Nils Vinje is a partner at Glide Consulting, a Customer Success consulting firm that help VC-funded startups and Fortune 1000 companies lay the foundation for customer success and make renewals and expansions inevitable.
We talk to Nils on the evolution of customer success teams, the 4 Ps that are crucial to success and other best practices.
You structure your approach around a frame work that you guys have call The 4 P’s – People, Purpose, Process, and Platform. Can you tell us more about it?
In our view the highest performing customer success teams have clear definitions around each of these 4 P’s. There are specific attributes to each which are critical for a highly functioning, high performing customer success team to have in place, and our goal is to understand where our customers are today with regards to the 4 P’s framework. Then it becomes very straightforward for us to work together to put additional levels of definition and clarity around the other areas so that they can then implement that and go on and exceed their targets, which are typically on the retention and satisfaction side of the business.
Which is the P that you find is usually the biggest gap for people?
The purpose P. In a year and a half, I’ve been running Glide Consulting and every conversation I’ve had with either a customer success leader or an executive, like a CEO or something before they have a customer success leader, and I ask them. I say, “What is the purpose of customer success at your company?” Usually it’s something to the effect of, “Well, they got to, the purpose is to make our customers happy and bring more money,” and I say, “Okay, which one?” They say, “What do you mean?” I’m like, “Well, you got to choose one. You can only have one purpose.” So that begins the dialogue of the difference between making customers successful and happy, and driving money, which is a fundamental thing that’s going on in the customer success industry.
In the world of recurring revenue, where it’s not that one time purchase but companies are looking to establish a relationship with their customer – would you say customer success is best suited as a role or a team within that company’s structure, or is it a practice that the whole company needs to embrace?
I think it’s both. The reality is, our effectiveness as an organization, and a department and a philosophy, is based around the fact that we have to effectively work with other parts of the organization in order to make something happen for the customer.
Specifically in a software case, if there’s a product issue or if there’s something on the executive side that needs to happen, there has to be that understanding that this is a critical component of how our business operates, that is a worthwhile investment of my time, even though it might be the customer success org that’s making the request. One of my favorite analogies to use is that customer success and customer successM’s often act like maestros. It’s not their job to play every seat in the orchestra, but it’s absolutely their job to orchestrate all of the seats to play together to make a beautiful sound for the audience, which is a customer in this case. If you think of customer success as they are the maestros of everything that has to happen for a customer, they need the support from all the other different parts of the organization. That’s why I think it’s critical, you got to have both the department as well as the company philosophy.
Do you have tips for customer success teams or leaders in how they can best kind of evangelize that mindset through the broader organization?
Number one is all about relationships. We talk at great length about building incredibly long lasting high value relationships with our customers. We have to do the exact same thing internally too. The customer success leader should be very close friends with every single other leader within the company. To the point where you know their priorities and they know your priorities and you guys are on a partnership level. If there is tension, especially often times comes up between Sales and customer success and the leadership doesn’t get along, I can guarantee 100% that the customer successMs and the Sales Reps on the ground floor are not getting along either. Probably magnified by about twenty times. So the relationships are so critical and customer success people are exceptionally talented to do that, but you have to spend the time and effort and energy to focus on it internally. I’d say it’s one of the most critical things.
What are the new developments that you were seeing in the field, and who’s really innovating in the customer success world?
The biggest change I’ve seen is customer success teams now own the retention number. It probably lived in the Sales side, and didn’t get the attention it deserved on account of all the new business that they were trying to get. As businesses mature, they realize that the size of their revenue stack that renews every year is going to far exceed the size of the new business stack and it deserves a significant amount of attention in order to address that.
That shift of ownership is one of the key things I see going forward. Now, what are all the key things that customer success teams have to do? This isn’t just about making people happy anymore, right? This involves specific skill sets related to negotiating, up selling, cross selling, etc? I see that as a key point of evolution for the most advanced customer success Orgs to be able to do exceptionally well and maximize on.