The main goal of customer success (CS) is not just about improving the value of the brand or service. It’s about helping customers achieve their desired outcomes and what steps are needed to achieve them.
But what does it mean when they help customers achieve their desired outcomes, and how will the business benefit? Vijeev Verma, Senior Director of Customer Success at Nutanix, shares his experience in my recent interview with him.
How did you get started in CS?
Before joining Nutanix, I spent 10 years at Cisco Systems. During my stay at Cisco, I learned a lot about professional services and support organizations and how well this team takes care of our customers.
When I joined Nutanix, I was engaged in helping to build a new CS team with a focus on driving the adoption of Nutanix’s products with our customers. Nutanix operates in the IT infrastructure space, where it created a new category called hyper-converged software that modernizes how companies run their data centers and applications.
Over the last few years, the company has evolved into becoming a software subscription company. When you move into a software subscription business, it is necessary that your technology is being adopted and utilized by customers. If that is not happening, it will become a steep challenge convincing customers to renew and expand in those accounts.
Hence, the journey of building a CS function started with defining and developing a go-to-market strategy in terms of the customer segments to target first. Next, defining the role and the deliverables of customer success managers and the rest of the CS organization and outlining the operating model (tools, playbooks, processes, cross-functional engagement, etc.)
What should be the focus of CS?
When I think of CS, it is a service function or business discipline focused on helping customers unlock the full value of the product they bought and achieving desired outcomes.
CS must focus primarily on driving product adoption. If done well, renewal and expansion are just a result of that. Said differently, ‘adoption’ is the input, and ‘renewal & expansion’ are the outputs. That means customers need to be educated and helped to utilize product features, functionality, use cases, confirm ROI, and trust us from the time of purchase until renewal. It is at the core of CS.
Since CS is an emerging function, everybody has a different flavor of it. Therefore, it is critically important to understand and define the metrics for how we measure its success. We initially put our success metrics squarely on feature, functionality, and usage to drive product adoption. Which features and use cases to pick and why in itself need to be thought through. Over time you can add renewals and expansion as key metrics to this function.
What were your key learnings??
I have had six key learnings:
- Decide which accounts you want to start with for CS coverage. Largest accounts? Those with the most growth potential? My bias is to start with the largest ones since you have the most renewal dollars at stake there.
- Determine the coverage model i.e. how many accounts per CS resource? It should ideally be based on a segmentation strategy driven by the installed base size in accounts. We segmented the accounts into three tiers: 1) High touch accounts, where you have fewer accounts per CS resource. 2) Medium touch accounts that have a broader coverage model. 3) Low touch accounts where the ratio of CS resources to accounts is very low.
- Clarify the role of CS resources and the CS organization as a whole. With transparency and accountable metrics (harder said than done), along with a defined engagement model with other functions in the company. The latter is very important in my view since CS teams including, CSMs, professional services, customer training, etc., need to engage with other functions such as sales, support teams, engineering, etc. If the internal engagement model is not clearly understood, the chances of CS being successful are restricted and reduced.
- Hire right and structure the team correctly. I believe CS resources need to have two skill sets: customer relationship management and technical product knowledge. Having both these skills in one team is hard. Often companies choose to create multiple teams in CS; customer relationship and renewals management, implementation & onboarding, customer training, technical product adoption.
- Invest early and invest often. CS is a longer game. Immediate results may not be apparent, but if done right with the commitment of resources, it can build a sustainable advantage that helps secure renewals and continue to drive expansion.
- Technology/tools and playbooks play a critical role in scaling the CS team. It requires developing technical capabilities that help monitor and manage the adoption of the products by customers. Without these dashboards and related playbooks (what to do when), CS will be flying blind in driving adoption.
Any last thoughts you would like to share?
I guess all I will say is that having upfront clarity on the goals and metrics of CS is very important. Spending the time to think through this and design the organization accordingly is well worth it in my view.