Over the past couple of years, a new position has popped up in the job listings throughout the SaaS/Cloud sector, and a new box has appeared on a fast-growing number of company organizational charts. Sometimes it’s as a sole contributor, in others as a very sizeable team; the new role may be listed under any  of the direct CxO reports to the CEO, or it may even be a direct report itself. The described duties and required skills of the position also show a lot of variation. The title can refer to some form of expert implementation project management or go all the way to de-facto, or even de-jure, ownership of the ongoing customer relationship. That there are increasing numbers of Customer Success managers and executives in SaaS/Cloud companies is clear. What is actually going on, and what it may mean, has yet to be determined.
Could a new profession be emerging? If so, how will it be defined? What does a Customer Success Manager do? That last question alone has brought a significant number of people from around the world to The HotLine Magazine in the past year. What is driving the creation of these new positions and the role? And what results have been produced? It’s time for a closer look.
Winning By Strategy and Design
Historically, new organizational roles in the technology industry have tended to be pushed onto companies rather than designed. An earlier tectonic shift, the explosive proliferation of access to computers, necessarily birthed the function of “technical” or “customer” Support. The structural result was a haphazard and resented break/fix function that has seldom worked to anyone’s satisfaction. Now the SaaS/Cloud sea change is beginning to force an organizational response to its inherent imperative of customer retention. Will that response end up being reactive, or proactive? Will your Customer Success Management team be designed, built and managed for its strategic purpose? Or will the process be chaotic, reacting to the winds of customer demand and organizational politics?
The strategy of customer success management, and the design of the team, logically begins with ownership. When and where does accountability begin? I recently interviewed a VP of Customer Success who succinctly stated: “After go-live, we own the customer base, and are accountable for what we do with it.” That’s a very solid foundation for metrics and measurement. But for others, the picture is nowhere near as clean-cut. What is going on in the SaaS/Cloud community about CSM? And what might it mean?
We need data, models, metrics, approaches and options to fuel the discussion of design. The purpose of the Customer Success Management Initiative is to gather those resources. Two initial online surveys were developed. One was for companies who have chartered and established their CSM teams. The other was for companies who are in the planning phase. Both began with the strategy of customer success management, and proceeded to examine the key issues of process/workflow, people and technology.
An initial Report of the findings from the research was delivered as a webinar last February, and will be available in the Research Library here on The HotLine Magazine shortly.