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Sonciary Honnoll

Sonciary Honnoll

Sean MacPherson Makes Customer Success Personal

Sean shows us that there’s a big difference between personalization and being personal.

Sean MacPherson likes to bring his personal passions — from dog rescue to bicycling — into his work life to help connect with the person on the other side of the screen. Luckily, this meshes perfectly with his job as the Head of Customer Success at Alyce, an AI-powered B2B gifting platform that uncovers prospects’ non-work interests to recommend and source gifts that help create personal bonds. 

Sean is a good friend, peer, and mentor of mine. I was thrilled to interview him for Quala’s Humans of CS series on YouTube — to share his ideas with other customer success leaders. Here are my top insights from the conversation.

Build Diverse and Inclusive Customer Success Teams

When you’re building a customer success team from the ground up, it’s hard to know who will be a good fit for your customers. As Sean created his team, he discovered three characteristics that make for good CSMs:

1. A sense of curiosity.

A curious person will ask a lot of questions and dig into the details of what the customer is trying to solve for. This makes them a fit for a broad range of customers, since they can learn about and adapt to different needs.

2. Strong organizational skills.

Being organized is crucial for a positive customer relationship; after all, a manager who loses information, forgets key details the customer shares, and neglects to record important metrics and goals creates confusion and disconnection.

3. A diverse set of personal passions.

Sean looks for team members who have an outside passion that incidentally makes them a better customer success manager. For example, one of his team members is devoted to animals, which makes her compatible with a certain subset of customers. Another is involved in political campaigning and passionate about voting rights, so she’s been active in encouraging inclusion and scaling up the diversity of the company.

“This has actually helped us build a much more diverse and cohesive team, where each person has their own strengths and their own weaknesses,” Sean said in the interview. “They all come together and really help each other out. Just including this one value has really changed how we’ve built our customer success management team, and also the other teams underneath that.”

Become Customers’ Trusted Advisors

The ideal scenario for enterprise customer success managers working closely with customers is to become so embedded within the customer’s culture that they’re involved in every decision the customer makes. To do that, Sean recommends that CSMs refrain from owning commercial aspects of the relationship like expansions, upsells, and renewals. Keeping CSMs in a consultative role rooted in customer advocacy means they don’t have to hurdle the psychological wall of distrust that often builds up when they are called to manage relationships and commercial aspects.

At Alyce, the customer success manager’s job is to focus on the business objectives their customers purchased the platform for. And if the customer doesn’t yet have clear objectives, the CSM is tasked with digging in to discover it. Sometimes, that means engaging with someone who might not be the day-to-day customer contact, but can help drive the vision.

Know the Difference Between Personalization and Personal

Sean explains the difference this way:

Personalization is a one-to-many approach, which can be automated. When you insert a first-name field into an email, that email is personalized.

Personal is creating a one-to-one relationship with a person you like. There are ways to scale this, but it’s a lot more difficult.

“Even in our own CS, we’ve had to tone down our personalization and try to make it more personal,” Sean said. “For example, we have a template for plans we’re building with our customers, but we have to make it 100% personal to the customer we’re working with — so they understand the outputs that you’re looking to get at, from a business sense.” 

Another way Sean encourages “personal” over “personalization” is to make sure Alyce’s CSMs connect with customers as human beings — which circles back to the idea of making sure your team has a diverse set of interests and abilities.

Be a Proactive CSM

Sean recommends looking out for evolving needs or potential problems — and taking care of them before they get too big to handle. One method is to map out every step of the customer’s journey with your company, and look for gaps you can solve right now.

For example, Sean was recently asked why Alyce holds two kick-off calls with each customer, and he realized it was because they weren’t getting enough information in the earlier stages of the process to ensure they were involving the right parties in the onboarding process. Sean then knew that the company needed to improve the knowledge transfer from the account executive to the customer success manager.

“Whether you’re a customer success manager or a customer success leader, [being proactive] is a lot of work,” Sean said. “But honestly, it’s just reps and sets…it’s about going through those motions, and doing the hard work up front before you get to the right solutions.”

Listen, Watch and Join

Watch the full interview with Sean MacPherson on YouTube, or skip to specific questions that interest you by clicking the bookmarked timestamps in the video description.

Show Notes

Here are some of Sean’s favorite things:

  1. Favorite Work-Related Books: Shoe Dog and The Outcome Generation 
  2. Favorite Non-Work-Related Books: The Hobbit and Ready Player One 
  3. Go-To Resources: Churn.fm, Gain Grow Retain, SaaStr, Starting Greatness


To learn more about Alyce, check out their website at alyce.com

To find Sean, email him at Sean [at] alyce [dot] com or connect with him on LinkedIn, Strava, Twitter, or Instagram and let him know you enjoyed the conversation! 

Contributors Statement

This work was a collaboration between Linda Formichelli and Sonciary Honnoll.

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