the opportunity to get a SaaS marketing leader’s perspective on the topic of Customer Success.
Mike brings a unique perspective to the world of CS as someone who enjoys connecting dots between humans, technology, and business growth. With an educational background in computer science and business, he has built a career helping executives make more strategic decisions through under-the-radar data. Mike’s background includes business strategy work at Bain & Company and, most recently, leading the 70+ person marketing team at Constant Contact, which is one of the most highly regarded SaaS companies in the world.
In the following Q&A, we dig into some pretty meaty topics:
I’ve always enjoyed the creativity of solving problems and building things. At the heart of it all, I love building new businesses and building great teams.
When I started my career writing code, I found myself thinking about all of the non-tech things — how do we build a great team, how do we grow the business, how do we best serve our customers?
That naturally led me to pursue my MBA at Wharton to get a deeper grounding in business fundamentals, and then Bain & Company where I got loads of practical experience solving our clients’ business challenges, always rooted in customer and market insights. Seeing a great team and a genuine customer-first mission, I hopped over to Constant Contact where I tackled everything from pricing strategy, to product launches, to building organizations across multiple teams.
At Constant Contact, I saw firsthand how critical Customer Success is to a SaaS business, and how these teams deserve all the help they can get to serve their customers and grow the business. When I saw what Jonathan [Tushman] and Sonciary [Perez] were building here at Quala, it was just too compelling of an opportunity to pass up — even after 9+ years at Constant Contact.
There is a huge opportunity for Customer Success to really drive SaaS businesses – they have so much data, and they glean such deep customer insights. I saw that Quala uniquely makes sense of all that Customer Success teams learn, and I had seen throughout my career that customer insight is a key to success. That drives top-level strategies from target customer to product roadmap, as well as tactical execution on how to best serve customers. All backed by data.
The Customer Success function is stepping into a bigger version of its story.
That process involves everything from identifying the right benchmarks and metrics for the C-Suite to the right working interactions with other teams, such as Marketing, Sales, and Product.
We are starting to be able to quantify data that was previously qualitative in nature. We can now measure their performance in new ways, which creates a higher level of trust and transparency between cross-functional leaders and frontline CSMs.
We are also seeing Customer Success teams work more closely with all of the other functions of the business — Sales, Marketing, Product…
Customer Success is the keeper of a goldmine of customer insights that every other function in the business needs to know.
The math of a SaaS business is really pretty straightforward. It’s a function of new customers; average revenue per user (ARPU); and retention. That’s it, just three things. Devilishly simple but amazingly complex at the same time.
Historically, sales and marketing leaders were held responsible for those first two inputs – new customers and ARPU. The emergence of the Customer Success function got ownership of retention in one place – though retention really takes the whole team working together to deliver and communicate value to customers.
But there is a lot more to it than that. Customer Success has a critical role in driving the other two fundamental SaaS metrics too – new customers and ARPU.
Customer Success’ influence on ARPU is really straightforward, and a component of leading Customer Success teams. Not only are great Customer Success teams responsible for retention, they are also actively understanding customer needs so they get the right upgrade at the right time to their customers.
Whether the actual execution is in a Sales org or the Customer Success org itself – teams that do this well think of the upgrade as helping their customer. They are getting the right value to the customer to help them succeed.
There is a lot that goes into finding new customers. Knowing where they are, the right channels to reach them, the right message and value proposition that will resonate. And of course, a good or service that delivers on the promise.
Customer Success is really important in driving home how new customers think about delivery of the promise – and that’s fundamental to a business’ brand.
That’s right. People often think about a company’s brand as the artwork, the punchy tagline, but it’s a lot more than that. Brand is the subconscious feeling a consumer has about your business that’s influenced by every single touchpoint anyone has had with your business. Customer Success is critical to that.
Customer Success can really impact your brand. Were customers wowed? Bored? Overwhelmed? Did the customer get the value they wanted from the product?
That customer sentiment, whether we like it or not, drives what people think about you. If they tell their friends how much they love your business, it’s going to make it a lot easier to win new customers. Customer Success is in the middle of all of that.
This is a critical partnership in a SaaS business. There are a few ways that Marketing leaders and Customer Success leaders should work together.
First, Marketing and Customer Success leaders need to get to a common understanding of their best and worst customers. Customer Success teams should have data at their fingertips on characteristics of their highest-value customers and lowest-value customers. That should incorporate both the raw lifetime revenue expectations of a given customer as well as the cost to serve.
With these insights, Marketers can then focus their efforts on finding more of the highest value customers and fewer of the lower value customers. It sounds so simple – but there is a lot that goes into that. All of that customer data needs to tie back to the path the customer came to a business in the first place, which can be a real challenge with data sitting in different systems. Great marketers partner with Customer Success to better understand the right channels, messages, and prospect journeys that generate their best customers.
Second, Marketers need all of the qualitative feedback they can get from Customer Success teams. The full story on how customers perceive the value of the product, the words they use.
Oftentimes, product usage data doesn’t tell the full story for a given customer. They look like a power-user by the data – but they are actually maxing out on the helpfulness of the product and are in the market for something new. You might only know that by talking to the customer. Qualitative feedback from the frontline helps marketing teams get their story right for the right buyers.
Finally, Marketers and Customer Success teams – and really the whole org – need to be the brand. Marketers need to lead the charge in defining what they’d like the brand to stand for, but it’s really Customer Success teams that play a huge role in how that brand promise is delivered and perceived.
I put Customer Success in the middle here, because they are by definition at the middle of so many things – how the product comes to life, how the marketing message comes to life, how Sales’ commitments come to life.
Customer Success teams are incredible stewards of the brand, and Marketing leaders need to work with them because it’s often those Marketing leaders who formally hold accountability for brand.
As a marketer, I have to believe in my product. There is so much value in the Quala platform that benefits Customer Success teams, but also all the teams that work with Customer Success.
Today, leading Customer Success teams are at the center of customer insight. But it’s really every team that needs these insights – Marketing, Sales, Product, Finance. Ultimately, what we call a Customer Success Platform today becomes a Customer Insights Platform for the entire business, with Customer Success playing a key role at the center of that hub of insight. That’s how we are thinking about the future of Quala and why I’m so very excited to be part of this team.
Want to join a conversation around human-centric customer success, share your insights on Customer Success topics, and learn from other smart CSMs? Join us in the Humans of CS Community. (It’s free!)