The State of the Customer Success Union

Over the course of this decade, customer success will finally get the respect, investment and prioritization it deserves. The long term success of companies depends on embracing customer success and now is the time to start taking action. 

Twenty years ago sales was king and was the primary way companies grew revenue, with long term contracts and huge upfront payments. The only way prospective customers would learn about new products and services was through outbound sales efforts. Sales was (and still is) a tough job and was celebrated for bringing in the big wins and dollars. 

Things have changed with the rise of the subscription economy.  Long term commitments have been replaced with shorter contracts and payment terms. The barrier to acquisition is low, however the challenge to retain is real. Companies no longer have the power and leverage – the customer does. At any point, the customer can decide to walk away and try something else.

While the economic landscape has changed and the transition of power has been cemented into the customer’s hands, the way most companies approach customer acquisition and retention has not. So many continue to use outdated playbooks – this coupled with the pervasive “growth at all costs” which prioritizes new logos at times at the expense of existing ones means the sales team continues to get the most investment, attention and recognition out of all the go-to-market teams. 

The most progressive companies are already investing in customer success and understand its importance but we have a ways to go for everyone to adopt a similar mindset. A key factor in a company embracing customer success is understanding that the entire organization needs to be customer centric. (also read: “How to Weave CS into the fabric of your organization“) 

For those that get this right, every team at the company is aligned to solving an acute customer need. Decisions are made based on what is best for the customer, not what is most convenient for the business. Product, marketing and executive leadership spend as much time with customers as sales & customer success does. These types of companies will invest the time and energy to define their ideal customer profile and customer journey. They empower their customer facing teams to make real time decisions, using common sense, to do right by the customer in difficult situations. They prioritize employee well being and understand the connection between happy employees and happy customers. Embracing customer success is about more than just building out the function.  

Additionally, more important than any one function, whether it’s sales or customer success, is the alignment and collaboration between all go-to-market teams. Marketing, Sales & Customer Success should be viewed, treated and invested in as equally important functions. Each of these teams plays a critical role in the customer journey to build awareness, navigate the purchasing process and realize the outcomes they desired when they made the purchase.  Conflicting goals and incentives can create unhealthy tension between these teams to optimize for functional metrics vs what is in the best interest of the customer. 

A huge part of organizations adopting a more customer centric approach to their business is understanding that this alignment is key to the customer’s and the company’s success. The trends I have noticed in the companies that get this right include defining their customer journey and designing their organization around that (vs the other way around), ensuring proper goal setting and incentive alignment and fostering a culture of experimentation and learning from mistakes – eliminating the typical “blame game” that you see where marketing or CS and sales place blame one another. 

Over the next 10 years, companies that are not embracing this approach will feel the consequences, ultimately in reduced retention and revenue — and it is not if but when this begins. This evolution is a process and won’t happen overnight. 

Many of you reading this may be in organizations who have not yet made this transition. We can all be part of this change and for those who see this clearly, it is your responsibility to speak up. Find opportunities to speak to customers directly and synthesize their feedback for your internal leadership teams. Suggest adopting the various tactics I bring up in this article if your organization has not focused on those yet. Continue to talk about this topic over and over again until you start to see those around you understand. Change takes time, persistence and repetition – be patient and maintain a long term mindset to stay the course. 

It is not the smartest or the strongest companies that will survive. It is those most adaptable to change. The choice is to evolve or die and the evolution begins and ends with your customer.

Megan Bowen has spent 15 years building and managing customer success, customer experience and revenue generation teams for leading technology companies. She has worked with companies across the food, medical, and real estate hospitality industries to create top-tier customer management functions, all focused on building long-term relationships with clients and generating more revenue for the company. Megan was the Chief Operating Officer of Managed by Q, managing all go-to-market teams including marketing, sales, customer success, support and operations. She also built the account management function for GrubHub/Seamless from scratch, and scaled the B2B client experience and account management structure for Seamless’ 5,000+ business clients and built the post-sale client-facing teams at ZocDoc from the ground up. Megan Bowen is currently the Chief Customer Officer at Refine Labs. 


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